Friday, August 10, 2012
Of chicken sandwiches and societal decay...
Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
You and so many, many "Catholics" know just what needs to be done to save the Church. Get rid of fluff and bratwurst, add water balloons and donuts, get the kids out of the trees, and completely disregard anything taught in a Catholic school for the past several decades. All written so "all encompassing" - where did you all come from? Let's have a good old fashioned crusade...with swords and stuff. It should be great fun, or should it be humorless and dour....children trudging off to find true religion? What's the answer?
Sadie T. & Sol A. Civitas
Dear Sol and Sadie,
I am not sure that I know quite what you are driving at, but I’ll give it a stab. Before I begin my usual denunciation of everything and everyone I would suggest that we all do a web search for “The Laughter of John Paul II.” St. Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Galatians, and we are all pretty joyless right about now, on the right, the left and everywhere in between.
Now for the thundering joyless denunciation. A Rabbi once explained to me that since Jews have been around a long time, they don’t count on institutions the way that people with shorter memories might. For instance, in a Jewish wedding contract, a Ketubah, there are generally no references to states and countries. Cities might be referenced by name and physical features, such as “ in the city of Frostbite Falls, by the shores of Lake Gitchigoomi...” No country is mentioned because countries come and go. Large bodies of water, mountains and the Word of the Lord endure.
Think about it. Israel outlived the Sumerians, the Egyptian empire, the Babylonian empire, the Persian empire the Greek empire and along with the Christian version of Israel, we have outlived the Roman empire, the Visigothic empire, the more or less Holy Roman empire, and a lot of other empires. Consider the interesting tale of St. Lambert of Maastricht who was martyred by the rulers of Austrasia in 700 AD. That’s Austrasia, not Australia. St. Lambert (or Landebertus as his mother called him) was the bishop of Maastricht. Pepin, the ruler of Austrasia had dumped his lawful wife, Plectrude, in favor of Alpaida, daughter of Dodo, a mover and shaker in the political hurly burly of Austrasia and its neighbor Neustria. Lambert denounced Pepin’s liaison with Alpaida, so Alpaida’s relatives murdered Lambert who thus became a martyr for his defense of traditional marriage. There is no more Austrasia, and the name of Dodo is quite extinct. There are still buildings built in honor of Lambert. There is a particularly lovely one in Skokie near the shores of Lake Michigan. I don’t think that Dodo even has a plaque in his memory.
There is a saying that, “He who is married to the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower.” You have heard of the age of Reason, the Baroque Era, the Middle Ages, the Jazz Age? We live in what history will call “the Age of Wackiness” in which entire nations decided to extinct themselves by means of a redefinition of the family, by making sterility drugs an insurance requirement, and by calling the wholesale murder of children a “medical service.”
I suspect that the nation in which I live is pretty much over. It was fun while it lasted. In the country in which I grew up, most people could pretty much say what they thought, though there was a lot of prejudice against people who were different, especially people of color. We went through a whole social revolution in which the constitutional right to self expression was finally extended to everyone. I reveled in my right to self expression by wearing outlandish outfits that, I am now ashamed to say, included orange bell bottom pants. It was a glorious 10 years or so. Now that era is over. If one thinks that it is probably not a good idea for guys to marry guys, one is not allowed to sell chicken sandwiches -- really good chicken sandwiches. In the past, religious zealots censored the speech and the thought of non-conformists. Religious zealots are doing it again, but the religious zealots of the present age have a religion that pretty much leaves God out of the picture, at least God as we Catholics understand Him. It’s really quite amazing.
What in my hippy-dippy youth was free speech is now hate speech. Like the game of whack-a-mole, you pound down bigotry to have it pop up in another place. The non-conformists of the present age are those people who, like me, believe in a traditional definition of family, marriage and faith. The zealots of the religion of modernity can tolerate everything but intolerance. Modernity is a religion in which all things are allowed and none are forgiven. Christianity is the exact opposite in which many things are not allowed, but all things can be forgiven. The New Zealots say that I must pay for their abortions and their recreational chasing around. I must celebrate their aberrations that fifty years ago all agreed were at least a bit odd. They are not content with my tolerance. They demand my agreement, and I just can’t bring myself to agree, no matter how much I want a really good chicken sandwich. What’s the answer? I’m not sure, and I don’t think that any of us going to like it when it arrives.
We are bankrupt, certainly morally, but far more interestingly to most, financially. When people talk about the trillions of dollar we are spending, eyes just glaze over. There is a simpler way to look at it. If you made $21,700 a year, but you spent nearly twice that, $38,200 even though you had an existing credit card balance of $142,710, you would be in big trouble. That’s what the United States Federal government is doing every year, except that the $142,170 keeps going up because the $15 or $16 thousand extra you keep spending, even though you don’t have it, gets added to the debt. I know! We’ll write checks! (For “writing checks” read printing money). By the time the grocery store cashes the check, we’re bound to have more money somehow!
Thus the finances of the Age of Wackiness, and this approach is not new. The Roman government started to water down it’s currency with lead because it ran out of gold and silver. Pretty soon the Roman government wouldn’t even accept its own money as payment for taxes. You had to pay them in chickens or bushels of turnips or whatever they told you they wanted from you. The population plummeted. People quietly packed up and move across the border if they could. The government couldn’t even pay for enough soldiers. They actually outsourced their military needs! Finally in the year 400, the Rio Grande, I mean the Rhine River, froze solid and the Germans stormed across it, and it was good bye Rome, hello Visigoths. The same thing happened in Germany not too long ago, around 1930. The Weimar government after the First World War just kept printing money until it became more cost effective to burn money than to buy firewood. Along came this unpleasant little fellow from Austria, Hitler, who promised he would make everything better if people just didn’t ask too many questions.
My point is this. We may quibble about chicken sandwiches and same-sex marriage, but all the while there is a great storm brewing. The generation that defeated Hitler and Hirohito is often called the greatest generation. They shivered in the trenches and starved and bled, believing that they were protecting the homes and families they loved. They risked their lives and many lives were lost so that freedom would not evaporate from the world. They swore that their children would not have to go through what they had endured and victorious, the greatest generation came home and raised the whiniest generation, my generation. We in turn gave birth to the clueless generation, raised without fathers, without faith and thus pretty much without a moral compass or marketable skills.
Lots of the “you all” to whom you refer in your kind though inscrutable letter, are hunkering down for the apocalypse. I am not one of them. I suspect that the apocalypse is not yet upon us, but another historical hiccup is. People think the age in which they live will just keep on going on and on because we have reached the high point of history. Someone living in 350AD might say “Rome has not been conquered since the Gauls in 390 BC! What’s all this defeatist talk about the Germans?” So for 700 years Rome plodded on until she no longer had the will or the ability to resist her own demise. And when it came it was not so much with a bang but a whimper.
Rome was a city of one million people. Rome! A city of one million people! Eating and drinking, selling and buying, throwing out garbage, voting for corrupt politicians etc. A few centuries later she was a town of perhaps 20,000. She had lost 98% of her population. Rome nearly died not just because of external enemies, but by the failure of her technology. Aqueducts. Rome had 111 aqueducts that watered, bathed, flushed and cooled one million people. They were maintained by the city and needed regular maintenance, cleaning and supervision. With the invasions of the Roman Empire, some aqueducts were deliberately destroyed to starve the cities but many more became unusable through lack of sufficient maintenance. While we argue about the moral significance of chicken sandwiches, our world is collapsing.
To be continued…