Anthony Esolen

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There is no help from 'the culture,' because there is no longer any culture; only the rubble of what used to be a culture.

You can’t have a Culture of Life if you have no culture at all

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It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a moment that it is always far easier to destroy than to create.  One bomb or wrecking ball can shatter in an instant the cathedral that it took human hands and minds fifty years to build. 

What is true of buildings is true of culture generally. 

During the early and dark days of World War II, when the British army at Dunkirk had the sea behind them and the Germans before them, they sent a message back home consisting of three words: But if not. 

It was a brilliant message, because even if the Germans managed to intercept it and decode it, it wouldn't have done them any good. "But if not"...what? 

But the army knew that their countrymen would understand. It was more than a message regarding strategy.  It captured the heart of the war itself, a battle for the survival of European culture and civilization against the diseased fantasies of the Third Reich.

The reference comes from the story of the Hebrew youths Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in captivity in ancient Babylon, who refused to bow down in worship before the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar.  The king summoned them before him in a fury and demanded their submission, lest he cast them into the fiery furnace.  Their reply was manly and direct:

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. BUT IF NOT be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

The British people then roused themselves to action – ordinary men, anyone with a boat and a heart that beat warmly for God and country.  They crossed the channel in defiance of the enemy and rescued more than three hundred thousand men.  

The incident reveals more than a common language.  It reveals a common way of life, and a common view of life.  The sterling words of the old King James Bible, a work of the highest culture, had long come to inform and vivify the ways of ordinary people. 

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That message could not now be sent, either to England or America. It would be incomprehensible.  That is not because the culture has changed.  It is because it has been destroyed, and the most energetic destroyers have been the very people whom we charge with its care: teachers, professors, statesmen, and artists.

Thomas Molnar had this to say about it:

Culture has come to mean . . . anything that happens to catch the fancy of a group: rock concerts, supposedly for the famished of the third world; the drug culture and other subcultures; sects and cults; sexual excess and aberration; blasphemy on stage and screen; frightening and obscene shapes; the plastic wrapping of Pont-Neuf or the California coast; to smashing of the family and other institutions; the display of the queer [that is, bizarre], abject, the sick.  These instant products, meant to provide instant gratification to a society itself unmoored from foundation and tradition, accordingly deny the work of mediation and maturation and favor the incoherent, the shapeless and the repulsive.

All in a day's work at your local school, CBS, the BBC, the CBC, The New York Times, the Guggenheim, Broadway, Harvard, Hollywood, your local school, Cosmopolitan, the Playboy Channel, Princeton, your local school, Young Adult Fiction, the halls of Congress, Planned Parenthood, the “Adult” bookstore with no windows, your local school.

We want to raise up young people in a culture of life. Well and good. But that means that we require a culture, and that doesn't happen by itself, especially not now, when all the forces of “education” and mass entertainment are ranged against the very possibility of a culture.  

Imagine a scene of wholesale destruction. Every old and venerable structure has been reduced to rubble. People relieve themselves in the street. Sometimes they copulate there, too. Their “music” is little more than grunting and groaning. Their rulers are on the take. There are hundreds of thousands of old books in the mountain of stone and mortar that used to be the library. Most of those books are far beyond the capacity of the people to read. They sneer and snort at Shakespeare, because they can't understand him. They've never even heard of Virgil. A lot of these people have taken to cannibalism. 

Now then – you have retained some vague memory of a more noble way of life.  You have therefore arrived at a great truth. It's perfectly obscure to most of your fellow rubble-pickers, who mock you and call you a prude, a Neanderthal, a medieval monk, a madman, a hater of the hungry, and so forth. Your precious truth is simply this: it is wrong to eat human flesh. 

Well, that is no great burst of enlightenment, but it is a beginning. So what do you do?  Will you be content to say, “My children will do everything that everyone else is doing, but they will not eat human flesh?” They will be subhuman and subcultural, but their taste in dining will be restricted just a little?  Is that all?  

Will you say, “Our family is not anthropophagous, but we will send our children to be taught by the same fellow that all the other parents use,” the one with the squalid leer, dabbling in excrement, contemptuous of any wisdom from the past?

That is where pro-life parents find themselves now.

Should we expect any help from places like Yale? Those places sponsor weeks for show-and-tell by whores and peddlers of sex toys. Any help from your local school? That would be like expecting Belial to lead you in prayer. There is no help from “the culture,” because there is no longer any culture; only the rubble of what used to be a culture.

What do you do, then?  Turn back, O man.  It's time to recover and rebuild. 

More to come.

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The U.S. Supreme Royal Court decrees: 2+2=5

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By Anthony Esolen

The Supreme Court Royal of the United States, employing its high priestly power to decide the most profound questions of human existence, has recently decreed that two and two are five, that a man has the physical capacity to perform the conjugal act with another man, and that anyone who believes otherwise is merely and offensively irrational.

Those "irrational" madmen and cads would include almost everyone who has ever walked the earth, liberals as well as conservatives. There is a simple explanation for that practical unanimity. It is not that men agree about everything. It is not that they are consistently good reasoners. It is not that they share the same religious faith. It is that the fact of the matter is right in front of their noses in all its gaudy bloom, and you have to think yourself into pretzels of unreality in order to miss it or deny it.  

“That don't go there,” said the farmer.

Here we have to return to reality. “The growth of a world in which men can live as men,” writes Frank Sheed in Society and Sanity, “has been the growth of reason's domination over the instincts – all the instincts, including the instinct of sex. There is no special privilege exempting sex alone from the control of reason. That it is more exciting than the others does not make it less in need of control but more.”  

Perhaps we can see the principle more clearly if we change the subject. Imagine a world of unfettered rapacity, in which the instinct to get and keep were not under the control of reason. Imagine a world of free-swinging bloodlust, in which the craving for glory and the exhilaration of war were not under the control of reason. Imagine a world of unchecked ambition. Imagine a world wherein the fear of death so dominates the minds of men, they will give up every freedom in order to keep off the dreaded day as long as possible. If you asked people who lived in these worlds to justify themselves, they would certainly come up with arguments, for men are glib and voluble, especially when they need to excuse what is wrong. They would have “reasons,” but not reason. In every case, they would be failing to take account of reality. For reason is the mind's adjustment of itself to what is real. It is not the mind's distortion of what is real in order to suit the passions. The thief can call himself transproprietary – he is still a thief. The invader can call himself translimitary – he is still an invader. A skunk by any other name / Will be malodorous all the same.

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So we must look at what is real. Now, one of the current excuses for a certain predilection for abusing the sexual powers is that it is a natural and incidental variation, like being left-handed.

Let's think about that for a moment. As it happens, I am a lefty. What does that mean?

In ordinary things, it means nothing. Nature has endowed human beings with a marked asymmetry when it comes to work with the hands. Most people are more agile with one hand than the other. They throw or write or handle delicate instruments with the same hand, usually the right hand, but in about a tenth of people it is the left. But the left-hander uses his left hand exactly as the right-hander uses his right hand. The left-hander is left-handed in the very same way that the right-hander is right-handed. He does not walk on his left hand, nor does the right-hander walk on his right hand. He does not see with his left hand, nor does the right-hander see with his right hand. He has no desire to mangle his left hand, nor does the right-hander want to mangle his right hand.  

There are perhaps a few interesting differences, noticeable across the populations of left-handers and right-handers. The lefties may be more ambidextrous, perhaps in part because they have to use tools that right-handers have crafted for themselves: screwdrivers, scissors, the pull-chains on lawn mowers, circular saws, and gear shifts. I myself use a knife with my right hand, and punt with my right leg. There are neurological reasons why lefties are more prone to asthma, deficiencies in the immune system, and speech impediments. Lefties are also much more likely to be geniuses. But the fact is that a left-hander's left hand is the same as a right-hander's right hand. They are hands, not legs, livers, spleens, ears, or intestines.

When a male says, “My desire to couple with another male is just like another man's desire to couple with a woman,” that cannot possibly be true. First there is the reality of his body. His genitals are designed for reproduction. It is not pleasure-fluid that he ejaculates, but the seed of new human life. It does not go in the rectum, the troublesome terminus of the body's sewage system. If you try to force it in there, you will cause the body quite a few problems, just as if you insist on driving your truck in reverse gear at high speed, you will end up with a ruined transmission. That is not how the truck is designed to be driven. It is not where the male organ is designed to go, and we can call to witness the wide range of diseases, some of them virtually nonexistent otherwise, to which the abusers of the organs in question are prone.

So the gay man is not using his body as the ordinary man uses his, nor as the ordinary woman uses hers. That is plain physiological fact. He is not analogous to a left-hander writing a letter, but to someone with a fetish for using his hand in a way for which hands are not designed; chewing on his hand, thrusting his fingers into his fundament, sticking his fingers down his throat, or banging his knuckles with a hammer. If he said to us, “But it gives me pleasure to do these things,” we would shrug and say that we expected as much, but that it did not alter the nature of the case. Hands are hands, not sandwiches or suppositories or anvils.

At this point he may say, “But we do all kinds of things that transcend the capacities of the body. We ride in cars, don't we? The human body was not made for such speed. What I am doing is like that.”

Again we return to reality. The human body is certainly made for locomotion. That is why we have legs. The inventive human mind has come up with ways to enhance the locomotion, to enhance the power of the legs. So we ride a horse or a cart or a train, or we fly in an airplane. These are tools that are in accord with reason and reality. They elevate the powers inherent in man. They do not pervert them. There are drugs that assist the heart in pumping the blood through the body. There are prostheses that partially replace the function of a lost limb. Writing makes it possible for us to “speak” to people far away from our voices in place and time.  

But it would not be an enhancement of the power of locomotion to bind up a girl's feet so that she could only walk slowly and with pain. It is not an extension of the power of speech to pierce the tongue with nails. It does not heal the body to amputate a healthy arm. We do not see more clearly when we bathe our eyes in hydrochloric acid.  

“I grant that the use of the body is drastically different from the norm,” he will say. “But my desire is just like the normal man's desire.” That is not true either.

More to follow.

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The dubious education of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

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By Anthony Esolen

(LifeSiteNews) - I'm thinking about the education of two women.

One of them was born to wealth and privilege, and continued in both. She's now a member of a cultural archonate, a super-legislature whose decrees are binding upon 300 million people. She's never been married, she has no children, and, like almost all women of our time and most men, she's never been near to hard daily manual labor, or war, or the imminent threats of famine, pestilence, violence, and the wild caprice of nature. It would take more than a prolonged storm, or an attack of hungry bears – it would take a colossal global breakdown to cause her, and almost all of the rest of us who live in the western world, weary in our riches, to wonder where to find meat for the table tonight.

The other woman was also born to wealth and privilege, and also continued in both. She married, twice, and she wanted children, though none came. When she was 32 she and her first husband bought an orange grove in northern Florida, near the swamplands and live-oak forests called the Big Scrub. Her husband hated the place and left her, but she remained, and spoke endlessly with the old men who had lived thereabouts and along the even wilder banks of the Saint John's River. From close observation she learned about the wild things that teemed there; such edibles as gallberries, red mayhaws, persimmon, wild plum, and scuppernong grapes; but also wolves, foxes, lynx, panthers, possums, squirrels, raccoons, deer, black bears, and, in the water, alligators and the deadly cottonmouth. Her second and richer education began in Florida, listening to the stories told by those old men. They were half wild themselves, hunting, trapping, farming, fishing, trading, drinking, marrying and begetting children and burying some of them and raising the rest to adulthood.

I know a good deal about the education the first woman had. I had it myself. She is Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan, graduate of Princeton, class of 1981; my class.

It's hard for me to disentangle the good from the bad, when I think about Princeton. At that time, classes in the humanities were held for four hours a week, three for lectures and one for a “precept,” when the class was divided into small groups, ostensibly for more personal discussion of the text at hand. Only professors lectured, and many of them were masters of the art, beloved and admired for their eloquence. Thomas Roche, John Fleming, and Robert Hollander will be an influence upon my “style,” until the sad day when I bid farewell to teaching forever. In most departments (mathematics was a notorious exception) professors seemed to pride themselves on winning the hearts and minds of their students. Graduate students were permitted to lead some of the precepts, but that was it.  

There were brilliant minds, no doubt. My professors included scholars of world renown: Hollander (Dante and Italian literature), Saul Kripke (analytical philosophy), Goru Shimura (mathematics), Fouad Ajami (middle eastern politics). There was also the arrogance that comes with the Ivy brand – arrogance, avarice, and ambition. These evils were not counterbalanced by anything that would lift one's gaze to the heavens, in gratitude or humility. Among my close friends, only two or three regularly attended religious services. The impressive Gothic chapel was dark and cavernous and usually empty.  

There was also no curriculum. Could you leave Princeton without having read Augustine? Probably most people left Princeton without having heard of Augustine, or, at most, knowing of him only as a name out of the dark backward and abysm of time. In the old days, Princeton's entrance exam was Latin, but none of that classical education survived the sixties. All you had to do was to take two courses in each of four large areas – a requirement you might easily fulfill by accident, taking what you pleased. You also had to be proficient in one foreign language. That was it. Many Princetonians did read great works on their own; at any moment of the day you could walk past a conversation about Dostoyevsky or modern classical music. But there was no coherence to it all.  

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Nor did Princetonians have to worry about money. At that time, tuition amounted to about a third of the median household income. If you didn't have it, Princeton made up the difference. Many students came from wealth: country clubs, elite boarding schools, vacations in Europe. We did no physical labor to maintain the campus. The rooms in the older dormitories were handsome, and even we freshmen had a separate living room and bedroom. The meal plan allowed you to eat all you wanted. Drink and debauchery – managed well, so as not to interfere with ambition – were matters of moral indifference.

It had the failings of the parochial, without the virtues. It was narrow, but not bound by piety to any place or people, or duty to God. It could bring forth some phenomenally learned people, but not by design, and not, I think, with great frequency. It confirmed students in their high opinion of themselves and their right to visit their schemes upon their less advantaged countrymen.

And now, one of my own classmates can rule “unconstitutional” millennia of human history and culture. That anybody should do so is appalling under any circumstances; utterly baffling in what used to be a democratic republic. Perhaps only a hothouse orchid from a place like Princeton would consider it.

Then there is the other woman, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling. You may think that it is a sweet novel about a child and a pet, a deer named Flag. It is not sweet. It is an utterly unsentimental story about a boy who loses his boyhood and learns the sadness of being a man. Rawlings wove all the tales she heard from the old men into one many-colored tapestry of risk and responsibility, danger, destruction, beauty, human vice from “frolicsome” irresponsibility to vengeance and violence, and human virtues – manly integrity and womanly perseverance.  

It isn't simply that the work to be done in a place like the Big Scrub could break your health, as it does to the boy Jody's father, who is the hero of The Yearling. It could break your will too, if you did not set your face like flint – for who would want to go on a two-day-long hunt in the dead of winter, through swamps and across cold streams, for the most thieving bear in the county? Or, with Jody's longsuffering mother, knife off the rotten ends of unripe sweet potatoes, one after another, hundreds and hundreds of them, after the crop was ruined in a week-long storm? You had to do a hundred things requiring skill and judgment and muscle. But you had to be a man, you had to be a woman; and those were not the same things, and they required more than having the body of an adult.

At the end of the novel, Jody has to shoot his yearling deer, because it has been ruining the crops. He does it, and runs away from home in a rage, returning a week later, sadder and wiser. His father speaks to him.

“You figgered I went back on you,” he says. “Now there's a thing ever' man has got to know. Mebbe you now it a'ready.  'Twa'n't only me. 'Twa'n't only your yearlin' deer havin' to be destroyed. Boy, life goes back on you.”  

Jody looks at his father and nods.

“You've seed how things goes in the world o' men. You've knowed men to be low-down and mean. You've seed ol' Death at his tricks. You've messed around with ol' Starvation. Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. 'Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but 'tain't easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I've been uneasy all my life.

“I've wanted life to be easy for you. Easier'n' 'twas for me. A man's heart aches, seein' his young uns face the world. Knowin' they got to git their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin'. I knowed the lonesomeness he eased for you. But ever' man's lonesome. What's he to do then? What's he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.”

If I had to have somebody rule over me as a Cultural Goddess, it would be someone who listened to the men who with their trusty wives braved a land of predators and fever and teeming life and danger ever near. It would be somebody like Marjorie Rawlings. But she would be too wise to take the job. With what choice words, heard among old men with whisky, vinegar, and tobacco spit in their veins, would she reduce to shame anyone so base as to make the offer!

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The stakes of our moral debates are high. But nobody seems to act as if they are, instead focusing on the irrelevant.

The curious unseriousness of all our moral debates

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By Anthony Esolen

I've come to believe that there is something fundamentally unserious these days about moral discussions.

Imagine two farmers, brothers working the same five hundred acres, arguing about whether to take a big chance on the next harvest, by sowing a lucrative crop in fields that are already worn thin in nutrients. Jim wants to do it, thinking that they may as well, since they're in debt and the only way to clear it will be to win big. John thinks that the risk isn't worth it, and that if they sow the usual crops while letting half of their fields lie fallow, they'll go deeper in debt for the coming year, but they'll stand a decent chance to clear things up the year after.

Nobody will say, “John, you must be gentle in addressing the gamblers,” or, “Jim, you are unwelcoming to the cautious.” We would all understand that the tone of the argument is not to the point. The stakes are high. A mistake could mean losing everything.

Or imagine your daughter is being pursued by two young men who want to marry her. One of them is good looking, well spoken, full of life, wealthy, and shiftless. He is unemployed. The other is ordinary looking, slow of speech, solid, of modest means, and absolutely trustworthy. He has not been unemployed since he was sixteen. She has had her head turned by the shiftless man, and you see her as in a car speeding along a mountain road with hairpin turns.

Some people may advise you to be chary of your criticism, because if you push too hard, you may push her right into the arms of the bad man. But not even they would tell you not to take the matter seriously. The stakes are high. Misery threatens on the horizon.

So why do we not view with the same sobriety such questions as now beset what remains of our culture? We wouldn't say to a child, “Each of us has his own opinion regarding whether it's good to eat the strange fruit on that tree, so go ahead and eat it if you like.” We wouldn’t say to someone about to drive a car recently repaired, “Each of us has his own opinion about the steering differential, and whether it will disengage at a high speed, but go ahead and try it out if you like.” That's because we take poison seriously, and cars careening over a guard rail. No one calls the cautious man a toxophobe. No one accuses him of prejudice against unknown berries, or alternative gear styles.

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Now, when a Christian or even a sensible pagan calls an action gravely evil, he is in addition making the same kind of claim as does someone who says, “That fruit is poisonous,” or “That gear will slip.” Granted, it cannot be “proved” by detached chemical or physical analysis. We must rely upon history, common sense, experience, and moral insight into the inner connections among the evil we now admit and the evil we will be led to admit to boot. The point is that to take that claim seriously is to admit the possibility that a mistake would be calamitous. The burden of proof is heavy, and lies upon those who argue for permissibility – you may eat the fruit, you may drive that car.

But far from shouldering that burden, those among us who argue for permissibility shrug it away. Among Christians this is inexplicable. Scripture continually warns us against judging in our own case; against taking the path that seems good to us. For the heart of man is deceitful from his youth – who can fathom it? Has not the last century given us proof of the depths to which man can deceive himself, and bring down upon the world the vengeance of heaven? The Christian must always be wary of errors in permissibility. The broad way leads to destruction. Evil is what it is regardless of what anyone says about it. It will destroy. If the secular man will not believe Jesus, that he who sins is a slave to sin, or John, that the wages of sin is death, let him turn to Plato or Thucydides or Cicero or Tacitus or Epictetus, and hear much the same thing in different words. 

What explains this nonchalance? Someone says that sodomy is all right, and that people who disagree are simply hateful. Well, the person who says, “That fruit is poisonous” may or may not be hateful; he may be filled with such love that he risks mockery or contempt. It is not to the point. Someone says that snuffing out the life you have conceived is all right, and that people who disagree simply want to bind the lives of women. Well, the person who says, “That gear will slip” may or may not hate the mechanic who put it there, may or may not want to make sure that you stay put; or he may be filled with such love that he risks hurting your feelings and losing your friendship. It is not to the point.

Why do people not see that? I'll suggest two reasons. Many more are possible.

One is that academics, whose voices are the loudest in these matters, are insulated from the results of their folly. It is “academic” to them. They need not see the child hardened in resentment as he is shipped from one parent to another. They do not visit slums, police precincts, prisons, and morgues. 

Another is that no one knows any history. We are taught to scorn the hard-won achievements of our ancestors, and to shrug away the terrible lessons of moral degeneracy.

But the fruit on that bush will not oblige us for approving it. Evil is what it is, and does what it does. That is so even in this life, let alone the life to come. 

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The Catholic Church’s priest shortage crisis: a self-inflicted wound

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By Anthony Esolen

Suppose you take a double-barrel shotgun and aim it at your foot. You press the trigger, and half of your toes are bloody fragments. Then you pray, “Cure me, O Lord, for I am lame!” You hobble around for a while, complaining that there are hills in the world, and looking forward to that time when the Lord will level them all and fill in the valleys, so that you won't have to lean on your crutch so hard. But you still carry that shotgun around, and every year you repeat the same mysterious experiment in new and improved ambulation. You have now rendered one foot nothing but an ankle ending in a splinter, and the other foot a mangled mess. But you keep praying, “Heal me, Lord, help me to walk upright again!”

When, after many years of limping as a cripple, you are persuaded that the Lord is not going to make your feet grow back, you begin to say that it is a good thing to be hobbled; it allows us to experience the wonders of chair-lifts, special parking places, threats of gangrene, and early death. But that doesn't mean that you change everything you believe. You are still a stalwart with that shotgun. Ready, aim, fire.

The Catholic Church is in dire need of priests. She had plenty of priests before the onset of liturgical abuses not sanctioned by the Second Vatican Council's Sacrosanctum Concilium. Mathematician and computer programmer David Sonnier has plotted out the precipitous decline in vocations after the Council, illustrating it by an asymptotic curve he calls, with mordant irony, the Springtime Decay Function, whereby he concludes that we are missing more than 300,000 priests who otherwise might have been ministering to the people of God today. He shows his students the data, telling them that it marks enrollment at a college, and he asks them to guess what happened. They reply in one way or another that the college in question must have made a dreadfully bad decision in 1965.

“Did they get rid of football?” asked one of the students.

The answer to that is yes, they did “get rid of football.” Nowhere in Sacrosanctum Concilium or in other documents of Vatican II, as Professor Sonnier observes, are the following liturgical innovations mandated or recommended or even suggested:

* orientation ad populum
* Communion in both species
* Communion received in the hand
* Communion received while standing, as at a delicatessen
* removal of altar rails
* prohibition of Masses said according to the 1962 missal
* exclusive use of the vernacular
* girls serving at the altar

Instead, Sacrosanctum Concilium forbids innovations in the liturgy, “unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC, 23). Not one of those innovations above can pass that severe test, and, as Sonnier notes, several of them had already been condemned.

Sonnier understands that correlation and causation are not the same; though it defies all reason to suppose that a decline so sudden and so calamitous was strictly coincidental. One way to show that it was not coincidental – that the foot's agony had something to do with the shotgun and the trigger – would be to go to those dioceses and communities that did not pull the trigger, and to see whether they are walking about hale and hearty and on two feet. And so they are: Lincoln, Nebraska; Arlington, Virginia; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate; the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

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But when I said that “they got rid of football,” I meant it. Apart from the dubious orthodoxy or the dubious theology behind those innovations in liturgy and then in preaching, there were all the reasons in the world to suppose, from what we know about human beings in general and boys and men in particular, that the changes would be calamitous.

Think. Open your eyes. Remember a little history. Men fight. Many of them really enjoy fighting with their fists, but many more enjoy the spirit of intellectual or spiritual combat for something to which they will devote their goods, their lives, and their sacred honor. So what have we done?

We have eliminated from most hymnals every single song that had anything to do with fighting the good fight. A boy may attend Mass for ten years and never hear one hymn that calls him to the soldiership of Christ.

Men are gamblers, for good and bad. Many of them court risk. They are the inventors of backgammon, cribbage, poker, “fantasy sports,” billiards, and chess. They are the ones who will risk ruining themselves for an idea or an invention. So what have we done?

We have lowered the stakes. If everyone is saved – though our Lord clearly warns us against that sluggish sureness – then why sweat? Where's the adventure? No real boy says, “I want to grow up to be a fat bishop sitting in the chancery while the real world goes on its merry way,” or, “I want to grow up to be a man without a wife and children, who spends his days being nice.” Is that it?

Men thrive in brotherhoods. Not peoplehoods, but specifically brotherhoods. See Tom Sawyer, Gilgamesh, the Germanic comitatus, the Japanese samurai, the monks of Saint Benedict, the fishermen of Newfoundland, the Plains Indians, the cristeros of Mexico, and, in a human sense, the apostles of our Lord Himself. So what have we done?

We have obliterated the brotherhoods. We got rid of most of our high schools for boys. We got rid of every one of our colleges for young men. We dissolved the brotherhood of acolytes – the altar boys. We did this at the worst imaginable time, just when everybody else was doing the same thing, so that now in most places CYO Basketball is but a memory, Boys' Clubs are Boys' and Girls' Clubs, which means Safe Small Children's Clubs, and the Boy Scouts have been sued clear to the precincts of Sodom.

Men understand authority and flourish in it. If you doubt this, you have never come near the locker room of a football team, nor have you troubled to consider whether that team could run a single play, let alone win a game, without strict adherence to a chain of command established for the common good. “I am a man under authority,” said the centurion to Jesus. He did not say, “I insist upon equality.” Men are the ones who invented orders. Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts, understood the principle. What have we done?

We have obliterated distinctions between the clergy and the laity. We have turned a suspicious eye against the fundamental virtue of obedience, instead teaching that every man may do what appears right to him in his own mind.

Men are inspired by discipline. They are the ones who invented Boot Camp – and are disappointed now to find that it isn't any longer any great deal, not if you've been a wrestler or a football player in high school. Find out what the boy in the American prairies underwent to prove himself a man. What have we done?

We have eliminated almost every strenuous practice of self-denial from the common life of the Church. All we say is that if you are chewing gum during Mass, please to move it to the left side of your jaws so as to clear a space on the right to receive the Lord at Communion.

No ascetic life, no hierarchy, no brotherhood, no risk, no battle – no priests. And then there are the supernatural concerns, about which I will have more to say next time.

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Anthony Esolen

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Anthony currently serves as professor of English at Providence College, and is perhaps best known for his widely acclaimed translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He has also authored several original works, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization and the satirically titled Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He regularly writes for publications including The Catholic Thing and Crisis Magazine.

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