The World According to Father George Rutler

Father George Rutler, a convert from Anglicanism, is a Roman Catholic priest of the New York Archdiocese. An alumnus of Dartmouth College, he holds graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, Oxford, and the Angelicum University in Rome; his latest book is Beyond Modernity: Reflections of a Post-Modern Catholic (Ignatius). Father Rutler is regarded as one of the best preachers in the country, and some have compared him to John Henry Newman. These remarks—Rutler’s own apologia—are excerpted from a conversation with him by Dartmouth senior William Grace.

On Liberalism:

The Christian sees Christ in everybody. The progressivist liberal sees in everyone unfortunates who provoke guilt for two reasons: first, because progressivists can’t do much to help these unfortunates; and second, because these individuals are a contradiction of progressivism.

People have souls that are in the image of God. The intellect and the will make up the soul. This means you should treat everyone as holy. That is the difference between the spiritual vision of the soul and so-called liberal charity.

Liberal charity doesn’t exist. It is, in fact, an oxymoron because charity means love. Why don’t they say liberal love? Charity is just the Latin for love. Why is it that progressivists who have eliminated Latin from culture affect a Latinism when it comes to love? It is simply because they don’t believe in love: they want a euphemism for it. They don’t believe in love because they don’t believe in souls. When a progressivist performs charity, he is addressing mankind; he is not addressing individual men and women.

Liberals don’t understand that mankind does not exist. In abstract terms, there is no such thing as mankind. There are only individuals. That was the failure of Marxism and all forms of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism accords dignity to the individual only in relation to the mass. Totalitarians try to build a worker’s utopia, a people’s world, without addressing the individual. Instead of getting utopia, they get hell.

On Christianity in Eastern Europe:

The Church is not a corporation looking to open new franchises. The Church has always been there, but it has long been oppressed. Oppression has been the health of the Church because at the heart of the faith is the Cross or, in other words, suffering. In the West, we have lost the Cross through indolence. While the Catholic Church has been devastated materially and numerically in Eastern Europe and Russia, spiritually it has been alive in a way that it has not been here. We have become bourgeois people who have replaced the Cross with the couch. For instance, I recently read a brochure by some liturgist who referred to “ministers of comfort,” meaning priests at the time of death and funerals. That is Orwellian language since the only comfort our Lord offers is the Cross because comfort really means strength. If you lose the Cross, you lose the faith.

What the Church is doing now in Eastern Europe is simply recognizing the fact that she is there and that she has been vindicated once again. I say once again because this has gone on throughout history. The only people who do not recognize it are the intellectuals. As Einstein said, “Do not expect the intellectuals to be brave in moral crises.” In moral crises, the intellectuals have invariably been cowards. I’m not talking about the heroic individuals who have been exceptions. On the whole, every form of ideology has been excused and justified and introduced by the intellectuals. That has been true of fascism, of Marxism, right on down the line.

We are in the greatest crisis of civilization, but we see that each crisis can lead to a resurrection. We can see that happening. The question is now, What is Eastern Europe going to find in the West?

On Intellectuals:

The intelligentsia are people educated beyond their intelligence; they don’t recognize what they don’t know. In the Athenian Academy, the students were sophoi, or the wise ones; and the faculty were the philosophoi, or the lovers of wisdom. But the senior voices of the Academy were the moroi, the ignorant ones, the idiots. That is a way of saying that when you are truly wise, you realize how little you know. Pride has always been the Achilles heel of the intellectual. Academia does not realize that the academic in the affluent West lives the most indulgent and leisurely life of anybody I’ve ever heard about except, I suppose, the imperial court of China. Even at Versailles, the nobles had to be in attendance when the king went by. But when you live in academia, where you have to be morally present for your work about half of the year at the most, you begin to get a very jaded view of reality.

On the Saints:

One can be physically brain dead, but one can also be morally brain dead. The secret of the totalitarian is not simply to enchain the body, but to enchain the mind. We have had monstrous tyrants throughout history, but they only wanted to secure the money of the people and their energy, not their minds. That is a modern captivity. (Mussolini invented the term totalitarian.) It is only the spiritual vision of God that ultimately can free people of that.

The people who succeed in doing that are the saints. The only real heroes are the saints, and here is the question for the academic establishment. The saints are, without a doubt, the most remarkable people who ever lived however you want to explain them: psychologically, historically, culturally, or theologically. They are the most extraordinary group of people, yet they are totally ignored in the modern analysis of culture.

On Selective Moral Outrage:

You have the neurotic liberal who thinks he has to love people, but he doesn’t know why he should do it. The only thing prodding him on is that vestigial sense that he should, which only creates guilt—the deed without the reason, or as St. Paul says, works without faith.

Now, what does that do? It creates a moral schizophrenia and guilt. You feel the imperative, but you do not know why. Consequently, you have a whole rash of uncoordinated, incoherent moral causes without the spiritual foundation to justify them. You have people apoplectic about South Africa but censoring any reports of ten million Ukrainians massacred under Stalin because the first one fits a certain ideological vision and the other doesn’t.

In these circumstances, you are going to be very selective in your moral outrage, according to whether or not the situation at hand fits your utopian dialectic. The great moral test before society today is abortion. You have people who will refer to the Holocaust as an icon of man’s inhumanity to man, and yet it is that same mentality that led to the abortion mentality today: the denial of God and the denial of the soul, the denial of humanity to people who are humans. The greatest moral fraud is that people who call themselves liberal humanists tolerate that. It is not right that mothers should kill babies. And anyone who thinks that they should is not civilized and is so bankrupt that there is no authority for any form of moral outrage on any other issue.

It is simply a demographic fact that we have slaughtered more people in the twentieth century than any other age in history, and there are also more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than all the other Christian centuries combined.

On Ideology:

The process of reason has been replaced by ideology. Ideology is the way the liberal anesthetizes the intellect. Ideology is a substitute for thought. That is why today the universities are intellectual vacuums. The life of the West is no longer in the universities; the life of the intellect is in the marketplace, in the creative thought of normal people doing normal work. The universities have become country clubs for people who like books or, now, cassettes.

Newman speaks of the idea of the gentleman. Ironically, he is saying that the liberal gentleman—the highest product of the Victorian progressivists—is inadequate because he is a cultured barbarian. He has exemplary taste, but he does not attain to the truth because he does not believe in objective truth. So, the gentleman is not enough. The gracious life is not the same as the life of grace. This gentleman that Newman satirizes is what we would today call the yuppie, who dresses well, who has all the right manners, who can name 4 kinds of mineral water but cannot name the four books of the Gospel. The yuppies decided that their ideal is this kind of pseudo-sophisticated figure who is the object of Newman’s delicate scorn.

On Feel-good Religion:

That’s the kind of spiritual mentality that turns St. Francis of Assisi into a birdbath. St. Francis of Assisi was not a saint because he was kind to birds. We don’t become saints by saving whales or baby seals. We become saints by saving the souls of human babies. And if one does not understand the difference, then one is a slave, a moral slave. Yuppies can drive around in Porsches, but if they do not exercise the will, according to a well-formed conscience, they are slaves.

The moral cowardice exists in the refusal to address the soul. Concern about the world, concern about others, concern about trees, ecology, animals, all that sort of stuff can be an evasion of the soul. The heart of the Christian vision is that the world cannot be reformed unless it is redeemed. To reform is just to reshape, but the world will go back to the old crippled shape again unless it is redeemed. To be redeemed means to be saved from sin. Unless one addresses the fact of sin, one is a moral escapist.

On the Modern Age:

The modern age is over. We are now in the era of senility of Man Come of Age. We are the most elderly culture in history; over half the people who have attained the age of 60 in all of history are alive now. The fastest growing industry in the West is now the nursing home industry. We think that we are a youth culture, when it is really just the opposite. We are afraid of old age because we are afraid of death. We don’t believe in resurrection and eternal life, so we want to think that we are young. We look for the fountain of youth and then we drown in it.

In fact, the ancient times were the youth cultures. In many ways, Christianity is a youthful phenomenon. The Blessed Virgin was about 15 when she gave birth to Christ. Joan of Arc was 19 when she was martyred. St. Wenceslas, who is now the hero of Czechoslovakia, reunited his land before dying at the age of 22. Christ redeemed the world at an age too young to become president of the United States.

On the Pope and His Critics:

The greatest giant in the world today is the pope. Not simply because he is the pope—only Catholics believe that—but because he has a moral vision that is a century ahead of anybody else. His liberal critics are like dandruff on his shoulders. Mother Teresa is a giant and she makes Molly Yard and her feminists look like neurotic debutantes. Lech Walesa, who has an image of the Madonna on his jacket, is a giant, and he makes Daniel Ortega look like Mickey Mouse.

Today, one can choose between a St. Thomas More or an Edward Kennedy. Just as you can choose between Solzhenitsyn or Barney Frank. These are very clear choices and what is the distinguishing factor? The moral vision. We do not have universities now because we do not have a universal vision. You now have in the same university humanists talking about the virtue of mankind, while in the medical school you have doctors killing unborn babies.

On Heresies:

We have become pseudo-individualists. No one is more conformist that the pseudo-individualist. It is part of the two elemental myths that we have fallen prey to in the modern age. The Age of Reason was an age of rationalizing; that age was the real dark age of history. The Dark Ages began with the storming of the Bastille, which we tried to celebrate last year. Come to think of it, that was a lot like organizing a barn dance to commemorate smallpox.

From the French Revolution on is a moral cataracted age. Why? Because we hold these two elemental myths of modernity. The first is pantheism, or the depersonalized idea that God is everywhere. The sentimentalism of modern “isms” are rooted in this myth; in other words, anything that you feel is good. The second elemental myth is anthropocentric atheism: the denial of God and the substitution of man for God.

On Safe Sex:

The only safe sex is real sex, sex done for the procreation of life and the sanctification of love.

It is fantasy if you think that authentic sexual life can be divorced from the procreation of life and a lifelong consecration of love. Then you are mocking an anthropological fact. Once you have done that, then you are opening yourself to all of the contradictions of the natural order. Once you start telling people they can have safe sex, you are telling them that they can live a fantasy and pretend it’s real.

If people want to engage in aberrant sexual activities, well, by all means then they are free to do so. They are free to pay the penalty. There are three ingredients to the life of the mind and the moral reality: purity, humility, and devotion. Purity is chastity, and any institution that blushes at the mention of chastity has abandoned its commitment to the moral vision. There can be no true learning without purity. Our Lord said, “Blessed are the pure of heart.” He didn’t mean those who abstain from sex. He meant those who have a clear vision of the purpose of life. All forms of purity—mental, moral, physical—are aligned as a consequence of that. And then humility—recognizing what man is and what God is. And then devotion—gearing all things to the delight of God. Now, do you accept these three necessities or reject them? If one rejects them, then one must pay the consequences.

Safe sex propaganda raises neurosis to the dignity of a sacrament. This may have something to do with Caligula but not with Christ. We may be experimenting with a “post-Christian” ambience, but in a technical sense nothing can be post-Christian since nothing comes after Christ. There can only be a denial of one’s good, and that denial historically takes the form of hollow voices laughing at their own destruction.

On Male and Female:

God made males and females equal but different. Biological determinists would make them the same but unequal. There is supposedly no difference between the sexes at the same time that a man has a right to abuse a woman, to have sex with a woman outside of the consecrated state, and then to have her kill the offspring.

The priesthood is reserved for men simply because Christ did it. And Christ did it because God initiates life and salvation, He comes to Earth as the man who offers Himself for nature which is figured as the womb. These are the metaphysical symbols and they are not arbitrary. Any contradiction of that is a homosexual vision of culture.

The perennial heresy of Christianity has been the androgynous, and basically Gnostic, misconception of creation. Radical feminism is a middle-class version of that mistake, a form of metaphysical hobbyism too ephemeral for the substantial drama of culture. If people have a pretentious ideal for the human condition, they lapse into Gnosticism and say as Gnostics habitually said in their early stages, “Yes, let us have some priestesses.” Christianity has always been counter-cultural in insisting otherwise.

On Blasphemy:

The pivotal symbol you had the other week was the desecration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. If a synagogue had been burned, there would have been rightful outrage. If a shanty had been overturned on a college green, you would have university professors around the country lashing themselves with whips in moral outrage. Yet look what happens when an alliance of radical abortionists and homosexualists enters a Catholic cathedral in the heart of New York, shouts blasphemies, and desecrates the Blessed Sacrament—the holiest thing a Catholic has. Where is the moral outrage from our liberal arts professors, from our establishment institutions? It has been well said that anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals.

Why the silence? I think it is guilt. Martin Niemoeller, who was a Protestant pastor in Nazi Germany, made the famous remark that when the Nazis came after the cripples, and the Jews, and the Catholics, he said nothing; then when they came after him, he screamed, but there was no one left to hear. These people are in that same position.

The second question is: Why should the abortionists and the sodomites be allied? What is the connection? Is it just a dislike for God, for the Church? One has heard of the seamless garment of life issues. Whether or not one thinks that this is an adequate term, there is definitely a seamless garment of death issues. When homosexualists are infecting each other lethally, and abortionists are killing unborn children, they are united in a commitment to death and to self-destruction.

In the Bible, Christ confronts a demonically possessed man who shouts out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Then the voice changes and says, “I know who you are.” This is one of the paradigms of Christ and Satan. When you have abortionists not calling themselves abortionists, but radical feminists, pro-choice activists, or constitutional reconstructionists, and you have homosexuals calling themselves sexual liberationists, or alternate life-stylists, they are hiding behind the plural we: “What do you have to do with us?” But when they invade the House of God and attack the Body of Christ, their operative voice says, “I know who you are.” That’s the anti-Christ. Then you realize that the poor man who was possessed was not the inventor of sin. In fact he was not culpable because of his helplessness. So many of these people are acting out of sheer ignorance. They are victims. The real force behind them is not mere ideology; it is the elemental rebellion against God. That desecration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a powerful icon of the collapse of the myth of modern man—no different from what has happened in Prague or in Bucharest or in Beijing. In these cities there are not simply students and workers confronting dictators; it is Christ standing up and confronting the anti-Christ.

And on the periphery are the universities of the West, who have nothing to say because they are so morally pedantic, so devoid of a coherent epistemology, a coherent cosmology, and a coherent anthropology. That is why I say that these archaic modernists are lint in the winds of history.


  • William J. Grace

    At the time this article was published, William Grace was editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review.

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