Roger Scruton Vs. Modernity
Rich indeed is Mervyn F. Bindle’s essay surveying the work of Roger Scruton, the English conservative philosopher — a Tory, which in American terms makes him more of a paleocon than a neocon — who really is a gift and a wonder. I could have quoted any number of sections, but I like this one most of all:
Most recently, Scruton has turned his attention to religion, publishing Our Church:A Personal History of the Church of England (2012), which focuses very much on those aspects of the Anglican communion with which Scruton most clearly identifies, especially its centuries-old institutional role as a bearer of English culture and traditions, but also its music, architecture, art, and the English language, exemplified by the profound influence of the King James Bible. A further example is The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures (2012), which attempts to “reconcile the God of the philosophers with the God who is worshipped and prayed to by the ordinary believer”. Typically for Scruton, he tries to avoid abstract philosophical argumentation and insists instead that God’s presence in the world is revealed through attention to the intimate inter-subjectivity of true human communion, or, as he puts it: “God is understood not through metaphysical speculations concerning the ground of being, but through communion with our fellow humans.” The intimacy of this is captured through the image of “the Face”—of the other person and of God, with both of whom we should be profoundly engaged if we are to realise our fullest humanity. The rootlessness, alienation and depersonalisation of modern life prevent us from recognising this imperative and make it so easy to deny God.
Modern atheism therefore involves not just the rejection of some metaphysical claims; it involves a flight from a genuine encounter with the human and divine and the responsibility and judgment that this entails. The price paid is metaphysical aloneness: “God is … avoidable only by creating a void. This void opens before us when we destroy the face—not the human face only, but also the face of the world. The godless void is what confronts us.” Scruton believes ours is a culture “in full flight from the sacred”, in which we rage against our self-inflicted fate but refuse to confront our own responsibility for our predicament. Consequently, in the modern mind:
desecration becomes a kind of moral necessity—something that must be constantly performed, and performed collectively, in order to destroy the things that stand in judgment over us.
Scruton further pursues the sacred in The Soul of the World (2014), and attempts to defend it from the faddish fascination with philosophical atheism that characterises Britain, Australia and some other Western countries (although it lacks traction in the Third World, where Christianity and Islam are booming). Once again drawing on insights offered by his conservatism he inquires into the nature of intimacy, relatedness, inter-subjectivity, moral intuitions and the capacity for aesthetic appreciation, and their implications for the sacred and transcendent in a society besotted by an arrogant scientism unprepared to accept its own profound limitations. One reviewer sees it as “a genuine ‘turning for home’ on the part of a learned and deeply thoughtful man, who offers us hard-won insights as he fixes his gaze on our final end”.
That phrase — “to destroy the things that stand in judgment over us” — is a haunting and precise description of our contemporary society’s view of Christianity. Read Bindle’s entire essay; it’s well worth your time. There is seemingly no limit to the works by Scruton one might read, but one of my favorites is his collection of autobiographical essays, Gentle Regrets. The paperback is hard to find and expensive, but Amazon sells a Kindle version for $6.15. That’ll be the best $6.15 you’ll spend all week.
(And yes, it cheeses me off to link to Amazon under the current standoff between my publisher and the retailer, but the fact is, if you want to read Scruton’s book, you pretty much need Amazon.)