End Notes: Internal Exile

Talk of the culture war presupposes two sides, but after the apparent popular response to Bill Clinton’s degradation of the presidency it is difficult to go on thinking that there is any widespread resistance to the neo-pagan take-over. Of course, this may be one more illusion created by a media that reports approvingly on the way in which politicians deceive them.

Consolation might be derived from the fact that much of what one thinks is the response of the country to the shenanigans in Washington comes through the same no-longer-credible media. There is something diabolical in the possibility that the population is being lied to as to what the population thinks. Alas, plunging into the sea of the people, one is not reassured.

When one stops at a small, mid-western town for gas, there is something initially reassuring in the overweight ladies and the paunchy men wearing the mandatory caps. It is possible to imagine that newspapers are not read, television news ignored, and life lived on what were once traditional terms. Best not look at the magazine rack in such places, of course, but the towns are full of churches and on Sundays the churches are full of people.

On the other hand, there seems to be no place far flung enough to escape having USA Today pressed on one at the crack of dawn. Today the front page of this veritable MTV-in-print reports on the merits of marijuana as a pain depressant and on plans to sue the tobacco companies for fires started by dozing smokers. One is reminded of a title: The Vice of Gambling and the Virtue of Insurance.

It is not natural for Catholics to accept estrangement from their own country. It does not come easily to us to flirt with the notion that there may be some essential antipathy between the natural and the supernatural. Our tradition urges us to assimilate the natural because it can support the supernatural; it certainly cannot be in conflict with it. But this does not address the problem of those who must live and raise their children in a culture of death. Over the portals of hell Dante placed the warning: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Over the gateway to modern America can be placed the infamous sentence from Justice Anthony Kennedy: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

That the Kennedy creed is incoherent is no immediate protection from it. The comforting thought that such nonsense at least provides space for one to live as he believes suggests that there is some kind of neutrality in play. But, as John Paul II has reminded us, freedom divorced from truth leads to despotism. The despotic belief endorsed by Justice Kennedy is that it is permissible to destroy an innocent human life. Since Kennedy has deprived this of any objective status, his defense of it is as arbitrary as the principle itself. It is a prescription for chaos. But it well expresses the charter under which every fundamental moral truth is systematically uprooted. What is a Catholic to do?

One response is to retool one’s beliefs to conform to the current orthodox opinions. This is the path proposed by the presidents of our Catholic universities. Disdainful of the guidance of the Magisterium, they would embrace a concept of academic freedom that is merely a variation on the nonsense expressed by Justice Kennedy. Moral theologians urge the Church to adopt the destructive antinomianism of the sexual revolution. Christian charity is invoked in defense of homosexuality so that to say it is immoral, as the Church does, is a denial of Christianity. The hitherto unnoticed sin, “homophobia,” is now equated with stating the simple truth that perverted sex is perverted. It’s a sin to tell the truth. The devil continues to quote from Scripture.

Evelyn Waugh, dismayed at what was happening in post-war Britain, decided that they only way he could go on living in his native land was to imagine that he was a tourist. American Catholics must feel similarly alienated from the dominant culture. During the dark ages, the monasteries became places where the vestiges of culture were preserved against the day when a new flourishing could take place. Home schooling has been compared to the monastic movement. It is an effective response to the dilemma of parents raising children in a neo-pagan culture. And until our universities can be recovered, the newer Catholic colleges must be supported. Nor should we overlook the converts who continue to flow into the Church. Like the souls of the blessed who fill the thrones vacated by the fallen angels, these converts provide the greatest grounds for hope.


  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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