Forward into the Past: Regressive Progressives
Christianity was opposed for several reasons when it first appeared. For the Jews, tribal identity was paramount, and the followers of Christ threatened the foundation of Jewish culture by proclaiming that all men could become children of God by accepting Christ as their Lord. This was regarded as both blasphemy and treason: an insult to Jehovah and an attack upon the Divinely favored status of the Jewish nation. For the Jew, God was a tribal god who loved Jewish blood. Consequently, blood ties were everything. For some, they remain so.
Jews were not alone in thinking of themselves in terms of their blood. Most people living when Christ walked the Earth had little sense of individual identity: the individual was subsumed into the genus, whatever the genus may have been: Jew, Greek, Roman, etc. There was what might have been called a group soul that both kept people together and set them apart from other group souls. An affront to a member of the group was an affront to the whole group. The blood feud was common.
The growth of Christianity necessarily brought about a diminution in the overarching importance of blood ties. What mattered in this new Faith was your relationship to Christ, not your ancestry. People, in embracing Christianity, were freed from the tribe and allowed to become individuals. They stood before God not as Jew or Gentile, Roman or Greek, but as a single and unique spiritual being.
The growth of individualism in the West, prompted and guided by Christianity, was capable of striking the proper balance between group and personal identities. Allegiance to family or nation was made subservient to fraternal charity, which extended to all people. Charity began at home, but did not end there.
One of the curious and troubling things we see happening these days is a reversion to tribal identity. People are less inclined to see themselves and others as individuals and more disposed to claim group membership: black, Latino, woman, man, heterosexual, homosexual, etc. What is becoming increasingly important in public discourse is not individual qualities but tribal affiliation. We are reverting to a pre-Christian mindset.
And what’s worse is that tribal identity, freely accepted by some, is being imposed upon others, whether they accept it or not. And this reversion of tribalism is re-igniting the blood feud. Real or imagined affronts are no longer seen as issuing from individuals but from the group. An action or statement by a white person that is seen as a denigration of a black person is portrayed not as the responsibility of an individual but of the entire group to which he belongs by virtue of skin color.
The irony of the current state of affairs is that while the charge of racism has become so ubiquitous as to become almost meaningless, those who make it are the chief promoters of racism: they identify people more by the color of their skin than the content of their character and set the clock back to a time when individual identity was secondary to racial grouping.
The same is true of the so-called “women’s movement” or feminism. It used to be that women were often identified merely as specimens of their sex, not as individuals. A wife (or wives) in some societies was regarded much the same as property and livestock. Again, it was Christianity that brought to recognition the individual character of women as human souls, equal in dignity before God with other human souls. And the cult of the Blessed Mother did more to liberate women from their inferior status than any march or movement ever has or ever will.
The women’s movement is a reversion to group identity based on sex. Ironically, while it makes biology paramount, it also rejects it as determinate. Women have the great dignity of motherhood, and it is as mothers that they exercise the greatest power for shaping the world by shaping their children. But it is this very power that the feminist denigrates with its insistence that motherhood is biological slavery. Abortion and contraception are then seen as the instruments of liberation. But once freed by killing her baby or making herself sterile, what is it that the woman is freed to do? To assume the role of a man? To toil in the marketplace? Is not feminism then a form of self-hatred that wants women to become like men, even though men are often despised and denigrated by feminists? It would seem that the goal of many in the women’s movement is to appropriate the “toxic masculinity” they denounce.
The most terrible form of tribalism now championed in our culture is that based on homosexuality. Same-sex attraction, until fairly recently listed by psychiatry as a mental disorder, has become the cause celebre’ of the media and the political class. Making homosexuality one’s prime identity is a radical reduction of human dignity, to say the least. Does any man want to be regarded above all else as a sodomite? Is sodomy really thought of by anyone in their heart of hearts as having a claim upon their admiration and respect? Of course, it is not, and the pretense that it is, or should be, rings hollow. This is why there is so much rage over “homophobia” and an almost hysterical attempt to “normalize” same-sex attraction on television, in film and in the news media. It is a great lie that will not stand and requires ceaseless propaganda and public intimidation to prop it up. And it is the lie that indicts Christianity as being “un-Christian,” for compassion is said to require the acceptance of sodomy – a sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance – as equal to sacramental marriage. And, after all, “Who am I to judge?”
This reversion to tribalism and the blood feud feeds on personal grievances. It needs anger and hatred to sustain itself. This is why our public discourse has become little more than dueling diatribes of invective and foul language. All of the contending parties accuse their opponents of injustice and, in so doing, lay their claim at the feet of justice. But who or what is to determine whose claim is right? Failing a unified vision, a shared supernatural Faith with clear criteria of moral right and wrong, society’s final arbiter of justice will be raw power. And this means that power, not justice, will prevail.
We are heading toward a war of all against all. Reason has bowed to rancor; righteousness to self-righteousness; restraint to recklessness. Whoever shouts the loudest holds the floor. And the Church, which by its mission should be leading men from narrowness and contention to fraternal charity, is taking sides with this or that victim group and misusing its nearly exhausted moral authority in political partisanship.
The only way we can escape being drawn into the hatred that is swallowing the world is to remain true to Christ: to see ourselves and others as individual souls. Everything that has come to be has come to be by the power of Christ. Our Lord did not make groups or tribes or special classes of human beings. He made free individuals. The progress of the soul toward its destiny is its progress as a child of God. Charity may begin at home, but our ultimate home is with Our Lord, the alpha and omega of every man and woman.