Funny story: the YouTube channel Sensus Fidelium was a critical part of my reversion to the faith. As a YouTube addict who has frequented the space in search of heterodox political commentary for years, I was graced to discover the channel in 2018. This discovery ignited my interest in liturgy and my desire to start a family, both of which eventually led us to a cross country move, to join a traditional parish in North Carolina, in 2020. Only a few months later did we discover that the man who founded the channel is a member of the parish. Shoutout to Steve.
I began last week, the beginning of the new liturgical season, the first day of Advent, with Sensus Fidelium’s series on Advent reflections: I found this one, on the spiritual significance of silence, salient. Silence, the speaker says, is the necessary precondition to communion with God: it is the “guardian and protector of the spiritual life.”
This is also the reality that Cardinal Sarah addresses in his book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. The book is a long interview with French journalist Nicolas Diat, in which Sarah rebukes the “worldly powers that seek to shape modern man” by “systemically do[ing] away with silence.” To Sarah, noise is a “drug on which [man] has become dependent … Agitation becomes a tranquilizer, a sedative, a morphine pump, a sort of reverie, an incoherent dream-world.”
On the natural level, it can be intuited that silence is a sort of mental purifier. The recent proliferation of secular silence retreats, of internet detox programs, and the resurgence of “dumb phones” indicate that on the most basic level, human beings are uncomfortable with our addictions. We desire to pull away, even if it feels impossible, even when we know we’ll fail.
Roger Scruton’s critique of the tyranny of pop music is similar to Sarah’s, and even more beautifully written:
In almost every public place today the ears are assailed by the sound of pop music. In shopping malls, public houses, restaurants, hotels and elevators the ambient sound is not human conversation but the music disgorged into the air by speakers – usually invisible and inaccessible speakers that cannot be punished for their impertinence. For the most part, however, the prevailing music is of an astounding banality – it is there in order not to be really there. It is a background to the business of consuming things, a surrounding nothingness on which we scribble the graffiti of our desires. Whole areas of civic space in our society are now policed by this sound, which drives anybody with the slightest feeling for music to distraction, and ensures that for many of us a visit to the pub or a meal in a restaurant have lost their residual meaning. These are no longer social events, but experiments in endurance, as you shout at each other over the deadly noise.
How can we fast from the noise if it is omnipresent? How can we fast from the noise without sacrificing our public lives entirely? Noise-canceling headphones are the only things more antisocial than the noise itself. Moreover, how can we fast from the regime’s noise using tool’s of the regime itself? Aren’t sound baths and silence retreats mere fixtures of the “wellness industry” that operates as a seamless pressure release valve for the ever-swelling anti-human hegemony?
Silence has exterior and interior components; the former typically makes possible the latter. Ultimately, both components are properly ordered to God: communion with and meditation upon Him. Strict pursuit of exterior silence, even if ordered toward interior silence, is necessary but insufficient – it is incomplete lacking that incorporation of its true telos.