Good Must Confront Evil, on Stage and Elsewhere

COMMENTARY: Mockery’s eternal prisoner lurks behind every scornful jeer and acquiescence to the devil.

Sam Smith performs onstage during the 65th GRAMMY Awards at Arena on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Sam Smith performs onstage during the 65th GRAMMY Awards at Arena on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (photo: Emma McIntyre/The Recording Academy / Getty)

News of pop stars mocking our holy faith or, worse still, giving a form of public worship to the evil one, is hardly new. Such things in the entertainment industry are not “cutting-edge” — though they often pretend to be. What would be truly avant-garde would be to behold rock stars kneeling to offer humble adoration to the Living God — that would be newsworthy. 

Instead, pop music has had a long, and increasingly tiresome, dalliance with darkness. One wonders if any of these pop stars have ever researched the outcomes of such dark dalliances in the lives of fellow entertainers of previous generations. One suspects not, for, if they had, they might have acquired some insight into what is at play; and with that insight, might come, if not public repentance, at least a wise taciturnity pertaining to these matters. 

Things being as they are, however, Christians need to be circumspect in their response. They need to be careful in their responses, not just focused outrage at the recent Grammys. Unbridled outrage rarely leads to any form of resolution. It’s time to recognize that such a cycle of action and reaction, turbo-charged these days by social media, leads nowhere we would wish to go. 

We believe in change, look for it, expect it even. Take the case of the patron saint of actors: St. Genesius, who lived in third-century Rome and was part of a troop of actors. Their art, reflecting the prevailing views of the time, included the mocking of a despised and persecuted minority known as Christians. The troop decided to stage a play satirizing the beliefs of that group, with Genesius a more than willing participant. In fact, the part given him included an onstage mocking of the sacrament of baptism in a play to be presented to Emperor Diocletian. When the time came for the play to be performed, the young actor moved center stage, offering himself scoffingly for baptism. The only thing was that, by the end of the staged ritual, something had changed, namely, the actor himself. From that moment on, Genesius was to be a believing Christian, converted by the words of the sacrament mockingly recited onstage. His role in the play ended his burgeoning career and, a short time later, his life. On account of his newfound faith, in around the year 303, Genesius was beheaded on the orders of the emperor. 

So, as I say, we live in hope. In the meantime, the Christian response to public mockery of the faith must always be to pray for all concerned. And to pray for ourselves, too, that we do not fall into joining the jeering mob of whatever stripe, which in our case may present itself in subtle ways. It is always sad to see Catholics deride their fellow Catholics, in terms, for example, of belief or practice. Mockery is, as they say, “never a good look”; for a Catholic, it should never be an option. The act should provoke an examination of conscience, no matter what or who is being mocked.

It is interesting to look at the etymology of the word “mockery.” Its origins, as with so many words, is as obscure as it is multilayered, with new layers accruing over the centuries. “To mock” was and is not simply to laugh at something, but to treat it with contempt. But “mock” can also be used as an adjective. There, its sense is one of derisive imitation. When one reflects on this, even for a short time, it becomes clear who it is who produces nothing of value, only counterfeit, whose imitation is always less than perfect, whose goods are ultimately shoddy: mockery’s very own eternal prisoner whose envy lurks behind every scornful jeer. 

Somewhere in recent times the devil had a makeover. It had begun centuries earlier, with Milton’s Paradise Lost; but in recent popular culture, in too many instances to reference, it has been colluded with at an alarming rate, as the devil is perceived as being “misunderstood,” a sad and lonely figure, a sort of martyr to narrow societal thinking. But this is a cunning disguise of his true intent: our eternal destruction. In recent decades, the rise of the anti-hero in literature and, in particular, in cinema has proved a perfect portal for the evil one to present himself, freshly reinvented, to a new generation. And, as evidenced on stage in recent days, ours is a generation, indeed a world, that thinks little of the need to shield itself from such deceptions. 

Recent census results for England and Wales have shown that Christians are now, for the first time, in a minority (46.2%, 27.5 million people). The growing and younger population group in terms of religion is “no religion” (37.2%, 22.2 million). The only conclusion to be drawn from this data is that a new era of paganism is fast descending. 

Therefore, we live in strange times, which appear to be becoming ever stranger. Now it is not so much that wrong is permitted because of a craving for licence — this was something common in my youth. The young men and women of a few decades back wanted to be left alone with their addictions and pleasures; judging themselves unable to live as they knew they should, they justified their “freedoms” with twisted logic instead. Today, there is no such pretense, however. Seemingly everywhere and at all times, evil is becoming ever more blatant. It seems impossible to turn on a radio and not hear the vicious frenzy of Satanic delusions sucking the air out of any reasoned debate, especially in the area of sexuality.

The rotten fruit of decades of this progression from moral licence to religious indifference to this acquiescence with evil is there for all to see. As a result, are we happier? Are our homes places of peace? Is the world a fairer, more prosperous place? Is our body politic thriving? Our civil society a pleasing sight to behold? 

The answer to the above hardly needs uttering. When it come to the world around us, the only image that sticks in the mind is that of an out-of-control dumpster fire.

On reflection, perhaps that image is not so far off the mark as one might imagine.

In 1931, Hilaire Belloc published a collection of writings, Essays of a Catholic. In it, there is an essay entitled: “The New Paganism.” It is worth reading, distilling as it does that which lay at the heart of certain movements within the cultural landscape of Belloc’s time; and in so doing, throwing light on our own. In fact, the whole essay is strangely prescient, prophetic even. It ends with the following lines, and I can think of no words better with which to draw a veil over the faux-artistic mockery of recent weeks, and, in so doing, beating one’s breast to pass on. 

“Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.”