The other day I touched on the subject of men and of fatherhood. I’m going to expand in my own way (meaning this may get long again people…sorry) on this subject. As someone who reads (too many) headlines and stories each day one can’t help but begin to see a pattern in our modern world. It’s a disturbing one.
If I had a modicum of talent I’d write something as good as Heather King did on Tuesday. If I had even more humility I’d just stop writing now and tell you to just read her post. But I want to add some thoughts of my own at the moment. But first, an excerpt from Heather:
How can you tell people you have been saved from the abyss and thus live in state of insane bizarre grace and that you offer up your sexuality out of love? That to manage and control human creation, to the lover of Christ, seems monstrous? That when we say “I believe in God” we are really saying, “I view life as a gift, not as a possession”…
So it’s not a matter of being right on social justice and wrong on sex (nor of celibacy being a higher calling than marriage): it’s a matter of the ground of existence, whatever our station in life, being love. It’s a matter of worshiping an entirely different Master than the world, whose gods are security, comfort, efficiency, power, property, prestige and control. I wanted to say to my friend, Haven’t you ever wanted to bow your head in wonder? Haven’t you ever looked around for Someone to thank? In so many words I did say those things, and then I wrenched my hands, for I could feel her embarrassment for me and my “archaic” views, and stammered: “I actually believe it…I believe Christ is the Savior of the world”….
(Seriously, she’s fantastic in this piece and if you wish to save yourself ten minutes just click here.)
For those of you still with me Heather got me to thinking about something I talked about last night during the final class I taught on lectio divina. In her book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell writes that “Catholic tradition honors freedom but teaches that freedom is ordered toward virtue and that its misuse will guarantee the loss of freedom.” She continues:
A lot of people have the belief that “habits” are dull and difficult, a hindrance to the freedom and spontaneity that they imagine must come with being truly “spiritual.” But in fact habits make us free, and spontaneity can often be a prison. Show me a music pupil who will not practice but insists on playing “how I feel,” and I will show you a music student who never learns to play anything very well. Show me a child who has not had parents who drilled “Please” and “Thank You” into him or her until they are habitual, and I will show you a child imprisoned in selfish rudeness whose prospects for friendship, creativity, and even a happy life are changed and even limited. The piano student who develops the habit of practice eventually reaches the point where he knows the keyboard so well that he is free to play what he pleases. Good habits free us. It is only bad habits that enslave us.
We speak of good habits as being “second nature” to us. In the case of the Christian life, this is not mere metaphor, for Scripture tells us that we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4) when we are “born from on high” in baptism. And the purpose of the sacraments is to instill grace in us and strengthen us so that we can live out the life of the Blessed Trinity. The key to all this is incarnation: making the Word incarnate in our lives by actually obeying Jesus and imitating Him. And the point is in the doing, not merely in thinking or feeling.
People, especially we Americans, have a natural aversion to authority. We are proud of our fiercely independent streak. (Ironic considering so many now seem to favor a government that is more authoritarian nanny-state and confiscatory than ever.) We’re so proud that we’ve become blinded by this pride. Habits of virtue are seen as a prison. No…not seen. Scorned. Spurned. Mocked. To have any outward appearance of a virtue is ridiculed as backwards and out of touch.
In The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape, a distinguished bureaucrat in the “lowerarchy” of hell, writes advice to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter out in the field who is trying to damn his first human soul. Within this dialogue we are treated to a view of the life of grace from the perspective of hell, where God is “the Enemy” and Satan is “Our Father Below.” In Screwtape’s upside-down universe, the hellish perspective on the moral life is revealed:
Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us.
The very last thing the devil wants us to put into practice are any insights or guidance we might receive from God, His Word, or His Church. If we are kept merely thinking, or even fantasizing, about faith or virtue to the point of just having warm fuzzies about them he is content. Virtue that is not practiced, but merely approved of by us in our quiet moments, is worthless. History tells us that the Pharisees approved of virtue but did not practice it either.
We seem to have a genius for missing the truth that Jesus taught us to hear the Word of God and to do it, as he explained to Martha. We will hear the Word and we will speculate about it, but we won’t do it. We will hear the Word and feel good about it, but not do it. We can hear the Word and tell others about it, but not do it. We hear the Word and tell ourselves we’ll get right on it, and not do it. None of these things will build our habits of virtue…the same habits that will enable us to show love in our actions, not just in our words.
In today’s society we see the opposite championed. Not actions but feelings rule the day. Here are two pulled directly from the headlines I read this very hour. The first is this one:
A Massachusetts principal has been criticized for canceling his school’s Honors Night, saying it could be ‘devastating’ to the students who worked hard, but fell short of the grades.
MyFoxBoston.com reports that David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School, notified parents last week of his plan to eliminate the event.
“The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average,” Fabrizio penned in his first letter to parents, the station reported.
“…can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard…but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average.” This line stood out and reminded me of a line from the movie “The Incredibles”:
And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can have powers. Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super…no one will be.
So I’m guessing this also means no merit pay increases for teachers and administrators, right Principal Fabrizio? No “Educator of the Month/Year” awards? No more keeping score at your junior high athletic events? No more grades or report cards? Where does this stupidity end? Our schools, society, and yes, failing parents are teaching our kids the following anti-virtues:
- Irrational aversion to authority
- Refusal to use legitimately use the authority one has
- Titillation and irresponsibility regarding sexuality
- General irresponsibility and a lack of personal accountability
- Demanding all of one’s rights but avoiding most of one’s responsibilities
- Blaming others for one’s own personal failings
- Being dominated by one’s emotions and carried away easily by the passions
- Obsession with fairness evidenced by the frequent cry, “It’s not fair!”
- Expecting others and government agencies to do for me what I should do for myself
- Aversion to instruction
So in our schools today are administrators that do not want to hurt the feelings of those who try but fall short. That do not want to prepare their charges for the hard world that awaits them upon graduation. That wishes instead to coddle them and suffocate them beneath the blanket of feel-good wishy-washness. That doesn’t want to teach them that there is wrong and right in the world. That refuses to teach virtue…
…which leads to this ongoing horror story, largely ignored by the media and forgotten by the American populace who has moved on to feeling good about whatever the media tells them to feel good about.
Does 30 years of calling babies “blobs of tissue” have no effect on the culture?
For the answer, consider the testimony of “Nurse” Moton — and the clarification by AP writer Maryclaire Dale:
She once had to kill a baby delivered in a toilet, cutting its neck with scissors, she said. Asked if she knew that was wrong, she said, “At first I didn’t.”
We ask ourselves “How on earth didn’t she know this would be wrong?” In today’s age the world has us swallow the lie that the children being slain in abortion somehow don’t count, that their lives simply don’t matter and that they can and sometimes should be killed with no impact on our society. This case shows us what we are becoming as a society: human life has no value and the strong do what they please while the weak suffer what they must. All that matters is how we feel. And if this dead baby makes me feel better about myself, my choices, my politics…whatever…then so be it.
There is no virtue in this. None in either of these stories from today’s headlines. In the upside down world that C.S. Lewis wrote about in Screwtape virtue must be eliminated in order for humans to feel they are free. Therefore any institution, any group, that demonstrates, practices and preaches virtue must be wrong and therefore ostracized. People must be taught to hate that institution by a type of two minute hate that Orwell describes in 1984. It must be hated, and then dismissed as irrelevant to the feelings and needs of the people.
We kill our weak and infirm because we tell ourselves it is better this way. Why? Well…because we feel it just does. We believe the upside down lies and help to make these words from Orwell prophetic:
But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
Uncle Screwtape couldn’t have said it any better.