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

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.

  • grzybowskib

    Tell us what you really think. 😉

  • legalcat

    This is superb…a brilliant colorwheel of moral and religious rejection by the Nihilists in black.

  • Zorg

    Wow. I’m blown away by that writing! Bravo. My thoughts exactly. Good stuff. We should not be tame and so accommodating in our outreach to a society which really *ought* to know better. I don’t like the kid-gloves approach to defending the basic values of western civilization. So I appreciate sharp writing like this. Very sharp. And very insightful.

    I have a particular problem with the idea of being “nice” to people who are irrational, and vicious, and vacuous – who are actively engaged in deconstructing every last vestige of goodness in the world. I think of Jesus vs. the Pharisees, not the lovey-dovey ineffectual Caspar Milquetoast version of the imagined Socialist Jesus or Media-savvy Jesus. It’s been said a million times: Jesus would be an absolute pariah if He were on TV today. He’d be hated by the PC mobs and vilified by Correct Opinion Dot Org (hope that’s not an actual site) and the elite puppet masters above – to no end.

    I really love when people tell it like it is and show a little passion in defense of reason and normality. I love it when a writer sweeps aside the nuttiness of collective societal lunacy with one swift motion. A healthy dose of sarcasm and ridicule for things that actually call for such treatment is a glorious thing. If we cannot feel comfortable lambasting the utter crap which is presented to us by this brain-dead, hell-bent culture, then how are we ever going to lift the veil from anyone’s eyes in a truly intellectual manner? Intellect has to be sharp and uncompromising when it comes to truth. When you just sit there and tremble in fear of being called a “hater” or a “bigot” or an “extremist” simply for telling the truth, then you’ve already lost. I believe that our responses to the absurdities of our age are generally so weak that they come off as faint endorsements.

    • kathleen

      Zorg: I like your comment. I am reminded: “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no”. We all know what Jesus had to say about the lukewarm. I pray that I am not one of them. Dear God, give us all the strength we need to be faithful to you in this world that has gone mad.

      • Rich in MN


  • Randall Peaslee

    ‘Frightening’ was my first feeling upon reading this. Then a voice reminded me, “Be not afraid . . . I have overcome the world.”

    • Alicia

      You’re right Randall. An excellent Jesuit priest reminded me recently, after I told him how worried I was about the church, that Our Lord said more than 150 times in the Bible ” Fear not “. Jesus did say His church would triumph. Let’s pray that we have or acquire the right ‘ color ‘ and trust Him.

  • John Willson

    Dr. Esolen is out of character here. When a lyrical Catholic gets his back up, usually the result is nasty. Here it is a scimitar used for Christian purposes, and it should frighten us. The entire Supreme Court–including the dissenters–should be shaking in its collective robe, because a prophet has spoken.

  • eoros

    Anthony Esolen makes me very proud to be a graduate of Providence College. If only wish he taught there when I was a student.

  • Manfred

    Thank you, Anthony. Writers have been describing to the faithful, in often colorful ways, what is occurring in the Church for the last 50 years. What occurred on Jume 26, 2015 is the cu,mination of heresy and heterodoxy which has been destroying the Church to the point it ino longer exists..
    Christopher errara wrote The Great Facade decades ago. Archbishop Lefebvre had it right. Some of uis tried to warn their brethren that the Novus Ordo church was a diabolical counterfeit. No one wanted to hear it.There will be a million catholcs in Philadelphia next Fall to see the (HAHAHA) pope.
    The Traditional Catholics have taken a very positive approach of reintroducing the teachings and the liturgy as it existed before the Council WHICH NEVER HAD TO OCCUR. Sodomy has been made”the Law of the Land” and the ersatz church did NOTHING to stop it. Tjat abject failuire will go down in history as the ine moiment when the Church in America died.

    • Howard Kainz

      I don’t think Tony Esolen is recommending sedevacantism.

      • Manfred

        Neither am I. Jorge Bergoglio can be called whatever he or anyone else wishes to call him. His shoot from the hip remarks, his hierarchal appointment., his encyclical on “climate change” , and his support for Kasper and Forte at the next Synod on the Family all speak for themselves.

    • Joan

      It might be possible to make the argument that the institutional Church in the USA (ie: the bishops) did nothing to stop the Supremes’ verdict, and that it went thru due to the Church’s passivity. It seems a bit of a stretch, however, with a few logical steps missing, to argue that the Novus Ordo mass or Vatican II were direct causes of the ruling.

  • Michael Dowd

    Thanks Anthony, excellent description of what’s happening now. We are harvesting the fruits of being disobedience to God and of Modernism in the Catholic Church. God says, OK, be your own god and see how it works for you. And now we are finding out what trying to create a heaven on earth really means. Pope Francis are you listening?

  • grump

    For many the rainbow flag is more offensive than the confederate one inasmuch as the former represents perversity rather than diversity. The sights and sounds of a “Gay” parade are truly disgusting to anyone with a God-given moral compass. Yet we see the rainbow colors everywhere, in avatars on social media in particular, and blended with the American flag. I don’t think I can look at a rainbow ever again in the same way.

    • OJS

      Wasn’t it Andrew Sullivan who a few years ago said that we were all sodomites now?
      Well, he missed it by a country mile, didn’t he? Got only a symptom of the disease: it’s that were all perverts now.

  • Alicia

    Mr. Esolen I may have misunderstood the introduction under your name. White is empty, it is the absence of color. It reflects the light.
    Black absorbs all the light, so you could say it’s full: it has all the colors in it.
    This is an excellent article. Thank you. Your ” pink ” is brilliant.
    Loved your week on EWTN !

    • BM

      You’re thinking in terms of quantitative analysis and reduction of light waves. Mr. Esolen is speaking of the more known meaning of light. The kind we receive by our sense of sight, the absence of which would result in pure blackness.

      • Alicia

        Thank you. Yes, I get it. Because I paint, I see color differently. His description of the different attitudes and behavior are so true. I don’t see how he can match them to specific colors. All colors, mixes, and shades are beautiful. That includes the rainbow, which comes out for everyone, not just gays. We need a campaign to make them give it back !!
        Again, thank you.

  • Mary C-J

    Thank you Anthony!
    As someone trained in fine arts – brilliant!
    Since we are on an art and color theme – I will humbly add my analogy of good and evil through shades of grey (NOT the stupid book which would be pink and purple on Anthony’s color wheel).
    White/light as good; black/darkness as evil. In my day all Art students had to form a ten section graded grey scale from white to black. The exact middle is a line. To one side is the five block infinite shading to white; to the other the five block infinite shading to black. It is easy to recognize light and dark when you are in the first three blocks on opposite ends of either side. However as humans and Christians, we have to discern the “middle grey” areas. That is challenging for our morality as well as in the formulation of “art”. There is that line and the line is absolute. You cannot occupy the line. You must choose either side – Light or Dark.
    Now add tint or your color and you truly have the complexity that Anthony so aptly has described.

  • AugustineThomas

    Great article. Professor Esolen always describes our new, modern disease so accurately.

  • mohawkkateri

    When a nation achieves some historic moment, generally the practice is to fly its own colors, and its people unite in a showing of patriotism. In this case however the country and its government has united to show another flag, a flag of a foreign power, and that signals and registers not a uniting of citizenry around a common principle of one nation but rather as a coup d’etat, a manifestation of power and control accomplished.
    Listening this morning with my homeschooling freshman to the Iliad, I was struck at the way the leaders of the warring factions jostling for control and power, even amidst superstitions, spoke plainly, on clear terms, as to their minds, their intentions, and even their threats as to the other side they aspired to conquer. Too the leaders were easily identifiable and had no interest in hiding their identities from the people. In our times, not without a complete rising above all superstitious idolatry and machinations, the leaders of the factions seeking power disguise their hearts and minds and intentions in legalese, in puffery, in promises for what is good for us, and instead of laying plain the hideous bloodbath that they threaten to accomplish through their actions they instead speak of “everyone’s rights” and of ideals, the letter and not any sort of spirit of their laws and regulating, they promise to deliver the goods so to speak by a process which will not permit us to live fully once it takes its logical and obvious course.

    • Atwood Atte-wode

      well said, so much always to learn from ancient writings.

  • Bucky Inky

    …tilting their heads like the more intelligent canines…

    Appalling proof that Dr. Esolen thinks dogs are smarter than women! Miss-ah-jih-neeeeee!!!!!!

    Just kidding of course, but I am preemptively attempting to stave off accusations in earnest of the same.

    Such a good article – and many thanks to Dr. Esolen for his generosity!

  • Excruciatingly truthful and poetic.

  • RecoveringLibt_rd

    Old songs can be so evocative. “Up, up and awayay in my beautiful, my beautiful ballooon” LOL – Love it – thank you Dr Esolen for the laughs. We need to be able to laugh at least a little, in the midst of this nuttiness.

  • Marty Ambrose

    Pointed and direct and to the point and spot on and….

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    I posted this on my FB Walls and my FB page…with the following header: I love Anthony Esolen. One of the most brilliant spiritual thinkers/philosophers of our time. I never miss a chance to read his essays. In the past, I’ve been able to form a mental picture of him writing…I usually imagine him with a raised eyebrow, slightly smiling at the foolishness of Man and always poking holes in the reigning “moral relativism” of our times with accuracy and personal enjoyment at being in the “good fight.” But, when I read this one, my mind, for some reason, formed a clear picture of a righteously LIVID solid Christian who has totally had it. Don’t ask me why. I’ve never met the man and probably never will. And, I could be completely wrong. But, along with his nailing it, I did sense a fury that I’ve never sensed in his writings before. At any rate, if you see anything by Anthony Esolen, don’t miss it, ever. He is always worth a read. And, I’ve never found him wrong yet.

    • DebraBrunsberg

      I agree!

  • VP Mary


  • ColdStanding

    Typically, looters and thieves, instead of outright grabbing the loot will set up a diversion. One trick is to have an accomplice ring the front door bell so that the homeowner will be distracted while what is desirable in the back of the house is snatched.

    Your door bell is ringing.

    The pope is on the phone.

    A man can marry a man.

    Bruce Jenner is now a woman.

    Ding dong.

    You’ve been taken to the cleaners. Looted. Past tense perfect. The jobs done. And in a few months your going to be wonder why there are food riots. You will say, How could this happen? To me? I’m special. My teacher told me that. I’ve got self-esteem.

    You got played for a sucker.

  • Vince

    Upon a second reading, my only criticism is with “gray”. They seek the light and cannot help but think? I suspect that’s a little too optimistic. I believe the reality is more about distraction – they MORE than half-wish to be more distracted, so they actively distract themselves with anything and everything; they sooth what’s left of their consciences with empty platitudes they file under the heading of “open-mindedness”, “non-judgmentalism”, or “compassion”.

  • Thomist

    Well said, thank you for the insightful observations.

  • James Patton

    As a realist, the only coat of all colors is black and the coat of none is white…

    • Paradox

      I’m not quite following you. Could you explain how your comment ties back into the post? (I suspect you mean that all of these colors come from that black nihilism, but I am trying not to jump to conclusions)

      • James Patton

        The coat of white is indicative of having no color of its’ own but reflecting the the given spectrum of light back at the observer. As it relates to this body of work, it would be an analogy for hypocrisy.

        • Paradox

          In which case, I’m tempted to say you’re off the mark: one can (and should) expose hypocrisy, so that the guilty party can correct himself (hopefully to practice what he preaches, rather than preach what he practices), I am saying that this is not the issue in itself.
          I guess my next question is: what hypocrisy do you have in mind?

  • Jaceczko

    The Chimeras, by W.H. Auden

    Absence of heart – as in public buildings –
    Absence of mind – as in public speeches –
    Absence of worth – as in goods intended for the public –

    Are telltale signs that a chimera has just dined
    On someone else; of him, poor foolish fellow,
    Not a scrap is left, not even his name.

    Indescribable – being neither this nor that –
    Uncountable – being any number –
    Unreal — being anything but what they are,

    And ugly customers for someone to encounter.
    It is our fault entirely if we do:
    They cannot touch us; it is we who will touch them.

    Curious from wantonness – to see what they are like –
    Cruel from fear – to put a stop to them –
    Incredulous from conceit – to prove they cannot be –

    We prod or kick or measure and are lost:
    The stronger we are the sooner all is over;
    It is our strength with which they gobble us up.

    If someone, being chaste, brave, humble,
    Get by them safely, he is still in danger
    (with pity remembering what once they were)

    Of turning back to help them. Don’t.
    What they were once is what they would not be;
    Not liking what they are is what now they are.

    No one can help them; walk on, keep on walking,
    And do not let your goodness self-deceive you.
    It is good that they are but not that they are thus.