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Screwtape Comes to Lunch Print E-mail
By Michael Coren   
Thursday, 29 August 2013

Nota bene:
Robert Royal will appear on EWTN Radio tomorrow morning (10:15 Eastern; 9:15 Central) with Jeanette de Melo, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register. They’ll be discussing the recent Commonweal article by Joseph Bottum.
 

I do not know Jody Bottum or why he wrote the article in Commonweal  that caused so much controversy earlier this week. But I do know something about the pressures put on journalists over homosexuality these days. And sometimes it can come in the form of quite diabolical threats – and temptations. 

In Canada, I am counted among high-profile social conservatives and Catholics in media, which probably says a great deal more about Canada than it does about me. I host a nightly television show, write a widely syndicated column, appear on mass-market radio twice a week, write regular columns for various Catholic newspapers, and my books are published by Random House. If I’ve suffered for my contrarian views, the suffering has been modest and endurable.

But there are, naturally, the threats, the abuse, the closed doors, and the boycotts. And many people who might otherwise be providing us all with good news and commentary have not been as fortunate as I have in surviving and even flourishing, in spite of everything.

Enter Screwtape in a good suit and a Charvet necktie. Three years ago, a leading Canadian writer, producer, and broadcaster took me out for lunch. He was affectionate and supportive. He acknowledged that my career was going very well, but he wondered why I was limiting my speeches to Catholic and pro-life groups, when I could be speaking to major banks and big businesses for ten or twenty times the fees. Not to mention, he insisted, I could write anywhere I wanted and have any television show I desired. But . . .

“The problem is really quite simple,” he explained over coffee. “It’s okay being a Catholic, and it’s not even too much of an obstacle being pro-life, but I wouldn’t make too much of the abortion stuff if I were you. Oppose euthanasia all you want. But you have to change the gay marriage stance. Not just remain silent on it – they will see through that – but actually make it clear that you have changed your mind. That’s it, that’s all. Not become outspoken, just make it clear that you remain Christian. . .but see no problem with gay marriage.”

I’m not as skilled at reading people as I’d like to be, and being from Britain I still don’t fully understand North American humor. Hence my laughter at what I assumed to be a joke. But he wasn’t kidding. He was serious, he was well meaning, and the damned thing – I use the phrase advisedly – was that he was almost surely correct. I am sure I am a great disappointment to him, and whenever I see him at the few functions to which I am still invited he looks at me with a touching regret.

Or could it be contempt?

It would be wrong, however, to assume that my seducer was evil or even manipulative. He made his argument out of concern, and the reason he thought I would listen is that, to him and to so many other members of the chattering classes, same-sex marriage is irrelevant. This is important. It’s not a great, grand cause, not even especially important to them, just irrelevant. Which is why they cannot comprehend an opposition that could diminish a career and, far more significantly, lead to people losing their jobs. The gay activists and their allies are relatively few in number, but the apathetic fellow travelers are, well, legion.

The arguments for and against same-sex marriage never change, cannot change, so “transformed” individual responses are the result not of intellectual development but personal reaction. Such a retreat on this seminal, iconic, and Sacramental debate could be the result of a loved one’s anguish, a loss of faith, or something similarly profound if still inadequate. It could also be out of sheer emotional exhaustion, or from the misplaced belief that the Gospel can only be spread if we surrender to cultural imperatives.

The first is understandable but flaccid, the second – and we see the position emerging in some evangelical churches – darkly selective and with quite terrifying consequences.

Or it could be far more banal, as it was when offered me by lunch-pal Screwtape. You see, when we abandon our defense of genuine marriage the world does not say we have changed but that we have matured; if we go along with the crowd on this issue we are said not to have moved from one side to another, but moved from extreme to moderate. It’s a tendentious and wicked vocabulary, a lexicon of anti-Christian disdain.

Turning from truth and denying what is of God can be sweet, sweet temptation. Thomas More gave his head to stay faithful to marriage. I should certainly be willing to give up a lucrative speaking gig or two.

So should we all.

 
Michael Coren is a TV and radio host based in Toronto, Canada. His syndicated column runs each week in many newspapers. He is the author of thirteen books, including Heresy and Why Catholics Are Right.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (30)Add Comment
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written by Jack,CT, August 29, 2013
Great Article, thx and God Bless....
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, August 29, 2013
You write: "It would be wrong, however, to assume that my seducer was evil or even manipulative."

But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”

I wonder how you can be so absolutely certain that this man's temptation is not of Satan? If it were and you do not recognize it as such, what are the consequences?
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written by Manfred, August 29, 2013
Some points: St. Thomas More did not die because of the question of marriage. He died because he would not sign a document which said that Henry VIII, king of England, was also the head of the Catholic Church in England. Only the Pope is the Supreme P:ontifex of the WORLD.
Don't lose sight of the fact that Bottum's article in Commonweal was paid for by the Henry Luce Foundation and I am sure Jody was paid by the word.
The real problem today is that Catholics, and others, can take positions and write articles because they know they will not face penalties. If they do, they will be forgotten in short time. The Parable of the Sower explains it-we must be faithful to the very end. EVERYONE WILL BE JUDGED BY CHRIST. His decision is irrevocable.
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written by Michael Coren, August 29, 2013
I think you need to read Thomas More and Henrican history a little deeper. The only reason royal supremacy was even considered was because of the marriage, and More himself exposed the genuine reason for his prosecution at the trial itself. Read the debates that took place within the conservative, Catholic circle in the early 1530s: most of the bishops, many other Catholic intellectuals, etc. It's important to get this right. I'm afraid movies - and I get the feeling that this is your source - are not always reliable.
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written by Manny, August 29, 2013
Very well put. Certainly a lot clearer and to the point than that horrendous Bottum article. Yes he must have been paid by the word because it stretched a single sentence point into an interminable scrawl.
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written by Jacob, August 29, 2013
Brilliant. You're one of the few males of the West I might refer to as a man and not a secularist manboy. (Though Im sure the media gigs would have been much more pleasureful than my support and so I salute you , again, for being a man.)
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written by Stanley Anderson, August 29, 2013
It is said that the focus of the most intense Satanic attacks is on those issues that matter most. And, like the Real Presence, or the divine/human nature of Christ, or the effectual aspect of Reconciliation from an actual priest sitting in a Confessional, or virtually any other sacramental aspect of the Church where the solid reality of Heaven intersects the dim, wispy plane of this fallen world, the Sacrament of Marriage, being the very image of Christ and his bride the Church is under fierce attack to “separate” it from the reality that we cannot see directly.

I have used the illustration before of three people, an Atheist, a Protestant, and a Catholic “trapped” inside a supposed art museum where a work on one of the walls displays a large square projecting a couple inches out from the wall that otherwise butts up against the projecting areas. The work is entitled “cube” and purports to be an actual cube. At least that is what the Catholic viewer tells the other two. “You can even see a tiny bit of the other sides of the cube on those projecting bits around the edges of the square” he says, and indicates that in reality those bits extend back beyond the wall as full square faces where the viewers cannot see the rest of the solid cube, only the front face.

The Protestant agrees that indeed there is an actual cube somewhere and that the work of art is modeled after it, but that, in the end, the work is just a painting to give us an idea of what the actual cube, perhaps stored in another building far away, might look like. The "projecting bits" are just the frame of the work, after all, he insists.

And of course the Atheist declares that there is no cube at all and that the work of art on the wall is simply an abstract image meant only to represent itself – there is nothing “in back of it” or in any other buildings elsewhere; i.e., that the inside of this museum is all that exists, so deal with it.

As Michael Coren indicates in the column, the attempt is made to make the issue of marriage seem like a “little thing” that can be passed over without much ado or harm so that other, more important, issues may be addressed. But it is of vital importance in Christian Faith and theology. It has long since passed, in the general culture at least, from being a Sacrament into being a mere “symbol” of a possible reality that may exist “elsewhere”, and is quickly being dragged into the atheistic and abstract “thing unto itself” that only represents what it “is” to the minds of the viewers and the participants without reference to anything beyond the visual representation.
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written by David, August 29, 2013
"The arguments for and against same-sex marriage never change, cannot change, so “transformed” individual responses are the result not of intellectual development but personal reaction." - Intellectual development involves the intellectual appropriation of arguments, so this claim does not follow, and is quite unfortunate in its anti-intellectualism.
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written by Scott Woltze, August 29, 2013
For a few years I taught political philosophy at a major university, and so I'm familiar with the convictions of today's 20-somethings. Coren is right that gay lib and gay marriage are a non-negotiable among today's elite, but they are a dogma--something as certain and obvious as the rising of the sun among our young--and young people have more passion than tired elites. Gird up your loins because challenging years are ahead...
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written by Walter Guidry, August 29, 2013
David, your comment seems to be a crypto argument for same sex marriage not a commentary on legitimate intellectual development. What new argument do you offer that could contribute to pro-same sex marriage intellectual development?
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written by Mr. Levy, August 29, 2013
Excellent column. You describe perfectly aptly the soft temptations from the other side and their direct and indirect attempts to change our vocabulary so as to pre-empt the argument.
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written by Manfred, August 29, 2013
Henry and More were friends and More served as Henry's chancellor. Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon who had previously been married to Henry's brother, Prince Arthur who had died after five months of marriage. Henry asked More to explore an annulment as he wanted to marry Anne, his mistress. More reported that the Vatican had previously granted a dispensation for Henry to marry Catherine and she had committed no adultery. The Vatican did not grant the annulment but Henry divorced Catherine and married Anne. More was tried and executed as a traitor because he refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy of 1534 which made Henry the head of the Church in England. He died in 1535 and was canonized in 1935. Was the root issue the divorce? Of course, but More did not die because he did not approve of it. BTW, the present monarch/head of the Church of England just signed a statement of approval for same sex marriage. I have not heard of any imprisonments or executions following that.
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written by Manfred, August 29, 2013
Post script: A friend told me he had seen a T shirt with this message: "Before you question my tattoos, ask me about my parents' divorce." The children of these deviant relationships will be the next wave of sociopaths who will disturbing the comity of our collapsing society.
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written by David, August 29, 2013
Walter, my comment is not at all what you say it seems to be. It is not about SSM at all. It is about the nature of intellectual development.
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written by Donna Ruth, August 29, 2013
Hang out with families who have kids; most particularly, Catholic families with lots and lots of kids. Then we truly are able to "get" the reason for traditional marriage and for the Church's teachings on contraception. The parents raise the children with all the attendant joys and frustrations; in turn, the children "raise" the Mom and Dad, in that they force the parents to grow in Godly love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self control. Parenting within traditional marriage is God's wonderful, sneaky plan to force us to grow up. Further, Jesus said, "Come to me as little children." Unless we we are around these children and grandchildren who demonstrate a sense of awe and wonder as they discover the world around them, we miss out on the necessary, rich exposure to the wisdom of His beautiful template.
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written by Michael Coren, August 29, 2013
Manfred, you're cutting and pasting; never a good idea. I'm not going to pursue this argument, but I have written extensively about sixteenth-century history, and it was my area of academic training in England - I'm British, living in Canada. The mid 1530s legislation came as a cluster, an enabling group of acts all intended for one specific purpose. Nor can the current monarch refuse to sign legislation. That simply isn't how a constitutional monarchy works. As for David, I'm not sure he understands the meaning of "intellectual" or "development", which would make a discussion of either impossible.
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written by DeGaulle, August 29, 2013
David, Truth cannot be changed, no matter how great one's intellect. It derives from a Source beyond our comprehension.To attribute oneself with the 'intellect' to infer otherwise is merely the highest and most primal folly.
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written by Rich in MN, August 29, 2013
David, I am guessing your original comment touched on some epistomological or philosophical nuance to the term or process of "intellectual development." (That is just a guess on my part since I do not know these nuances myself.) Within the context of the article, however, I think Michael is making a distinction between the message (which does not change) versus the disposition of the messenger (which does change). For example, when Sen Portman changed his stance on SSM, it was not because he suddenly did not recognize the physical or emotional complementarity of men and women, nor was it due to his no longer understanding on an intuitive and personal level that fathers and mothers are not interchangeable in a child's life and development. Nor did it have anything to do with any other logical arguments against SSM. Rather, he loved his gay son and he came to believe that the way to manifest that love was to support SSM. The logical arguments did not change. Rather the disposition of the receiver, his 'personal reaction' to the arguments, changed. I think that was Michael's point.
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written by Michael, August 29, 2013
The reference to More reminded me that exactly one bishop, John Fisher, stood as More did against Henry's acts. And Fisher, like More, was beheaded.

I live and worship in the diocese of Rochester, NY, whose patron is St. John Fisher, and I graduated all too many years ago from the local college bearing his name. It grieves me deeply that many of the clergy and laity in the diocese have learned so little from John Fisher's martyrdom. Then again, perhaps they have.
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written by Michael, August 29, 2013
The mention of Thomas More reminded me of John Fisher, the only bishop to oppose Henry VIII's marriage and the resulting law of succession. Of course, like More, Fisher was beheaded; with More he was canonized in 1935.
The irony is that while St. John Fisher is the patron for my local diocese of Rochester, NY, it seems few of the clergy or laity have taken his example of martyrdom for the faith to heart. Then again, perhaps they have.
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written by Rich in MN, August 29, 2013
Oopps, in my comment to David, I meant to say the disposition of the recipient (not the messenger) can change. Although I suppose the disposition of the messenger could change, too, but that would be extraneous to the point. Sorry about my "mis-type"!
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written by Jcatholic, August 29, 2013
Today we celebrate the feast of St. John the baptist, another saint who was killed because he defended God's law regarding marriage.
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written by Mike, August 30, 2013
Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

This whole debate is a perfect example. Why is the government encouraging people to engage in behavior that objectively shortens lifespan? Jacqeline Kasun, in her book The War on Population, cites government documents suggesting the encouragement of homosexuality as one way to achieve the population control agenda. The wolves are encouraging people to engage in behavior that will result in early death. This is plainly obvious. We also know that semen is an immuno-suppressant. It facilitates pregnancy by disabling the female immune system from attacking the sperm. Do we really want the government encouraging people to deposit semen in the rectum? Is the rectum a good place to disable the immune system?
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 30, 2013
David is right that there can be development in one’s apprehension of arguments. To understand an argument does not mean one immediately sees all its implications and bearings. Pascal could not understand why children were taught the theorems of Euclid, when they were all implicit in the axioms and they could therefore work them out for themselves. Pace Pascal, the theorems are a real development, although not an addition to, the axioms.
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written by pay, August 30, 2013
written by David, August 29, 2013
"The arguments for and against same-sex marriage never change, cannot change, so “transformed” individual responses are the result not of intellectual development but personal reaction." - Intellectual development involves the intellectual appropriation of arguments, so this claim does not follow, and is quite unfortunate in its anti-intellectualism.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The sentence you pulled from the article is the one sentence I thought was perfect. There are no new arguments. Perhaps some tinkering around the edges but the essence of the argument will not change.

The problem is not the argument anyway. The problem is too many refuse to be convinced no matter what argument is used. That truth is as old as the world.
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written by David, August 30, 2013
Micheal Coren(!) wrote: "As for David, I'm not sure he understands the meaning of "intellectual" or "development", which would make a discussion of either impossible." - Wow, Michael! You're a bright fellow, but you really do have a bit of an anti-intellectual streak sometimes. What a dumb, substanceless retort.

@pay: "There are no new arguments." - Wrong: until recently there were no arguments against 'gay marriage' because nobody was daft enough to make arguments for 'gay marriage.' (That's why people who take the trouble to explain to us why 'gay marriage' is wrong are doing us a real service.) And irrelevant: even if the arguments always existed, the individual intellectual appropriation of those arguments - including of the very existence of those arguments - would never become something that we could simply take for granted.

@DeGaulle: There's truth and there's truth. Some truths certainly do change (for example, truths expressing propositional attitudes) and the human apprehension (both corporate and individual) of the unchanging Truth also changes.

A little Kierkegaard for y'all: “If someone who wanted to learn to dance were to say: For centuries, one generation after the other has learned the positions, and it is high time that I take advantage of this and promptly begin with the quadrille--people would presumably laugh a little at him, but in the world of spirit this is very plausible. What, then, is education? I believed it is the course the individual goes through in order to catch up with himself, and the person who will not go through this course is not much helped by being born in the most enlightened age.”
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written by pay, August 30, 2013
@pay: "There are no new arguments." - Wrong: until recently there were no arguments against 'gay marriage' because nobody was daft enough to make arguments for 'gay marriage.' (That's why people who take the trouble to explain to us why 'gay marriage' is wrong are doing us a real service.) And irrelevant: even if the arguments always existed, the individual intellectual appropriation of those arguments - including of the very existence of those arguments - would never become something that we could simply take for granted.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sorry, but you seem to be pedantic. The fundamental reason why "gay" marriage cannot exist cannot change. If you are claiming there can be other particular arguments that may be made based on particular circumstances then I think we can all agree that may happen. I think the point in the piece is that the foundational argument is never going to change nor can it change.
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written by David, August 30, 2013
"Sorry, but you seem to be pedantic." - LOL! Tell you what: when you show some sign of having actually understood what I said, then maybe you can come back at me with this kind of ad hominem claim. Until then, I really can't get too interested in your irrelevant straw man rejoinders.
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written by Howard, August 31, 2013
Leonidas and his Spartans DID NOT KNOW whether or not Greece would win the war against Persia. They DID KNOW, with absolute certainty, that they would not survive the Battle of Thermopylae. They also understood exactly how gruesome those deaths would likely be.

It disgusts me to see so many who call themselves Christian show themselves to be cowards unprepared for any opposition, no matter how mild, and unprepared for any struggle that takes longer than the running time of a sitcom episode to resolve.

Maybe all the Millenials will apostatize and go to Hell -- maybe, but not at all likely in the real world. But even if they do, what has that to do with what their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will believe? "Put not your trust in princes: In the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish." That applies not only to the good, but to the bad as well. "For there shall be no remembrance of the wise no more than of the fool forever, and the times to come shall cover all things together with oblivion: the learned dieth in like manner as the unlearned." And vice versa.
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written by Pay, August 31, 2013
David,

Your point is so deep that only grasp it.

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