After the 9/11 attacks, and then again after Hurricane Katrina, certain
men of the cloth suggested that the disasters might be divine retribution.
They were harshly castigated for their effrontery.
Rightly so, I think. God’s mind is not that easy to plumb,
and all of us should be leery of acting as his press agent — not that
the temptation to do so is not a powerful one.
My wife and I first visited New Orleans a few years before Katrina.
At the time the city was hosting a gay convention. Along with Preservation
Hall jazz and the beignets, we were treated to a boatload of public
hand-holding, rump-caressing, and other forms of same-sex amorous behavior.
After that, jeremiads take on a certain degree of plausibility. Could
New Orleans be the new Sodom after all? But that is the sin of Peter
upbraiding the Lord, thinking like men rather than like God.
When God took our form, the form of slaves, he did so to redeem us,
not to condemn us. He reproved the sons of thunder for wanting to call
down divine retribution on an entire town. He taught peace, love for
our enemies, fearlessness. He smote no one, curing all with the sole
precondition of faith.
Our current troubles, in short, are not God’s fault.
With that established, it is fair to ask whose fault it is. With
God eliminated, the only sensible answer is: Ours. How so? Let me count
Our greatest crime was buying into the utilitarian ethic birthed
by the so-called Enlightenment. A thing is to be judged good or bad
only by its empirically demonstrable consequences. Generally, if it
gives pleasure, it is good; if it causes pain, it is bad. Hand in hand
with utilitarianism, also called consequentialism, is that great American
contribution to world philosophy, pragmatism. If it works, embrace
The main problem with such thinking is that it excludes the possibility
of eternal verities, of absolutes, of truths knowable through deductive
reasoning from first principles, which all the philosophies of the
Enlightenment scorned as “metaphysical nonsense.”
Hence, the shady practices of Wall Street in devising credit swaps
and a host of ultimately unsecuritized derivative lending instruments
were “good” because they gave a great deal of pleasure
and wealth to the traders and swappers who indulged in them. This was
so good that the profits of our financial industry have lately accounted
for a full one-third, according to The Rockford Institute’s David
Hartman, of total U.S. corporate profits.
Congress, too, felt “good” about itself when it passed
the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977 (amended and strengthened
repeatedly in the Papa Bush and Clinton administrations) because it
muscled banks into making millions of house loans to people who really
could not afford to make their mortgage payments. It was good, was
it not, to give the pleasure of home ownership to all those poor people?
By the by, Congress and Clinton repealed the depression-era Glass-Steagall
Act, thereby facilitating the corruption of the banking system by Wall
Even a little dab of metaphysical deduction would have disclosed
to the geniuses on Wall Street that they were gambling with other people’s
money without their consent and that every dollar they raked in with
their outlandish fees and commissions stank of greed. A mere glance
at first principles, or even a longer-term utilitarian calculus, should
have persuaded Congress that it was not wise to sweep away the bottom
floor of a house of cards by enacting the CRA and repealing Glass-Steagall.
In 1999, only 5 percent of mortgages were sub-prime; by 2008, 30
As things stand, Wall Street and Congress are not that exceptional
in their moral and practical ineptitude. They are virtually indistinguishable,
in fact, from the generality of our society. Most of us are consumerists.
As a country we are utilitarian, pragmatic, and pleasure seeking. We
are not terribly interested in allowing principle, delay of gratification,
concern for others, or the cultivation of virtue to override our perceived
self-interests. The way we educate our children, the books we read,
the movies we watch, the commercials we mindlessly absorb, and the
intellectually inert group-think of the economic, political and, often,
religious elites we all seek to emulate — all have been infected with
the utilitarian/pragmatic ethos of the Enlightenment Project, which
is ongoing and in full flower.
Lest I seem to oversimplify, let me list other failures.
We were crazy to allow our demographic balance to be upset by the
population controllers and to make DINKs (double-income-no-kids) role
models for our young people. Grand social schemes like Social Security,
Medicare, and Medicaid are debatably foolish to begin with; they are
most certainly unsustainable if we encourage, through contraception
and abortion, a rise in the median age of our populace. In addition
to those deadly spawns of utilitarianism, there are people, I know people, who get themselves sterilized before marriage because “all
we need is each other,” because they prefer dogs to kids, and
because they do not want to give up their ski vacations. These are
sociopathies with dire economic consequences.
Perhaps worst of all is the general weakening of religious influence
in America — although this may be mere repetition of my contention
above that we succumbed to the utilitarian ethos. Both of these, in
fact, may be merely symptoms of what Chesterton predicted almost a
century ago: “The next great heresy is going to be simply an
attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality. The madness
of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.” Certainly,
traditional religion is seen as the greatest enemy of sexual liberty,
the insistent refrain of which can be seen as the underlying cause
of all civilizational collapse.
No sober historian will see what we are going through as God’s
judgment on us. All will agree that we have condemned ourselves by
trading our moral sustenance for Manhattan’s glass beads.
The Unrepentant Traditionalist is copyright (c) 2009 by Frank
Creel and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
All rights reserved.
Frank Creel, Ph.D., has been a columnist for the Potomac
Virginia. His op-ed articles have been published in the Northern
Virginia Journal, the Washington Examiner,
Times, and the New York City Tribune. In 1992, his A
Trilogy of Sonnets was published pseudonymously by Christendom
See a complete biographical sketch.
To subscribe or donate to the FGF E-Package online or
send a check to:
P.O. Box 1383
Vienna, VA 22183