The Center of Culture
Gil Bailie has noted, echoing the seminal work of Rene Girard, that at the center of every culture is religion; not just any kind of religion, but "the sacred" in the terminology of perichoretic anthropology and mimetic theory.
Only one civilization has ever tried to found a culture without religion at its center. This grand experiment can be loosely called "the west" after the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Of course, one could argue that the Founding Fathers of the United States based the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on self-evident Natural Law. But one would be hard pressed to say either they or leaders to the present consulted the teachings of Judeo Christianity en masse when structuring law or policy. The European Union has in fact gone out of its way to insure even reference to the historical beginnings of Europe and its inextricable ties to the Catholic Church are shelved, muted and ignored.
Be this as it may be, the grand experiment of maintaining and thriving as a culture without religion at its center is failing rapidly and alarmingly. The writer Mark Steyn recently noted in his book, America Alone, the following:
"We are witnessing the end of the late twentieth-century progressive welfare democracy. Its fiscal bankruptcy is merely a symptom of a more fundamental bankruptcy: its insufficiency as an animating principle for society. The children and grandchildren of those Fascists and Republicans who waged a bitter civil war for the future of Spain now shrug when a bunch of foreigners blow up their capital. Too sedated even to sue for terms, they capitulate instantly. Over on the other side of the equation, the modern multicultural state is too watery a concept to bind huge numbers of immigrants to the land of their nominal citizenship. So they look elsewhere and find the jihad. The Western Muslim's pan-Islamic identity is merely the first great cause in a world where globalized pathologies are taking the place of old-school nationalism."
Is the shell of old Christendom doomed to be filled by the most unlikely successor, its old nemesis, Islam? And without a bang but with a whimper?
Ask yourself: What, besides Islam, is the natural alternative for the West to refind and reclaim as its "animating principle" or "great cause," in Steyn's words. Is it truly too late? Has a tipping point been passed?
As I recall, the Tower of Babel story that leaves the human race in basic shambles in the eleventh chapter of Genesis leads directly into God's making an obscure man in Ur an offer of covenant.
It is as though it all comes down to a single person, this narrative of salvation history, and then begins its long building, broadening and burgeoning. Like two pyramids balanced ever so precariously one atop the other, apex to apex.
The point: it is not too late for the West. The way of salvation history seems always to be pulling the fat out of the fire at improbably and nearly impossible moments of inbreaking grace, kairos, remorse, penitence, metanoia and renewed faithfulness.
It is unfaithfully despairing to think and believe and act otherwise. At the center of western culture, long forgotten and proudly cast off, is the Word made flesh. The Church, also disdained, continues her faithful witness in Word and Sacrament. Scripture and Tradition are served by the Magisterium. And the Massketeers lay our useless swords at the feet of this true Center of culture.