The Temples of Dead Gods

by Elias Blum

I walked through the cathedral grounds today. The more I see of these cruciform stone piles, the more they seem to remind me of the temples of Jupiter, Mars and Hercules: monuments to a civilisation that has already died, and relics of an age that is already gone forever.

Inside those walls, words that have already lost their meaning are recited, and stories that no longer make any sense are told, to people who can only make themselves believe by shutting out reality. And outside, we who live in reality try to distract ourselves from our lack of meaning by bowing down to the new idols of consumption and entertainment.

All our myths are debunked, even the pernicious myths capitalism and perpetual growth. And – here is the rub! – yet we cannot live healthily in a world empty of a shared, culturally embodied, narrative and meaning: post-modernism and hyper-individualism are equally deadly to a flourishing way of life. We are social creatures. We need one another. We need love and compassion, justice and order, freedom and family. Without these things, we go insane. We become alienated, psychopathic, enraged. It’s not good for us.

And so I ask myself: When will we learn how to live as human beings, to recognise the ‘good life’ and pursue it? If Christianity (in particular Catholic Christianity) has been the vehicle for the transmission of Aristotelian humanism from the ancient world to the modern, then what remains of Aristotelian humanism in a post-Christian west? Are we ready for the most profound Reformation of all – the one that will return ‘ad fontes’, and find that the fountain is, after all, not the Holy Scriptures of a bronze age deity, but the tradition of humanity?

What good can we salvage from Western Civilisation?

Is there still, after all, room for hope?