Msgr. Benson, New Religion, and LCWR

In a previous post, I provided an excerpt on prayer contained in Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson. The book, written in 1907, is set in England and concerns a dystopian future in the late twentieth century, and a mysterious antichrist figure named “Felsenburgh” who is somehow capable of unifying the world and installing a new order. This new order is supposedly based on rational ideals meant to elevate humanity.

The book discusses the emergence of a sort of religious Humanism that replaces the creeds and worship of God (Creator) with a new creed and worship of Man (the Creation). The argument given is that through the ages, man actually created God to satisfy man’s innate desire for worship, and that thanks to the enlightenment of the new age, man can now realize that it is Himself who should be worshipped.

The Masons are mentioned throughout the book, which brings to mind some things Pope Francis has recently said about them.

In the book, protestants and secular types succumb to the new ideology almost immediately, as do the vast majority of Catholics, many of whom are actually nominal Catholics only. Authentic Catholic devotion is way too out of step with the rest of society to be tolerated. There are grave consequences for the Catholics who refuse to abandon their faith, and they begin to suffer persecution, which intensifies through the events in the book.

Church buildings are not razed; rather, the Christian symbols are removed and the churches are re-styled as houses of worship for the New Religion. (Not unlike the idea discussed here).

Laypeople, but also many Catholic priests leave the Church under the persecution. Some priests offer to assist as “masters of ceremonies” for the new state-established worship, proposing that they have special knowledge (of liturgy, of use of sacred space, of ceremony and ritual) to help people acclimate. A former priest (Francis), presents himself to a government minister (Oliver Brand) to offer his services:

“But I hope you will allow me to say how much we all appreciate what you have done, Mr. Brand. I do not think it is possible for any, except ourselves, to understand what the loss of worship means to us. It was very strange at first–-”

His voice trembled a little, and he stopped. Oliver felt interested, and checked himself in his movement to rise.

“Yes, Mr. Francis?”

The melancholy brown eyes turned on him full.

“It was an illusion, of course, sir–we know that. But I, at any rate, dare to hope that it was not all wasted–all our aspirations and penitence and praise. We mistook our God, but none the less it reached Him–it found its way to the Spirit of the World. It taught us that the individual was nothing, and that He was all. And now–-”

“Yes, sir,” said the other softly. He was really touched.

The sad brown eyes opened full.

“And now Mr. Felsenburgh is come.” He swallowed in his throat. “Julian Felsenburgh!” There was a world of sudden passion in his gentle voice, and Oliver’s own heart responded.

“I know, sir,” he said; “I know all that you mean.”

“Oh! to have a Saviour at last!” cried Francis. “One that can be seen and handled and praised to His Face! It is like a dream–too good to be true!”

One of the principal characters, Mabel – a young woman married to one of the powerful new ministers of the unified world order – is meant to represent man’s desire for “spirituality.” Based upon her view that the new order and its ideology are goods to be embraced by all in society, she welcomes the nearly-unanimous imposition of “compulsory worship” on citizens:

…although worship was to be offered in every parish church of England on the ensuing first day of October, this was not to be compulsory on all subjects till the New Year; whereas, Germany, who had passed the Bill only a month before, had caused it to come into full force immediately, thus compelling all her Catholic subjects either to leave the country without delay or suffer the penalties. These penalties were not vindictive: on a first offence a week’s detention only was to be given; on the second, one month’s imprisonment; on the third, one year’s; and on the fourth, perpetual imprisonment until the criminal yielded. These were merciful terms, it seemed; for even imprisonment itself meant no more than reasonable confinement and employment on Government works. There were no mediaeval horrors here; and the act of worship demanded was so little, too; it consisted of no more than bodily presence in the church or cathedral on the four new festivals of Maternity, Life, Sustenance and Paternity, celebrated on the first day of each quarter. Sunday worship was to be purely voluntary.

She could not understand how any man could refuse this homage. These four things were facts–they were the manifestations of what she called the Spirit of the World–and if others called that Power God, yet surely these ought to be considered as His functions. Where then was the difficulty? It was not as if Christian worship were not permitted, under the usual regulations. Catholics could still go to mass. And yet appalling things were threatened in Germany: not less than twelve thousand persons had already left for Rome; and it was rumoured that forty thousand would refuse this simple act of homage a few days hence. It bewildered and angered her to think of it.

For herself the new worship was a crowning sign of the triumph of Humanity. Her heart had yearned for some such thing as this–some public corporate profession of what all now believed. She had so resented the dulness of folk who were content with action and never considered its springs. Surely this instinct within her was a true one; she desired to stand with her fellows in some solemn place, consecrated not by priests but by the will of man; to have as her inspirers sweet singing and the peal of organs; to utter her sorrow with thousands beside her at her own feebleness of immolation before the Spirit of all; to sing aloud her praise of the glory of life, and to offer by sacrifice and incense an emblematic homage to That from which she drew her being, and to whom one day she must render it again. Ah! these Christians had understood human nature, she had told herself a hundred times: it was true that they had degraded it, darkened light, poisoned thought, misinterpreted instinct; but they had understood that man must worship –must worship or sink.

The book’s been haunting me, forcing me to ponder whether Benson could actually be correct in his vision of the future. So many things in the book ring true and can be connected with things that are happening right now.

Then, I recently read an article about the most recent gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (the erstwhile “Nuns on the Bus” group), where the keynote speaker Sister Ilia Delio, director of Catholic studies and visiting professor at Georgetown University, delivered an address entitled, “Religious Life on the Edge of the Universe”.

In her address, Sister Delio stated, “If we are to rethink in terms of religion, we have to think in terms of cosmology.” “We have to understand the order of the whole,” adding, “There is no cosmos without God, and no God without cosmos.” “Literally, we are stardust.” She also said, “We are on the cusp of an evolutionary breakthrough – one that requires our conscious participation as co-creative agents of love, midwives of the new creation.” “God is within and up ahead – not above. God is the power of the future. To rest on God is to rest on the future.” “This universe will have its future based on our decisions. When the level of our awareness changes, we start attracting a new reality. Our challenge this day is to begin to name that new reality.”

Finally: “Nothing is more awesome than to give birth to God.” Unless Sister Delio is referring to one person in particular, she is much like the priesthood that departs from the Church in Lord of the World to escape persecution and embrace the New Religion.

We are not God. Only God is God.

“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

“No other gods” includes ourselves, no matter what “evolutionary breakthrough” allows us to midwife ourselves into the new creation and become more cosmo-divine than before.

Sister is correct about one thing: our future will be based on our decisions. Is it a “new reality”? Not quite. As Goethe says, “Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.” The “new reality” that we “attract” is heaven. Or hell. But rather than worshipping Humanity, I prefer to worship the One who actually decides where we go…..

[Note: Please continue to vote so that I can go to Beer Camp!]


3 thoughts on “Msgr. Benson, New Religion, and LCWR

  1. While reading this all I could think of was Joshua 24:15 : “But if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve… but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” This isn’t a new problem, (but arguably becoming more widespread now than in the past) but it is the essential problem facing mankind-will we serve the Lord our God, or worship ourselves? I’m with you and Joshua and prefer to worship the Lord.

  2. I couldn’t help noticing from the excerpt tht maternity and paternity were expected to be worshipped still. I will have to read the boom to determine how or if it addresses family life. As in brave new world, the complete dismantling of family life and a completely unregulated sexual activity that defined ones development and life were central.
    No conclusions, just curious how one dystopian vision centers on removing the family entirely, yet this other one maintains the centrality…? Hard to say whiteout reading this book, which could use terms like maternity or paternity completely different than what comes to my mind from the excerpt provided. Anyways, Good suggestion.

    • The family unit is not the main focus of the book. Among the primary characters, there is only one married couple, and they are childless. My interpretation is that “Maternity” and “Paternity” are vital aspects of the self, and Humanity, but that Humanity supplants family.

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