I defy the moral arc of history. The Catholic tribalist and the will to live

One may certainly raise doubts about Locke’s theory that personal identity through time rests on memory, but it surely touches on something true.  Certainly our sense of continuity through time comes through memory.  If someone wanted to replace my memories with those of another person, I would resist it as a kind of death.  When it comes to collective identities, though, Locke’s position is indisputable.  That two generations have the same collective identity means that there is a group memory or perspective that has been handed down from one to the other.  To set aside one such collective mind and embrace another is the death of a people.

I simply do not understand the atheists who say that they are content with the prospect of personal extinction.  Even if they are to be believed, it is certainly not to their credit, but rather betrays a morbid deficit either of imagination or vitality.  For a long time, these clever people have insisted that it is irrational for anyone to concern themselves over a good to which they have become insensible.  Having carried this indifference to existence itself, I find that I cannot argue with a man with no self-preservation instinct.  Nor he with me.  Miguel de Unamuno tells that as a boy he was never bothered by the stories he heard about the eternal torments of the damned, because he thought to himself “at least I would still exist”.  I have been terrified by the thought of personal oblivion ever since the fact of my mortality sank in during my twenties.

These same atheists now pride themselves on their indifference to collective extinction, on the replacement of the civilization that nourished them.  Again, a lack of imagination or of vitality.  Have they really imagined an African Muslim Europe, with all memory of our people gone, except insofar as we play the role of defeated villains in the collective narrative of the new inhabitants?  And this doesn’t bother them?

And yet, peoples do choose oblivion.  Every people that has abandoned the Catholic Church, their mother, has done so.  Once there was an Irish people, sons of Saint Patrick, with a proud history of national defiance, at the heart of which was the Catholic faith.  Yet not one generation after getting their own country (a republic, alas), they repudiated their own identity by renouncing their own faith and embracing that of the enemy.  Where once they identified as Catholics, now the Irish formed a new identity as victims of the Church.  Those they used to remember as leaders are now remembered as oppressors, and the viewpoint has shifted a largely imaginary Irish people who always longed for the free air of liberalism and sexual degeneracy.  This isn’t just a change of beliefs; it is a change of identity.  There may still be people whose passports identify as Irish, but they’re pod people.  And unlike the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this time the humans willed their own replacement.  Now they’ve got an Indian sodomite for a prime minister.

Italy offers an even clearer example of a people renouncing everything that made them distinct for a chance to be a second-rate copy of liberal England.  What made Italy distinct were its ancient city-state governments, the Catholic faith, and the Italian people.  The Risorgimento, a thoroughly criminal enterprise from start to finish, made direct war on the first two.  Now, having made themselves a nation by blasphemous warfare on God’s representatives on Earth, the Italians have a birth rate of 1.37 per woman, and the refugee boats have arrived to finish Italy’s job of self-erasure.  Like Uncle Screwtape said, to take a man’s soul and give him nothing in return…

What is the point of the clerical sex abuse scandal?  This is no ordinary shakedown operation.  The goal of dredging up the same cases mostly from the seventies every decade is to hit the laity with shame until, in order to make it stop, we are willing to commit identity suicide, to be replaced by pod people.  “Stop thinking of yourselves as Catholics.  Catholics are child rapists.  Think of yourselves instead as victims of an evil Church.  Become yet another good little Leftist victim group.  Abandon your current ‘we’, and adopt ours.  You never propounded the Nicene Creed, never fought the Crusades, never instituted the Inquisition.  That was all just the boy-raping priests that have oppressed the true you until now.”  Spiritual death, but my will to live is too strong! Collective responsibility is the essence of solidarity.  I learned that from Juan Donoso Cortes.  I’m a Roman Catholic, and I screwed all of those kids.  Okay, not literally, but I insist on taking aspersions about pedophile priests personally, because the moment I don’t, a part of the collective identity in me will die.  Remember, when they insult the Church, when they insult priests or nuns, they are insulting you.  If you don’t feel that way, then they’ve already taken a chunk of your soul.  Never accept criticism from the enemy.  Never.

Never do I feel more deeply connected to the Church, more alive with a life transcending my own, than when someone is trying to make me ashamed.  My only two collective identities are “Catholic” and “white”, and I wouldn’t know how to embrace an identity people expected me to be proud of.  I wonder if the Jews and negroes can really be tribal in the same way, what with their narrative of being angelic victims.  Can you really, deeply identify with your people if you don’t have something to be defensive about?

When I think of what kind of descendants would satisfy my longing for collective survival, I find that even this level of identification isn’t enough.  It’s not enough for my descendants to say of the actions of past Catholics that “we” did them, only to apologize like our recent pod popes.  Saying “we” while adopting the enemy’s narrative is a hollow identification.  No, I also need partisans to outlive me.  That’s the real comfort.  If I could know that after I’m gone, there will still be a few who hate Voltaire and Garibaldi, who will defend the Crusades and the Syllabus of Errors, then I’ll feel that a part of me still lives, and a part of those who still live in me through my partisanship on their behalf.  The enemy has convinced nearly everyone, but while one soul resists, our collective mind will still exist.

You may say that all of this is irrational.  We must learn to value impermanent things.  View them in the light of eternity, or at least of four-dimensional space-time.  As in past ages a man might look at a skull to remember the fleetingness of his own life, perhaps we should carry around pictures of a baked, lifeless Earth to recall that collective preservation is an equally vain endeavor.  I think most Catholics expect God to put an end to this show before we reach that point, but regardless, the will to live is something that one simply can’t be talked out of.  It’s what makes me a tribal Catholic.

9 Responses

  1. We do need to overcome our enemies’ hack of White-Christian guilt, but also need to do this without expunging our essential moral sensibility. If we don’t overcome the hack, we will disappear at their hand. If we expunge the moral sensibility, we will disappear at our own hand. The way out of this dilemma is to understand that our enemies are not our confessors, and that we do not need absolution from them. In fact, there is no absolution from them, only endless penance until we disappear. We should always be willing to repent, but never to apologize.

  2. >I simply do not understand the atheists who say that they are content with the prospect of personal extinction.

    That means, you also don’t understand suicide. And that means you are pretty good at not being depressed. Perhaps your faith helps in that.

    I am depressed enough that while I am not suicidal, I can entirely imagine the idea of people hating themselves enough to want to get rid of themselves.

    Like everything in life, it is gradual. I belong to the kind of people who while they have no immediate desire to kill themselves, we feel like if whiskey and cigarettes kill us at 62 that is sort of an acceptable thing, we would not give them up just to do another 10 or 15. I imagine it will be roughly at that age when I will be really fed up with life.

    There are multiple kind of atheists. When you just generally talk about atheists, you sound like you mean the militant antitheists, the Dawkinsian caravan of fools. But I can assure there are at least one order of magnitue more people who are silent atheists, who are simply, like Max Weber, “amusical to religion”, or were never exposed to it as a child and it is not on their bucket list to learn something about it, or were kind of superficially exposed to it and children but they just sort of felt the local priest is a big fat fool or something and then they did not go more into it so they don’t really have any more idea about religion than the born atheist.

    Silent atheists aren’t necessarily liberals either, I can assure you, we are often quite reactionary and hate losing our culture plain simply because every red blooded man has an instinct to compete for dominance and defend what is is his. The big trouble is not even that we lose, but that they win. That is what makes us angry. It is one story when a comet just annihilates us all and there is another story if libs or M. have the last laugh.

    Why am I a silent atheist? Interestingly it is related exactly to your field. The issue is that the concept of God is always quite anthropomorphic and personal. So something like us. Even when Ed Feser writes against theistic personalism… still God is someone who can be angry, for example. So anthropomorphic. And you see that was easy to believe in a small universe. Where people thought the Earth is like 50% of the known universe and it is small. But today, with these billions of stars? What would make our star and planet 3 so special that the Creator of the whole gigantic playground would be in any sense similar to us? So yeah, it is the philosophy of astronomy. Your field. Yet your never wrote about this dilemma – God in a huge universe where only a tiny tiny bit of it is suitable for His children to live?…

    At any rate, any silent atheist, who has no crusade against religion or tradition, who is not leftist, easily gets existential depression.

  3. Dividualist:

    God in a huge universe where only a tiny tiny bit of it is suitable for His children to live?

    That isn’t the half of it. If your father ate a bad burrito two days before you were conceived that throws off the timing enough that you don’t exist. (Maybe someone else would exist: just not you). The infinite time, space, and matter surrounding us are nothing compared to the vastness of the phase space in which our personal existence is not.

    You and I are basically impossible qua actual individuals.

    Said differently, the entire universe is manifestly – to a ridiculous degree – contrived for your (and my) personal benefit.

    Make of that what you will.

  4. Hello Dividualist,

    There’s an unfortunate ambiguity in what I wrote. “The atheists who say” looks very much like “The atheists, who say”, but I really did have in mind a subset. Although I am confident in the existence of God, I find myself unable to really believe–at least on a visceral level–in a life after this one. So in that sense, I’m psychologically like an atheist, but baffled by that subset that are not terrified by the prospect of their own annihilation. Am I a coward or do they have a defective self-preservation instinct?

    Once I was watching a nature documentary, and I imagined how miserable life must be for a solitary predator. Each day, get up and hunt, play that game every day until inevitably a string of a few failures–or maybe you just sprain an ankle and can’t hunt for a few days–and then you die. What would I do if that was my whole existence, with nothing better to look forward to? And the answer arose from my soul “Then I would try my hardest hunting every day to extend my miserable existence as long as possible. Life need offer nothing but itself.” Dostoevsky tells a similar story in The Idiot. I don’t remember the details, but something about a man surrounded by an abyss. What does he do? Keep his balance and avoid falling as long as possible, even if that’s all his life is. Unamuno and Dostoevsky clearly had this survival instinct.

  5. Dividualist, you speak of existence very much from a spatio-temporal perspective. God, by any meaningful definition, must have His Being outside spacetime. Combining that with His being that than which nothing greater can be conceived, human notions of size and position and their relationship to human significance lack relevance. Differentials between big and small matter little to the Infinite. The Earth may be all that is suitable for humans to live in, but it may be enough, for all we know. Additionally, you should consider that it is only a Cartesian error that quantitative attributes have in recent centuries been given priority over qualitative ones.

    There is also the matter of morality. There are only two things an atheist needs to know when he contemplates doing something which involves what theists would consider a moral decision: 1). Do I want to do it? 2). Can I get away with it (obviously, if it’s possible I cannot, I should abstain, because incarceration will prevent me doing it again, perhaps for quite a while)? If an atheist recoils from such a calculation, he is not yet a full-blooded one, but still affected by residual theistic morality.

  6. Dividualist,

    Not to gang up on you, but I’d like to unpack mickvet’s comment about quantitative and qualitative attributes.

    You write of the magnitude of the universe, and how improbable you find it that a God who created it would resemble human beings in any way, or be concerned with their fate. What you must understand, however, is that you, yourself, are *greater* than all the vastness of space. Stars, black holes, planets, galaxies, the near-infinite vacuum — all of these have less worth and dignity than you. With enough time and observation, you could comprehend them all, hold all of them in your mind, perceive their very substances, but they will never understand the least aspect of your existence. You pursue a course determined by your ideas about what is good, a course freely chosen, which you can alter by your own will; they take the course determined for them by physical laws or the “kindly inclining” of nature. They are themselves beautiful, but you can apprehend their beauty, appreciate it, reflect on it, and use it as inspiration to create new forms, even entire new worlds.

    By endowing you with reason and free-will, God has elevated you above merely material things, no matter their size. In all our direct experience, nothing is so impressive as a human mind. Given that, it’s no surprise that God would be more like us than crude matter or blind, purposeless energies.

    Ancient and medieval peoples understood this, by the way. Which is why they, too, looked out on a universe which they knew to be vast, in which our planet and species are comparatively unimportant. But where you see cause for atheism and despair, they delighted, because they knew that, low as they might be, they were still included in the small, ludicrously privileged circle of rational beings to whom God has given everything — including Himself.

  7. @Dividualist

    Hopefully my comment will count as ganging up on you too, but there’sa largely negative point I’d like to make that can be viewed as auxiliary to the points made above: humans, rational animals with their lives largely conditioned by the visible world, care about spatial-temporal scale, as, at least to some degree, we should. The Absolute is in no way thus conditioned.

    Doctors say I’m prone to depression, but when I contemplate the vastness of the universe I get:
    1) A kind of frustration due to the fact that I can see no sufficiently easily imaginable way of claiming all of this matter for humanity and -its- service of God (I guess my love for the Habsburgs helped the “Plus ultra!” mentality get hold of me; if only there were shows about His Imperial Majesty’s Space Ship “Santissima Trinidad” instead of SocialistJW’s in space from time to time corrupting innocent aliens), which on a good day is almost immediately countered by the realisation that, though the “imperial” political common good is great, even naturally it’s not the highest good there is for humans to pursue (but then, I concur with prof. Feser in holding the immateriality and thus a kind of survival of the soul/of us through them);
    On a bad day, I’d probably think that (in light of the conviction mentioned above) this world isn’t really meant to be our final home, so the discomfort produced by the vastness should be there.

    2) The realisation that the vastness of the cosmos is actually a good artistic way of showing that quantative scale is only of secondary importance (this presupposes a kind of preoccupation with it on our part towk), and thus a better metaphor for God qua creator and provident Power is an artist – already a more intuitively transcendent image – painting on a very large canvas, rather than, say, a merely prudent prince of a cosmic Lichtenstein (though Lichtenstein is a better ex than pretty much everything else: the prince’s power doesn’t depend on his subjects all that much, and God in no way depends on His creatures). If the vastness is not readily intelligible in terms of utility, perhaps utility is not the paramount concern the Creator has in mind.

    3) The understanding that, ceteris paribus, a palace with both English and French gardens is eminently grand.

    ——-

    So it seems that it’s not the vastness that does the (largely poetic in both cases) heavy lifting here.

  8. @JMSmith

    For what it’s worth, let me add a Russian testimony to this: the thing that most Russians seem to care about primarily, apart from family and personal interest, is Russia’s grandeur, glory. However, due at least in part widespread moral colour blindness that allows us to venerate both our traditional -and- Communist empire, Alexander III -and- Stalin, this concern doesn’t seem to induce serious reservations about contracepting/aborting away her future or abandoning the country (or making others leave) through brain- or capital-drain emigration on the part of at least some of the more vocal patriots.

  9. My only two collective identities are “Catholic” and “white”, and I wouldn’t know how to embrace an identity people expected me to be proud of.

    Bonald,

    Do you identify as American in this sense?

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