St. Dymphna and the American Madhouse

Dymphna-Jenner
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Their attitude is really this: that the man must stop thinking, if he is to go on living. Their counsel is one on intellectual amputation. If thy head offend thee, cut it off; for it is better, not merely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, but to enter it as an imbecile, rather than with your whole intellect to be cast into hell.

–Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

It was a solid sign of our unreal times—in an interview with Sean Hannity about his bid for the California governorship, Caitlyn Jenner said, “I have common sense, OK.” And many didn’t bat an eye as this man, dressed and made-up as the woman he asserts to be, claimed a grasp of common sense. Surrendering to insanity is itself a species of insanity, for it is unreasonable to acquiesce to things that are irrational, or to mindlessly ignore violations against reason and reality. Such surrender, however, is becoming part and parcel with everyday American life.

Tomorrow, May 15, is the feast day of one who resisted the pressures of madness in the name of truth and decency at the cost of her home, family, and life. Americans should remember this little Irish saint, named Dymphna, who lost her head to one who had lost his mind. 

St. Dymphna, the daughter of a minor king named Damon, lived in Ireland during the seventh century. After Dymphna consecrated herself to Christ at age fourteen, following the faith of her mother, Dymphna’s mother died and left Damon in a devastated state of distracted woe. The king’s sorrow led to mental collapse, and as he sought a wife of equal beauty, his counselors suggested he wed Dymphna, who bore a striking resemblance to the woman he had loved. In his madness, Damon pursued his daughter, who fled with her guardian, Father Gerebran, to what is today Belgium. There she used the money she had to build a hospital for the poor. Using her currency, however, put her father on her track. He appeared in a rage, slew Gerebran and, finding Dymphna yet resisted his unnatural advances, slashed off his daughter’s head. St. Dymphna is a patron saint for people who suffer from mental disorders, sexual assault, and anxiety.

Today, we are assaulted by perversities and persecutions that are no less alarming—only they are not generally considered the raving atrocities of madmen. Pornography is free speech. A baby is a choice. Marriage is between two men or two women. A man is a woman, if he wants. A woman is a man, or equivalent to one by all means. COVID-19 is a black plague. Racism is systemic. From murder to sex to narcotics to social justice, the category of permissiveness is ever growing, removing the boundaries of objectivity. At the same time, Uncle Sam’s madhouse has also launched several successful systems of restriction and subservience. When contradiction reigns, insanity sets in. Without common sense, there is no natural way to view the world.

Lunacy is the new great American revolution, and like all revolutions, it is contradictory. The devastating function of this revolution is that it perpetuates and feeds off the thing that caused it to begin with. Contradiction makes men mad; and madmen live by contradiction. This is both the bane and the banner of the American brand of madness. Intellectualism and truth are growing out of vogue, for they are inimical to the absurdities of individualistic sophistry, political posturing, and the moral miasma that bestows mass control through mass confusion. Other pillars upholding this American lunacy are, of course, cynicism and liberalism. But over and above these toxic attitudes is a culture of contradiction that cannot but drive people out of their minds.

What else but insanity can preside when the open-minded diversity agenda consistently strives for the homogeneous, Marxist contrary through closed-minded equality? Local peculiarities are fast fading, as is the charm of peculiarity. The blinding, unchanging highway has buried the open road and its landmarks. The roles of man and woman are lost in a fog of sexist equation and confusion in the frantic effort to defend gender. Rather than holiness being the source of health, health has become holiness. Where is the diversity in fast-food restaurants or shopping malls? Cookie-cuttered. Mass-produced. Made in China from sea to shining sea. America is immured in contradiction. Uniformity, not diversity, is the real aim and the real result; and this contradiction is the cause of a very real madness that modernity embraces as the new normal.

The modern American madness is chiefly propagated by the contradiction involved in quarantining traditional ethical principles (and people) from one another, isolating the virtues (or “values,” to use the modern, muddy term) from the context of an integrated moral universe and society, leaving Americans in a state of profound moral imbalance and ambivalence. Fortitude cannot survive if it need not be seasoned by humility. Charity will wither when forgiveness is optional. Justice without mercy is a monster. This segregation, this violent separation of grounded and grounding realities, is done in the land of “inclusiveness” and “tolerance.” 

If liberalism gradually dilutes all things human unto destruction, it is not liberating. It is enslaving. It is mental paralysis. It is a world of Orwellian doublethink and doublespeak. “Have we eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?” asks Banquo of Macbeth, for insanity truly does take reason prisoner, locking it away in a padded cell with nothing but itself, as Chesterton famously echoed in Orthodoxy. The land of the free is becoming a prison. Until identity is loved over ideology, the craziness will continue. Patriotism is impossible when regional character is destroyed; and a people who have no true, meaningful love for their country are a people who have lost touch with a basic tenet of human piety and human sanity.

Man can’t be his own savior—it is a contradictory premise. Those who give in to the insanity born of contradiction only serve to perpetuate the illusion and the contagion in themselves and in others. Though no one can ignore the unhappiness shackling society, most ignore the cause. They deny it. If a cure is inconvenient to the markets, the malady is contradicted—even though it is everywhere and obvious. As Euripides said, “Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.” 

Our fatherland has lost its mind. Therefore, St. Dymphna is a model for us all in being brave and resolute against oppression. Following her example, we can face the mental disease and the disease of desensitization caused by a culture of contradiction. Millions of Americans are foregoing their common sense together with many of their common civil liberties, going along the stream of insanity like dead things, afraid to take a stand or make a stir. But much of our fear and frustration is rooted in a feeling of helplessness. We are not helpless, though. We can dialogue. We can resist. We can follow common sense.

Let us be martyrs for truth in whatever form that may take. Scottish theologian William Barclay said that Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble. Through the intercession of St. Dymphna, may we all get into the trouble of breaking free from the straightjackets of virtual reality, political corruption, media manipulation, and soft totalitarianism. That means, of course, facing the uncomfortable facts of uncommon sense, secular preoccupation, and ecclesial ineptitude. But the truth will set us free—and it is in that freedom that we will be happy.

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

By

Sean Fitzpatrick is a senior contributor to Crisis and serves on the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy, a Catholic boarding school for boys in Pennsylvania.

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