From the 2017 Walker Percy Weekend poster
Foaks, this morning I’m headed as much as West Feliciana for a Walker Percy Weekend 2018 planning assembly. Tickets are on sale right here for the occasion, which might be on June 1-three — as ever, the primary weekend in June. We’re nonetheless engaged on some cool programming stuff for the pageant, so keep in contact.
I’ve been that means to submit on Charlie Clark’s Fare Forward piece, titled “The Walker Percy Option,” and I’m glad to have a peg now. Excerpts:
In his guide The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher proposes that Christians ought “to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark.” I want to supply a counterproposal. Dreher and I share a typical curiosity within the work of Walker Percy, Dreher’s fellow Louisianan, and one of many nice Catholic writers of the 20 th century. Percy’s novels and essays sketched a posture in direction of modernity that resembles Dreher’s personal, however differs in sure key respects. While Dreher’s consideration to the practices of literal Benedictines just like the monks of Norcia could be beneficial for contemporary readers (and would have been appreciated by Percy, himself a Benedictine oblate), I recommend that, in his quest for a brand new St. Benedict, Dreher would have been nicely suggested to look someplace very totally different. If St. Benedict provided a religious and cultural survival information for the unique Dark Ages, Percy has a plan for our personal. But in contrast to St. Benedict, whose Rule was addressed to “the athletes of God,” a religious elite, Percy’s is supposed for the frequent man, for the Christian and almost-Christian rabble. If the Benedict Option imagines a devoted remnant ready out the flood, the Walker Percy Option imagines an untrue one, nonetheless borne up by grace.
Well, okay, however I don’t suggest that lay Christians actually comply with the Rule of St. Benedict. Anyway, let’s go on:
Whereas Dreher sees Christians and Christianity as uniquely threatened by modernity, Percy sees the fashionable situation as a typical catastrophe for believer and unbeliever alike. Dreher can see the cracks within the secular; he is aware of it’s unsustainable and inimical to human flourishing. Yet he appears to recommend that solely Christians—or different “traditional religious believers”—are really alien to it. However, Percy acknowledges that, the place the fashionable situation is worried, we’re all in the identical boat. This is nobody’s native nation. The excellent news, although, is that nobody is born secular, and nobody is condemned to stay so. The gate to a fuller life is slim and even hidden, however it’s open. And this gate not being the one in all Paradise, however solely of “a kind of comfortable Catholic limbo,” it’s open to folks far much less holy than these St. Benedict got down to type.
Again, this may seem to be quibbling, however after all I imagine that we’re all struggling in modernity. I wrote the guide for Christians, although. Had I needed to write down a guide for everybody battling modernity, it will have been a distinct guide. My level was to persuade Christians that they (we) have develop into far too comfy in modernity.
As Percy sees it, modernity birthed the malaise by splitting the human individual in two, opening the “dread chasm” between physique and thoughts. The particular person is now pressured to decide on between residing as an immanent self, sunk in everydayness, or as a transcendent self, perpetually in orbit. But Percy additionally sees the signs of the malaise extending past the person, within the guise of what Binx names “scientific humanism.” Scientific humanism interprets the chasm throughout the particular person to the societal degree, dividing mankind into an elite of transcendent conditioners and a mass of immanent shoppers.
Under scientific humanism, says Binx, “needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle.” In different phrases, it’s a regime below which the mass of humanity is deliberately stored sunk in everydayness. Absent a direct confrontation with the malaise, the principle enterprise of life for most individuals turns into sustaining a subjective sense of wellbeing, nevertheless tenuous, by satisfying the physique’s felt wants and preserving the thoughts distracted. In such a society, energy and authority are accorded to the scientists, technicians, and different specialists who assist preserve extraordinary folks content material by way of therapeutic conditioning, serving to them modify to an primarily animal existence.
Percy believes that the expertise of getting been lowered to an object of conditioning explains a lot of the misery of the fashionable topic. In Lost within the Cosmos, he observes that despite radically “improved” requirements of residing, the fashionable self is paradoxically impoverished, depressed, and anxious. He explains, “The impoverishment of the immanent self derives from a perceived loss of sovereignty to ‘them,’ the transcending scientists and experts of society. As a consequence, the self sees its only recourse as an endless round of work, diversion, and consumption of goods and services.” Scientific humanism deprives non-specialists of company; the key to happiness in every of life’s dimensions is presided over by a specific skilled, and the buyer’s solely duty is to adjust to their recommendation.
Percy imagines the logical conclusion of scientific humanism’s mission within the Qualitarian motion described in Love within the Ruins. In the novel, folks accused of delinquent conduct and deemed in want of reconditioning are positioned in “Skinner boxes” the place they’ve electrodes put in of their heads that stimulate both the pleasure or ache facilities of the mind. Those who don’t reply to reconditioning are “shocked into bliss, soon learning to press the button themselves, off and dreaming so blissful that they pass up meals.” This is finally a passive type of euthanasia, however a extra lively type is being debated: does an individual “not also have the right to throw a switch that stays on, inducing a permanent joy—no meals, no sleep, and a happy death in a week or so? The button vs. the switch.” The Qualitarians favor the change, with or with out the consent of the affected person.
With however slightly creativeness, we are able to see the logic of scientific humanism behind the sociocultural dysfunction the Benedict Option is meant to treatment or resist. Everywhere we see bodily and emotional consolation handled as paramount and morality and that means as relative, all over the place we see the overreach of a managerial class of technicians and social engineers: listed below are the marks of scientific humanism. But Dreher errs if he conceives of scientific humanism as a secular aggression in opposition to Christianity. The goal of scientific humanism will not be Christianity, however the malaise; like a harmful, delusive fever, it’s an immune response to the fashionable situation.
Though the malaise calls for a response, the try and adapt humanity to its bifurcated situation is finally futile and harmful. While Percy hardly has an easy plan of salvation to supply, he exhibits us that scientific humanism is, if something, a treatment worse than the illness. We should not meant to be glad both as supine shoppers inside a synthetic atmosphere or as transcending conditioners of our fellow males. But nevertheless harmful, scientific humanism will not be the true enemy. Rather than merely combating signs, our goal have to be to deal with the fashionable dysfunction at its roots.
Read the entire thing. Now I keep in mind why I didn’t write about this earlier. It’s a very good piece, with heaps to chew on, however I used to be irritated that the writer created a straw man model of The Benedict Option with which to distinction the Percy Option. I didn’t need to spend a whole submit pointing this out. So I received’t.
But I’ll say — and I hope you discover this encouraging — that the subsequent guide I’m engaged on is taking extra of a Percyan (Percian?) strategy. I don’t need to say an excessive amount of now, however this bit from Clark’s essay is on level:
Tom More retires to a equally quiet life after the occasions of Love within the Ruins. Five years later finds him in Paradise, Louisiana, hoeing collards in his backyard whereas his spouse Ellen stirs the grits for breakfast: “Poor as I am, I feel like God’s spoiled child. I am Robinson Crusoe set down on the best possible island with a library, a laboratory, a lusty Presbyterian wife, a cozy tree house, an idea, and all the time in the world.” A lapsed Catholic in the course of the occasions of the novel, by its finish he has returned to the Church: going to confession, even sporting sackcloth and ashes, and receiving communion.
Percy is very interested by three practices Lost Cove and Paradise share, which we would loosely name Sabbath, Marriage, and Eucharist. The significance of those practices is that they’re sacramental in character. Percy is simply sometimes involved with “the Sacraments” correct, however he’s extremely invested in a life characterised by “sacramentality.” The good life that he envisions is shot by way of with sacramental patterns of participation in nature and in different selves, and even instantly within the divine. As indicators, the sacramentals level to realities past themselves, and as participations, they draw the human individual up into this greater actuality. The parts should not merely consumed, appropriated by the person to fill what Percy calls “the nought of self.” Their sacramental high quality is marked by their not getting used up or exhausted by observance. These sacramentals bridge the divide between physique and spirit, and by taking part in them, whilst “bad Catholics,” Percy’s characters are step by step reintegrated into full and wholesome human life.
My thesis entails exploring, partially, why a profoundly sacramental imaginative and prescient accords with human nature. I’m ending the ultimate draft of the guide proposal right now, in truth, and anticipate to get it out to publishers very quickly.
Anyway, why don’t you come to St. Francisville in June and let’s discuss all of it? You too, Charlie Clark — helps you to and me get a desk on the Magnolia Cafe on Friday afternoon, and invite of us to return purchase a chilly beer and listen to us speak in regards to the Percy and Benedict Options.
If you haven’t seen this but, readers, possibly this may persuade you to return: