’Tis the Season to Be Guilty

British polemicist Thomas Macaulay said, in criticism of the Puritans, that they “hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”

The Puritans were practically a comedy club next to any contemporary “Progressive.”

As we enter the season of “winter holidays” (can’t say “Thanksgiving” and especially not the C-word), expect virtue-signaling progressive guilt to be on full display for you to see and hear, even if you have better things to do with your life.

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The annual flagellation fest began in earnest, as usual, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Farah Stockman spent over a thousand words in a national op-ed column to tell us of her anguish about flying from Boston to Minneapolis for Thanksgiving, questioning whether her affection for her sister’s sweet potato pie would devastate the planet. To ensure no one might feel they’d committed a venial rather than mortal secular sin, Stockman assures us paying an airline’s carbon alleviation fee hardly atones for the stain of our carbon footprint. She seemed more receptive to “carbon calculators”—something akin to secular equivalents of partial indulgences—as a way of mitigating guilt by choosing less polluting flights.

Over at “The Ethicist,” the Times’ “Dear Abby” for affluent liberals who need a life, other progressives anguished over what to do with sizeable inheritances. One is concerned that he made too much money in 2020-21 because the stock market soared. The other is a kind of variation on the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal demanded his inheritance before Daddy croaked, while the Progressive is already worried that, although Daddy is alive, he will get a large bequest earned from (Catholics—please don’t be too scandalized)…oil company stocks his still-surviving sire won’t divest.  

The usual grinches, of course, reminded us that the four hundredth anniversary of the first Thanksgiving represented four centuries of civilizational rape and pillage on the part of European settlers in North America, for which we should observe a “National Day of Mourning.” Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary, now ensconced in an academic slot in Berkeley, concurred, chiming in to tell us our “whitewashing history” reinforces “white supremacy.”  

Finally, the usual dilemmas about whether to allow deplorables at your National Day of Mourning Table took a unique turn this year. Past years questioned whether to weaponize the turkey over disputes about Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, or your presidential picks. This year, progressives—who last year felt no compunction about urging neighbors to snitch on whether your family feast violated the local Leviathan’s attendance quotas—suddenly transformed into “my home is my castle” votaries asking whether and how to enforce their own domestic version of front door vaccine passports. 

CBS admitted, “it might be a difficult conversation” to ask guests “where’s your card? What’s your status?” over the welcome mat. So, it did the favorite progressive thing: it found a psychologist to offer that “therapeutic voice” to take the edge off your unwelcoming welcome by suggesting serving tofu canapes in the garage over nasal swabs as prerequisite to crossing the threshold of your door.

Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

I’ve written before that progressivism is a perverted form of secular religion, Puritanism without redemption. Christianity at least offers some means of getting right; Progressivism, with its Rousseauean faith in inexorable progress, the “arc” of a thoroughly immanentized history that forever moves the goal posts of a socially just community, offers 365 days of Good Friday with no Easter in sight.

Reading Stockman’s apologia pro itinere suo, I was reminded of Mark 7:11. Jesus scores His virtue-signaling religious Pharisees for their practice of korban. The Bible demands respect and care for parents (Exodus 20:12; Sirach 3:12-14), but the Pharisees decided that if one declares the money one would otherwise have spent on parents for the Temple, the Biblical injunction was waived. Jesus rejected this subversion of Torah by mere human customs.

But Stockman is a virtue-signaling secular Pharisee with her own version of korban, ready potentially to forego seeing relatives in the name of “saving the planet.” This same green korban insinuates itself in the argument with considerable traction among those in their fertile years to forego children “in the name of the planet.” One might ask whether this sacrifice is as much driven by the environment as the easier pleasures of egoïsme-à-deux but, even conceding them good faith, the question arises: what’s a planet for? 

To stand Berkeley’s question on its head, if a tree falls in the forest and is heard by no one—no human being and not just a startled squirrel—what does it matter? Progressivism offer us a world of fungi and people-less woods. I wonder if the trees are going to miss me not producing carbon dioxide for them to transform?

As we veer toward the “C-word,” keep an eye out for the secularized religion that stalks our society, feigning to be “science” or “reason” or “technical expertise” du jour. It will, of course, insist you are hypersensitive to the erasure of religious—even civil religion’s—presence in public life, from “holiday” scenes to coffee cups to authorized greetings. Just also note, if you cross their faith’s red lines, how quickly you are set upon with a zeal that would make Torquemada look slothful.  Heck, you’ll even be told it’s all in your head, that there is no such thing as “wokeness.” (Nor is “critical race theory” being taught anywhere; just good “public policy” that mirrors wokeness and “democracy” that only mirrors the progressive agenda.) 

Richard Neuhaus was right: there is no “naked public square.” Let’s recognize the other religion competing to clothe it.

[Image Credit: Shutterst0ck]


  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

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