Cultures tend to focus on the wrong sins. Pharisaical cultures don’t fear Pharisaism — they fear religious laxity. Lax cultures don’t fear too much license — they fear Pharasaism. The temperate culture of the turn of the last century banned alcohol, and the health-conscious society of our day is busy banning smoking and trans fats.
It’s only later that we can judge what’s really going on in a culture at any given time.
How will history see our times? We have no crystal ball, but we suspect that, just as it always has, history will see the opposite of what we see from our perspective now. Here we offer a few of the opposites of 2007.
On the one hand, Nancy Pelosi.
The Catholic who became the first woman Speaker of the House last year has much to be proud of. She is a woman who was by all accounts a wonderful mother to her five children and a savvy legislator.
But as a congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi has supported abortion up to and including partial-birth abortion. Her first act in the new Congress — and one of her few legislative accomplishments — was to pass a bill that would transfer money from taxpayers’ paychecks into the coffers of embryo-killing research firms.
In this week’s story on embryo research, we quote one would-be beneficiary of Pelosi’s plan describing a eureka moment he had in the lab. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Shinya Yamanaka. “I thought, ‘We can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.’”
How will history see Pelosi’s career? As part of a Catholic Church scandal next to which the abuse scandals pale into insignificance: the scandal of lay Catholics aggressively promoting laws that doom millions of human beings to death by abortion.
There were so many influential pro-slavery Catholics in the past that the Church has been blamed for the slave trade, despite the papal teaching against slavery. Because of abusive conquistadors in the past, the Church gained the reputation for being a destructive force in the New World, despite the many good works of the missions.
The many influential pro-abortion Catholics in our day will be singled out in the future in the same way. You can bet that society will one day turn away from abortion — morality always wins out in the end. After that, it won’t be long before anti-Catholic accusers claim the Church was responsible for abortion, despite papal teaching. Unfortunately, they will have a point: They will be able to point to plenty of prominent Catholics as evidence.
On the other hand: Henry Hyde.
The longtime U.S. representative who died in 2007 may help show the real face of the Church in the future. He is a Catholic who stayed true to its teaching on life, and left a legacy not just of legislation — but of human beings who are alive because of his work. He is estimated to have saved more than a million lives from abortion by his early and constant promotion of the “Hyde amendment” banning federal money for abortions.
On the one hand: politically convenient truths.
Another source of curious opposites is a topic close to our culture’s heart: the environment.
The year 2007 was a year of unprecedented concern for environmental causes. Al Gore won an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize for An Inconvenient Truth. But the movie was blocked in British schools because it was more propaganda than science.
Pope Benedict, in his World Day of Peace remarks, warned that environmental hype doesn’t help the environment but may be all too convenient to ideologues.
“Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow,” Pope Benedict said, but called for policy plans to be “carried out prudently …. uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions.”
On the other: truly inconvenient facts.
It is ironic that our culture’s concern for the environment will only go so far. Research that exposed modern lifestyles as dangerous to the environment was considered too inconvenient for most media to mention. The Register was practically the only newspaper to report on scientific research showing the problems caused by contraceptive-pollution in streams, and a study showing how divorce hurts the environment.
On the one hand: resurgent atheism.
Atheism made headlines in 2007. Christopher Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion were on the non-fiction shelves. Philip Pullman — the British atheist activist author of Golden Compass — was on the big screen.
On the other: steady, strong belief.
But new interest in God may be the real story of the year. Books by believers like Glenn Beck (a Mormon) and Clarence Thomas (a Catholic) outsold the atheists. Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light sold more copies 10 years after her death than these atheist’s books written in the prime of their lives. And one prominent atheist, Antony Flew, left the ranks of non-believers and now says it’s pretty obvious that there is a God. At the box office, Golden Compass disappointed its financial backers even more than The Da Vinci Code did last year.
Meanwhile, several movies with obliquely pro-life messages did better than expected. August Rush, Juno and Bella told stories in which choosing life despite difficult circumstances was transforming.
The moral of all this? Listen to the conventional wisdom of your culture with a grain of salt. The opposite may turn out to be the case.