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The Unrepentant Traditionalist
March 5, 2009

Our Just Deserts
by Frank Creel

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 the ways.

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 it.

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 Street’s shenanigans.

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 percent were.

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.

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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 News, Woodbridge, Virginia. His op-ed articles have been published in the Northern Virginia Journal, the Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and the New York City Tribune. In 1992, his A Trilogy of Sonnets was published pseudonymously by Christendom Press.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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