The Dictatorship of Horror

Note: We’re into the Memorial Day weekend today, three days of food, celebrations, and intolerable traffic in the Nation’s Capital. There’s a wonderful, almost small-town parade down Constitution Avenue on Monday, though on a scale you have to see sometime in order to appreciate the sheer scope of America. I sometimes worry that we forget, amidst all the exuberance about remembering, the purpose of the day and the many who lie in graves, distant and close, who sacrificed lives so that we could be relatively carefree. I also hope you won’t forget The Catholic Thing over the holidays. We are, frankly, lagging in our fundraising at present and for a publication that relies on readers for much of its support: That’s Not Good. Please, if you haven’t already, go to our Spring letter here. Or just click the SUPPORT banner above. We’re offering books for larger donations, and are constantly adding to that list. So take a look. Or click any DONATE button to give whatever you can. Happy Memorial Day; and take a moment to pray for our honored dead. – Robert Royal

Everyone has been praising Cardinal Robert Sarah’s God or Nothing for months now. With good reason. It’s a beautiful text – a long interview with French journalist Nicholas Diat – by a beautiful and saintly man. He deftly recreates the atmosphere of his childhood in Africa; the holiness of his parents, family, and village; the deep influence on him and many others of the European priests who came to evangelize Guinea.

As odd as the comparison may seem, it reminds me of Pope Benedict’s similarly gentle portrait in his own book/interview Salt of the Earth of growing up in a Bavarian village permeated with Catholic festivals and shared beliefs. Taken together – if you haven’t already, you should look into both – they provide a rounded picture of a richly Catholic life in very different environments, of Catholicity as both intensely particular and transculturally universal.

For both figures, the goodness they found in youth did not blind them to sin and evil. Ratzinger was repelled by Nazi efforts to substitute the Volk cult for the old Christian holidays. And Sarah experienced his share of troubles from African strongmen and petty tyrants. But for both, their early acquaintance with good enabled them to face – and properly evaluate – evil.

That fundamental sanity makes it all the more significant when someone like Sarah sums up much of what we see today: “the destruction of human life is no longer a barbaric act but a sign of progress in civilization. . . .This is no longer a sort of decadence but, rather, a dictatorship of horror, a programmed genocide of which the Western powers are guilty. This relentless campaign against life is a new, definitive stage in the relentless campaign against God’s plan.” [emphasis added]

He said similar things at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast last week. And it’s more than a variation on Ratzinger’s famous warning about the “dictatorship of relativism.” It points to something the world tries hard not to see, even as it congratulates itself for combating selected evils. The Gates Foundation, for instance, spends millions on contraception, allegedly to promote the dignity of women. But Sarah wonders whether their real purpose is to eliminate poor Africans. The worldwide promotion of abortion and euthanasia, too, is callousness masquerading as compassion.

And not just in parts foreign. In America, we’ve been trying to expose Planned Parenthood for what it is: our largest killer of children in the womb, sometimes even selling their body parts, performing about 300,000 abortions a year. That equals the best guesses of the number of civilians killed in Syria’s civil war. The latter causes international outrage; the abortion figure is just another – yearly – statistic.

Relief organizations estimate 14,000 children have died in the Syrian conflict. Horrifying, but do the math. That’s only a few weeks’ work at Planned Parenthood.

Cardinal Sarah at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month
Cardinal Sarah at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month

President Obama just visited Hiroshima, recalling the two atomic bombs that America dropped on Japan and encouraging the world to see that such weapons are never used again. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki, about 130,000 people died.

But let’s try a little additional range-finding. China reports 13 million abortions a year. Experts say, however, that cases are hidden for political reasons and the true figure is probably twice that. All offenses against human life matter, and mere numbers are never the whole story. But that official figure means Communist China is responsible (often by forced abortions) for 100 times as many deaths a year as occurred in the nuclear attacks on Japan – about half as many as were killed in battle during World War II. That’s per year, every year, for decades. Worldwide, in the past thirty years, there have probably been 1.2 billion abortions.

There’s never been a war, holocaust, or natural plague on anything like such a scale.

Sarah’s “dictatorship of horror” puts into sharp focus how much we wring our hands over things easy to regret, but are all but commanded not to notice much larger slaughters, daily and yearly, not only here and in China, but in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

Far from trying to stop it, international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union (and sadly, the State Department sub regno Obamae) are actually promoting the modern slaughter of the innocents as a human right.

Pope Francis has pointed to another horror invisible until very recently: the plight of millions of refugees and migrants – just this week dozens of bodies washed up from a boat that capsized bringing Africans across the Mediterranean. And hundreds more have died this year in the crossing. These are real human tragedies and must be addressed seriously, even as we don’t let up on the slaughters the world prefers not to notice.

As an African, Cardinal Sarah notices such things, and other things we do not. Of course, he’s often dismissed for that very reason. But it’s hard to ignore passages like this: “Europeans do not realize how shocked the peoples of Africa are by how little attention is paid to the elderly in Western countries. This tendency to hide old age and marginalize it is the sign of a worrisome selfishness, heartlessness, or, more accurately, hard-heartedness. To be sure, old people have all the comfort and the physical care they need. But they lack the warmth, closeness, and human affection of their relatives and friends, who are too busy with the professional obligations, their recreation, and their vacations.”

Desire for comfort is also connected to the global addiction to abortion and growing attraction to euthanasia. Sarah learned something different:

I learned from my parents how to give. We were accustomed to receiving visitors, which impressed on me the importance of welcoming and generosity. For my parents, and all the inhabitants of my village, receiving others as guests implied that we were seeking to make them happy. Familial harmony can be the reflection of the harmony of heaven.

Family values may be also perverted into a false tribalism, he says. But the absence of close ties may be the broadest horror today because it goes to our roots as persons: “The battle to preserve the roots of mankind is perhaps the greatest challenge that our world has faced since its origins.”

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Robert Royal

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 book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.