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Steeples and Sanity

Peace, said St. Augustine, is the tranquility of order. Sound reason, said St. Thomas Aquinas, is the adaequatio mentis ad rem, the balancing of the mind in accord with the real thing. It follows that if a man or a society is out of balance with reality, there will be disorder and restlessness in that regard wherein they err. But what happens when a society, in large and important areas of human life, denies that there even are such things as reality and order? That society will be quite mad, of course—but what will the madness be like?

“Crazy” in the old sense . . .

For there is madness that can be “contained”: identified, set apart, and treated. Let me illustrate. When I was a college student, I spent one summer in the nation’s capital, living at a Catholic Worker house, doing odd jobs. The house attracted people who were living on the edge. One was a recovering alcoholic from the heartland, a middle-aged man possessed of many skills who seemed about to settle down to a life of sobriety and usefulness. Then one morning he disappeared and never returned. He was, we might say, in full possession of his faculties, except that he wished he were not; he craved the loss of those faculties, in sadness for the wrongs he had done to his family and the wrongs they had done to him.

There was also a woman, very fat, who never bathed but was quite intelligent and could speak with you about anything, until the conversation inevitably came around to one of several neuralgic subjects: Arabs, dogs, Russians, laboratories, the CIA. She was convinced that the Arabs, with the collusion of Russian spies, had kidnapped her Siberian husky for use in underground experiments somewhere beneath the avenues of Washington. It was then as if a railroad engineer had thrown a switch, and the tremendous lady train had been shunted along the grooves of madness, and there was nothing for it but to let her go her way until the fuel ran out.

And there was the muttering young black man, very tall, very strong, whose hair and countenance might call to mind the wrong Moses on the wrong mountain, encountering the wrong god. You could watch him retreating into the caverns of his fantasy. He was persuaded that aliens had sent him a message from outer space, engraving it by lightning upon a rock on a mountaintop in West Virginia. But the characters were indecipherable. Sometimes it was as if his eyes rolled back into his head, to scan the lines and curves of that intergalactic Rosetta stone.

Their problems were easy to see, though hard to cure: alcoholism, schizophrenia, and the lingering effects of psychotic drugs. None of them raged against reality. They were mistaken as to what reality was, or they were afraid of the bright light of the real, so they retreated to the shadows. They were “crazy,” in the old sense of the word; imagine a pot with a zigzag crack in it. But they were not smashed to shards and rubble.

. . . And in the new

Now consider madness that is not like a crack in the soul but instead a rush of decomposition, a vertiginous plunge into incoherence, with no bounds on any side nor any bottom in sight, but an endless whorl of decay or destruction—un-building—leaving no stone upon a stone, not even a stone with strange letters upon it, but all swallowed up in hatred of being. That is the madness of our time.

It is the mark of this madness that the classical reductio ad absurdum no longer works. We are deaf to absurdity. Every day brings fresh evidence of it.

A renowned bioethicist says that monkeys have rights but that a baby born with a cleft palate does not. He also says that “rights” are fictions, since only matter exists. It would be very wrong to hurt a monkey, although the word “wrong” has no meaning, but it would be all right to kill the newborn with the oral defect.

Two of his intellectual offspring in Italy, erstwhile land of the Madonna and love of children, say that since it’s alright to kill the unborn child you have made, for any reason you like, it’s also alright to extend the permission after birth. It does not occur to them to reason in the other direction, since, as everyone knows, sexual license is the summum bonum.

Except that the summum bonum, by the testimony of the adherents themselves, brings about the summum malum. They say that one out of four women will be sexually assaulted during their college years. The number is disputable, but what’s not disputable is the madness then of injecting the sexual pus into every waking moment, passing out free rubbers for spring break, smiling as students engage in “floor incest,” copulating with one another literally ad libidinem. We sow a jungle and then whimper because there are beasts of prey.

A professor requires his students to present themselves partially or totally unclothed to one another. Feminists, who define rape as any sexual activity that involves a hair’s difference in power, forget one madness to cheer the next. Another professor requires his students to dress as members of the opposite sex. He is criticized neither for immorality nor for stupidity. One of the students laughs and says it was “really educational.” For this his parents have put their house in hock to the chimney.

Feminists insist that there are no significant differences between men and women. Their allies, gay men, insist that the differences are so profound that they cannot possibly live as men according to the ordinary ways of nature. They must copulate with men and could never marry women.

We send women into battle, against enemies armed to the teeth. We establish “safe” courses and “safe” spaces for women, because they could not possibly be expected to enter the lists against male students who doubt the sanity of feminism.

A man can decide one day that he is a woman, and—ping!—so he is. If he decided one day that he was Napoleon, which he might have been, or the commissioner of baseball, which he also might have been, we would say he was out of his mind. But if he decides he is a woman, which he cannot possibly be—ping! And everybody must use the pronoun “she” to refer to him. He is a “woman,” he says, trapped in a man’s body, and the feminists wave their pom-poms, although nobody knows what that can possibly mean, since “woman” and “man” are supposed to be interchangeable.

Moebius Strip “reality”

Call it the Moebius Strip mall, where you go in transit across a bridge that returns you to where you were, and where you say you are now utterly transformed, because you are now a being that is indistinguishable from the one you used to be. Meanwhile, pronouns increase and multiply like viruses, to denote one or another of the “genders” employing every letter on the typewriter—nor can their promoters remember them all.

The Swedes kidnap a little boy on an airplane with his mommy and daddy, who want to teach him at home and are therefore flying to mommy’s family in India. The Swedes keep him for four years. They still have him. The mother has suffered nervous breakdowns. The father is broke. No outrage.

Catholics in Canada hear from the governess of education that teachers are “co-parents,” and that students must be introduced to the sexual ice cream du jour, despite the express provision in the Canadian constitution that Catholics may establish and run their own schools. The parents of a large and happy German family face stiff prison sentences for the crime of teaching their children at home. The United States denies them political asylum.

Sweden, Canada, Germany, and the United States, motivated by the best of humanitarian motives, try to compel poor nations in Africa to allow baby killing. It is as if you made your care of Baby Mary contingent upon mama’s killing of Baby John, screaming bloody murder when the Africans refuse to bloody murder. Sweden, Canada, Germany, and the United States are all about the rights of the poor.

Catholics and other Christians on the left twist play sexual and exegetical Twister, trying to find a way to make Jesus—who famously forbade divorce, that universally accepted compromise with the faithlessness and hardheartedness of man—a rainbow boy for sodomy. They must get rid of the antiquated teachings, and replace them with—well, no one knows, no one says.

Where is the floor? What are the principles, the girders? If moral truth itself “evolves,” why should we call it truth at all? Jesus says that fornication is one of the evils that comes out of a man and renders him unclean. But not sodomy?

It’s only words

What happens to the baby—ping!—as it emerges from the birth canal? Is it a baby in the birth canal if the mother says so? Is it a puppy or a lilac bush if she says so? Can it become a baby—ping!—if she changes her mind? Then if she changes her mind again, can it—ping!—become a parasite, like a tapeworm or mistletoe? Why are the nurses energetically trying to save a woman’s “baby” in room one, while other nurses are blandly killing a—what is it?—in room two?

The royal family of England welcomes a princess into the world. Some people are outraged that they have revealed the “gender” of the child. Why not wait until the child herself-himself-itself-themselves decides? Then—ping!—fairy dust, and she-he-it-they can become a boy or a birl or a goy or a whatnot—that odd piece of Victorian furniture that nobody ever knew what to do with.

A school invites a violent purveyor of obscenity and depravity to give a talk to teenagers about bullying. He ridicules Christians to their face. Some of the Christian students leave quietly. He hoots at them and calls them cowards, nyah nyah nyah, as his allies cheer, and the school officials nod in approval.

He demands the “right” to “marry” another man, when biology dictates he cannot even have sexual intercourse with another man. What is a “right”? No one knows. What is a “marriage”? No one will say. Is it for two? Is it forever?

“I demand a snull for garveling!

“Yes, certainly—what is a snull?What is garveling?”

“There are no definitions! I want them, and I want them now!”

The world recoils in horror at what priest perverts did to boys, most of the boys seduced into agreeing with the corruption, then the same world happily shows the boys how to do the same things, seducing one another into agreeing with the corruption. On Monday you throw a man in prison for looking at a picture of a naked child. On Tuesday you expose children to pictures of naked people doing all manner of natural and unnatural things with and to one another and themselves, singly and in pairs and in groups. On Wednesday you say that grown women in college require a warning lest they read Light in August and be triggered into depression. On Thursday you dress up little girls as whores and cheer them for their sexual potency. On Friday you vote against a ban on nudity in a parade; you are a school board. On Saturday you say that pedophilia is itself a sexual orientation, and really, one shouldn’t judge—

Enough. Enough.

We have natures

We must ourselves fall in love again with created being. It is not hard to do, though these days it requires a little deliberation. We are not farmers in the fields, surrounded with the mysterious beauty of creation—sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet and kindly, always great, a great gift or a great challenge. Adam named the birds and the beasts. We may add the trees and the flowers and the stars. We have given back that primal and godly achievement of Adam. We no longer know their names.

But they are there, waiting for us to notice them. They obey their natures, and behold, it is good. The hummingbird that sips nectar from the flower of the trumpet vine has arrived after a flight of thousands of miles. The worm that tunnels in the soil beneath will not journey more than a few yards in all its life. The things are as they are.

We too have natures, and we too have names. It is good that we have each. First the natures.

I see a little boy playing in the backyard. His boyish nature informs the thrust of his shoulders, the skinny wiry build, the attraction to dirt, the odd low notes in his flute of a voice. If there is a creek, he will throw a rock into it, or spit into it, or try to dam it up with stones and mud, or just watch the water as it flashes and gurgles by. He will do this in India as in Indiana, in Bavaria as in Bermuda. He tosses a horsehide ball with a friend, asking him to throw it high so he can pretend to make a leaping catch. He slides along a frozen pond with a friend, as they bat at a flat rock with sticks. He wrestles with his friend in the arena, while in their imaginations thousands of people at Olympia raise their cheers. He whistles. He invents a catapult. He sets up a lookout in a tree. For his father he is by turns, as Shakespeare puts it:

all my exercise, my mirth, my matter;

Now my sworn friend, and then mine enemy;

My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all.

He makes a July’s day short as a December’s. He is the boy eternal: every land knows of him, every age, and every culture. It is good.

I see his older sister, combing her hair out near the well, rosy and flushed with health and good humor. She is wearing a skirt, or something that adds grace to the slender curve of girlish breast and hip. Flowers lie in her lap. She has picked them to place in a vase to lend color and fragrance to her room: a few wild roses, some leggy daisies, a bough of lilacs, and various wild blooms with their homely names, forget-me-not and patience and pinks. Her own name is Lily, and wherever there are girls, there are girls with flowers for names. She is talking with a friend of hers.

Her name is Nausicaa, and she lives on a Greek island, and she and her friend are washing the linen in the rocky pools by the seashore. Her name is Rosalind, and she and her cousin are sitting on a grassy hill in the Forest of Arden, talking about the youth Rosalind loves. Her name is Louisa May Alcott, and she and her sister are talking about their favorite poems, or the new teacher in the local school. Every land knows of her, every age, and every culture. It is good.

Their parents look upon their children with care and a certain gentle reticence. For the innocence of childhood is holy. The boy will become a man someday. The girl will become a woman. The destiny is inscribed upon their bodies and in their souls. You can see it and hear it; you can watch it slowly coming to pass. But the parents do not expose them to lust, as they would not expose them to wild beasts. They let them be.

They know that the children are also, in all likelihood, destined for marriage. That too is inscribed upon their bodies, but in a different way. The man is for the woman, and the woman is for the man. Each is grateful for the other. The single most important culture-making thing that people do is to bring up boys and girls to be fit men and women for marriage. In sane times, among healthy people, this is all accepted as a matter of course, and it is done. Some peoples are saner about it than others, but none has ever descended to our current depth of negligence and ineptitude.

We have names

We have names as well as natures. We cannot fathom the mystery of personal being, because it is founded in the Person of God himself. Animals may cooperate with one another; objects lie beside one another; but the person attains his perfection only in a relationship of love, so that we gain ourselves when and insofar as we give ourselves away. All is grace, said St. Therese; all is a gift. Existence is a magnificent gift; personal existence, a greater gift than all the world, because it is a giving. In a world that exalts the will to dominate, to wrest reality and human nature to one’s desires, existence is not a gift but an enemy. It is either inert stuff to pound and squeeze and stretch or it is a blank rock-face to blow to bits. In that world, everyone has the same name, and it is Mine. In that world, avarice and lust and ambition entwine themselves round about the soul, so that people no longer recognize submission as a virtue, even if it is submission to the love of God.

And so we approach the steps of the Church. In every healthy world there are steeples; healthy people look to the skies. There is a mystery in that too. Animals do not do so. But all children will. If no one goes to see the paintings of Michelangelo, it is not Michelangelo who has changed. It is the people who have lost their delight in beauty. If the library is empty, it is not the fault of the books but of people who have lost the quietude of soul, and the flame of intellect, that are required to read them. If the marriage list is short, that is not the fault of the natural reality or the supernatural sacrament but of a people who have lost heart. If the altar of God is unattended, it is not the fault of God but of people who know neither him nor themselves.

The world raves, crumbling, one insanity collapsing into the next below, ever faster, a breathless race of hatred of what came before. Men are desperate to believe the worst of their own forefathers, lest they come to terms with how much wealth they have squandered and how many good things they have polluted or ruined. Those of this world call us mad, because we do not share their madness; we can hardly keep up with what madness we are supposed to adopt.

Let the world call us what it will. We will enjoy the tranquility of order: the health of accepting with gratitude the gift of our created existence.

I shall go in unto the altar of God, of God, the joy of my youth.

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