Why the West Needs the Church
The greatest pretense of the French Revolution is that you could separate action from valuation; that you could separate Church and State. That the affairs of this world could be solved through reason alone, while matters of spirituality and moral development could be shuffled off to the private realm.
It is an understandable pretense. Catholicism has never been a theocracy, where the rulers are semi-divine and beyond reproach; and the Church has long made a point of being above politics, of looking towards heaven and speaking to the soul, while encouraging those with power to wield it in a Christian manner. The Church stayed out of the daily politics of the kingdom, but nonetheless sustained them with her spiritual fortitude, and in abandoning her, and trusting to the power of our reason alone, Western Civilization has lost its way; we’ve been slowly drifting off course for a very long time.
Now, to describe all the practical benefits of the Church completely misses the point. The Church has no more reason for existing than truth, beauty, or goodness; the point isn’t the practicality, these things justify themselves by their very nature. But to the mind of the modern, steeped in materialism and utility, arguments from practicality can be a way of opening the door.
If your goal is revitalizing the West, then there are three practical benefits – nay, necessities – which a return to Christ offers.
First is the fact that the Church imbues moral character into its adherents.
Christianity, more so than any other religion, instills a sense of self-governorship into the Christian. The ancient Romans spoke often of the virtues: courage, integrity, honour – writings which the Church preserved and celebrated – but these writings were targeted solely at the upper class. Slaves and peasants were expected to be obsequious and obedient, in need of training like any common beast of burden. In China, Kong Fuzi taught the importance of hierarchy, noblesse oblige, and charity; but he failed to demand courage and integrity. The Samurai understood the imperative of honour, familial and societal; but they never fully drew the connection between public face and inner life.
Only in Christianity do we see the imperative that the individual is responsible for their own salvation. That blind obedience is not enough, that “good enough” is not good enough. Only in Christianity are all men called to the life of a saint, where they treat their neighbour like their brother.
The value of this widespread personal integrity is easy to miss, particularly for the young. Young adults are afforded a great deal of freedom once they leave their parents’ house, but it is a freedom mitigated by the subtle training programs instilled by office and job site. Young adults who work for a living are provided with various carrots and sticks – show up to work on time, and get your paycheque – and much of the sport of youth is seeing how far you can bend the rules without breaking them.
By the time you reach your thirties, however, if you still need to be threatened with a stick, you are utterly worthless as an employee; you are no better than a slave.
Christianity instills the sense of radical responsibility, where you hold off on getting drunk, not because you fear that your boss will fire you in the morning, but because you recognize that continence is a moral imperative. It creates a civilization where high-trust is possible, where the merchant doesn’t cheat you or charge exorbitant prices out of his own sense of duty to you as his brother, thus saving time and energy in the marketplace; negotiations are neither cutthroat nor zero sum. Policing is made easier, as every criminal has a nagging sense of guilt, and a desire to confess; likewise, a Christian police force is willing to show mercy to the criminal who is truly repentant, encouraging their confession.
By instilling these values into every individual, the Church creates a more just, more efficient, and more trusting society for all.
The second reason is an outgrowth of the first. By learning to police yourself, you not only become a more trustworthy and civilized person – doing what is right, even when you can get away with doing what is wrong – you also become a better person overall. By choosing temperance over drunkenness, you not only benefit your employer, you benefit yourself. By choosing mercy over wrath, you not only save your enemy, you save yourself the costs of an unnecessary fight. By consistently choosing virtue over vice – not because you will be caught, but because you know that virtue is a personal duty – you wind up becoming a better, stronger, more successful version of you.
Going to Church reinforces this. Confession forces you to reexamine all of your behaviours – to square the “you” of Friday night with the “you” of Sunday morning, to force them into a coherent whole, and to take responsibility for all of your actions. It removes contradictions, and edifies you as a person. You become the “you” that you were meant to be.
There is also the supernatural component; the grace bestowed by accepting the sacrament. But this is one of the Mysteries, and must be experienced first hand to be grasped.
The third benefit of the Church is that it provides a direction for the civilization as a whole. The modern materialist – if he is honest – is constantly confronted with the existential challenge of “What’s this whole thing for, anyway?” Increasing the GDP of a nation is a noble goal, but if it is the only goal, then how can one draw a distinction between wealth and consumerism? If the utility of “hedons” is the goal, then drug addiction, sexual depravity, and narcissism are just as worthy as helping the poor, staying faithful to your wife, and taking pride in the achievements of your offspring. If power is the goal, then the mafia don and Genghis Khan are the equals of Henry Ford and Charlemagne.
As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” The Church provides a North Star which guides our travels across this murky sea. If the goal of our civilization is saving souls, then uplifting our brothers becomes an imperative; we help them overcome vice and strengthen themselves, and they in turn become more trustworthy and more productive. By pursuing moral excellence in ourselves we serve as an example to those around us. By valuing the eternal souls of all who surround us, we gradually move towards achieving true social justice, and not the ugly monstrosity proffered by the left.
Wherever the Church has thrived, civilization has followed after it; and if we want to reclaim the glory of the West, it would be prudent to accept that historical lesson, however humbling it might be.
Deus vult, my brothers.