Screwtape Comes to Lunch

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.

  • Heresy - Thursday, May 17, 2012