Literally, as I'm typing on this Independence Day, a hard rain is falling in Washington, DC, as it has been every day -- with intermittent bursts of spectacular sunshine-- since last Thursday & Friday, when the Supreme Court tried its best to end America with a trio of decisions that are spectacularly bad, even for them. They upheld Obamacare by denying the flat meaning of words; they declared that the people have no authority to decide for themselves what marriage is, converting marriage from a natural right that the government recognizes into a power deriving from government to be conferred at will; and they did a major power-grab in a little-noticed elections case, in which it was revealed that 5 of 9 Supreme Court Justices do not know what a "legislature" is. (And they thought Harriet Miers wasn't intellectual enough for this body?) Odiousness level: Dred Scott.
Of the three, the gay marriage case is the most pernicious in terms of the hard rain that is going to fall as a result of "penumbrae" emanating from it (see Ken Masugi's fabulous essay). Taken together, it's tempting to feel that the regime of liberty America once represented is like one of the Twin Towers as the flames of 9/11 were melting the steel frame: still standing, but doomed. Rapidly we replace the rule of law with the rule of men -- in Lincoln's words, "the same old snake."
Tempting, but not, in my estimation, manly or noble. The great thing about virtue and about the principles of liberty is that no matter how far you fall, they are eternal, always there to be reclaimed if you have the will to do so.
I'm not being Pollyanna. Persecutions of a certain kind are here, and more are certainly in the offing. Archbishop Wenski enumerated them brilliantly in his homily for the close of the Fortnight for Freedom. And I have personal examples.
For more than five years now several priests of this archdiocese, separately, have said privately to me that they expect to be jailed for upholding the faith at some point, and a friend recently said to me he didn't know if he'd want his kid to become a cop, for fear he'd be asked to arrest priests or that kind of thing. Christians and others are being systematically run out of entire fields: medicine, academia, technology, education -- and now the florist and baking industries too. At the National Catholic prayer breakfast this year I was sitting next to a fellow who runs a marriage preparation program in the projects in DC. It's secular, but the group putting it on is Catholic. Thanks to a provision in DC law that prohibits Christian charities from hiring and firing in accordance with their own faith, their board met to discuss no longer offering the marriage program on their website, but only secretly and by word of mouth. He told me he went home and told his wife, "What is this, Poland? I can't believe we are seriously talking about taking a charity underground in the United States of America!"
Eldest Weed, who is something of a programming whiz, took what happened to Brendan Eich very personally. He is 18 and already sees that he will either never work in his field or will have to squelch anything he actually believes all his life. That makes it very difficult this 4th of July to sing about the land of the free and home of the brave.
My kids are inheriting a very different country than the one I have lived in. I grew up white in an all-black neighborhood and was often the only white person in the game or on the bus; the only Conservative in an entire school; the only outspoken Protestant in Catholic religion class; the only Drama major who wasn't smoking weed and sleeping around; and later the only Catholic in my family and one of the few orthodox Catholics among "the spirit of Vatican II" types at my home parish. I've been the only pro-lifer in a room full of rabid pro-aborts and posed them impertinent questions. For whatever reason, until late in life I've been accustomed to being the sole person who thinks as I do in many situations. I've taken a fair amount of ribbing and been on the ugly side of unfair judgment, but never once have I felt it was unsafe for me to speak up -- to ask a question, to say what I actually think. I never felt physically at risk, nor that my ability to earn a living could be at stake, or that my kids would suffer over something their mom said or wrote. People of all stripes, even those who hated what I said, have been on the whole respectful and willing to engage in debate: sometimes more pleasant, sometimes more heated, but: debate. That is simply not the atmosphere here in the States anymore. For the first time in my life, I often do pull punches, thinking twice before subjecting myself or my family to the consequences of speech I would have uttered confidently a mere five years ago. Not confident of a pleasant response, but confident of my liberty and everyone's respect for it.
It's going to be a rough next decade, and I have to admit when I heard the news while on silent retreat last week, I had to go to my cell and have a good cry. Not because I begrudge gay people anything: that would be seriously to misunderstand the source of my sorrow. I love my gay neighbors and want them to be happy. I was crying for the loss of the rule of law --and the realization that my kids will not know the freedom --the genuine liberty-- that I knew as a kid and young adult. Any liberty they have they will have to fight for, and it's hard to know where they will find allies, since not even the good guys bother to read or study anything relevant to the political order. (Is there any place other than Hillsdale College where a student can learn anything about the principles of American politics?) Christians are good people, but I get frustrated with them in cultural battles, because they seem to like to head straight for the catacombs first, there to complain about how bad things are, rather than recalling the duty of charity to be a witness to the truth. You stand up for what is right not to impose anything, but because you see your fellow men hurting themselves and you wish to propose a better idea. As the archbishop said, we are in the world, not of it; but because we are in the world, we are also for the world.
My other fear is that my kids will eventually hate us for raising them Catholic because of how hard that identity is going to be for the immediate future: the likelihood is great that it will be held against them at university and in job hunts. Our two eldest will have difficulty in college, but at least they will go. I wonder whether in a few years our youngest will even be permitted to attend university if he does not first renounce his faith. The kids may be like Catholics in Communist Poland, those who refused to join the Party: excluded from everything.
But what if, to quote the story of Esther, we were born for such a time as this? If liberty is never more than a generation from failing, it's equally only a generation away from rebirth. In this crisis there's also a great opportunity to stand up, re-teach the principles of law and civic and Christian virtue, and beat back the snake. Catholics have triumphed over Know-Nothingness and other forms of anti-Catholic prejudice before, and they can do so again. In the first place, we've still got it very, very good in comparison with much of the world. And what we have is very much worth defending, as Charles C. W. Cooke notes in this lovely essay.
Secondly: it's important not to indulge in the same kind of hurt feelings and offense-taking that are the weapons of Progressivism. Cowboy up, Conservatives, as Andrew Klavan says:
Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of conservatives saying things like, “It’s over. The left has won. This is no longer America. I’m not even going to celebrate the Fourth of July this year.” I confess this disturbs me. I expect feminists to squeal like hysterical little girls. I expect Social Justice Warriors to act like small boys who pretend to be heroes against imaginary enemies then run away from actual danger.
I expect conservatives to act like men and women — men and women who understand they are part of a fight for liberty that began when Moses killed the Egyptian slavedriver and will not end until Jesus comes again.
Open your eyes. The hills are filled with chariots of fire. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.
Update: This post was intended to be sober, but not enervating, which is why I closed on the "Cowboy Up" note. We remember Thomas Paine, right? "“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Here are a few links to help with bucking up.
The Fourth is a time to Fight
Christian Patriotism after Same-Sex Marriage
Archbishop Wenski's homily for the Fortnight for Freedom