A few weeks ago my wife and I spent an afternoon with some old friends, a retired couple who had just come back from their winter home in Florida.
The wife of this couple told us a story from her childhood that reminded me of the glory days of American Catholicism.
She grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, not far from Fall River. She went to a Catholic school in the 1950s. The nuns told their students about the Church's early martyrs, saintly Christians who, rather than renounce their faith, consented to being killed by hungry lions in the Flavian Amphitheater. These martyrs immediately went to Heaven, where they met Jesus and commenced to enjoy eternal bliss. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.
This was in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War. And so the nuns, not content with giving edifying history lessons, reminded their charges that the need for Christian heroism had not vanished with the conversion of Rome to Christianity. The nuns gave their pupils a thought-provoking hypothetical. Let's suppose the Communists take over America, and let's further suppose they confront you and other Catholic school-kids with the horrible option: "Renounce your faith or be shot dead."
What will you boys and girls do? You know what the right thing would be. But will you have the courage to do the right thing when the moment arrives? Will your faith be strong enough?
Our friend told us that this question provoked a great deal of anxiety in her child's soul. Would she have the courage needed to become a martyr? Or would her courage fail her? Would her faith not be strong enough? The question tormented her.
After weeks of mental suffering, she finally ended the torment by resolving: "When the moment comes, I will save my life by renouncing the faith." After making that decision, her mental torment vanished.
Well, the Commies never took over Massachusetts. (Of course, some of my conservative friends will dispute that.) Our friend remains a church-going Catholic to this day. My guess is that God has long since forgiven her for her moment of weakness.
A hundred years ago the de-Christianization of Russia advanced with the help of guns pointed at Christian heads. But the present-day de-Christianization of America advances nonviolently. No guns are used, only persuasion and seduction.
For example, June was "Pride Month" — a month during which the nation, with something very close to unanimity, celebrated the goodness of all of the following: homosexuality and homosexual practice (both male and female), bisexuality, transgenderism, queerness (whatever that means), and a potentially unlimited number of other deviations from the traditional Christian idea of sexual propriety.
At least it seemed to be a virtually unanimous celebration of LGBTQ+. I heard few if any dissenting voices (apart from the voice in my own head). Major business corporations celebrated, TV networks celebrated, colleges and universities celebrated, the mainstream media celebrated, Silicon Valley celebrated, the NBA celebrated, major league baseball celebrated, and, perhaps most notable of all, President Biden (America's second Catholic president) celebrated. U.S. embassies around the world displayed the rainbow flag, and every big city in America had a PRIDE parade. (I myself have seen two of these parades, one in Cleveland, the other in Louisville. I confess that they entertained me even while they offended my moral conscience. "This is bad," I said to myself, "but it's fun.")
Just as Communism and Nazism were non-theistic "religions," so LGBTQ-ism has become something of a non-theistic religion, providing meaning and purpose to the lives of many Americans (and not just Americans). What's more, it is a missionary religion; it seeks converts, just as Christianity and Islam seek converts.
But the present-day de-Christianization of America advances nonviolently. No guns are used, only persuasion and seduction.
How does it win these converts? In two ways.
In one way, by seduction. If a teenage kid has his or her first sexual experiences with a somewhat older person of the same sex, and if he/finds these experiences intensely pleasurable, there is a good chance that he/she will become addicted to such homosexual experiences — much the way young persons who "experiment" with strong opiates often become drug addicts. This addiction to homosexual sex is especially likely if the young person has an antecedent leaning in that direction.
Hence, even though the official position of the LGBTQ+ movement is that gays and lesbians are not sexually interested in underage boys and girls, the fact is that many homosexuals are sexually interested in underage kids, and many act on that interest. A frequent theme of homosexual fiction is early same-sex experience. Many kids become addicted to this unnatural love and pretending they don't know what really happened. They convince themselves that they were "born that way."
The other mode of winning converts (and this is perhaps the more important mode) is by way of persuasion. And so the LGBTQ+ movement has for some years now promoted a tremendous propaganda campaign urging, not just toleration, but strong approval of the conduct symbolized by the letters LGBTQ. And not just approval, but strong disapproval of anybody who dissents, condemning such dissenters as moral reprobates.
Joining the LGBTQ+ movement in this propaganda campaign have been major corporations, colleges and universities, public schools, Hollywood, the entertainment industry generally, the mainstream media, liberal churches and synagogues, and the Democratic Party. As a result of all this, it's now relatively fashionable ("cool") among many young persons to "identify" as something other than strictly heterosexual, and it is almost universally un-cool to disapprove of such deviations.
Catholic young people have generally abandoned the ancient teaching of their religion as to the sinfulness of homosexual practice — and since these young people are more or less logical, this renunciation of one part of the faith will eventually lead to the renunciation of the entire faith.
American Catholicism, I fear, is like that building in Miami. It's on the verge of collapse. Without a shot being fired. Without lions. No blood of martyrs.
David Carlin. "On Not Being Thrown to the Lions." The Catholic Thing (July 9, 2021).
Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. Image credit: Peter Paul Rubens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
David Carlin is professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.Copyright © 2021 The Catholic Thing
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