was sent to me by a seminarian and is to be filled out byncandidates for ordination. It asks about the candidate’s selfdevelopment,nabout her/his significant interactionalnrelationships, about whether she/he feels she/he is realizingnher/his potential, and so forth. It does not ask about sin andngrace, about the meaning of redemption or the purpose of life.nIt does not ask about faith in God. Ministry, it is to be inferred,nis a matter of feeling free to be oneself.nWe are by now all too familiar with liberationist decadence,nthe first face of decadence. It not only hollows out the symbolsnand meanings of received culture but it celebrates thenresulting emptiness. It does not challenge particular rules butnthe idea of rules. It can abide neither precedents nor promises,nfor nothing can be acknowledged as authoritative or binding.nThe imperial self requires a vacuum in order to be free to be.nThis is not the demonically heroic nihilism of a Nietzsche.nThere is little here of the darkness and devastation and will-topower.nNo, this is the adolescent’s dream, sleeping by thenreassuring nite-lite of the soon-to-be-satisfied self.nHe Lermetic decadence, the second face, is something else.nMore precisely, it is the decadence that would build andninhabit a world elsewhere. Such a world must be sealed off sonthat its symbols, gestures, and jargon are understood only bynthose who have been initiated into its mysteries. It is ancommunity attuned to the occult and is typically gnostic.nMembership is dependent upon consciousness-raising thatnelevates one above ordinary cognition. It is a communitynpowerfully attractive to those of refined sensibilities who arenrepulsed by the vulgarity of the unfeeling hordes. Unlikenliberationist decadence, it does not assume that the meaningsnof the ordinary world are dead or dying, but that they are toonmuch alive and threatening: they are so gross, so ugly—in anword, so awful. Liberationist decadence is a reaction to a deadnworld; hermetic decadence is a refuge from a repugnant world.nHermetic decadence is Oscar Wilde. It is Blanche of AnStreetcar Named Desire, entranced by a gossamer world ofnbeauty and besieged by a “real” world of beastliness. It is thenSymbolist poets of the late 19th century, who did not hesitatento say that they were constructing a new religion for those whonare able to accept it. It is Paul Marie Verlaine settling in for thenend, surrounded by the aging prostitutes and young boys whonhe said were “the muses of my decadence.”nThere is no entry’ for “decadence” in the standard encyclopedias.nThe term crops up in connection with the erotic,nsometimes in connection with violence and the erotic, mostnoften in connection with the homoerotic. That may benbecause, as some contend, the books are written by ravingnhomophobes. There may be other explanations. Whilenhomosexuality is far from being the only form of hermeticndecadence, it is the most obvious form in contemporarynculture. For Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, homosexu­nDECADENCE<nnnality is “the physical, psychological and social sickness, thenphenomenon of perversion, decadence and decay” whichnemerges when man “refuses to admit the validity of the divinencommand” which stands behind the created order. He citesnSaint Paul’s connection of homosexuality with an idolatry thatnadores the creature instead of the Creator;nFor this reason God gave them up into vile affections: for evenntheir women did change the natural use into that which isnagainst nature, and likewise the men, leaving the natural use ofnthe woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men withnmen working that which is unseemly, and receiving innthemselves the recompence of their error, (Romans 1)nBarth is not unmoved by the attractions of that which hencensures, for he writes, “We know that in its early stages it maynhave an appearance of particular beauty and spirituality, andneven be redolent of sanctit)’. Often it has not been the worstnpeople who have discovered and to some extent practiced itnas a sort of wonderful esoteric of personal life,”nIn this view, the decadent is defined by reference to thennatural. Today, homosexual advocacy, in union with manynother cultural forces, challenges the definition of the natural.nMore than that, the idea of anything being natural, andntherefore that anything could be unnatural, is repudiated. Suchnadvocacy belongs more appropriately in the category ofnliberationist decadence. Hermetic decadence does notnchallenge the meaning of natural. It readily acknowledges,nindeed exults in, the claim that it is unnatural, Liberationistnhomoeroticism today threatens to put an end to hermeticnhomoeroticism. The liberationists demand that their sistersnand brothers come out of the closet. They do not understandnthat the closet is the world elsewhere.nM. he third face of decadence is the tragic. Tragic may seemntoo lofty a term; perhaps it is merely dismal decadence. And yetnthere is an element of the tragic here, for these decadentsnbelieved in the world they now see dying. They were oftennwholehearted participants in the historical progress whichnthey now see turning back upon us in wrath. They arendisillusioned decadents, for in high hope they helped sow thenwind of the impending whirlwind. They are not among thenliberationist decadents who say there is nothing worth dyingnfor. It is simply that dying for what is worthy, or living for it, willnmake no difference.nAmong their number are the apocalypticists—nuclear,necological, and other, Paul Fussell says modern memory wasnshaped by The Great War, the war that taught us that “modern”nmeans “hopeless,” The Arthur Schlesinger who in 1947 urgednus to assert the democratic idea as “a fighting faith” nownroutinely warns us against the hubris of thinking there mightnbe anything universally valid in Western culture, Robertn(cont onpage30)nJune 1984n