To See the World As It Is
We know of course that, on New Years Days in the past, almost no one was bracing himself for the shock to come of Pearl Harbor or 911, the assassination of John Kennedy – and who, on January 1, 2016 honestly anticipated the election of Donald Trump? We know that we’ll have to brace ourselves for a turbulent year to come. The growing strength of the transgender movement has intimidated even the medical profession into a cowardly reticence. The situation recalls Michael Novak’s line about the Polish Optimist and Pessimist: The Pessimist says, “Things can’t get any worse!” And the Optimist, ever buoyant, says, “Oh yes they can!”
But as Matt Ridley reminds us, in The Rational Optimist, we’ve had for centuries a stream of alarms, warning of “turning points” and the end of life as we know it. Even over the last forty years we’ve had credentialed people proclaim warnings, proven false each time, that millions would die of starvation because we couldn’t produce enough food to feed them; that we were running out of oil and other minerals; that there would be more chemical contamination of the waters, producing more cancers. As Ridley showed, the panic was not shared by people who were able, with detachment, to read the record of evidence. Chesterton, reading the movement of the age, anticipated that “the Roman religion will be the only Rationalistic religion”; that others will be slipping into relativism of one form or another. With their hold on reason, Catholics may be better tuned to see the world as it is. And that is ever a step to a better humor. The apt scene then may be the end of Brideshead Revisited, when Charles Ryder, in uniform, visits the chapel, crosses himself after prayer, and when he gets in his jeep to ride off back into the War, a passerby says, “You’re looking unusually cheerful today.”
Retirements and Reruns
In 2020, nothing seems impossible anymore, so we may see:
- When Trump is acquitted Nancy Pelosi discontinues praying for him; says God obviously misunderstood the intention behind her prayers.
- Tom Brady announces he will retire when Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) retires.
- Queen Elizabeth and Pope Francis make similar announcements.
- Putin delivers keynote address at Republican National Convention.
- Pope Francis delivers keynote address at Democratic National Convention.
- California decriminalizes necrophilia.
- U. S. House re-impeaches Trump.
- RBG retires. You can hear the cracking of liberal hearts all over America.
- Riots occur at Columbia University when history professor writes op-ed for New York Times saying that Trump, though very bad, is not as bad as Hitler.
- California refuses to decriminalize bestiality; Pit Bulls object.
- Pope Francis tears down Vatican walls; uses resulting rubble to build bridge to North Africa.
- To console broken-hearted liberals RBG goes on national tour singing her favorite operatic arias.
- New York City enacts ordinance banning trans-phobic words like “right” and “wrong.” Instead New Yorkers must say “on the right side” or “on the wrong side” of history.
- Tom Brady is put on the Supreme Court, elected Pope, and crowned King of Great Britain.
Joining High-Voltage Wires
“The Yankees will regret making Babe Ruth into an outfielder,” said Tris Speaker. Famous last words.
What cloud looms on the horizon, no bigger than a man’s hand? Is anything about to break that will seem to change the world? I say seem, because man does not change. Is there something permanent in human nature that we’ve ignored, or taken little advantage of, but that is there, waiting, like the Babe’s uppercut?
One obvious charge against feminism, as I see it, is the utter failure of single women, en masse, and of female teachers and schools dominated by female manners, to teach boys. Where are our boy prodigies, the young Mendelssohns and Edisons and Pascals? They have been smothered by schools, and they waste their lives on the Internet. This condition cannot last forever. Nor can colleges last forever, such as they are: the swindle of the age, delivering little knowledge and less wisdom. Two high voltage wires, lying idle. Someone will put them together, and it will happen soon, because it can.
I see the first stirrings: new schools for boys, whose teachers put power-tools into their hands: Homer, pipe wrenches, Michelangelo, lathes, jigsaws, history, Latin, Palestrina, chisels, songs.
No Illusions, No Despair
I have always been a sworn enemy of progressivist illusions but never of the human and Christian virtue of hope. Those of us who have not succumbed to the regnant religion of humanity know that the “natural order of things” can never be completely subverted by the illusions of the age. Nor are people of good sense and good will obliged to give in to “progressive little notions” as Dostoevsky so strikingly called them. Pierre Manent recently remarked to me: a considerable segment of our Western societies remains committed to good sense, practical reason, and the natural moral law. Let us find strength in that fact.
We may no longer be strong enough to shape a governing consensus but we are too numerous, too in touch with the enduring wellsprings of human nature, to be ignored. So let us avoid passivity and exercise our free will in accord with the full range of the cardinal and theological virtues. No illusions, no despair.
Repudiation of the Lie remains our preeminent task. Against the religion of diversity, we need to affirm both personal responsibility and the deep and abiding truth of common humanity (which has nothing to do with humanitarian sentimentality). Faced with “gender theory,” which denies the unity of body and soul, and the sheer givenness of Reality, we must cheerfully defend Genesis: “male and female He made them.”
We must remain faithful to the truths conveyed by the Apostles and all who have followed in their footsteps, the witnesses who matter: John Paul II, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, Cardinal Mindszenty, and the like. Bob Royal’s indispensable book on Catholic martyrs might be a good place to begin. In our age, the recovery of memory is the beginning of the recovery of wisdom.
So this is my hope. May we avoid passivity, speak the truth, and recognize good and evil for what they are. The future lasts a long time, and we help shape it through our free will and the exercise of the virtues.
Sufficient for the Day
Perhaps it’s a reflection of recent challenges to my health, but I find I’m disinclined to look ahead, except to specific events: a trip home to Ohio for a reunion; a trip to Israel for a reunion of another kind; a family gathering tonight.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Mt. 6:34)
Illness and aging have the effect of making Christ’s admonition easier to follow. At my age, the whirl of events, local and global (impeachment and nationalism; terrorism and war), do not affect me as once they did. As James wrote, I am but “a mist that appears for a moment and then vanishes.” (Jas. 4:13-15)
This is not creeping indifferentism. In fact, my Catholic faith is stronger than ever – as that moment when I shall meet the Lord face to face (1 Cor. 13:12) draws closer – and I’m not even much concerned that the Vatican seems intent upon changing the Church into an NGO, although I predict it’s a progression that will continue.
I’ll express the selfish hope for a healthy 2020 and prophesy that all our lives will be improved by prayer, the sacraments, and love. Deo volente.
The Coming Great Awakening
A Great Awakening is coming in the United States. This would be only the third in our history. There cannot be an Awakening without a heartfelt, widespread, and shared sense of sin, which was not present in the Social Gospel movement and certainly not in the 1960s.
There is no lack of matter of repentance. Who does not have an abortion, some grave irresponsibility, or some shameful abuse of one’s own body in the background? We are sadly a nation of murderers, adulterers, and fornicators. And idolaters insofar as we are materialists. Now add: self-promoters, narcissists, and voyeurs. I am not being harsh, simply objective. That’s us.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. I am simple enough to believe that the blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the Church, and that the millions of martyrs from the last century have not yet seen their progeny. I firmly believe in God’s blessing on America. It is not His way to abandon those he originally blessed. I prefer to hope that what I see now in a few young persons will break out into widespread good for the many.
We do not lack instruments. For all Christians, the sacraments of baptism and marriage, easy ability to study the Scripture, and the insane closeness of the entire Christian tradition through the Internet. For Catholics, there are the “movements,” broadly construed, like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Neo-Catechetical Way.
Sic erit verbum meum quod egredietur de ore meo non revertetur ad me vacuum sed faciet quaecumque volui et prosperabitur in his ad quae misi illud. (Is. 55:11)
The Many and the One
God may be a God of surprises, as the pope likes say; but human beings are surprising too, in ways not as good. So the plot thickens and stretches beyond our reckoning.
Still, some broad lines suggest themselves. There is the presidential election, consequential in itself, but really a proxy for a bigger, one might say epochal struggle in both the world and the Church, over which is more universal: particulars, like faith in Jesus Christ, or the emerging movement to establish a new global “humanism.”
About this, as so much else, Pope Francis is clearly unclear. Are Jesus and His teachings enough? Or in need of postmodern supplements? In May 2020, for example, he will host leaders from various religions in search of an “educational alliance” to create a “new humanism,” “promote and implement . . . the forward-looking initiatives that give direction to history.”
This is both quixotic – since it can’t work – and ironic, since, early in his pontificate, he would recommend Robert Hugh Benson’s dystopian novel Lord of the World, which warns precisely of the seductiveness and dangers of a leader who would try to unite the world on non-Christian grounds.
For a century and more, there have been quite serious efforts to create a new Christian humanism, which is a very different thing. We’ve seen how false pretensions to a universalism among American elites have produced a (so far) cold war. There will be major and minor skirmishes of a similar nature in 2020 over Brexit, French, Italian, German politics, and global life generally. One side regards race, class, and gender as the markers of a new “humanism.” The other – without necessarily losing universal vistas – will defend family, church, and nation, the reality-based human habitations.
God have mercy on us all.
I vaguely remember, about forty years ago, contributing to a feature entitled, “Vision 2020.” The title has been often used, recently for philanthropic efforts on behalf of the dull-sighted. At the time, however, we were looking at the economic future, for the west side of the Pacific Rim. It would be bright and happy. All detectable problems would be solved.
Now we look at 2020 in a different way. It is this morning. We are older. Even on that Pacific Rim, many problems remain; plus, as bonus, there are new ones. Who would have guessed that Japan, for instance, would NOT overtake the economy of the United States? That China would become a viable threat? That in Seoul, Korea, along Itaewon, the Korean girls would be cashiers, and those of more questionable profession would be from Vladivostok?
Some things “never change.” For instance, the Pacific Ocean is still there; and they still have earthquakes and volcanoes.
I predict the same for 2020. There will be surprising events over the next year. We will know as little about it at the end as at the beginning. However: the Pacific Ocean will still be there.
Destined for Joy
James Matthew Wilson
The ancients no less than ourselves recognize a distinction between fate and destiny, fortune and providence. The harsh material gears of history, with their clear logic of cause and effect, and their figural conformity to mechanical laws, seem always to be barreling down the path of fate, whose end is nothing. Meanwhile, the life of the spirit is, true to form, more spritely, evasive, and unbounded by any condition. The spirit reappears and renews time most clearly when least expected, and reminds us that all things were created for God, though their internal laws had seemed dead set on mere death.
At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis gave us Evangelli Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, and while his papacy has often seemed a mere creeping into the Church of our dismay at the rolling on of fate, I believe this first gift to the Church will continue to appear and appear until the whole world hears it at last with relief, receives it in a moment of conversion, and experiences it at last as true joy.
Why? Everyone now sees fate for what it is. Our secular anti-culture offers us only the emptiest and most superficial imitation of freedom and the angriest, most vapid and bizarre vision of the equality or righteousness for which we by nature thirst. The time is soon to come when even the most distracted among us cannot but see that our only choice is between Christ and nothing. Being creatures destined for joy, in the decade ahead, we will choose it. This I believe. A revival of our faith will come not because of the genius, cleverness, or efficiency of we rather terrible stewards of it, but because everyone is ordered by destiny for joy, and fate has made a ruin of everything except the Gospel.
*Image: Allegory of Hope by Giorgio Vasari, 1542 [Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice]