Friday, October 27, 2006

The Present Time

In the Gospel reading at Mass today, Jesus says to the crowds:
When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
The power of the spirit of the age (against which St. Paul warned us) is such that it is often maddeningly difficult to interpret “the present time.” Depending on whatever preconceptions, weltanschauung, or ideological cast of mind observers may harbor, they can interpret in radically different ways the meaning and likely consequences of the same event. The assessments will not, however, be equally valid. However strongly one might feel about one’s own assessment, a recognition that one might be in error is healthy, though it need not and should not cause one to be timid about expressing convictions about which one is truly convinced.

Today there is “a cloud rising in the west.” Indeed, there are two of them as far as I can see. In these blog posts, I have often expressed concern over two rapidly developing trends: on one hand, the cultural and moral disorientation of Western societies, a conspicuous feature of which is the West’s semi-official repudiation of the Judeo-Christian soil out of which it grew and by which its best moral and social impulses were long nourished, and, on the other hand, the growing world-wide threat posed by a very intricate network of technologically sophisticated and religiously benighted Islamic jihadists.

It’s clear to me and to many that the liberal-libertine-Left has lost its moral compass and become intellectually bankrupt, running on the fumes of its contempt for the current president and reiterating incessantly mantras that have long since ceased to have any relationship to reality. The conservatives have their own special problems, I grant. I think what Peggy Noonan wrote today in the Online (WSJ) OpinionJournal about Republican conservatives (which, by the way, was critical of George Bush; my liberal friends will love that) is true of those of us cultural conservatives who are not Republicans. She said conservatives “endure the disadvantages of being conservative because they actually believe in ideas, in philosophy, in an understanding of the relation of man and the state.”

I am a social conservative because I am in principle a traditional Christian. My conservatism is religious, moral, and cultural; it is political only coincidentally. That being the case, and this being the age that it is, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But I do feel strongly that the direction in which our culture is headed is disastrous, and, along with my colleagues at the Cornerstone Forum, I would like to be a small part of the conversation about how that direction might be altered.

To my friends dismayed by my conservative tendencies of late, I can at least say this: For all my many faults, I have either an impressive or a sorry (depending on where you stand) record of course-reversals dictated by the recognition of the errors of my earlier ways. On several notable occasions over the years I have publicly repudiated points of view which I had previously held and ardently espoused, and I have a list of former friends to prove it. Mercifully, however, many of the friends who complained of these moral and political course-corrections remained friends. After all, there’s more to life than politics and the culture wars.

In light of this history, those exasperated by my more traditional view of things have one reassurance: If I am wrong, and if I can be made to see the error of my ways, I will disavow my position with the same alacrity and remorse with which on several occasions I have declared myself in error in the past. Many of those dismayed by my conservativism/traditionalism, on the other hand, have felt no need to change their basic point of view for the last 40 years. There must be a moral equanimity that accompanies such consistency, and it must have its own special reward, but it doesn’t seem to me to be worth the price. There have been many extremely problematic changes in these last few decades. Fidelity to principle is a virtue, but not when, over time, the moral consequences of the principle to which one remains wedded have reversed.

I am supremely untroubled by the possibility that my assessment of things might be incompatible with, say, whatever the Republican or Democratic party may be espousing, but I would be troubled indeed to find myself at odds with long-standing moral, theological, or social teachings of the Christian tradition generally and the Catholic Church specifically. If anyone really wants to change my mind about anything (and it’s here to be changed), show me where I have departed from the Christian tradition as it has been preserved and developed by the Church’s magisterium, and I will be penitential putty in your hands.

Thanks for stopping by what passes for the Cornerstone Forum’s virtual front porch. Don’t let me do all the talking. Post a comment if you feel moved to do so, and invite your friends over. We’ll continue this conversation with as much candor and charity as we can muster.


Athos said...

I would only add that I had the pleasure of hearing Father Paul Scalia talk on Natural Law today. He reminded us that:

Natural Law is universal. It is not a revelation (a bone of contention during the Reformation), but an indelibly part of our human nature, made imago dei. It is immutable; it cannot be destroyed. “It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies” (CCC 1958). It is reasonable (an important element of the Pope’s Regensburg talk). And, sadly, it is obscured due to Original Sin and our personal sins.

The point is, we can trash our nature, acting basely and after the fashion of animals without recourse to reason’s yearning to know our purpose, our end, our telos. If we believe with no aim or end, we will act accordingly. But hopefully Natural Law “rises again.”

Due to Sin and sins, grace and revelation are needed, as Pius XII once said, “by everyone with facility, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.” But Natural Law is not imposed from outside, it is part of our nature, regardless whether we live in accord with it or not.

cmb said...

Hi, Gil.....

Your blog is an easy way for your friends to say "hi" to here's my "hi" and my comment.

A couple of years ago, I signed up to get a "saint of the day" email, I forget from which website. I read all of them (well, most), and one of the great things I learned over the course of that year was that many saints lived during times of adversity in the church.

Even though I am deeply read in European history and in the history of the Church specifically, the story of the lives of many of the saints brought out that the role many of them played was that of a person rising to the occasion of helping not just their fellow man and woman, but also, eventually, the whole Church. Many of them, like the apostles, were not extraordinary people, but, like Mary, said "yes" to God's will.

We who grew up in the fifties and into the sixties were nurtured by a church that was mostly peaceful, at least on the surface. As a result, we can tend to think that the whole history of Christianity has been one of peacefullness and joy. Since the late sixties, the ocean of faith has been much more tempest-tossed. Like many Christians before us, we are faced with the call from Christ to be part of a never-ending renewal of the body of Christ. Let us not despair! We are not simply fair-weather Christians, but Christians who have no choice but to give as much as we can, including our optimism for the future of our faith, to the young.

"Do not be afraid!"