Quodlibets: Ave (Maria) Atque Vale

In spring an old man’s thoughts turn to apocalypse, of course, but in recent years he finds that many have been there before him. Indeed, for much of my adult life I have been hearing dire predictions of the imminent end of all we hold dear. There is even a kind of comfort to be derived from enumerating all the things that have threatened to wipe us out.

  • Nuclear weapons, of course. Television is still regaling us with scenarios of nuclear holocaust meant to terrify us into the malleable pacifism that found its most ignoble expression in the phrase, “Better Red than dead.”
  • DDT and other agricultural boons became public enemies.
  • Toxic waste had its day in the sun, and lovingly photographed industrial ditches boiled threateningly on our television screens.
  • Spray deodorants were another unlikely global threat. We might have thought their absence more menacing but that was before we were told of the ozone layer and the relentless sun beyond.
  • The melting polar icecap and the subsequent deluge fought for top billing with nuclear winter and then there was the rise in temperature of bodies of water because of nuclear power plants, the latter deserving a line of their own.
  • Three Mile Island let loose more apocalyptic rhetoric than it did life-threatening whatever but Chernobyl was a godsend for the valetudinarians. Here at last was a real disaster. No matter that it took place in the Soviet Union, all our nuclear power plants were immediately implicated, and Three Mile Island, now become a mythical symbol rather than an historical event, was equated with the Soviet fiasco.

Well, there is a long history of human fascination with the end times, a kind of racial version of our sense of personal mortality. Medieval millenarians awaited the end a thousand years ago and who has not been moved by the newspaper stories of little bands of our contemporaries huddled on hillsides awaiting the predicted end of the world? What do you do the day after the world was supposed to end?

All this is preliminary to the oddly matter-of- fact way we are urged to think about AIDS. It is mentioned, almost as an aside, that there will be a billion deaths due to AIDS, but not to worry. Now even heterosexuals will die and that is taken as proof that what promises to be the greatest disaster to hit the human race should not be traced to anything like a cause. Above all–of course theologians are in the vanguard here — above all, we should not imagine that God is trying to tell us something by means of this mind-boggling plague.

There is irony in the fact that, while our bishops were adopting an apocalyptic rhetoric in their letter about nuclear weapons, and half-subscribing to the claim that western capitalism is a death sentence for the Third World in their letter on the economy, right under their noses, so to say, the shenanigans that will really do us in — at least a billion of us — were going on. And not only going on but being endorsed by Catholic moral theologians who ostensibly belong to the Church the bishops oversee.

The sexual revolution received half a blessing from Catholic moral theologians. In exceptional circumstances — the kind most of us find ourselves in when we act — fornication, adultery, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, were said to be permissible. The indissolubility of marriage began to wobble. Psychology took over in the seminaries and soon the newspaper stories appeared, priests abusing altar boys, odd tales of the behavior of seminarians, shrill threats by radical feminist nuns of lesbian “orientation.”

But this actual misbehavior was overlooked in order to warn about the threat of nuclear weapons. And now there is AIDS. It is the modern view that sexual misbehavior is unimportant, private, neither moral nor immoral; ethics is exclusively in the public sector. Poor Gary Hart, who wanted us to concentrate on the “issues,” not his womanizing, sums up this view. How odd that ip a Freudian age we refuse to see how fundamental Sexuality is. The way we behave sexually is at the base of our moral character; from sexual vices other vices flow.

Have we Catholics learned from our secular fellow citizens to think of chastity and purity and marital fidelity and the love of parents for their children as only a possible orientation with no more claim on human agents than promiscuity, lust, womanizing, and a Yuppie arrangement that excludes kids? Shame on us.

I think we ought to regard AIDS as a divine judgment on us all. Even as a merciful warning. But the warning can only be useful if we begin by acknowledging that AIDS took its rise from homosexual misbehavior and is spreading into the general populace from that source. Let us not join in the campaign to pretend that “safe sex” rather than closing down the bathhouses is what the world now needs.

What the world needs is orthodox Roman Catholic moral teaching.

What the world needs is to listen to Mary’s message at Fatima and, more recently, Medjugorje.


  • 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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