The biggest mistake we make is in believing that we are in a so-called ‘culture war.’ The phrase ‘culture war’ assumes that both sides have rival cultures they are battling to defend and promote. However, the enemies of civilisation, of life, and love, have no culture. If anything, their aim is not only to destroy the great cultural and spiritual achievements of the West, but to lay waste to anything that transcends the diabolical and obscene. Culture presupposes beauty, order, and tranquillity. It assumes those moral and spiritual values upon which harmony and holiness depend. In word, rite, song, and ritual; it idealises what William Blake termed “the human form divine.” In our “brave new world,” however, the human form is considered neither divine nor worthy of reverence or respect. It has been reduced to what Roger Scruton called its “animal essentials”—a purely natural object that can be remade in the image and likeness of anything but God. Put simply, the only ‘culture’ that is on offer is that of death and desecration, of defilement and the demonic.
Therefore, let us avoid talk of a ‘culture war’ when what we are engaged in is nothing less than a lethal spiritual conflict. If you perceive the assault on marriage, the family, innocence, and the very nature of the biological order, as a culture war, you will be at a loss to explain why there is a such a ferocious attack on the sanctity of sexuality. You will struggle to explain to children why heterosexuality is not simply one of many competing options, or why euthanasia is not an act of mercy for the critically ill, or why puberty blockers are not a lifestyle choice but an outrageous violation of natural sexual development. That is why we must see this confrontation for what it is: a spiritual war in which the forces of darkness are seeking to ravage everything that is good, beautiful, and true.
When you observe our current predicament from that standpoint, the prevailing madness makes perfect sense. However, most Christians and conservatives hesitate to use the word “evil” when describing the forces that we face. Having bought into the psychobabble of the age, they often opt to explain it in purely naturalistic or psychological terms. I did so myself for many years until I realised the gravity of what was happening around me, and that it simply could not be explained as an ideological aberration. I did so until I understood that the sacred scriptures do not confuse psychological and spiritual sickness. Christ, in other words, did not mistake clinical depression for diabolical possession.
Similarly, St. Paul knew exactly what we are up against, and he did not flinch when confronting evil. In his letter to the Ephesians, he urges his readers to put on “the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.” Like Christ, he recognised that evil is not simply a state of mind, but a spiritual force intent on wholesale destruction. As Christ Himself put it in the Gospel of John: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Therefore, as Paul instructs, we must put on the armour of God because “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Consider the feverish onslaught against children’s innocence from pornography, gender politics, so-called sex education, and all the rest, and you will clearly see that this is something much more than an alternate vision of childhood or an expansion of children’s rights. In my view, it is nothing short of a demonic offensive by the spiritual forces of evil against the most vulnerable and blameless in our society. And only when you see it as such can you begin to credibly protect the “children of light” against what Paul called “the sons of disobedience,” or those who actively take part “in the unfruitful works of darkness.”
Observe, for example, all the pet causes of the progressive Left, and you will notice that they are all directed against the concept of personhood as derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition. We now assume the place of God, remake ourselves on a whim and according to no conventional criteria. Children are led to believe, not only that they can do what they like, but that they can become—in a perverse twist of Christ’s redeeming work—a “new creation.” Indeed, the very notion of identity, recast by Paul in light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, is primarily targeted. When Paul writes that there “is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” he is declaring that we are no longer defined by our sexuality, ‘gender,’ or social roles, but instead that our identity is found in Christ. Now, however, we have been reduced to purely sexual beings who can change gender on a whim, and whose dignity depends on nothing more than our social roles. If the glorious message of the New Testament is that “it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me,” the message of our multicoloured utopia is: “It is no longer Christ Who lives but I who live solely for myself.”
The speed and ferocity with which this battle is being waged, and the shameless vulgarity of those who are prosecuting it, proves that this is no confrontation between competing worldviews. To repeat, it is a battle between good and evil, light and darkness, the sacred and the profane. Does this mean that I believe in evil as a metaphysical entity? Not only do I believe it to be so, but I also contend that every Christian ought to believe likewise. If Christ was not healing the sick, He was casting out demonic spirits. Indeed, at the very end of His earthly life, He said that “these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” That sentence should give every believing Christian some serious pause, for if those signs are not accompanying us, we must question the strength of our belief. Be that as it may, we ought to pay close attention to the first sign that Christ mentions: “In my name they will cast out demons.”
Not only did Christ assume that His disciples would believe in the demonic but that they would also confront it. The irony is, however, that the secular world has much more belief in the demonic realm than its Christian counterpart. Indeed, it is the widespread fascination with demons and the occult among the young that led American exorcist Fr. Carlos Martins to launch his hugely successful podcast The Exorcist Files. Fr. Martins explains why he responded to the Holy See’s invitation to use the podcast medium to offer dramatic reconstructions of exorcisms accompanied by a catechesis on the demonic:
Young persons aged 18 to 29 are increasingly leaving organised religion. A recent Pew survey found that the number of religiously unaffiliated persons in this demographic increased from 15% to almost 20% in just five years. However, another survey published by Public Policy Polling showed that a whopping 63% of the same demographic believe that people can become possessed by demons, a figure higher than any other group. Evidently, in the age group most disinterested in religion, something is occurring in their lives that makes them conclude that demons are real.
The fact that The Exorcist Files has consistently held the No. 1 spot on Spotify’s “Religion & Spirituality” category, proves how pervasive demonic activity is in the lives of many people, even if the secular world dismisses this phenomenon as ‘medieval.’ Concluding his first epistle, St. John writes: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” When we understand that we are under assault from what Christ called “the ruler of this world,” when we realise that we are not fighting flesh and blood but “the cosmic powers over this present darkness,” we will be much better placed to prevail. I do not say that the battle we face will be easily won, for it is plainly evident that the “smoke of Satan” has not only seeped into every sphere of society but is also suffocating the Church. For who can deny that the clerical child sex abuse scandal, the vandalization of the liturgy, the relentless attempt to conform the Church to the world, and, in many cases, the complete abandonment of the sacraments by priests unconcerned for the spiritual wellbeing of their parishioners, are all malign manifestations of the forces we face.
Despite all that, however, we are able to offer what the world lacks: grace, beauty, love, and truth. We still possess what Matthew Arnold called “the best that has been thought and said,” and the more the world partners with the diabolical, the more we should speak the truth with beauty and love. Christ did not answer His adversary with argument or aggression, but, when tempted in the desert, He responded with scripture. He invoked the Word of God, the ancient texts of his spiritual tradition, and the serpent fled. That is why St. John declares that “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” It is why Paul writes that we ought to, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness put on by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” The “gospel of peace” ought to be our answer to the demonic destruction we are witnessing all around us. Neither despair nor hopelessness can withstand the evil day, but only the gospel that “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light” can ultimately overcome the “domain of darkness.”
The victory that will overcome the world begins in recognising that the attack upon our faith and culture, our children and the most vulnerable, is not the birth pangs of what Hegel called a new “form of consciousness.” In the Hegelian dialectic, when one form of consciousness gives way to another, the old is incorporated into the new. The fundamental features of the old paradigm are not only retained but made more explicit as consciousness evolves and expands. What distinguishes our predicament is that there is an attempt, not only to sever all links to the past, but to destroy the very foundations of the dialectic of consciousness. The human condition itself has become the target of what Scruton termed “this impersonal evil” that “is the true legacy of the naturalistic view of man.” In this, there is only a culture of death and destruction, of violence and repudiation. That is why we must be prepared to defend our values to the very end, because their end is what is at stake.
We must do so, however, by letting true beauty manifest through the “gospel of peace”—irrespective of the consequences. That is because, as Scruton perceptively understood, the “machine which is established for the efficient production of Utopia has total licence to kill.” It is, as he says, “the religion of Antichrist, the religion which puts man in God’s place, and yet which sees in man only the mortal organism, the slowly evaporating gobbet of flesh.”
We, on the other hand, possess the liturgy of love—a liturgy that, according to St. John, opposes the “spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” It is a liturgy based on the belief, according to John, that, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Understanding this is the key to victory in a war that will not be won on any cultural battlefield, but on that “darkling plain” so eloquently spoken of by Matthew Arnold—a plain on which the “unfruitful works of darkness” come into the light. Thus exposed, they lose their power for, as Paul reminds us, “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
This essay appears in the Fall 2023 edition of The European Conservative, Number 28:127-130.