The Idol of Our Age: A User’s Guide to the End Times?
A few days ago, I wrote about the Antichrist. No, I don’t name any names. I’ve zero confidence that I’m so spiritually savvy I could spot him, even were he actually walking the earth.
But I’ve read enough to know what we should look for. Right now I’m finishing a powerful, brilliant book by Daniel Mahoney called The Idol of Our Age. In it, he argues that the liberal, secular “Religion of Humanity” is serving as a kind of Antichrist. That’s not just because it’s luring people overtly away from Christianity, as its inventor, August Comte, hoped it would. Even more, it’s because that soft, suburban creed is infecting the actual churches, transforming them from within. It’s The Invasion of the Body of Snatchers, Mahoney shows. But the Body in question is Christ’s.
The “New Jesus”
The Religion of Humanity doesn’t repulse us with its cruelty, as Mein Kampf does (or should). It doesn’t make the blood run hot with resentment and hunger for power, like The Communist Manifesto. It doesn’t even feed our vanity and isolation, like Atlas Shrugged.
Instead, it does something far worse. It highjacks the noblest aspiration any person can have: to be more like Jesus. But the Jesus it offers is a patched-together mannequin. It’s a “New Jesus,” like the one Hazel Motes tries to make in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, out of a mummified ape from a Darwinist diorama.
This new, desiccated Jesus is not the God-man. He’s something much more like Nietzsche’s “Last Man,” a simpering, judgmental weakling. Like one of the cardboard villains out of an Ayn Rand novel.
His claims of His own divinity? The modernist scripture scholars have snipped off all of those. His warnings of Hell and judgment? They go in the dustbin, too. His utter disinterest in politics, and demands for mystical sacraments? No, none of that proves convenient. So that gets carved off too. All that remains of the figure of Christ in the Religion of Humanity? Some phrases from the Sermon on the Mount, and conveniently edited scenes where He offers forgiveness to sinners. (The parts where He warns them to sin no more? They fall to the cutting room floor.)
The Prophets Who Saw This Coming
Mahoney proves his case from a wide array of intellectual sources:
- The balanced embrace of American freedom in the light of Natural Law in the works of neglected political philosopher Orestes Brownson. Brownson came to that sober, sane synthesis after plumbing the depths of Utopia as a post-Christian radical. Then discovering it’s really Hell. His work is crucial today since many Christian conservatives are despairing of freedom as toxic “liberalism,” and falling back into fantasies of “throne and altar” theocracy. Or daydreams of escape.
- The prophetic fiction and theological writings of Vladimir Solovyov. His “A Short Tale of the Antichrist” predicted that the Church’s greatest enemy wouldn’t be “hard” atheism but “soft” humanitarianism. You know, the creeds that serve as pretexts in the European Union and the United Nations.
- The deeply perceptive writings of Pope Benedict XVI on the dangers of splitting off Reason from Faith. When you do that, Reason becomes a cold and cruel utilitarian instrument. Faith either hardens into stupid fanaticism, or melts into damp-eyed sentimentality. Of course what we see on the Christian left is a creepy hybrid of both: Gay Jesuits wielding power like old-time inquisitors on behalf of squishy, vapid misguided compassion.
- The undisciplined thought of Pope Francis. Despite some flashes of insight mostly borrowed from his predecessors, Francis seems beguiled by the fashionable liberalism of post-Christian elites. Like Theoden bewitched in The Lord of the Rings, he lets the realm he’s ruling crumble and fall to its foes.
- The novels of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In his vast, unjustly ignored historical panorama The Red Wheel, Solzhenitsyn shows the deadly price the Russian nation paid for replacing Christian statesmanship with the meandering, self-indulgent religiosity of Tolstoy. Those Christians who could have prevented the catastrophe of Communism were paralyzed by a fear of using force. That was partly because those Christians themselves were tipsy with the prospect of Utopia, the Kingdom of God on earth built by humans. Too late, it always turns out to be instead the Tower of Babel.
The Apocalypse in Narnia
Mahoney’s book is deep and well-researched. But it’s highly readable. I’m finishing it slowly because each chapter sparks so much thought. And entices further reading. I’ve already decided to re-read The Red Wheel for Instance, and dive into Brownson and Solovyov.
If all that sounds too heady for troubled times like these, I’d recommend a starting point. (Though Mahoney doesn’t mention it.) Every one of us, of any age, could benefit by re-reading C.S. Lewis’s own apocalypse, The Last Battle. It paints the end-times in Narnia, complete with an Antichrist that must have tickled Flannery O’Connor’s heart: An ape who wears the skin and claims the authority of Aslan.