Inward Christian Soldiers!
Even today, we have no real way of knowing how many actual Muslims there are in the world, for how many would remain Muslim if given the choice? Obviously true conversion can only take place in the heart, not at the end of a sword. How rapidly would Christianity spread in China or Saudi Arabia or Iran if the authorities allowed anything like a free marketplace of religion? But the spiritual customer can only be sovereign in a place free of religious or secular totalitarianism.
Islam also differs from Christianity, in that Christian martyrs were (and are) victims of mass murderers, whereas Muslim martyrs perpetrate it. According to Birzer, the actual Christian martyrs of the second and third centuries were "an inspiration to a decadent population, devoid of any higher understanding, but still seeking something higher than itself." He cites the example of St. Perpetua, who, "when a gladiator approached her in the arena... took the gladiator's trembling hand and guided it to her throat."
Repeated countless times, these saints "became the dying witnesses to a purpose in this life and the life beyond. Their blood led to mass conversions among a lost Roman people." But do people actually convert to Islam as a result of its "martyrs" killing and maiming thousands of innocents? Where is the appeal, except to eternal hatred?
Once Christianity became the state religion and the era of persecution ended, a new kind of "interior martyrdom" emerged, as serious seekers fled to the desert in order to find God in the solitude of the heart. These souls engaged in a kind of extreme seeking that is also difficult for us to comprehend. I mean, it's one thing to join a monastery and become part of an interior community, but they didn't exist until much later.
Then again, perhaps there are spiritual challenges and temptations in our day that people from even one hundred years ago couldn't imagine. Most of us will never know what amounted to constants among pre-modern people, including hunger, disease, war (up close and personal, not in a distant land), chronic pain, constant loss, and early death.
Thus, for any thinking person, the utter futility of the world must have seemed quite obvious. It's the same with the Buddha's advice -- it wasn't nearly as difficult to detach from the world when the world had so little to recommend it. What was one giving up, really? Few had any possessions, any private property, any aspirations, anything to read, or anything to do except subsist.
So in an odd way, the present world undoubtedly requires its own kind of spiritual athleticism in order to transcend it, since the temptations and distractions are so much greater. In a way, the more fulfilling the world is, the more pain there is. How did people in the past endure the routine loss of a child? I would guess that infant mortality was so high, that the vast majority of parents had lost at least one child. Nowadays, this constitutes a tragic minority. Indeed, even a miscarriage is an occasion for grief, whereas I can't imagine premodern people giving it a second thought.
As I speculated in the book, this must have affected the way the premodern psyche grew and developed. We now know that the psyche is formed on the basis of attachment to early objects, and that any kind of disruption in the attachment process leaves emotional and cognitive scars for life.
Of course we can never know with certainty, but there is good evidence that prior to modernity, parents didn't invest a lot of emotional energy in their children until there was a good chance they'd survive infancy, so I don't see how this could not have resulted in what we would call schizoid (i.e., detached), depressed, or paranoid personalities (i.e., bitter, distrusting, and angry people) on a widespread basis.
For us, the modern world is so alluring that we can forget all about transcendence. It gives the illusion that it can fulfill us, but this is a promise that it can never keep. Unconsciously, this attachment to the world probably just makes us feel less secure. In a perverse way, the more secure we actually are, the less secure we may feel, because we expect things to go perfectly. We can come enticingly close to controlling most of the variables in our lives -- which only makes it more maddening that in reality we are promised nothing.
I am sure this is what animates the angry and hysterical control freaks of the left. They always wants to make things "better," with no appreciation of what a miracle it is that things work at all. They have no earthly conception that the optimal will never be perfect, and that in pursuing perfection, they will only engender the sub-optimal. Their attempts at control always generate chaos, for which they recommend more of the same. Today we have roughly the same percentage of the population living "in poverty." But I know of not a single leftist who is prepared to declare the 45 year "war on poverty" a failure.
Similarly, the housing bubble clearly wasn't caused by the free market, but was a direct consequence of massive federal intervention in the mortgage industry for four decades. It is the same with healthcare and the cost of higher education. Both operate outside any rational system of actual market prices. You can only know how much something actually costs when you allow the market to set the price.
Likewise, leftists whine about the treatment of homosexuals and other minorities, when they have literally never had it so good. Without a doubt, 21st century America is the best place there has ever been to be black, female, or homosexual. Water and air are the cleanest they've been since it has been possible to measure them, and one of the reasons healthcare is more expensive is because there are so many drugs and procedures that didn't even exist a generation ago.
Hey, if you want to save on healthcare, just limit yourself to the treatments that were available in 1975. But this is about as likely as wealthy liberals voluntarily giving more money to the government, instead of forcing others to do so.
Because of their materialism, the left frets over the natural environment when the greater threat comes from the psychic environment. Dawson felt that (in the words of Birzer), history involved a "battle for possession of the human soul," and that "to protect the order of the culture and the polity, one must first protect the order of the soul. Without the order of the soul, all will fail." What he wrote in the 1940s would apply with equal force today:
"England and the whole world are passing through a terrible crisis. We are fighting not merely against external enemies but against powerful forces that threaten the very existence of our culture. And it is therefore vital that all the positive intellectual and spiritual forces of Western culture should come together in defense of their common values and traditions against their common enemies.
"The defeat of totalitarianism... 'depends in the last resort, not on the force of arms but on the power of Spirit, the mysterious influence which alone can change human nature and renew the face of the earth.'"
But preservation and destruction are constants in history, always occurring simultaneously: "to the Christian the world is always ending, and every historical crisis is, as it were, a rehearsal for the real thing."
In this regard, it is critical to bear in mind that evil ideologies are never truly creative, and therefore ultimately subject to the entropy and degeneration of the world:
"The tyrannical ideologue can neither be creative nor imaginative," and is "merely a shadow of the true Enemy, himself just a creature, albeit a very powerful one within time." Islamism on the one hand and leftism on the other are "blind powers which are working in the dark, and which derive their strength from negative and destructive forces."
I don't worry at all about the things that consume liberals, such as what the weather might be like in 100 years, whether we are mean to terrorists, or why open homosexuals can't serve in a military the left despises anyway. What concerns me is whether we can continue to nurture a psychic environment capable of sustaining the human soul, and whether, because of various technological developments, man will blind himself to the deadly consequences of his spiritually self-destructive behavior.
In short, the spiritually "dangerous and treacherous" have "been made artificially safe," so that "the distinction between wisdom and folly would seem to be an irrelevance." As Bolton writes, "high forms of culture can usually continue for at least another generation after traditional moral restraints have given way, creating the impression that a society can have the best of both worlds." But this is only a fool's paradise, for the bill eventually comes due.
If there ever was a widespread conversion to truth as a vocation, most of the problems of society would solve themselves, since it would remove the basic evil of aimlessness. It was for this reason that Pascal said that the whole calamity of mankind was owing to the fact that a man cannot remain quietly in one room for any good purpose.... [T]he security of any society depends on the presence in it of minorities and individuals who are spiritually alien to it, who have a mission which goes far beyond the basic practicalities which rest on everyone. --Robert Bolton, Keys of Gnosis
Suffice it to say that none of us would be who or where we are had it not been for the existence of such impractical men -- interior and exterior martyrs of various kinds. So let's be thankful these magnanimous fleshlights passed through these parts and illuminated a narrow teloscape for the rest of us.