Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Sayers Says

A friend on Facebook linked to a remarkable essay by Dorothy L. Sayers, delivered as an address in 1940, entitled Creed or Chaos

For me the two top highlights were what Sayers says about the Consequences of Dogma, as well as her use of the word Judgment to define something I've been struggling, but failing, to express for more than a month.


The first point is the main thrust of her essay.  Delivered during the Second World War, Sayers address early on makes the keen observation (emphasis mine) ...

The rulers of Germany have seen quite clearly that dogma and ethics are
inextricably bound together. Having renounced the dogma, they have renounced the
ethics as well
—and from their point of view they are perfectly right. They have
adopted an entirely different dogma, whose ethical scheme has no value for peace or truth, mercy or justice, faith or freedom; and they see no reason why they should
practise a set of virtues incompatible with their dogma.

It is hard for us to see this, Sayers points out.  "It is only with great difficulty that we can bring ourselves to grasp the fact that there is no failure in Germany to live up to her own standards of right conduct. It is something much more terrifying and tremendous: it is that what we believe to be evil, Germany believes to be good. It is a direct repudiation of the basic Christian dogma on which
our Mediterranean civilisation, such as it is, is grounded."

In other words, the Germans say (among other things), "Why should I respect the brotherhood of man when I do not accept the Fatherhood of God?"

Now it doesn't take much to see that these comments can be very much applied to the Obama administration and our secular neighbors today.  This is not saying that Obama boosters are Nazis, but they do adhere to a dogma that is "a direct repudiation of the basic Christian dogma" on which our civilization, until recently, rested. 

The dogma of the secularists (I use the term "Obama boosters", but many "Romney-ites" think the same way) consists of many things, but I think its true foundation is what I would call Existential Nominalism - the assertion that Being is an individual phenomenon and that no truth exists outside of a particular experience of it.  This Existential Nominalism is a rejection of all Form, all metaphysics, all generalities, and therefore the rejection of Nature, especially Human Nature.  It is a dogma that tells us that human beings are infinitely malleable and that culture is nothing more than a convention of consent, that there is no such thing as Natural Law, but that all law is "positive", meaning "put forth" arbitrarily.  "Gay marriage" flows from this the way milk flows from a cow.  For if truth is atomized, then nothing can have a teleology or purpose beyond personal taste or preference.  Therefore sex is a purely private matter and marriage but a sham and a social construct, entirely capable of being reconstructed at our own whim.

This dogma - Existential Nominalism -is changing the world, and we are slow to see it, because we think, as Sayers points out, that differences about religion are unimportant, that dogma doesn't matter, and that as long as we all just "get along", we can ignore the chasms that separate the way one man thinks from the way another thinks.

And this is generally true in the marketplace and on the street corner, where convention and convenience rule, for practical reasons.  But it is not at all true on the level of culture and politics, where the battle is being fought. 

For in the same way the Germans denied the value of the human person by denying that man was made in the image of God, so do the Existential Nominalists of our day - which is to say so do the Americans now.  Abortion and euthanasia are meaningless issues if there is no innate dignity to man, a dignity that the Church teaches has its only source in God.


The other great insight of this address (and please read the whole thing) is Sayers use of the word Judgment to express what I sometimes clumsily call "The Consequential" or "Reality" in contrast to the "Unreal".

For Sayers, Judgment is simply the hell we make for ourselves. 

It is the inevitable consequence of man's attempt to regulate life and society on a system that runs counter to the facts of his own nature. In the physical sphere, typhus and cholera are a judgment on dirty living; not because God shows an arbitrary favouritism to nice, clean people, but because of an essential element in the physical structure of the universe.
And this is another way of saying what I wrote just yesterday ...

The essence of sin is the setting up of our own personal realities, which contradict the reality He has given us - our own private worlds, in which we can be lazy, greedy, ravenous, adulterous; where we can molest children, seduce women and marry our gay lovers; where we can feel good about ourselves by worshipping an idol that approves of all of these things.  Our own private worlds are by their very natures Unreal, and thus sterile - dead ends, miserable lonely corners of an unfurnished house, dry awful and empty.
And this is what Drama is all about, boys and girls.

There is something inherent in all reality that produces certain Consequences to our actions.  Without this "element in the physical structure of the universe" as Sayers terms it when referring to cholera (it's in the metaphysical structure as well), no work of dramatic art - comic, tragic, or in between - would have any meaning.  And neither would our lives.

But our Secular Fundamentalists, our Crusading Atheists, our Existential Nominalists by the dogma they believe and live by deny this element in the universe (and technically, they deny even the "universe").  There can be no dramatic art in the world Obama and his followers are building (or "the Americans" as Sayers might call them), for there can be no Consequential, there can be no Judgment.

But when we shy away from Hell in our homilies, when we back off of discussing Sin (a very unpleasant topic), when we say that we should overlook differences of dogma because, after all, "why can't we all just get along?"  When we do all this, we concede to the prevailing dogma of the day, and the consequence is a loss of Consequence, the judgment is the loss of "right judgment" (clear thinking) as well as theological Judgment (aka "karma").

The loss is the loss of everything that makes our culture humane.  The loss is an inevitable slide toward a kind of hell that will make Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia look like havens of happiness, for ours will be a self-imposed hell-of-hedonism where (since universals are denied) the only thing that will be recognized as valuable or true will be physical pleasure and its corollary, blunt force.


Stan Metheny said...

Well said, Kevin, and very timely. My most recent article for Westminster Cathedral magazine is on Judgement, as part of November issue's theme of the four last things. I made many of these same points, drawing on Scripture, the Catechism, and other sources. God - who is Love, after all - doesn't send anyone to hell; but He must allow us to send ourselves there if our freedom is real. And I am part of a diminishing group who believe it is real. Sadly, another element of Existential Nominalism and other non-realistic philosophies is a conviction that our freedom - if we have any at all - is so constrained by our genetics and environment as to be of only minimal influence over our actions. Hence the Original Sin is still the only sin: to aspire to be something other than who we are is the root of all evil.

Anymouse said...

This post is right on the money. I have no disagreement whatsoever.

This post is excellent.

Theodore M. Seeber said...

So, when do you start casting calls for women to play Sayers for the Theater of the Word?

Theodore M. Seeber said...

<A HREF=">Theodore Seeber</a>