In the Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk has a chapter on two prominent 19th century British conservatives: Benjamin Disraeli and John Newman.
Drawing upon their works that questioned if knowledge could be wholly obtained through scientific means, Kirk closes by exhorting conservatives to embrace a “wisdom beyond physical facts which supplants doubt by assent.”
In a society that assumes the pre-eminence of quantitative knowledge, this “wisdom beyond physical facts” is intriguing, for it alludes to those issues which Liberal society cannot solve.
Upon reflection, it would seem this instinctually-derived wisdom aids in comprehending human immortality. (Admittedly, Newman considered how an ‘Illative Sense’ could establish Christianity’s truth; below we shall explore related yet distinct themes).
There prevails the haunting spectre of death, which has dominated human civilisation in all places, at all times. From it sustained many religions, which through promising heavenly rewards, provided meaning to billions of otherwise inconsequential lives. Thus, religion served as the immovable anchor upon which countless people based their earthly existence.
This religiosity was universal until (approximately) the 20th century, when revolutionary ideas and materialism took hold of leading institutions. As we have continued down this innovative, materialistic trajectory, in turn, notions of human immortality vanished from popular consciousness.
For instance take Bill Shorten’s denunciation of Israel Folau, typifying this secular disposition:
I don’t know if hell exists actually. But I don’t think if it does that being gay is what sends you there.
Despite it being routine to dismiss human immortality, modern people have proved utterly incapable of practicing as they preach. In their behaviour, people act as if we have immortal souls.
As described by Peter Hitchens in the Abolition of Britain,
Night after night, in the wards of a hundred hospitals, people die as they have always done, alone at the end and in many cases afraid of what is to come, more and more comforted by morphine, less and less by the Holy Ghost. We prefer not to notice.
Fear of death as we have found out, cannot be comforted by liberal ideology, utilitarian decision making or medicine. Absent religious influence, the fact that people resolve concerns over death by simply avoiding the subject, suggests our annihilation is an intrinsically unacceptable end.
Importantly, this dread is beyond adaptive reasoning: people fear dying well into their elderly, non-productive (from a biological standpoint) years.
So, perhaps there is a reason death–at the personal level–is viewed as incomprehensible and causes humans unique and unceasing despair. Namely, the truth about physical death is far more consonant with our intuitively known nature. The destruction of our bodies does not mean the destruction of our souls: we continue beyond this life, whether consciously understood or not.
Such could be seen as a form of “wisdom beyond physical facts.”