[I was already quite certain that I could, if I chose, cut myself off from the whole life of the universe..., I was quite clear on that issue; that there was a final adversary, and that you might find a man resolutely turned away from goodness. - G.K. Chesterton]
I. Lucifer: The original pro-choicer
Only one creature out of all the billions of intelligent beings ever created actually exercised what modern man celebrates as his unique and exclusive achievement: the freedom of autonomous choice. That creature was an angel named Lucifer. Although St. Michael and the good angels certainly exercised their choice for God freely, I suspect that they did not experience their choice as a choice. In other words, their choice was not existentially autonomous. They were conscious solely of their obligation of unquestioning and unhesitating obedience to God. And by preserving their ignorance of any possible alternative, they preserved their innocence. The first stirrings in their angelic intellects of the mere consideration of the possibility of disobedience to the source of all being would have been their downfall.
I think their first experience of the real possibility of a choice against God occurred not in the subjectivity of their own choice, but in the objective awareness of the choice of Lucifer. It was thus an abstract, impersonal, and non-existential awareness; it had no influence on Michael and the good angels. Not so with the bad angels. They seem to have acted “under the influence,” as it were. The Scriptures say: “With his tail he dragged a third of the stars out of the sky and threw them down to the earth.” “The great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” [my emphasis]. We can conclude that the devil possessed a powerful influence over a number of the angels. At some point, they became his angels.
Perhaps Lucifer’s choice against God influenced these angels to hesitate in their otherwise constant resolve to obey God, thus permitting the harrowing experience of the possibility of choosing the non-God. And perhaps, for an angelic intellect, the felt possibility of choosing against God was already its reality. Consider that the angelic intellect, unlike the human, has no need of discursive deliberation to make a choice. Thus, Lucifer and his angels tasted the original forbidden fruit, the experience of autonomous, free choice—the choice of the nothing over God.
Unlike Lucifer and the bad angels, we humans will never experience the horror of an autonomous choice, for our wills are inexorably inclined towards the Good, even if we often choose the wrong good. “Why did Lucifer choose to rebel against God?” we inevitably ask, for we are hardwired to seek a cause for personal action, some kind of influence. Perhaps, in Lucifer’s case, he was influenced by a mistaken notion of the good. However, there was no room for such error in his pure angelic mind. His choice was the cause of his choice, period. It is a mystery we will never be able to understand, at least in this world.
Whether it is our intrinsic attraction to the good, or the physical, emotional, cultural, and political milieu in which we live, there is no escaping the fact that autonomous free choice is an impossibility for humans. As we have speculated, social influence seems to have existed even among the disembodied angels, so it certainly exists among social and political animals. Insofar as we attempt to avoid this influence or deny its existence, when we attempt to become, in the words of Michael Sandel, “unencumbered selves,” we are seeking a non-creature-like state of being to which even Lucifer’s bad angels couldn’t attain. Even God Himself falls short of unencumbered self-hood, since His choices (to speak anthropomorphically for a moment) flow from, and, in a sense, are limited by the absolute goodness of His essence. When we aspire to absolute freedom of choice, then, we are seeking to imitate the one being that, perhaps, did attain to autonomous choice, Lucifer, and in doing so became the author of evil.
II. The worship of nothing
The essence of the Luciferian program is to seduce human beings into believing that their salvation lies in experiencing the freedom of autonomy that Lucifer felt. That hesitation we often feel in our wills, even when confronted with an obvious good, is the sinful inheritance of Adam, but in the religion of Lucifer, it is to be deliberately cultivated as the supreme virtue. The ever-elusive experience of autonomous choice becomes the new sacrament of initiation, the Baptism by which we are prepared to participate in the worship of… nothing. As the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Hart maintains, the worship of nothing is the established religion of the modern west:
As modern men and women—to the degree that we are modern—we believe in nothing. This is not to say, I hasten to add, that we do not believe in anything; I mean, rather, that we hold an unshakable, if often unconscious, faith in the nothing, or in nothingness as such. It is this in which we place our trust, upon which we venture our souls, and onto which we project the values by which we measure the meaningfulness of our lives. Or, to phrase the matter more simply and starkly, our religion is one of very comfortable nihilism.
If we want some tangible evidence that the established religion of modern western culture is the Luciferian worship of nothing, we only have to look for its visible fruits. The most visible fruit of the worship of the living God would be joy, and in a Catholic culture predicated upon this worship, one would see evidence of this joy, particularly among the young. But what do we see when we look at the countenances of today’s children? Absolute boredom—the rotten fruit of nothing-worship. Michael Hanby writes:
A world that is “beyond good and evil,” in which nothing is either genuinely good or genuinely bad, and no truth, goodness, or beauty are revealed, is a world in which nothing is either intrinsically desirable or detestable. Such a world affords no possibility of seeing and using things as holy, which means to some degree letting them be, because in such a world there can be no holy things. Boredom is therefore the defining condition of a people uniquely in danger of losing their capacity to love, that is, a people uniquely in danger of failing to grasp “the mystery of [its] own being” and losing its very humanity.
III. Abstracted from abstraction by abstraction
Since nothing, literally, does not exist, how is it possible for humans to worship it? How can men encounter, let alone worship, no-thing? How did Lucifer choose nothingness over the overwhelming irresistibility of the presence of God? Charles DeKoninck, in his critique of modernist, enlightenment philosophy, gives us a clue:
One can say, “It is possible to be and to not be at the same time and in the same respect”; “The part is greater than the whole”, though one cannot think such things. But yet, they are grammatically correct phrases. Transcendent power of language: one can say both the thinkable and the unthinkable. Power to use the purely irrational. I can say, “I do not exist”. And with that I can found “I exist” on pure non-being. I say it! Who will stop me? Let them stop me. I will say it again. Myself, and myselves. Before long, a society of myselves.” The liberty of speech is discovered: speech set loose from intellect… Free, finally. In the beginning, the word of man.
Perhaps Lucifer employed his unimaginably powerful intellect to create and then immerse himself in an abstract and unreal universe of words— “liberty” and “equality” come to mind—thereby severing himself from the concrete and real Being of God. I think man’s worship of nothingness is made possible with a similar misuse of language, through a relentless program of abstraction. Since his creation, man has attempted to flee the ubiquitous reality of God through creative abstraction from the natural things of His creation and the supernatural plan of His redemption. Fallen man has always been offended at the “scandal of particularity,” always seeking to live in a universe of his own devising, always abstracting from the concrete, contingent, particular, fleshy, historical realities in which he, as a creature of matter and spirit, finds himself, and through which God has chosen to communicate Himself to him.
All was well in the Garden until Adam and Eve began abstracting: “It can’t be this particular fruit on this particular tree that could be so significant to God and our happiness!” For the ancient Greek philosophers, God’s existence was knowable; for the Jews, He was a living presence. But that he would limit Himself to a backwater village in the East, or become anything less than a divine conqueror, was foolishness to the former and a stumbling block to the latter. Martin Luther accepted the truth that the universal became particular in the Incarnation, but denied that this Incarnation should be identified with a particular, historical, visible institution demanding man’s obedience. Enlightenment man accepted the existence of God and absolute truth, but demanded that these be universally accessible solely through man’s reason. “Enlightenment” would be the result of abstracting from one’s particular and contingent cultural and religious “superstitions” to attain the universal truth transcending them. But such a position was tantamount to abstracting the Incarnation out of reality, to rejecting the entire supernatural order made manifest in Our Lord, and denying the necessity of His grace and teachings for an accurate understanding and practice of even natural truth and virtue. Postmodern man appeared to have overcome this error, rightly rejecting Enlightenment man’s facile claim to have discovered self-evident absolute truths in abstraction from particularist commitments. He discovered that the historical, the cultural, the societal, that is, the particular, cannot be so easily cut out of the picture—“Self-evident to whom?” A fair question, that. Yet, by denying the possibility of attaining universal truth through its particular embodiments, the atheist-oriented postmodernists rejected the reality of transcendence for the abstraction of pure immanence. In short, every error of man throughout history has been the result of missing the balance between immanence and transcendence, the human and the divine, the particular and the universal, by abstracting out some particular realm of natural or supernatural reality.
IV. Extra traditio nullus salus est: No reality outside of tradition
It is in the simple enjoyment of humble, everyday things—“boats and boots”—to use the words of C.S. Lewis, that we stay in contact with creation and the Creator, where abstractions break down and we encounter the living God. As G.K. Chesterton noted, “The simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality.” It is only inside the abstract, universal, and bloodless abstractions of our own making that we can escape real things. There we may, as Adam and Eve, hide from God and become, like Lucifer, indifferent to Him.
One way of ensuring contact with reality is immersion in the living, breathing Roman Catholic Tradition, “a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar” as Chesterton described it—no abstractions there. In general, tradition is the concrete, contingent, particular, and historically embodied realities of our daily lives, unified together under a coherent system of thought and practice. It is any set of practices, customs, rituals, texts, arguments, authorities, institutions, artifacts (and any other type of historically extended and socially embodied phenomena) unified by a distinct narrative or story serving to interpret and order these phenomena, affording the participant particular habits of knowing, judging, and feeling, and thus access to an overarching comprehension of the world, the good, and his place in it. As Alasdair MacIntyre has brilliantly demonstrated, it is only through active participation in particular authentic traditions that men are rendered capable of discovering and achieving their ultimate good. For it is through a particular tradition that we ascend to universal truth.
Indeed, without tradition we are unable to make any sense of reality at all, because our bodies, minds, and souls are, largely, products of tradition themselves. As body and soul composites, our encounter with reality is mediated by our bodies, which are themselves mediated by history and culture. Even the words and concepts we use to interpret and make sense of the brute facts of reality originate and develop in what MacIntyre calls “traditions of rationality.” All men are necessarily habituated into a particular tradition, even if it is an incoherent and considerably defective one like the tradition of modern liberalism. Outside of tradition coherent knowledge and discovery of the good is practically impossible. We are, in MacIntyre’s improvement on Aristotle’s classic definition, “tradition-dependent rational animals.” In short, there is no reality for us, that is, no human contact with reality, outside of tradition.
Recapitulating what we have said so far: The intimate encounter with God immunizes us to nothing-worship, the robust encounter with real being is the prerequisite for divine encounter, and authentic tradition enables the intelligible encounter with reality. The devil knows all this, being an expert logician, and so he desires above all the annihilation of authentic tradition. His main target, of course, is Catholic Tradition, for it provides the surest means to an intimate encounter with both natural and supernatural reality.
The diabolically fomented World Wars of our past century sapped much of the life out of the religious and cultural tradition of the west, with the anti-traditional abstractions of communism, fascism, and Nazism serving as demonic parodies of the Catholic Church. But Lucifer’s e coup de grace would be saved for the next century. To his dismay, his all out destructive assault on tradition in the early part of the twentieth century evoked a robust counterattack by men of good will in the later half. Lucifer learned his lesson: men cannot exist without some sort of tradition.
Thus, instead of reattempting the direct destruction of the western Christian tradition, rendered rather vestigial, decrepit, and paltry from his first assault, this time he pursued a subtler but more effective method. Realizing that any authentic tradition, even a barely-breathing one, is a receiver and transmitter of the divine, his stroke of genius was to inspire the construction and establishment of an abstract anti-tradition that would receive and transmit nothing. It would be similar in its unreality to the abstractions of communism, fascism, and Nazism, but it would bear such a strong resemblance to the Christian tradition it would replace as to preclude detection. Implemented surreptitiously and cloaking itself in the form of its host, it would serve as the tradition to end all tradition. Not only would there be no counterattack this time, men of good will would have no idea what hit them—or even that they had been hit. We shall now examine in more detail this diabolical “Great Façade,” this tradition to end all tradition— the tradition of nothing worship.
The second part of “The Tradition of Nothing Worship” continues in next week’s edition.