From time to time, a wave of filth slaps into my electronic box. Sometimes it is from self-described Catholics.

One might call it “criticism,” but that would be droll. The letters are all accusation and smear; I can find nothing in them resembling an argument. A wave, I say: and I can easily guess that something propelled it.

When I bother to check, I quickly find the answer. It comes from a comment thread somewhere, or equivalent. Someone who, invariably, did not understand what I wrote, probably because he never got past the first paragraph, has “expressed himself”; and then the queue forms of others wishing to express themselves in just the same way. Each assumes that the initial smear-artist correctly characterized my argument and tone. They show no evidence of having read the first paragraph, themselves. There is a competitive atmosphere. Each correspondent vies to exceed the others in vulgarity, until they all get bored and go away.

I can hardly complain, for I see this also happens to everyone else who contributes to public discussion — unless they have the luck to go unnoticed. It is, if gentle reader will, a “sign of the times,” as our society sinks deeper into the stinking mire. On the university campuses, we now have the physical embodiment of those comments threads, as a legion of the constantly offended offer violence to shut intelligent speakers down. On sports fields, people are even offering “comments” on a national anthem.

The nice term for this is “identity politics.” Mary Eberstadt, a writer and thinker I have long admired, has just written an excellent piece on the phenomenon under title, “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics” (Weekly Standard). She traces it very plausibly to the destruction of the family through the progressive innovations of the last half-century.

My own views run along this line. We have people from broken families whose identities are now acquired from other sources; people by now extremely uncomfortable in their own skins, who seek to blame someone. But all whom they could validly blame abandoned them in childhood; left them prey to the demonic influences of the very ideologies that brought collapse. Self-organized through the new social media, they now travel and hunt in packs. Or alternatively, moulder on opioids. Mandatory progressive schooling has likewise left them inaccessible to reason.

“It takes more than six weeks to make a socialist,” I once wrote, by way of explaining a sudden electoral reversal, that had happened in the space of a short campaign. “It takes a whole unhappy childhood.”

I was trying to distinguish the hard radicals, from the casuals who suddenly decide to go along. Not all, of course, come from technically broken homes; but all were raised in a place where familial customs were breaking down. People are lost; spiritually hungry. It does not follow that they will find good food.

There are the frightening developments, such as those on campus, but too there is the background noise of social disorder. Catholics are also subject to this noise, in the absence of any monastic silence. They acquire prefabricated ideas from the popular culture, never having heard them opposed. They, too, buy into “identity politics,” making their religion into a kind of ethnicity, while forming their internal demands. The Catholic Church is among their “entitlements”; they have the “right” to turn it into whatever they want it to be; and they want another reflection of the degraded culture.

The schism today is not between Catholic and Protestant. It is rather between the perpetual Christian teaching, and the latest sordid vogue. To the vogue Catholic, a convert is an illegal immigrant; he is a cultural appropriator of something they imagine themselves to own, like “blackness,” or a “gender.” In waves, I get their letters.

Our Church has saved up so much teaching to do — to people no longer capable of listening.