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The 'Wisdom' of This World

John Mallon

The outcome of the American presidential election has placed the chattering classes, the pundits, the opinion makers, talking heads, experts, intellectuals, sophisticates, cosmopolitans, gurus, elites, hoi-poloi, and blowhards into a tizzy. In Old Testament language they are "covered in confusion" like a large army being dealt a decisive defeat by a small band of Israelites. 

The mask of superior, enlightened, smugness has slipped revealing fangs of hostility towards religious belief. Much of the insult and contempt is directed towards Evangelical Christians, as it is much trickier, given the Catholic intellectual tradition, to get away with portraying Catholics as hillbillies, cowboys, crackers and rednecks who just fell off the turnip truck on its way out of the cabbage patch. But that doesn't stop them from trying. 

The notion that religious believers, who actually believe, instead of treating religion as something that merely satisfies some primal psychological need for ritual and ceremony is nothing new. In polite society the form of religion is acceptable but not its substance. 

For this reason John Kerry's Catholicism was acceptable because it was "realistic" and did not take seriously his Church's teachings where "important" things like politics—especially the politics of abortion—was concerned. The cliché is that it would be wrong for Kerry to "impose his religion on others." God forbid. That this translated into imposing pain and death on the unborn, would be impolite and too intolerant to mention. 

So the presumption that "urban liberal elites" controlled the conversation in America was called into question and according to reports sent some of them running into therapy for what was dubbed "Post-Election Traumatic Syndrome." If only it had sent some scurrying to the confessional.

The sin? Arrogance. Hubris. Pride.

For example, in a column entitled "Two Nations Under God" in the New York Times, November 4, Thomas L. Friedman wrote, "... what troubled me [the day after the election] was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies from me — they favor a whole different kind of America from me. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.

"Is it a country that does not intrude into people’s sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body?"

Stop there. 

Note that in these last two examples Mr. Friedman cites homosexuality and abortion as two indisputable goods—marks of an "enlightened" society. Is it not striking that he accepts this as a given, despite the fact that these two activities have met near universal opposition for four thousand years? In all cultures? In the Judeo-Christian tradition these are two of the four sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance. Did something change in the last 40 years? By what authority?

C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Abolition of Man, points out the universality of the moral law and its near unanimity in all cultures and world religions. What is the moral law that Mr. Friedman subscribes to? The Zeitgeist of the last quarter of the 20th century? Does he not see abortion as the continuum of the lineage of genocide of that bloody century, sanitized by the rubric of "women's rights" or "control over her body" when that control involves the death of another sovereign, innocent human being? 

Perhaps the Americans who envision a different America than Mr. Friedman simply want laws against murder to be applied uniformly and not waived when it comes to the youngest among us. This would not oppress women. There are other options. Options like treating sexuality with dignity, respect and reverence instead of the carnage and dysfunction bequeathed to us by the "sexual revolution" which leaves women in tragic straits where they feel they have no other options.

Friedman continues:

"Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn’t trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us—instead of dividing us from one another and from the world?"

First of all, it is a calumny that American religious believers seek to turn the nation into a theocracy. Second, there is no conflict between true religion and true science. Truth is truth. Third, what has divided the nation is the insistence that, as Orwell put it, "wrong is right, right is wrong." The imposition of what has been historically and universally recognized as evil being declared good and "enlightened" has roused the American people to say "No" to this nefarious agenda, no longer intimidated by accusations of being "intolerant" for doing so.

But there's more.

On the same day, on the same page of the same newspaper, yet another column appeared, this time from a writer who bills himself as Catholic. In "The Day the Enlightenment Went Out" Garry Wills, the author of Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit  and Why I am a Catholic, wrote:

"This election confirms the brilliance of [presidential advisor] Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution."

Yeah? So?

Apparently for Professor Wills the ignorant peasants who put more faith in the Virgin Birth than Darwin, are easily led by the nose by sharp political strategists, and their opposition to "same sex marriage" is further evidence of their backwardness.

He then covers the same ground as Friedman about the alleged desire of the believing Christian to overthrow the non-establishment clause, and then asks, "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an enlightened nation?"

I confess I have never read any of Professor Wills's books, but I am very curious now about his opus Why I am a Catholic. It must be a mystery story.

All sarcasm aside, these men seem to be writing to an audience which they presume agrees with them, and that any "enlightened" person does agree with them. They speak of believers as someone speaks in the third person about a person in the same room as if they were not there, not even aware of the offense and insult they give.

Presuming themselves to be "enlightened" and "sophisticated" of wide reading and experience, it is unthinkable to them that those whom they insult just may possibly know something they don't. That those whom they dismiss may just have something they don't, and have no idea how baldly they just displayed their own ignorance. They suffer from the widespread prejudice that faith necessarily closes the mind rather than opening it. Professor Wills has written a book on the conversion of St. Augustine, but evidently he missed the part where Augustine says, "I do not see in order to believe, rather I believe in order to see."

Faith is a mode of knowing. Love is a mode of knowing. The essence of Christianity is knowing the Person of Christ. It is an old canard that believers are people in need of a crutch who can't face reality. What is not understood is that Christ is Reality. And no one who truly faces Christ emerges unchanged, for better or worse, depending on the decisions that follow. Faith, like love, hungers knowledge and embraces authentic science, but science that rejects faith out of hand is not true science. True morality does not restrict freedom but liberates the soul to truly live. Morality is not the end of religion but only the beginning, the beginning of life, the life that Christ came in order that we may have in abundance.

The "enlightened" of this world do not seem to know this, and regard believers as fools. And they are right. "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: He catches the wise in their own ruses,” (1Cor. 3:18-19)

Yes, the "wise" of this world do not know these things. But thank God many American voters do.