"And although I know that few will listen to or credit this, I think we are in a lost age, in which holiness and charity have been traded for the victory and penetration of knowledge, though all the knowledge in the world has not brought us any further than where we can go without it even in the outermost halls of grace. I believe that more is to be known and apprehended from the beauty of a face than in delving, no
matter how deep, simply into how things work, no matter how marvelous that may be. The greatest substance of the world is immaterial, the province of the heart, and its study cannot be forced or reasoned. Merely to touch upon the edge of things in parsing their mechanics is to forswear their fullness, for the entry to this fullness lies not in science but in art. I cannot prove this, for it cannot be proven, but I claim, assert, and have seen it."
"So what and where is the face of God for the one who believes in his real presence among us? The answer is that we encounter this presence everywhere, in all that suffers and renounces for another's sake. Things with a face are illuminated by the subjectivity that shines in them, and which spreads around them a halo of prohibitions. When someone enters the moment of sacrifice, throwing away what is most precious, even life itself, for the sake of another, then we encounter the supreme moment of gift. This is an act in which the I appears completely. It is also a revelation. In sacrifice and renunciation the I makes of its own being a gift, and thereby shows us that being is a gift. In the moment of sacrifice people come face to face with God, who is present too in those places where sorrow has left its mark or 'prayer has been valid'.
We should not be surprised, therefore, if God is so rarely encountered now. The consumer culture is one without sacrifices; easy entertainment distracts us from our metaphysical loneliness. The rearranging of the world as an object of appetite obscures its meaning as a gift. The defacing of eros and the loss of rites of passage eliminate the old conception of human life as an adventure within the community and an offering to others. It is inevitable, therefore, that moments of sacred awe should be rare among us. And it is surely this, rather than the arguments of the atheists, that has led to the decline of religion. Our world contained many openings onto the transcendental; but they have been blocked by waste. You may think that this does not matter — that mankind has had enough of sacred mysteries and their well-known dangers. But I think we are none of us at ease with the result. Our disenchanted life is, to use the Socratic idiom, 'not a life for a human being'. By remaking human beings and their habitat as objects to consume rather than subjects to revere we invite the degradation of both."
---Roger Scruton, The Face of God
The great evil of pornography is not that it causes sexual arousal, but that it degrades the sexual impulse by diverting its focus from its highest and best subject, that being on a unique human being, unlike any other human being who has ever or will ever live, who is our beloved with whom we desire to communicate on a level that transcends words, and placing it on an interchangeable "object" whose sole purpose is to be used by the viewer to assist him or her (most often, him) to achieve a physical sensation. It's degrading to both the viewer and the viewed because, as Scruton asserts, it "defaces" eros.
Scruton--and Helprin--understand the role of the transcendent in giving life its meaning. Both contemplate the face--of God, ultimately--but God found in the face of other "persons." In the communication between these unique persons, in the lessons learned from their unique faces, focused outward, losing themselves in the ecstacy that can sometimes be encountered with sex, sometimes with religious experience, truths are revealed. You either "get" this or you don't. As Helprin admits, he can't "prove it," but he has seen it.
Scuton's criticism of modern life, especially as we live in the West, goes well beyond the defacement of eros. Our economic system is based on treating and using human beings as "economic units," things to be used to produce money or goods or services that can be converted into money, which is then used to purchase other "things" that, supposedly, make us "happy." We lose sight of the face of the other as a window into a unique soul, a face, no matter how structured, that (many of us believe) is made by and in the image of a transcendent God. We live in ourselves, for ourselves, notwithstanding the fact that we may be surrounded by "loved ones." For too many of us, even our sacrifices are motivated not by "moments of sacred awe," but by self-regard. We sacrifice for othyers to make ourselves "feel" better about ourselves.
I don't exempt myself. I have too often "loved" another based on what they did for me, on one or more levels, none of which touched on "agape." In my personal and professional life, I have looked into another's face and responded to the wonderful reflection of myself that I saw in another's eyes. I. too, have treated other unique human beings as "things to be consumed," in one way or another. I cannot say that I have ever thrown away what is most precious for the sake of another.
I laugh these days when an atheist asserts that Christianity is a "crutch." To the contrary, it's a challenge to every natural inclination I possess, an immense struggle with the attitudes that I've acquired in a life immersed in this deracinated modern "culture." Yet, I feel that the study of the heart is critical, and while it "cannot be forced or reasoned," its lessons are slowly making themselves known to me. Even if I cannot clearly articulate those lessons, or prove either their existence or their worth to the sceptic, I know that I have seen them.