Is Sentimentalism the Last Step Before Violence?

InDisorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind (which I highly recommend), I contributed an essay on the Soft Tyranny of Sentimentalism, wherein I wrote:

If 20th-century atheism rode in on the backs of totalitarian regimes, the 21st-century has delivered unto the world an anti-God, anti-Church movement that fits seamlessly into shallow, postmodern popular culture. Having no need for uprisings and the hardware of destruction, the new fog of faith has crept in on the little cat feet of Sentimentalism and it now sits on its haunches, surveying its splendidly wrought sanctimony.

Sentimentalism is the force of feel-goodism, the means by which we may cast off the conventions of faith and casually dismiss those institutions that refuse to submit to the trending times and morals. The Sentimentalist trusts his feelings over hallowed authority or the urgings of his reason, frequently answering hard religious questions with some noble-sounding phrase like “The God I believe in wouldn’t . . . ” (fill in the blank). What fits in that blank is typically some tenet of traditional faith that isn’t currently fashionable, some moral demand that pop culture considers impossible—and hence, not worth even trying. Thus the Sentimentalist, while believing he follows the inviolate voice of his conscience, is really sniffing after trends, forming his heart according to the sensus fidelium of middlebrow magazines and public radio.

A Sentimentalist cannot reconcile religious convictions—whether rooted in scripture, tradition, or cultural practice—that do not correspond with his own considered feelings, which for him are both weighty and principled. Convinced that the people he loves cannot possibly be denied anything they want by a just God, or that the same just God would not permit deformities, illness, war, childhood abuse, or any of the human sufferings common to us all, he will not participate in a Church so fault-riddled and out-of-step with a generous and enlightened generation as . . . his own.

You can read the whole essay, here. After you have you might want to slip over to Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s place and see what he has been pondering about sentimentalism:

Sentimentality lead to violence when sentimentality becomes an ideology. An ideology is a single driving idea that sweeps every other consideration aside. Those who follow an ideology are always self righteous, and they will use every means possible to enforce their ideology. The ideologue may attempt to argue logically or philosophically, but this will only be a tactic–it is not because he believes that logic, philosophy or theology have any real weight. These disciplines will serve the ideology–the ideology itself may never be questioned. Not only logic and philosophy are subject to the ideology, but all things are subject to the ideology. All other considerations are subject to his ideology–including moral considerations.

So the sentimental ideologue will eventually force his opponent to conform. He will use any means possible–political legislation, financial pressure, social pressure, shouting more loudly, imprisonment and persecution and finally bloodshed if necessary.

Almost makes you want to run off to a hermitage, somewhere! Read it all!

Related: The Caper of the Grape!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dwight Longenecker

    Don’t forget Fr Longenecker’s chapter on Utilitarianism in the same book…

  • Mark Greta

    In Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer talks about mistakes of the Reformation when some heard grace alone and turned it into cheap grace where nothing was needed of us because God had done all the work. I thought about this as I saw this as simply another outgrowth of no personal responbility or costly grace. Cheap grace kills discipleship and brings about tolerance as a religious belief that soon feeds to secular atheism which brings in the totalitarian state. And of course Bonhoeffer wrote some of this while living in a Catholic Monestary along with work on his “ethics”. That would never get finished or polished for he last his battle against the godless totalitarian state of Nazi Germany.

  • DWiss

    Holding the traditional point of view vs. the sentimental one is very hard to do. When I find myself in a conversation with someone who argues for sentimentalism, I sound old-fashioned even to myself. Then comes the sneer: “You can’t be serious!” And that’s where things usually end. I’m dismissed as a hopeless throwback, not even worthy of further debate. To me, that’s how far we’ve gone down this wrong road. The way back doesn’t even look like the way back anymore. You mention Glee and Modern Family. When I criticize the things those TV shows portray as mainstream, I get the kind of pathetic stares that I’d expect if I said the world is flat. “There’s dusty old dad being grumpy and judgemental again”. I’d rather sombody got mad at me rather than just set me out with the trash. I’m not giving up, though!

  • Adiutricem

    Fascism also had the curious coalescence of both materialist and non-rationalist thought. At first glance, they appear to be contradictory, but then no fascist ever glanced twice.

  • Mark

    DWiss, Yes, standing up to evil and its supporters is always hard. But we were warned of this by Christ. Those who stand up for Christ and His Church will be hated and attacked. Keep on pointing out evil and pray that God will find a way to open the eyes of those who have mistakenly or wrongly supported that grave evil. If you think pointing out glee has issues with moral values, try pointing out the factual history of the Democratic Party. It has a long and consistent record of being on the wrong side of every major moral evil in this country since its founding. And the idiotic answers you get back are laughable.

    Even the Democratic Party website is a joke..

    It talks about it 200 year old history and the first thing they talk about is FDR in 1930. Check it out, it is a walking joke. If you are claiming 200 year history, you think they would start from that beginning as the party of slavery and how they grew to starting the civil war to keep slavery or after losing, the proud history of the Democratic terror wing, the KKK. No mention of all the grand battles they fought to stop any civil rights reform or even stop anti lynching laws that would have went after their party members in the white sheets. This continued all the way to FDR but it is not part of what they talk about with FDR. Jim Crow and segregation were born and fostered by the Democratic Party. Yep, lets just forget about those 130 years of moral depravity and hatred, but brag about being 200 years old. No wonder they wanted judges who would eliminate history from being taught in the schools and to have God removed.

    But they have changed. Now they support abortion of every kind with a special focus on getting it to the poor neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of black babies being killed to population. When it walks like evil and talks like evil, it probably is evil and you think after 200 years, folks would begin to be slightly ashamed to continue be vote for them.