I recently read Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914 by Frederic Morton.  I was fascinated by the confluence of the decrepit Habsburg monarchy, the entrenched aristocracy, the socialist and communist revolutionaries, and the psychoanalytic establishment all within the confines of prewar Vienna (the book concludes with Austria and the other European powers going to war in August, 1914).  In a passage I found thought-provoking, Morton describes Viennese political writer Karl Kraus’ analysis of the assassination of Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.  The assassination, thought Kraus, was not the work of a single man, of a subversive organization, or even a nation, for: “No less a force than progress stands behind this deed—progress and education unmoored from God. . .”  

Morton thinks that the progress that Kraus was alluding to was the progress of modernization and industrialization.  Princip’s ancestors had lived for centuries in a zadruga, a Bosnian farming community.  His father, displaced from the land, had earned his living as a postman.  Thus, the family was dislocated not only from farm and community but from the spirituality of nature.  The next generation was even more estranged.  As Morton puts it:

 “His son Gavrilo, more educated than his father, more sensitive, more starved for the wholeness that is holiness and thus more resentful of the ruins all about him, had to seek another garden.  He sought something that would satisfy his disorientation and his anger; something which, as his readings of Nietzsche suggested, would restore the valor of the vital principle that his race had lost.” (p. 319)

 Princip found as his guiding principle hatred of the Austrians who occupied Bosnia.  He sought to drive out the Austrians and reclaim Bosnia as a Slavic land.  Even if this enterprise had proved successful, though, it could never have restored his grandparents’ Eden, for that had been lost to modernity.

 I was particularly struck by Morton’s diagnosis of Princip’s plight: he was “starved for the wholeness that is holiness.”  What is the connection between holiness and wholeness, and how does modernity deprive of that wholeness?  Kraus seems to have believed that God is experienced via the natural world, and the mechanization and industrialization of modern societies exclude God and thereby the holy from our lives, leaving us fragmented.  Were he to see our lives today, I imagine that he would think that the alienation of the spirit that was already proceeding rapidly in 1914 has not slacked its pace since then. 

 My thoughts about the modern diminishment of both holiness and wholeness were given additional impetus by a posting on a listserv for therapists to which I subscribe.  Dr. Mark Stern, the author of the post, expressed concern that modern technology has changed psychotherapy, intruding on the “sacred Sabbath of the psychotherapy hour.”  He described the resulting loss in exactly the same language of wholeness and holiness that Morton uses:

 “I’m not at all sure the ways in which the paradox of wholeness/holiness has become distanced from these times. Personally, I fear that the robotization of what is still referred to as therapy (though, in reality, behavioral manipulation), has placed some closure on the sacredness of the individual. In place of depth affirmation of inner life; of embodied vision and of the practice of delving into the richness of latent knowledge, the standards of manualized techniques have moved away from the mysteries.”

 gearsThe therapist’s office no longer serves as a sanctuary from the ruin wrought by the machine; it has largely been mechanized itself, so that the refugees seeking solace there are simply subjected to one more technology.

 We live in unholy times—times when the sacred is given short shrift.  Many still have a yearning for holiness and wholeness, as evidenced by the popularity of seeker-friendly churches, religious ritual, and new-age spirituality.  Like Humpty-Dumpty, though, we aren’t put together again very readily.  I hope to reflect in a later post on what is conducive to the wholeness that stems from holiness.