On May 2, 2013, Rhode Island, the most Catholic of these United States, joined the rest of New England in declaring that the sky is green and the grass is blue—or, rather, that a man can marry a man, and a woman can marry a woman, which amounts to the same thing.

The two main sources of news for many Americans today—Twitter and Facebook—exploded with messages like the following:

Today makes it official! Now ALL of my friends & family in my home state of RI can marry the ones they love if they wish. #LoveIsLove #RI4m

The author of this particular tweet was Erin Saiz Hanna ‏(@erinsaizhanna), the executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference (“A Voice for Women in the Catholic Church”), whose Twitter feed is full of similarly deep thoughts about women’s ordination (of course), gun control, the injustice of the FDA not approving Plan B for sale in gumball machines, and every other liberal cause du jour.  From what I can tell from her brief messages as well as her longer writings elsewhere (and her interviews from Rome, where she and her fellow women-priest-wannabes staged “pink smoke” rallies during the papal conclave in March), the 33-year-old mother of a 22-month-old is reasonably intelligent and well spoken—though, of course, completely and utterly wrong in everything she says.  Those who wonder why the Church in Rhode Island wasn’t able to convince Catholics there to oppose the legalization of the unlegalizable can find the answer in Hanna’s biography on the Women’s Ordination Conference website: During the years when she taught middle school religious studies for the Catholic Diocese of Rhode Island, Hanna was also in the leadership of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women.  Church leaders who saw no problem with that are hardly in a position now to convince Hanna (or anyone else) about the impossibility of women’s ordination or gay marriage.

It is easy to blame Twitter and Facebook and other social media for the simplistic modes of thought that we see on display in tweets and status updates.  How can anyone say anything worthwhile in 140 characters or less?  Yet Samuel Johnson managed to write (and, even more so, utter) many memorable and meaningful lines of less than that length, while Johnson’s slightly younger contemporary, Tom Paine, wrote hundreds of thousands of words that Erin Saiz Hanna would find perfectly palatable, often in individual sentences that could fill an entire pamphlet, and single paragraphs that could fill a small book.

We would make a grave mistake to think that limiting ourselves to older media and traditional forms would, by itself, improve the underlying message.  Those of us who defend the value of the written word, and who recognize the fundamental truth of the insights of Marshall McLuhan and Fr. Walter Ong, S.J., must still acknowledge that most of what is printed in newspapers, magazines, and books today is hardly worth sacrificing the life of a tree.  And most of the spoken word—speeches and sermons, radio broadcasts and TV talk-show debates—is, if anything, of even lesser value.

The difference between a Dr. Johnson and a Citizen Paine was hardly one of medium or form, though Paine’s style, which seems intricate and flowery to our eyes today, was a dramatic step down from that of Johnson, much less that of Paine’s contemporary and bête noire, Edmund Burke.  The deficiencies of Paine’s thought manifest themselves (of course) in his writing, but a modern-day Dr. Johnson could post the occasional tweet without falling into the perversions of Paine, much less the howlers of Hanna, because his mind had not fallen prey to an unrelenting unreality.

The problem is not the medium, but a lack of logic and coherent thought that both flows from and masks our efforts to deny reality.  And, especially when it comes to debates like those over gay “marriage,” women’s “ordination,” and the availability of day-after contraceptives for “women” who live with their parents, wear pigtails, and still watch the Disney Channel, the fundamental problem is the lack of any historical consciousness.  Or, to be more precise, the problem is a deliberate anti-historicism that regards everything that mankind, and especially Christian man, took for granted in the past not as simple reality but as outmoded tradition, as intellectual shackles from which we must be freed in order to advance into a glorious future where there will be only women priests, and Plan B will be unnecessary because normal sexual relations between a man and a woman will be rare.

One of Dr. Johnson’s great insights, expressed in a mere 70 characters (including spaces and punctuation), is that “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”  And, by definition, they can only be reminded of things that they already know, even if they have worked quite hard to forget those things.  Making people conscious once again of unchanging reality is, as America’s greatest living historian, John Lukacs, has often said, the chief task today of those who remain grounded in that reality.  The problem is that, with every passing day, there are more and more people who need to be reminded, and fewer and fewer who are capable of reminding them.  And that, sadly, is true even of professed Christians who have embraced the anti-historicism of the modern world, as Pope Francis reminded us (that word again!) in a recent homily on the Holy Spirit, Who “awakens our memory”:

A Christian without memory is not a true Christian: he or she is a prisoner of circumstance, of the moment, a man or woman who has no history.  [Or rather:] He or she does have a history, but does not know how to enter into history.

There are many 33-year-old women today who have forgotten, more or less deliberately, what their own 22-month-old children know instinctively to be true—that what is wriggling around in Mommy’s tummy isn’t a “clump of cells” but a baby, and that the destruction of that baby is an occasion for sadness, not a triumphant expression of progress for women.  A five-year-old child, even one being reared by a single parent or two “mommies” or two “daddies,” knows instinctively that family implies a mother and a father and a child or children.  It takes years of reeducation for that five-year-old to get to the point where he can convince himself that what he knew as a child is not true, and that the sky is green, and the grass is blue.

Yet the grass is green, and the sky is blue, and the “product of conception” is a baby, and a marriage is between a man a woman, with the purposes of procreation and rearing the rising generation.  No amount of intellectual abstraction, of erasing of our memory, can change the underlying realities of nature, nor of our nature.  The maxims that Rudyard Kipling memorialized in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” are proverbial precisely because they are true.  No matter how vigorously we try to brush aside those realities, they will eventually reassert themselves with a vengeance:

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Over the four-and-a-half decades of my life, I have watched mankind erase its own memory, watched many people I have known convince themselves that they have put aside childish things by embracing the opposite of the truths they knew—not were taught, but simply knew—as children.  And yet, in my own children, I see a rising generation that still instinctively grasps the reality of human nature, that knows that the Gods of the Copybook Headings represent the truth.  I say that not out of some sentimental embrace of childhood, much less of childishness, but out of the hardheaded (and somewhat daunting) realization that one of my primary roles as father is to ensure that my children do not erase their own memories, that they remember their history, because cultivating that memory now, before it is lost, will be far more effective than trying in the future to remind them of what they once knew.

Twitter and Facebook and instant messaging and TV and radio talk shows and ignorant clergy and even more ignorant politicians play their part in preventing us from reminding others of what they once knew.  Yet the problem runs much deeper, and the three centuries between the time of Dr. Johnson and our day have seen mankind as a whole become more literate, in a technical sense, while becoming further and further separated from reality.  The road back will not be an easy one, but just as there are no political solutions to cultural problems, there are no technical ones, either.

Editor’s note: In the photo above, Erin Saiz Hanna is pictured holding the banner on the far right.

Scott P. Richert


Scott P. Richert is the Senior Content Network Manager for Our Sunday Visitor and Editor at Large for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

  • DOC Chaplain

    Scott, Excellent essay and so relevant. The comparison of a Twitter text of 140 bits of information describes accurately the individual’s lack of willingness or time to study deeply, seek the truth when they can have a quick fix, short answer and not have to invest much thinking or reflecting on the history of human nature..
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    George Johnston

  • AcceptingReality

    As Fr. Mitch Pacwa said recently on Threshold of Hope. I am paraphrasing, of course….”The pursuit of Truth, of reality is important because the more we know reality the more we know ourselves. And the more we know ourselves the more we know God.” What Ms. Hanna is missing is that some truths are not relative, they just are.

  • abu assim golor

    When common sense, reason,logic and nature are denied then there is no other explanation for so called homosexual “marriage” other than we have reached the epitome of insanity.

  • Alecto

    One can sit on a pile of books and yet be illiterate. One can have at one’s fingertips the entire knowledge of the world, yet be ignorant.

    The problem is that awash in information as we are in this world, there is an absence of discernment, and that vacuum has lead to a vain, insipid society. We teach children many things, but do not teach them how to evaluate the information they receive. That requires a) an inelastic moral code against which the information is judged and b) the willingness and ability to analyze critically and pronounce judgment. As Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote, “There is nothing so agonizing to the fine skin of vanity as the application of rough truth.”

    As a result, instead of raising Solomon, or Saint Paul, or Teresa of Avila, St. Jerome, Thomas Aquinas we have raised Erin Saiz Hanna. All moral codes, however flexible are valid, there is no such thing as “true” or “false” for that indicates there is such a thing as right and wrong which is treason, heresy. Equality is morality. As a result, Jay-z is equal to Beethoven as an “artist”, and same sex abomination equals to marriage, and abortion equals healthcare.

    • Marc L

      Oh, no no no, they’re nearly through the looking glass now, and we’re on the other side: when all the opprobrium and shame built up will up will be heaped upon the Church and her faithful.
      “All moral codes…”
      No. Not ours.

  • Of course the idea of same-sex “marriage” is absurd – it is like giving the penguins a right to fly. But rational thought in our times has been subdued to sentimental gushings.

  • CurrentObservations

    The TV ads that posit and promote the idea of a ‘Smarter Planet’ based on a ‘mindless’ (literally) proliferation of data from a combination of sentient beings (humans) and ‘things’ (devices, connectors, modules, etc.) reflect this same ‘forgetfulness’ – it is REALLY disheartening to see so many passively accepting this message.

    • Marc L

      I’ve seen those ads and others like them, pushing this idea of “more connectedness [to machines] is better” hard and fast to get people to buy the bandwidth to make it happen. Their vision is damn near nakedly dystopic.

  • Have the “new equal rights” folks never read the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments of God, or The Book of Revelations in the New Testament. Do they not believe in a god other than the gods of me , myself and I! Do they not even realize there is a life in eternity which will be judged by God and will be spent either with Him or in eternal fires of Hell.

  • Bernonensis

    The notion that Rhode Island is the most Catholic state is erroneous, or at least we should hope that it is. If “Lapsed Catholicism” were a denomination it would the established church. Mass attendance continues to decline, virtually nobody goes to confession, The lack of knowledge concerning the faith, even among the minority who still practice it, is appalling. If this is what it means to be most Catholic, other parts of the country must be like Saudi Arabia.
    And yet, even if the Diocese of Providence were the community of believers St. Luke describes in Acts, it would not have made a jot of difference regarding the state’s decision to attach the name “marriage” to a buggery pact. The state legislature is thoroughly corrupt, entirely beholden to unions and addicted to Obama’s handout programs. The governor is a feeble-minded patrician whose sole qualification for public office is that Daddy did that sort of thing. It was the governor and the legislature — the Pilate and Sanhedrin of our day — who forced pseudo-marriage on the state, ignoring the calls (most notably, but not exclusively, from Bishop Tobin) to submit the wretched thing to a referendum, if it had to be considered at all. Hearing and serving the will of the people is simply not the Rhode Island way, you see.

  • hombre111

    When you know people who are gay, when you have friends who are gay, all the so-called common sense, reason, logic, and nature fail to convince. In something like the Galileo episode, the hierarchy is losing the war on this one, and will be apologizing for generations to come.

    • “When you know people who are gay”

      I know people who are gay.

      “when you have friends who are gay”

      I have friends who are gay.

      “all the so-called common sense, reason, logic, and nature fail to convince”

      Your personal relationship with someone who is gay means that reality is no longer reality, and that truth is no longer truth?

      • hombre111

        In my philosophical perspective, “truth” is not simply some intellectual abstraction floating around somewhere. It exists within our human condition. I think it is best expressed in the Italian family, which has had huge impact on Roman Law, which, in turn, has had an impact on the legal attitude of the Church. What is defined is the ideal, realistically accepted as something that cannot be reached. Like using the north star as a guide point. With this realistic understanding of the ideal as a guide that should never go away comes the next admonition: Just do the best you can.

        • I never said that truth is “some intellectual abstraction floating around somewhere,” and anyone who is familiar with my writing would know how funny it is to think that I would believe such a thing.

          Truth is revealed through history, and the fullness of truth is found in the person of Christ, the God Who entered history as man. The Christian understanding of marriage flows from Christ’s spousal relationship to the Church, which—to put it crudely because there is no other way to say this—is not a sodomitic one.

    • patricia m.

      Are you also in favor of them getting married in church as well? With the blessings of the priest and the whole community? By the way, I know very well a family member who’s from the female sex and is living together with another person from the female sex. Both of them were married to men before, and one of them has a child from the previous marriage. I’m not even going into the details of how they are ruining this child’s life and mind (the innocent in this dirty tale). When I confronted my relative about her way of life, she said simply that she *decided* to get married to a woman after her marriage to a man failed. She used this word, *decided*. She wasn’t born gay, oh no, quite the contrary. She decided to be with a woman because she thinks that cohabiting with a woman “is so much easier than with a man”, those are the literal words. I called her a libertine, she didn’t deny it. Now, do you want the church celebrating libertinism? Yes? Are you sure?

      • hombre111

        When I speak from the pulpit, I am on duty, representing my bishop, so I keep my opinions on this issue to myself. But privately? First, I think the Church should drop her opposition to civil marriage among gay people. She has the right to exclude them from receiving the sacrament in church. But, at the same time, privately, I think that the day will come when gay marriages will have their marriages blessed in some way by the church.

        Sorry to hear about your family member. My psychologists friends call it avoidance/avoidance. Marriage with a man has proven so painful that she has made another painful, socially despised option. She does this because, painful as it is, it seems less painful than her previous experience. It can happen early (usually with boys) whose struggle for heterosexual maturity is so difficlut that they choose a homosexual lifestyle. It happens with a lot of mature women. In both cases, there is so much pain, disappointment, and confusion, that they choose this route. I would call them not libertine, but gravely wounded human beings. And I would suspect that their genuine freedom is deeply compromised.
        To me, all this is a sympton more than a sin. Heterosexuality is deeply flawed by immaturity, emotional wounds, and distorted cultural expectatons. Along with insisting on the importance of heterosexual relationships, the Church needs to help heal this part of human life. I have found the books by the Whiteheads to be helpful here.
        But there are still people who insist they have been homosexual from the day they were born.

        • patricia m.

          “But, at the same time, privately, I think that the day will come when gay marriages will have their marriages blessed in some way by the church.” I truly hope not, this will be the day we’ll have an anti-Christ in Rome. Now, instead of healing those misguided human beings, as you put it, you prefer the whole society applause their mistake and call it “normal” behavior.

        • Bono95

          You’re right that people who struggle with homosexual temptations were very often hurt and/or scarred elsewhere in their lives and that all are deserving and in great need of love and help, but condoning same-sex civil unions or blessing or allowing “sacramental” same-sex “marriages” is not the way to do it. Sin is sin, no matter what any laws or votes say, and allowing it is not love and does not help people, it hurts them farther. To encourage sodomy is to lead people away from God, to increase their risk of developing AIDS and other tragic and often deadly diseases, to very often make them more miserable and susceptible to substance abuse, and possibly to be agents in permanently severing them from God’s friendship.

          Don’t encourage your same-sex attracted friends to engage in grave sin. Pray for them, counsel them, admonish them (gently), and refer to such outreaches as Courage. Even if they never thank you on earth, they will in Heaven. God and his faithful servants will thank you too, for “there is more rejoicing in Heaven over 1 repentant sinner than over 99 who have no need of repentance”.

        • lifeknight

          Glad to know your thoughts with this post and others–even though I would totally disagree. We have enough scandal in the Church without promoting same sex marriage “blessings.”

          • patricia m.

            Although it must be very tough for someone to preach something in public and then to have private thoughts about it that are completely opposed to the preaching. I, for instance, wouldn’t be able to live like that.

            • lifeknight

              I agree. I would not be able to keep my convictions (if in fact that is what they are) from my public persona. Arguably most people see through a disingenuous person anyway.

            • lifeknight

              I agree. I would not be able to keep my convictions (if in fact that is what they are) from my public persona. Arguably most people see through a disingenuous person anyway.

      • Pickles

        How is this persons life choice any different then heterosexual persons poor choices? How many heteros marry for convenience or simplicity or money or status. How many heteros are terrible models for their children to base their lives on?

        • patricia m.

          This is not an excuse. Sin is individual. It’s not because my brother or sister makes a poor choice in his/her life that I’m too allowed to make poor choices myself.

    • cestusdei

      So truth means nothing? I know some people who love their dogs dearly…

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I am convinced the entire Women’s Ordination Movement is the Call to Dissent, not the Call to Serve.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I always rather liked the definition of “I” in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary:

    “I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer to the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine.”

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  • cestusdei

    I can love whom I choose and marry them? I dearly love my sister. We will go down to the courthouse tomorrow and make it legal. It’s all about love.

  • ColdStanding

    Dr. Johnson surely must be considered one of the most accomplished poets writing in Latin for the last 1000 years. Granted, I’d be hard pressed to name the others in the top 5 and I am incapable of reading or writing it and can only repeat my prayers from rote memorization, so, my claims to expertise on the subject are best taken with the grain of salt so often recommended. However, I will stand by my assertion that Dr. Johnson’s English was superlative because of a supreme endowment of talent nourished by the classics and the Latin language. Latin is the concrete that the English blocks require because English is a patois. The patois to end all patois, to be sure, but, never the less, a patois. The image I have in mind of a patois is a jumble of blocks.

    One may be tempted to dismiss my point. In all honesty, I am not really the author of the point in the first place. Here are some older authors that make my point, and more besides, more ably:


    Here is my favourite (what? that’s how we spell it):


    I just love the clarity of thought; the structure; the order; the plain good sense found in the pages of this book.

    In conclusion, much of the loss of common sense, which comes from a thorough-going familiarity with logic, is as a result of jettisoning of the Latin component from the curriculum because lessons in Latin were lessons in logic. Once Latin was gone, math failed shortly there after. It is possible that another language could do what Latin has done. It is also true that no other language HAS done what Latin has done. So, yes, I am attributing to Latin a unique genius in forming thought that the English language, on it’s own, is not inclined to afford.

    PS: While you are at archive.org, take some time to search for Fr. F W Faber. Also a wonderful tonic for the mind addled by the fast food diet afforded by modern English writing.

    • ColdStanding, there is much truth in what you say.

    • Bernonensis

      Sir, is it then your contention, that buggery is a vice best remedied by acquaintance with the Ethnick Poets? Meseems it did them little good in that regard.

      • ColdStanding

        Stand down your assertions, sir! I claim no expertise in the history of English buggery, though I am of the mind that your jest brings to light a rich strain of metaphors. The adoption of Latin as a pedagogical tool in English grammar schools, valuable as it might be for adding some genuine currency to English “culture”, could not, in and of itself, paper over the fact that their society was reconstituted on a lie and that the sponsored authors placed themselves in the perpetuation of that lie. Furthering the injury in that Catholic truth, carefully preserved in Latin, suffered deracination and declared persona non grata. Recognizing the need the English tongue has for help from Latin, but realizing that the main user of Latin is the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the English dons chose to drink from the poison cup of antiquity. That this fostered buggery was, perhaps for them happily, an accident.

        Those poor unfortunates, such as myself, enthralled to and under the lash of the English tongue, see the extent of their plight only by the grace of God. I seek not to save English, but to serve truth. If truth would be served by severing English, then sever it I shall.

        I answered the call to sell all I have, being rich in English words. Imagine my surprise when I found that they, the words, were worthless.

        PS: Grand and windy assertions aside, I merely suggest that, for a language so prone to formlessness as English is, a thorough knowledge of Latin is a good means of training the mind to think which gives at least a chance at order in the speech. It is but a half solution.

        • Bono95

          Call me an uncultured philistine, but your “lash of the English tongue” metaphor made me think of the Rolling Stones’ logo. 😀

          • ColdStanding

            Umm, it is redundant to place the adjective “uncultured” in front of the adjective philistine. It is already by word for the uncultured; the unenlightened; the boorish; the prudish.

            Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

            There, now that I have had my morning’s pedantic fit, I can provide something useful to you. Click on this link for serviceable collection of anecdotes about the origin and use of philistine over at the occasionally pleasing Wikipedia


            • Bono95

              Thanks for the link. I especially liked the definition of “being deficient in the Liberal Arts”. I’m headed to the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in September to try to be dephilistinized.

    • I’ve said for years that the only college students I meet who know any English grammar are those who know Latin grammar. German would serve the purpose, as it is a highly inflected language with pretty clear rules regarding word order, but German has nearly vanished from the high schools. It might surprise people to learn that the entrance exam to Princeton used to be a Latin exam.

      • ColdStanding

        I dare say you will agree with me in that Latin alone won’t save English and/or English culture. Only the Holy Catholic faith can do that, though the work is much complicated without recourse to Latin (Greek would be helpful, naturally),

        I was aware, through reading books such as I have linked to, that German was much more widely studied in the recent past. It is interesting to note, in the first book linked, how much emphasis was placed upon the study of Latin in the German gymnasiums suggesting that a good deal of the rigor of modern German is also derived from Latin, acknowledging that their philologist ranged much farther afield than Latin and Greek.

  • What Bernonensis says is true. The state legislature is a pool of corruption. The education unions have made it so that a teacher can receive full pay while serving in the legislature (receiving pay there also) and not teaching at all. But that will not explain the pro-sodomy votes of every one of the few R’s in the state house, and of my own rep, the restaurateur Leo Raptakis, usually sensible, but not now. We are plain stooopid.

    • Bernonensis

      The go-along-to get-along attitude of the politicians is a bipartisan vice. Stupidity certainly plays its part too, of course; who but a fool worries about being “on the wrong side of history”?

  • Great essay, Scott. My regards to your comrades at Chronicles.

  • You know, the majority of what I see on twitter is links to articles. Sure people can try to make statements in the length of a tweet but it usually is not that easy. If I have something to say that is much longer, I use other social media platforms that allow for longer posts. Everyone I follow on twitter is quite thoughtful and intelligent. It is silly to call a woman dumb simply because she supports liberal ideas that you oppose.

    • Mr. McGuire, you might want to read the article before commenting. If you had made it as far as my fourth sentence (not counting the tweet I quoted), you would have read: “From what I can tell from her brief messages as well as her longer writings elsewhere (and her interviews from Rome, where she and her fellow women-priest-wannabes staged “pink smoke” rallies during the papal conclave in March), the 33-year-old mother of a 22-month-old is reasonably intelligent and well spoken—though, of course, completely and utterly wrong in everything she says.”

      How anyone can think that that equates to “call[ing] a woman dumb” boggles the mind.

  • Howard

    “Now ALL of my friends & family in my home state of RI can marry the ones they love if they wish.” Wow, I should go there so that I can marry that hot redhead who turned me down.

  • enness

    Oh, how I would have loved to photobomb the above picture.

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