I’m done trying to save souls. Oh, sure, I’ll work hard to save my own, my wife’s, and those of the good people who buy my books. But as for the rest, they can go to Hell. Literally. They’ve made their choice, and I see little point in arguing with them about it.
Catholics use reason to guide our lives according to the Faith, to live by the Christian virtues. Agnostics and atheists use reason to justify their actions, which is why their arguments against the Faith are, almost inevitably, an ill-assorted grab bag of rationalizations for rejecting something they don’t want. Why bother trying to sell it to them?
While skeptics these days are emboldened and made popular by the lemming-like suicide of our culture as it flies off into the abyss, for any properly catechized person, the skeptics’ superficiality and lack of common sense points back to the Faith.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
Granted, this is easier when one is older, more experienced, jaded, and contemplating the folly of man over a tumbler of Laphroaig. For instance, I never fell for Christopher Hitchens’ mockery of religion because I knew Hitchens to be a hugely entertaining writer who frequently got his facts wrong and then framed those false facts to suit his prejudices. I learned not to take Hitchens seriously from long experience of reading him (when he was more focused on politics).
Other instances: It is quite possible to read the works of a Darwinian enthusiast, like the late Robert Ardrey (I’m a fan), and recognize, with the smirk of Faith, how his naturalistic explanations for human development parallel Christian thinking (especially on the matter of Original Sin). Or one can admire the razor wit of the sardonic, skeptical Ambrose Bierce—I even made him a co-star with George Armstrong Custer in a series of comic (and crypto-Catholic) novels—while regretting that he never found the Catholic faith (which would have been of enormous use to him, both in his private life and as a writer).
I’ve recently been revisiting another skeptical author: Thomas Hardy, best known for his novels Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far from the Madding Crowd, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. Especially relevant to this discussion is his last novel, Jude the Obscure. It was scandalous in its time, seen by many as an anti-Christian, anti-marriage tract.
The most shocking incident in the book involves a child from a broken family, raised by a loving but religiously unobservant couple who are living together unmarried for all the usual “romantic” (read: stupid) reasons people give today. The child comes to see himself and his half-siblings as a burden, which leads to a horrifying outcome.
But reading the book with the raised eyebrow of Faith, one can’t help but conclude that had the child been taught his Baltimore Catechism (as he should have been), and if his father and stepmother had lived Christian lives (as they should have done), the boy would never have been the nihilist depressive who speeds them all to their destruction. The book is full of unattributed quotes and allusions, but one of the most pointed comes from Robert Browning, “The world and its ways have a certain worth.” Just so, if we’re talking about a Christian society.
Which inevitably leads us to Pope Francis, navigating his way—and that of the Church—in today’s “post-Christian” society. His instincts, as we know, are all wrong. Rather than illuminating the world with the beacon of God’s unchanging truth—or instructing it with the Baltimore Catechism—he likes to “make a mess.” That’s part of his effervescent, spontaneous self, which makes him such a card. But for a pontiff who boasts the common touch, he seems to give little thought to the charwomen (or the faithful laymen in their pews, or the next pope) who will have to clean up after him. [Pope Francis’s] instincts, as we know, are all wrong. Rather than illuminating the world with the beacon of God’s unchanging truth—or instructing it with the Baltimore Catechism—he likes to “make a mess.”Tweet This
Rather than making a mess—as the hero and heroine of Jude the Obscure make of their lives—we would be much happier, more contented people if we ordered our lives and simply accepted the magisterium of the Catholic Church the same way we accept that the sun will rise tomorrow and that two and two make four. Or to quote Christopher Hollis (as I do in my book Triumph):
The principles are settled. Life is the pageant of men and women living up to them or failing to live up to them—and I think that to-day, if we are to save ourselves, we need to close our minds, to take honour’s worth for granted and to escape back into certainty from the atmosphere of eternal questioning.
True—and to that end, we need to recognize a universal call to holy lassitude, abiding by God’s few, life-affirming rules and enjoying the world He has given us.
Yes, we all know that this world is full of sin and suffering and tragedy and war, but wallowing in misery is no cure for the world’s ills; and arguing with pig-headed idiots is no way to save our souls (or, apparently, theirs). Yes, we are called to fight against evil, to battle the enemies of the Faith (who look more Orc-like every day), but we need to be happy warriors; and when we’re given a respite, when we can retire from the field to hearth and home (or confession and Communion and Eucharistic adoration) it should be a time for joy and restoration. The Catholic life is one of duties and penances, certainly, but also of feast days and celebrations.
We can hope—and pray—that the next pope is up to the task of cleaning out the Augean stables Pope Francis has left behind. If he is, then we, the lay people, can, after more than a decade of Pope Francis’ messes, heed not only a universal call to holiness but a universal call to lassitude, collapsing into the arms of the unchanging, unquestioned Faith, the Holy Mother Church, which will restore us and prepare us for the battles (and glories) ahead.
[Image Credit: Shutterstock]