“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all,” says Our Lord. “Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all. So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30). Notice that there is no mention of Gomorrah. In fact, in the whole course of Sacred Scripture, Gomorrah is never mentioned except in conjunction with Sodom, and then only some of the time. Perhaps we may thus surmise that the denizens of Gomorrah were even more astonished than the Sodomites and Noah’s neighbors at the terrible judgment that came upon them. It is easy to imagine them saying, “After all, this isn’t Sodom; we’re good people.”
To suggest that we are now, symbolically at least, inhabitants of Gomorrah is not to infer that we are on the brink of Our Lord’s Second Coming in Judgment, or that it will happen while some of us are still living. He has already come, and everyone since has been, by definition, living in the final phase of human existence in this fallen world: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days [emphasis added], he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir to all things and through whom he created the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). As Peter Brown points out in his magisterial biography, “Augustine thought of himself as living in the Sixth, the last, the old Age of the World. He thought of this, not as a man living under the shadow of an imminent event, but rather with the sadness of one for whom nothing new could happen.”
Saint Augustine lived in an ostensibly Christianized Roman Empire, but well he knew that earthly political affairs are, finally, trivial compared with confrontation between the earthly City of Man and the heavenly City of God. Although the citizens of these two communities are inextricably mingled during our temporal existence, in eternity their rupture will be absolute and irrevocable. We have less excuse than Augustine’s contemporaries for failing to see this: they lived at a time when the Church was expanding its range and influence as it would continue to do for more than a millennium in Europe and wherever Europeans established colonies. In our time, we are witness to the rapid reversal of this process in the “developed world” in what might be called the de-evangelization of modern civilization. It would be difficult for anyone not to recognize that the Church is losing members, and that the elite cultural and political forces of the world are quickly shedding every vestige of deference or respect for the Church as an institution and treating her instead as an object of loathing and contempt. But the reality of our situation is even worse than this: for decades, but now with intensifying vehemence, the modern world is eradicating from the public forum every distinctive element of the Christian moral and spiritual vision, denying and denigrating the Christian understanding of human nature and the human condition.
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If we are to save some remnant of Christian culture—indeed, if we are to save our souls—it is imperative that we recognize the full enormity of our predicament and resolve not to submit to the sovereignty of Gomorrah, even as we are unable to escape its geographical borders. We must not take our current circumstances as normal and become contented Gomorreans. We must, paradoxically, flee by standing still, remaining firm in our commitment to the Faith. When Peter Brown attributes to Saint Augustine “the sadness of one for whom nothing new could happen,” the sentiment reflects a secular perspective, not the mind of the Church. Although there remains that clarification of doctrine and belief, which we designate development of doctrine, divine revelation is essentially complete; this is why we are, and have been for 2,000 years, living in the last days. This is the true sense in which “nothing new can happen.”
Rather than being a source of sadness, our situation ought to be a cause for exhilaration. God has spoken to us—not “in partial and various ways,” but through his Son. We know plainly the path to salvation, which, while narrow, is not obscure: we must follow Our Lord and Savior faithfully and keep his commandments, which are set forth in his teaching as recorded in the Gospels, in the apostolic writings of the New Testament, and in the magisterial teachings of the successors of the Apostles who rule his Church. The Gospel—the Good News—brought to us by Jesus Christ and proclaimed throughout the world by the Church through its apostolic mission over many generations is not subject to change: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!” (Gal. 1:8); “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
The list of similar precepts could be expanded indefinitely, and the meaning is clear: we have the Good News and we have the commandments that the Gospel entails. Therefore, we know what our mission is and need not devise another more suitable to our own inclinations or the biases of a fallen world: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all the house. Just so your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:14-16). It is our task and our opportunity to respond to St. Paul’s exhortation to his Philippian converts: “That you may be blameless, and sincere children of God, without reproof, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).
Our Clear Task Is Not Easy
Although our task is plain before us, it is not easy. To be the light of world will not ingratiate you with the world: “the light came into the world, but the people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil” (John 3:19). This primordial conflict between the forces of light and those of darkness seems only to have intensified in our time. Indeed, the polity of Gomorrah seems founded on the establishment of all four of the sins crying out to heaven for vengeance: the shedding of innocent blood (Gen. 4:10), the sin of Sodom (Gen. 18:20-21), the oppression of the poor (Ex. 2:23), and defrauding the workman of his just wages (James 5:4). The congeries of economic arrangements gathered under the umbrella term “globalization” may well provide ominous examples of the latter two “sins crying out to heaven”: manufacturers in this country “outsource” their production to third-world countries where workers are reduced to servile, sweatshop conditions; those cheap goods then flood American markets closing down domestic factories, thereby depriving American workers of their jobs and disrupting entire communities.
Nevertheless, current American society furnishes more pressing and concrete examples of the first two sins; our pervasive media make awareness of their dominating presence in the daily lives of ordinary men and women inescapable. We must, moreover, remain especially firm on these matters, because, sadly, many influential members of the clergy, as well as prominent laymen, are dismissive of the gravity of these first two sins although they, too, cry out to heaven. As for our cultural elites, they demand not merely acquiescence in what are coyly called “women’s reproductive rights” and “gender equality,” but rather everyone must proclaim his firm commitment to what are, in fact, abominations or be condemned as a “hater.” The “core values” of secular progressivism in our time are conveniently summed up by the acronym ASP (which also spells the name of a suitably venomous snake): Abortion, Sodomy, Promiscuity. Although progressives pretend to a commitment to racial equality and justice, one need only consider the fate of any African-American public figure who argues against abortion or “gay marriage” to assess the hollowness of the claim. Similarly, one might consider the fact that Planned Parenthood, a sacrosanct organization for secular progressives, locates about 80 percent of its “clinics” in low-income, minority neighborhoods, and Margaret Sanger, the foundress of what eventually became Planned Parenthood, remains an “iconic” figure despite the fact that she was an advocate of racial eugenics.
Gomorrah in Our Time
To illustrate the implications of the contemporary secular world’s dedication to the idol of the ASP, consider a disturbing essay by Peggy Orenstein, “How Did Porn Become Sex Ed?,” which first appeared in the New York Times, but which is here accessed in the Kindle edition of the Tampa Bay Times: “The rise of oral sex, as well as its demotion to an act less intimate than intercourse, was among the most significant transformations in American sexual behavior during the 20th century. In the 21st, the biggest change appears to be the increase in anal sex. In 1992, 16 percent of women ages 18 to 24 said they had tried anal sex. Today, according to the Indiana University study, 20 percent of women 18 to 19 have, and by ages 20 to 24 it’s up to 40 percent.”
None of this is pleasant to discuss or contemplate, and skepticism may well be in order regarding how far such statistics are to be trusted; the crucial consideration is that Ms. Orenstein is not indignant that young men and women in increasing numbers are engaged in such behavior. She takes this as a given and likewise assumes that most teenage boys and girls will be involved in some kind of quasi-sexual activity with an indefinite number of partners. Her complaint is that both sexes are focused on the pleasure and satisfaction of the males rather than that of their female counterparts. This is “gender inequality,” and her solution is better sex education, which of course excludes “abstinence only” approaches.
That which is commonly referred to nowadays as oral or anal “sex” would more properly be designated “sodomy.” Hence it is no surprise that many “heterosexuals” are sympathetic to “homosexuals” and “gay marriage,” for they are seeking sensual gratification through the same practices as same-sex couples: physical actions that are not properly sexual at all, but rather perversions of sexual desire and the sexual faculties. “Sex” in its primary meaning is precisely the division between male and female, and sexual intercourse requires the conjunction of the complementary male and female organs in an act that is, in its final intention, procreative. “Male and female He created them…” (Gen. 1:27, Matt. 19:4, and numerous other New Testament references). This is why sex is not one of the core values of secular progressivism: “sex” in its proper meaning has been displaced by “gender” and applied instead to behavior that is either a substitute for the real thing or to sexual intercourse frustrated by the use of contraception.
For a perspective on the extent and rapidity of this moral revolution, consider an episode in The Manticore (1972) by the esteemed Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (1913-1995). The central character is an attorney defending a poor farmer’s wife who has murdered her husband with a shotgun. There is no question of the woman’s guilt, but the attorney secures a lenient sentence for her by explaining that she was provoked by the man’s repeatedly bullying her into submitting to fellatio—what nowadays we daintily call “oral sex.” It is clear that judge and jury are horrified not only by the element of coercion, but also by the act itself, as the attorney describes it: “A gross indignity exacted by force; a perversion for which some American states exacted severe penalties; a grim servitude no woman with a spark of self-respect could be expected to endure without cracking.”
This episode of the novel is set in the 1950s, and it provides a realistic portrayal of the mores and attitudes of ordinary men and women in the Western world during that era—a time within living memory. To be sure, they were tempted and succumbed to the same sins as we commit now, but the sins were regarded as sins and considered shameful. Today, such behavior is considered routine and, indeed, to be engaged in with casual strangers so long as both parties agree. “Consent” is the talisman that currently validates any conduct whatsoever. And, truth be told, most of us—unlike Robertson Davies’s mid-twentieth-century judge and jury—are not shocked or even much surprised. Nor should we be. This is the way fallen men and women naturally behave when they have rejected grace, and society has discarded every vestige of Christian teaching. What this tells us is that our contemporary society has regressed to the state of the Ephesians before their conversion, as St. Paul reminds them: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
Having no hope and without God in the world. Such is Gomorrah; such is the world we inhabit. Although we must not be part of that world, we have no choice not to be within it. The observance of Lent and of Our Lord’s passion and death ought to remind us that this is the world for which he suffered. We must never be sanctimonious, remembering always that we, too, are sinners; we may nonetheless exult that merely by always affirming the truth—with humility, patience, and charity—whenever it is challenged, and living as faithful Christians with the help of God’s grace, we are joining Our Lord in his work of salvation. We cannot physically flee Gomorrah, but we can participate in the work of transforming it by our witness and our lives.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” painted by John Martin in 1852.