Intellectual and Moral Eclipse

Posted on 2024-04-24
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Thoughts from my sojourn at Mt. Meeker during the eclipse…

When I was doing radio back in the late 80’s through the mid-90’s it drove me bananas that all the media would judge a legislative session by how many new laws it passed. I was insistent that a legislature should rather be judged by how many laws it trimmed from the books. A legal system is not supposed to be an overgrown jungle: it should more closely resemble a neatly trimmed lawn. Every new law passed requires an enforcement mechanism – and everyone assigned to enforcement seeks novel things to enforce. I was convinced that if this continued we would eventually be both overwhelmed and paralyzed by a malevolently capricious bureaucratic command system. I was right – and we are there.

People often miss the point about original sin. I hear folks ask how a baby can sin – and how that can affect all of us down the line. Adam and Eve were the King and Queen of God’s creation. We were created a royal people. The satan seduced and tossed us off the throne. If a king is overthrown in a coup his descendants, fine as they might be, are deprived of their station – through no actual fault of their own. But God had a plan. Through baptism, He restores us to the royal dignity which we were deprived of by the original sin of Adam and Eve. From there, it is our responsibility to correspond to His graceful mercy – or not. Baptism restores what Adam and Eve forfeited for all of us.

John Stuart Mill is one of my favorite philosophers. His range is narrow, but within the narrow range he chose, he is brilliant. I am currently re-reading his seminal treatise, On LibertyIt is a brilliant exposition of my oft-repeated exhortation the truth will stand the test of examination – and MUST be examined if it is truth. Chapter two, Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion, is particularly apropos to the pseudo-intellectuals who now dominate the culture of the western world. There is a quote by Mill beloved by leftists which, ironically, reveals how ignorant they are. “Not all conservatives are stupid,” Mill once said, “but all stupid people are conservative.” What the stupid leftists who smugly quote that do not know is that, in Mill’s time, a liberal was one who supported individual liberty and limited, decentralized government, while a conservative was one who supported absolute monarchy and other coercive, centralized governmental schemes – exactly the opposite of what the terms mean today.

The political left is incapable of crafting good policy but is brilliant in hijacking the names of the philosophies that generate good policy. The American Revolution was a liberal revolution and its foundational philosophy was liberal – in the sense that Mill used the term. It became very popular and started building inroads throughout the world because of the success and benefits it wrought. Shaken by this, leftists throughout the world did NOT rethink their beliefs. Instead, they just started calling their coercive policies “liberal” in order to hijack some of the good will actual liberal policies had generated. In time, the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ completely flipped meanings. Now, liberal policies are in growing disrepute. Ironically, because of the illiberalism of those policies.

The pettiness of denominational squabbling has always caused me great dismay. I speak not of foundational articles of faith here. Rather, I speak of the triumphalism inherent in so many theological and apologetic disputes. If someone is of good heart and seeks truth with vigor, I figure God will take care of their – and my own – errors in His good time. In the mean time, we should be allies. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is vital to me. None of my Protestant brothers believe in it. Yet if all believe Christ is Lord, why not work together with good will, trusting God to bridge the gap? Especially when, like now, we have a lot of temporally powerful people who want to destroy us. Here I am not speaking of respectful discussion – as I have with many of my Protestant brethren. Rather, the mocking, the contempt, the dismissal of the “other” offends me. I believe that God manifests to all of good heart, inviting them to go further. I think He manifests both naturally and supernaturally to all who will hear Him. Yet I hear Protestants treat as superstition many Catholic items of faith they do not understand or are not willing to understand. And I hear Catholics treat as superstition many Protestant items of faith they do not and are not willing to understand. That is rank triumphalism. I have never cared to dismiss anyone’s item of faith until I understand why they hold it – on their terms. Then I may dismiss or adopt it as seems wise to me, but I don’t routinely mock their beliefs. This is a key point for me, for if I had not had that seeker’s attitude, I never could have become a Catholic, being too busy mocking what I did not understand. If you want respect for your faith, quit mocking or trivializing the sincere faith of others. If you find something genuinely dangerous then speak on it, but do it from a position of informed knowledge rather than lazy scoffing. Scoffing is just the purview of ignorant arrogance. We have reached the point where, as Ben Franklin once said, we must all hang together or we will all hang separately.

Faith cannot be a demand that God must do for us the work He has given to us to do. Attempting such is to reduce God to a genie, with us restlessly seeking the magic formula to bind Him to our will. God promises He will be with us if we strive to do His will – which is not the same thing as promising to do it our way if we just praise Him enough. God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are often (usually) inscrutable to us. In order to guarantee our free will while teaching us and accomplishing the good, He usually works through indirection that we cannot quite fathom. Yet, He demands that we be participants in His work rather than mere spectators. Many who decide to participate try to take the helm and kick God to the curb. Do not be bullied. Do not be passive. Put your shoulder to the plow with humility and resolve and just take the next right step as you can see to do so, trusting God to correct you as needed – and taking correction when it comes.

The current chaos in America and in the world is – to use a hackneyed political phrase – unsustainable. Reason, charity, justice, faith in God have all been eclipsed by mammon. (Mammon is NOT, as commonly thought, just money. It is the things of this world.) The situation is as described in Isaiah 21-23: “How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.” All but the most intense ideologues can feel the electricity in the air, the many foreshadowings of the great thunderbolt to come – and that right soon.  The noonday darkness has unhinged some, while driving others to extremes of fear, anger, and despair. As at Golgotha, that darkness is being accompanied with great shakings. These things must come. Since God refuses to coerce our will, the way He has to reveal the death the road we are on leads to is to allow us to reap some consequences for the bitter fruit we have sown. The shakings have already begun. They will grow in intensity, though many will not be as we expected. Yet the great prophet Isaiah, while condemning the faithlessness and dysfunction of his generation, prophesied both of the terrible shakings that must come AND the restoration that would be gifted to those who set their jaws like flint and committed to the service of the Lord and each other. I strongly encourage you to read Isaiah anew, with eyes on our own times. How are we to respond to both weather the great storm and rebuild the culture that is being toppled before our very eyes? Acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. I am working intently on a practical program to help us all do that together without coercing anyone’s will.


If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.

Find me on Twitter at @JohnstonPilgrim

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