Home/Rod Dreher/For Christians, It Really Is A Catastrophe

For Christians, It Really Is A Catastrophe

Young Catholics rally with Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver, in 1993. It's a different world now (Rocky Mountain PBS screenshot)

Two very good e-mails came in this morning, responding to my “Catastrophism And The Blogger” post.

The first comes from a Catholic priest who agreed to let me post this if I didn’t use his name. He is explaining why the “John Paul II Catholicism” of the 1980s and 1990s did not turn the ship around:

The JP II Catholics you speak of in the blog, it seems to me, did not grasp the situation we were actually facing in the 1990s. They believed, some of them, in the possibility of a “Catholic Moment” while others thought that JP II and Ratzinger represented the face of the then-current life of the Church. In many cases, they were unaware of the seismic effect the events of the late 60s and early 70s had on life, formation, and education in the Church and society. The foundations of Catholic and US life shifted remarkably as we moved into post- (or hyper-) modernity. Their misjudgment of the actual situation seems particularly evident in the quixotic restorationist dreams of many   traditionalists and the naive optimism of converts or reverts drawn by JP II and Ratzinger.
The pastoral and theological brilliance of JP II and Ratzinger was in the dynamic synthesis of their profound personal encounter with God in Christ (always including His body/Bride, the Church), a sense of the concrete reality of human existence, and a coherent presentation of the faith. It was a synthesis born of their own experience of Church’s struggle amidst the unraveling of the old order in the face of atheistic ideologies and persecutions. And they both foresaw that that struggle was likely to enter a new phase with a totalitarianism of tolerance, diversity, and inclusion. I suspect their synthesis, at its core, will survive and bear rich fruit whatever Christianity may face in the era we are entering.
The mistake made by many was in believing that somehow these pastors’ vision and witness was enough to turn the tide, that the world–or even contemporary Christians–would embrace it. Those hopes have foundered, often to be replaced by bewilderment, disappointment, scandal, or worse. Although sincere, such expectations were always misplaced. I am now 60, and except, perhaps, for the first few years of my life, the downward drift has been evident and continual, although not always at the same pace. Every “extreme” position we warned would unfold on the basis of trendy movements which claimed they would “never go that far” have, in fact, gone that far and beyond. I am unaware of any “moment” in my lifetime when a  Christian synthesis had a realistic shot at gaining cultural hold, let alone dominance.
What there was in the Catholic Church was a kind of Cold War from the death of Paul VI in 1978 to the election of Francis in 2013 during which the modernists were denied victory but were not defeated. Many “JP II Catholics” did not realize the scope and power of the modernists during his reign. That phase is now over and the modernists are resurgent. It may be, too, that the revolutionary winds which blew in 1968 have returned in 2020 to tear through civil society–we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, those of us under 60 do not inhabit the same mental, social, or religious world as those who came before us. And those under 20 take for granted a worldview that we could only begin to see when we were their age. But its outlines were already sketched out.
The challenge, as you know so well, is to provide a personal witness to Jesus that remains authentically human and evangelical/doctrinal in the face of the unreality and inhumanity  of a growing ideology. JP II and Ratzinger offer us models of how that can be done–as do the Christians you interviewed for your new book. That is their value: they are witnesses. They show us as well as tell us how to put Jesus at the center while reaching out to fellow Christians and to the world. We’ll have to handle the details as we go. Their example offers us a two-fold hope: there is always a way to remain faithful to Christ and eventually every ideology collapses under the weight of its falsehoods.
Perhaps you are a bit of a “catastrophist.” You’re  certainly someone who has seen the folly and evil at work in our lives. But catastrophe or no, you’ve come to know this world is passing away and that our only hope is to survive as those who have passed through fire–or better yet, have “passed over” by way of the Cross. In reminding us of that, you can’t go wrong regardless of what the future actually brings.

Here’s an email from a Catholic teacher who warns that the challenges young people face going out into the Great Awokening are far greater and more toxic than most parents think:

I teach in a mainstream Catholic school. The tuition would make most people do a double-take. There is no way that a high school can be THAT expensive!

It is.

But we do a fine job, and we do our best to hold on to and promote a mainstream-friendly orthodoxy. I do not know how much longer we will be able to keep doing what we are doing. We have a solid core of JPII enthused families, but most of our constituency floats within the liquid modernity of Moralistic Therapeutic Deist Catholicism. Whether they know it or not.

But what all our parents have in common is that they are desperately attached to the idea that their children can be as wildly successful as they have been. They are quite eager to set their children on the path of a Goldman Sachs strategy of success. They will have the patina of Catholicism, and they and their children will summer on islands off the coast of New England, ski in Colorado in the winter, and live in versions of Murray’s Belmont. They will go to mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and all will be right with the world.

But in order to be a part of what Rod regularly calls the Imperium (riffing on MacIntyre) you must sacrifice your children to the altars of top-tier colleges and universities. You simply cannot chart your path into the rarified world of Big Money if you are not part of the elite sorting structures. Our smart and successful parents know this. They see it every day.

No matter how excited they may have become in their 40s and 50s about Conservative Catholicism, Theology of the Body, or even traditional-ish forms of piety, they desperately want their children to be firmly ensconced in the corridors of power and influence. They want both for their kids. Don’t you?

You may think you are offering them up to “the world” but you are really offering them up to the vengeful Gods of Grievance. These gods are bloodthirsty and merciless.

Parents and teachers of these children have been ignorant to the machinations of the Woke Industrial Complex. They have no idea that they have been paying for their kids to be indoctrinated into a new religion, or have chosen to turn a blind eye. It has become somewhat commonplace for people to joke about kids going to college, flirting with revolutionary ideologies and then having them come back down to earth when they start working for a living and starting their own families.

THIS IS NO LONGER OPERABLE.

As James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose (and others) have carefully delineated, applied postmodernism and Critical Race Theory have joined forces to create a kind of inverted Calvinism. It is not the “total depravity” of yore, but total racism, total white supremacy, total privilege, total fragility. What Marx does to Hegel is what the Critical Social Justice forces have done to Calvinism: a kind of immanent and unforgiving determinism, without even a hint of salvation for the few.

And this has largely captured an entire generation of upper middle class students. And I do not see them coming back from the abyss. Instead of a new Great Awakening, we have a new Great Awokening.

So when I talk about my students’ parents who are rooted in JP2 Catholicism and how they are unprepared for the current moral battles, I mean this: they have made a kind of fusionist pact between a “robust” mainstream Catholicism and a secular world that no longer exists.

Both no longer exist.

There is no more mainstream Catholicism, and Rod’s continual jeremiads against orthodox Christian complacency have gone unheeded. But what is also gone is a kind of friendly mainstream liberal order. We are in the age of Woke.

We are in the flood plain of the cultural tsunami and I don’t see anything on the horizon that will provide a stopper, or a levee that will hold.

They have parasitized your children, and they want more.

Old school 90s Catholicism isn’t going to save them. The strategy needs an update, as it is simply designed as a kind of winsome redress to the hippie church of the 70s. You know, a correction of the excesses of the council, as many of us thought. That moment has come and gone.

To Rod’s point, our kids are not blank slates. They are surrounded by an ambient culture filtered through Instagram and Snapchat. These virtual spaces dominate our kids’ imaginations and they are dominated by the fully woke.

Do your kids know how to explain to a friend why they have been raised in a faith tradition that is not in sync with (and directly opposed) to their college orientation programs?

I have my doubts.

Before they even have their first day of actual class, they have been re-oriented in a radical way. Just ask them. A vanishingly small number of my former students go off to college and resist the Woke re-wiring.

In these highly emotionally charged moments, as you are meeting your new college cohort, you are desperately looking for connection. You are actively seeking out the rules of the game.

You come to a very quick understanding of position, rank, and status. It’s what we do.

I’m not sure I would have been able to resist. Why do we think our kids can?

Two stories from the real world. If we’re going to live not by lies, we have to start by ceasing to lie to ourselves about the condition we’re all in.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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