Their Apocalyptics and Ours

When people say the end is near, it’s usually wise to treat them as you would have a member of a group like the American sect called the Millerites, who were convinced that the Second Coming had been scheduled, precisely by mathematical proofs from Scripture, for October 22, 1843. The rest, as they say, is history.

That the world will end is beyond doubt, even in scientific terms. That no man (or woman) knows the time is, according to the plain words of Scripture, equally certain. But I admit to lending an ear, more than usual these days, to people who are convinced that we’re at a radical turning point – and not a good one.

A young woman recently described her father as so distressed by what America is becoming that he’s had to stop watching the news, can’t listen to another Obama speech, for the sake of his health. I hear from friends in France, Britain, Italy who say they don’t recognize their own countries anymore. And that’s not counting wars and rumors of wars.

On the religion side, many people tell me that they fear the Church is in crisis. Another group claims that those who think the Church is in crisis are creating the crisis. Some believe the pope’s gaffes are a sign. Others think paying attention to those gaffes is disloyal and plays into the hands of those seeking to discredit the Church.

Either way, it suddenly seems like the whole dogmatic and moral edifice of Catholicism is in question.

Wherever you find yourself in this welter of opinion and emotion, the most salient thing is the sense of crisis and urgency in both the Church and the world. It would be nice to think that it’s only an artifact of too many HDTVs and tablets and Smartphones instantly creating a daily news frenzy, as some have argued. But there’s much more, more of real substance, to our predicament.

Fr. C. John McCloskey recommended some Lenten disciplines here yesterday. I’d add two disciplines that all Christians are going to have to practice perpetually in coming years: 1) re-doubling efforts to gain every legal protection possible for public (as well as private) expression of religion; and 2) preparing ourselves via prayer, fasting, exile, and cunning for a period of suffering, if not outright persecution.

Yes, I know, this is also the language of lunatics. But beyond the vague sense of crisis, consider some things, concrete and sobering: The Supreme Court, for example, voted 7-2 last week to allow gay marriage in Alabama, though the state’s courts had blocked it. This suggests full national legalization of gay marriage will come later in the Court’s Spring term. In one way, just another bad decision. But in another, the culmination of an aggressive movement – supported by serious foundation monies, as has been recently reported – to force gay, as self-evidently good, on everyone now.

Thus, sexual mores since Moses are lightly dismissed, and their historic importance in Jewish and Christian life declared sheer bigotry.

On the right, Last Rites, from the triptych Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1450 [Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium]
On the right, Last Rites, from the triptych “Seven Sacraments Altarpiece” by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1450 [Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium]
Don’t be deceived: this will not lead to “live and let live.” Especially for the churches who resist, it will very much be: we’ll live, and you can go die, for all we care, in your “religious animus.” (Justice Kennedy) Sadly, many liberal Catholics and Protestants have already joined that chorus, and more will.

The Court generally protects religious liberty, but as we’ve seen with the HHS mandates, things hang by a thread. Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights, rule of law have all been distorted under the regime of new-found rights. Recall, when Obama announced the HHS mandates, he implied that “women’s health” somehow was more “first” than the First Amendment guarantees of free exercise.

This time will be much worse than Roe v. Wade. That decision has faded under evidence and analysis, hence the absurd and desperate recourse to claiming a “war on women.” Gay marriage – given the enflamed nature and even medicalization of the issue (“homophobia”) – will bring relentless legal pressure on religious and secular communities who won’t go along. Besides what this means to religious groups, it’s a serious threat to America’s long history of tolerance and pluralism.

So be prepared: if you’re old enough to read this, unless you choose to fall in line, you will probably be the target of nasty demonization for the rest of your life.

Speaking of life, Canada’s Supreme Court just unanimously approved of physicians assisted suicide (PAS). Is the “canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” also somehow now an unintelligible “religious” aberration? Only two American states permit PAS so far, but there’s a consistent logic in the humanitarianism that’s emerging as an alternative to historic religions.

As one of the main characters in Lord of the World (the pope’s favorite apocalyptic novel) argues, “Why, you know in your heart that the euthanizers are the real priests.” His wife, who accepts this credo, later puts his mother out of her “misery” – and thinks quite well of herself for doing so. To be fair, she also does away with herself when she finds that the whole humanitarian scheme depresses her.

About 70 percent of Americans already agree with PAS according to a Gallup survey. A slight majority of “frequent church goers” are opposed, but even about 48 percent of the “very religious” support PAS. Can a court decision nationalizing a right to death – and obligation to die – fail to follow?

Personally, I’m hoping to end my days in a Catholic hospice, if such still exist then, where, even if they operate on the cheap instead of participating in an evil insurance system, you’re allowed to “make a good death.” Note: In the Christian understanding, that doesn’t mean the most painless (drugged) passing, hooked up to advanced machinery.

You may never have given this much thought. But if you hope to escape government “healthcare” at the end, be prepared for a fight.

The Apocalypse proper, no. But anyone who minimizes these new and radical and far-reaching threats is more self-deluded than the poor Millerites.

Robert Royal

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.

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