The Benedictine priest and renown physicist Stanley Jaki reposed in the Lord last April (2009).
I honor him especially for his afflicting all Theories of Everything (TOE's) and Grand Unification Theories (GUT's) with that especially cranky invention of Kurt Gödel, the "incompleteness theorem." Fr./Dr. Jaki used this theorem like a crowbar: and as I think that TOE/GUT's lie as the organizing myth of the current ethos, the good Benedictine physicist did the Gideon stomp on this age's fetish idols like no one else.
(I don't know if Jaki knew anything about Paul Elmer More. He would be happy to know that More, almost a century ago in Harvard, contended that any comprehensive explanation of the workings of life and the world -- i.e., "monism" -- amount to error. In his nice article on More, Prof. Brian Domitrovic points out Rousseauianism and Darwinism as two examples of "monism.")
Recently, I dredged up one of his prophetic essays in which he ventured out of the jungle of physics and onto the plain. On the cusp of 9/11, when the world was still thinking about Y2K and Clinton's peccadilloes (what halcyon days those were), Stanley Jaki wrote a jeremiad entitled "A Thousand Years from Now" (which can be read in its entirety here).
Here are some of my gleanings. Jaki's words are in italics. My snarky comments are enclosed, fittingly, in parentheses:
It became the mark of modern times to glory in turning things inside out and applaud those who claim that it is better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.
(I think Jaki was referring to Rousseau here. This is not a hard guess, as most negative references about libertine secular humanism end up at Rousseau's nudist self. He is also referring to Irving Babbitt's distinction between Burke's moral imagination and Rousseau's idyllic imagination, which Babbitt and Eliot suggest is always prone toward totalitarianism of either the Marxist or fascist sort.)
(Oh, and by the way, just in case you haven't noticed: the media is populated only with fake somebodies, and has no interest – by definition – in real nobodies.)
The explosive rise of the stock market allows the media to lull the public into thinking that millennium is around the corner as the new millennium begins. This new age, as any other age, will have its own ethos as well as its ethics, because ethics are merely the reflection of ethos, or the climate of thought. The ethos keeps revealing its shallowness because pragmatism can have no depths.
(Please note that Jaki wrote this in 2001, when Wall Street was still being celebrated as the secular temple of salvation. Please note, too, that Jaki says something rotten about pragmatism – something with which I fully agree, even while taking into consideration the considerable weight of William James. James is wrong. Bentham is wrong.)
Conservatives … would be hard pressed if asked what exactly they want to conserve. The comfort of the mere status quo? The pleasure of seeing one's children thinking no differently from their grandparents? … The stability of banking rules? The supple rigidity of political power brokering that favors the conservatives? Or something deeper? Of course, there are conservatives who know better. But only a few of them dare to call a spade a spade and when they do they all too often put their feet in their mouths. This they do when they identify conservatism with politics, and, horribile dictu, with capitalism.
(Gee, I wonder who Jaki had in mind here? Let's read further --)
As to capitalism, conservatives, like anyone else, love to conserve their holdings. … For note a few conservatives … the accumulation of money, or the art of capitalism, must be acceptable only when hemmed in by strict moral guidelines set forth in the great social Encyclicals. Some Catholic advocates of capitalism have now thrown those guidelines overboard to such an extent as to create some strange perspectives indeed.
(Ahhh, it must be tough to be a neocon catholic, or at least one who actually listens to his metaphysical feedback loop. What is Bottum doing with the likes of Novak and Wiegel, who are turning into the rightist philistines that Mssrs. Chesterton, Belloc, Eliot, Lewis and Tolkien and all of the Agrarians and Romanides despaired of? Maybe "turning into" is the wrong term here.)
According to John Locke the purpose of the political state was to secure the unhindered accumulation of private holdings.
(This doesn't seem to square with the minimalist theory of state described in the Epistle to the Romans, or the Pastoral Epistle to Timothy; or even with the maximalist theory described in Paradiso. Maybe it's a new idea. Maybe it's even non-Christian, and if it is, then that fact adds an unpleasant metallic taste to the civil religion stew that's been brewing since Falwell's "Moral Majority" and that gloop of historiography, The Light and the Glory.)
Tools do not connote their proper use.
(This is a real scientist who said this, not a bioethicist, who usually brews – in his alchemical kitchen – intellectualized rationalizations of profit-making procedures that require human vivisection if you just look at it directly, but you never get the chance because you're too busy reading through the bioethical 5-inch binder notebooks in the hotel convention center. The bad-science/hyper-technology ethos in which we live and move and have our being has no place for explicit "proper use" – it's that "implicit" propriety that now obtains and that is hidden away from view at the behest of those who change the meaning of words. I wonder, just wonder, if "Christian bio-ethics" would be necessary at all if Christians were more faithful about capitalism.)
There was not a word in [the Wall Street Journal] presentation, "How Christianity Created Capitalism," about the late-medieval agonies over whether usury was no longer present when modest interest was taken on the loan or of the keen awareness at that time of the blunt dictum of Saint Jerome (no small mind, to be sure, and a saint at that) that merchants live in a permanent state of sin.
(I bet you've never read that quote of Jerome's in First Things, or Touchstone.)
For if there is an epitome of the perversity of the modern age, it is the coining of the acronym GAY. It was coined not so much to remove the legal strictures on strictly private homosexual acts, as to launch a moral crusade on behalf of homosexual fusions. GAY stands for "Good as You," that is, for the claim that living in homosexual unions is as good morally as living in "straight" marriages. In this crusade there came to a head what has been the chief aim of the modern age from its inception. The latter is to be located in the Renaissance, which aimed at the rebirth of that paganism that found in Christianity its sole real challenge and antagonist. The truth about the Renaissance has for long been an open secret, but recently Christians have become rather secretive about it. It took no small courage on Etienne Gilson's part to put, two generations ago, the matter bluntly: "The Renaissance marks the opening of an era in which man will profess to be satisfied with the state of fallen nature."
(Jaki must be forgiven here for his small error. The Renaissance was not the "rebirth" of paganism, for paganism cannot exist again after the Resurrection. What really happened in the Renaissance (despite the fairy tales in your high school "social studies" texts) was the murder of the Byzantine cultural commonwealth, and the lesser culture of western Christendom – a murder that took about five centuries to complete. Conservatives are aware of this: the Right Wing is not, as both "Wings" -- by definition -- usually get nauseated by self-awareness.)
Believers are under increased pressure to rethink their lifestyle, to take it for just one of the alternative lifestyles … any naïve Tom, Dick or Harry can be demolished in his inarticulate faith if he is ruined in his moral stance and integrity. Nothing comes so naturally to fallen man as to construct a set of perverse dogmas on behalf of moral perversity. The easiest means is to change the vocabulary.
(I'm okay with that.)
… such is the modern age in which man takes perverse pleasure in his fallen condition, by taking it for the height of his evolution.
(Jaki is complaining here about Einstein in particular. He wondered why no one noticed, when Time magazine elected the Relativist "the Person of the Century," that Einstein was quite the lothario, or casanova – I can't decide which. Apparently, Einstein enjoyed the company of scores of women in the interstitial spaces between his chalk talks. No one said anything, even the media who today rightly excoriates Republican – and sometimes Democrat –legislators and governors for their moral pipsqueakeries. I guess if you're smart, you're allowed to be "wicked," especially since we no longer use that word for "evil," but reserve it instead to connote some gaseous and pimply meaning like "really cool.")
(Oh, and by the way: has it ever occurred to any evolutionist that -- were their fantasies to ever work out -- we might get displaced by higher organisms someday, and it might not be the pleasant LSD trip rhapsodized by Teilhard? More likely is the nightmare of Lewis' Abolition of Man, where there is a constant devolutionary pressure to lapse into materialistic totalitarianism, dictator or no.)
[There is a] basis for a very measured optimism about the future: a thousand years from now there will still be room for opportunity to rejoin the war for a culture which is steeped in true cult and not in the cultivation of the self. Without true cult, culture is a mere counterfeit, a mere frill of increasingly decivilized civilizations that are at each other's throats.
(I think it was Coleridge who once quipped that "There is no culture without a cult." At the basis of every culture – a self-aware society with an ethos – there is a cult, no matter how squalid. We may be living in the first civilization that rejects the very nature of culture, if only to maximalize the revolution of "self-cultivation" and the sub-bestial enslavement to the Will. Note that Jaki's optimism – which is a hard thing to muster for a true conservative, as must needs be – lay only in "room for opportunity." I think, with my patron Saint John Chrysostomos, that the Last Day will be a thousand years hence at least, even so Maranatha. So I hope for opportunities to be apprehended, but I think the wilderness and the mountain, and the sea, are our place in time.)
Man will have cults because he cannot live without them. Cults will, unfortunately, clash. Unless the West wants to deny its very nature, it is most important for its survival to know which cult to cultivate. No tree has ever been known to flourish once it was uprooted, a truth valid even a thousand years from now and beyond.
(Here is Jaki's obligatory optimism for the West. The problem here is that the cult cultivated by the West is not the Orthodox Christian cult at all. It is the cult of self, and this is predominate in rightist circles and left. The West, in all likelihood, has been uprooted from Christianity once and for all. Civil religion will remain and entertain the tens of thousands, for sure. But the cult of Being and Becoming, of Truth and Trinity, of Atonement Sacrifice and the One Liturgy: that will go back to the byways and the meek, back to its mystical agrarian vocation: The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.)