Saturday, June 6, 2015

The smile on the lips of martyrs

I suppose we Catholic writers are socially expected to have a massive episode of cognitive dissonance over the news of the significant drop in religious affiliation over the years 2007 to 2014. Because, of course, this sort of thing has never happened before (he said while rolling his eyes melodramatically).

Religious revivals come and go. So do intellectual fads and ideological fashions. Leftist progressivism has been in the ascent in the last few decades, and irreligion has been riding its coattails as it’s risen. As I pointed out in my very first post on this site, neither atheism nor agnosticism offers us better arguments than they did a hundred years ago. However, the bar has been lowered. Scientific advances haven’t made Christianity indefensible; rather, pedagogical innovations and ideological indoctrination in the classrooms have left fewer Christians able to defend it.

When you’re not satisfied with an answer, it doesn’t take much to change your mind. Many if not most former Catholics didn’t leave the Church so much as they formalized a separation that had been there for many years, even from childhood. There’s now almost no social cost to abandoning religious practice; in some circles, irreligion is not only tolerated but expected. And, to be perfectly frank, the Church in the West made it easier by decades of poor religious education, clerical malformation, and episcopal cowardice.

By the same token, when you find an answer that satisfies you both intellectually and emotionally, the argument against it has to be very powerful in order to change your mind about its truth. No one has yet made an argument to Catholicism’s falsehood that I find remotely persuasive, let alone convincing. Indeed, many people seem more committed to mocking, berating, and shaming me out of my illusions than they are to showing me that they are illusions.

However, I’m aware of the potential cost of maintaining the truth of the Faith in the face of a culture rapidly, even enthusiastically, embracing a number of lies — lies concerning the human person, lies concerning the human family, lies concerning human rights and social obligations. My opinions about these lies are easily accessible to any potential employer, who is free to decide that I’m not a “good fit” because I’m against P or for Q. My opinions are easily accessible to any potential coworker, who may see fit to create a situation in which I must be fired because I’m obviously a “hater”. Employers don’t have to ask me the illegal question, “What is your religion?”, when they can suss it out from numerous Internet sources.

Our Dear Leader-in-Waiting Hillary has made it perfectly clear: No longer will Authority be questioned; no longer will dissent be tolerated. Religious orthodoxy must bow to political correctness. Or else.

You cannot build a culture of justice and love upon a foundation of lies. Especially not lies about the nature of the human person, or of human dignity. “Since man is a social animal, one man naturally owes another whatever is necessary for the preservation of human society. Now it would be impossible for men to live together, unless they believed one another, as declaring the truth one to another. Hence the virtue of truth does, in a manner, regard something as being due.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II:109:3 ad 1)

By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.
Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2485-6)

Standing for the truth isn’t simply an act of bull-headed obstinacy. It’s an act of honor, of charity, of faithfulness, of trustworthiness, of loyalty, of humility, and of patriotism. When you love someone, you tell her what she needs to know, which isn’t always or necessarily what she wants to hear. Certainly discretion and tact are virtues; deception, however, is neither tact nor discretion. It’s a misdirected compassion which encourages a person in a delusion or psychological disorder, such as the gender-identity disorder from which Bruce Jenner suffers; as an engineer said of a malfunction on the Apollo 13 flight, “If you’re not honest with yourselves, you’re never gonna get anything fixed.” We owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to be honest with ourselves and with each other.

Speaking of honesty: I’m under no illusions about my saintliness. I have neither the time nor the inclination here to list all my faults and vices; just to save time, I’ll say I have bouts with all the seven cardinal sins, and that I sometimes lose. (One would think I’m too impoverished to have to fight Greed; but that sin is about more than just money.)

However, there comes a time when you must choose a side. However imperfectly, I’m on the side of the triune God and the Catholic Church.

Why? Because I owe God my first loyalty, as is both right and natural. Because the Catholic Church is the church Christ founded. Because Christ gave everything for my sake, and I can do no less in return. Because nothing this present world can offer me, now or in the future, can be as wonderful as that which God has planned for those who live and die in His friendship.

Because I owe my country the truth, regardless of what it costs me.

The late Cardinal Francis George once said he expected his successor in Chicago would die in prison, and his successor’s successor would be executed in the public square. For myself, I expect a martyrdom no more dramatic or drastic than denied or lost jobs, and a natural death in obscure poverty. At most, one or two trips to the 21st-century American equivalent of a re-education camp.

But if it should happen that I suffer some more dire fate than that, what of it? Many people much better, more gifted, more worthy than I put everything on the line for the sake of a principle, and suffered worse fates than poverty and obscurity. I have much less to lose, and a good cause to lose it for; why not go “all in”? Pascal’s Wager still makes sense; as Dr. Peter Kreeft put it:

But is it worth the price? What must be given up to wager that God exists? Whatever it is, it is only finite, and it is most reasonable to wager something finite on the chance of winning an infinite prize. Perhaps you must give up autonomy or illicit pleasures, but you will gain infinite happiness in eternity, and “I tell you that you will gain even in this life” — purpose, peace, hope, joy, the things that put smiles on the lips of martyrs.