I recently had the chance to read a book entitled: “Lord of the World” by Mgr. Robert Hugh Benson. The book itself was published in 1908, and has been considered quite prophetic by figures such as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. The book itself reacts to various political and theological trends that posed intense threats towards the future of civilization. Such issues that are directly dealt with involve weapons of mass-destruction, euthanasia, communism, freemasonry, ritual, secular humanism, apostasy amongst the clergy, and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. When I read this book, being ignorant of the author or date of publication, I was surprised to later discover that this was written prior to World War II. I was fascinated to discover how many problems Mgr. Benson highlighted that have come to pass since his book was written. It is clear that this author was capable of assessing the signs of the times, knowing well the nature and soul of society when afflicted with such particular species of blindness.
I would like to offer a book-review of my own, and believe me, spoilers will be included. I recommend that you as a Catholic, Christian, or even atheist, read this book. There is essentially a battle between to kingdoms in this book, between what St. Augustine calls the Kingdom of man, and the Kingdom of God. This “last-battle” summarizes the biblical tension between Cain and Abel, between the Tower of Babel and the building of the Ark. The question arises from this novel: what is our salvation: human ingenuity and progress or Jesus Christ?
The actual writing of this book was not altogether the easiest to follow. There are “sharp-turns” in regard to some expositions on Character-development. The repetitiveness of certain points seems to “dent the wood” as the author hammers the nail in the coffin of secular humanism. Despite these short-falls in the book, the philosophical, theological, and socio-political theory in this book are entirely accurate, clear, and incredibly applicable in our own day and age.
Therefore, I would like to summarize the various criticisms Mgr. Benson offers as prophetically being lived out in our own generation.
The New Atheism:
One does not have to look too hard, within the beginnings of this book, to discover the same common rhetoric we find in our own culture amongst atheists who serve as antagonistic figures of religion. Much of them are embodied by one character whom I would consider a prophet of the anti-Christ: Oliver. Oliver’s view of Christianity is misguided and his love for Communism certainly reveals who his faith is truly set upon: humanity.
In attempting to convince and reassure his wife of the irrational state of what a Christian-Priest believes, Oliver communicates as follows.
“’My dear, I tell you what he believes. He believes that man whom he showed the crucifix to, and said those words over, is alive somewhere, in spite of his brain being dead: he is not quite sure where; but he is either in a kind of smelting works being slowly burned; or, if he is very lucky, and that piece of wood took effect, he is somewhere beyond the clouds, before Three Persons who are only One although They are Three; that there are quantities of other people there, a Woman in Blue, a great many others in white with their heads under their arms, and still more with their heads on one side; and that they’ve all got their arms, and still more with their heads on one side; and that they’ve all got harps and go on singing for ever and ever, and walking about the clouds, and liking it very much indeed. He thinks, too, that all these nice people are perpetually looking upon the aforesaid smelting-works, and praising the Three Great Persons for making them. That’s what the priest believes. Now you know it’s not likely; that kind of thing may be very nice, but it isn’t true.’
‘No my dear, you’re quite right. That sort of thing isn’t true. How can he believe it? He looked quite intelligent!’
‘My dear girl, if I had told you in your cradle that the moon was green cheese and had hammered at you ever since, every day and all day, that it was, you’d very nearly believe it by now. Why, you know in your heart that the euthanatisers are the real priests. Of course you do.’” (21-22)
The essence of the argument that Oliver hinges upon is the socially-induced brain-washing of faith from early-childhood. We often see amongst some militant atheists the notion that forcing a child to be baptized at an early age is a form of child-abuse – as if to argue that the child is being socially conditioned to believe something that is perceived to be of insurmountable irrationality. Of course in the midst of such argumentation, I found myself laughing, simply out of familiarity of the same drivel I have been exposed to even today. It was ironic that this was written about in 1908, since not much in the platitudes of atheism has changed. Is there, therefore anything really new about atheism?
Furthermore, what is often associated with the new-atheists is an incredible love for reason – and the attitude of course is that all faith in a transcendent God is somehow superstition. This seems to recapitulate what many protestant reformers set up during the enlightenment in their “fundamentalism” whereby a dichotomy was created between Faith and Reason. This dichotomy has been played out in the minds of atheists in “The Lord of the World.” It is really a form of “scientism” whereby man irrationally places no limits upon the faculty of science, making it their own God. As the Church often insists, and especially in the document entitled “Fides et Ratio” by St. John Paul II, reason preserves Faith from superstition, and faith preserves science from Idolatry. What kind of idolatry?
The idolatry that looks upon science irrationally. It would be irrational to suggest that a microscope could give us vision into deep-space, because such a tool has a limited, defined purpose and ability. The same is true for science in general – it is limited in what it can accomplish. We must celebrate what it can accomplish, but we must also recognized that science has a de-finition, and is thereby limited. To assume that science can therefore ever seek to prove God’s existence in a manner that is deductive is to operate with the assumption that the scientific method itself has no definition or that this “God” is somehow more limited than the field of science itself.
Although this is a logical fallacy (scientism) whereby it begs the question, assuming what it seeks to prove – the idolatry is none other than that of the Human Person. The human person is the actor within science, and to think his finite intellect can grasp at what is considered infinite is to analogically think you can fit an entire elephant, full-grown, under a microscope. The absurdity is not always apparent, and it is often facilitated by a purposeful mischaracterizing or ignorance of the faith itself.
We see Oliver attempting to summarize Trinitarian Theology, Eschatology, and Soteriology in one pithy paragraph. If I was to be ignorant, and took his words as authority on the matter, I too would conceive of such a Christian faith to be absurd. How quickly people are to listen to secondary sources antagonistic towards their primary sources. But here we see it done with such wit, making anyone who would believe in such a matter of faith to be stupid, and unintelligent. What does such an argument, therefore appeal to? Certainly not man’s capacity to be reasonable, because if that was the case, Oliver would have not been so ignorant in His over-simplification of the faith. Rather, such an argument appeals to people’s ego – an ego that doesn’t want to be considered, by the masses, to look stupid. And in his day and age, the secular-minded were commonly popular. Therefore, underneath all of his argumentation is a spiritual fallacy of an appeal to mankind’s own desire to belong to what the population believes is reasonable. This is not a point the author ever explicitly makes – and therefore does a good job of simply illustrating how many atheists seem to propose their argument. It also reminds us that this whole scape-goat argument pertaining to social-conditioning, while certainly having a measure of truth, should also apply to atheists. A person can certainly hold a position for the wrong reasons, but this itself is not an argument for whether that position itself is incorrect or illogical – it merely points towards the motives which thereby becomes nothing more than an ad homonym logical fallacy, albeit, hidden in the mire of smart-talk, “all honey their speech.”
The Sword versus False Peace:
The doctrine on original sin seems entirely wiped out from the minds of the people. The notion that man is in such a futile spiritual disaster, and cannot possibly seek to save himself is not within the minds of the people. Rather than blaming man’s sinful inclinations (concupiscence) the secular culture begins to blame “religion” and such “superstition” for all the world’s current problems. Sound familiar?
This position does not hold to the error in man’s actions in various religious sects to be the result of human-beings within such communities of faith, but rather the ideology, theology, and structures given through Faith in the Transcendent to be the cause. Religion therefore becomes a source of “division” rather than “peace.” This element between war and peace consistently comes out over and over again throughout the book.
When Jesus was born, the world was in a state of supposed peace that had been accomplished through political power, violent war, and oppression from the Roman Empire. Christ was born to destroy this peace, and to wage war with it. Why? Because Christ wants real peace to reign in our hearts, not the type of false-peace that comes from the minds of human-beings.
I believe this to be the case today especially. With the unintelligible dissonance of relativism mixed with emotivistic-hedonism in our secular culture today, what we encounter is a desire for “tolerance” of the views of others that differ from our own. Religious dogma doesn’t permit this to happen, but rather encourages tolerance towards the persons, rather than the error they uphold. To this secular world, both named in the book and in our world, such a clarification seems superfluous. There is no sin, there is no right-and-wrong, except for those who suggest otherwise. But it could be understood more properly, therefore, why Christ came to bring the sword, rather than peace, if it is the case that error and sin exist (Mt 10:34).
The world seeks to bring “peace” through so-called unity that amounts to nothing more than a vain, superficial type of unity – one of sentiments. No true peace can be known in such a world, because “truth” doesn’t exist in the moral-consciousness of the people. Their morality is not based upon truth, it is based upon tolerance, tolerance and kindness – but not Love, which seeks an objective good for the other, for their own sake. The dissonance and contradictions that arise from this secularized community ends up being entirely unknown to themselves – so long as they vent their rage against religion, they still are operating from their own deformed moralism, but fail to recognize it as such.
The notion of war – that is, disagreement and correction – is unappealing to the secular masses. Why? I would assert, especially in the dramatic reaction of Oliver’s wife that such a profound war inflicts a prick to a conscience that the whole world desires to silence. The spiritual fruit of relativism is that it drugs the conscience of man – whereby surrender to moral truths and reality is no longer a matter of concern. All that is of concern is how man seeks to conform reality to his own preference. We may cut at it, and reshape even our own bodies in the view that nature itself is oppressive lest man wills it be otherwise. There is nothing more than this that illustrates Eve, the mother of humanity, seeking to grasp at the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. She seeks to define the difference for herself, and must therefore silence her conscience once and for all.
What silences a conscience once and for all? That would be the murder of our own conscience. But if people around us continue to resurrect our conscience, that would become a seemingly futile task. Consider why people are so often accused of traumatizing pro-choice individuals by merely praying outside of abortion clinics. It is because the war of Christ’s call to repentance through truth has been reawakened in the heart of such an individual. They wanted to have such an accusation within themselves silenced, they had worked hard, surrounded themselves with like-minded people to strengthen the social construct that it “is just her body” and it’s a “blob of cells.” But to see so many people, who love, and who are concerned think otherwise naturally and rightly causes her to second guess her view, her past decision. So what is the solution to this problem for the secular humanist? Violent rhetoric in our culture. But in this book the solution eventually becomes murder.
The root of murder, Christ reveals, is in all who simply hate their brother. And so if we live in a civilization who cannot tolerate murder, we seek to murder people in a less material manner. Perhaps it is through gossip, harassment, looking for error and folly to exploit, or manipulating the person by speaking to all those around that individual. It is nonetheless the same trivial spirit that leads to murder, that would quickly morph into murder if it ever became socially acceptable – if new coliseums and concentration camps were ever to resurrect. This is precisely what takes place. Rather than having a civilization that is called to be introspective, recognizing its own inclination towards murder, it becomes numb to that realization, while seeking to murder the good-name of others. This therefore prepares the whole culture to actually murder those they hate, as soon as a flip is switched causing people to find murder a socially acceptable act. Kill the Catholics.
The common scape-goat to avoid listening to the Catholic presence which re-awakens the consciences of a secularized community becomes those radical Catholics who are spiritual terrorists. In the book itself what we see are Catholic radicalisms, which bomb and attack the secular community. These Catholics do not represent the actual Catholic faith, but because of their own lack of spiritual maturity, the world is able to characterize the Church’s position to be one of hatred, rather than mercy and justice. While the vast minority of Catholics conduct such atrocities, and the Church condemns them, people are actually excited when they occur in the secular world because it merely becomes a means to justify themselves in their own hatred for religion.
This was an incredibly valuable point within the book because it reminds Catholics that radicalism undermines the whole mission of the Church by offering in the minds of the irreligious a chance to avoid any serious consideration of the proposition found in the Gospel. If our charity was all that people could see, the world would no longer be looking at us in a sad attempt to avoid looking inward. Rather the world would have a mirror to look upon, seeing itself. This is the whole wisdom within turning the cheek. Christ teaches us that this is not a form of passivity, since to slap with the left-hand would mean dishonouring oneself, and to turn the cheek would be an invitation to the other to dishonour themselves. It means that the Church doesn’t play the game of tit-for-tat, but allows it to end with them, through charity, but also the courage of never backing down from our position.
That is the type of war Christ comes to bring – he seeks to demonstrate that there is a log in the world’s eye, and if they’d stop scape-goating that problem upon the Church with her speck, they would realize they were far worse off for turning their back explicitly on Love itself in an attempt to build a civilization that should rightly be called a Tower of Babylon, Cain’s city.
But that speck in the eye of the Church perhaps should be discussed more at length. It isn’t the case that our sins are less grave than the worlds – in some cases they are far more grave because we are the Church. The hypocrisy naturally will turn stomachs. But we must see it for what it is: when the members of the Church fall as they do, it is not the Church that has inspired this, but rather the worship of man, that secularized pride that has infiltrated the Church herself. Why else would the world support organizations that produce so much money like the Porn Industry, than criticize the Catholic Church – the largest charitable organization on the face of the planet (doing more than anyone else) for not giving enough money to the poor. It is to opt out of the very real nature of the Church by confusing her corrupt members as her genuine representatives – and to morally justify ourselves by pointing out that ambiguity, while ironically doing it to validate the log in our own eye.
Part I – Finished
Coming up: Part II: Freemasonry, Communism, the Anti-Christ