Note: When I wrote this in October 2012 for the previous iteration of Opus Publicum I never expected it to become as “popular” (relatively speaking) as it did. Since it was brought up to me the other day, I am pulling it from the archives and reposting it without any emendations.
This post will easily go down as the longest I have ever composed for this web-log; whether it will also be the most contentious remains to be seen. I suspect that some—perhaps many—of the points covered won’t strike my longtime readers as particularly surprising. Like many who type blogs, I have a habit of revisiting themes and I have never been shy about expressing my views, even when they’re still in an embryonic state (and thus open to serious revision). One of the difficulties with this approach is that it sometimes compels me to make certain claims appear more tentative in my mind than they really are. A select number of concerns over being “unfairly” labeled this-or-that, coupled with a desire to avoid aligning myself with any particular group or movement, also compels me, more often than not, to obscure points a more responsible man would clarify from the get-go. If anybody really cared, I could apologize for that sort of thing; but most of those who read my blog with any care already know where I stand and others—the more casual viewer—probably couldn’t care less where I come down on most things. They just want an entertaining read now n’ again. But I should also point out that there are genuine “open issues” for me, that is to say, ideas, positions, opinions, etc. which I have adopted based on the best state of my knowledge at a particular point in time and which remain, and perhaps will always remain, subject to a vast range of modifications. I make bad intellectual bets, and I dare say that there have been a few points in the last decade where I have made truly awful intellectual bets. Because fortune so often favors the foolish, only a couple of these extremely poor choices have brought me to genuinely bad places—and by “bad places” I mean those with dozens of broad and easy pathways to hell. That might strike some of you as funny given that “hell” is so passé these days. Maybe I am being metaphoric? I assure you that I am not, though we should all thank God every day for metaphoric hells; they serve to remind us of the just terror of the real thing.
Abortion is murder and sodomy is a sin; to hell its practitioners shall go for the Bible tells me so. And even should I have never been born in an age where the Scriptures are open and translated for every literate person to peruse, I would know those two facts from the Church’s catechesis and, if I were a thoughtful sort, the exercise of my natural reason. Nothing I think, do, say, believe, wish, pray, etc. will alter this reality. Likewise, I cannot tell someone who dies with mortal sin on their soul that they will meet any other fate than damnation for I have no basis upon which to assert such a thing. I would be lying to them, either directly by denying it or indirectly by making an appeal to ignorance. (“It’s not up to me to decide…”) Even though I am a man with more than a few sympathies toward Universalism, I haven’t the faintest idea whether or not it’s all bosh. A hope for the Salvation of all, emanating from a lowly sinner like me, should provide no comfort to any reasonable human being. If anything it would be safer to take it as additional proof of my weakness—my falleness and fallibility—and nothing more. Is it not fortunate then that I live in a time where so few are willing to witness to the reality of sin, including its manner and form? There is genuine ignorance of sin even among Christians and an almost pathological tendency to ignore it even when it is known. The deprivation of Grace is accepted with the shrugging of shoulders; the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell are “nonissues.”
Pulling back for a moment from the realm of sin to the mundane stuff of politics, let’s not ignore the fact that these sins are provided legal cover in this nominally tolerant, apparently democratic, and undoubtedly libertine polity of ours. That, too, is deemed acceptable, and not just by all of those mouth-foaming atheists who write unimaginative polemics against some strange construct known as “religion”; it is all quite fine with most Christians as well. Perhaps they wouldn’t select to have an abortionist’s clamps inserted in their uterus or another man’s penis placed in their anus, but far be it for them to say that these things are “wrong” in some substantive sense; far be it for them to believe that the law, that ordering mechanism of human design intended to be distilled from our knowledge of the truth, should have anything to say about these acts’ impermissibility. The range of excuses is far and wide, though none of them lose their speciousness just because they happen to be sincerely stated or, what is becoming increasingly common among “sophisticated” types, bolstered by appeals to passing social/behavioral-scientific “evidence” that—so the story goes—“complicates” the “simplistic” and “outmoded” decrees of a dusty moralism drawn from the dark ages. Whatever dubious “value” such claims have in ensuring that one maintains their circle of friends at school or work or relieving one of the responsibility of calling a spade a spade (a sin a sin), is there any reason provided by the Church to suggest that passing rationalization trumps engrained teachings? Will this all be up for discussion when everything is said or done or is it not the case that we will find out then what we already know now—unpleasant though it may be—that these sins remain sins, and that those who engage—just like those who explicit and tacitly endorse their commission—will be held responsible? Or have things changed? If so, when?
Nobody really wants to talk about this, and I understand why. It’s not just unfashionable; it’s uncomfortable as well. It’s uncomfortable because despite some of the most sincere claims I have ever heard made on behalf of various individuals’ fidelity to Christianity, they, like me, live under a horizon which is not of holy design. There is no point during the enterprise of living where this fails to be true. As the years continue on, it will become only truer: the Christian antecedents of modernity will fade further into memory; the few prophetic voices remaining will die out; and we—the human race—will continue to make peace with the world in which we live despite the falsity of that peace, because “peace with the world,” as filtered through a (post)modern consumerist-capitalist mentality, is the exploitation of everything which is given under the assumption that it is deserved. But none of that can obviate the fact that great evils are allowed—yes, allowed—to persist in the world as if they represent, at worst, “harmless mistakes” with no eternal consequences. The eternal is gone; all that ought to concern us—as a certain story goes—is the temporal. What has utility has the blessing of “normativity,” and as we all have heard by now, less poor black babies means less crime and sodomy—when enjoyed in the false sanctity of marriage redefined—can provide degrees of happiness, fulfillment, love, etc. never before known in an earlier age. And that’s just the beginning or, really, the most apparent of what now amounts to the first strikes from the present age’s assault on holiness and virtue. A society which has sat idly by as 55 million babies were put to death from 1973 on is—to no great shock or dismay—a society which has adopted an illusive and perverted “free market” that distorts every want into a need while laying waste to entire regions, towns, communities, and families. Defrauding a laborer his wages cries out no less to Heaven than willful murder, sodomy, or—relatedly—the oppression of the poor.
On Sunday—the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary—I heard a priest preach on two seemingly distinct, but ultimately interrelated, points. The first point concerned the ever-present threat of Islam to what remains of the Christian West—an easy theme to pick up on given what has gone on in the Middle East in the last year coupled with the fact that the Feast itself commemorates the Battle of Lepanto. The second point centered on political realities, specifically the assault which has been conducted by politicians at both the federal and municipal levels on the Catholic Church and other Christian institutions of good will. For Sunday was also—among the Protestants at least—“Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an open rebuke to the IRS ban on political speech from the pulpit. The American Catholic Church did not join in this act of collective disobedience, but this priest in particular endorsed it. He endorsed it because when it comes to matters of faith and morals the Church must speak; it cannot remain silent in the face of outright assaults on her freedom or, with respect to the legal endorsement and expansion of abortion, a mass disregard for the sanctity of life. Though this priest didn’t directly mention it, how soon we another dark time when the Church opted for the “politically correct” choice not to speak: Nazi Germany. Individual acts of spiritual, moral, and material resistance, while smiled upon by the Angels and Saints in Heaven, were too often drowned by the indifference of those trusted with the care and leadership of Christ’s Holy Church. People will no doubt scoff at comparing the “true Holocaust” to the (allegedly) “fabricated Holocaust” that those in the pro-life camp condemn; ironically they are right to do so, though not for the reasons they think. There is no comparison to the ripping away of 55 million innocent lives—babies who never took a breath of air or felt the warmth of the sun—with the 17 million who died at the hands of the Nazis; the former is so much more grotesque in moral terms. And yet because those little children have no voice, few witnesses to their pain, and nothing approaching a “political presence,” they are confined to a handful of statistics whereas the victims of racialist aggression, just like the tens of millions starved, executed, and worked to death under Stalin or murdered under the vicious enterprise of the American-European slave trade, are at least acknowledged; the horror concerning their fate is, thankfully, palatable. But the recognition of many atrocities does not relieve the human race of responsibility for recognizing another.
This is only one reason the Church must speak and speak clearly. For clarity demands not an appeal to various pamphlets exhorting “good Catholics” to “obey their conscience” or make false equivocations between ending the death penalty with ending abortion, but an outright condemnation of those politicians and policies which offend God—and we know what offends God. That’s the disturbing thing. For after all of the rhetoric is spewed, the rationalizations are made, the artful appeals to academic sophistication subside, we all know what violates God’s Law. Or, at least, I assume we all know, and that’s something I am starting to learn. For regardless of the great laxity and indifference found within my confessional haunt, I do take some genuine solace that I am not lost in a sea of my own convoluted reasoning or excuse-making when it comes to the simple distinction between “right” and “wrong.” I grant that other confessions don’t quite see it that way. Antinomianism is no less a sacred truth in Orthodoxy than it is in mainline Protestantism, and any half-sophisticated academic can appeal to half-rotted manuscripts from something like a “tradition” to make peace with all modern ideologies that have a whiff of attractiveness about them. So be it. I often have to remind myself—or be reminded by others—that the most visible isn’t necessarily the most true. At the end of the day the human conscience, infused with the love of God and informed by the teachings of Jesus Christ, sees through the rot, no matter how thick and stacked up it has become. A spade will always be called a spade, and such basic distinctions, such as those between the Faith that preaches a Crucified and Risen Christ who will come again to establish His Kingdom in Glory, and the prophet of death whose heirs move ever forward over the earth under the genuinely modern guise of warranting “freedom,” “understanding,” and “tolerance,” are still possible.
As St. Paul wrote, God will not be mocked, and that is true despite how hard we try. And knowing this—believing this—leads me to “the point,” I suppose. Who do we follow? Where is our allegiance given? What is it, in the end, that we profess? I write “we” because a majority of those who read this blog are Christians—most Catholics, some Orthodox, and a few Protestant. While I am no ecumenist, I am not blind to the reality that the only way Christianity means anything is if it means everything. That means no compartmentalization. That means no finding ways to tear the faith asunder by “internalizing” this, “optioning” that, and degrading the Church to the level of an insular sect even if that sect happens to embrace one’s personal politics or distorted worldview. I no less than any man (and perhaps a great deal more than most) must accept the role that cowardice plays in my own life, for I have been afraid to remain out-of-step with the present age’s pernicious dogmas, and if I cannot remain out-of-step, how can I ever hope to resist them? With a sword forged from an easygoing acceptance of the world-as-given and a prideful belief in my own ability to navigate between truth and untruth, I have cloven my own soul. Ah, but who will hear that confession? Probably nobody except those so unfortunate as to read this.
I no longer want to understand these pet “christianities” that we not only take for granted but assume—so wrongly!—must be pocketed in this “pluralistic” landscape of ours. The few—very few—evils I mentioned in this post, like I said, only touch the tip of the iceberg of what passes by without comment (or, worse, our endorsement) on a day-to-day basis. It’s always necessary to mention abortion, for more than anything it remains the most persistent and widespread crime against God committed today. Sodomy, being such an unfashionable thing to condemn, is worth mentioning for the dark fact that its elevation to a “right” has spawned the unthinkable: the elevation of same-sex partnerships to the level of “marriage.” And as for matters of economy and the relationship to the preservation of a just and stable social order, there is too much complexity involved to get into details. Needless to say or, perhaps, necessary to say, my once flippant attitude toward such things, informed as it was by many “theories” which, in the end, revealed themselves to be ideologies, was dead wrong. Sadly, “economic matters” are all-too-easy to disentangle from “moral matters,” but in the end it all comes down to morality; it all comes down to not only doing, but promoting, what is right—not by our lights, but by those of God above. Yes, God matters; the Church matters; the Salvation of souls matters. Are these not the most shocking contentions for a Christian—a Catholic Christian!—of the present day to make? They’re almost embarrassing, yes? For all of that stuff is fine, as long as nobody knows about it.