All Systems Go, Part Two

In a previous article, I suggested that if you really wanted to see a vast and intricate systemic evil, working out in the open on all fronts, with every single important social institution going along, you need look no farther than at the system of family destruction, subheading inguinal. I ended by asking what the churches have been doing to fight the system.

Mostly they have gone along. We aren’t talking about a system that they inherited as part of the settled ways of a secular and always sin-riddled world. We should be slow to condemn churches for not innovating, because the burden of proof is always on the innovator, not on someone who wants to keep the peace, as compromised as it may be.

But what about churches that rush to make common cause with the innovators, to be part of the new system?

The single most destructive change in my lifetime has been the collapse of the moral sensibility that set marriage as the only right garden for sexual relations between men and women – that sensibility, the customs that gave it flesh and blood, and the statutory laws that flowed from it.

As a matter of historical fact, the sensibility took root in America because of the Christian faith, but by no means is it unknown outside of that faith; imagine explaining to an Iroquois maiden two hundred years ago what “sexual freedom” means, and not having her turn away from you in disgust.

So we have had sixty years of the promise, exploded almost as soon as it was made, that if we just gave up our “puritanism” – strange, to accuse free-speaking and bawdy Italian Americans and Greek Americans and Spanish Americans and French Americans of being “puritan” – we would be happy and lucky and our children would dance, and all would be well.

Who believes it now? Certainly not the makers of opiates. Not even Hollywood, though its denizens do not draw the obvious conclusion from the experiment, that if the patients are as sullen, cynical, mirthless, and angry as their films and television shows make them out to be, then maybe the experiment was a colossal failure.

Well then, what of the churches?

Most of them, as institutions, hang out the rainbow flag of complete capitulation. You cannot take one step toward rebuilding a culture of marriage if you discard the moral system upon which it is built. The flag is a kind of advertisement. It says, “Here we will not trouble your conscience about the greatest threat to the well-being of our nation, and our most deeply entrenched system of obvious, daily, and widespread wrong.”


It says, “Here we will deflect your attention toward sins you can happily attribute to other people, and not bother yourself.” I am speaking here about everyone, not just about people whose sins against marriage and family take one form rather than another.

The churches that have not yielded in publicly promulgated doctrine often yield in practice. I refer to what they do, what they neglect to do, and what they permit the engines of the system to do to them. Our Catholic Church has not cut the catechism’s cloth to fit the times. But Catholic schools have done it: a boy takes a boy to the prom, and if some brave priest objects, he will have the engines of the school, the local news, the city, the state, and the chancery too, moving against him.

Since his fellow Catholics cannot call him wrong, they will call him insensitive, when his feelings are not pertinent to the case, and when they themselves are quite insensible to the miseries of broken and never-formed families all around them. But they attack in perfect safety and confidence. They have the tanks, the bombers, and the millions of foot-soldiers. All he has – to speak in a worldly sense – is a shotgun and a dog.

And what of their neglect? If we are to have a land fruitful in strong marriages, we must have boys trained up to be men, and girls to be women, and we must bring the young people together. The work is not a matter of books and talking, but of deeds.

I am not referring to marriage preparation classes. The work should be in progress long before the boys and girls are even interested in one another. What does he need to know how to do, to be a strong father and husband? What does she need to know how to do, to be a strong mother and wife? How can we build up their imaginations, not only by the books they read but by the deeds they do, so they will understand what they are as boys or as girls, and what marriage is all about?

The end is first in architectonic order. Before you lay the foundation, you have to know what you want to build. When it comes to family life, our Catholic institutions have had no aim, so they have laid no foundation; they have allowed the mass phenomena all around us to lay the foundation. Do not expect a cathedral to rise from that.

Then comes the surrender. Years ago, rather than fight for decency, the rights of children to a mother and a father, and religious liberty, the Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts closed shop when the state ordered it to place children with homosexual couples. The system makes the rules of the game, and hires its own umpires to judge. And instead of moving heaven and earth to establish a counter-system in its midst, one that would benefit the nation a hundred times more than it knows how to benefit itself, the leaders of the Church, perhaps more comfortable with the sweet-talking oppressors than with the gritty and unwashed oppressed, wash their hands and say, “We can do nothing here.”

As I said, if you want to see a systemic evil, I’ll show you a system.


*Image: Venice: Sunset Behind the Church of Santa Maria Della Salute by Edward William Cooke, 1851 [private collection]

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.