“Relativism, that terribly effective bleach, has wiped out everything in its path.”
–Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Day is Now Far Spent
Precis: The foundations of the good political order are grounded upon, and are faithful to, virtues discovered by right reason and practiced by diligent statecraft. Such virtues are betrayed at grave peril; first principles—e.g., God transcends the state—are traduced at great jeopardy. In the Church (see 2 Pt 2:1-2, 15) and in our country (see Micah 2:10), we have sacrificed truth, goodness, and beauty on the pagan altars of the “Great Reset.” Now we “build back better” by idolizing ourselves: we will not long survive.
As an alumnus of the College of William and Mary, perhaps I may be forgiven for referring to the Sir Christopher Wren building on campus. Constructed between 1695 and 1700, it is the oldest academic building still standing in our country. It is not on that building, however, but to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on which the famous encomium to Christopher Wren was based: “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice”: “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
If Christopher Wren’s monument is St. Paul’s and his memory is preserved as well by the famous William & Mary academic building, then whose monument shall we erect and whose memory shall we preserve as instrumentally guilty in the creation of the chaos, crime, and corruption which is now all around us? Pyrrho of Elis, Hegesias, Sextus Empiricus, Carneades, Pelagius, Hobbes, Hume, Rousseau, Comte, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Franz Boas, Dewey, Sartre, Foucault, Hefner, J. L. Mackie–these are architects, both well-known and little-known, of moral bewilderment and of ethical erosion. Wren built enduring architectural foundations; these “truth pillagers”—and many others—demolished principled foundations. If you want their “monuments,” look around you at a society sickened by moral and political perversion.
In Live Not by Lies, Rod Dreher quotes St. John Paul’s 1986 encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem (The Lord and Giver of Life) in which the Holy Father writes that “the spirit of darkness [Eph 6:12, Lk 12:53] is capable of showing God as an enemy of his own creature, and in the first place as an enemy of man, as a source of danger and threat to man” (#38), and “man is challenged to become the adversary of God!” The result is that “Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and the fullness of good.” That vile ideology, contemptuous of wisdom, will, in turn, lead to the destruction of mankind (cf. Baruch 4:13; Ps 81:11-12; Prv 1:22-33, Is 65:2, Jer 7:24).
The secular world insists, however, that we “know” only that we do not know; we “know” that we cannot know; we “know” that nothing matters and that nothing endures; we “know” that nothing is sacred and that nothing ennobles or enchants; we “know” that we are mere pieces of meat, destined for extinction; we “know” that, therefore, we are our own gods and that only profits, power, prestige, and pleasure have value, however fleeting; we “know,” pace Newman, that “education” is meant to disabuse us of the light of tradition and lead us into the shadow of nihilism; and we “know” that our meaningless life is made endurable only by personal exaltation (or affluence) and by the performance of whatever diabolical duties we may accomplish for the mortal god of the Leviathan, the great beast of the omnivorous State.
And so we now have a self-divinized humanity whose proudest (most supercilious) boast is that they–and we–crucified God. (See Mt 27:25, perhaps the most chilling pericope in the Bible, and a terrible inversion of Dt 21:8.) It’s all right, though: His commands obstructed our urges and appetites; we have committed the great perfidy by worshiping, in His place, idols with our faces on them (cf. Acts 17:16, Col 3:5, 1 John 5:21, CCC #398).
Idol worship, which is the hallmark of Modernism, is ubiquitous—and lethal both spiritually and politically: “The worship of idols, whose names should never be spoken, is the beginning and the end, the cause and the result of every evil” (Wisdom 14:27).
The moral foundations of the public order lie in ruin, reminding us of the trenchant question posed in the Psalms: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps 11:3; cf. Ps 82:5). And the answer is: we can do nothing.
(We are never fully or finally righteous in this life. To think that we are unalterably righteous is a mark of the presumption forbidden by the First Commandment [see CCC #2092, #2005]. But in confessing our sin [1 Jn 1:8-9] and in acknowledging our enduring need for God’s superintendence and mercy, our lives will be “filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” [Phil 1:11 RSV; cf. Titus 2:11-14]).
The Church, the political order, the society around us and, so often, our own lives, are in such confusion and disorder that we can no longer distinguish between good and evil, between sacred and profane, between noble and noxious. We have so soiled our baptismal garments that we have made a mockery of genuine values, of eternal verities, of true virtues. We kill children in their wombs—and as they are being born. We kill the elderly in their rooms. We no longer know what human means, and we regard male and female sexes as fungible, depending upon the fads, fantasies, or fashions in vogue at the moment, including the mutilation of “gender confirmation surgery” (see CCC #2333, #2526). We think that we are ours, and not His, to do with as we please (cf. 1 Cor 6:19, 7:23). And about such derangement, we can do nothing.
Get the First Commandment wrong—think of ourselves as gods and not as God’s—and all Hell will break loose. That is what we have done. That is what has happened. And about such swaggering, we can do nothing.
We have spent a half-century or more utterly miseducating both the laity and the ordained. We have not only (if not always) desperately ignorant lay people, whose Catholic educations (at ostensibly Catholic secondary schools and colleges) are empty of content—no, worse than that: counterfeit and seditious; we have a seemingly endless number of apostate priests, and not a few weak-kneed bishops, who are infected with the Modernism which is demonstrably “the synthesis of all heresies.” But they do not know who said that, or when, or why. So often, contemporary Catholic education is morally autistic.
Not for nothing does Rod Dreher prophetically warn us in Live Not by Lies about “our pre-totalitarian culture.” The late columnist Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) was, indeed, correct, that the purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. Now, however, we see, at best, through a glass, darkly. We do not know. We do not know that we do not know. We do not care that we do not know. The prophet Hosea is proved right: our people perish for lack of knowledge (4:6). And about intransigent ignorance, we can do nothing.
The Church is indefectible. But where it is indefectible or how many faithful it will incorporate, we have no idea (cf. Lk 18:8). So much spiritual poison has been drunk by so many, for so long, that the toxin is in our social bones and brains. But worse—the toxin is in far too many of our cathedrals, where the bishops have no idea about using their crosiers as spiritual weapons to fight the wolves ravaging their flocks (see Acts 20:29-30; Ez 34:8; Mt 7:15). A fish, so goes the saying, rots from the head down. The current Catholic calamity stems, chiefly, from iniquitous and incompetent bishops. And about such wretched leadership, we can do nothing.
The United States of America, though, is not indefectible, and, tragically, it totters before our very eyes to its demise—much to the glee of those who pledge their allegiance to the flag of the Great Reset, which promises us Heaven (with a bonus of no more climate change) but delivers us Hell–disguised, as all dystopias are, by false mercies and by reckless (and feckless) rhetoric. The Antichrist on the horizon is sure to be a jolly good fellow (cf. 2 Thess 2:9-12), joking all the way to totalitarian power—to be followed by perdition. The signs of Church (Mal 2:8, Lam 2:14) and of State (cf. Mal 1:4; Jer 51:47) moral deterioration are all around us. And about such degeneracy, we can do nothing.
That personal pronoun we can easily be presumptuous. By ourselves, we can’t do anything of worth. But we are not alone (Mt 28:20), for He will be with us “even to the consummation of the world” (DRB). When Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah, he said that that our Lord would be called Emmanuel— in Hebrew, “God is with us” (Is 7:14, Mt 1:23). Through Him and with Him and in Him, we can fulfill our duties and achieve our destiny. St. Paul taught us well: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
We can do nothing alone but evil. “From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples [which we are, are we not?] with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings.” After His Ascension, Jesus sent us His Spirit. “As a result, communion with Jesus has become, in a way, more intense” (CCC #787, #788). But it is only in Him, and with Him, and for Him that we can accomplish the permanent, and sacred, things. Proper service to God does not depend, then, upon our own unaccompanied selves—and certainly not upon cultural norms, social approval, or the caprice of the madding crowd.
We believe that no human (save Our Lady) is without sin (Rom 3:23) or is righteous (Rom 3:10). Still, we are called (CCC #1303: “never to be ashamed of the Cross”) and enabled by His grace to serve His divine will and purpose (Prv 10:25, 2 Cor 5:21, Eph 3:16, Col 1:11, Heb 12:12). Evil may triumph for the moment, but our destiny, our Logos, is to Him who is Truth, and, in any significant matter or manner, “we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor 13:8). All things done without Him or against Him will be destroyed “soon and very soon.”
At our best, we are re-learning the lesson of Adam and Eve, who sought to be divine (Gn 3:5; and cf. Gn 11:1-9, Is 14:14, and Ez 31). We can do nothing . . . unless we abide in Christ (John 15:4-5). We find the word abide again, by the way, in John 15:10, where we are instructed to keep God’s Commandments, and in John 6:56, where Christ teaches us that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (RSV). Thus, we learn to think Eucharistically (CCC #1327).
“Thinking Eucharistically” is not some shibboleth or bromide to repeat endlessly as if to hypnotize ourselves out of the moral morass in which we now flounder. But to think Eucharistially implies, as it should, that we resolve to be Christocentric, not anthropocentric, and to understand that the path to our salvation lies in knowing, loving, and serving Him—not in submitting ourselves to the Great Reset and to the machinations of the many political and religious deceivers of our day (cf. 2 Cor 11:13), as they launch the new Tower of Babel over whose portal is inscribed the phrase “Build Back Better.” In this progressive “brave new world,” abortion will be celebrated; euthanasia, lionized; and grisly bioethical experimentation, extolled. Forgotten will be the truth that other portals, over other buildings, in other times, also had an inscription: “Arbeit macht frei.”
And so we return to Psalm 11, which plaintively asks what can be done when the foundations have been destroyed. One is reminded of Psalm 22, quoted from the Cross by our Lord: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That is a sign of despair, we sometimes hear. But it is not, for Psalm 22 promises that “all nations will remember the Lord. . . . All proud men will bow down to him. . . . [and] People not yet born will be told: ‘The Lord saved his people’” (vv. 27, 29, 31 [GNB]). So it is with Psalm 11, which teaches us, after posing the question about what we can do in the face of catastrophe, that “The Lord is in his holy temple. . . . The lawless he hates with all his heart. . . . [and those who do accomplish His will and who do good deeds] “will live in his presence” (vv. 4, 5, 7 [GNB]).
Should no moral Tolkien-type eucatastrophe occur, Psalm 11 prophesies a cataclysm the outlines of which are already visible. When we ridicule the natural moral law, elect people who want to slaughter innocent life, and applaud those whose “logic” is fraught with egregious error and mortal sin—we indeed forfeit any prospect of divine forgiveness (as in Ez 18:31, Zech 10:6, 2 Chr 7:14). God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7).
Philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) wisely taught that “The truth of man and the truth of God are inseparably one. Man will be in the truth of his existence when he has opened his psyche to the truth of God.” The truth pillagers (Marx, et al.) lie, saying that man is the measure of all things. Voegelin approvingly quotes Plato, who said: No—God is the measure. Therein lies the catechetical core of what righteous priests, prelates, professors, and pundits must teach with the certain trumpet (cf. 1 Cor 14:8) of deep conviction—if we are ever to rebuild the foundations we have laid waste. That parrhesia–the bold, unflinching proclamation of truth–is that to which the righteous can, should, and must steadfastly devote themselves. Our Lord boldly proclaimed his saving message to a hostile world (Jn 7:26; 18:20). So must we.
St. Paul taught us that “It is when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). We cannot accomplish the restoration of the Church and of our Country by ourselves but, with God, we can find our way if, and because, it is His way. “In God we Trust” has been the official motto of the United States since 1956. It must now be our hope, our beacon, our reason for existence.
Deacon James H. Toner (M.A., William & Mary; Ph.D., Notre Dame) is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of numerous books, articles, reviews, and monographs. He has taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He has contributed many columns to The Catholic Thing, Crisis Magazine, One Peter Five, and the Wanderer, as well as myriad academic and military periodicals. He and his wife Rebecca have three sons and eleven grandchildren.