'The Idol of Our Age' by Daniel J. Mahoney
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this RealClearBooks series, RealClear Book of the Week, we highlight recent nonfiction books from across the political spectrum. This week’s book is Daniel J. Mahoney's The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity, just published by Encounter Books.
The Idol of Our Age is a learned essay at the intersection of politics, philosophy, and religion. It is a diagnosis and critique of the secular religion of our time, humanitarianism, or the “religion of humanity.” It argues that the humanitarian impulse to regard modern man as the measure of all things has begun to corrupt Christianity itself, reducing it to an inordinate concern for “social justice,” radical political change, and an increasingly fanatical egalitarianism.
Christianity thus loses its transcendental reference points at the same time that it undermines balanced political judgment. Humanitarians, secular or religious, confuse peace with pacifism, equitable social arrangements with socialism, and moral judgment with utopianism and sentimentality.
With a foreword by the distinguished political philosopher Pierre Manent, Mahoney’s book follows Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in affirming that Christianity is in no way reducible to a “humanitarian moral message.” In a pungent if respectful analysis, it demonstrates that Pope Francis has increasingly confused the Gospel with left-wing humanitarianism and egalitarianism that owes little to classical or Christian wisdom. It takes its bearings from a series of thinkers (Orestes Brownson, Aurel Kolnai, Vladimir Soloviev, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) who have been instructive critics of the “religion of humanity.” These thinkers were men of peace who rejected ideological pacifism and never confused Christianity with unthinking sentimentality. The book ends by affirming the power of reason, informed by revealed faith, to provide a humanizing alternative to utopian illusions and nihilistic despair. Read The Idol of Our Age
Mahoney and John J. Miller discuss 'The Idol of Our Age' with on National Review's The Bookmonger.
Gerald Rusello, City Journal: "Mahoney draws on a tradition of reflection on humanitarianism, including Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Hungarian philosopher Aurel Kolnai, and Russian Orthodox thinker Vladimir Soloviev. As Mahoney frames the debate, “woefully ignorant of sin and of the tragic dimension of the human condition, [humanitarianism] reduced religion to a project of this-worldly amelioration. Free-floating compassion substitutes for charity, and a humanity conscious of its unity (and utter self-sufficiency) puts itself in the place of the visible and invisible Church.” From this perspective, the rise of humanitarianism is a story of the fading of Christianity. Indeed, Mahoney cites French philosopher Pierre Manent to explain that humanitarianism may actually represent the last flowering of Christian charity, and could have arisen only in cultures with a Christian tradition." Read the full review
Roger Scruton: “Daniel Mahoney is one of those true intellectuals whose wide reading feeds into and is fed by his experience of life. The world he lives in is a world illuminated by books, and one in which books are also put to the test. Few writers today are so aware of the pervasive influence of ideas, especially among those who have no ability to grasp them. In this study of the religion of humanity, propagated by Auguste Comte, but now the source of a thousand escape-routes from the burden of responsible existence, Mahoney shows the great damage done by forgetting that man is made in God’s image. His devastating criticisms of the self-congratulatory sentimentalism of Pope Francis are backed up with refined studies of thinkers who today are unjustly neglected, partly because they saw what is at stake in the religion of humanity: the American Catholic convert Orestes Brownson, the Russian social thinker Vladimir Soloviev, and the Hungarian phenomenologist Aurel Kolnai—all three of them at odds with the humanism of their day. Those thinkers do not agree about the alternative to humanitarian ways of thinking, but, as Mahoney shows, they are united in their belief that being human consists in the search for something higher than the human. I recommend this book to all who share that belief, and who want to know exactly why it should be adhered to.” Read The Idol of Our Age
As an Amazon Associate, RealClearBooks earns a commission on qualifying purchases made through this site.