Fred and Adele
The Election Should Not Matter This Much

Sunday Night Journal — November 4, 2012

Election Eve Thoughts: Which Is To Be Master?

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."

I really didn't want to write about politics again, but with election hysteria at its height I'm having difficulty putting much thought into other things. Never have I been so tempted to turn this into a mostly-political blog, or to start another one for that purpose.

As a rule I don't think the presence of a Republican or a Democrat in the White House represents any sort of fundamental shift in our situation, because presidents have less power than many people seem to believe. (That belief itself may be indicative of a deep-down longing to be ruled by a wise king, which longing is in turn an accurate intuition about fundamental reality, though not necessarily a good way to approach here-and-now political arrangements.) But this election is a little different, because of the Obama adminstration's attack on religious liberty. Not everyone, even among practicing Catholics, thinks this is terribly serious, but I think it is very serious indeed, by far the most important thing at stake in the election. I am no fan of Mitt Romney or the Republicans, but this is a choice, as usual, between an unreliable ally and an enemy, and the enemy's intention is to institutionalize the "dictatorship of relativism" which Benedict XVI has spoken of.

I really have not turned into an end-times nut, either. Nor am I getting lost in paranoia about dark forces operating as secret puppet-masters in politics. But I have not been able to put out of my mind the thoughts I was mulling over a few weeks ago about the presence of the anti-Christ in our time.

To a great extent the opposition now facing the Church is simply the old familiar trio of world, flesh, and devil, varying their tactics to suit the times. But there seems an element of something more now, and it's bound up with our wealth, our technology, the size and intrusiveness of our government, and its deployment as the vanguard and enforcer of consciously post-Christian principles.

The point that a post-Christian society is not the same as one which was never Christian has been made pretty often over the past century or so, and one of the major differences between them is that the post-Christian one believes it knows what Christianity is, and regards it as an enemy. This accounts for, to pick one example, the fact that many Western liberals are far more sympathetic to Islam than to Christianity. Contemporary secular liberals view Christianity as a deposed despot who still threatens them. 

Secular liberalism is a faith--it was called "secular humanism" in the early days of the culture wars, though the term has fallen out of fashion now.  Perhaps post-Christianism would be a better term, because it retains deep habits of mind formed by Christianity, most importantly the idea of salvation. It commands us to forget God and to seek our salvation in this world. It expects the state to be lifted up and to draw all things to itself.  It has its own list of works of mercy, which sometimes echoes and sometimes contradicts the Christian set, but these are mainly to be performed by the state or its contractors (e.g. Planned Parenthood). It has its beloved creed and hymn in John Lennon's "Imagine." And the most significant aspect of the current presidential campaign is that the incumbent administration is attempting to settle the question of Which shall be master? once and for all in favor of this post-Christian faith.

This curious place called the United States of America, land of extremes and contradictions, is both a progenitor and a natural enemy of the new faith; there seems to be more fight left in the older ways of thinking here, though they have undergone strange mutations. It may seem odd to think of anarchic American evangelicalism as a defender of traditional faith, but in important ways it often is.

What makes this different from the old conflict between Caesar and Christ is that Caesar is now in a much more powerful position: he can go a lot further toward making his subjects comfortable in this world, toward providing them with what he believes to be the good life, but his definition of the good life as well as his means of achieving it place him at odds with the Church. And so the Church must be put in its place, its claim not only of moral authority but of the right to moral influence in public matters denied. It is this recurring image of a pleasant earthly regime which can be sustained only by the supression of the Church that makes me think of anti-Christ.  

The thought pushed itself back into the forefront of my attention one day last week when I was reading the "Brave Thinkers" feature in the November issue of The Atlantic. I've remarked at least once here that there is always at least one thing in every issue of this magazine that makes me want to cancel my subscription, and at least one that makes me want to keep it. I don't think this issue passes that second test, so maybe it really is time for me to dump the magazine. Many of their "brave" "thinkers" do not strike me as particularly brave, and many of them are included for their actions, not for their thinking, like the Saudi woman who struck a blow for women's rights by driving a car. The genuinely brave ones are those who, like this woman, have defied oppressive regimes. Many of the others have simply said or done things that got them criticized by The Atlantic's list of internal enemies: Christians, the Catholic Church, and anyone who believes that marriage is something that happens between a man and a woman and normally produces children.

The Atlantic is essentially a magazine by and for well-to-do secular liberals for whom total sexual freedom is a dogma. And so this list of "brave" "thinkers" is interesting for what it says about those who did the selecting. What's really striking is the proportion of them who are notable only for having challenged or at least irritated those who deny that dogma. Of the twenty-one "thinkers," six or seven are there only because they either made some statement in support of the dogma or against the Catholic Church, which of course is the most formidable opponent of the dogma. (The number is six if you don't count the praise of Chief Justice Roberts for upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare, which is the tool now being used by liberalism to settle permanently the question of who is to rule.) So roughly a third of the entries on the list are there only for their service to sexual liberation. (The traditional and professed concern of liberalism for the poor is not in evidence.)

One way of looking at the culture war is that it is the final and public disintegration of the American attempt to pretend that the state can remain entirely neutral about first principles. The usual argument for the HHS mandate involves a conjectured absurdity: "Suppose there's an employer who belongs to a sect that approves no medical treatment beyond the application of leeches, and objects to paying for insurance involving medical doctors?" (The real answer to this is that the employer shouldn't be supplying the insurance in the first place, but that's another discussion entirely.) This line of argument assumes that there is no difference in kind between the sect's view and the Church's. It maintains the fiction of a religously-neutral but extremely powerful state which pretends to treat all beliefs the same, and avoids confronting the question of whether every imaginable view deserves equal consideration. We Catholics assert that the Church's teaching is objectively an intellectually respectable and morally serious position. Such a view is met with cries of "What is truth?!", and is ipso facto out of court in the secular intellectual environment; it is not an admissible argument.

Like the mandate, the push for same-sex "marriage," which has become a core principle of the Democratic party, has forced the issue; the state will decide what the word "marriage" is to mean, at least in public, and require those who disagree with its definition to go along with it, at least in public. And this implies that a number of related words must also be redefined or eliminated: "husband," "wife," "mother," "father," as is reportedly now the official state policy for government documents in France. This is an attempt to reshape by force fundamental human realities. If successful, it could not last indefinitely, but it could certainly do a great deal of harm while it did last. No one should be under the illusion that the defeat of President Obama would constitute any sort of permanent victory in this conflict, but it still seems to me a battle worth winning.

(You can see The Atlantic's list of "Brave" "Thinkers" here. My posts about politics and anti-Christ are the Sunday journals for September 9 and September 16. I did not re-read them before writing this one, and I probably should have; apologies for any repetition.)

Comments

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Did you read about all the Brave Thinkers?

AMDG

I love the picture of the American Nun. They can't honestly think that any of those nuns wear a habit or are that young.

AMDG

Yes, I did read about them all, or I think I did. Why?

I did sort of a gritted-teeth laugh at that picture. They *always* use old stock photos of nuns in habits when they're talking about progressive nuns who haven't worn the habit since 1970, because they want to capitalize on associations people have with the word "nun." Classic and perfect example of using the inherited prestige and moral status of an institution to provide cover for an attack on it.

Oh, I think I read your post too quickly. I was only going to say that some of them are good or really brave like Chen Guangcheng, but I see that you did say that some were brave.

I don't think that's a real nun. Her habit looks like a costume and she appears to be wearing makeup. I see in the comments below that the "real" nuns don't much like the picture either.

AMDG

Yeah, at least a few of them are truly brave, in a direct physical way, like him, and the Azerbajian (?) journalist. I didn't read any of the comments. I figured they would probably be depressing. I like your quotes around "real."

I might have more respect for the the choice of those who are just brave for supporting gay rights if they had included some equally brave people on the other side, like Maggie Gallagher.

By the way, one year one of their "brave" "thinkers" was an abortionist.

Right, and then Chen Guangcheng fights against forced abortion. I think the contrast is interesting. I don't think they would applaud an American, especially a Catholic, who did such a thing. Of course, they might say it's the "forced" that makes the difference, but how many politicians, e.g. Al Gore, applaud the Chinese policies, and how many young women in the US are forced by to get abortions by families and boyfriends. I guess I should say "boyfriends."

AMDG

I was a little surprised that they mentioned the forced abortions. Yes, I'm sure they would say it's the "forced" that makes the difference, and give lip service to condemnation of boyfriends etc. pushing women into abortion. I'm sure their brave abortionist made sure that sort of thing never happened in her practice.

This is one of the most insightful and incisive pieces I’ve ever read; it deserves a wide audience.

And that part about the U.S. seeming to have “more fight left in the older ways of thinking” perfectly captures what I find so depressing about living in New Zealand -- that is, that there seems no fight left here at all.

That's why I left GB, Marianne

Thanks, Marianne. It happens sometimes that I post something that I think is sort of a patched-up thing and someone really likes it. It's a nice surprise. This is an instance.

I think I may be turning into an end times nut b/c I am looking closely at current events and wondering if we are about to enter the Great Apostasy. There is no doubt that there is a real apostasy now in the West aand it is numerically very large indeed, which is why I feel like such an outcast in my own society and even at times in my parish. The Great Apostasy is supposed to be an open schism though and we are not there yet. Many popes, saints and scripture itself all point to such a time. Obviously, for average Christians it is still business as usual - pray fast give alms work study go to confession and Mass etc. but I am also learning to "watch."

Great post, Maclin.

That's why I left GB, Marianne

Is that right, Grumpy? Do you think things are as bad there as Peter Hitchens makes out? (I am reading him again).

I agree with the previous commenters, great post. I don't know enough about "The Atlantic" to agree/disagree with your judgement, but other than that, very interesting and insightful, nuanced...

You articulate well part of the reason why I really dislike Romney for the most part, don't think he would really do much for the cause, and am more than a bit worried about a possible Romney presidency, foreign policy-wise (though Obama is only "better" on that front, in my opinion, by a matter of one or two degrees), and yet at the same time when I see a "Romney/Ryan" sticker or sign I get slightly excited.

My feeling is, however, that if Romney did halt or slow down anything it would be a sort of two steps forward, one step back sort of thing, as far as "Progress" is concerned. i.e. it would only delay the inevitable. I hope that's not the case (and am not completely resigned about it), but it really seems to be, from my perspective.

Anyway, again, great post. If I lived in a swing state (instead of South Carolina), and had been wondering whether or not to vote, I might just have gone ahead and done it tomorrow.

Agree with Noah G, but yes Louise

Thanks, Noah.

I'm not *quite* ready to accept "inevitable," although I certainly agree that the momentum is on the other side. Other than that I don't really have any argument with what you say. I can't believe that either Romney or Ryan would want to take on another big war, as neither of them seems to really care much about foreign policy, although they might get pressured into it.

I meant to reply to Louise above, too: I think we really have to be careful about the end times stuff. There seems to be a strong tendency for people who get really wrapped up in it to become paranoid and to have a sort of darkness around them that strikes me as very unhealthy spiritually. We need to watch, yes, but not dwell too much on it, and always remember who's going to overcome the world.

That said, I really sympathize with your sense of isolation.

Okay, so I’ve probably totally lost it, but thinking of Fred Astaire’s sublime dancing and worrying about the state of the world put me in mind of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope”, which might come in handy right about now:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

There seems to be a strong tendency for people who get really wrapped up in it to become paranoid and to have a sort of darkness around them that strikes me as very unhealthy spiritually.

I can imagine that to be the case, which is why it's not something I'm heavily into.

I'm very sorry to hear it, Grumpy. I had wondered whether it might just be a PH thing. Although Theodore Dalrymple says similar things. For some reason I had thought you disagreed with them on the state of GB, but maybe I imagined it.

PH recently expressed an interest in emigrating, but says he is too old.

Who is PH?

Peter Hitchens.

Very apropos, Marianne. Thanks for posting that.

I've never read Peter Hitchens but I run across a fair amount of Dalrymple, who is certainly pessimistic enough about GB. I've always figured there was another side to the story. But at the same time there seems to be ample evidence of decline from people who think it's a good thing. That is, what I see as decline they see as progress.

I also meant to say that I think it's pretty funny that Michael Bloomberg made the list. I wonder if they are impressed by his quick thinking on the matter of the NY Marathon. I wonder if he is really concerned at the moment if his constituents are drinking large cokes instead of small ones.

I guess the other Janet Cupo, the one who assigns people places in the marathon, has been having some bad days.

aMDG

He wasn't actually one of the 21, was he? But still, they did say he was brave. I know you shouldn't judge people by their looks, but does he not look exactly like what you would expect a rich prig to look like?

Yes, he's the last one on the top row.

AMDG

Oh, so he is--I was going by the mag, which separates him from the others, who only get half a page or less, into a multi-page spread of his own.

I've never read Peter Hitchens

I thought it was here that I read a recommendation of The Rage against God. Where could it have been then?

Hitchens (P.) has been mentioned here, though I can't find that book title anywhere on the site. If it was before January 2010 or so, it could have been in the comments on the old site, which aren't available anymore.

I was thinking you had posted the article about P. Hitchens writing about his brother. I guess Grumphy linked to that.

AMDG

I might have--I was just looking for the specific book title Paul mentioned. But maybe this is what you're thinking of.

But that's a review of the book Paul was talking about.

AMDG

Oh, you're right--I thought the title of the review was the title of the book.

PH's book on the decline of England is good, but imo Roger Scruton's England: An Elegy is better -- it's more measured in tone but deeper in its critique.

Grumphy's reason for leaving GB is the same reason why I can't see myself returning to Canada, except possibly some small town (but I wouldn't really want to live in a small town forever).

These times put me in mind not so much of the end times as of the end of the Roman Empire, and of what Alasdair Macintyre said about it: "We are waiting for a new and doubtless very different Saint Benedict." I sometimes feel like the households of my friends are the new little monasteries keeping alive the flame of civilzation while all around us the roads crumble and the arches collapse.

Well, I think that's it, Anne-Marie. We have to quit thinking that anything in the political realm can help. And I don't think it's just one St. Benedict, although we have one, but lots of little single-minded unknown saints.

AMDG

I don't think of politics as being able to *help* in a positive sense, but as having the potential for limiting the damage. To give up on that means accepting a bad, possibly extremely bad, future for our descendants.

That's what really gets me down. Otherwise I would just say que sera sera.

I agree with Maclin that “to give up on [the possibility of limiting damages] means accepting a bad, possibly extremely bad, future for our descendants.”

Not to go all Godwin’s law (a.k.a. Godwin's rule of Nazi analogies), but I recall that quite a few good people in the 1930s took to staying away from the fray. Long time since I read Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, but I think this was at least somewhat his position.

Also, didn’t Pope John Paul II in one of his encyclicals talk about the importance of acting to at least limit evil even if we can’t end it completely?

One of the things I awoke this morning thinking about was the importance of individual leaders, and with regard to today, whether there are any Democratic senators or representatives who are brave enough to go against the thrust of Obama’s policies.

Oh, I think you have to do the things that need to be done, and I think that specific people are called to do things in the political realm, but I don't think we should pin our hopes on them. I'm wondering, though, if there comes a time when it becomes impossible to limit it by political means. For instance, there came a point where no Jewish politician could have accomplished anything in Nazi Germany. I don't think we're there yet, but if the time comes, we will only know it in retrospect.

AMDG

Yes, let me be clear that I don't think this is going to turn into violent persecution or something tomorrow or in a few years. I expect a continuing marginalization. I do think persecution is entirely possible eventually but not in my lifetime. I can easily imagine, that, as bad policies and general decline make life harder over a couple of generations, white Christians could become scapegoats and be seriously persecuted. The left has been preparing the emotional ground for that for some time.

When I say something like that, a little voice asks "Aren't you being overly paranoid and gloomy?" Then I think about it a bit more, and I answer, "not really." I mean, it's a common enough historical pattern.

"Not within my lifetime" — I wonder how many people were thinking that in 1512, or 1772, or 1912.

I agree Paul.

I have no idea what will happen, but I wouldn't be in slightest bit surprised to see Christians shuffled off en masse to the gulag sometime very soon indeed.

But equally, I wouldn't be much surprised if some astonishing miracle of global proportions happened.

Anything could happen.

See my new post, Paul and Louise.

Who knows?--we might really be at the end times. Or this may be just another episode in the long struggle.

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