When the Roman Empire splintered and shattered, the modern West was born. This was a point on which another student of Byzantine history and I agreed. Where did the West originate? The Greek agorae? The Roman legions? Or the Christian monasteries?
It’s a bit of a trick question, because all contributed to the formation of our civilization. Yet the monasteries were the last critical component. It was the Church, for better or worse, that nourished the West after Rome was gone. Even in Byzantium, where the Roman state continued in some form, the Church was increasingly the light that held eastern Christians together as Islam slowly consumed its share of the Roman world. Observe the Divine Liturgy sometime and tell me that, even today, the Orthodox Christians do not mourn the loss of the old Byzantine world.
Speak to college students today, and many will tell you that the “Dark Ages” were a time of burning scientists at the stake, inquisitors conducting witch hunts, and, of course, the Crusades. Islam was the great, prosperous bastion of learning while Europe slumbered in ignorance. That such twisted history is taught in public schools and universities is beyond travesty, it’s profoundly anti-civilizational.
As the West loses touch with its faith, it loses an essential component of its collective soul, so to speak.
I’m no exception. I’m an example of this. My historical studies kept leading me to God. Events in my life, people I met and interacted with. They always led to God and to the Church. I don’t think this was an accident.
The same student of Byzantine history who asked which of the three contributed most to the West had another observation: there is a crisis of meaning in the West that people try to medicate away. Maybe we could just call it Nihilism, but it’s a little more than that, I think. From my DJ booth, I’ve seen a lot of drugs, sex, and hedonistic behavior. On occasion I have asked some folks why they do what they do. In aggregate, the reasons boil down to a sort of cosmic boredom: if there’s no meaning in anything, why not drink, get stoned into high orbit, and dive into an orgy party? There’s a certain logic to it.
Let’s not kid ourselves. People have been getting drunk, stoned, and being sexually depraved throughout human history. This, by itself, is not new. The Bible itself speaks of such times. Notice, however, the common theme in such examples: there is no faith in God. Instead, the faith is replaced with an inferior thing. A golden calf, mass sexual depravity, etc… These idols stand in for God, but very poorly. There’s a link here. I can speak to it personally.
Humans are wired to desire a higher purpose and meaning to their lives. Maybe it’s just instinct, just genetics making us seek out something that doesn’t exist because, somehow, this is advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. Maybe God-seekers are more likely to, in the grand scheme of things, survive and pass on their genes. From the amount of fucking the golden calf worshipers do, though, I doubt this. At best, you are looking at an r/K selection bias.
Or maybe this is all real. Maybe God does exist. And when you attempt to replace the divine with some human creation, it leads to a soul-sucking barrenness, something that you have to medicate away with drugs, booze, and hedonism. And you keep throwing things into that great hole in your life, and nothing ever fills it. Nothing makes the emptiness go away but God.
In either case, as God fades from the West, the cultural malaise spreads. I’m about as certain as I can be that there is a link. I can’t prove it to you in concrete terms. I’m the kind of man who speculates on things and looks for connections. I am a poor purveyor of proofs. But look around you and see if you spot the same sickness. Maybe you’ll agree with me.
Faith in God kept us going long enough to get back on our feet from a civilizational perspective. Far from being the cartoon witch-burning villains, the monasteries of the middle ages were preservers of what came before. Much of what remains of the ancient world is because of their efforts. Maybe the answer to the soul sickness we see today is the same as it was when the Roman edifice came toppling down: God. That choice cannot be worse than a golden calf or a crack pipe.
I’ve made my choice, and I’ve chosen God. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb often says, I have skin in the game now. I have chosen to enter the Catholic Church.
Which way, Western Man?