Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind
Long Beard: Sleepwalker

Some Ominous Words

"We live in times when the very composition of man is changing."

The remark was made sometime in the 1980s by Fr. John Krestiankin, a Russian Orthodox monk, and is quoted in a long piece called "The New Martyrs and Confessors: A Personal Memoir of Russia's Orthodox Clergy & Elders Under Communism," written by Fr. Vladimir Vorbyev and appearing in the September/October issue of Touchstone.

(This link may take you to the article; I think it's subscriber-only but this link is supposed to allow me to share it.)

Many years ago--maybe in the late '70s or early '80s, maybe even earlier--I read someone's conjecture, based on some esoteric spirituality that included reincarnation, that there is only a certain amount of human spiritual "matter," and that the ever-growing population of the world, especially its growth in the past couple of centuries, means that this essence is being spread ever thinner among the living. I didn't believe it, but it was one of those eccentric theories that make you think "Well, it would explain a few things." 

I have often, over the years, going back to my acquaintance with the literature of the past when I was young, felt that the writers (and other artists) seemed to be made of...well, "sterner stuff" is the phrase that comes to mind after "made of," and that's probably part of it, but there's more to it than that. And anyway it's not only sterner; it's also in a way softer, more sensitive. In general it seems richer and stronger. I wouldn't really defend those observations as truth, but they are, as I say, something that has passed through my mind. I thought of it again a couple of years ago when I was looking through a trove of family records going back into the late 19th century. There were, for instance, poems written more or less casually in letters or published in the local paper that were remarkably well-crafted, certainly beyond what an ordinary person of ordinary education would be likely to produce today. And I guess we've all seen and heard of the McGuffey Readers of that time which were used in elementary schools but would be considered too difficult for our high school or even college students.

I don't wish I had lived in 1850. Or 1150, or any other time. I don't think we can say that people were any more virtuous before, say, 1900: those times were full of brutalities which were accepted as normal but which horrify us. And yet: doesn't it sometimes seem that we are a smaller, more trivial people than we once were? Fr. Vladimir continues:

At first I couldn't understand these words, but then I recalled the Book of Genesis, which says that God sent the Flood to the earth when he saw that men became fleshly (9:3). "The very composition of man is changing" meant that the spirit was diminishing. Alas, there are more and more people in whom it's hard to perceive their spiritual nature, because for some reason they want to behave like beasts.

It isn't the comparison to beasts that strikes me so much as "the spirit was diminishing." I don't know if that's the best way to describe it, either. But I've had the feeling for a long time that there is something bad going on in our culture that is spiritual and very deeply hidden, something more fundamental than mere skepticism, hedonism, and materialism--something that helps to give those their power. 


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Like they came and found the house well-swept and moved in in force?


Well...I really don't like to think that but it sure seems like a good possibility.

I remember someone saying several years back (might have been D.B. Hart) that we know what paganism is historically but we really have no idea what a post-Christian paganism will look like. One thing's pretty sure -- it isn't going to be "Imagine."

That song has become a classic in a way that its fans don't intend: it sums up so perfectly so much that's wrong in the thinking, or lack thereof, of the enlightened. Their love of it completes the picture.

I'm pretty sure DBH is not the only one to make an observation of that sort. Lewis may have, and maybe even Chesterton. I would like to hear DBH's though, as I'm sure it was elegantly expressed.

"And the last state of that man is worse than the first."

Old paganism is a forgetful child; new paganism is a patricidal, rebellious child. Of course, what the forgetful child forgot was the patricidal, rebellion at the beginning.

The "new" paganism looks like the French Revolution. So, it's not that new.

Patricidal is right.

There's a popular left-wing magazine called Jacobin. Nothing wrong with naming a magazine after the people who kicked off the Reign of Terror.

French Revolution. That is exactly what I think all the time. I wish I could tell these people that the next wave of leaders is going to eliminate them.


How many times have people commented on various slaughters with an observation about how thin the veneer of civilization can be? And here these people are, scraping away at it. I'm not going to say "we" because I'm not doing it. Maybe I would be capable of it in the right circumstances, but I'm not doing it now.

In spite of having ranted about it for decades I will never quite get over or accept the leftist mindset that views fascism as the ultimate evil but thinks communism is basically a good idea.

"In spite of having ranted about it for decades I will never quite get over or accept the leftist mindset that views fascism as the ultimate evil but thinks communism is basically a good idea."

To my mind a similar logic prevents me from being a full-on supporter of either socialism or capitalism. In the real world both have their strong points but also their strong negatives, such that I could never support either wholeheartedly. Which is why I remain "unaffiliated" and find the work of such people as Berry, Lasch, and the distributists most attractive -- one way or another they're trying to avoid the pitfalls of both.

Discussions of capitalism and socialism are usually so tiresome, because people use the words in such different ways. For some, "capitalism" just means private property. For some, "socialism" just means helping people. Sometimes "capitalism" really is a stand-in for the particular way in which the U.S. is hyper-commercial. Sometimes "socialism" means Sweden, sometimes it means Cuba. Very frustrating. Although very useful if your actual intention is to deceive.

Communism ought to have a clearer and more definite meaning, but it doesn't necessarily, either. Twenty years or so ago there was a very funny fuss going on here involving a guy whose rural property had been brought into city or county (I can't remember) garbage service, for which he was charged a fee. He kept screaming that it was "Communism!"

There is a lecture series by Patrick Bracy Bersnak, called Catholicism, Communism, and the Common Good on the Institute for Catholic Culture (ICC) website. It discusses the difference between Socialism and Communism and has been very helpful to me in many ways. I am only partway through and I need to listen to it again with paper and pen in hand instead of a dishcloth, so I can retain what I am hearing.


Oh dear

All is well.

Well, not *all*. But that.

Nice to have some things you can fix.


It is indeed.

~~He kept screaming that it was "Communism!"~~

LOL -- Just like the guy at the beginning of Confederacy of Dunces.

It was in print so I don't know if he pronounced it "commonis."

Actually I've heard maybe a dozen people or so over the years denounce some fairly minor law or regulation as communism, in all seriousness.

What they probably mean is "totalitarian"; that is, lacking in sufficient subsidiarity!

You give them too much credit. It’s more like “Ain’t nobody going to tell me what to do.” :-). Very American. Very southern.

Ha! That is exactly what I was going to say.


:-) And by implication anybody who does try to tell me what to do is a communist. Though I guess that isn't used as much any more. Something like "literally a fascist" is more likely now.

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