Deus Ex Machina

There seems to be a growing sentiment for a religious alternative to the unsolved quandaries of modern liberalism. This, I suppose, grows from a natural need for security in an insecure world, rife with troubles, as much as from a true belief in one dogma or another. But none of these alternatives deal with the most destabilizing of our fears, the potential holocaust projected by our 20th century ability to destroy ourselves, whether through virus, or atomic power or some yet undetermined form of mass murder.

It is crucial to what we are as a people that no one religion is our standard. That our politics is secular is a key element of our strength. There will be no God in the machine to save us. That we must save ourselves is at the core of the liberalism on which we are founded as well as the Judeo-Christian roots of our origin.

Any alternative to philosophical liberalism—by which I refer to the “classical” kind derived from Western philosophy over the past couple thousand years which, alternatively, has flourished or foundered since the Western enlightenment—must now contend with our imminent threats. The platform of liberalism is as yet the first that has offered underpinnings for such considerations.

In that this aspect of the looming threat has only just dawned on the philosophical landscape, and given the millennia it took to achieve the first viable representative democracy—I think it is understandable that there may be some time necessary to sort out the details. At least it might be accepted that God has now made that responsibility ours. No more deus ex machina.

The real devil is in the details. Having just seen a 200-year-old democratic republic flip flop in fear over the recent pandemic to become an authoritarian banana republic is more than sufficient cause for alarm. This will not stand! This is not acceptable behavior.

But before we think about truly reshaping the architecture of what we have—a house which has stood solidly through many trials—I think it is incumbent on us to use the resources at hand, from town meetings to state government, to solidify our foundations. If the worst dangers occur sooner than later, we might then survive the blast.

The old republic is, indeed, dead. But it is not forgotten. And the children of the Republic are very much alive. These are not just metaphors. This is the reality. We have many options. We must set about refurbishing the institutions that make our First Amendment possible. We must defeat those forces which stand against us. One by one, like weeds in the garden, we must remove the invasive roots of incompatible ideology. We have no choice. To succumb is to perish or at least to never flower again.

The whole of our opposition might appear formidable. But the corruption of its decadence hides the fractures of its weakness. If pressed, it will fall apart—perhaps not without a mess or without cost. Our strength is a singular understanding of human freedom and the necessity of individual liberty. Whatever our deviations, this much is common to us all. 

Let’s have a good argument about the details along the way so that we might remain on good footings. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Religion may be where we find some idea of heaven. But we are here. Let’s make the most of it.

About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.

Photo: iStock/GETTY IMAGES

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