Take Down the Flag

The Vatican recently declined to permit Catholic clergy to bless same-sex unions, averting an immediate and world-wide schism. No one should be surprised; relieved, perhaps, but not surprised. The Vatican has declined to overturn the whole of Scriptural anthropology as regards the sexes, not to mention any coherent view of Creation itself – of the formal order imprinted with the wisdom of God.

Meanwhile, the world rolls on.

In the space of a few hours, I first heard the critics for Turner Classic Movies defending old films, though they were sometimes compromised by their racism-sexism-homophobia-transphobia. The critics spoke as if no decent person could take issue with the now settled moral wisdom that equates them all, and heaps them all together with the same reproach.

Then, I heard of two middle-school boys chosen to portray gay lovers in a school play. And of a young boy, in another school, set to sing a crude song about getting an erection when he looks at a certain girl in class.

Threesomes are everywhere in the news. I doubt whether there is a single public school in the nation that does not fly the rainbow flag, here, there, everywhere, in textbooks, in lesson plans, in reading assignments, and on the lapels of the teachers.

Wickedness, said Edmund Burke, is too clever to appear in the same form always. Our passions – pride, envy, wrath, lust, avarice – remain the same, but they move from fashion to fashion. That is why man so often attacks forms that have largely passed away. Gibbeting the carcass, Burke called it.

Nor do the new forms attract monsters alone. I am sure there were plenty of nice people who raised the swastika in their homes, not really hating Jews, but content to be swept along with the new, the ground-breaking, the Autobahn-building, the Germany-reviving, the right-thinking leaders of opinion.

I am sure there were plenty of nice people in Stalinist Russia, who raised the hammer and sickle in their homes, not really hating the Ukrainians or the recalcitrant Orthodox, but content to be swept along with the new, and so forth. The desire to get decent work, or to keep your job, or to be approved by the right-thinking leaders of opinion can do the trick and not require any great degree of courage in evil.

I am not saying that the Rainbow is the same as the swastika or the hammer and sickle. Of course it is not. I am not saying that it is just as bad: when we are dealing with fundamental evils, the question has no meaning. Was worshiping Baal just as bad as worshiping Moloch? While we quarrel over style in lust or hate, the principles themselves, Baal and Moloch, enjoy some flaming spiritual cognac and clink their glasses together. And Baal has slain his millions, too.

I have no desire to point at individuals. I have much sympathy for people who, in this intensely lonely time, catch at a same-sex relationship as at some last hope. But the Rainbow stands for the whole sexual revolution.  


I am not talking about sexual sin, which we will always have with us, as we will always have lies, thievery, murder, blasphemy, and treachery. The sexual revolution is not a weed. It is a tree: planted with deliberation, watered and tended. It is not an aggregate of sins or bad habits. It is a principle bearing evil fruit.

The principle is that of bodily autonomy: what consenting adults do sexually is their business and no one else’s. Add romantic passion to sweeten the principle, add feminism to obscure the truth that men are for women and women are for men, wait a few decades for tastes to change, and you have the whole sequoia.

It was not gay people who mostly planted and fertilized that tree, though they lent their sweat to it too. But it does not matter how the tree came to grow, and to grow now so tall that it casts its shadow over the entire western world. The point is that that tree must come down.

Again, I do not say there will be no sexual sins. I mean that the principle must be repudiated: the tree is the principle and it bears the bad fruit of the principle.

I fear that some Catholics will tolerate the tree, because they do not want to hurt the feelings of those who relish the fruit, or because, even if they have no taste for that apple and its like, they do have a taste for this apple; for the tree is generous and offers plenty for every taste, bad fruit in a wide variety.

Perhaps those who planted it had no notion that it would come to this. They thought, perhaps, that a certain politeness would contain the evil: we would wink at John and Mary shacking up, but not at John and Martin; we would allow for divorces only in the hard cases; we would go for contraception but not abortion; we would go for homosexual pseudo-gamy but not for polygamy; not considering that the firmest moral steel is hardly sufficient to keep an evil principle contained.

And politeness, niceness, is paper, not steel.

The tree must come down.

Think, think what ordinary and human things we might again see, things to be expected, easily attained, matters of course: plenty of healthy young love between boys and girls, rather than a minefield for the moral and immoral both; surer direction for young people whose road to healthy manhood or womanhood has been made difficult by misfortune or the sins of their elders; a clearer and more grateful appreciation of each sex for the other; and with it all, sins and failures, weeds springing up as always, but in patches or one by one, not by design, not with the whole soil’s moisture and nourishment going to feed a vegetable leviathan.

The flag must come down.


*Image: Still Life with Skull (Nature morte au crâne) by Paul Cézanne, 1890-93 [Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA]

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. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.