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In Search of Spiritual Fighting Power

To gain spiritual “fighting power,” we must exercise our will power.


To counter the sense of doubt, fear, and hopelessness that seems to grip so many today, the world needs "spiritual fighting power,” the priest said—he happened to be ex-military. It was a mini-Camino pilgrimage, and as he later explained, when half the day is spent walking alongside the other time-eating frictions of travel, washing vestments and the altar linen every night, a priest needs to keep his sermons straight to the point. 

Both the content and punchy style reminded me of my own time in the military; listening to the priest felt like being at a pre-operation O Group receiving orders from the commanding officer. I’m generally wary of military comparisons, especially after Covid and the “war footing” lingo too many politicians spun. But, confronting the hopelessness the priest spoke of, there is a significant battle happening now.  


You, dear reader, may well be feeling your morale straining. These days, morale is sorely lacking across the board. Bouncing between the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., I see this lack most acutely in America, particularly among its young men. On top of the general malaise, they are immersed in a sea of humorless criticism and recrimination from media and activists. Of course, young women are affected, too, if differently, by the nefarious influence of social media platforms, and many similarly capitulate in the face of life’s pressures.

“They have no oomph. They seem defeated, apologetic,” says Simon Evans in his article for The Critic. "And the more they ‘challenge’ ideas about ‘gender’, the more utterly sexless they seem.” 

The passivity on wide display nowadays, along with the skepticism and trepidation at first-hand experience that goes with it, is the total opposite of “fighting power.” But fighting power, be it spiritual or the get-up-and-go type, is exactly what is needed to confront the adversities that attend living a meaningful life. It is that, or be encased in one of E.M. Forster’s pods and spoon-fed by The Machine, or placated with government-supplied narcotics to maintain a compliant and dreamy smile on your face.

The priest’s words recalled military training at the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst, the U.K.’s version of West Point. As officer cadets we were taught the fundamentals of the U.K.’s Defence Doctrine. The focus was on how combat effectiveness, distilled as fighting power, depended on a crucial triptych: the physical, the conceptual, and the moral.  

The physical component—the means to fight—comprises the likes of manpower, equipment, sustainability, and readiness. The conceptual component—the thought processes—involves the principles of war, doctrine, and conceptual innovation. The moral component—the ability to spur people to fight—draws on cohesion, motivation and leadership. Once you lose any one of those components, like a two-legged stool, the edifice topples over. In Iraq and Afghanistan, both the moral and conceptual components went right out the window.


“Morale is a state of mind,” and if it is to endure it must have “certain foundations," according to the Serve to Lead anthology, Sandhurst’s equivalent of the Bible. The book collects the wisdom of legendary soldiers, and a copy was issued to every officer cadet. In order of importance, the foundations of morale are given as the “spiritual, intellectual and material.” Material is the least important because “the very highest kinds of morale are often met when material conditions are lowest.” Intellectual comes next because “men are swayed by reason as well as feeling.” But it is the spiritual element that leads the pack “because only spiritual foundations can stand real strain.” 

In The Unconscious God, Viktor Frankl explored religiosity as a fundamental part of the human condition. The Austrian psychiatrist, best known for his book Man’s Search for Meaning, which analyzed his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz, argued that “body and psyche may form a unity — a psychophysical unity — but this unity does not yet represent the wholeness of man. Without the spiritual as its essential ground, the wholeness cannot exist.” It is only, Frankl explained, when the “somatic, psychic and spiritual aspects” are successfully integrated in a person that “self-actualization” and engagement in meaningful human existence is possible. 

Such “self-actualization” and meaningful engagement appear increasingly rare nowadays. “Mankind seems to be in a kind of widowhood, in which a harrowing sense of desolation sweeps over it, as one who set out on life’s journey in intimate comradeship with another, and then is suddenly bereft of that companion forever,” said Bishop Fulton Sheen, who was very much a “spiritual fighting power” kind of guy in his Life Is Worth Living broadcasts during the 1950s. “Creeds and confessions of faith are no longer the fashion; religious leaders have agreed not to disagree and those beliefs for which some of our ancestors would have died they have melted into a spineless Humanism.”

Spineless. That is probably the best word to sum up the spirit of the moment, and explain the aggressive proliferation of progressive shibboleths, from critical race theory to trans ideology. “Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games,” Lord Moran wrote in The Anatomy of Courage, the classic account from First World War of the psychological effects of war. “It is a cold choice between two alternatives, the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once but many times by the power of the will. Courage is will power.”

But will power is what is so sorely lacking today. From politicians to heads of universities to CEOs of companies kowtowing in the face of social media pressure, leaders appear increasingly out of touch with this spiritual foundation and the courage that goes with it. And the greater their proclamation of self-righteous platitudes or Christian values distorted into warped parodies of “kindness,” the greater the societal mess. We “slide toward a comfortable dystopia,” Ross Douthat has written, “in which an aging society continues to retreat from faith and hope and charity, abandoning a disappointing material reality for virtual spaces and online entertainments, offering pot and circuses to the masses.”

The basis of all discipline, according to Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery in Serve to Lead, is self-discipline. “This conception of self-restraint underlies the whole of Christian teaching on personal conduct, and it is impressed on every child from nursery days onwards,” the field marshal said. “I maintain that discipline has a moral foundation, and none of us need be afraid to admit it.” 


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