From the Publisher: Jeremiah with a Laptop

What satire is to the writer, the reductio ad absurdum is to the logician. Confronted by the abuses of Jesuit moralists, Pascal wrote the Provincial Letters. Appalled by the antics of his time, Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels. These were literary devices used in the hope that their addressees would easily grasp their relevance.

When Aristotle was confronted with the denial of the principle of contradiction, he turned the very formulation of the denial against the speaker. He who would assert that both an assertion and its contradictory can be simultaneously true must assert what he would deny and deny what he would assert.

Behind the employment of satire and the reductio is the charming belief that human beings dread incoherence and will flee it like sin. Our own reaction to the charge that we are being incoherent suggests why this belief is regularly shown to be ill-founded.

By and large, we do not kiss the hand that accuses us of incoherence. Nor when we surmise that the laughter a writer is eliciting is turned on us do we go on chuckling as before. It has often been observed that human beings are not pure reason. One sometimes fears that we have become complete strangers to reason.

They laughed when Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae that once the link between sexual activity and procreation is broken, any sexual aberration is in principle justified. He meant this as a reductio. It is the culminating argument of the encyclical. He clearly expected that once we saw where the slippery slope of contraceptive sex led, we would draw back, think twice, repent. His reasoning was derided. But time has proven him correct. Who, a quarter of a century ago, expected to live long enough to see a major political party taken over by lesbians and homosexuals and advocates of abortion and hear these perverse practices not only condoned but advocated?

Evelyn Waugh, in Black Mischief, imagined a society where the ruler distributed condoms as symbols of civilization. The novel is a comedy. In it, Waugh took the ideology of birth control to what he clearly imagined was its absurd extreme. How many readers, let alone mayors, now can see its point?

The other day I read that after the expenditure of millions of dollars we still do not know the cause of AIDS.

The idea was that we must spend more to uncover the mystery. Unless the writer is making some arcane epistemological point, there would seem to be few things whose cause we know so well. “AIDS education” is, of course, the systematic attempt to conceal where it comes from. Telling the truth about the original cause of AIDS is homophobia.

Watching American society go to hell in a handbasket is not exactly a spectator sport. Nor is relief to be found by turning from the woes of secular society to the Church. The ongoing proof that Paul VI was indeed a prophet provides little comfort. The ills he predicted have found a home in the Church itself, not surprising when one remembers the impassioned and continuing campaign by moral theologians and those they have misled to reject the traditional moral teaching that Paul VI reiterated, and to confuse the faithful as to its binding power. Pastors seem embarrassed by Church teaching on sexual morality, rather than its exponents and interpreters.

The Church in this country has been busier signing on to the Zeitgeist than condemning it. The sad tale of moral theology since 1968 is well known. Contraceptive sex, premarital sex, extramarital sex, perverted sex, abortion, divorce and remarriage—they have all eventually found their defenders among allegedly Catholic moral theologians. Moral theology became irrelevant by becoming relevant. Who needs an echo?

While ravages wrought by dissent were visible to all, our bishops wrote unreadable letters on national defense and on the economy. They have wasted years on a letter addressing the putative problem of women in the Church. Worry is expressed about the treatment of sexual perverts that undermines the natural disgust with homosexuality. Priests and even bishops are accused of adultery and pederasty and pedophilia. I have heard celibacy blamed for the incidence of the sexual abuse of altar boys.

Catholic politicians who described themselves as caught in a cruel dilemma between their recognition of the wrongness of abortion and their public function have now become the principal spokesmen for abortion rights.

Governor Cuomo urged the government to stay out of our bedrooms, a nice Catholic touch, what dissenters used to say to the pope. Governor Brown thanked Act-Up, the desecrators of the Eucharist in St. Patrick’s, for raising our consciousness about homosexual rights. This is like thanking Diocletian for keeping well-fed lions.

Anti-Catholicism used to be called the anti-Semitism of liberals. It has now almost become the mark of the Catholic in public life.

To point out that the permission let alone advocacy of certain practices will be the destruction of society has no bite when the destruction is embraced as progress. To point out that an interpretation of Christian doctrine is, or will lead to, its denial loses punch when Christianity is said to be that denial.

Aristotle remarked that a boy who asks why he should honor his father requires punishment rather than instruction. There are limits to argument. There are times when argument loses its power.

Crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater was once the standard limit to free speech. Now the advocacy of cop killing is said to be what the Founding Fathers had in mind and why we fought all those wars.

Animal rights “activists” have been joined by those enraged by the way we treat plants. Can inorganic matter be long without its defenders? Stop smashing atoms.

I mention these things, not merely to while away the August afternoon on which I write, but because they indicate why satire and refutation nowadays seem almost quaint. We live in moral eclipse, where the most obvious truths have become obscure and forgotten.

When the starting points of discourse are rejected, whether in civil society or in the Church, the time has come for prayer and fasting. Will our instruction come in the form of punishment?

On the other hand, as Venus de Milo said, one turns from the television and other vehicles of misinformation and notices all the wonderful people. Inroads have been made in their ranks, their minds must to some degree be influenced by the addled mentors of the media, one thinks of those statistics about divorce and all the rest, but still, nonetheless, there must be millions and millions of good people still among us.

Hundreds of thousands?



I wanna be in that number when the saints go marching in.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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