"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The tonic of unpleasant truths

As the new calendar year approaches and the Christmas season continues, I want to address the general exhaustion by recommending meditation on a pair of truths that most people find too unpleasant to contemplate.

The first is that there are people who are actually attracted to Catholicism by the Church's teachings on contraception and homosex. Consider convert David Mills' latest article at Inside Catholic, "Contraception and Conversion." This is the sort of thing I'd find way cool at a New Year's Eve party; or, if hung over from the party, way cool as an accompaniment to chicken soup and ibuprofen on New Year's Day. Savor this passage:

The regularly attending, basic-believing Catholic is usually pleased as punch to meet a convert. He rarely asks why -- and, when he does, wants only the most general of answers. Becoming a Catholic for him is just an obvious thing to do, and he is glad to have you around.

The sporadically attending, selectively believing Catholic is slightly bemused, because (if I understand him right) he seems to think of the Church as a heritage and a home and doesn't see why anyone else would be interested in it. He seems to feel as he would if you showed up to the Wisniewski family reunion or dropped into the Aquilina's for Sunday dinner or starting putting ornaments on the Rothfus's Christmas tree. Yet he is usually rather pleased that we did join, being a patriot.

The "progressive" is not so patriotic, if he isn't actually a traitor. So I will often say, in as cheery, boosterish, and cheerleading a voice as I can manage, "My wife and I discovered the truth of the Church's teaching on contraception, and after a while we just had to join the one body in the world that was telling the truth about it."

That usually shuts down the conversation. I am now familiar with the sequence of facial expressions that begins with incredulity and then, after a period ranging from half a second to four or five, moves to either annoyance, disgust, or fear. People have, when they realized exactly what I'd just said, edged away while keeping their eyes on me as if I might hit them from behind. (I am not making that up.)

I know that David is not making that up, because I've seen worse things myself.

I once found myself at a New Year's Eve party attended mostly by Catholics whom I'd call "full-time religionists": people who make the business of the Church their main business, even when they aren't ordained and/or don't get paid for it. (I wasn't a full-time religionist just yet; I was merely in via; and that's a "way" that God has since knocked me off.) But of course there were clerics galore too. With one of them, a Benedictine monk and priest, I was discussing what biblical scholars call "the infancy narratives" in Matthew and Luke. He mused that, though of course he did not believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he would continue to preach that Jesus was born in Bethlehem so as not to upset the faithful. I promptly asked: "So Father, are we to have one truth for the hoi polloi and another for the intelligenstia?" He responded by tossing the contents of his cocktail in my face, muttering "you little shit" (I was much younger than he) as his face twisted with rage. Our gracious host gave me a big cloth napkin, ushered the offender into the hallway, and gave him an extra shot of bourbon.

"Progressives," in my experience, can't handle the truth. Apparently, they don't in David's experience either. But that's a feature of all ideologues.

Of general interest, then, is this bluntly brilliant analysis by Michael Ledeen of the current Middle-Eastern situation, which is going through a little nastier-than-usual spell. Ledeen is spot on: the main problem is Iran, and there is no solution as long as its mullahs can do mischief. But not many people recognize that, and fewer are willing to say so out loud. Once Iran has the bomb, we will have reached the point of no return. Is President Obama willing to do what it takes to prevent reaching that point? Even to raise the question is usually considered bad form.

Happy New Year.
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