Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
My grandfather had a horribly unsympathetic saying: “If you didn't want to work, you shouldn't have hired out.” It eliminated anyone's ability to complain. Right now, as Catholics, we have a lot of work to do if we're going to be intentional disciples of Christ and try to invite more and more of our brothers and sisters to the feast. We signed on for this with our confirmation. If you didn't want to work, you shouldn't have hired out.
Watching the eruption on the internet over the protest and counter-protest and subsequent violence, what was not evident was any sense of people trusting anyone. We are rapidly devolving into a cynical people who trust not the press, not the government, not the reports from friends, not the videos or pictures posted. Those who spoke against the march were damned as ignorant of the facts for failing to see how in a free society, we need to allow opposing noxious points of view. Those who spoke in favor of allowing for the free assembly, given the Alt Right group had a permit, were damned as Nazi sympathizers, essentially collaborators with evil. Those who spoke to condemn the attitudes revealed by the marchers were sneered at for “virtue signaling,” while those who opted to go about their lives with their families, or didn’t speak out quickly, were seen as tacitly agreeing with the very worst sentiments expressed at the march. We’ve moved from “trust but verify,” to “everyone’s a suspect.”
Not believing there is truth is a form of relativism. “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Relativism demands we flat line all morality — that everything is equal, and everything is awesome or oppressive, depending upon your assigning of what is good and bad. What is the line at which a free society must not tolerate a value system, and how, absent a shared moral/legal code, do we draw that line so as to not have it redrawn and redrawn again, as fashion and situation demands? Fortunately as Catholics, we hold that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light.
We're going to have to be more about introducing people to Jesus, if we want a civilized society, not a civil war. We aspire to be a people who is more compassionate than not, more generous than not, more proactive than not. Absent law, morality and a fundamental vision of what a “good society” looks like, left to our own devices, we might be tempted to devolve over time into a nation of islands, who can bear very little and tolerate even less.
Catholics espouse the paradox of reality — that we are both fallen and made in the image and likeness of God. We have within us hearts capable of great darkness, and the capacity to become saints. This mixed inheritance of our humanity is what makes all of life a heroic struggle. If we want a better world than the one we’ve inherited, that only comes about by sacrifice and service, and by cooperation with grace. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it” sounds a lot like the chant “We will not be replaced.” And whoever loses his life for me, will save it. Are we clinging to our comforts, like our politics or our pet projects or our preferences, instead of laying down our lives in service to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
What do we do with these marchers? With people who espouse such reckless hate? It’s not that as a society, we should absolve these marchers of their sins, but rather, we should seek somehow to pull them out of the rot gut despair hole they’ve dug themselves into, not because they merit help, but because they are pitiable messes who will only continue to believe their own corrosive beliefs as long as they’re left to fester in their toxic thinking. We may also be saving our own souls by not taking dark joy in anonymous jabs at them from the safety of the internet. One thing is certain, we will not create a society that is less burdened by hate and injustice by reveling in our own worthiness by comparison with those who either protested or counter-protested. We will not become more just, merciful or kind by “thanking God we are not like that sinful man.”
Further, we cannot correct, grow or rebuild a genuine community based on mutual disregard and fundamental distrust. We cannot right the wrongs of the present or the past if we will impugn all good as symbolic and hollow, and ascribe to anyone who fails to meet the most current litmus test for virtue, the very darkest motives humanity can muster. Yes, we all have hearts that can be given over to shadow, but we are also all made in the image and likeness of God, and thus even those who we find hold views which are abhorrent, we must somehow see as fallen brothers and sisters in Christ.
We can only begin the hard roll-up-your-sleeves work of figuring out “what went so horribly wrong” and start the even harder journey of making a society where a corrosive world view is unthinkable by being living daily witnesses to and of virtue, rather than signals. There's a lot of labor to do in the vineyard.
You hired out. Time to get to work.