A Leap of Faith

 

Ima

Flames engulf Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, 2019

April 15 marked two years since the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire in Paris, France. It was a symbolic fall off the precipice in many ways, signaling a shock to the collective conscience in the Western world. The inferno was an unforeseen threat that loomed in the aging, neglected infrastructure. So too does a similar threat menace the foundation of America. It will take a leap of indefatigable faith to avoid that insurmountable morass from which hope has departed. We can either grieve over the ashes of greatness, or harden our resolve to preserve that which we know at the time of its consecration was meant to be a nation for the freedom-loving people of the world.

The flames did more than destroy an 800-year-old landmark. It manifested the abandonment of Western history and culture, the collapse of religious morality, renouncement of objective truth and final judgment. It is the devaluing of purposeful beauty that transcends class, culture, and religion. The wounds suffered that day, amidst the smoke, the flames, and the ruins, are felt far beyond the mourners who wept at the sight. The omnipresent structure’s very architecture meant to raise the eyes upwards toward Heaven was now engulfed in smoke and flames rising into the sky; a final burnt offering to a culture that betrayed it.

In the days and weeks following the fire, the question to be answered was if there was anything left to be saved. For America, and the Western values on which it was built, the question is two-fold: is there anything left to be salvaged, and do we have the will to do it?

There is a certain advantage to an attack of destruction that girds the spirit to action. For the French, it was a massacre by fire seen from every corner of Paris elucidating the enormity of the loss. Had the Cathedral continued to plod along on its barely sustainable restoration project, it might have eventually deteriorated onto itself. The tears would be less of anguish than of the piteous eyes of a person mourning the death of an old dog – sad but ultimately expected and accepted.

Human response to loss is universal. The shock of Pearl Harbor and September 11 caused a collective call to action in America. I contrast, the slow deterioration of the foundations of our country has been met with little resistance. Piece by piece our institutions have been weakened. Our universities and public schools are teaching younger generations to foster contempt for our history, or, as in the 1619 Project, rewrite it as a nation worthy only of condemnation and eternal apologies.

Our media acts like court jesters, performing at the behest of their corporate keepers, mere entertainers for the audience’s amusement and captivation. Any real news is reported to advance an agenda or used as a club as in some deranged puppet show as analysts and experts make caricatures of themselves almost beyond belief.

The continuous attacks on religion, traditional values, and objective truths by radical leftists have taken the deepest toll on the American psyche. Generations have been conditioned into cultural socialism: the relinquishing of moral responsibility for ourselves and each other in favor of the state. Christian modesty and deference were taken for weakness, allowing anti-religious actors to flip traditional religious and orthodox views to be accepted as bigotry, conservative prudence as subjugation, freedom of worship and speech akin to violence.

America, just as on the Notre Dame Cathedral itself, classical and Christian beliefs are held in tension. The façade of rich stone-work carvings surrounding the cathedral tells the story of Christianity. It welcomes the gaze of intellectuals and illiterates alike, becoming the heroes and villains of the universal epic of humanity itself. America, with our comic-book superheroes, resembles the same threads woven through Western culture. They are the stories of the explorers, the inventors, the rebels, and the warriors. And just as Notre Dame celebrates the alchemist in one of its many alcoves, it is tempered by the ladder of a higher power. It is not the worship of pseudo-science, but a symbol of God’s power of transforming man’s sinful soul through grace.

But the COVID pandemic exposed the danger of blind devotion to scientific righteousness. Political tyranny masquerades as an earthly savior, contrary to liberal Western thought. The author Lionel Shriver has written extensively about ceding our religious institutions and social order to superficial cultural populism. It manifests itself in exercise classes replacing religious services, politics over devotionals, and personalities over truth. As we allowed government to be the sole institution to which we pledged our loyalty, we became unmoored from our anchors of family, friends, schools, neighborhood bars, and community hangouts. It’s easier to commandeer an unanchored boat.

Now, we are very nearly losing our humanity. We’ve been forcibly stripped of that which makes us human: freedom to worship, interpersonal relationships, in-class learning, freedom of expression – even the overlooked occasion of taking audience as we bear witness to the beauty and art around us through our great libraries, museums, and concerts. They are celebrated not in front of tiny digital screens, but through the full effect of intimate experience in a communal setting. The criminalization of personal interactions and the shaming of freedom are causing us to lose touch with each other. We were told that giving up our humanity is a servile sacrifice. But the hardening of the heart hollows the soul. Where those in power –on either side of the political divide – use an empty, fearful, chaotic world to enslave us in our inhumanity, those who know such troves exist to enrich each other spare nothing to save it.

The novelist Ralph Ellison wrote in Invisible Man, “Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

Notre Dame was 182 years in the making. It has survived plagues, wars, and despotic rulers. It is wounded, but not lost. In a similar way, America is built on centuries of western thought and ideas, all to construct this great nation. Are we going to set aside what politicians tell us is in our best interest, but believe will advance only their agenda? Are we going to invest our collective will into future generations to ensure their freedom, even as we are fighting our own battle of apathy? Surely an idea as beautiful, good, and right as America is worth saving from the oncoming fire, just as the great monuments within its shores.

We are still active participants in fanning the flames of liberty, not of ruin. We stand at the precipice looking out at a world that still needs a strong, deliberate, virtuous America. We should remember the words of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in 2008, “We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person-of every human person.”

We must go on.

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There are 14 comments.

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  1. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    The Notre Dame analogy is particularly apt.   Especially so if the fire that destroyed it was somehow caused by the project intended to restore it.    So too Western culture.  Burned to the ground by those claiming to restore its ideals and expunge its sins.

    • #1
  2. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    The Notre Dame analogy is particularly apt. Especially so if the fire that destroyed it was somehow caused by the project intended to restore it. So to Western culture. Burned to the ground by those claiming to restore its ideals and expunge its sins.

     

    Yes! Great addition. It’s important to realize we don’t need to burn the village to save it…to (para)-quote a phrase…At this moment it seems only one side is attempting to make that case and make it reality.

    • #2
  3. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    “Our media acts like court jesters…”

    Good Heavens, how true.  It would be so appropriate if, at the beginning of each “news” program, the “news anchor” and “reporters” would pull up in a small car and all fall out at the same time.

    Oh well.  Again, my imagination is running away.

    P.S.  Fantastic essay.

    • #3
  4. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    CACrabtree (View Comment):
    at the beginning of each “news” program, the “news anchor” and “reporters” would pull up in a small car and all fall out at the same time.

    Now that’s must see TV! Thank you, @cacrabtree

    • #4
  5. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    The fire started at 18:20 CEST.

    Terrorism / Foul Play ruled out at 18:21 CEST.

    • #5
  6. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Addiction Is A Choice (View Comment):

    The fire started at 18:20 CEST.

    Terrorism / Foul Play ruled out at 18:21 CEST.

    🔥👀🔥

    • #6
  7. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Funny how that fire is no longer news.  Not a peep about what, if any, investigations were done as to the actual cause of the fire.  The world has moved on to other things.

    • #7
  8. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    It’s hard to believe its only been two years – it seems longer. I received a surreal text on my phone about it as we were heading towards the funeral home to make preparations for my just deceased mother-in-law. A very bad day all around.

    You make several outstanding analogies. One is that it wasn’t until the great and timeless Notre Dame caught fire that it drew the world’s attention to look up. Had it just continue to deteriorate, who would have noticed, just like Western Civilization?

    Our world has been slowly deteriorating with bites taken out, here and there, weakening it while we all plod along. Now it’s on fire, and we hardly recognize what and when it happened. We can’t help but see a charred outline of what used to be America – it’s burned out cities, bordered up commerce, lawlessness, rampant homelessness and drug use, abusive behavior toward innocent people, it’s sickening. But we didn’t just get here overnight – the deterioration has been ongoing and all it took was a spark.

    Second, you say many saw Notre Dame as a great old testament to grand architecture and building skills, and failed to see the Divine that made it so, and represented it as a religious cathedral. The same goes for our Civilization.  People go about their lives, not realizing the Divine that’s made everything possible, and could take it all away in a second.

    Very observant, well-written and timely post!

    • #8
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Jenna, I like your post, but I’m having trouble understanding your diagnosis of our problem.  Forgive me if I’m being obtuse about this.

    What, precisely, is the problem?  Is it that we are not sufficiently “freedom-loving”?  Or that we have rejected “religious morality” and “objective truth”?  Or is it, as your post title suggests, a loss of “faith”?

    And if it’s “faith” — then what faith, precisely?  Religious faith, or something else?  If religious faith, then which religious faith?  Or is any faith sufficient (even though different faiths teach very different things)?

    My own view is that our problem is not a lack of freedom.  Our problem seems closer to an excess of freedom.  Our problem seems to be a lack of virtue, and even a rejection of the idea that we should have a consensus about virtue.  This problem does not seem to be confined to the political Left.

    Our situation looks quite bleak.  

    • #9
  10. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Funny how that fire is no longer news. Not a peep about what, if any, investigations were done as to the actual cause of the fire. The world has moved on to other things.

    Paris is having a certain crisis of its own. There is a battle for the gothic traditional style and aesthetic within the city that has caused a great political rift. The Cathedral has been wrapped up in it. 

    • #10
  11. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    It’s hard to believe its only been two years – it seems longer. I received a surreal text on my phone about it as we were heading towards the funeral home to make preparations for my just deceased mother-in-law. A very bad day all around.

    You make several outstanding analogies. One is that it wasn’t until the great and timeless Notre Dame caught fire that it drew the world’s attention to look up. Had it just continue to deteriorate, who would have noticed, just like Western Civilization?

    Our world has been slowly deteriorating with bites taken out, here and there, weakening it while we all plod along. Now it’s on fire, and we hardly recognize what and when it happened. We can’t help but see a charred outline of what used to be America – it’s burned out cities, bordered up commerce, lawlessness, rampant homelessness and drug use, abusive behavior toward innocent people, it’s sickening. But we didn’t just get here overnight – the deterioration has been ongoing and all it took was a spark.

    Second, you say many saw Notre Dame as a great old testament to grand architecture and building skills, and failed to see the Divine that made it so, and represented it as a religious cathedral. The same goes for our Civilization. People go about their lives, not realizing the Divine that’s made everything possible, and could take it all away in a second.

    Very observant, well-written and timely post!

    Thank you so much for your feedback- there’s so much more insight there than I can convey. And I agree, we let he foundations of our institutions crumble – out of neglect or taking their sacredness for granted, eventually it takes a breath to serve as the final, destructive blow.

    • #11
  12. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    What, precisely, is the problem?  Is it that we are not sufficiently “freedom-loving”?  Or that we have rejected “religious morality” and “objective truth”?  Or is it, as your post title suggests, a loss of “faith”?

    It’s all of the above. It’s trading our freedom for a false sense of safety promised by government that has no trust in the people – and also a freedom unmoored from a higher moral order. Unhindered freedom, giving-in unabashedly and unrestrained to our basest desires is a prison in of itself because we can never fully satisfy those desires.

    The fire at Notre Dame was a more important symbol of how far the divide between nations and mores grounded in religious faith (and I’ll even go so far as include Western tradition) and those of a secular order. Most of the Parisians gathered were most likely sad about a grand architectural structure being destroyed in real time, with no thought to the historical, deeply religious meaning it holds for millions of Catholics worldwide. It’s a similar thing with the statues being pummeled and pulled down here. Many say meh, just an old white guy, but this is the (written) historical truth of humanity and society. We can sit by and give it a superficial wave goodbye, or recognize the brick by brick ruin leads to our ruin. One must choose. 

    • #12
  13. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    In July 2019 my family and I were visiting Japan. In Nara, we walked through Todai-ji, an impressive Buddhist temple. It’s an ancient temple that dates from the 8th century, although like most such ancient Japanese structures, it has been rebuilt multiple times after fires. It’s an impressive place, whether you’re religious or not.

    Toward the back, behind the massive Buddha statue, I saw this:

    Donation box for Notre Dame at Todai-ji in Nara, Japan

    In case you can’t make it out, the English text reads:

    Todai-ji temple has been reconstructed every time it burnt down by big fires, thanks to the significant effort by many people.

    We sincerely express our deepest sympathy for the tragedy that hit the Notre-Dame de Paris. Going beyond the creed, we would like to ask everyone for your support to reconstruct the cathedral.

    I found this surprisingly moving. It’s hard to imagine a place more remote from a cathedral in Paris, but it really isn’t. The Buddhist priests at Todai-ji understand, better perhaps than many in the West, the importance of such edifices and the traditions that they represent.

    • #13
  14. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    In July 2019 my family and I were visiting Japan. In Nara, we walked through Todai-ji, an impressive Buddhist temple. It’s an ancient temple that dates from the 8th century, although like most such ancient Japanese structures, it has been rebuilt multiple times after fires. It’s an impressive place, whether you’re religious or not.

    Toward the back, behind the massive Buddha statue, I saw this:

    Donation box for Notre Dame at Todai-ji in Nara, Japan

    In case you can’t make it out, the English text reads:

    Todai-ji temple has been reconstructed every time it burnt down by big fires, thanks to the significant effort by many people.

    We sincerely express our deepest sympathy for the tragedy that hit the Notre-Dame de Paris. Going beyond the creed, we would like to ask everyone for your support to reconstruct the cathedral.

    I found this surprisingly moving. It’s hard to imagine a place more remote from a cathedral in Paris, but it really isn’t. The Buddhist priests at Todai-ji understand, better perhaps than many in the West, the importance of such edifices and the traditions that they represent.

    This is amazing! Thank you for sharing it here. Often I think our communities are operating in their own little bubbles, but the charitable spirit, the willingness to reach out to those in need and recognize suffering is universal, and even the smallest gestures don’t go unnoticed.

    • #14