Rorate Caeli

The Gentle Traditionalist Returns — Roger Buck on the “New Ageification” of Ireland and the West

by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski

The Gentle Traditionalist Returns by Roger Buck. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2019. 262 pp. Paperback $17.95; cloth $34.35. Order here.

MANY CATHOLICS, many Christians, even many “non-religious” people who have retained shreds of sanity (like the recently deceased Roger Scruton), are trying to answer the question: How did the West get to this point of dissolution in its social and cultural life? How did it come about that the Catholic Church itself, which had once seemed an impregnable bastion of order, decency, beauty, and meaning, succumb enthusiastically to the suicidal secularism and irrationalism characteristic of our postmodern times?

Humanly speaking, there will not be a single source that can give a complete answer to this question. We piece together our answers as we are able and as the Lord grants us opportunities for insight. But I think we have all had the experience that certain books stand out for opening up fruitful avenues of thought, connecting more dots, or bringing in new elements of which one had been unaware. This has been my experience over the years with key books, such as Martin Mosebach’s  Heresy of Formlessness and Henry Sire’s masterpiece Phoenix from the Ashes, and I imagine it is happening for a lot of readers today with Bishop Schneider’s Christus Vincit.

Roger Buck, a former New Age enthusiast, indeed apologist and campaigner, who experienced a double conversion, first to Christianity and then to traditional Catholicism, is making unique contributions to this effort to understand our current situation in the West and in the Church, which has come to a head in the panreligious, syncretistic, humanistic, one-world-government Age of Abu Dhabi. He speaks authoritatively, with detailed academic and personal knowledge, about the influence of the New Age movement behind the scenes and diffusively throughout society in its popular media spin-offs, which can nevertheless be traced back to purer origins.

The last two works by Buck — his winsome novel The Gentle Traditionalist (Angelico, 2015) and his more wide-ranging, philosophical, autobiographical Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed (Angelico, 2016) — are now joined by a third book: The Gentle Traditionalist Returns (Angelico, 2019). As one who hugely enjoyed the first novel when appeared four years ago and ended up distributing many copies of it to friends and family, I was overjoyed to see a sequel, although also a bit apprehensive, because sequels can sometimes be disappointing (certainly with movies, as often as not: with the endless Star Wars series, pretty soon we’ll be peering into Luke’s first trimester).

HAPPILY, Buck’s latest foray is a grand success. The book opens with the narrator discussing his journey to Catholicism and how he is slowly awakening to the magnitude of the spiritual combat around him, something his more sensitive wife has long perceived. There are moving reminiscences of the Ireland of yesterday and today, together with expressions of affectionate concern for their relative Brigid, whom we learn has fallen prey to a New Age activist and slickster, Gareth LightShadow. In the central part of the story, GT (Gilbert Tracey or the Gentle Traditionalist) skewers LightShadow, though the latter is too besotted with himself to realize he’s been made a fool of. In the process, GT exposes political and cultural connections most Christians have never heard of, much less reckoned with. In particular, Buck wants to explain how a twin force, which he names the New Secular Religion (or Secular Materialism) and the New Age Religion (or Secular Spiritualism), work together to undermine Christianity and, in fact, basic human dignity and reason.

The story features the same singular combination of whimsy and surprise, keen social commentary, and deft argumentation as the first Gentle Traditionalist. (Note that it is not necessary to have read the first in order to follow the second; they are written as stand-alone books.) The new book, however, has more pathos, paints its characters more fully, and sustains a more serious tone throughout, without descending into preachiness. The tragedy of an Ireland implosively denaturing itself, the plight of the unborn sold to the Me-market, and the self-disembowelment of the Church are prominent themes.

In a lengthy Afterword, “Occultism and the Easternization of the Anglosphere” (pp. 193–242) that is worth the price of the book all by itself, Buck drops the story genre and simply expounds the penetration of Eastern esotericism into the West. He wants to explain how “Eastern Occultism Without Christ” has penetrated so far and so wide that it is nowadays to be found in bestselling novels, popular magazines, television shows, UN and EU programs — and, we might add, in homilies and sermons too, not to mention utterances from Rome. There is a great deal of connecting-the-dots in these pages that helps in tuning one’s ear and sharpening one’s eye. Already thanks to the novel and its Afterword, I am able to perceive new layers of intelligibility in pieces of world news and Vatican news.

The novel part of the book is shot through with a combination of melancholy and hopefulness that reminds me of the best poetry and folk music, while the Afterword offers a painstaking analysis of figures we neglect to our disadvantage. The Gentle Traditionalist Returns appeals to what is best and deepest in us, so that we will reengage with that which ultimately matters while there is yet time. 

Thank you, Roger Buck, for another brilliant tale of spiritual awakening and discovery.

To order in paperback or hardcover, visit the publisher's page, which has links to various Amazon sites. Interested readers may wish to visit the author's blog Cor Jesu Sacratissimum and especially his YouTube channel, which features many video discussions on a variety of subjects.