A New Read

It is time to state clearly what many Christians sense intuitively, and what a few are saying: the Western church is in a historical period of dissolution; and Enlightenment Liberalism is both the engine of our dissolution and its logical end. Liberalism, not Christianity, is the dominant force of Western Modernity. Liberalism is the ideology that enshrines the Enlightenment ideals of a rational and egalitarian society; it seeks maximum individual freedom in politics and markets. As a system of government (democracy) and of material exchange (capitalism), it is the only legitimate ordering system left standing at the “end of history.” It prizes above all else the liberty of an individual to define himself in a fluid environment, unimpeded by any outside constraint save perhaps the reciprocal consent of his fellow citizens—a consent which, by the perverse logic of Liberalism, can almost never be withheld. This freedom, left unchecked, has become endemically exploitative in both the political right and left today, though for a time the areas of exploitation have remained distinct. And it is manifested in a dehumanizing materialism which, in essence, denies the human soul.

Thus announces Caleb Stegall in his Introduction to The New Pantagruel, a just-launched Web journal “run by a cadre of intemperate but friendly Catholics and Protestants.” If Stegall and his compatriots manage to achieve even half of the promise on display in his introductory comments, then I will be reading each quarter with great anticipation. The journal’s title was inspired by the 16th Century French Christian Humanist François Rabelais. Stegall writes:

Pantagruelism is, according to Rabelais, “a certain jollity of mind pickled in the scorn of fortune.” It is that odd cast of mind which allows one to see the corruption everywhere, including in oneself, while still loving the world. . . . The Pantagruelist is able to joyfully engage in earthly reality, insisting on seeing both the divine reflection and the demonic shadow. Drawing from Augustine’s view of this age as a saeculum senescens (an age that will pass away), the Pantagruelist is content with the uncertainties of faith for knowledge of the Beyond. This, in turn, frees him to love the people and places he finds himself surrounded by; to see things for what they are: a suggested yet missed perfection.