Rusty Reno’s recent book, Return of the Strong Gods is an excellent explanation of the roots of relativism. The short version is that two world wars left Western civilization with a huge societal case of post-traumatic stress disorder. With heads in hands, the thinkers concluded that we kill one another because of dogma.
We say, “I’m right and you’re wrong. Since being right is good and being wrong is bad, you are not only wrong, you’re bad. Because good must defeat evil we must get rid of what is bad, and because I am good and you are bad I must get rid of you and the only way to really get rid of you is to kill you.”
The thinkers therefore said, “since dogma divides and leads to violence we must get rid of dogma.” Thus the rush to relativism.
It is, perhaps churlish to summarize a good book in such a brief way, but that is the essence of Dr. Reno’s argument before he goes on to plead for “the return of the strong gods” which are the building blocks of a secure and stable society. The strong gods being family, faith, and country.
I concludedof Return of the Strong Gods by asking how exactly we might summon the strong gods to return. The very idea of a “strong god” implies an element of discipline, and if discipline, then coercion of some sort.
Would we strong arm the strong gods into returning? How would we re-inforce the family? With force? Shall we have stringent laws against same sex marriage, co-habitation, and fornication? Shall we ban divorce? For that matter, shall we ban pornography, abortion, and artificial contraception which enable sexual promiscuity and so destroy the family?
How shall we foster a return of the strong god of faith? Do we bring back prayer in schools, require church attendance and impose statements of orthodoxy? Shall we insist on public displays of religious fervor, impose a church tax to subsidize religion, and publish the call to prayer from every church tower and minaret?
And how do we bring about a proper patriotism? More posters, propaganda, and parades? Shall they be military parades? More flag waving and humongous rallies in red, white, and blue? More national anthems and a law that makes every radio station play “I’m Proud to be an American!” three times daily?
Such solutions have been tried, and the horrific results are exactly what those who blame dogma point to. Faith, Family, and Fatherland? And what color will your shirts be? Brown or black? Any regime that attempts to impose the strong gods must be totalitarian, and any move in that direction must be resisted and rejected.
How then can a return to family, faith, and fatherland be effected? The answer is the one nobody likes because it is simple but not easy. The solution to any problem begins at the bottom, not the top. Those who would change the world always attempt to do so with top-down solutions. They claim the way of power, believing that, with enough power they will be able to impose their utopia on everyone else.
The top-down solution—the way of power—operates everywhere. It is the way of the world. It is the solution beloved of all people in power from politicians and priests to princes, prelates, politburos, presidents, popes, prime ministers, and potentates. In a multitude of ways the men of power impose top-down solutions—and they always eventually fail.
The principle of subsidiarity stands this on its head and affirms that solutions and initiatives are always best generated and implemented from below, not from above. It is the little way not the grand plan. A thing is only real inasmuch as it is local. Faith, family, and fatherland can only be fostered at the local level.
Everything great begins small, and so it is with a return of the “strong gods.” There is a winning paradox here because, if the return of the strong gods can only happen through what is local, then these “strong gods” are actually small gods. They do not charge in to take command. They sneak into society surreptitiously. They do not impose themselves. They wait to be invited.
The return of the strong gods can only happen as ordinary men and women realize the importance of family, faith, and fatherland and strive, brick by brick, to build a healthy marriage, a happy family, a simple and strong faith, and a proper love of heritage and country.
At this local level there are three institutions that must be supported with utmost loyalty and devotion. First is the family. Second is the local church. Third is the church school. The three must be intertwined and interdependent. The family supports the school and church. The church supports the family and school. The school supports the family and church.
I realize it is naive to dream of an ideal, but the government, at every level, should exist first and foremost to support these three institutions at the local level. In a multicultural and diverse society, the particular religion is secondary. I may be Catholic, but I can recognize shared moral values with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and those of most any faith.
The strong gods have a home in all those temples.
There is an old Jewish proverb, “God comes to us from below, and we must stoop to meet him.” So it is with any god. If the strong gods come from below they will be real gods. If they are imposed from above they will be demons.
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The featured image is “Atlas Holding Up the Celestial Globe” (1646) by Guercino (1591-1666), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.