Spitting on the Crucifix

In the coming months we will learn whether America’s long experiment in ordered liberty must finally be declared dead.

It has of late been coughing up plenty of blood.  Consider the public school system: nor forget that what is implied by the word “system” is a vast coordinated network of elementary and secondary schools nearly identical from place to place.  Parents who send their children to these schools, like other taxpayers, pay heavily for the privilege, and yet their influence upon what is taught and how is negligible.  Indeed, as far as the modern educationist is concerned, the influence is supposed to work in the other direction.  One pays to have one’s children weaned away from the beliefs and customs of one’s own heritage, so that the children will then come home and proceed to indoctrinate mother and father in turn.  I am only stating in bald language what the education establishment has openly professed to do.

Then there is what Richard Weaver called The Great Stereopticon, the vast machinery of propaganda, polling, self-serving media, and mass entertainment.  Who frames the question wins the argument, if “argument” is the right word for what emerges from the swamp of ignorance, emotional manipulation, and mendacity that characterize our public “debates” and our electoral politics.  A press that promotes liberty requires a people truly literate, and literacy means far more than being able to cipher out words like “run” and “hide.”  It requires at least some experience of subtle thought or profound wisdom, or at least historical precedent; but our schools, eschewing the past titans of literature for modish mediocrities, replacing the careful study of language with self-expression, and converting the messy business of history and geography into more easily politicized “current events,” have given us one or two generations of people who not only cannot read The Federalist Papers, but do not even know that they exist.

Shall I add our supine acceptance of one affront to liberty after another?  I am grateful that, by a single vote, our Supreme Court has upheld, on grounds as narrow as the edge of a sword, the freedom of a free association of people to choose what sort of association they will be and whom they will admit and on what terms.  So, for now, the Boy Scouts, whose main strategy for dealing with politics is to get out of the path of the bulldozer, can remain the Boy Scouts, as its founders had envisaged.  A single vote – when a truly free people should have been outraged that anyone should attempt to dictate, from without, what such an association must become.  But it is not surprising, after all.  Our actual political lives – the doings of people in a community, seeking the common good with their neighbors – have shriveled up, just as what is called, apparently without any sense of irony or contradiction, “national politics” has grown monstrous, omnivorous, and absurd.

This disregard for liberty should not be surprising.  When, in Paradise Lost, Satan is found attempting to insinuate evil dreams into the ear of the sleeping Eve, the stripling cherubs who discover him ask him his name.  Satan laughs with scorn.  These youngsters surely must be the lowest of their platoon, not to know him.  But one of the cherub responds:

Think not, revolted Spirit, thy shape the same,
Or undiminished brightness, to be known
As when thou stoodst in Heaven upright and pure;
That glory then, when thou no more wast good,
Departed from thee, and thou resemblest now
Thy sin and place of doom obscure and foul.

No goodness, no glory; no virtue, no liberty.  So says Milton’s Michael to Adam, revealing the sad future of warring mankind:

True liberty
Is lost, which always with right Reason dwells
Twinned, and from her hath no dividual being;
Reason in man obscured, or not obeyed,
Immediately inordinate desires
And upstart passions catch the government
From Reason, and to servitude reduce
Man till then free.

The idea is a common one, or rather was once common enough.  So Castiglione, in The Book of the Courtier, rejects the notion that freedom can be conceived apart from virtue.  Rather, the breadth of action that peace provides requires in turn an even greater commitment to the virtues than does war: “Just as during times of war people should apply themselves to the practical virtues that are necessary to attain the objective of war, namely peace, so in peace, to attain the corresponding objective of tranquility they should apply themselves to the moral virtues to which the practical virtues lead.”  Then the ruler – we may substitute “state” – will not be “imperious, like a master over his slaves, but sweet and calm,” like “a good father over his sons.”

On this subject, the great pagan philosophers and the Christians speak with one voice.  Seneca writes that true liberty is the pursuit of wisdom.  Aristotle writes that a free polis, the only true haven for human thriving, requires the virtue of friendship in pursuit of what is genuinely good.  Plato writes that a man who gives himself over to base passions is no better than a slave.  “What steals [man’s] liberty is sin alone,” writes Dante.  Christians need look no further than the words of the Master: “Whosoever commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34).

Indeed, when we recognize that human liberty derives from God, or, for the agnostics among us, from what is objectively good and therefore to be sought, we have the strongest defense against the encroachments of tyrants, or an all-devouring State.  This is so, writes Leo XIII in Libertas Praestantissimum, not only for each individual, but also for “the community and civil society which men constitute when united.”  True liberty does not consist “in every man doing what he pleases,” but rather in obedience to the eternal law.  That obedience liberates us in spirit and protects the civic freedom we have won: “Thus, an effectual barrier being opposed to tyranny, the authority in the State will not have it all its own way, but the interests and rights of all will be safeguarded – the rights of individuals, of domestic society, and of all the members of the commonwealth; all being free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as we have shown, true liberty really consists.”

All these agree in condemning the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of vice.  What we need to do is to show the connection between the two tyrannies, and in this the current American administration has obliged us.  For the same government that is, in effect, commanding Jews to eat pork, as did Antiochus in the days of the Maccabees, or commanding a man to show his intellectual capitulation by spitting upon a crucifix, as does Professor Frost in C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, is now commanding Catholics and other Christians to purchase the means and the guarantor of sexual vice – the falsely named “birth control,” pills or chemical-leaching devices designed to trick a woman’s body into a kind of childless pregnancy.  It does so, moreover, against the mounting evidence to show the destruction of lower-class and now lower-middle-class communities occasioned by the devices and by the sexual profligacy they both encourage and entrench.

If it be argued that my analogies are inadequate, I agree.  Unlike what the Pill has done, the eating of pork does not, in itself, bring harm.  Nor does spitting upon a piece of carved wood.  Catholics should boldly resist the toxin as such.  But more is at stake here.  If the Jews had capitulated to Antiochus, they would have ceased to be Jews, and we would hear little more of them now than we hear of Medes and Parthians.  If Mark Studdock, the agnostic sociologist, had capitulated to his professorial enticer, he would have lost what little remained of his human integrity and his soul.  And if Catholics capitulate to breaking the law of God as they see it, spitting upon the crucifix, they too will lose their soul; there will no longer be a Catholic Church worth troubling about, just as the State does not trouble itself about those innocuous denominations that have surrendered to the sexual revolution and to statist ambition.

The horrible secret is that the American people may well no longer wish to be free, because the practice of the virtues is too difficult.  The teachings of the Catholic Church threaten them; they are openly gleeful when they can point to priests and laymen who violate those teachings.  They prefer the servility of sexual license, made comfortable by levies from their neighbors.  They are thus at the point of cheerfully giving away their most precious liberty, just so that they may do as they please with the zipper.  Words cannot describe the baseness of it all.

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).

  • Andrew

    You have your finger on the issue.  Wonderful and perceptive piece.

  • Clement_W

    Absolutely and succinctly put. Akin to the succinct Ten Commandments and the ‘Law’ expanding on the very same ‘Ten Commandments with 400 some ‘Laws’.  In Luke, Jesus has summarized the Ten Commandments into One Commandment – ‘Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, with all your strength AND love your neighbor as yourself’. The United States constitution was very close to this until the ‘need’ to define the ‘Rights’ in the Bill of Rights became necessary leading to the rest of the ‘Amendments’.

    Let us remember that God is faithful to His Promise. After all, He made us in ‘His OWN Image’ and let us remember what has happened to the Soviet Union and happening in the People’s Republic of China and in Viet Nam.

  • 8fuersleben


  • Tisantir

    All this because Americans insist that their employers provide them with medical care.

    How this conflict handled in other Catholic countries where secular state rules such as Germany, Italy, Spain etc? We do not hear of conflicts over contraception from there.
    The State wants people to shift to State-run plamn

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      My solution: employers should (if they so choose) provide cash allowances to employees to purchase whatever health insurance they can in the marketplace.  They can buy how much or how little coverage they want to subsidize with their own money. 

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      I do not know about other European countries, but in both the UK and France, family planning clinics are paid for out of general taxation and are free at the point of use

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  • Worried Catholic

    It’s not simply the ‘public’ education systems, a columnist in the jesuit’s leftist magazine America – justifies voting for the current president because he is ‘a nice guy and great role model’!

    This is from a jesuit priest, presumably the ‘intellectual’ bright lights of the priesthood – holding up a life-long pro-abortionist, who voted AGAINST funding efforts to save babies that survive abortion, who spent 20+ years listening and drawing inspiration from the racism and hate of black liberation ‘theology’ as a role-model! Given Georgetown U’s veiling of all its religious statuary and symbols for 0’s speech, the fact-free, error-filled attack by GU faculty on Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal and the generally intellect-free response of ‘Catholic’ universities to presidential mandates on taxpayer funded abortions – I’d say we’re in really deep trouble!

  • Carl

    This offering would have been a perfect Homily for last Sunday’s Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  If John the Baptist were here today I don’t think he could have said it better.
    “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

    In fact this should be a mandatory Homily given to all Parishes across America sometime during the Fortnight of Freedom.

    God help us!

  • fondatori

    The horrible secret is that the American people may well no longer wish to be free, because the practice of the virtues is too difficult.  ”

    Sadly I think this is mostly true.  Modern American will in large numbers choose servility over liberty, certainly a full belly over dignity.

  • James Stagg

    Excellent presentation and reasoning!  Thank you, Professor Esolen!

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    An incisive essay that goes right to the heart of the matter: Some issues on the questions of good and evil, are non-negotiable. Nations and individuals define themselves by the moral positions they take in times of crisis and danger. There are absolute, intrinsic evils that must be fought and confronted. If not, slavery of some form replaces freedom as the article explains so eloquently; intergrity loses its meaning, and moral courage disappears.  To this day I am grateful that my Armenian ancestors fought heroic battles to preserve their Christian faith when they could have compromised and embraced Zoroastrianism or Islam to live at the expense of their self-respect and dignity. In the Battle of Avarayr 200,000 Persians fought 60,000 Armenians who made it clear beyond any doubt that they would rather fight, die, and pay the price than give up a pearl of great price. That is the noble meaning of freedom–to seek the good, to love the good, to defend the good, and even to die for the good.

  • Pauletta

    In the 9th paragraph, your statement , “And if Catholics capitulate……..there will no longer be a

    Catholic Church worth troubling about………..”, is bothersome.

     Jesus has asked us to trust in His Mercy.   Coupled with  His statement to the Apostles that the gates

    of hell will not prevail against it [His Church], gives me hope.  Prayer, especially our Blessed Virgin’s 

    Rosary, WILL  save us from the presence and acts of satan upon this earth. 

    • Carl

      Finish the sentence Pauletta,  ” , just as the State does not trouble itself about those innocuous denominations that have surrendered to the sexual revolution and to statist ambition.”  
      Professor Ensolen is not despairing over the defeat of the Church, he is a voice in the Godless-secular-wilderness trying to call the wayward back to the Church. 

    • For all your prayers to Jesus’ blessed mom, I can hear her reply: 

      …(saith His mother unto the servants,)”Whatsoever He (Jesus) saith unto you, do it.” John 2:5

      What might the nation the world AND THE CHURCH be like if we would all just do what Jesus said…

      • Truthserum 1

        Dear David…I  aree but the sad tale is we are being stipped of our freedom to do as Jesus says!

        • Truthserum 1

          Sorry for the spelling errors  – am writing from a cstruction site with poor light.

    • Paul

       The Catholic Church will remain.  It is the number of people (Catholics) who value the Life of Virtue that is in grave doubt.

    • Kbflo2

      Ever wonder about the prayer? It says ” Blessed art thou among women “.

      How is the mother of God not the most blessed of all mankind? NO male pope, no saint, no priest, no one could be more blessed than the virgin mother chosen to give birth to GOD.


    • Tout

      re PAULETTA     There will always be Catholics…but how many ? Will we be hunted, martyred again ? Yes, pray. I pray openly at a Mary-statue downtown, and put sign “Whether glad, sad, or wary, pause a while. say a Hail Mary”. Some pedestrians come, touch the statue. Young man came,prayed,left. Girl (19 ?)prayed on her knees, left. Lady joined me praying rest of rosary. Elder lady prayed, left. Age 82,  I started a procession by going alone, praying rosary, walking around 4 streets. The 7th time,2005, lady took over, made it beautiful; ended with Mary-crowning in church. I never received H.Host in hand, always on tongue. Do so to evangelize. Please, receive on tongue even if you are the only one in church. Just some of my Catholic actions in public. Help spread these acts. I made scoutspromise in 1932. An atheist can not be real scout. Once a scout, always a scout, even at age 92. May God bless You.

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  • Alecto

    Here, here!  Bravo, encore.  Prof. Esolen, here’s some corroboration from Emerson:

    A Nation’s Strength


    What makes a nation’s pillars high
    And it’s foundations strong?
    What makes it mighty to defy
    The foes that round it throng?

    It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
    Go down in battle shock;
    Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
    Not on abiding rock.

    Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
    Of empires passed away;
    The blood has turned their stones to rust,
    Their glory to decay.

    And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
    Has seemed to nations sweet;
    But God has struck its luster down
    In ashes at his feet.

    Not gold but only men can make
    A people great and strong;
    Men who for truth and honor’s sake
    Stand fast and suffer long.

    Brave men who work while others sleep,
    Who dare while others fly…
    They build a nation’s pillars deep
    And lift them to the sky.

  • Galena56

    Great article!  It is both sad and true that people today are so bogged down by pressures and busy schedules that they have become too lazy to stand up for what is truly good in this world.  It is now easier to go with the flow of the modern world and conform to every new agenda than to uphold the liberty one finds through having a clear conscience.

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  • Let us get our own houses in order. Sexual sin has always been present in America. It has been present in the church,  and long before the US started prosecuting Catholic clergy for their sex crimes. God did not send Jesus into the world to establish a kingdom of, by, and for flesh and blood. He came to bring redemption, forgiveness and everlasting life for whosoever would believe in Him, and He went back to Abba to prepare a place for them. Until Jesus returns I believe God expects us to live by our faith, to do justly, and to be merciful much as we are able toward others as we walk humbly with Him. 

    It is noted that if the colonies had waited for King George to pass (as he did in 1820) and not gone to war, there is no way of telling what might have transpired. Some of the colonists actually returned to England rather than oppose the King of England citing their obedience to the Bible’s teaching of Romans Ch. 13. As it is our national democratic republic is founded on bloody revolution, and our revolutionary war is a horror story. We act as if heaven will be a republic too. No even close. God’s choice for us is a Kingdom. And it is given us through the horror of Jesus crucifixion!!!

    …for the transgression of my people was he stricken. Isaiah 53:8

    The liberty we prize in the USA today is a self serving liberty if there ever was one, of both  libertines and the religious. The liberty of heaven will be a tremendous and marvelous change from the paltry liberties we hold dear here in the flesh. We defend our constitutional rights given by men while ignoring the one right God give to us:  

     …as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: John 1:12   

    We don’t need Philadelphia freedom, we need the freedom that comes from abiding in the word of God.

       Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

       And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

       If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. John 8:31,32,36

    Our church leaders show how easily led astray THEY (WE) can be and yet they/we proclaim to the world of sinner politicians what they must do for us! It is no wonder God’s law gets no respect when we give it so little. We do not know how to suffer as sons of God in Christ. We are unable on the day of the crucifixion of our liberties to refrain from saying a word. 

    The record proves that we have been unable to provide leadership that keeps us and our children chaste. If we did, and all christians were pure, the world would actually crucify us bodily, not spit on crucifixes. I think surely many in the church are hated for their hypocrisy and not for their godliness. Who are we? How do we know the people of Jesus? Some of us would do more for sinners by shutting our mouths…

       He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.   He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. Isaiah 53:7,8

    …except to rejoice properly. 


       …when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

        And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.   For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. Acts 5:40,41

       For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 1 Peter 2:19,20

      Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

       Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

    I rejoice that the world hates me and hates the word I love. 

       If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.   If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. John 15:18,19

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  • Seems our country is on the verge of turning a corner which will be near impossible to undo. There is great Catholic news and commentary about issues like these on catholicurrent.com.

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  • GrahamCombs

    Posted before this bizarre Supreme Court decision and emphatically relevant because it was. When I read Prof. Esolen, I weep for the education not offered at “our best schools.”   Our president is sadly a typical consumer of their product.    It is interesting how the word “liberty” has become associated with conservatives and other extremists.  It is not a word used by  activists, civil, social, or community.    Just as disspiriting, it seems rarely used by those promoting social justice.   Of course, the Founders would have found nothing alien or unfamiliar here,  except perhaps the names of Leo XIII or C.S. Lewis.   But not their thoughts.   As always Prof. Esolen,  thank you for moments of sanity in an America which like Justice Scalia I  “no longer recognize.”    This is definitely a weekend for mass and rosaries.

  • Truthserum 1

    We now have a nation that is fragmented by “straw- man” arguments and political correctness regardless if right or wrong! The political scene is “national socialism”; all that is lacking are the mass convocations that Hitler engineered in Germany in the 30’s, but the Democrats are working on that! We massacre our future residents before they are born and twist everything there is about sex into a pretzel! The government stands ready to RULE! Welcome to 21st Century “Nazism”! We are a nation that has “weaseled” its way to DOOM!!!Just smoke a little more “maryjane” and it will all be OK.


    Au contraire monsieur, the jesuits are not at all intellectual bright lights of the priesthood — far from it.  They are sell-outs to Marxist inspired simpleton seductive promises of the present day Left.  The jesuits by and large, have specifically abandoned Church teachings on the murder of innocents in the womb when they invite enthusiastic PRO-ABORTIONISTS tyo their campuses. They have also accepted the vile racism of oBama against white men.  Perhaps the most repugnant of contemporary jesuit arrogant profession is cowardice. They have abandoned Church teachings not because it is fashionable in the Western world but because they are afraid to be un-fashionable.

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