O tempora! O mores! O for crying out loud! Regis Martin--Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville—isn’t going to take it anymore. Having earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Professor Martin knows his zeit from his geist, and he doesn’t like the temper of modernity one bit.
Writing at Crisis Magazine (motto: “If it's not a crisis, we're not interested”), Professor Martin begins1 by noting that “Living in a world where much has been laid waste by forces hostile to faith and hope, the challenge becomes that of finding evidence for the things that one loves. Or simply going mad in the face of all that conspires to deride and deny those sacred tablets on which is written all that we revere.”
After that vague but promising start, he then cautions himself (and you, O Reader) against the temptation to assume a Hamlet-like heroic solitude: “Why agitate at all against the aberrations of the age unless you are prepared to assume that others are equally appalled? Is the coarsening and corruption of the culture not evident to them as well? There’s got to be somebody out there harboring suspicions about the world in which we live. It is scarcely endurable that no one else is outraged by the hokum and humbuggery.”
Is there any point in reminding Professor Martin that “hokum and humbuggery” are (and always have been) pretty much the way of the world, or that complaints about “the coarsening and corruption of the culture” have been yawn-inducers since about the time of Plato? No, there is not, because Professor Martin is just getting warmed up:
“If things get much worse it will be too late to inoculate ourselves against the stain of toxicity threatening us all. Great numbers appear to have succumbed already. People who, while they profess to believe in nothing, seem quite willing to fall for anything…Why is it, I wonder, that the fashionable nonsense people glibly parade nowadays, for all that it wears the stylish disguise of enlightened opinion, is nothing more than sheer cowardice morphing into mindless conformity?”
What exactly is it that has so gotten under Professor Martin’s skin and agitated him so? Basically, it is that there currently exists a large number of people who have the effrontery not to believe what he believes, in particular about the Catholic Church and its doctrines (or, as Professor Martin would have it, “the timeless wisdom of Mother Church”): “What a train wreck it has been, therefore, when so little of the Church’s patrimony commands the attention, much less respect, of the world. When so-called progressive opinion disdains all that she stands for. “
Again, at the risk of seeming insensitive to Professor Martin’s evident dyspepsia: has not “progressive opinion” always and everywhere disdained what the Church stands for? Was not Christianity from the outset proudly self-proclaimed as “foolishness” in the eyes of the world? Why should it be any different today than it was when Paul confronted the Greek philosophers in Athens? It was, after all, the zeitgeist which crucified Jesus and martyred so many of his followers—what does Professor Martin expect from modernity?
In any case, he fears for us now because, unmoored from the past, from the Church’s patrimony, and from Truth itself, we are—well, I’ll let Professor Martin describe it: “We are like particles of dust blown about in the ambient air, no longer anchored to anything. So many ‘evil enchantments,’ as [C.S.] Lewis called them, loom before us, leaving us helpless to resist the siren sound that summons us into doing and saying the dumbest and most destructive things.”
Yes: according to Professor Regis Martin, we are like nothing so much as dust in the wind. For that, the man studied in Rome? He could have stayed here and listened to third-rate rock music.
And just what are those “dumbest and most destructive things” we say and do? They are things said and done by the likes of Katha Pollitt, defender of abortion on demand; Barbara Ehrenreich, whose search for God takes her anywhere but into church; and Stephen Hawking, who has called humanity “Just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star”. Oh, and Edward O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist, who claims that “we humans are scarcely an improvement over the ants.” These and their ilk are what modernity has come to; as Professor Martin says, “Welcome to the Mr. Zeitgeist show. See how he traipses about the stage in full bloom, bowing before the adulation of the crowd.”
Professor Martin, thankfully, is wise to the wiles and immune to the charms of Mr. Zeitgeist. For he knows, O Reader, the answer to the urgent question: “What happens when people allow themselves to be seduced by the spirit of the age? It is simple. They lose their souls.”
Unlike Ms. Pollitt and Ms. Ehrenrich et al, Professor Martin still has his soul. Moreover, he has had all he can stand; in fact, he can’t stands no more: “It’s time,” he writes, “to put a stop to the nonsense. It is time to stand athwart the excesses of the age and to urge everyone to return to theological bedrock, to recover and renew the springs of truth and life. And while there are no lost causes, as Eliot long ago reminded us, because there are no gained causes, we nevertheless soldier on, fortified by the hope of keeping something alive, even if it be only a token or two of truth. So go right ahead, dear reader, and stick it to the Zeitgeist. Who knows what shafts of light may then fall upon the encircling gloom.” 2
Who knows, indeed; and who among us is not eager to find out? Alas, rather than providing shafts of light of his own, Professor Martin leaves us in the encircling gloom, with a rousing cry to “stand athwart”3 and to “stick it to the Zeitgeist” but with no instructions on how to do so. Based on his essay, I’m guessing he would suggest that we first immerse ourselves in the writings and general cultural milieu of Dante, Chesterton, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot, and C.S. Lewis.4 Then we should adopt, like Professor Martin, a prose style both hyperbolic and antiquated: that should show the zeitgeist and its minions a thing or two!
If not, and if the zeitgeist proves adamant, there’s always what’s called the “Benedict option”: build an ark (metaphorically), perhaps even in Steubenville, Ohio (literally), within which the spiritually and culturally faithful can ride out the deluge of modernity. Of course, the last time that ark trick was tried, the results were less than impressive (see: the history of the human race after Noah), but who’s to say it won’t work this time? Remember what Jackson Browne wrote: Don’t think it won’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet.
Ni fallor, of course, as always…
1 http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/taking-anymore The full title of Professor Martin's article is "On Not Taking It Anymore": is the professor aware that he is referencing a song by a band named Twisted Sister?
2 “There are no lost causes…because there are no gained causes” is the sort of aphorism that sounds like wisdom—especially when attributed to someone famous, like T.S. Eliot—but which dissolves upon closer examination. What in the world does it actually mean? Why can’t “causes,” in the sense intended, be both lost and found?
3 Conservatives seem to have quite the thing for attempting to “stand athwart”: cf. William F. Buckley’s famous description of his National Review—“It stands athwart history, yelling Stop…” History, it should be noted, failed to comply.
4 We should also brush up on the albums of Kansas and Twister Sister: no mere antiquarian he, Professor Martin is surprisingly, even tragically, hip.