Gray Hair Wisdom / Russell Kirk

The Conclusion of Russell Kirk’s 1992 essay — Civilization Without Religion?

What ails modern civilization?

“In short, it appears to me that our culture labors in an advanced state of decadence; that what many people mistake for the triumph of our civilization actually consists of powers that are disintegrating our culture; that the vaunted “democratic freedom” of liberal society in reality is servitude to appetites and illusions which attack religious belief; which destroy community through excessive centralization and urbanization; which efface life-giving tradition and custom.

History has many cunning passages, contrieved corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities.

So Gerontion instructs us, in T. S. Eliot’s famous grim poem. By those and some succeeding lines, Eliot means that human experience lived without the Logos, the Word; lived merely by the asserted knowledge of empirical science-why, history in that sense is a treacherous gypsy witch. Civilizations that reject or abandon the religious imagination must end, as did Gerontion, in fractured atoms

Restoring Religious Insights

In conclusion, it is my argument that the elaborate civilization we have known stands in peril; that it may expire of lethargy, or be destroyed by violence, or perish, from a combination of both evils. We who think that life remains worth living ought to address ourselves to means by which a restoration of our culture may be achieved. A prime necessity for us is to restore an apprehension of religious insights in our clumsy apparatus of public instruction, which -bullied by militant secular humanists and presumptuous federal courts-has been left with only ruinous answers to the ultimate questions.

What ails modern civilization? Fundamentally, our society’s affliction is the decay of religious belief If a culture is to survive and flourish, it must not be severed from the religious vision out of which it arose. The high necessity of reflective men and women, then, is to labor for the restoration of religious teachings as a credible body of doctrine.

“Redeem the time; redeem the dream,” T. S. Eliot wrote. It remains possible, given right reason and moral imagination, to confront boldly the age’s disorders. The restoration of true learning, humane and scientific; the reform of many public policies; the renewal of our awareness of a transcendent order, and of the presence of an Other, the brightening of the comers where we find ourselves such approaches are open to those among the rising generation who look for a purpose in life. It is just conceivable that we may be given a Sign before the end of the twentieth century; yet Sign or no Sign, Remnant must strive against the follies of the time.”

Read the entire Lecture Number Four Hundred and Four
July 24th, 1992
:  Russell Kirk — Civilization Without Religion?.

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