THE REACTIONARY UTOPIAN
December 30, 2019
The Real News of the Century
A classic by Joe Sobran
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
Sobran’s: The Real News of the Month, June 2000 — Whenever people praise my courage, I think: “If only they knew how little I really have!” Much as I venerate martyrs, I’ve done nothing to put myself in their company, and I dread the true test, especially after reading about those heroic souls who have endured it (as I’ll shortly explain).
The new hypocrisy consists in pretending nothing is wrong when everything is all wrong. This is now called “tolerance” and “diversity” — “our greatest strength,” according to Clinton, the perfect homilist for perverted hypocrisy.
One reason I write as I do is to avoid living in a country in which I’d have to be truly brave. Here, at least for the time being, I can’t be jailed and tortured for my views, and I’d like to keep it that way. I have just enough courage to risk ostracism by people I would gladly ostracize myself, even if it costs me some income to incur their displeasure. We live in an age of hypocrisy that makes the Victorian Age seem an era of rowdy candor.
The Victorians were notoriously hypocritical about sex; that is, they spoke of it with excessive delicacy. Some people think we’ve gone to the opposite extreme, but this isn’t exactly true: we’ve merely managed to combine hypocrisy with vice, prurience, and obscenity. La Rochefoucauld called hypocrisy the tribute that vice pays to virtue; but among us, it’s become the reverse, a tribute that virtue pays to vice. We are all forced to pay lip-service to vice now, pretending it isn’t vice.
[Larry Flynt] adopts the view that anyone who espouses morality is a hypocrite, and he assumes he’s immune to the charge because he has no standards. By his logic, only decent people can be hypocrites.
On the last weekend of April, thousands of homosexuals gathered in Washington to stage an orgiastic political demonstration, which was addressed, appropriately enough, by Bill Clinton and Al Gore in taped messages. (Clinton spoke of the need for teaching “our children” that we must “respect each other.”) The Washington Post, forgetting once more that it’s supposed to be a newspaper, covered the event in the style not of journalism but of promotional literature, celebrating the “diverse crowd” (diversity, him good) with lavish upbeat color photos, such as a picture of a homosexual lad with his parents, all wearing T-shirts attesting their pride in the gay family member. (The “diverse crowd” included open pedophiles, but the decorum of fashionable opinion forbade the Post to mention them.)
At the same time, Clinton made a separate declaration that an international AIDS epidemic now constitutes a “threat to national security,” whatever that means. It certainly doesn’t mean discouraging promiscuous sodomy or acknowledging that sodomy is, among other things, a major sanitation problem.
We aren’t absolved of responsibility to the moral law just because we refuse to acknowledge it. The moral law is real; we all know it. …Morality is an inalienable aspect of human nature.
But the real hypocrisy consists in pretending that there is nothing amiss in homosexuality. Everyone knows better; homosexuality is a torment that nobody would wish on a loved one, and the torment is not simply that “society” still disapproves of it, or that it’s the target of “prejudice,” “hate,” and “homophobia.” The forced brazenness of “gay pride” is part of the hypocrisy. What’s to be proud of?
Are we really expected to believe this nonsense? Of course not. We’re expected to pretend we do. Otherwise we’re bigots, like the execrable John Rocker. What the enlightened sportswriters call Rocker’s “bigoted outburst” was really a bit of penetrating, if unauthorized, social criticism. He was talking about trashy people of all races, who, if you haven’t noticed, teem in our big cities. And in keeping with “gay pride,” they are defiantly trashy. That’s why Rocker’s infamous list started with kids with purple hair.
It’s hypocrisy to pretend we don’t know evil when we see it. …Nobody pretends not to know whether theft, bribery, and treachery are wrong; liberals can be extremely moralistic about everything but sex.
The new hypocrisy consists in pretending nothing is wrong when everything is all wrong. This is now called “tolerance” and “diversity” — “our greatest strength,” according to Clinton, the perfect homilist for perverted hypocrisy.
How fitting it was that during the impeachment debate the porn peddler Larry Flynt should emerge as one of Clinton’s defenders. If Clinton’s body were to be shed out of a river after soaking for a couple of weeks, it would look like Flynt.
Because he deals in raw filth, Flynt poses as an enemy of hypocrisy. He adopts the view that anyone who espouses morality is a hypocrite, and he assumes he’s immune to the charge because he has no standards. By his logic, only decent people can be hypocrites. To uphold principles you may not always live up to makes you, in his book, a hypocrite (as Clinton would probably agree). Thus Flynt becomes the moral superior of Henry Hyde. What’s wrong with this picture?
Such people are willing to pretend that killing isn’t killing; they shrink from using the word “kill” to describe what abortion does, though they would presumably acknowledge that bug sprays kill bugs and weed-killers kill weeds.
But we aren’t absolved of responsibility to the moral law just because we refuse to acknowledge it. The moral law is real; we all know it. It isn’t a matter of “belief,” in the sense that one may or may not believe in a controversial doctrine. Morality is an inalienable aspect of human nature. We all know in our hearts that sexual desire must be controlled and properly directed, even if we aren’t always clear how; we all recognize degradation when we see it, though our sense of it may be dulled by bad or vicious habits. No man in his right mind is indifferent to his daughter’s becoming a prostitute; and even a prostitute has some meager residue of modesty.
In fact the forms of feminine modesty are so nearly universal as to seem instinctive. Deviations from them exist mostly among isolated tribes in hot climates; but of course degenerate societies as well as individuals may depart from the norm now and then. The chief proof that sexual morality is basically universal is that even where men allow themselves to be promiscuous, they usually hold their women to a stricter standard. The libidinous sultan expects his harem to be perfectly chaste. In pagan Greece and Rome, such goddesses as Diana and Vesta were honored for their virginity. According to the myth, Diana was so angry when Actaeon came upon her bathing and saw her naked that she turned him into a stag and he was torn to pieces by his own hounds.
Christ himself expected everyone to recognize and acknowledge the truth. His truth was so authoritative, so compelling, that he seemed to assume that nobody who encountered it, simple peasant or learned epistemologist, could deny it in good faith.
Natural sexual morality is perversely confirmed by the universal phenomena, especially in wartime, of obscene sexual insults, sexual torture, and rape, all of which are felt to be ultimate degradations of enemies. Moral relativism is a luxury of peacetime; when hostilities explode, men passionately intent on doing evil instinctively express their real convictions in violence against the wives, mothers, and daughters of their foes.
In other words, it’s hypocrisy to pretend we don’t know evil when we see it. And it’s only in the area of sex that contemporary man sustains this pretense. Nobody pretends not to know whether theft, bribery, and treachery are wrong; liberals can be extremely moralistic about everything but sex. They aren’t moral relativists when it comes to smoking, owning guns, or simply preferring to associate with members of one’s own race or sex; on such matters they see no need for tolerance, and they even demand that the state totally eradicate practices they disapprove of. They merely single out sexual conduct as a privileged circle, where normal moral thinking doesn’t apply.
For liberalism, God himself is a tyrant, the only tyrant. This explains liberalism’s utter indifference to (and secret approval of) the persecution of Christianity, the untold story of the twentieth century.
It’s likewise hypocritical to pretend that our differences about abortion are due to differences of “belief.” Abortion advocates have kept shifting their ground over the years, first agreeing that abortion is an evil but arguing that legalizing it would control it; then turning agnostic, and adopting the line that “when life begins” is a “religious” question; and finally insisting that abortion is a “right,” which the state should actually promote and subsidize. Even now they shuttle between saying that we should try to make abortion “unnecessary” (through sex education and birth control) and demanding full public approval for it. If they were, as they insist, “pro-choice,” they would be horrified by forced abortion in China; but they are not, and some of them even defend the barbaric policy (“You have to understand that it’s a poor, overpopulated country ...”). We are dealing not with conscientious differences, but with hardened consciences. Such people are willing to pretend that killing isn’t killing; they shrink from using the word “kill” to describe what abortion does, though they would presumably acknowledge that bug sprays kill bugs and weed-killers kill weeds.
Christ himself expected everyone to recognize and acknowledge the truth. He didn’t speak of pluralism and religious differences; he didn’t warn the Apostles that they might meet philosophers with sophisticated doubts about whether the evidence of the senses might be trusted. He was quite emphatic that if men rejected the truth — his truth — when it was offered to them, they condemned themselves; and the Apostles were to shake the dust from their feet and move on. Forgiveness, yes, even for those who crucified him; tolerance in the modern sense, no. His truth was so authoritative, so compelling, that he seemed to assume that nobody who encountered it, simple peasant or learned epistemologist, could deny it in good faith. He warned that rejection and persecution would be the normal lot of Christians, because the world would hate the light and willfully refuse to convert, not because it might be innocently misinformed.
Liberalism would lead to an age far darker than the Dark Ages — the age of totalitarian states, with persecution and thought policing far beyond anything the Roman emperors could conceive. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and other “progressive” despots, ruling in the name of Science, would claim absolute authority over the minds of their subjects.
In time, miraculously, much of the world did convert, thanks to the witness of the martyrs; and a whole Christian civilization grew up. It was not, and could not be, a tolerant civilization, by liberal standards; it assumed that Christ had really revealed the essential truth about the world, and it regarded those who persisted in rejecting his truth — such as the Jews — as perversely backward, somewhat as modern men regard flat-earthers. They couldn’t understand treating the truth, revealed by God and available to all, as a matter of indifference or private opinion, as something that might or might not be true, or as something about which reasonable men might sincerely disagree. Not only individual minds but society itself required orthodoxy. Christians still remembered the everyday evils of the pagan world, which quietly disappeared during what liberalism would later call the Dark Ages: abortion, infanticide, pederasty, sexual license, slavery, crucifixion, arbitrary persecution and murder, the savage amusements of the Coliseum. There was no real doubt — or pretense of doubt — that these things were evil. Heresy and apostasy, if tolerated, might lead to their return. As indeed they are now doing, and have been doing for some time.
Liberalism has become the hypocrisy of pretending we don’t know good from evil. It even treats Communism — the most virulent form of apostasy the world has yet seen — as a matter of private belief, and the most impenitent agents of Stalin as victims of persecution. Only in Christianity does it see threats to freedom: the freedom of the Communist, the pornographer, the fornicator, the sodomite, the abortionist, and, ultimately, its most precious freedom of all — the freedom of the modern state, which is to say, the freedom of enlightened, progressive rulers to remake society without the inhibitions of Christian morality. For liberalism, God himself is a tyrant, the only tyrant. This explains liberalism’s utter indifference to (and secret approval of) the persecution of Christianity, the untold story of the twentieth century.
Repeatedly and emphatically, Christ told his disciples to prepare for [martyrdom] as the inevitable price of following him. …The return of terrible persecutions in the twentieth century confirms Christ’s prediction.
The proclaimed principles of liberalism contradict those of the totalitarian state; and classical liberals — now called libertarians to distinguish them from the prevalent type of leftist “liberals” who control the Democratic Party — still want to limit the state to the most basic functions (or to eliminate it altogether). But as this distinction suggests, the dynamics of liberalism are very different from its Jeffersonian rhetoric. In the real world, liberals have often shown sympathy for Communist regimes, have moved constantly from a libertarian to a socialist paradigm, and, in contrast to conservatives, have proved susceptible to Communist infiltration. Emotionally, liberals are far more hostile to “right-wing” than to “left-wing” regimes around the world; they rarely use the label left-wing as a term of censure. Verbally devoted to religious freedom, they are alarmed by anything they see as an encroachment of religion in American public life — the posting of the Ten Commandments in a public building — but silently indifferent to the persecution of religion by any state they regard as “progressive.” They see racial discrimination anywhere as a “human rights issue,” but religious discrimination, even to the point of savage attacks on believers, never shows up on their moral radar screens.
This is why conservatives speak of liberal hypocrisy and double standards. But the real problem is not that liberals apply their standards inconsistently, but that they don’t acknowledge their real standards. Behind every double standard lurks an unadmitted single standard. Deep down, liberalism shares Communism’s hatred of Christianity.
A large part of the story that liberal journalism and liberal history have left untold has now been thoroughly recounted in a 430- page book by my dear friend Robert Royal, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History, published by the Crossroad Publishing Company in New York.
Despite Communist rhetoric of “class struggle” and “working classes,” the Soviets hated Christians far more than capitalists.
The book begins with a meditation on the meaning of martyrdom. Repeatedly and emphatically, Christ told his disciples to prepare for it as the inevitable price of following him. Yet most Christians believe that the age of persecution belonged to the early centuries of Christianity, and since the conversion of Constantine they have come to take for granted their security as the majority religion of the West. Yet the return of terrible persecutions in the twentieth century confirms Christ’s prediction.
Christians are well aware of the gruesome general record of atheistic Communism, which, in ruthless cruelty and numbers killed, far surpass the persecutions of the Roman Empire; but Royal’s account of it adds remarkable detail and stories of heroic personalities unknown to most Westerners. Among these are two Ukrainian Catholic churchmen, Archbishop Andrew Graf Sheptytski and his successor, Joseph Slipyi, who defiantly endured Soviet rigors. Sheptytski was arrested, beaten nearly to death, and, during his hospitalization in 1944, poisoned by a Soviet doctor; Slipyi survived decades in the Gulag and finally went to Rome, where he worked to organize support for the Church in his native country. When he died at age 92 in 1984, Pope John Paul II said: “He passed through the tortures and sufferings of the Cross, similar to those of Christ at Golgotha.... May his memory last forever!” Despite Communist rhetoric of “class struggle” and “working classes,” the Soviets hated Christians far more than capitalists.
Nowhere was persecution more dreadful, more ferocious, degrading, and downright satanic, than in Communist Romania. The torturers compounded physical suffering with obscene desecrations of the Host and parodies of the sacraments, “baptizing” their victims by pushing their faces into unflushed toilets.
Most Americans think of Mexico as a Catholic country; they are on the whole remarkably ignorant of the Mexican government’s long and bloody war on the Church, beginning in 1914 and finally repealing its anti-Catholic legislation only within the last decade. The most famous of the thousands of Mexican martyrs was the priest Miguel Pro. The dictator Plutarco Calles ordered Padre Pro’s execution by ring squad in 1927 and, far from wishing to conceal the deed, invited the world press to cover it, in the expectation that the world would see the priest begging for mercy. Instead, Padre Pro extended his arms in a Christ-like pose and cried: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) The resulting pictures, which Calles desperately tried to suppress, were reproduced countless times and inspired thousands of other Mexicans to accept martyrdom. Tens of thousands defied Calles’s orders by attending Padre Pro’s funeral; the police could do nothing. But the day after his death, U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow and the humorist Will Rogers joined Calles on his presidential train for a triumphant tour of Mexico. The government banned the Church outright and killed hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Yet the Church, though the hierarchy discouraged armed resistance by lay Catholics, could not be exterminated.
Spain was another story. There the Catholic side won, after a terrible civil war (1936–39). As the liberal press and historians tell the story, it was the overthrow of the liberal democratic Republic by the fascist forces of Francisco Franco, who restored the Catholic monarchy while retaining dictatorial power. But (apart from the fact that Franco was no fascist) the standard account omits nearly everything that led up to the war: the Republic’s attempt to strangle the Church by legislation, while tolerating widespread harassment and violence against the Church and the clergy. The government cut off public funding of the Church, banned religious education, and announced its right (and therefore its intent) to limit religious festivals and to expel religious orders. Communists, active in the government, didn’t conceal their aims: “We are determined to do in Spain what was done in Russia,” one socialist leader proclaimed. The sincerity of these avowals was duly attested by the leftists’ many tortures, rapes, and murders of nuns, priests, and ordinary believers throughout Spain, which became common years before the civil war began. During the war, nuns were shot in the streets; priests were killed for refusing to break the seal of the confessional, and one was castrated before his murder. Yet few of the clergy renounced the Faith even in the face of death. (Royal notes that among the famous foreign sympathizers on the Republican side, Ernest Hemingway was much more candid about anti-Catholic atrocities than George Orwell.)
Royal’s chapters on the fate of Catholics under Nazi rule should dispel the libelous myth of any sort of affinity between Catholicism and Nazism; Nazi hostility to the Church, combined with Catholic resistance, produced plenty of martyrs.
But nowhere was persecution more dreadful, more ferocious, degrading, and downright satanic, than in Communist Romania. The torturers compounded physical suffering with obscene desecrations of the Host and parodies of the sacraments, “baptizing” their victims by pushing their faces into unflushed toilets.
“It is not we who keep silence here. It is not we who are the Church of Silence, but the members of the Church in the free world who are the real Church of Silence, for they do not speak on our behalf.” — Romanian Bishop Iuliu Hirtea’s words shortly before his brutal martyrdom.
Albania was not far behind: a Jesuit survivor recorded a litany of physical tortures so sickening that one marvels at the mere fact that the regime found men willing and able to inflict them without passing out:
“Most of [the Catholics in the prison camps] were beaten on their bare feet with wooden clubs; the fleshy part of the legs and buttocks were cut open, rock salt inserted beneath the skin, and then sewn up again; their feet, placed in boiling water until the flesh fell off, were then rubbed with salt; their Achilles’ tendons were pierced with hot wires. Some were hung by their arms for three days without food; put in ice and icy water until nearly frozen; had electrical wires placed in their ears, nose, mouth, genitals, and anus; burning pine needles placed under fingernails; forced to eat a kilo of salt and having water withheld for twenty-four hours; boiled eggs put in their armpits; teeth pulled without anaesthetic; tied behind vans and dragged; left in solitary confinement without food or water until almost dead; forced to drink their own urine and eat their own excrement; put in pits of excrement up to their necks; put on a bed of nails and covered with heavy material; put in nail-studded cages which were then rotated rapidly....”
As the brave Romanian Bishop Iuliu Hirtea put it before his death in the 1970s: “It is not we who keep silence here. It is not we who are the Church of Silence, but the members of the Church in the free world who are the real Church of Silence, for they do not speak on our behalf.” Of course we American Catholics had so many more urgent things to worry about: the Pope’s refusal to let us use contraceptives or to allow women to be ordained as priests.
Much more remains to be said about the tremendous story of the modern world’s war on Christendom. But Robert Royal, to his eternal credit, has made it possible to say it.
Copyright @ 2020 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This article was published originally in the June 2000 edition of Sobran’s: The Real News of the Month. It is one of the 117 essays in the Sobran anthology, Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (FGF Books, 2015).Joe Sobran (1946-2010) was a syndicated columnist for over 35 years.
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