I will only sketch here the beginnings of a constructive Christian response to the false religion of violence that is proving so seductive for our contemporary western culture — as it has for every culture in the history of the world. This post follows on yesterday’s “Sounds of Assault.”
First, we must lay hold of the Catholic faith, which affirms that God “made of one blood all the peoples of the earth,” an extraordinary claim (Collect for Mission, Morning Prayer, BCP 1979, p. 100). The civilizing, universal mission of the Church as Israel confronts Gentile violence clearly, as in Acts 19, and offers spiritual circumcision “in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2; cf. Deut. 10:16, Rom. 2:29, Col. 2:11) as its solution. Artemis of the Ephesians, meet Jesus of Nazareth, his Father, and their Spirit.
Second and more specifically, one hopes that Christian liberals and Christian conservatives can agree on the importance of teaching young men and women to renounce “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God,” “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” and “all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God” (BCP 1979, p. 302). That means, among much else, that when garbage comes on the radio (or television or computer screen), we flip it off or change the station. Virtue is not the work of one day but a step-by-step process, on the way to transformed habits. We commit to exercising, to prayer, to following the news, which decisions bear fruit over time — months, years. So, too, chastity can be cultivated, incorporating decency, modesty, and simplicity. But it first needs to be taught well, comprehendingly, nourished by a deep and beautiful account of human persons made male and female.
Third, we shouldn’t rule out traditional world-denying practices — limited TV and film, tightly controlled Internet — for a season, or altogether. The secular-capitalist machine would sap our souls and can especially damage young people. There is vast farmland in many parts of the U.S., set alongside sanity-inducing small towns; one can easily imagine a renewed Catholic Land Movement, cast ecumenically under the banner “flee to the fields” (with associated intentional communities assembled in spiritual centers, like Nashotah, Wisconsin). There’s also the mission field, domestic and foreign, where we can meet the poor who know God. Sometimes — often — renunciation is the better part of valor, because it leads to new life.
Fourth, we need to discuss laws about how to prosecute the Owen Labries of the world, just as we need to establish the meaning of “consent” in a way that makes sense and is communicable to undergraduates and, yes, to high school students, if they are having sex. But let’s also tag the debate itself. According to California’s “affirmative consent” (or “yes means yes”) standard aimed at college campuses, “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” are required in order for sexual activity to proceed. Why all three? Because, in a university culture of heavy drinking, as The Washington Post reports, “many students find it hard to tell when someone has drunk too much and is therefore incapacitated, when a gesture or murmur in the dark might not be what it seems.” Indeed. A Christian contribution here, in a traditionalist mode, will not only critique a party scene that subsists in binge drinking but also the moral reasoning of young people for whom pre-marital sex has become so not a problem.
My best advice to young adults: by turns, in one and another season, flee and arm yourself properly. At the most vulnerable and formative times of our lives, such as high school and college, we must make sure that Christian education — serious-minded, analytic thoughtfulness — is priority #1. Only this prepares us to go out into the world where, even at most small Christian colleges, there will be some stepping over pools of vomit on the way to the library on Friday night. This is your life, and God lives. Don’t be an idiot. Take responsibility. Cultivate humility and respect for all human beings, including your self. Do not think this world is about pleasure, or a merely good job. Sacrifice yourself on the altar of something meaningful. Acknowledge how little and inconsequential you are, how you are a sinner in need of saving. Once you’re on your knees before God, you are ready to study the “philosophical sciences,” as Aquinas calls them, under the heading wisdom, which is what school is for. And you’re ready to learn why men should be gentlemen and women ladies — and, when called, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, rather than playboys and girls, stretching out ever-lengthening adolescences that devolve to destructive violence.
“You that are holy and humble of heart, glorify the Lord, praise him and highly exalt him for ever” (Canticle 12 from Morning Prayer, BCP 1979, p. 89).
Christopher Wells’s other posts may be found here. The featured image is “MONO @ Club 11 // Exit” (2007) by Merlijn Hoek. It is licensed under Creative Commons.