Before starting my daily rant, let me link the two responses to last week’s “gay marriage” ruling of the United States Supreme Court I found most cogent — those of Fr James Schall (here), and Dr Ed Peters (here). The first is a remarkable tour-de-force by one of the finest minds in the Church, still with us; the two together will provide any gentle reader, Catholic or not, with some insight into the heritage of Western legal thinking. Print out in plain typography if you can, in both cases.
“Natural law” is not some “theory,” analogous to the latest fashion from France, but has been through the centuries the foundation of our legal, and by extension political, reasoning — in Holy Church, and by extension throughout the civilization she engendered. To be unfamiliar with it is to be inadequately trained, as a lawyer or politician dealing with any moral question. For even if this heritage is rejected, the grounds on which it is rejected must be clarified, and the question must be answered: “If that is not your authority, what is?”
It has been the counter-heritage of modernity (from, say, Descartes), and then post-modernity (from, say, Rousseau), to reject, without decently confuting, that deeper heritage. By this I mean that the modern refuses even to examine, let alone engage with it. He has the curious confidence that he can wing it on his own, that he can conjure his principles from thin air, without any need to make them consistent with the principles he has previously conjured. Finally, today, as we read in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion (backed by four nullities who were only there to vote), he can base his decisions only on emotion, on “nice feelings” without reference to any legal code or jurisprudential principles whatever.
This is bad, but in a sense the dissenting opinions were worse. They may show a logical understanding of what the statutes were, and complain that they have been ignored, but they cannot penetrate to the foundations of those statutes. All the legal traditions of the West are thus reduced to a matter of opinion and the passing fad, the opposition to which is purely negative. A credible opposition proposes a positive instead: an alternative understanding of how things are, to stand against how things aren’t.
A third link might be to Prof Edward Feser (here), who presents the situation in popular terms, by reference to a science fiction movie. We are dealing not with a revolutionary party, but with an establishment that constitutes a closed camp; an establishment that, in an official and officious way, absolutely denies the existence of any coherent reality, beyond what they make up themselves on the fly. (He chose The Matrix; I would have reached a little farther back to Blade Runner for a more subtle prophetic account of the world that lies before us, wherein a long forgotten fixed moral order has been replaced by dubious “memories of love.”)
To my mind, the greatest service the Catholic Church could provide in the present chaos (with the help of other Christians who aspire to orthodoxy) is to resume her ancient educational mission. We cannot “debate” with the Zeitgeist when we do not know with any assurance where we ourselves stand — what we believe, and what are the reasons for our beliefs.
It is a task which cannot, by its nature, be performed through extempore tweets and sound bites. Even if reasonable, or true in themselves, these mean nothing if they are not effectively grounded and qualified. The mass media, and the social media, are not in their nature our allies. We may use them to clash, but they are nearly useless for fundamental instruction. In raising children, it is important that these sources of “information” be unplugged: for we need their whole attention. The connexions we must restore are with reality itself.
Unfortunately, our Church is in a very bad way, and being led farther astray. Her primary method of teaching has always been through the Mass, the liturgy — learning by doing — and this was systematically sabotaged in “the spirit of Vatican II.” Her catechetic instruction is in bad hands: overwhelmingly, people who do not themselves know what they are teaching, and are often bad examples of personal formation. But thanks to God for such documents as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the great wealth of historical materials to which it points in footnotes and internal references, the structure or skeleton of the teaching still holds. Too, the Old Mass is returning.
Our opposition has missiles, we fight hand-to-hand. This is the hard truth of the present situation, in which glib “media” shower their filth “24/7.” Parents have little time with their children under present economic arrangements, when both (if there are as many as two) are off working in environments unrelated to them, or seeking light entertainment themselves, in exhaustion from their jobs. Meanwhile the children are exposed to that filth, on average for six or seven hours per day in North America, according to the last study I saw. And this is supplemented in most cases by more hours of secular schooling, in which they are also taught the interests and attitudes which the Internet embodies for them. They are thus raised as consumers of cheap goods and opinions, the very possibility of coherent thought undermined by ever shorter attention spans.
But this is just where faith comes in: for reality does not change when it is misrepresented. Humans, for instance, remain male or female, children are procreated by one of each — such truths do not go away, when subverted. They will remain true even when the devils in human flesh breed children by incubator: still it will be seed and egg, beyond their comprehension. Good and evil do not change by human re-definition; and neither does the fact of Jesus Christ, by now too well implanted in the knowledge of the world to be expunged from it entirely. He is a fact congruent with everything else we can know about the nature of things, the shape of reality, the inward and outward coherence of a universe not of our making, and of life on Planet Earth.
The task is to teach not how things should be, but how things are. In this we are bound to find divine assistance.
Please pray the Magnificat with me, on this Feast of the Visitation.