Imagine . . . What We Already Are

Note: TCT Editor-in-Chief Robert Royal will be traveling to Rome tomorrow to report on the two consistories of the Cardinals (scheduled for the next few days) as well as the pope’s unusual trip to L’Aquila on Sunday, between the two events. Look for his initial report on Saturday, followed by a second daily email – our occasional series The Vatican Thing – about goings on in the Eternal City. 

Imagine a boy growing up wild in the woods, without any human contact, taught by the wolves – such things have apparently happened in India.  He can’t talk.  When he’s restored to a village, he still goes around on all fours, and he won’t eat anything cooked, but instead he likes to stuff himself with raw meat and blood.  Of course, he must be trained up in human ways.

That will not be easy.  For a long time, the memories of his wild and ferocious freedom will be with him, and they prevent him from enjoying the more sublime delights of human love, of conversation and play, of intellectual interchange.  But eventually, the real-life Mowgli does become a man.

Killing game along with your friends the wolves is not an evil thing.  If you’re lucky, you might even get to know the gray hunter Akela, howling at the Council Rock.  Kipling’s Mowgli has no regrets about his past life.  If anything, he’s wistful about it, and his leaving it behind is a real but necessary sacrifice.

Now imagine a human creature worse off than the wolf-boy.  Rather, you do not have to imagine him – or her.  Dear reader, a mirror may suffice.

Imagine a young unmarried man or woman who has never once experienced a single wholesome and innocent day of merriment with a member of the opposite sex.  I mean a day with no drunkenness, no angling for the bed, no suspicion, no fear that you will be urged to do something wicked – but sheer carefree merriment, dancing or singing, or bowling or sharing some ice cream, or sitting arm in arm on a bench and kissing.  No warmth and gratitude, like a wave of the sea, overcoming you as a hand touches a hand, and a shy smile meets a smile.

Imagine someone who has never once roamed the neighborhood, gathering up friends to play a game of football or baseball, because the children aren’t there, or because he would not know where to begin.

Imagine someone for whom most of the outdoors might as well be on Mars, in part because people who ought to know better have connived at his stultification, cooping him up in school or on a bus for most of his young life, or stationing him in front of a mind-warping screen.

Imagine someone who has never once sung a real song with his parents, someone whose experience of music is made up of animalistic grunts and groans.  Just as the wolf-boy cannot sit at a table, the person I imagine cannot listen to Bach, he has never heard any of the big bands of the twentieth century, he knows no gospel music, he cannot play a single instrument and has not been near while his friends or others in the neighborhood were playing them; someone for whom Artie Shaw and his band doing their incomparable arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime” are as alien as Beethoven would be to an Eskimo a hundred years ago, or rather more alien, because the Eskimos had their folk music, and he has none.


Imagine someone who has never knelt in prayer.  A puddle may reflect the starry skies at night, if the puddle is open to those skies; but he is not.  Imagine someone whose experience of religion, if he has any at all, manages to miss the awe and the tremendous beauty of the holy; an experience reduced to a superficial sociality, expressing the right opinions, sometimes accompanied by emotional raving, according to taste.

Imagine someone with no poetry.  Isn’t just about everybody without poetry?  Today, yes.  But that too is unnatural.  Poetry is the universal human art.  It requires only language and memory.

Imagine someone with no history.  Oh, yes, some history is taught in school, but the history that builds the soul, the history that inspires the young mind with exemplars of virtue, diligence, intelligence, justice, and mercy – that history he has little of.  He does not stand with Washington at Valley Forge, he does not converse with the elderly Jefferson at Monticello, he does not explore the glaciers of Alaska with John Muir, he does not scale the scaffolding to watch the hands and the mind of Michelangelo.

Can it be worse?  Yes, it can.  For our wolf-boy has had experiences that a hundred years will never bleach away.

Unless he has been raised by parents far wiser and more deliberate than the general run of human sinners, he has been steeped in scenes of unspeakable wickedness and depravity, possibly thousands of them, as a regular feature of his disheartening life, and they have been seared into his imagination and into his very nerves and blood by the dopamine that accompanies sexual action.

To marry such a person is to marry not just a sinner, since everyone is that.  It is to marry someone whose very principle of marital union has been replaced by what is ugly and brutish or even demonic, who when he lies with his wife lies with the anonymous whore his imagination and his memory set before him, whether he will or no.

I say “he,” but girls themselves now are also great consumers and producers of such pornographic garbage.

What do we do for the wolf-boy?  But who are the “we” to do anything?  Hunchbacks, giving lessons on posture; eaters of poison, serving up a banquet; a one-eyed monster in a cave, raving about social life.

Still, we must act.  I’ll venture a few recommendations in articles to come.  Right now, the first order of business is to recognize the problem.  The Church is not coming to a village in India, with a real culture.  It is instead embedded in that same un-world, destructive of all culture.

There is no natural human world for its grace to perfect.  It must supply the nature.  It must build the culture.  Ordinary evangelization will not do.  As Jesus said long ago, certain kinds of demons come out only by prayer and fasting.


*Image: The Disappointed Souls (Les âmes déçues) by Ferdinand Hodler, 1892 [Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland]

You may also enjoy:

Mary Eberstadt’s Five Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Part I

Mrs. Eberstadt’s Five Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution: Part II

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.