To rectify the relation that exists between two men, is there no method, then, but that of ending it? The old relation has become unsuitable, obsolete, perhaps unjust; it imperatively requires to be amended; and the remedy is, Abolish it, let there henceforth be no relation at all. From the “Sacrament of Marriage” downwards, human beings used to be manifoldly related, one to another, and each to all; and there was no relation among human beings, just or unjust, that had not its grievances and difficulties, its necessities on both sides to bear and forbear. But henceforth, be it known, we have changed all that, by favor of Heaven: “the voluntary principle” has come up, which will itself do the business for us; and now let a new Sacrament, that of Divorce, which we call emancipation, and spout of on our platforms, be universally the order of the day!—Have men considered whither all this is tending, and what it certainly enough betokens?
Cut every human relation which has anywhere grown uneasy sheer asunder; reduce whatsoever was compulsory to voluntary, whatsoever was permanent among us to the condition of nomadic:—in other words, loosen by assiduous wedges in every joint, the whole fabric of social existence, stone from stone: till at last, all now being loose enough, it can, as we already see in most countries, be overset by sudden outburst of revolutionary rage; and, lying as mere mountains of anarchic rubbish, solicit you to sing Fraternity, &c., over it, and to rejoice in the new remarkable era of human progress we have arrived at.
Thomas Carlyle, The Present Time, The Latter Day Pamphlets
Carlyle is being immensely sarcastic here, and yet, also somehow not; it is that what he is expressing itself seems so ridiculous that it must be said sarcastically to be taken in, and yet, is so true it must be said. The sacrament of divorce!
To some, this is blasphemous, in that it calls “sacrament” something that is not, but then we must ask what a “sacrament” is in general that Christians (I’m an Orthodox Christian) use that term to describe such great rites as Baptism, Marriage, Tonsure, and even the Funeral itself.
And herein lies the rub – if we do not recognize the so-called secular world of “progress” as in fact deeply religious in its own way, perhaps due to our inability to disassociate “theism” with religion, or formal “services” and “temples” as places necessary, whether commissioned on the spot or habitually used, to religion’s function, we miss a crucial point that Carlyle is indicating (and indicates elsewhere, especially in Hudson’s Statue) about the “religion” of the formally irreligious–particularly, the religion of those who have progressed beyond Christianity or any religion in particular.
In some places, people identify themselves as such indirectly–for example, as “spiritual but not religious” or “humanist” and so forth. There are many different varieties of this, and as it is informal, there is no real organization these people belong to (though being “citizens of the world” might suffice as a self-identifying granfalloon.)
Sacraments are important to all religions. Some religions are intentionally non-sacramental, as for the extreme example of Quakerism, but there are still things they find sacred (take for example the fact that they call themselves The Friends.) They merely reject formalized sacramentalism – a trait they inherit from the radical groups their religious practice cladistically derives from.
In short, the sacrament is the sacred act or sacred thing – for an example, consider that the doctrine of the Inner Light makes the individual person, presumably regardless of wickedness, sacramental. However, we need more than this, as merely considering something sacred, holy, set apart, magical, dread, divine or otherwise does little unless these concepts are somehow realized in actions.
So we must look at where ideas about what things are holy intersect with actions meant to realize this belief; where they are formalized it is easier to recognize them and understand them, whereas where they are informal they can slide by and perhaps be unrecognized for a lifetime by many.
For the Quakers, it is obvious their belief in Inner Light is realized in their services, where, at least when I last studied them, no one spoke until someone was moved by the Spirit to speak. This is their Sacrament of the Inner Light, and it of course must have a magical quality to it in the sense of it relying on or expecting the entrance into or manifestation of an unknown efficacy in the world.
The Christian sacraments are very explicit about this, and a story about Athanasius, when he was young, gives us an idea of the quality of sacrament and why it has a magical character while not being magic, per se (more on that in a moment:)
A group of children, which included Athanasius, were playing at the seashore. The Christian children decided to baptize their pagan playmates. The young Athanasius, whom the children designated as “bishop”, performed the Baptism, precisely repeating the words he heard in church during this sacrament. Patriarch Alexander observed all this from a window. He then commanded that the children and their parents be brought to him.
He conversed with them for a long while, and determined that the Baptism performed by the children was done according to the Church order. He acknowledged the Baptism as real and sealed it with the sacrament of Chrismation. From this moment, the Patriarch looked after the spiritual upbringing of Athanasius and in time brought him into the clergy, at first as a reader, and then he ordained him as a deacon.
The act itself when done properly (and notice that in this Sacrament of the Inner Light, there is indeed a rite, even though it is a negative one – i.e. sit in silence until something happens) causes the effect – or may – depending on how the whole of it is understood.
What distinguishes a sacrament from magic in general is that magic as a concept doesn’t specify what sort of unknown efficacy is invoked; it could be demons, it could be mana (personal power), it could be other spirits, angels, and so on, and it even could just be latent energy in the laws of the universe that the right words or gestures act as a key to unlock with a click. Generally things that are magical but do specify that they contact or involve the activity or the realization of the divine are called sacramental. This includes pagan rites (when not intentionally contacting demons, of course) since they typically understood their gods as partaking in or sharing in divinity in some fashion. To some this may seem like a silly distinction, but since sacraments show their meaning in how they are done (and that they are done) we also notice a final distinction, which is the quality we call “solemnity”.
Because of the belief in the contact with the divine in some fashion, the sacrament is always solemn, even if joyful. Solemn is a peculiar word, as it seems to derive from “solus annus” meaning “once a year” (roughly.) That is, it refers to events of a yearly nature – which would be rites of seasons and so forth – which in most religions are connected with the divine. This connection exists for both Jew and Pagan, and it exists for classical Christians. Thus, it roughly refers to the character of such rites – a seriousness like one would see when handling nuclear codes.
But we run into a problem here. How can we have non-theistic sacraments, if the sacrament itself is defined by its interaction with the divine? But we already have examples, even if largely metaphorical, of “gods” being made of things that aren’t the divinity and not just in the sense of statues (which not all believed were literally the god) but in two senses; the first in the phrase “and their god is their belly” and in the second embodied in Carl Sagan’s theory that the universe itself was becoming divine over time.
In the first, we find that good things, such as pleasure or life or ourselves – are being served or treated with that same reverence which the sacrament reserves for the divine. Given that this could be a metaphor (which it usually is) we look more to the second case, the use of the divine as an idea of the perfect, the stable, the immutable, and so on. Sagan’s concept is clearly that the universe is being progressively perfected until it will have the qualities that religious people have assigned only to the divine itself.
It has often been noted that in the Enlightenment and the period following it, in which we still live (for now) that the goal of progress was, when most fully expressed, immametizing the eschaton. This is a way of saying, in common terms, creating heaven on earth or simply “utopia”. Some Christians involved themselves in this, but by in large it is a human undertaking, like building the tower of Babel, and if possible from a certain standpoint it makes the divinity of God – as wholly other – redundant.
In practice, it proceeded by destroying traditions and traditional structures, a process which gained it followers and momentum, and power from temporarily freeing forces that were held in check. Since its ultimate goal is in fact to realize the divine on earth by human power, we might wonder: does it indeed have sacraments? Does it have rites which it particularly assigns the quality of working to bring this about?
Carlyle, at the beginning of this essay, has already hit the nail right on the head, put a very fine point on it in saying, Yes! And by identifying the first sacrament of progress.
Not that I think that there is a strictly limited number, but I find it useful to present something evil, descriptively, as a mere inversion of something good (which has real substance) and therefore I have by habit numbered seven Sacraments of Progress (I think the majuscule is warranted, if for no other reason than progressives rejecting it.) Indeed, it is useful to present a limited number in any case, as it forces one to include the most important and prominent cases, as well as group similar though distinct cases which are really of the same kind.
As Carlyle suggests, the first sacrament of Progress is divorce. It is the sacrament of emancipation from bonds, from inconvenience, from responsibility, and from anything that restricts the will by nature.
The second sacrament of Progress is abortion. It is its sacrament of self-ownership; of the freeing of man from the cycle of reincarnation called “reproduction” into a shangri-la of sexual pleasure.
Some will think it odd that sodomy, and not fornication, is here, but sodomy is a favorite of progressives because of its unnatural quality; and more than this, it is non-sexual sex (it does not rely on the sexedness of the partners to function.) It is the sacrament of equality and of love separated from the bond which brings forth new life.
Rebellion is to divorce as baptism is to chrismation (or confirmation for the Westerners.) It is the anti-hierarchical or leveling sacrament, the sacrament of resisting any power but one’s own. Along with abortion, this is one of the two forms of “latria” (service) given to its gods, as it often involves blood sacrifice (“the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots” as they say.)
Blasphemy is the sacrament of doubt. It is the idea that nothing is sacred but violating what is sacred (which is what the sacraments of Progress are all about: unlocking the stash of hidden divinity that Tradition was hiding, through destruction.) It is the sacrament of intentional transgression, realized usually in scurrilous art and letters, which seeks to unlock the hidden magic pent up in taboos.
Inversion is the sacrament of the up-side-down. It starts with the idea that something is only proven true by its opposite, of subversion of norms, and of odd couples and unlikely combinations. Its central thought is to unlock the magic hidden in the combinations that have not been tried, whether because of religion or taboo (which could make the inversion also a blasphemy!) or because of nature and common sense. The womanpriest is the present and most prominent form of revered inversion, but other ideas such as “the wisdom of children” are also examples, and where they form a ritual act. are this sacrament realized.
Self-Esteem is the sacrament of feeling good. It is not pride, which is the sin of believing one’s self to be greater than one is, but rather, in the proud man it is his reason for puffing himself up – and the reason for the humblebrag and all forms of false humility. It is the initiation into the orders of narcissism where one is motivated to act less self-centered only ever for the purpose of one’s self alone. It is the most common sacrament, partaken of by all Progressives, once passively fed to them through TV or realized through shopping or fashion, now it is actively participated in over the internet in something called “Social Media” – its indulgences are Likes, which, like all progressive sacraments, make great inverted and blasphemous use of the heart.
Once you have identified these sacramental acts, you will realize their ubiquity, particularly in the media, in education, and in government. All of its rituals attempt to release that hidden stash of energy that taboo, norm, tradition and everything sensible are hoarding, to force the divine to manifest itself once and for all.