On my way to work at Providence College, I pass by two notable murals painted on concrete retaining walls to edify motorists passing by. One of them is executed in the brightly colored style of a cartoon, with exaggerated circles and curlicues for eyes and hair and ears and noses. It cries out in big puffy letters, “Celebrate Diversity.” The other is a three-tone series of medallion portraits in amber and gray and black, honoring the patriarchs of the Italian families who first settled in the Federal Hill neighborhood, which now boasts as fine an avenue of Italian restaurants and groceries as is to be found anywhere in the country. Between the medallions, the artist has, as if he were a stark and straightforward Currier and Ives, painted “tunnels,” from one of which emerges an old horse-drawn carriage.
The latter painting is by far the superior, artistically, and I have always noted that gangland graffiti, which is to be found everywhere along walls and abandoned buildings near that particular tangle of highways, has never marred the faces of those Italians and the scene that surrounds them. There are perhaps two reasons for their immunity. One is that punks tend to leave genuine art alone. The other is that the Italians might find out who the vandals were, and that would not be a pleasant prospect for the vandals.
I understand what it is to have a Greek festival or an Italian festival, or a parish festival where fellow Catholics come out to enjoy good high-calorie food, play some innocent games of chance, and try to get the priest to sit in the dunking machine. For man is always united from above, not from below, and that includes even the make-believe transcendence of the local baseball team, which is harmless enough if not taken too seriously. When Catholics come to Mass to pray, they do so as members of one Church, not ten, not fifty, praying the same prayers all over the world, because they give thanks to the one Lord and Savior who died for them on one cross, on the one hill of the Skull, on that one Friday long ago. This was the same Lord who prayed that we would be not ten, not fifty, but one, even as he and the Father are one.
But the watchword at Providence College right now is not unity, but “diversity,” as is made evident by the four-page Diversity Program featured prominently on our website. When I see the word “diversity” in its current use as a political slogan, I ask myself the following questions:
What is diversity, as opposed to divergence?
What is diversity, as opposed to mere variety?
What goods, precisely, is diversity supposed to deliver?
Why is intellectual diversity not served by the study of a dozen cultures of the past, with their vast array of customs, poetry, art, and worship of the gods?
Is not diversity as it is now preached a solvent for any culture? That is, supposing that the people of a tribe in the interior of Brazil are compelled to accept cultural diversity for its own sake, rather than merely adopting and adapting this or that beneficent feature of another culture (something that people have always done), will that not mean that their own culture must eventually vanish, or be reduced to the superficialities of food and dress?
Is not diversity, as currently promoted, at odds with the foundational diversity built into the nature of the human race, the diversity of male and female, to be resolved most dynamically and creatively in the union of man and woman in marriage?
Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?
How is it possible for people ever to be truly at one with each other, unless they behold the same object of wonder, and lose themselves in that wonder? Is not that experience of God, whose ways are not our ways nor are his thoughts our thoughts, the single most powerful experience of difference, yet an experience that is also made intimate for us, one with us, by the incarnation of the Son of God?
Granted that God redeems not only individuals but peoples, so that, for example, China in the arms of the Church will be more truly China than she was before, does not this diversity presuppose the distinction of cultures one from another? If so, does not the press for “diversity” then belie a new colonialism, not a Church-inspired elevation and purification of a human culture, but its suppression and its infection with peculiarly western obsessions, particularly those concerning sex, marriage, and family life?
What happens to the other foundational diversity in the order of grace, that between the Church and the world? Must not the Church both meet cultures where they are, and stand forth as boldly as the Cross upon that barren rock, opposing the world, because the ways of the world, when they are not baptized, lead to death?
Why should a Catholic institution not then be itself, precisely to offer to that increasingly homogeneous and nothing-adoring world a different word, the word of Christ and his Church? Have not the secular preachers of diversity instead worked their hardest to efface that difference, to muffle all those who speak with the voice of the Church against the vision that those preachers have to offer—a vision that pretends to be “multicultural,” but that is actually anti-cultural, and is characterized by all the totalitarian impulses to use the massive power of government to bring to heel those who decline to go along?
These aren’t idle questions. I notice, on our Diversity page, that incidents of “bias” will be forwarded to a “Bias Response Team,” which is, if I may adopt the phraseology of one of my shrewdest colleagues, a Star Chamber whose constitution and laws and executive power no one will know. “Fear not,” says the angel, “for the great Unwritten Law will come upon you, and the power of Correct Thinking will overshadow you.” How precisely the fear of being hauled before the Star Chamber can possibly bring people together in friendship, is never revealed.
I notice also, on that same Diversity page, that we are supposed to commit ourselves to welcoming the alphabet soup of cheered-on sexual proclivities. For some reason that does not include F, for Fornicators, or S, for swingers, or P, for pornographers, or W, for sex-workers, formerly called harlots, or A, for adulterers. No political lobby for those? Now, we either affirm, as an institution, that the Church has a real and powerful and urgent message she must bring to the world, a message of harsh truth and genuine healing, or we do not. If we do believe it, then we cannot believe that a disordered inclination towards any sin, sexual or otherwise, can be constitutive of any human being. We may say that John is a liar, because John tells lies all the time, but the true John who is half-smothered by his sins is not a liar; as the true Mary Magdalene was not a whore, and the true David was not an adulterer and murderer. We might then welcome Steven who is deeply disturbed about sexuality and who has, unfortunately, put his disturbance into the form of tentacle-rooting action, but we welcome him as Steven the sinner, hoping to see from him Steven the repentant. Steven as the sinner has nothing to bring to us; we as the Church have the truth to bring to him, to set him free from that sin, whatever it may be.
But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it. So let us suppose that a professor should affirm some aspect of the Church’s teaching as regards the neuralgia of our time, sex. Will his right to do so be confirmed by those who say they are committed to diversity? Put it this way. Suppose someone were to ask, “Is it permitted for a secular liberal, at a secular and liberal college, to affirm in the classroom a secular view of sex and the family?” The question would strike everyone as absurd. It would be like asking whether we were permitted to walk on two feet or to look up at the sky. Then why should it not also be absurd to ask, “Is it permitted for a Catholic, at a college that advertises itself as Catholic, to affirm a Catholic view of sex and the family?” And I am not talking merely about professors whose specific job it is to teach moral philosophy or moral theology. I am talking about all professors.
In my now extensive experience, Catholic professors in Catholic colleges have been notably tolerant of the limitations of their secular colleagues. We make allowances all the time. We understand, though, that some of them—not all, but then it only takes a few—would silence us for good, if they had the power. They have made life hell for more than one of my friends. All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head. I think it would be safer to vandalize the old Italians on that wall.