I Have a Coat of Many Colors

It is not Anthony Kennedy’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but it is close. It is the Nightgown of Nihilism. I shall distinguish color from color, and nihilist from nihilist.

First is blue, sky blue, for the Dreamer Supreme, Anthony Kennedy, and all who believe that we can go up, up in the sky in our beautiful, our beautiful balloon. We don’t have to look at the nature of the human body or of that primal and foundational human society, the family. We can shake the dust of the earth from our feet, and ascend, like Peter Pan, like Tinkerbell, into the blue of our dreams.

What does it matter, what a body is? Who knows if that’s a child in the womb? Man, woman, child, mermaid, unicorn, chimera, wraith, airy nothing – what does it matter? The sky blue nihilist beams down upon us from his big cool heaven.

Next yellow, for the apostles of my faith. When Christ was crowned with thorns and condemned to death, the first apostles mostly ran away. They had a near and obvious reason. They didn’t want to be crucified. The new apostles also have a near and obvious reason, more serious still. They’re afraid that People Will Say Bad Things About Them. They still believe in Christ, but it is a flimsy and flabby belief. They want not to be nihilists, but faith is hard and demanding, and yellow is easy.

They don’t have to worry about Pontius Pilate. The State is not so masculine in its cruelty. They worry about the swaggering phony, the maven of public opinion, Marcus Mentola Maximus Mendax. As soon as Marcus M. M. M. shows up, they fall over themselves, apologizing for not quite being able to agree with every stupid and pernicious thing that Marcus says or does.

They shake their fingers and say, “Now, see here, Marcus, that really is, ha, a bit too, you know, immoral, not that we’re condemning you, of course not, but, ha, we retain our freedom to, um, level a certain degree of constructive criticism.” Then they shuffle away, bowing and smiling. Some of them, in a spirit of evangelism, invite Marcus to their rectories for dinner. He has interesting pictures from his trip to Thailand.

Then comes pink, and that one’s for you, ladies. Do you know what moral relativism is? Nihilism for girls. “All we want,” they say, tilting their heads like the more intelligent canines, “is that there should be more love in the world,” by which they mean that people should do what they want sexually, so long as “nobody is hurt,” because “what’s good for me is good for me,” and “everybody has his own opinion about what is good, and that should be respected,” and “our bodies are our own,” and other maxims of deep thinking, with pink icing and cherries.

"The Coat of Many Colours" by Ford Madox Brown, 1867 [Tate, London]
“The Coat of Many Colours” by Ford Madox Brown, 1867 [Tate, London]

Sometimes the color is shocking pink, for the more feminist apparel, and then we hear whimpers of outrage. For moral relativism, ladies, is a jungle, and you can’t have half a jungle. You can hardly say that there are no moral absolutes, and then complain when your brothers, more aggressive and predatory, take you at your word. You invite lions and the panthers into the sheepfold, and then you are astonished because they do not use hankies to wipe their chaps as they gorge upon the blood of little lambs.

Then red, red for the nihilists of state. They have no god but Pharaoh, and Machiavelli is their prophet. They cut a deal with the little people. They say, “Little people, you’re terribly burdened by moral strictures, aren’t you? Especially when your – participles – give you trouble. Well, we shall declare your bonds to be loosed. There’s just one small price to pay – you’ll be happy to pay it. We acknowledge no authority above ourselves. You can have free sex and television. We’ll take care of everything else.”

There’s an orange streak in the coat, flaming orange, the least natural of the colors of the rainbow. It is the color of biohazard warnings, and of silly and deranged people, marching indecently down the streets of Toronto, to celebrate their having failed to integrate their desires with their bodies male and female; big-bellied children at a Halloween that is all ghouls and no saint.

Green nihilists hate mankind more than they love the natural world. They believe that man is an infestation on the earth, and they are just the poison to kill it.

Then gray, the gray nihilism of the gray majority of Americans, in the no-man’s land between faith and emptiness. They know that nihilism is wrong, and they seek the light, but they have no heart to go boldly eastward. They are distracted from the journey, and half-wish they were more distracted. They do not want to think, and they cannot help but think.

Purple nihilism is nearly the worst of all. It is the purple of a perverse and bloody imagination; of pornographers delving more and more deeply into evil and madness; of a Dan Savage, chuckling with glee at the prospect of threesomes; of biological engineers, of people who want their babies genetically manufactured, of cloning, of transhumanists, and all such lovers of nightmare and madness.

When we combine all the colors of the light that God made in the beginning, we get white. But nihilism in this respect is like paint, man-made or devil-made. When we combine all of its colors, we get black.

Black nihilism is the emptiness that is yet an existent; a death that knows no end. “You believed in Nothing, and gave your heart to it, all your heart and soul and mind and strength, what very little of them you had,” says the prince of the black nihilists. “Enter into the Nothing of your master.”

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire.