Progressive Inhumanity, Part Two: The State against the Churches

A small town in Vermont has recently been ordered to cease its immemorial tradition of opening meetings with a prayer.  The order came from a judge who does not live near.  A public school in the city where I am writing these words has banners hanging from its gymnasium ceiling, one of which featured a prayer written by a student of the school many decades ago.  It has been removed, also by order of a distant judge.  Since the citizens of the town and the school district no longer govern themselves but have become dependent upon regular infusions of green federal blood, they could not reply, “You and whose army?”  The prayer and the banner are gone.

We Catholics hold that man, unique among creatures on earth, finds his fulfillment only in what transcends him.  He will not compose symphonies in honor of a good housing market.  He does not whistle an air for low inflation.  He will pen poetry born of love, but if the object of his love is a Clodia rather than a Beatrice, even his love poetry will degenerate into satire and cynicism.  Man is made for God.  That marks both his duty and his glory.  Therefore any attempt to sever man from his devotion to God is an attack upon man’s soul.  It reduces man to a counter in an economic or political game, a consumer of creature comforts, or a competitor for wealth and prestige.

The argument of the aggressors in this case is indirect and sly.  It is the argument of the serpent in the garden, who suggests to Eve that she can only be like God by being free from the laws of God.  That casts God as the arbitrary inhibitor, and Satan as a patron of liberty: the Lucifer to whom Saul Alinsky dedicated his Rules for Radicals.  Religion, moreover, is supposedly divisive.  But if we take the trouble to look about us we will see that true religion unites, and that it is this very unity, both human and divine, which the aggressors despise.

The poet Milton understood the principle well.  Even before Satan lies to Eve about the forbidden fruit, he tries to separate her from her love: for the creatures with which she shares the earth, for her husband Adam, and for God.  The beasts, the serpent sneers, are “shallow to discern” half of what in her is lovely.  Her beauty is wasted on them, and though there is one man who can appreciate her, “what is one?”  She should instead be gazed upon “by angels numberless,” her “daily train.”  Sure enough, once Eve eats of the fruit, her mind is clouded, and she calls God “our great Forbidder,” and considers whether she should go on to tempt Adam likewise.  After all, she reasons, if she should suffer the penalty of death alone, then Adam would have to take another Eve, and the very thought is intolerable to her.

So Eve does invite Adam to share her newfound liberty, which is but newly forged bondage.  He consents, and completes the original sin.  What Milton has the wedded pair do next is fascinating.  But to see just what irreligion has to do with inhumanity, we should recall the profound humanity Adam and Eve enjoyed when they adored and obeyed God.

Milton has made a point, all through the poem, of their beautiful and innocent nakedness.  This is how Satan – and we – first encounter Adam and Eve:

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honor clad
In naked majesty seemed lords of all,
And worthy seemed, for in their looks divine
The image of their glorious Maker shone:
Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure,
Severe, but in true filial freedom placed.

And after Satan eavesdrops upon a conversation that all true young lovers have – when and how they first met – he, the hate-filled voyeur hiding behind the trees, witnesses a tender physical expression of their love:

So spake our general Mother, and with eyes
Of conjugal attraction unreproved
And meek surrender, half embracing leaned
On our first Father, half her swelling breast
Naked met his under the flowing gold
Of her loose tresses hid.

Satan’s reaction is paradigmatic.  It reveals that hatred of God implies hatred of man, and that hatred of man implies hatred of the fundamental church and the fundamental State: that of man and woman wedded in mutually self-giving and fruitful love:

Sight hateful, sight tormenting!  Thus these two
Imparadised in one another’s arms,
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least,
Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines.

On the fateful morning of the temptation, Adam recommends that he and Eve stay close together because of their prowling enemy,

Whether his first design be to withdraw
Our fealty from God, or to disturb
Conjugal love, than which perhaps no bliss
Enjoyed by us excites his envy more.

The conjunction “or” is meant to cast as alternatives what are actually the same thing: to withdraw our fealty from God is to disturb conjugal love.  More than that: it is to disturb all forms of human love.  It is to plant self-will and reap alienation.

Hence, after Adam and Eve have sinned, the first thing they do is to mimic that conjugal love.  It is the first intrusion of lust, of reducing another human being to an object of sexual appetite.  Wearied by the amorous play that is the seal of their mutual guilt, they fall asleep; when they wake, as from unrest, they

Soon found their eyes how opened, and their minds
How darkened; innocence, that as a veil
Had shadowed them from knowing ill, was gone,
Just confidence, and native righteousness,
And honor from about them, naked left
To guilty shame: he covered, but his robe
Uncovered more.

Now indeed they are naked.  The virtues that once clad them like royalty have been stripped away.  We must now hide our motives from one another and even from ourselves.  We cover up, and in doing so we reveal our terrible poverty.  Do Adam and Eve find at least a sad comradeship in sin?  Hardly.  Before they repent – we should say, before the shadow of the cross of Christ falls across their path – they do nothing but blame one another.  We might well apply Milton’s judgment to every single secular endeavor untouched by grace: to political parties, social classes, suspicious nations, business rivals, and men and women glaring at one another in court:

Thus they in mutual accusation spent
The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning,
And of their vain contest appeared no end.

There it is, the secular world in miniature: no true society at all.  Does worship of God divide men?  It is rather the one thing that most surely unites them.  The secular lie, that most wars have been fought over religion, is so manifestly false that we might well consider it the result of demonic activity, as when seemingly sensible people are hurled into mass demonstrations of madness.  The ancient Greek city states fought one another constantly; about the only time they didn’t fight was when they gathered at Olympia or Delphi to celebrate games in honor of the gods.  The ancient Romans systematically conquered their neighbors in Italy and then extended their rule over the whole Mediterranean, but they were notably tolerant, even supportive, of religion.  That was one thing they didn’t fight about, until, in sporadic bursts of totalitarian feeling, they began to hale Christians off to die in the arena.

With the significant exception of Islam, almost every war fought in the west over the last five thousand years has had nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with those secular things that men fight for: power, glory, revenge, wealth, land.  What did religion as such have to do with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War?  What did religion have to do with the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and the Boer War?  What did it have to do with the Franco-Prussian War, or the Russo-Japanese War?  Even the Crusades would never have been fought, if the Turks had not swept into the near east, slaughtering and conquering, feared by both the Byzantine Christians and the Baghdad Muslims whose lands they seized.  Instead, if we want to identify the real instigator of war, we need look no farther than the secular man who wishes not to worship God but to have the power of a god: Napoleon, Bismarck, Garibaldi, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, Tito, Mao, Idi Amin, Kim Jong-Il.

But when I join with my fellows in the worship of God, there above all do we break out of our lean and hungry selfishness.  To kneel beside another person – an old man beside a little child, a janitor beside a professor, a woman who struggles with the sin of envy beside a woman who is the cause of envy in others, a college graduate beside a dropout, a gangly boy beside a woman who shakes as she takes the host – this is a communion the secularist can never know.  And when a Christian man and a Christian woman manage to reject the snaky whisperings of lust, and seal their mutual love on the night after they have said before God and man, “I am yours forever,” they know a joy that is to the aged weariness of pleasure-seeking as the heavens above are to their reflection in a puddle.  Sight hateful, sight tormenting!

More still to come.

Progressive Inhumanity, Part One: The State against the Family


Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Professor Esolen does the Romans an injustice: they were well aware of the power of religion and its potential for creating sedition.

    Their earliest law code, the Law of the XII Tables, enjoined “Let no one have gods by himself, nor worship in private new gods nor foreign ones, unless added on public authority.”  Roman history is replete with examples of the suppression of alien cults.  Five centuries later, we have Mæcenas’s advice to Augustus, as recorded by Dio Cassius, “honour the gods according to the national custom, because the contempt of the country’s deities leads to civil insubordination, reception of foreign laws, conspiracies, and secret meetings.” 

    Indeed, private associations of any sort were viewed with the deepest suspicion.  Thus, when, after the great fire at Nicomedia, Pliny, the governor, asked leave of the emperor Trajan to form a volunteer fire brigade, that prudent monarch refused: “this sort of society has greatly disturbed the peace… Whatever name we give them and for whatever purposes they may be founded, they will not fail to form themselves into dangerous assemblies.”

    Christians were viewed askance on both counts.  Their opponents describe them as “tomb-haunting,” because burial clubs were about the only sort of association allowed and provided congregations with a useful cover.

  • Kathy

    I wish I could have read this.  As a Catholic and a female, I am sorry to say I found the language here distancing and not related to me from the very beginning.  Normally I can substitute exclusive language in my own mind, “human”, “we”, “our”, or “us” for “man”, and plural much of the rest, but the use of the male gender was so extensive in this piece, I can’t read it. 
    I hope maybe someday someone will be able to express these ideas using language that doesn’t, from the get go, exclude or marginalize over half of the human race.

    • Nick Palmer

      Sorry, Kathy, but it’s called “English.” Perhaps some thoughts from Professor Peter Kreeft would be more eloquent:

      Kreeft, Socratic Logic, bottom of page 36 (footnote):


      use of the traditional inclusive generic pronoun ‘he’ is a decision of
      language, not of gender justice. There are only six alternatives. (1) We could
      use the grammatically misleading and numerically incorrect ‘they.’ But when we
      say ‘one baby was healthier than the others because they didn’t drink that
      milk,’ we do not know whether the antecedent of “they” is ‘one or
      ‘others,’ so we don’t know whether to give or take away the milk. Such language
      codes could be dangerous to baby’s health. (2) Another alternative is the
      politically inclusive ‘in-your-face’ generic ‘she,’ which I would probably use
      if I were an angry, politically intrusive, in-your-face woman, but I am not any
      of those things. (3) Changing “he” to “he or she” refutes itself
      in such comically clumsy and ugly revisions as the following: ‘What does it
      profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world but loses his or her
      own soul? Or what shall a man or woman give in exchange for his or her soul?’
      The answer is: he or she will give up his or her linguistic sanity. (4) We
      could also be both intrusive and clumsy by saying ‘she or he.’ (5) or we
      could use the neuter ‘it,’ which is both dehumanizing and inaccurate. (6) Or we
      could combine all the linguistic garbage together and use ‘she or he or it,’
      which, abbreviated would sound like ‘sh…it.’


      believe in the equal intelligence and value of women, but not in the
      intelligence or value of ‘political correctness,’ linguistic ugliness,
      grammatical inaccuracy, conceptual confusion, or dehumanizing pronouns.”

      • ChrisPineo

         Thank you Nick. Fantastic, but it may dishearten your opponent to know that your argument here rests on demonstrable and objective truth rather than opinion. Sometimes it hurts people to know that their opinion cannot trump universal or logical truth.

    • J G

       Kathy, your ideology has blinded you and made you incapable of understanding something that is true and beautiful. You have bit into the apple of political correctness and radical feminism. You have been enslaved, such a pity.

      • Brian A. Cook

        Blithely spouting the buzzwords “political correctness” and “radical” will not draw people to Christ. 

    • Alecto

      Kathy, as a fellow woman and a Catholic, I agree.  I find most of Mr. Esolen’s commentary highly misogynistic.  Witness above, “But when I join with my fellows in the worship of God, there above all do we break out of our lean and hungry selfishness.  To kneel beside another person – an old man beside a little child, a janitor beside a professor, a woman who struggles with the sin of envy beside a woman who is the cause of envy in others, a college graduate beside a dropout, a gangly boy beside a woman who shakes as she takes the host – this is a communion the secularist can never know.”  All of the negatives are female stereotypes.  Is Esolen a closet misogynist?  Why is it every time a woman asserts herself or demands better treatment, she is somehow in the throes of radical feminism?  It’s insulting to insinuate women aren’t indiviudals, that somehow we’re sheep doomed to follow some blind ideology whilst men are all enlightened. 

      I also find lengthy quotes from Milton intellectually lazy. 

      • Nick Palmer

        When one looks to be offended, one can always find a reason to be offended.

        I, for one, am slightly weary of “code words” and “implicit prejudice.” But, that probably means I’m a “closet” misogynist/racist/bigot/papist/etc.

        I can live with that.

        God’s peace and serenity to the disturbed. Really.

        • Alecto

          “I can live with that.”  The problem exactly.   There is nothing implicit or subtle in Esolen’s essays.  He is generally quite obvious in his disregard for women as moral beings, intellectual beings or spiritual beings on a par with men. 

          And you wonder why women are leaving the Catholic church?   

          • J G

             Really? I hadn’t noticed given the millions who are joining. However, the Anglican church is as “inclusive” as you could hope for. Are millions of women joining them? No, not in the least.

            • Alecto

              One has to wonder then at the church’s full stop move to evangelize?  If millions are joining, and that’s certainly a good thing, why the focus on this? 

              What has anything I’ve written got to do with the Anglican church?  I’m not leaving, have no intention of leaving, but that certainly doesn’t alter reality.  Tony Esolen’s body of work displays contempt for women.  Whether that is intentional or unintentional, I don’t know. 

              • J G

                 Anthony’s work does not show contempt for women. I however have contempt for political correctness and radical feminism. The Anglican’s have women clergy, but they are in decline. Catholicism continues to grow, so apparently women don’t agree with you.

      • Nick Palmer

        I am, however, looking for a rebuttal to Prof. Kreeft’s thoughts on “he” and “she.” That would be far more helpful than ad hominem attacks on Profs. Esolen and Kreeft, or me, for that matter. What is he missing? Other than his “closet?”

        • Alecto

          I see no “ad hominem” attacks.  That you feel you personally are being “attacked” seems more an attempt to shut down the discussion or to stigmatize anyone with whom you disagree.

          • Nick Palmer

            Okay, I’ll bite. Alecto, here are the numbers. Prof. E lists 9 people, assuming they’re not overlapping (e.g., the “college professor” is not also the “shaking woman”). Three are identified as female, two as male. The other four are not so identified. One woman is envious. Check. One woman causes envy. Stereotype here? Attractive woman? Wealthy woman? Smart woman? Envy could result from a variety of causes. Your post seems to make some assumptions, and does a really neat job of reading Prof. E’s, and now my mind (not a particularly nice read, btw). The old, shaking woman seems a stereotype of an elderly person, yes. But not necessarily of an elderly female.

            Very few, if any, of the other persons are painted as either morally upright or morally deficient. So, we end up with 11 percent of Prof. E’s people having an identified moral failing. That one a woman. Seems a 50/50 proposition.

            What would you recommend he do in the future? Paint all moral non-exemplars as male? Strive for a more even balance? Consult Roget’s Guide to Stereotypes and do the opposite?

            There are envious women. There are envious men. Proportions in the population equal? Unequal? I’ve no idea. I’ve been envious, and probably am now. There are attractive women. Men, too. Proportions? As Prof. Kreeft highlights implicitly, using the third-person singular, either as pronoun or as “example” in writing is often a rhetorical device used to get the reader to “see” the situation. Hence, “they” stinks for the purpose.

            The ad hominem is this: based on next to no real data you and Karen have painted Prof. E as a misogynist, read his mind to know that it was deliberate (as he tries to keep it “in the closet”), and not once commented on the thrust of the article notwithstanding the heinous “occupants” of his writing. You’ve labeled him, while Karen found herself unable to even read the piece she needed to read to make the observation in her post. I will not resort to stereotyping here.

            No facts, one anecdote. Moral condemnation.

      • Grace Taylor

        You are a fellow woman?  Not a sister woman? How misogynist of you. ;0

      • Brian A. Cook

         Thank you for asking tough questions. 

    • Grace Taylor


      Well, as a Catholic and a female, I have no problem with “man” used in the general sense of “mankind” and resent attempts to push the feminazi agenda through language which has resulted in silly things like calling female actors “actors” instead of “actresses.”

      • Nick Palmer

        And, Grace, don’t’ forget mailman becoming “person-person.”

      • Brian A. Cook

        Do you understand that “feminazi” is Rush Limbaugh’s increasingly broad slur? 

    • J G

      There is nothing sexist about the English language.

  • Tony

    Frankly, I find these comments bizarre.  How is it anything other than tender to empathize with the plight of the old woman whose fingers tremble? 

    On the word “man”: there is no substitute for it in English.  We need a word with the following characteristics:

    It must be singular.It must be personal.It must be universal.It must be specific and concrete.

    “Human being” is singular and somewhat personal, but it is not a universal term.  “Human beings” is comprehensive but is a collective, and not singular.  “The human race” is an impersonal abstraction.  “People” is plural and not universal.  “Men and women” is plural,  and it is not universal (it excludes children).  “One” is not universal, and is impersonal.  “We” is not specific and concrete, and not singular. 

    We Christians rightly see the goal of “a man” and the goal of “man” to be the same.  That is, we conceive of mankind as something much greater than a collective (“the human race”), and the individual as something much greater than a single instance of humanity (“one,” “a person,” “somebody”).  Each human being possesses in himself the history of the whole human race: Christ came to save each man, that is to say each human being, but also man, meaning mankind.  We are but one singular individual personal concrete Adam — it is much more than a symbol, that — and we are to become one singular individual personal concrete (and spiritual) Christ.

    I am sorry to deliver the news, but that is just the way English is.  But it is notable that all languages possess a word, whatever it may be, that bears the characteristics I have listed above.  It’s as if all people understood implicitly that we are all meant to be one — not in a collective, but in the Body of Christ.

    • Alecto

      It is the example cited of the envious woman in church and the woman being envied.  Apparently men aren’t subject to envy or other flaws as no negative stereotype of men is offered. 

      It is the continuing focus on Eve as somehow responsible for man’s downfall, using no biblical or canonical authority, but Milton’s Paradise Lost.  If I were to cite the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner as an authority for the consequences of global warming (water, water everywhere), would you buy that as a valid or objective source?  I doubt it. 

      I have no issue with use of “he”, “mankind” or any third person singular use of the masculine. 

  • Alecto, What the heck do you want me to do?  Some kind of obvious balancing act, so as to make sure I don’t step on anybody’s toes?  I used the examples from Paradise Lost because they have to do with the destroying of a church and a polity.  Milton’s suspicion that it was conjugal love that excited the devil’s envy the most is not peculiar to him; and his presentation of that marriage as reflecting all of their other relationships is most insightful.  Indeed, Satan’s speeches to Eve are laced with contempt for “mere” physical creation, and for her intimate love for Adam.  The entire poem marks the passage from communion to alienation.  At the heart of the communion is the love of God, and at the heart of the alienation is the self-willed rejection of God’s love — and consequently a rejection of the full goodness of all other created beings.  I daresay that Milton was not a reliable theologian when he was discussing the nature of Christ in his Christian Doctrine, but he is as revealing as anyone ever was when the subject is the interrelationships among marriage, society, and the kingdom of God.

  • Alecto: I apologize if the last comment sounded curt.  We all have our weaknesses.  I don’t know what you do for a living.  My job puts me in regular contact with people who want to dismantle our teaching, at my school, of the history, the literature, the philosophy, and the theology of the west.  A lot of those people, not all of them, are feminists.  I have written about the beauty of woman; in past years I felt compelled to defend boys against abominable treatment, because nobody else was doing it.  I don’t do so much of that now, because other people have taken up the cause, and because I actually don’t enjoy the task.  I ask you, since you are a faithful Catholic, to pray for me.  I’ll add that I often tell my students that God intended men and women as blessings for one another, and that if we each of us spent our time praising the virtues of the opposite sex and blaming our own, there wouldn’t be as many divorces as there are.  Believe it or not, I do actually attempt to put this maxim into practice.

    • Brian A. Cook

      Are you reading minds?  I don’t recall anyone wanting to destroy everything, except perhaps for Taliban and Neo-Nazis. 

  • Sue

    Kathy,As a Catholic female, I am eager to say you don’t speak for me.  Neither you nor the many feministas who have sterilized our language along with your bodies, made women of our men and girls of our boys, and forced the titles “Parent 1”, “Parent 2”, or even better yet, “Progenitor 1 and 2” onto our birth certificates.    Shredding our families for your “choice” or “marriage equality”.  When we get abortions forced on us like they do in China, I don’t think we’ll be able to call on the Systerhood to help us out. When I say “you” in this posting, I mean the group with which you apparently identify, feminists and fellow travelers.  Groupies of Betty Friedan (“Feminist Mistake” author- Marxist-Communist wolf in housewife’s clothing).  Promoters of the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” college handbook of sexual liberation that rapes women of their natural inclinations to become a wife and mother.Pulling others into misery because of the guilt of your own “Madame Bovary” moments.  I say to all of the women who’ve had abortions or were sexually promiscuous, seek pastoral care from the Church.   Jesus will forgive you if you seek him out.  But to those who won’t  repent but instead seek to recruit fellow useful idiots as companions in evil, I say “Get your bovaries off my ovaries”.  Stop ruining the world and its most precious unit, the family, with your guilt.Sisterhood is powerful, too bad the kids in China don’t get to have one.  Please speak for the millions of marginalized sisters being flushed down toilets through abortion in our world.  If you don’t feel your femininity is being affirmed through this article, perhaps its because you don’t realize that it is through the complementarity of the sexes (male-female, ya know?)  that womanhood is *supposed* to be appreciated.   Homosexuality is what is neutering our sexuality and you should take issue with that, not with language that celebrates “la difference”.This article that puts its finger on exactly the problem that is shredding this world today…sexual “liberation” and companion atheism.  Thanks to Prof. Esolen for an article that affirmed women as well as men.

    Signed Person 1 (who happens to be a woman)

  • A Mitchell

    To Kathy,
    Have you always considered yourself excluded from a statement using the masculine pronoun? I ask this because most of my children ( and the majority of them are now adults) don’t seem to have that problem. Indeed, in working with young people I do not find it neccesary to use both pronouns when addressing a mixed gender group. Actually, they all usually ignore anything that is not preceeded by their given name. They are often trying hard not to be singled out and use the excuse of a general address ie. ” Did you mean me?”
    I don’t think they do that because they aren’t aware that the person staring at them and using a louder voice than they would if mumbling to themselves, is addressing them, but rather a faint hope that they can use that as an excuse for not being attentive or doing what is being asked of them.
    Adults are held to a higher standard. I suggest you do know that ‘mankind’ means both men and women as the loss of either gender would soon mean the end of humanity. I suggest that you know that the pronoun ‘he ‘ is often used instead of the more pedantic’ he and she’ but that you hope by refusing to comprehend, you can ignore the instruction, or article.
    As a fellow woman, I find your pretended obtuseness, a disgrace to the rest of us. If you are truly a stupid person, please forgive me.

  • Elizabeth

    So glad I grew up in the fifties and have no problem reading this.

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  • Toadspittle

     “The secular lie, that most wars have been fought over religion, is so manifestly false..”

    Whoever thought such a thing? Secular liars, we must suppose. What is undoubtedly true, though, is that religion is frequently resposible for strife – usually in the form of massacres, often of Jews over the centuries, but also Muslims, Christians and Hindus and God knows who else.

    The Balkans, Pogroms, Northern Ireland, Indian Partition, St Bartholomew’s Day, even the Holocaust had a religious tinge, and now Muslims are slaughtering Christians in Africa, Suni-Shiaa murder, not to mention Spain in South America and its own Civil War, etc.
    What about that lot?