Our Collective Dive off the Cliff
The burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame — in the heart of Paris, in the heart of France, in the heart of Europe, in the heart of Christendom and Western civilization — was an absolute cultural catastrophe. In the fire's aftermath, there poured forth an avalanche of articles — penned by authors no doubt sincere and well intentioned — about resilience, about perseverance, about timeless truths, about rising from the ashes, about wake-up calls, etc.
I purposely waited a month to see how much time would pass before, as a society, we refocused on more monumental concerns, such as President Trump's abysmal golf scores or at what point during S8E5 Daenerys lost it. In a fit of naïveté, I wildly overestimated our capability for perspective. Turns out I needed to wait about fourteen minutes.
When Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolistan) referred to Notre Dame as just "art and architecture," she meant it as a deliberate jab, wrapped in blatantly dishonest compassion. But does her categorization really differ from how most of the Western world views Notre Dame? How many among the 95% of France's non-Catholic population regard it as a house of God, worthy of spiritual veneration and deference, and not just a profitable tourist magnet? How many media talking heads lament its loss while holding contempt for the cathedral's living congregants and the ideas that led them there? How many comprehend that the cultural vigor with which it was constructed has been a smoldering ruin since long before this past April?
Over at CNN, Frida Ghitis penned a heartwarming, sincere panegyric, but one in which she cannot help but refer to Notre Dame as "a building, technically a religious structure." Technically a religious structure? I wonder what tipped Ghitis off. The giant crucifix bestriding the altar? The religious imagery that adorns literally every surface of the place? The masses of people who gather there daily to pray? What facet of the building does Ghitis consider technically a non-religious structure? Ghitis is not Omar, and I doubt she chose her words to deliberately insult the faithful. More likely, this is how she and her peers genuinely regard Notre Dame, and she sees nothing disrespectful in the reference.
It is heartbreaking that Notre Dame burned. But it is maddeningly tragic that we no longer possess the religious faith, the civilizational confidence, or the collective will to build something so transcendent ever again. President Macron set a five-year timetable for reconstruction. We'll see. It took America, supposedly the strongest, most resilient, most dynamic nation in history, a humiliating thirteen years to build a single skyscraper where the Twin Towers stood (both of which were completed after six years, in 1972). And building tall rectangles is something we're allegedly good at.
And why should we be thinking in terms of transcendence? Modern society is the pathetic dead end down a path whose meandering death march began in the 1790s in Europe and in the 1960s in America. Its pathfinders had no compass, certainly not a moral one, and were guided solely by following their basest instincts — i.e., a devotion not to God or humanity, but only to themselves, in the crude form of hyper-sexualized instant gratification and reflexive tribalism. Without God, the underlying question of most official postmodern thought of the last century has been a poorly concealed yet omnipresent "What's in it for me?"
Satisfying as it may be to blame this current attitude on the pronounced shortcomings of Generation Twitter, the ugly fact is that our civilizational rout can indeed trace its opening salvos to the French Revolution. In 1789, that revolt dictated that a complete destruction of every preceding institution and custom was absolutely necessary in order to achieve "progress," as its beholders defined it. Christianity, both institutional and organic, was targeted, as was its underlying moral code of sacrifice, mercy, and justice. By the time the Revolution cannibalized itself, the cultural damage had been done, and European civilization has been rotting ever since.
What has France created since the Revolution? The Sacré Coeur de Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower are impressive structures in themselves, but they are architectural stillbirths next to Notre Dame and the Palace of Versailles. And one need not stare awestruck at every magnificent exhibit at the Louvre to then taste the insidious bile in the throat while trudging through the cesspool of modern "art" at the Centre Pompidou.
Has Germany produced another Bach, Austria another Mozart? England another Milton or Shakespeare? Which E.U. artists compare to Michelangelo or Raphael? Can Leiden provide a contemporary Jan Steen? Florence, a modern Filippo Brunelleschi or Dante Alighieri? Can any modern university cultivate another Thomas Aquinas?
As for the Catholic Church itself, can we ever again hope for leadership that actually defends Christianity against an increasingly hostile world? When bombs rip through churches in Sri Lanka, killing hundreds of praying Christians during Holy Week, that political creature we generously refer to as Pope Francis can barely be bothered to denounce, in his words, the "traumatic event." Christian blood still moistened the altars when the successor of St. Peter got back to denouncing humanity's true enemies: blue-collar Westerners who succumb to the "glitter of wealth" because they no longer wash their clothes down by the river.
In America, mass media have obliterated the natural protection our oceans once afforded us. Our religion is likewise adrift in self-doubt and moral cowardice. The empty pews in our IKEA churches echo sermons written to assure the long departed Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Lutheran congregants that God should change His expectations to fit to our lifestyles, not vice versa. There is little call for self-denial, reflection, humility, or anything that would normally be considered a beneficial method with which to build character. As for Judaism, respect for Y-AHW-H is a relic for the Orthodox clingers who dress weird and have weird customs and who brainwash their weird kids with weird ideas and who really should be held in suspicion as much by modern progressives as by young, frustrated Viennese artists prior to the First World War. Reform Judaism is where it's at...hip, cool, almost anti-Judaic in a radical chic sense. The scriptures to be pored over are not the Proverbs or Gospels of the respective Testaments, but rather the findings of the latest Quinnipiac poll as to how public opinion is shifting on taxpayer-funded transition therapy for our systematically oppressed otherkin cohorts. Religious leaders are either oblivious to or indifferent toward the reality that theological doctrines that represent fickle political weathervanes rather than timeless truths contradict a significant reason people find solace in religion to begin with.
Eventually, the Sistine Chapel will collapse. Da Vinci's Last Supper will discolor and fade. Mozart's Requiem will go unheard, Shakespeare's Henry V will go unwatched, and our Bill of Rights will see its last corner ripped away. And we will not produce anything comparable to take their places.
History will not entirely forget that there was such a thing as Western civilization. As with the post-Roman world, there will remain a gutted coliseum here, a few stone pillars there. As with Napoleon to the Egyptians, who had no idea what the pyramids were, perhaps someone in our distant future will sail ashore and explain to subsequent generations what these temples and paintings and monuments actually stood for.
Our immediate future is more Huxley than Orwell, our people freely choosing a life of enslavement to opiates and to sex with people whose names we can't be bothered to know. Those rare humans who choose to clutch precariously an existence devoted to the betterment of mind, body, and soul will (probably) not be whisked away in the dead of night to the gulag. They will merely be relegated to the fringes of acceptable society, their natural habitats and proclivities to be fleetingly observed by their fascinated, curious betters like a prehistoric animal whose species somehow survived all this time in the depths of a Congo jungle.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is medieval history. Its fire last April is ancient history. It was witnessed by a people who have no history, and who will leave no history.