The mayor of San Antonio glares down at the electrician, who is bidding for a contract to wire some new public offices.
“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Roman Catholic Church?”
The electrician looks puzzled, but his assistant Carlos, a man with more experience in political affairs, speaks up. “Mayor Castro,” he says, “my friend Mario was baptized a Roman Catholic, and went to Catholic schools, but that was a long time ago, and he wasn’t the only one, not by a long shot. But I can promise you that he hasn’t gone to church in all the fifteen years I’ve worked with him, except for at Easter and Christmas, and he only does that to please his mother.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“That’s all well and good,” says Mayor Castro, “but it still is troubling that he should maintain any connection at all with an organization that won’t allow women into the priesthood, and that still insists that a man cannot marry another man.” He turns to Mario. “Sir,” he says, “can you give us any further assurance that you have never spoken or acted in such a way as to confirm these obnoxious teachings?”
“Mayor,” says Mario, “what my friend Carlos says is true. I believe in God, I guess, but I don’t let it get in the way of what I want to do. I have been living with a woman for five years, and we aren’t married. I’m not in any position to tell other people what to do with their parts.”
“You have been living in what the Church calls sin for five years,” says the Mayor, writing on his notepad. “That does count in your favor. Do you have any evidence to corroborate this claim?”
“I can bring her in and you can ask her yourself,” says Mario. “Or you can ask my mother. She doesn’t like it very much, and she won’t lie.”
“Very well,” says His Honor. “But there is another charge. A Mr. Montanez, who by odd chance is also putting in a bid for this contract, has said that when you and he were working on a job seven years ago, you called him a ‘morricone.’”
“I don’t remember that,” says Mario.
“Your Honor,” says Carlos, “that’s a word that you’ll often hear the workmen throw around. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“So you admit,” says the Inquirer, “that you might very well have used that term.”
“I don’t keep a record of everything I say,” says Mario.
“Is it the sort of thing you would say? Do you believe there is something wrong about a man who, let us say,” and the Mayor breaks into Spanish to describe the act most specifically.
“Your Honor,” says Mario, “I don’t know anything about right and wrong. I’m an electrician, not a philosopher.”
“Would you yourself do such a thing?”
Mario squirms in his seat. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“Because I wouldn’t want to.”
“Do you have a son, Mario?”
“Yes, Joaquin, twelve years old.”
“Would you be happy if he did such a thing?”
“Yes, happy. Assuming of course that he took all the requisite safety precautions.”
“N-no, I wouldn’t be happy. Why should I be happy?”
“That will be all, Mario. We’ll let you know soon about our decision.”
There’s a fine inscription in Latin, painted on the inside of the rotunda of our capitol in Providence. It reads, “Happy the land where a man may think what he will, and say what he thinks.” It’s a fit motto for Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams as a haven for free and vigorous religious expression. It applies not only to religious believers, but to human beings generally, because it answers a deeply human need. That need is not to be willful in thought and word, but rather to be free to search for the truth—a search that demands a freedom for questioning and a freedom for debate. For moral truth, unlike empirical fact, cannot simply be discovered by one man who will then inform others, who then will accept it but as extrinsic to themselves. I cannot learn that lying is wrong without making that moral truth my own, allowing it to form my conscience, to become a constituent part of my being. A small child will accept his father’s directive on authority, and that is good, but when he grows older he will have to go beyond what Thomas called the weakest form of argument. That’s not because he wishes to reject his father, but because every moral truth is like a land opening up for more and more exploration.
Because I have spent my life in academe, I know how that motto is betrayed every day by keepers of the secular orthodoxy. And now it appears that the orthodoxy has been established in San Antonio. News reports that I’ve read have, unsurprisingly, suppressed what is most radical about the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance. They say that it forbids public workers and businessmen in the city from turning somebody away on the grounds of “sexual orientation.” Now, no evidence had been given that anybody actually was turned away from anything anywhere on those grounds. The poison in the ordinance is that it forbids the city to give a contract to any person, or forbids the confirmation of any council member, who has demonstrated by word or action a “bias” against any of the protected groups the ordinance names, including homosexuals.
Heretics Need Not Apply—that’s the sign they should place in the windows of City Hall, between, perhaps, a reproduction of a Greek herm and a stone age steatopygic Aphrodite. Apparently, you can be a Roman Catholic electrician in San Antonio, but you’d better keep your mouth shut about it—not just on the job but on your own time, perhaps even on your front porch. You may be a Southern Baptist landscaper in San Antonio, but you’d better keep your mouth shut about it—you’d better not get caught sending a check to the National Organization for Marriage, or uttering the following sentence, “All sexual intercourse outside of the bounds of marriage is wrong, and marriage, by the very nature of the human body, can only be consummated by a man and a woman.”
When Joe McCarthy was earning a name for villainy, the United States had just fought the most devastating war in the history of mankind; a malignant totalitarian state had erected an iron curtain between it and the free world; Stalin had murdered millions of his own people, and had turned formerly free nations into his satellites; people risked their lives trying to escape from communism, and were sometimes found out and shot; and you were nominally “free” to worship in the Soviet Union, so long as you consigned yourself to poverty, harassment, and social insignificance; and while all this was going on, there were still true believers in the United States who gazed in fatuous wonder from afar at the secular state in the east, and wished to bring about something like it here at home. Alger Hiss really was a traitor, and the State Department really was infested with them.
So the dangerous self-promoter McCarthy can at least claim some excuse. What excuse do the McCarthys of our time claim? Is it that there are still too many people who hold to moral views that would have been absolutely unexceptionable, in any class, in any race, among men or women, from any area of the country, within living memory? Too many people out there wearied with the sexual revolution that was supposed to bring in love, and instead ushered it right out, bringing instead loneliness, divorce, ubiquitous porn, and chaos in the family? Real threats to the American way of life, they are.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is State Department official Alger Hiss testifying August 17, 1948 before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.