"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Never Have Church And State Been More Separated–When Now More Than Ever They Should Be One

Billy Baxter grew up in a religious home – Confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday, Catholic school, Stations of the Cross, Holy Communion and summer retreats.  His parents were dutiful, generous, and respectful, and the Church was at the center of their lives, a source of spiritual inspiration, a community of the faithful, and a place of holiness.

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Billy went to parochial school, Catholic high school, and a Jesuit university, and completed the perfect Catholic education.  While he never considered a vocation, the priesthood was a higher calling that was to be honored and respected.  His parents were proud. Whatever professional path he might choose and however he might arrange his life, the principles of his faith would always provide a strong, unshakable foundation.

Unfortunately, Billy graduated from college in 1969, the demographic center of the Sixties counterculture.  Only those who had chosen Carthusian monasteries were insulated from the revolutionary changes in American society.  All public, political, private, and religious institutions were suspect.  All doctrines and received wisdom were challenged – capitalism, Catholicism, and the privileged, hierarchical social order.  The Bible was myth, a well-told but fanciful invention of superstitious believers.  The free market economy was a system devised by laissez-faire industrialists out to crush the working class, to fill their coffers with untold wealth on the backs of the poor.  Society itself was nothing more than a petty bourgeois construct, intent on preserving the nuclear family, the status quo, and a hail-fellow-well-met Babbitt booster camaraderie.

Freedom was the byword, the meme, the ethos of the new generation.  Personal growth, individual spiritual evolution, and life within likeminded communities were the objectives.  No external authority had credibility, created as it was on outdated, reactionary principles.  Each individual, freed from the chains of the bourgeoisie, could mature to cosmic levels.

Despite his long years of Catholic instruction Billy rejected the Church.  It was just as the Movement’s leaders said - a throwback to a mythical, superstitious, spooks and goblins age.  Jesus Christ was just a schizophrenic homeless wanderer who had hallucinatory visions, delusions of grandeur, and great luck.  The uneducated peasants of the time would worship a goat if it gave intimations of mortality.  Secularism – an atheistic system of reliance of human initiative and cooperation alone – was the only reasonable, rational philosophy to follow. He felt guilty for having not only rejected the Church but subscribed to a manifesto which denigrated religion as pagan idolatry which reduced Christ to a stumbling, irrelevant beggar and his followers as deluded sycophants; but hippy individualism did not demand moral certainty or courage.  The swirl of free-love, dope, and crazy kibbutz communalism was too much for even the most principled.  Before he knew it, he had forgotten mass cards, novenas, and hymnals and marched to the band’s drummers.

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After the furor of the Sixties died down, and life returned to normal, even the most radical anarchists married, found jobs, grew up, and moved to the suburbs.  They retained bits and pieces of their revolutionary days, hung on to the social idealism of the commune, voted Democratic, but focused on Kinder, Küche, Kirche.  There was nothing wrong with hearth and home, church, and children after all; and one did not have to believe all the fol-de-rol about Jesus Christ and the lives of the saints to return to a semblance of faith.  The suburbs were not the plastic, dehumanizing, assembly-line conglomerates of bourgeois taste they had been made out to be; but simply decent places to live and to watch their children grow up.  One did not have to become like all other suburbanites.  Lawn parties, club cars, teas, and golf were not symbols of acquiescence, but of communality – a more generous conception of others than anyone had in the Sixties.  Work was a necessity, but it was no longer dismissed as the tool of the privileged classes to exploit the working man.  It was the means to a comfortable end.

Billy Baxter again followed the crowd, married, moved to Bethesda, had three children, moved up in his K Street corporate firm, and never gave either the Church or social revolution a second thought.  History had done its job for him – plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose – and the inevitable harmonizing, stabilizing, common social forces which have always neutralized excess and smoothed rough edges turned the American social revolution into a Fifties rerun – not exactly Leave It To Beaver, but the same calming predictability that made the sitcoms so popular.

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When the early years of the 21st century turned divisive, anarchic, and violent, Billy could have gone in any previous direction.  He could have relived his radicalized past and joined the progressive juggernaut.  Based on well-learned lessons of the Sixties he could have been a front-liner who challenged Wall Street; the homophobic, racist bigots of the South; the far right militias of the Idaho Panhandle; and the privileged, retrograde, white elites that ran America. 

On the other hand he could have done nothing.  If he, a student of history, had seen how Sixties radicals had trimmed their sails and sought quiet, safe harbors then the dramatic upheavals of this ugly, angry age would even out, and life would go back to normal.  No need for action or even deliberation. A well-known Shakespearean critic noted how, if all of the Bard’s Histories were read in chronological order, one would see the inerrant repetition of human nature – territorialism, self-interested defense, an an unstoppable greed for power, wealth, and influence.  The drama was how kings, queens, and courtiers all played out this inevitable drama; but it was the peculiarities and twists and turns of personality and character that interested Shakespeare and made his plays worth seeing.

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Or he could have returned to the Church.  The principles of twenty-two years of Catholic instruction can never disappear, be forgotten or completely removed.  The most reasonable and compelling reason to once again listen to the Early Church Fathers, the Vatican, and the Gospels was the pervasive secularism of the day.  At least Sixties reformers replaced religion with communal idealism – their philosophy of love, harmony, and equality however fanciful was at least a coherent secular replacement for the spiritual code of earlier years.  The modern era’s revolutionaries – Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and Antifa – have no such well-articulated philosophy.  Their protests are inchoate; and it is enough to shout ‘Racism!’, to insist that black lives be taken seriously, to demand contrition, reparation, and abject apology from the white majority, and to reform American society around one and one only principle – inclusivity.  There are no voices demanding moral rectitude, responsibility, principle, duty, and patriotism – i.e., a structural change in the dysfunctional inner city neighborhoods which are the locus of violent dissent.

Perhaps worst of all is the total dismissal of the value of the individual – the one afforded God-given rights; the one responsible for one’s own spiritual destiny without social considerations.  An affair between the individual and God, a final reckoning, a last good-bye to civil notions of place, permanence and secular meaning.  Defining people by race, gender, or ethnicity consigns them to the secular, the practical, the repetitive, and the dishonest.

Whether it was the fiery sermons of Father Brophy, the harsh discipline of the nuns; the courses in theology and church history;  the teachings of Augustine, Aquinas, Athanasius, or Gregory; or just common sense, Billy Baxter knew that a return to the Church was inevitable.  Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s novel said, “Without God, everything is permitted”.  The secularism of the age and the violent pursuit of its narrow, anti-historical agenda necessitates refuge in the Church – not a cowardly retreat, but a newfound principled statement of value.

Augustine’s work, The City of God is perhaps the most important Western work on the relationship between church and state.  As a good Christian who evolved from doubting roots into Christianity’s most influential theologian, Augustine argued for the co-existence if not integration of church and state.  As a good Christian, he believed that nothing was possible without faith – not civil society, not government, not family or community.  Faith precedes logic, civil discourse, laws, and governance, he said.  Without it, mankind would be lost.

Billy leapfrogged conservatism – that is, he jumped over the political engagement which would have challenged the secularism of the Left and echoed Dostoevsky and Augustine.  Not only is a reconsideration of the separation of church and state important.  it is necessary; and if that is not possible, then fidelity to Church and not to State is.

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