He allows his friend Robbie George to set up the problem:
the inestimable Robert George, likes to ask his college students how many of them, if they lived in the South before the Civil War, would have opposed slavery. They all raise their hands. “Bless their hearts,” says he, and then he advises them what their opposition would have cost them: ridicule from the most visible political and intellectual leaders of their society; slander of their motives; incomprehension at best from their families; loss of employment; loneliness; and scant gratitude from the people they aimed to help.We all like to think we'd have worked the underground railroad or housed priests in Reformation England or hidden Jews from the Nazis or stood like Sakharov. And the truth is, no, we wouldn't. Mostly we'd have been shaped by the relentless propaganda campaign and the fear of retribution. If we even saw the evil at all, most of us would sigh and be silent and keep our heads down.
Nor is it clear how they could form a moral position running athwart so much of what they must have taken for granted from the time they were born
Esolen uses his piece to mock the virtue signaling of our time, where our pieties cost us nothing:
we are not called to oppose, notionally, comfortably, the characteristic evils of other ages, basking in the glow of a righteousness that costs nothing. We are called to suffer in opposing the characteristic evils of our age. And we will not begin even to conceive of how such a thing is possible, if we do not obey an authority that transcends mankind.
He has in view the sexual revolution:
What is the public evil of our time? What single “good” will cost you the most, through public ridicule or persecution, if you reject it and act accordingly?He highlights a particular instance of cowardice masquerading as bravery that caught my eye as well. A pastor in Rhode Island fired his music director for getting gay married with the full knowledge of parishioners. So the parishioners, to protest, sang "All Are Welcome" in place of the Creed.
What struck me about their protest was not so much the empty "bravery" of it, but how unwittingly apt their chosen gesture is: "We easily jettison the actual precepts of faith by which Christ's disciples live in favor of a fuzzy feeling folk song of our choosing."
Esolen heaps deserved scorn on such folk, who imagine they are being brave and defiant when they are actually being swept along by the currents of the time. But I think his earlier point is more important -- the part about how difficult it is to stand against evil -- and not just because of cowardice, but because the water you're swimming in is so hard to see.
That is what frightens me most about more years of Progressive rule and what mystifies me about some of my Christian #nevertrump friends who think any of the Christian institutions from which they plan to mount their counter-assault on the culture will withstand another four or eight or twelve or sixteen years of HHS mandates and transgender bathroom rules and the like. I think most of us who write about these things now will not think the same with eight or twelve more years of this.
People seem to write as if the coming (already here in vanguard) soft persecution of Christians will be good for the Church -- it will purify us, awaken the sleeping giant, etc. I suppose that might happen. Maybe we will be brave. Some people no doubt will. There have always been Joan Bells and Joe Scheidlers and Baronelle Stutzmans among us. But the truth is that most of us will just be carried along. They'll tell us we can't have our hospitals or universities unless we support gay marriage and pay for abortions and you know what will happen? We'll agonize, and then we'll decide in conscience that the good of being able to treat people in the hospital or of teaching most of what we believe outweighs the evil to be done by turning so many people out of work by closing those institutions down. Better that we should continue our work as best we can than turn these vital duties over to others, we will say.
We will Sr. Carol Keehan it, and we will do so in good conscience, believing in good faith we are making the best of a bad situation and lamenting our own persecution. And of those who do stand up we'll say either that we admire them but we don't think Christian conscience necessitates their stand or that they are a little too harsh or odd and that's not the way to attract people to the faith. We will have a point, as people who say such things (myself among them) do today, but we will be making these same compromises with a secularism now 5, 10, 15, 20 years advanced and even more people than today will simply not remember, or ever have experienced, any reality other than rule by the secular administrative state and they won't think it's that bad.
This is why we pray, "Lead us not into temptation." Because most of us are not strong enough to stand against the strong winds that blow. Most of us --I-- need a healthy culture because we have neither sufficient leisure to study and understand the times, nor eyes to see the evil in them, nor courage to oppose evil when we do see it.