Having largely lost our religion(s), modernity has seen fit to create new ones. If we wonder what constitutes a modern religion (or efforts to create one) we need look no further than our public liturgies. Various months of the year are now designated as holy seasons set-aside to honor various oppressed groups or causes. It is an effort to liturgize the nation as the bringer and guardian of justice in the world, an effort that seeks to renew our sense of mission and to portray our nation as something that we believe in. It must be noted that as a nation, we have not been content to be one among many. We have found it necessary to “believe” in our country. It is a symptom of religious bankruptcy. As often as not, major sports events (Super Bowls) are pressed into duty as bearers of significance and meaning. The pious liturgies that surround them have become pathetic as they try ever-harder to say things that simply are not true or do not matter. This game is not important – it’s just a game.
Fr. Stephen Freeman, When America Got Sick
Rod Dreher spent a few days in Bucharest and gave a talk where they hoped to have maybe 100 people and to sell maybe 50 copies of the Romanian translation of Live Not By Lies. They had more like 500 (some traveled 12 hours by train), sold 400 books, and Rod spent a long time signing books and chatting with people:
As I was preparing my remarks, I reflected on something I have picked up on a lot in my nearly two months here in Central Europe. The peoples of this part of the world looked to the West for hope and direction when they suffered under Communist dictatorship. They still hold the West in high esteem. Yet they also experience a great deal of Western arrogance, mostly from western Europeans, but also Americans — liberal elites who treat them like primitive children who need to be taught how to be proper moderns. Perhaps the main source today of Western contempt has to do with the natural conservatism in this part of the world vis-à-vis LGBT rights. Billionaire George Soros, among others, has poured money into countries like Romania via his NGOs to try to undermine traditions on the family, and religious authority. I had heard on my first night in Romania, and in various conversations throughout the day, that political elites in Bucharest routinely mock social and religious conservatives, in particular over their views on family and sexuality.
Well, in my talk, I told the audience that they may hear from the West, and from their Western-oriented elites, that they should be ashamed of their faith, of their traditions, and of their moral beliefs. This is one of the big lies that they must reject with all their heart, soul, and mind, I said. You have looked up to America for so long, but look at us now: we are destroying ourselves, because we have forgotten God. With this woke ideology, we have nothing to offer you but destruction. You don’t need to learn anything from us; we Americans need to learn from you, and your saints.
I worried for a moment that I might be flattering the crowd, but I actually believe every word of this, one hundred percent. I felt the anger rising inside me — anger at American and EU elites, their NGO agents, and progressives within institutions and political life here, all doing their best to make these people ashamed of themselves, their history, and their traditions. I’m truly beginning to understand what Ryszard Legutko meant in his great book The Demon in Democracy, about how the Communist nomenklatura did an about-face after Communism’s fall, and easily re-invented themselves as Eurocrats. They already shared a common faith in materialist modernity, and a contempt for religion and tradition. The Western left is eager to condemn 19th century colonialism, but it hasn’t the faintest sense that what it’s doing now is a 21st century cultural version of the same. No, it considers what it’s up to today as liberation from ignorance and the chains of the past.
If I could sum up the message [Romanians in Bucharest] gave me, in comment after comments, it’s this:
“Thank you for telling us that we don’t have to be ashamed of our faith and our traditions to be decent democratic people. We hear all the time from Western Europeans and our own elites that there is something wrong with us, and that we have to throw away our inheritance to join the civilized world. You have reminded us who we are, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
I’m not exaggerating here. When I was checking in at the airport for the flight back to Budapest yesterday, the young woman behind the counter saw my passport and said, “Oh, you’re the guy who had the conference this weekend.” We talked briefly about it, and I signed a copy of my book for her as a gift. She thanked me, and said, “They always try to make us feel ashamed.”
I can scarcely express how angry that makes me as an American, knowing that my country — its government, its NGOs, and its corporations — are behind all this. Over and over I heard that the political and cultural leaders of contemporary Romania, the ones seeking to curry favor with the West, look down on the Christians as backwards barbarians — “relic-kissers,” they call them.
Rod Dreher, The Wild Men of Romania
“Behind all this” and also behind sometimes-nefarious population-control efforts. It’s things like this that confirm my impression that we’re not a force for unmitigated good in the world. Perhaps it’s even a net negative, more evil than good — but there’s no objective measure of that, and my suspicions are probably a matter of temperament (I did come of age in the 60s, after all).
George Packer, The Four Americas is a very broad-brush look at America’s current divisions, worth reading, but not so good I expect to buy his book.