Modernity as Apocalypse outlines and offers a tonic to idolatry

Thaddeus Kozinski’s provocative book on “sacred nihilism” provides analysis of the spiritual problem at the heart of modernity while suggesting the logos-centered life of virtue as the answer.

(Image: Hieu Vu Minh/Unsplash.com)

Christian writers have become adept at passing judgment on modernity and tracing its historical development through the development of liberalism. They typically note how late medieval nominalists, Protestant reformers, philosophers such as Descartes, the Enlightenment thinkers, and then nineteenth-century idealists each further corroded Christendom and bestowed on us today’s modern world. Modernity as Apocalypse doesn’t challenge any of this, but makes an insightful contribution by focusing on the spiritual and psychological aspects of the modern age. Author Thaddeus Kozinski deems liberalism-based modernity as not merely a historical period, but a certain frame of mind, a “social imaginary”. The author identifies idolatry as modernity’s core sin because it has removed God from the center of culture.

The book’s first of five parts focuses on the history and nature of modernity. Kozinski borrows much from Charles Taylor, who defines modernity by its “immanent frame,” that is, a worldview that excludes the transcendent. Kozinski also cites Michael Gillespie, who sees modernity as trying to aggressively establish a new metaphysics and theology. Throughout the book, Kozinski shows how modernity clearly achieves this unique metaphysical and religious orientation through recognizing and bowing down before a satanic sacred. It is notable that the author associates “sacred” with “satanic”: Christians must understand that modernity, despite its own claims to religious neutrality, has simply turned in on itself by establishing its own ideals as sacred.

Part two, “Logos,” provides the counter to modernity. Though the concept of logos will be familiar to most, readers would have benefited from a clear and concise definition. The author does show how logos can give us the hope that we can escape modernity’s ethical and spiritual straitjacket. We must put logos at the center of culture and education because the limits to our God-given nature prevent the freedom to create our own telos. We are obliged to be the “purpose-fulfilling creatures” of God’s making. A logos-centered vision leads to authentic happiness which differs from the shallow happiness peddled by secular society. Authentic happiness is infused with meaning and comes from a religiously-oriented life: “In short, we are obliged to be happy because we have a duty to love the gift of a divinely-bestowed, happy-making existence, and we are encouraged to desire happiness for its own sake” as a way of expressing gratitude for the eternal happiness that is a gift to us.

Kozinski argues for the integration of Plato’s good and Aristotle’s ethics-based happiness with Christianity. In other words, he seeks a synthesis of Augustine and Thomas. The pre-Christian doctors of the soul, Plato and Aristotle, provided a solid foundation for human behavior and anthropology. Kozinski’s describes the beauty of Plato’s vision and highlights the Athenian philosopher’s fusion of the spiritual with the psychological:

Before grace can divinize the soul, the soul must yearn for divinization. What makes us so yearn? A sense of the inadequacy and shadow-like nature of this world, an intense feeling of alienation and homesickness, a profound intuition that there is much more to reality than what ordinarily appears to us.

Kozinski discusses the real value and vital role of the humanities for the Church. The humanities reach far beyond developing reasoning. They help to order human behavior. Kozinski refers to the famous French philosopher, Pierre Hadot, who argued compellingly that ancient Greek philosophy was spiritual direction. Readers might have benefited more from a longer analysis of Hadot, particularly why he judged the ancient Greek cure of the soul as superior to Christianity’s cura animarum.

Kozinski’s argument shows that modernity has not only rejected Christendom and the Church. It has also rejected the understanding of the humanities as the search for the truth which pertains both to this world and to metaphysics and the human soul. The humanities’ ordered perspective on the material world grounds us in reality while opening us to transcendence. While this argument is already rich and convincing, references to Christian spiritual writers with roots in both ancient philosophy and Christianity, such as Clement of Alexandria or Bonaventure, would have rounded out the argument.

Part three, “Metanoia,” provides the basics of tradition for Catholic educators. Much of education should be useless, which is to say, its own end. This leads to the argument that happiness doesn’t come from the instrumental or the utilitarian: “happiness is the most useless thing since it is never a means, but always an end.” The practical training that we need as embodied creatures should not come at the expense of the heart of education, which universities should still maintain.

Chapter 9, titled “Catholic Education and the Cult of Theistic Evolution,” argues for Thomism as a treatment for “nominalist, scientistic, materialist, and fideist rationalities” despite the unwelcoming atmosphere such a philosophy would receive nowadays. Kozinski admits as much, observing that today’s philosopher needs “metaphysical courage”. This hits close to home for any reader who has attended university or knows the struggles of Anthony Esolen or Roger Scruton against the liberal academy.

Though Modernity as Apocalypse sketches out some very demanding philosophical issues, the author is not guilty of abstracting from the present. We get a very clear view of modernity’s spiritual battle with Christianity and the humanities as they have been traditionally passed on. Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and the keen understanding of “The Satanic Sacred”, the title of one of the later chapters, provides practical wisdom.

Chapter nine’s robust rejection of Darwinian evolution, specifically macro-evolution (while accepting the concept of micro-evolution), alerts us to the idolatries that Christians fall into when we go along with the zeitgeist. Following chapters clarify how idolatry is inherent to modernity’s antichristian tradition. Unsurprisingly, this has ramifications for education. The author ably depicts modernity’s educational failures, which stem from the lack of traditional Christian metaphysics rooted in ancient Greek philosophy. The author refers to Alistair MacIntyre’s convincing observation of liberalism’s dissolving nature and the ensuing effects on education. This dissolution, according to Kozinski, leads to both deep confusion and dishonest liberal ideologies. As at many other points in the book, such observations echo the observations and frustrations of many of us.

Part four (“Keep Yourself from Idols”) argues that since modernity has made its own sacred space, Christians risk worshiping false gods by adopting its values. This includes the current notion of freedom. This notion shares nothing with the traditional view of freedom. Post-traditional society has been misrepresenting values and virtues by cultivating its own theology and sacred practices. Kozinski cites James Kalb’s observation of the roots to this ideological dishonesty: “To refuse to talk about the transcendent, and view it as wholly out of our reach, seems very cautious and humble. In practice, however, it puts our own thoughts and desires at the center of things, and so puts man in the place of God.” In other words, all is not what it seems with modernity’s claims about religion. Perhaps disturbing for some readers, Kozinski criticizes contemporary conservative Christianity in America for absorbing too many secular idols, particularly the worship of state power, which is often military in nature.

Part five, “Apocalypse,” doesn’t promise readers a happy ending in this world, though Kozinski explains how we as Christians are called to understand and relate to an antichristian society. It is here that the author most fully develops his insightful observations about the new sacred, satanic order. He links modernity back to the first rebel: “The essence of the Luciferian program is to seduce human beings into believing that their salvation lies in experiencing and acting upon the ‘freedom of absolute autonomy’ that Lucifer inaugurated when he rebelled against God.” While Kozinski argues throughout the book that the Church must be allowed its proper sphere in any society, and that Christians cannot compromise with modernity, these ending chapters most forcefully link modernity to evil. Modernity fails to build a society of love because it fails to value love. This leads to the “worship of nothingness”, to spiritual and metaphysical nihilism. We flee God, love, and metaphysical reality through our abstract creations.

Modernity has built a unique and powerful version of Plato’s cave in which modern humans take shadows for reality. The cure is the Church, as only she can show us the true nature of these shadows — literally nothing. The author’s assertive ecclesiology, the robust position that he calls the Church to take in society, is refreshing and hopeful. Yet readers may be unsettled by what the author declares to be shadows, which include the belief in freedom, empty desire, empty belief, or “belief in belief”. Such logic leaves readers with little choice but either to reject modernity, however terrible this choice may seem, or to reject Kozinski’s argument.

The book ends by turning to Rene Girard’s prophetic vision. His groundbreaking scapegoating theory led to prescient observations, including the following cited by Kozinski: “You can foresee the shape of what the Antichrist is going to be in the future: a super victimary machine that will keep on sacrificing in the name of the victim.” The striking relevance of Girard’s words reflects the striking relevance of Modernity as Apocalypse, especially the final chapters ,which argue successfully that politics is not downwind of culture. It is downwind of the culture that is produced by religion. This religion, at present, promotes the satanic sacred. Kozinski weaves into his own argument Girard’s assertion that only Christianity breaks the scapegoating cycle, which we see in Peter’s ability to snap out of his betrayal against Jesus when the cock crowed the third time.

Overall, Modernity as Apocalypse offers a considerable analysis of the spiritual problem at the heart of modernity while suggesting the logos-centered life of virtue as the answer. Later chapters may be painful reading to conservative Christians who, the author contends, have often been guilty of their own form of modernity-induced political correctness. Yet Modernity as Apocalypse provides a tonic to idolatry and the ensuing frustration that many Christians feel. This leaves readers with the hope that we can start by changing ourselves and our own perceptions which seem to be unduly influenced by modernity’s sick idols and values.

Modernity as Apocalypse: Sacred Nihilism and the Counterfeits of Logos
By Thaddeus J. Kozinski
Angelico Press, 2019
Softcover, 231 pages.


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About Brian Welter 5 Articles
Brian Welter has studied education, history, and theology and writes on these subjects for many publications including Studia gilsoniana. He teaches English in Taiwan.

17 Comments

  1. Christus Pantokrator Lucifer Victimator. “To refuse to talk about the transcendent, and view it as wholly out of our reach, seems very cautious and humble. However, it puts our own thoughts and desires at the center of things, and so puts man in the place of God. All is not what it seems with modernity’s claims about religion. The essence of the Luciferian program is to seduce humans into believing their salvation is in acting upon the freedom of absolute autonomy” (Welter on Kozinski, James Kalb). A profound insight since it references Christians, Modernist believers not unbelievers. Why the prevalence of victimhood affecting both Modernist and unbeliever? “Victimary thought is an inverted metaphysics. Where Generative Anthropology reframes the relation between science and religion by treating religion as a primary source of anthropological insight, offers the birth scene of the sign as the source of the ‘moral model’ of reciprocal exchange, victimary anthropology grounds its justification of the victim’s resentment on an unattainable model of perfect reciprocity, a Platonic Good unconnected to human language and practice. In victimary anthropology, there can be no ‘event of the origin of language,’ since the very notion of ‘event’ is a myth of false immediacy in which those in authority make asymmetric relations appear symmetrical, disguising oppression as free exchange. Here the human emerges, not through reciprocally sharing a sign of equality before the sacred, but through the denial of always-already existing inequality” (Eric Gans). We can almost speak of Victimology as widespread cognitive digression and cultural dissolution. James Kalb’s recent essay on reciprocity and its demise is a telling indication. Victimhood is an obvious moral intellectual disease according to Gans intractable mistakenly perceived as inherent. Thaddeus Kozinski’s insight Modernity as Apocalypse is not simply interesting; it’s frighteningly real. A collective tendency affecting Modernist, and I add the exaggerated Traditionalist adverse to reciprocity, unwilling to modify exhibiting all the signs of victimhood. Condemnation of Vat II spells this, whereas humble faith in the good achieved is the measure of a healthy faith in Christ and his Church.

  2. “Thaddeus Kozinski’s insight Modernity as Apocalypse is not simply interesting; it’s frighteningly real.”

    Interesting additional insights to Brian’s nice article but why “frightening” dear Fr Peter? I’m thinking of fright as misplaced (e.g. see 1 John 4:18).

    One might go as far as to say that Christ created and sustains our universe of space-time/energy-matter, with its cosmogenics, evolutions, and anthropogeneses so that binary ethical apocalypses can be exhaustively attained to prepare our stage of existence for the grande dénouement of ethical dialysis.

    That is, cumulative apocalypses are what is enabling a just separation of: ‘edible from inedible fish’, ‘grain from chaff’, ‘wheat from weeds’, ‘sheep from goats’; that all parallel the finalizing separation of those who love God from those who don’t.

    Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling first proposed that our universe was created precisely for this divine process of exposing and separating right ethics from wrong ethics.

    More recently this has been developed at length in: ‘Ethical Encounter Theology’. It is given a more accessible (and much shorter!) treatment in a recent conference paper: ‘Ethical Ontology Harmonizes Science, Revelation and Human Lives: Physical Temporality Yields Supra-Universal Ethical Distillates’. Both works are available free on the web.

    In short: loyal Catholics need to be both sad and glad about modernity’s and post-modernity’s comprehensive apocalypses of errors and rebellions against God’s goodness.

    Sad: because these ‘mis-ecollations’ and ‘dis-ecollations’ make all our lives more painful; and, especially, because the perpetrators are fatally failing to ‘eu-ecollate’ Christ’s godly plans for our lives.

    Glad: because this accumulating panoply of sins and evils is being brought to light and is thus helping speed the long-promised DAY that we are so longing for.

    • Agreed Dr Rice. Occasionally I succumb to a bit of hyperbole. Schelling has an interesting take on creation, but as the psalmist says who can probe the mind of God?

      • Many thanks Fr Peter; no harm done.

        Noting how frequently Jesus is reported as speaking of what we can call binary ethical apocalyses, accumulating to enable what we can refer to as just ethical dialyses, suggests maybe Schelling was on to something . . .

        “Wrong-doing HAS to happen” is the message of both Matthew 18:7 & Luke 17:1. When the Creator is reported thus, it must affect our worldview. Does this also help our understanding of Revelation 13:8b g – that The Lamb was slain from/for the creation of our universe. Much the same could be taken from 1 Peter 1:20.

        The consonance of all of this with John 1:10-12 seems to affirm a persevering ethical encounter by God’s perfect right ethical realm with the conflation of right and wrong ethics that characterizes our natural situation.

        Even so, you wisely caution: God’s ways are beyond us. Then again, Paul gives us reason to converse & help each other to: “. . have the mind of Christ.”

        Keep well Fr Peter; all the best from Marty

        • Marty that “our universe was created precisely for this divine process” would seem more consistent with his omniscience, ‘with’ this divine process. Awareness of all truth is a given. Evil is not a necessity to be defined or exhibited within the divine intelligence. And, as Aquinas reasonably argues we cannot attribute causality to God as if something would cause the omnipotent God to act. God is pure act. Aquinas following the thought of his contemporary Giovanni di Fidanza [Saint Bonaventure] that if we may hypothetically attribute causality to God it would be Love. The universe is not coeternal with God although its creation cannot be determined, since it cannot be measured by a pre existing coordinate. Neither can it be measured from within because we cannot measure time in its initial process of existence without independent coordinates to measure with. We can only say it’s created. Existence other than the divinity is really an ‘expression’ of his essence, infinite good. Our love of him and that recognition provides no increase in his own fulfillment, rather it’s that our eternal happiness is an assimilation of his infinite good.

        • “Thaddeus Kozinski’s insight Modernity as Apocalypse is not simply interesting; it’s frighteningly real.”

          To have the mind of Christ is to sweat blood through every pore when one realizes what the future portends. The Resurrection was not always in Christ’s sight.

          The fright is that which Peter realizes when the cock crowed, when Jesus turned His look upon Peter and Peter saw Himself, perhaps, as God saw him. That fear of the Lord is just.

  3. While I get that modernity is a sprititual wreck and getting more so each year, as it seems. However I wonder when the world and Church ever was anything but a train wreck, only saved through the Grace of God. Just looking at the first 4 councils, there was massive disaggreements and violence. Then after that there was the constant warring and never ending fighting. This was often compounded by way to many clergy and some times pope that were openly scandleous or only marginally faithful. If it was not for the fortitude of saints such as St Athanasius, the doctrine of the Trinity would have been lost. After him when needed it seems, God steps in with providing the fortitude of saints to save the Church. So I think now is the time for God to send great, faithful, courageous and clear thinking saints to fix the situation.

    • Hi Mike, good comment.

      Following on: have you realized that you are a chosen saint. Your humility forbids the thought – but that in itself is a great start.

      This extract, from a previous post seems relevant to your observations:

      In Paul and John’s epistles there’s plenty of evidence of the Apostles having to cope with: ‘termites now within the Barque of Peter’. In Eamon Duffy’s: “Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes” (Yale University Press) we see the same problems occurring again and again, at every level of the Church, through nearly two millennia.

      Even so, for those who persistently seek, there’s: ‘a treasure not made of gold’ hidden among the ignorant religiosity, self-serving clericalism, factionalism & politics, greed, hypocrisy, abuses, & betrayals. There’s: ‘a Pearl of Infinite Value’ to be discovered by all who tirelessly seek for God amidst this shambolic marketplace.

      Jesus Christ is truly enthroned as loving Ruler of our universe and Head of all those who are genuinely Body of Christ. He promised never to leave us. Though mountains may fall and the seas turn to dust, Jesus Christ remains faithful. This we can be certain of, rely upon, and build our eternity upon.

      No matter what the state of the Church, in our Eucharistic Celebration we are freely able to physically covenant with the Lord: to personally obey God’s commandments and to love others as God in Christ loves us.

      I pray we would never underrate how totally privileged & awesome that is.

      As Jesus told Martha, this is the one thing God requires of us.

      The more the hosts of shadow gather, the brighter we shine (see Philippians 2:15).

      Stay safe Mike; with blessings from Marty

    • Many thanks for taking the trouble to respond, dear Fr Peter.

      With my limited abilities: there seems to be nothing in your account of the varied speculations of Thomistic philosophy that contradicts the crystal-clear instructions and extraordinary coherence of multiple Apostolic witnesses to eternal truth.

      Again: a pastoral advantage of the Apostolic witness is in cogent availability to Catholics at all levels of education. No one would claim that for Thomism.

      Take care; stay safe. Always in the love of Jesus; blessings from Marty

  4. In God there is no distinction between essence and existence. period. young earth creationism does nothing to strengthen this truth. 14 billion year old universe does nothing to weaken it. to read Genesis as a scientific instruction manual rather than as inspired truth is to engage the text in the insipid silly way the modernist does. God is not a God of confusion and the totality of the evidence says that macro evolution occurs. you can scoff at that because atheist / agnostic scientists and philosophers jumped to the conclusion that evolution made God and Scripture unnecessary, but they were wrong and so is the author of this book for accepting their premise. we are in grave trouble, but attempting to take the bushel off our lamp or reflavoring the salt is going to take generations and will not be helped by pretending 2 + 2 = 5, but that’s what you do when you ignore the facts in front of us. The crux of my point is this: if I presented this book to you and chapter 9 argued for geo-centrism or the flat earth, the rest of the text would be tainted; a rejection of evolution is exactly the same thing; don’t be fooled by your evangelical neighbor and for God’s sake please actually review the science, all of it, not just the gaps. peace

    • There is absolutely no evidence that macro evolution occurred or occurs. To call macroevolution a fact is just scientific propaganda. The way that you are gaslighted by theistic evolutionists when you question their unscientific dogmas shows you that it’s more like a cult than a legitimate school of thought. And to juxtapose the ridiculousness and insanity of flat earth with geocentric theory is also a nice propaganda move.

    • Hi Myshkin,

      Some heartfelt passion there! Good to read.

      As a veteran professional biologist with many publications (including 5 in ‘Nature London’) and with my research students doing great work all over the world, I affirm that evolution by natural and social selection is a major factor in explaining the diversity of living organisms.

      However, evolutionary theory has not explained where the new information comes from at each new innovative step. Arthur Peacock proposed that there is a transfer of information (not matter or energy), by divine grace, permitting many of the otherwise ‘too difficult’ (see Fred Hoyle FRS) evolutionary diversifications.

      Simon Conway Morris FRS has a nice book: “Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe” where he discusses the almost unbelievable repetitions of the same solutions to very diverse biological problems.

      Francis Crick FRS – among other eminents – states categorically that the origin of life (i.e. of the first living cell, universal ancestor) is statistically impossible given the time-scale and circumstances on our planet.

      I would add to Francis: “Only, if you assume the exclusively philosophical materialist worldview.”

      If instead we understand the spiritual ecology that is so well taught to us in the New Testament, then we have much less problem understanding both how amazing biological solutions are introduced into the evolutionary story by ‘eu-ecollating’ God’s wisdom; and, how rebellious Stoikheia frequently subvert the divine goodness of that by ‘dis-ecollation’. Hence the conflation of good & evil we all experience in this world.

      There is no need at all for the evolutionist/creationist conflict. “Ethical Encounter Theology” (free on the web) brings biblical theology and evolutionary theory into a fertile and socially-beneficial consonance.

      Maybe, we all need to pause and begin to think a bit more inclusively. But, sadly, I observe that many people prefer to have a fight !

      Stay safe. Blessings from Marty

        • Sadly, dear Thaddeus, it’s not uncommon for non-biologists to find themselves out-of-their-depth in attempting to philosophize or theologize about living organisms.

          Surely it’s no surprise that eager amateur cognitive speculator ‘swimmers’ who are close to drowning attract little sympathy from professional ‘swimmers’ who would save them, but are put off by their discoordinated, belligerent, and panicky lashings out.

          Who can’t recall notorious historical populists whose modicum of relevant knowledge cut quite a dash & made a huge splash, sadly drowning many an innocent, before they were recognized as unqualified to ‘teach swimming’.

          God, who is Love, made it all by and through and for King Jesus Christ: all the spiritual and all the material. The challenge for the philosopher theologian is to attain such a genuine breadth and level of qualifications as to permit a coherent exegesis of how and why cosmogenics, evolution, and anthropogenesis are divinely tailored to attain God’s omnicompetent and omnibenevolent purposes.

          This requires immense multi-disciplinary knowledge but also such faith in Christ as attracts God’s Holy Spirit to counsel us on our cognitive pilgrimage.

          Stay safe, Thaddeus. Blessings from Marty

  5. Thanks, dear Thaddeus, for your pico-response. Sadden that you’re unwilling (but not unable, I trust) to respond to substantive issues.

    A pointer: professional theology/science researchers never justify themselves by depending on long-dead speculative philosophers. A lot has changed over the last seven centuries or so . . .

    If one puts down the shield of self-pity and engages with substantive matters, a mutually beneficial conversation is on offer, about the relative advantages of embracing evolutionary theory (such as it is) with ecollation theory; investigating how novelties (both good and evil) have been progressively accumulated by our space-time/energy-matter universe, in accord with Catholic teaching.

    Abjuring all pique, we might then enjoy conversing about the the ethical encounter worldview that accords with Apostolic instructions, opening a new horizon for evangelization and ministry. Who could argue it’s not time for a irenic update?

    If you like, please feel free to email: m.rice@griffith.edu.au

    As Paul instructs in II Corinthians 2:11: “. .be sure not to be outwitted by Satan – we know well what his intentions are.” e.g. disobedience to God, disrespect & disunity & hatred of fellow believers, lies, murder, . . .

    In the household of God, we are instructed to: “Defer to one another out of reverence to Christ.” If the world can’t see that in us, they will scorn our message.

    Always in the love of Jesus; blessings from Marty

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