As my readers are probably aware that Christmas Day is approaching, I will flag another religious event that is indirectly related. This is not outwardly a Christian event, nor alternatively “multicultural” either; nor really “upcoming,” since it is already here. Nor is it an “event” in the sense of a holiday, holy day, or anniversary, but rather “an event in history” that touches on Christmas.
To start, let me refer, though only tangentially, to what I have called elsewhere “the farce in Copenhagen.” It sets the tone, but is itself over now. We may even doubt much will follow directly from it, for the politicians who wrapped themselves around that particular post have started to notice their electorates passing them by on the highway. This is thanks partly to the release of e-mail and documents from the Climate Research Unit in England, which exposed a number of the major players in the “anthropogenic global warming” movement. But it is also for other cumulative reasons, including the failure of the earth’s climate to warm; and growing recollections of the fate of previous essays in environmentalist hysteria. Yet these “earth summits” continue to be staged as parodies of ancient Church councils and are shrouded in quasi-religious imagery and posturing.
The first environmentalist “epiphany” was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which began hitting major liberal media in June of 1962. We can date modern “environmentalism” — which is to say, the transformation of the old conservation ethic into a radical political cult — quite precisely to this pioneering DDT scare. What smiled through the hippiesque “whole earthiness” of the 1960s also began immediately to frown, sneer, convulse, and hiss in the long series of carefully promoted and escalating public panics about the population explosion, food shortages, Club-of-Rome forecasts, global cooling, acid rain, nuclear winter, the ozone hole, biological diversity, and so forth — today, global warming (with ocean acidification perhaps next). Each was advanced with quasi-religious enthusiasm and apocalyptic visions.
Curiously, we can date the parallel social revolution of second-wave feminism to about the same time: the appearance of Betty Friedan’s batty yet vicious transformation of amateur Freudianism and Marxism into the misandrist diatribe of The Feminine Mystique in February 1963.
Free-access abortion and other “gender-related” and eugenic aspects of this social revolution did not surface in the public consciousness until later, and yet the circumstances that triggered the writing of Humanae Vitae had themselves already been delivered as by-products of second-wave feminism. I am thinking of things like the sudden appearance of such organized, feminist-inspired abortion services as “Jane” in Chicago, which began arranging clandestine referrals for women who wished to have their unborn babies killed, to pliable “doctors” such as the infamous “Mike” (a psycho with feigned medical qualifications).
The emergence, alongside feminism, of the gay movement also dates from this time. It was, in a sense, an inevitable corollary of second-wave feminism, together with the rest of “sexual liberation”: the removal of all “stereotypes” of male and female, requiring the elimination of decency in relations between the sexes.
There are several more parallel narratives taking us back to the same formative moments in the earlier 1960s. For instance, the re-articulation of yet another form of “spilt religion” — the Darwinian creation myth. Note that this was not merely the old, scientistic, evolutionism-as-a-prop-to-atheism that had been with us since long before Darwin, but rather a new, specifically gnostic, quasi-religious and pseudo-scientific cult, pretending to explain everything from the universe at large to societal institutions, through the actions of a more personalized Gaia or evolutionary god — a kind of populist Bergsonism or Tielhardism to substitute for the old Christian cosmology.
Likewise, while Madame Blavatsky and many other parlor versions of Eastern mystery religions had been with us for some time, the mass-popularization of a universalizing gnosticism began to express itself as an “Age of Aquarius” and then “New Age” — substituting for Christian spiritualism.
And again: In reading European memoirs of the formation of the New Left — i.e. the transformation of the old Continental “mainstream” Stalinist parties into a new, postmodern kind of totalitarian ideology — and its immediate transfer as a fashion statement to campuses across North America, we are taken back to the same early years of the 1960s and the beginning of yet another quick, quasi-religious development, in this case embodied in mystical symbolism of Che and Mao.
The Second Vatican Council opened on October 11th, 1962. And while the council itself continued into 1965, there is a sense in which the “post-Vatican II” life of the Catholic Church really began around the earlier date. I think, for instance, of things I have only begun to learn about from that era — the sudden, almost spontaneous relaxation of standards, including Latin instruction in Catholic seminaries, presaging the liturgical collapse; the first monastic convulsions, and so forth.
Such things were hardly commanded from Rome, but were nevertheless watched, as the Sixties rolled on in a spirit of apathy that was, perhaps, a clearer sign of the times than any specific revolutionary action. In all aspects of public life, inside and far outside the Church, this apathy became the chief export of the Sixties into subsequent time. Through the riotous summers of the later 1960s — unprecedented in their exhibition of sheer moral degeneration and filth — the antics of anarchists, student revolutionaries, race rioters, and the like were suddenly being permitted by the responsible authorities at all levels — from college administrators to the highest political officers.
I have limited space — and I am, in fact, proposing that someone else should write a book about this. In some respects, such thinkers as Eric Voegelin have examined the irruption of our postmodern gnosticism — but with neither the historical focus on the metamorphic events of the early 1960s, nor from a securely Catholic perspective.
Obviously, the “event” — which continues to unfold — was not without antecedents. Decades, and sometimes centuries, of spiritual, intellectual, and moral decay lay behind all of the manifestations. Earlier dates have been assigned to some fatal breach in the moral order: It could be plausibly argued that postmodernity began about 1914, or before. Yet I was struck by a remark a wise priest quoted to me recently, from an older one who witnessed the meltdown within the Church. He said, “About 1963, a whole bloc of clerics just checked out of the moral order.” A sweeping remark; but not, I think, an irresponsible one.
The late British poet Philip Larkin astutely observed that:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
It was as if an asteroid passed over the earth at that time, or an unrecorded meteor shower altered the chemistry of the earth’s drinking water. Suddenly ideas that had been previously rejected, right across the political and religious spectra, on the grounds that they were insane, became instead an accepted part of the common currency, and part of indoctrination in our schools.
What all these diverse yet related phenomena share is this quality of “spilt religion.” Behind the syndrome was, I think, an irreducibly and genuinely “mystical event” on a larger scale — the sudden lapse of the Christian claim to authorship of Western civilization and, with it, the sudden emergence into the light of day of a profoundly satanic “alternative religion.” The question today being: “Can we restore the status quo ante, or has our civilization truly expired?”
As Advent draws to a close this year, I find myself thinking as much ahead as back; as much of the Christ who is to come as of the Christ who came to Bethlehem. In a sense, the “meaning of Christmas” needs to be recovered, in our time, by recalling the Nativity in this double aspect.