Monday, March 22, 2010

The reality of the situation

It has been a busy Monday here, and so I haven't had the time to delve into the aftermath of the health care debacle as much as I'd like.

I posted the below as part of a comment on another blog; I'd like to expand on it here:
A middle-aged man enters a bar and sits beside an attractive young lady. At first, she is cold, but having observed him well enough to realize that he is wealthy, she becomes friendly.

Noticing this, he muses, "I wonder. Would you spend the night with me for $100,000?

The woman gasps and says, "Sure!"

"Hmmm," the man continues speculatively. "Would you spend the night with me for $100?"

The young lady becomes angry. "Just what kind of woman do you think I am?" she snaps.

"Madam, we have already established what kind of woman you are. We are now merely haggling over the price."

We ought to know by this time what kind of men and women we have representing us in Congress. All that is left for us to do is haggle over the price.

However, some Americans become angry when they first realize this, because they are naive enough to suppose that politicians are honorable people. If they were, I don't know where they would come from. In fact, our nation would be an anomaly: a nation of people who have been taught for generations that "virtue" can be defined in exactly the same way as "situational ethics," but who somehow managed to find leaders who adhered to an older, more restrictive notion of what virtue is. Such people, were they to hold public office, would only make the rest of us exceedingly uncomfortable; having established that our "price" is cheap sex, cheap food, and cheap consumer goods, for which it is necessary to keep up a good flow of government handouts and "freebies" (including free abortions), we would find it hard even to speak the language of someone who thought human beings transcended any of these goals, or had the capacity to do so.

What I was trying to say there is that this isn't a problem that began with the 2008 election, or any time in the recent past. This is a problem that traces its roots back to the dawn of the slow, relentless decline of Christianity in America. Different people might trace the beginning of that time with different historical events--World War II and its aftermath, perhaps, or the tumultuous sixties or decadent seventies; it's hard to pick an exact point, though a better historian might find a starting place that we could all agree on.

But what happened, even if we can't say for certain when it happened, is that Americans stopped being people of faith, for the most part. They stopped believing that they were answerable to almighty God for their conduct. They stopped having an ideal of what it meant to be honorable, to live a life of virtue. They stopped having rules of good, decent behavior that governed life in communities, towns, cities, and so on. They stopped trusting each other (for the most part) and started viewing each other as distant strangers, unknown and unknowable.

Now, I'm not going to suggest that people in those days really were as virtuous as most of them pretended, in public, to be. But if hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue, then people paid a lot of homage to virtue. A man might be known to be a fraud, but so long as he kept his irregular behaviors decently quiet he might expect the public respect of his neighbors--though what they thought of him in private was a different matter.

Today, things are very different. Society calls few things "sins" at all, preferring to act as though there's no moral difference between a woman of easy virtue, the various men who father children with her, and her highly irregular household with its catechism of immorality for the young children unfortunate enough to call her "mother," and a household composed of a married husband and wife and their children. Society pretends not to notice that the first household is likely to cost the taxpayers a lot of money in maintenance (as the various paramours of the woman leave her for women of even easier virtue and lesser fertility), while the second is likely to be composed of the taxpayers who foot the bill for "families" of the former type. Society, to put it bluntly, is an ass; but sadly society presents these views as normative, and harshly suppresses the sort of view which would say that the married husband and wife are morally superior to the irregular households composed of people who don't commit to each other and the children who may or may not call the present adult male occupant "father."

At one time, in school, all the children would have learned about things like ethics and virtue, which would have been taught from a mainstream Christian perspective. Was this sometimes unfair to Catholic children (whose views were marginalized) or to Jewish, Muslim, etc. children (whose views were not mentioned) or to the children of atheists (whose views were sternly countered)? Perhaps--but it was, on the whole, better for society than our present schools, which teach that words like "ethics" and "virtue" are both old-fashioned and hopelessly vague and relativistic; what is "good" is simply what is good for me, right now, and there is nothing deeper to discuss--at least, nothing deeper that can legally be discussed in the public school environs.

What relevance do these things, the breakdown of Christian society and the loss of education in virtue, have for the present situation regarding the health care debate?

It is simply this: we keep expecting our politicians to be men and women of high ideals, principles, and virtues, when in reality they would be, socially speaking, extremely rare birds to be any such thing.

We live in a society where it's not only acceptable to divorce and remarry, but to shack up, commit what's cheekily called "serial monogamy," or involve oneself in any number of irregular and dubious sexual arrangements--yet we think our politicians ought to be Puritanical models of chastity and marital fidelity.

We live in a society where cheating financially to get ahead is winked at or "bailed out," where special interest groups pour money into political campaigns, where it is possible for people who have never held a commercial-sector job to hold high office--yet we think our politicians ought to be models of fiscal responsibility and careful, conservative thrift like our forbears reputedly were.

We live in a society where religion is attacked in the media, in entertainment, in popular culture, in just about every imaginable and insulting way--yet we expect our politicians to be men of faith, soberly religious, prayerful, and wise.

We live in a society where "looking out for number one" is a creed that governs the behaviors of many, where failing to enshrine one's own self-interest is seen as weakness, where sticking to one's principles when there's a much more lucrative option to doing so is looked upon as akin to madness--and yet we expect our politicians to be immune to back room deals, promises of airports or cash for their districts, firmly disinterested in all but high ideals.

The truth of the matter is that given the present condition of our society, we really need to stop being surprised that politicians will sell out the pro-life cause (or any other cause) at the drop of a hat (or as soon as a tempting enough offer to buy is made). The real surprise is that we expect it to be any other way; the real surprise is that we can look around at our cities and towns and communities and expect anything else from our politicians but boorish, scandalous, selfish, greedy, corrupt and self-interested behavior. If we could just get over that surprise and accept the reality of the situation, perhaps we could convince people like Stupak and the men who caved with him to list their votes on Ebay, whereupon wealthy pro-life advocates might at least have a fighting chance to prevail.

We may not like, at all, the fact that this is, indeed, the reality of the situation--that we know what kind of men we're dealing with, and that all that is left to us is to haggle over the price. But changing that will mean, I'm afraid, a lot more than simply changing Congress; changing it will mean changing society altogether. Because a culture as steeped as ours is in wickedness, evil, corruption, and sin isn't going to start producing virtuous politicians out of the vacuum of vice.

6 comments:

LarryD said...

Boy, this is such a great post.

I might add (if I might be so bold) to this statement you made:

But what happened, even if we can't say for certain when it happened, is that Americans stopped being people of faith, for the most part.

For all the talk that America is a Christian nation - based on the statistics - it seems to me that more and more Americans are seeking the type of church that fits into their lifestyle, rather than seeking the lifestyle that fits into the Christian belief. So many want the experience of "Church" to be similar to the experiences they have in life - fun, exciting, invigorating, captivating, entertaining, not too uncomfortable and most certainly not judgmental. I have many friends and even some family members who attend the mega-churches and rock n' roll Bible schools with the energetic music and IMAX-like screens and impressive production Broadway-esque performances - because it's easy on the ear and soothing to the soul.

There's a disconnect between the experience and the message. Christ's message is one of sacrifice, service, denial of self and obedience. But all too often, the experience in those places is razzle-dazzle and "tell me God loves me".

Which He does - and don't get me wrong - these communities do good works and provide a sense of belonging and fellowship. The people in these 'churches' love the Lord just as much as Catholics do - they're just selling themselves short and thus not having the fullness of joy that Christ desires for them.

But the sacrifice aspect is missing. The Mass is the Holy Sacrifice - the only acceptable offering to God - His choice for us to display proper worship. The new alternatives have it backwards - it's "this is how I want to worship God", and thus it becomes worship of self.

All this to say - the sense of authentic sacrifice has been lost. Sacrifice for others, for the authentic common good, sacrificing the totality of ourselves out of love for others. It's the logical result of the contraceptive mentality, actually: I want to feel good without having to give anything up; or, I'm only going to give the minimum in the hopes of receiving the maximum.

And this mental masturbation leads to a selfishness that spreads to every aspect of the culture - and it reaches its apex (or perhaps its greatest depth) in the tyranny of abortion. And like you said, Erin - how anyone can expect to find strong virtuous leaders today while living in such a vice-filled culture is beyond me.

It makes you wonder just how bad things were bad in Noah's time, doesn't it?

Red Cardigan said...

Excellent point, Larry. We've forgotten what it means to sacrifice (except for our politicians, who think it means "spending middle class tax dollars on programs for the poor so we can congratulate ourselves on our altruism.").

Magister Christianus said...

Larry, this is an excellent comment! You write, "But all too often, the experience in those places is razzle-dazzle and "tell me God loves me".

Which He does - and don't get me wrong - these communities do good works and provide a sense of belonging and fellowship. The people in these 'churches' love the Lord just as much as Catholics do - they're just selling themselves short and thus not having the fullness of joy that Christ desires for them.

But the sacrifice aspect is missing. The Mass is the Holy Sacrifice - the only acceptable offering to God - His choice for us to display proper worship. The new alternatives have it backwards - it's "this is how I want to worship God", and thus it becomes worship of self."

This is spot on. I may have to blog further myself on this, with proper attribution, of course.

Anonymous said...

After many years working in a 200-bed regional hospital, I quit to spend more time in local community county hospitals 35+ miles from the big city, here in mid-eastern cornfield country. A social worker at the hospital was showing me how to access resources for indigent patients such as national, state, and regional programs for American rural communities and what is known around here as the township trustee. When discussing the health care debates I found a telling disconnect when the chaplain at the 16-bed hospital said, "Not that many years ago, patients in this area in emergency situations could contact local philanthropies and churches for assistance. Now, we're expecting the government to provide this assistance."

There are several factors to consider in his statement. If I had to appeal to someone for assistance if my house burned down and I had no fire protection, I would feel more confident in applying to a Federal program rather than appealing to those in my parish, as it is financially-strapped as any other 'agency' to the extent it's not a 'lending' center, nor access to reduced-loan financial repayment programs. Nor would any dioceses be able to provide services for individuals on an individual basis. Many Americans are no longer members of church-going communities. And, it is my opinion that people that might personally attempt to contact churches or philanthropics might be met with derision, or looked on as 'cons'.

Zircon

LarryD said...

Magister - thanks for the kind words!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

A friend of mine once remarked that the most moral and ethical man he knew was an atheist. I had no trouble believing that an atheist could be moral and ethical in their personal life. I asked, however, if this man, who was unmarried and childless, could inculcate the same morality and ethics in a child, without the framework of a faith to instill such virtues. My friend concluded that this would be close to impossible.