Our confused culture continues its descent into absurdity.
In our latest episode, the top three executives of the Commonwealth of Virginia are feeling the heat in the middle of winter. Two of them are facing blowback for insensitive party costumes from the 1980s and one for sexual assault in recent years.
Many on the right are looking upon the proceeding with a kind of restrained schadenfreude, wondering how the left will apply the standards of identity politics to perpetrators from their own party.
This triple-header in Virginia has placed a stark light on something people of all parties should work to address: the lack of moral character of so many people who hold high office in our country.
In one sense, this is nothing new. Rumors about sexual dalliances, financial impropriety, and improper use of political privilege have swirled around some of the most popular political figures in our nation’s history. Considering just the last 20 years of political scandals, it’s actually surprising that people can work up the necessary shock and moral outrage to get someone out of office (as of this writing, all three Virginia politicos have managed to hang on).
The United States is, after all, the one successful political product of the Enlightenment. As such, at its heart is the Enlightenment Creed of autonomy. One can make of oneself whatever one wants! The economy of the United States has always favored the rugged, risk-taking individualist with few binding ties. This hyper-individualism naturally wears away at the moral enamel of a society.
Are we really surprised, then, at the moral corruption of so many leaders? Where, after all, do they come from? In the United States, by design, the leadership class does not consist of landed interests or dynastic lines. This is a continent that never had a feudalistic structure! That means that the leadership is us. They come from our neighborhoods and schools, our families and social clubs.
If we have a big problem in our ruling class – and we do! – it’s because they are products of a culture which claims consent as the only real basis of morality (and as we’ve seen, in the case of an argument about consent, the more influential person usually wins).
Christians must not be myopic about any of this. Economic libertarianism and social liberalism are two sides of the same coin. In fact, one might say that they mutually support each other. As a result, Christians must first of all be committed to holiness in all aspects of their lives. We must also be willing to proclaim the perennial value of virtuous living for all.
The New York abortion law which skates dangerously close to openly permitting infanticide is a shameful piece of legislation unbecoming of a free people. To respond decisively is not playing the scold or telling women what to do with their bodies; rather, it is an expression of the Church’s grave duty to teach the truth about faith and morals — even when so many seem to have forgotten the basic principles of reason.
At the same time, our culture has no sense of redemption. We don’t really know what to do with it, because so few actions really garner widespread moral outrage. When one of these transgressions takes place, there is often a dramatic fall followed by a rehabilitation program engineered by PR firms — if the person has the necessary social and financial capital.
But redemption means more, so much more, than this. It is a reality purchased on the Cross. It is not a naïve proclamation that “anything goes!” It is also not a modern-day Puritanism which draws up lists of unforgivable sins and pursues transgressors with a dedication that would have made the Spanish Inquisitors blush.
The way of true redemption looks evil in the eye and calls it such — yes, even (especially) those actions which brand themselves as “victimless.” But because of this, and only because of this, the church can reach out in mercy to sinners as did her founder. One who recognizes himself as in need of forgiveness always has a place in the church. Jesus came to redeem sinners and give them a share in his divine life with the Father in the Spirit.
We need not be trapped forever by our worst actions — but only if we are willing to accept medicine from the true healer of souls.
We have grown schizophrenic because the foundations of our culture have collapsed. The bonds of church, family, and small associations have given way to the state and the individual. As our low birth rates, opioid epidemic, and #MeToo movement has shown, this is a recipe for spiritual decay. Since we have no permanent home on earth, may our eyes be fixed on the one which is to come.
Maybe, just maybe, our joyful gaze even in the midst of our own moral failures will draw others away from the pursuit of pleasure, power, fame, and money. Those gods never satisfy, and their devotees never forgive. God alone suffices. And he alone is the cure for the confusion of our day.
Father Eric J. Banecker is parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in Broomall.
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