How to Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas from the Cultural Abyss by Peter Kreeft

(San Francisco: Ignatius, 2021), 182

Chapter 1: How to Destroy Western Civilization

Summary: The most important thing we can do to save our civilization is to have children.

Chapter 2: What Can Chicken Little Do?

Summary: Forty foundational facts of common sense.

  • The City of God is "the world's first, greatest, an most Christian philosophy of history"(12)
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1983 Templeton Prize Address: "Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened." (14, 84)
  • "If every Catholic in America practiced Eucharistic Adoration fifteen minutes every day, we would see the greatest religious revival in human history." (15)
  • "Hamlet is right: there are more thing in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy" (16)
  • "Our totalitarianism is not hard but soft; not 1984 but Brave New World", cf. 2021-10-30-Live Not By Lies (19)
  • "A few saints can change the world. History is made, not by those who try to make history, but by those who humbly but obstinately obey God's will no matter what and let the chips fall where they may." (19-20)
  • C. S. Lewis's The Weight of Glory: "There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal...But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors." (20)

Chapter 3: The Unmentionable Elephant in the Living Room of the Religious Liberty Debate

Summary: Religious liberty is being attacked in the name of sexual liberty, esp. Abortion.

Chapter 4: The Paradox of Poverty

Summary: God gives us what we needs an allows everything according to his greater good.

  • C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain describes the paradox: "poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed"
    • "For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John"
  • "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Mt-05) does not mean "Blessed are the meek, the sissies": this was Nietzsche's "profound misunderstanding of Christianity that led him to his profound hatred of it" (28)
  • God's solution to the Problem of Evil is his alone (not ours): always for some greater good (35)
    • "Our inability to solve the Problem of Evil is exactly what the hypothesis of theism entails; the existence of unexplainable evil confirms rather than disconfirms the existence of God." (36)

Chapter 5: The Logic of Liberalism (★)

Summary: 90 great quotes of how a modern liberal thinks.

Chapter 6: The Social, Moral, and Sexual Effects of Symbolic Logic

Summary: The new symbolic logic with is reductivism and inclination toward utilitarianism is one of the causes of the culture of death.

  • Socratic/Aristotelean Logic: abstract logic dealing with universals
  • The new Symbolic Logic ("propositional logic"): efficient mathematical/scientific logic, or "a set of symbols and rules for manipulating them without needing to know their meaning and content or their relationship to the real world" (58), akin to Machine Learning
  • David Hume inherited from John Locke the belief that the object of human knowledge is our own ideas and drew the conclusion of skepticism: no certain knowledge of the real world or universal truths
  • Kant's "epistemological idealism" that human reason's job is to form or construct its object
  • Aristotle believed in epistemological realism where intelligence knows reality and metaphysical realism where reality is intelligible
  • The new logic is like "Newspeak" in 1984 in how it shrinks language: "If we cease to say a thing, we soon cease to think it, for there will be no holding-places in our language for the thought. Language is the house of thought, and homelessness is a life-threatening for thoughts as it is for people." (59)
  • Symbolic logic is "if...then..." and leads to Utilitarianism, whereas Aristotelian logic fosters natural law ethics

Chapter 7: Twelve Core Values

Summary: He reflects on core values and the centrality of becoming a saint.

  • Jesus Christ is the unity of all values: he is either everything to your or nothing at all (cf. Mere Christianity)
  • Léon Bloy: "There is only one tragedy, in the end: not to have been a saint." (70)
  • Abbot Agathon: "Prayer is warfare to the last breath" (71)
  • 3-R principle of morality: Right Response to Reality (74)

Chapter 8: Traditionalism and Progressivism (★)

_Summary: Traditionalism and Progressivism are both heresies. What we need instead is faithfulness.

  • Traditionalism and Progressivism are opposite pairs who hold a God in time, not eternity
  • "God's mission for His Church is to march into the future armed with the wisdom of the past. Secular movements sometimes do this, too, but Christianity is different because our foundation is not the past but the eternal truth God revealed and incarnated in the past, and our goal is not merely a better world in the future but a world beyond time, a world beyond the world." (85)
  • Darwin, Marx, and Freud are the three most influential modern thinkers: all atheists, materialists, naturalists, and immoralists
    • The key to understanding Marxism is Nietzsche's Will to Power
    • Freud is a hedonist
    • Darwin denies the eternal soul and reducing us to the material causes out of which we evolved
      • "universal evolutionism is not science at all but ideology and philosophy and even theology in disguise. It is reductionism: We are merely our material cause, with no first efficient cause, no Creator; and no formal cause, no Designer of our identity; and no final cause, no natural ends or purposes to human nature." (88)
    • Scientism is self-contradictory since there is not possible proof by science itself of the assumption that science is the only road to certainty
    • Francis Bacon prophesied technology's conquest of nature; see also C. S. Lewis: !2022-01-01-The Abolition of Man
  • "Brave New World is a miraculously prophetic book: no one who cares about our culture's future can afford not to read it" (89)
  • Humanae Vitae was prophetic as seeing contraception as only the first of the consequences of abandoning the idea of natural law and natural ends and leaving only the Will to Power and the demand for this world of moral relativism nothing but sentiment constrains action
  • Our response to this needs to be:

Chapter 9: C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Culture Wars

Summary: Lewis and Tolkien show us what we need to fight the culture wars.

  • "The Lord of the Rings is us. Its story is our story, its battle is our battle, its world is our world, and its protagonists and antagonists are ours, too." (97)
  • "Myth is more, not less, than allegory in its applicability, for a myth is universal, applicable to many situations, while an allegory is applicable to just one." (99)
  • The Abolition of Man (one of the most important books of the last few centuries) teaches us that we are at war for human nature itself. "Man is God's image, and someone's image cannot long remain in a mirror after he himself disappears" (101)
  • Culture is the cultivation of souls (103)
  • The Problem of Pain is the best book for meaningless suffering, and A Grief Observed best book for someone grieving

Chapter 10: Heroes

Summary: Reflections on Heroism.

  • Conditions for heroism: hierarchy, teleology, natural law, absolutism, free will, honor, suffering
  • "Astronomically speaking, man is insignificant, but astronomically speaking, man is the astronomer." (114, cf. Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot)
  • "Tolerance is the last virtue that is still left after you have lost all your principles." (115)
  • Modern psychologists and sociologists are determinists who don't believe in free will as a result of seeking causal scientific explanations
  • "The first step to becoming a hero yourself is revering heroism in others."
  • ~The Lord of the Rings is "the greatest book of the twentieth century"

Chapter 11: What Is a Liberal

Summary: Against the life, liberty, and property promised by the Declaration of Independence, we have faced the evils of abortion, slavery, and communism: abortion is the fight today.

Chapter 12: What Is the Key to a Good Society?

Summary: The moral quality of individuals is the single most important cause of a good or bad society, and this is brought about by the family and religion.

Chapter 13: Seventeen Freedoms

Summary: It is important to distinguish between the types of freedom.

Chapter 14: Four Confusions about Freedom

Summary: We need to properly understand freedom, and not seek a false freedom to be God.

  1. Distinction between church and state
  2. Distinction between private and public sectors of life
    • freedom of religion has been curtailed by a freedom from religion
  3. The distinction between thinkers and thoughts
    • Be tolerant of people, but intolerant of stupid ideas and wicked behaviors (love the sinner but hate the sin)
    • "Who am I to judge?" has been transferred from its proper object, persons, to its improper object, ideas and actions (143)
  4. The distinction between three types of freedom:
    • positive freedom: freedom-for rather than freedom-from, (libertas)
    • free will: freedom from determinism, liberum arbitrium
    • political freedom: freedom from tyranny and slavery

Chapter 15: Is Agnosticism in Religion the Default Position?

Summary: Consider Paschal's wager, and whatever you believe have the humility to seek truth.

  • Descartes in Discourse on Method: practice universal methodic doubt
  • Clifford: always proportion your beliefs in any idea to the evidence for that idea
  • Reading: "It is always wrong to interpret a book by your own beliefs or principles; you must try to interpret it by the author's!" (151)
  • Study the opposite (153)

The believer should read the great atheists: Voltaire and Nietzsche and Sartre and Russell and Camus and Beckett. And the unbeliever should read the great theists: Augustine and Aquinas and Pascal and Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard and C.S. Lewis- and let's not forget Jesus. The believer should pray: "God, if you are not what I think you are, please do not let me persist in my illusion, because I want above all to know the truth. I don't want to believe in Santa Claus even though that belief made me more happy and more moral every Christmas. I am tough-minded. I can take it." And he should pray that often. And the unbeliever should pray: "God, if you are really there, please correct me and convince me, because I want above all to know the truth. If you are real and you love me, don't let me miss you." And he should pray that often.

  • Pascal's wager is not a bad one (156)

Chapter 16: A Word about islam, and a Defense of My Controversial Book about It

Summary: We Christians can learn from the simplicity of Islam: total conformity to the will of God.

Chapter 17: Pity vs. Pacifism

Summary: We need to "turn back the clock" to a proper understanding of pity and pacifism.

Chapter 18: Judgment

Summary: Reflections on judgement.

  • St. Thomas Aquinas' best proof for the existence of God is the proof from contingent beings to a necessary being: only a Being that explains itself can explain the beings that do not explain themselves
  • Francis Bacon: the greatest good is not truth but the conquest of nature by applied science, conforming reality to the human will rather than the human mind to reality
  • The Fact–value distinction is the justification for moral relativism: if values and facts are not absolutely distinct, if values are a special kind of facts, then moral values can be objectively real and there can be a natural moral law
  • Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas see judgments about ends. Kant sees them about duties. Others deny that moral judgments are made by reason (Hobbes, Rousseau, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Bertrand Russell)
  • Aristotle says we must be good to make good moral judgments
  • Pleasure, happiness, and joy are three ever-deepening levels of the same thing
  • The essential motivation for punishment must not be rehabilitation or deterrence, but justice
  • "If the universe were necessary, we could be sure of it; but since it is contingent, we can only be thankful for it." (180)


Source: Fr. Dailey


New Words

  • obverse: Anything necessarily involved in, or answering to, another; the more apparent or conspicuous of two possible sides, or of two corresponding things. (29)

Created: 2022-04-09-Sat
Updated: 2023-01-10-Tue