Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
So there's this new romantic comedy out, promoted by Planned Parenthood, called Obvious Child in which the heroine "bravely" kills her child so as to counter the pernicious message of life and joy in children that marred such films as Juno and Knocked Up. The tragic decision of these two films to welcome a baby instead of tear it limb from limb or jam scissors in its brain is atoned for by this story in which, as a friend of mine put it, "everyone is so brave in the movie, according to the reviews. The woman doesn't tell the father. Which is very brave. She "never wavers" in her choice to abort. Brave again. She apparently has no remorse, which is yet more evidence of her bravery. It's a tale about a brave woman bravely getting a brave abortion."
Indeed. Here is the tenor of the ads and reviews:
"Donna finds out along the way what it means to be as brave in life as she is on stage."
"represents a brave new frontier in comedy"
"Robespierre's camera has the bravery to be at the clinic with Donna"
And so forth. These are the kind of "eat your spinach" reviews movies get when critics know bloody well that their peers and people in the industry know what is expected of them in terms of ideological conformity. This is a movie they are required to praise, whether it stinks or not. It gets words like "important" applied to it in that "eat your spinach" way too. Will the movie do well at the box office? Hard to say, since the reviews aren't really there to tell you how people outside the ideological bubble will respond to it. (And critical success does not always equal box office success.) I hope, for the sake of the human race, that an abortion romantic comedy (roll that around in your mind for a moment) will be revolting enough to most normal people that it will be a financial failure. But if the public, alas, finds it funny, they will go see it. If they don't, and find it to be a big bowl of spinach, they won't. We'll see.
But whatever the fickle public decides, the telling word in all this stuff is "brave". It's a word the critics don't so much say as recite--for the sake of others in their peer group and in the industry. It's a shibboleth for establishing ideological bona fides. The mantra of "brave" is repeated among the critics so often, one is tempted to adapt "The Ballad of Sir Robin" to the critical hivemind's groupthink here:
Donna ran away! She bravely ran away!
When babies reared their ugly heads,
She bravely killed her kid and fled
brave, brave, brave, brave Donna!
When people call a movie promoting the murder of innocent children (or any other gravely evil act) "brave" there are two powerful forces at work. The first, of course, is craven cowardice, operating under what I call "bravely facing the applause".
Bravely Facing the Applause is when you say something from within the safety of your peer group, in the serene certainty you will receive nothing but full-throated cheers, while pretending, along with your peers, that you are courageously speaking truth to oppressive power. It's one of the most popular forms of self-delusion in the world.
Now, sometimes, saying something popular and obvious to the cheers of your peers is perfectly fine. If a politician emits boilerplate praise of freedom and democracy to the cheers of a free and democratic people, he's not necessarily saying anything untrue. But he's certainly not saying anything brave. If I say, to a bunch of Christians, "Jesus is Lord", I'm speaking the truth. But if I say, "Jesus is Lord and I don't care who knows I think so!" to a big audience of fellow Christians and they erupt in applause, I'm still speaking the truth, but I'm not being "brave" because I know perfectly well that my audience agrees with me.
If, on the other hand, somebody speaks lies to a cheering throng at, say, a Ku Klux Klan Rally about the need to enslave black people, the falseness of the pose of "bravery" is compounded by the falseness of the lies being cheered for.
Similarly, when the NY/LA Axis of PC gets together for some big fete to "bravely" celebrate gay "marriage" or, in this case, the wonder and glory of baby slaughter, they are not being brave. They are not even being truthful. They are being utterly and complete cowardly and saying the entirely conventional thing for the approval of their peer group. It is the very definition of the "praises of men" Jesus warned us not to seek. What actually took guts was Juno and Knocked Up refusing to end with an abortion. That was, for that subculture, the risky and unconventional conclusion to those stories.
Which brings me to my second point: namely, that one of the marks of grave evil is that it typically advertises itself as "bravery" or courage. From Himmler praising the "courage" of the SS in doing the hard work of slaughtering innocents to the "bravery" of the abortion advocate today, courageously standing tall while Hollywood falls down in adoration at her feet, what stands out in the rhetoric of evil is the self-description of "courage". As I said some time ago:
The one advocating evil is, in his own eyes anyway, a veritable icon of bravery, standing toe to toe with an unjust and arbitrary Heaven whose foolish rules stand in the way of the War Effort, or Science, or Patriotism — the Greater Good. The one advocating monstrous evil is not a coward and a traitor to the Kingdom of God, but the Hard New Man, bravely doing what the pantywaist and the pious are too cowardly or self-righteous or behind the times to do.
If one is not in the grip of the mania firing the advocate of evil, it typically can be seen instantly that he is obviously in the wrong. So we snort at Himmler’s fears of a Jewish fifth column and his grotesque attempts to give man-hugs to the self-pitying brutes engaged in the work of slaughtering. But when one is in the grip of the mania oneself, it can often feel as though the people saying monstrous things are indeed brave: bucking the tide of bourgeois opinion to do the difficult thing that needs to be done so that (as Orwell fittingly did not say, despite the fact that it is constantly attributed to him), “We sleep peaceably in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.” This whole “You can’t handle the truth!” bravado, which mistakes brutality for courage, is where the devil slips in, telling us that the feeling of disgust about crimes against innocent human life is the certain sign that we are doing the Difficult but Right thing as we sin boldly.
Do not, I implore you, imagine for one second that baptism or membership in the Catholic Church is a vaccine against this kind of mentality. It is most emphatically not. Himmler, after all, was raised Catholic. And it is quite easy for us Catholics to form in-groups advocating grave sin and engaging in mutual applause for "bravely" doing so in defiance of a Church we deem too liberal, too conservative, too macho, too feminine, too this, too that, too the other.
Consequentialism, the deep and abiding belief that we not only can, but "bravely" should do evil that good may come of it despite the Church's teaching remains the most popular moral heresy in the world--even among Catholics--and is the philosophy undergirding not just the abominable crime of abortion but, in the end, all of our sins.
This is why Jesus' shocking counsel--"If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:26–27)--is so necessary. Living inside the Bubble where we bravely face the applause of peers who tell us what our itching ears want to hear, we can lose touch with reality to such a degree that we imagine even our craven cowardice is courage and cold-blooded murder is honorable and "brave". The gospel comes crashing into all such Bubbles to smash them and give us liberty, repentance, hope--and life.