Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce is Senior Editor at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review and the author of books on Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton and other Christian literary figures.

Writing for Faith & Culture

We welcome the submission of articles of between 600 and 1,500 words on topics related to Catholic faith and culture. Articles should be emailed as Word attachments to Joseph Pearce.

Imagine There’s No Heaven

Imagine There’s No Heaven

Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today …

These words, written by John Lennon, a man who once claimed to be more popular than Christ, are the opening lines of Imagine, a song which could be considered the anthem of the Culture of Death. Lennon goes on to ask us to ‘imagine there’s no countries’ and ‘no religion too’, promising that if we have the courage to imagine these things, and to want them, there will be ‘nothing to kill or die for’ and that ‘all the people’ will be ‘living life in peace’. 

This peculiar cocktail of half-digested Buddhism and regurgitated Marxism is, in its essence, iconoclastic. It seeks to dismantle or deconstruct the culture of Christendom and the Faith which is its foundation. It seeks to do so because, at root, it loathes the roots from which it sprang. It is the product of what may be termed ‘ethno-masochism’, the self-loathing which leads to a hatred of one’s own heritage, one’s own culture, one’s own religion, one’s own inner-self, one’s own ethnic identity. It is masochistic because it gains a perverse pleasure in the self-degradation that goes hand in glove with the destruction of one’s own cultural heritage. It is the self-gratification of self-hatred. 

Ethno-masochistic iconoclasm rejects and seeks to destroy the entire canon of Christian culture purely because it is the product of a despised race of people who have committed the heinous crime of being our ancestors. As Chesterton quipped, the type of person who succumbs to this perverse rootlessness is a chronological snob who has contemptuously kicked down the ladder by which he’s climbed. This supercilious arrogance is akin to racism, a psychological attitude to others based upon a presumed superiority over presumed ‘inferior’ types. Ethno-masochists are racial inverts who hate their own kind with a vituperative vengeance. They even have their own terms of racial abuse, contemptuously dismissing the giants of the past as ‘dwems’. Those deemed to be ‘dwems’ are marginalized and can be abused with abandon. For those who are blissfully ignorant of such pseudo-racist labels, ‘dwem’ is an acrimonious acronym for ‘dead white European males’. 

As with more common forms of racism, the victim is blamed for characteristics for which he is not to blame. A person cannot help being black, brown or white but this lack of culpability does not prevent their being despised. Similarly dwems are despised for four different characteristics, none of which is their fault. They are hated for being dead, for being white, for being European, and for being male. Put bluntly, the dwem-hater is guilty of a four-fold hatred for those who cannot help being what they are. They not only discriminate on grounds of race, but on grounds of place; they are not merely racist but sexist; and they have an irrational contempt for the dead.

As with more publicized forms of racism, dwemism leads to injustice and, ultimately, to self-evident absurdity. Bach’s B-minor Mass is dismissed because the composer is a dwem; Dante’s Divine Comedy is derided because the poet is a dwem; Raphael’s paintings are of strictly limited value because the artist is a dwem; Mozart is a dwem, Shakespeare is a dwem, Fra Angelico is a dwem; Donizetti, Dostoyevsky, Donatello, dwems. Et cetera ad nauseam ad absurdum. Admittedly only the most extreme dwemists would make these sweeping assessments. Yet, as with other forms of racism, dwemism is at its most perniciously powerful in its more subtle and diluted forms. It is the implicit dwemist downgrading of the importance of these masterworks of the cultural canon in favour of modern manifestations of ethno-masochism which represents one of the greatest challenges to Christian culture in today’s culture of death. 

The other dwemist approach to culture which represents a challenge to the heritage and destiny of Christendom is the assault by dwemist ‘critics’ on the culture itself. Jacques Derrida, the recently deceased founder of the deconstructionist school of philosophy and literary criticism, spearheaded the modern, or ‘post-modern’, assault on the great books of the western canon. At the callous hands of the deconstructionists the works of Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, Virgil and other literary giants have been vandalized, vivisected and pulled to pieces. Ignoring the fact that great literature provides a prism through which the Permanent Things can be glimpsed, and dismissive of the fact that it is this prism that gives perennial relevance to the literature itself, the deconstructionists tear the works apart with relativistic abandon and ethno-masochistic zeal. Perhaps the pithiest and best riposte to deconstructionist philosophy is given by Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings when he reminds Saruman that ‘he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom’. And descending from the realm of myth to the kingdom of nursery rhyme, it might be added that deconstructionism is the triumph of humpty-dumptydom, the breaking of things that can’t be put back together again in any meaningful sense. In this sense, deconstruction is exposed anagrammatically as the ‘destruction con’. It is a destruction of the text under the pretext of understanding it better. The joke, however, is that the deconstructionists are actually the victims of their own confidence trick. The texts of the great books are not defeated by deconstructionism, deconstructionism is defeated by the texts. The works, as objective realities with real meaning, exist in glorious independence of those who seek to explain them or explain them away. Works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy or the plays of Shakespeare are edifices that the deconstructionists are unable to scale. Their prejudice precludes the empathy needed for true critical judgement. As such, the great books are not edifices that the post-moderns deconstruct but are precipices from which they fall. 

An edifice edifies, or at least it has the power to do so. Those who refuse to be edified through their adherence to a nihilism rooted in ethno-masochism see only an edifice to be subdued by subjectivism. Since, however, the objective reality of the work transcends all such efforts at subjection the effort is futile and self-defeating. The fool who defies, defiles and defaces the edifice only succeeds in defiling and defacing himself. The fool falls; the edifice remains. Dante is not destroyed by deconstructionism but, on the contrary, the Divine Comedy will be what it has always been long after deconstruction has decomposed. The Great Books and great masterpieces of art and music are an edifice built upon the Rock of Christian civilization and, as the Irish proverb reminds us, the one who bites the Rock loses his teeth. Truth prevails. It has nothing to fear from the toothlessness of truthlessness. Truth succours but truthlessness sucks! 

Having descended to the woeful level of the modern American vernacular, we’ll get in the vallecula by returning to the ‘groovy’ excesses of the 1960s. John Lennon was unwittingly correct, perhaps, when he asked us to imagine that there was ‘no hell below us’. Hell might not be below us but it is certainly within us and is plainly all around us. The whole of post-‘Enlightenment’ history, of which Lennon’s Imagine is a product, has led inexorably to the culture of death which is a hell on earth. 

‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one …’ So says Lennon. His dream is a nightmare which has come true. And, alas, he is not the only one. There are many; their name is Legion.  

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Walking with C. S. Lewis

Walking with C. S. Lewis