The liberal order that has long sustained modernity is crumbling. It is no secret. Society is coming apart and fragmenting. People are concerned about the future.
At the same time, postmodernity and its politically correct culture, is becoming ever more intolerant and tyrannical. In the face of such attacks, many scholars are coming to the defense of modernity as they try to breathe new life into a worn-out liberalism.
They are however stuck in the middle of a great contradiction. On the one hand, they admit there must be a moral regeneration to transform society. On the other, their secular liberal convictions will not allow them to have recourse to a Christian order that is needed to bring about this renewal.
An Awkward Contradiction
These defenders of modernity are like Romans fighting off barbarians inside a decadent society that needs a moral rebirth. Fighting off invasion is required but is just part of the solution. Only something strong and inspiring outside the system can breathe new life into society. This was something the Romans themselves could not provide. Historically, the Church provided that moral regeneration that gave rise to Christendom.
A similar thing is happening today. An example of this awkward defense is the Jordan Peterson phenomenon and others who are fighting off the cultural Marxism of our times. They have also called for moral regeneration. However, they remained fixed to their secular and modern roots that banished God from the public square.
Douglas Hyde and the Faith
Such cases call to mind the story of a famous convert.
In the middle of last century, there was an English communist named Douglas Hyde who was the editor of London’s The Daily Worker. He and his wife were exposed to the Catholic Faith and ardently desired to convert. However, they did not believe in many mysteries of the Faith, an obstacle that seemed insurmountable. They could only think in terms of the communist background.
They resolved to act like Catholics despite not believing in everything. They even decided to call themselves, “Catholics with Faith” until the happy moment when God granted them the gift of Faith. That moment arrived, and Mr. Hyde later wrote his famous book, I Believed.
Indeed, faith is a gratuitous gift of God whereby one obtains the grace to believe that which the Church teaches without fully understanding. Such belief presupposes the action of grace in the soul.
Modernists Without Faith
The defenders of modernity are in a Hyde-like situation of being attracted to a moral order needed to regenerate society yet unable to think in terms of the Faith.
Thus, one could understand, for example, the perplexity of Jordan Peterson who admits his problems in believing some Christian truths. However, he finds himself unable to go beyond the modern contradiction and thus tries to explain these truths in modern terms. Without the action of grace in their souls, Peterson and others like him will always be “modernists without faith.”
Another defender of modernity, Jonah Goldberg, begins his latest book, The Suicide of the West, with the provocative affirmation: “There is no God in this book.” Despite sympathy for the idea of God, his solution assumes the non-existence of God in the public square and relies upon the exhausted ideas of the Enlightenment that he thinks can still breathe new life into a polarized nation.
And so it is with many “modernists without Faith” of our days. They are exposed to the horrors of our postmodern decadence and react against them. They defend the modern order that they know, citing the authors they have studied—Darwin, Freud, Locke, Smith and others. They might even believe in God as a positive force in keeping order or profess a personal faith.
However, they remain rooted in the crumbling Enlightenment idea that God must be a retired watchmaker forever banished from the public square. They do not know how to call God back from exile. They do not know how to implore that powerful supernatural aid that is the only way out of the present mess.
What is missing from their worldview is the idea of a provident God who intervenes in history. Indeed, throughout history, people of all times and places have believed in some Intelligent Being who governs the universe and directs the course of the affairs of men with purpose and benevolence. The presence of this ordering action found in the Creator is what we call Divine Providence.
Modernists do not like the idea of Providence since they associate it with dependence, fate or predestination.
If they could only understand that a true theology of Providence is ever mindful of man’s free will. God requires the intelligent cooperation of His creatures to make use of the resources His Providence put at our disposal. God assists us in discerning how we might utilize capacities and talents. He grants His grace and supernatural gifts to aid in this cooperation that allows us to not only perfect but surpass our nature. Far from inhibiting the human action, Providence empowers individuals and societies to advance toward their proper end.
The defense against the postmodern tyranny would gain much if the “modernists without faith” could break out of the narrow-minded conception of a secular society that excludes this cooperation with God’s grace and goodness. Perhaps God in His Providence could illuminate them so that like Douglas Hyde they might believe.
Together, we might then call God back from exile and implore the supernatural aid needed to regenerate the nation and overcome and convert today’s neo-barbarians.