“If I forget thee, Jerusalem,” cries the Psalmist, “may my right hand forget its skill!” (Ps 137:5). “Men have forgotten God,” Solzhenitsyn observed of the Soviet regime; “that’s why all this has happened.” In his 1982 article “Ship of Fools,” P.J. O’Rourke described sailing up the River Volga with a group of Western journalists and seeing, at every port, the sagging of poorly mixed concrete and the rotting of poorly planted crops—and nine years later, eaten away by incentivized incompetence on a continental scale, the USSR disintegrated. Its right hand had forgotten its skill.
Sometimes I feel like a bully for using basic logic against people educated in modern America. A syllogism, such as I’ve sketched above, proceeds from the principle that if A is B and B is C, then C is A; this principle, in turn, proceeds from the principle that A itself is A. And at its core, when the jargons are decrypted and the -ism accusations have been hurled, the reigning ideology is squarely predicated on the denial of A’s identity with A: hence the weaponized corruption of that very word by one of the Woke movement’s more pernicious tentacles. Because our teachers have forgotten not only Jerusalem but Athens, their student-victims have no tools with which to grasp that a thing is in fact itself, even if we really don’t want it to be.
In the United States, the belief that a man need not be a man is the natural maturing of the 1973 Supreme Court assertion that a baby is not a baby, which was the diabolic Incarnation of the Renaissance avowal that God is not God. It’s a long, grim pedigree, and its intellectual thalidomide children merit pity and compassion—especially since their own existence can only represent a failure of the very worldview they serve. (Chesterton once spoke of “that law and organization which is so essential to anarchy,” and that same backward-marching discipline must govern a multi-generational project to sterilize the species.) “Speak the truth in love,” we’re told (Eph 4:15), but it takes a miracle of grace to show sufficient tenderness to people so malformed as to espouse the current doctrines of the Left.
Of course, “doctrine” is a rather firm, definable word for the gelatinous mutability that faces an opponent of Leftist thought. A popular pro-choice slogan, for example, demands, “Keep your laws off my body.” Now, first of all, this is like saying, “Keep your air out of my parachute.” The point of a law is to limit physical actions which may cause physical harm: lawmakers have neither the right nor the power to restrict the movements of soul and mind. Pointing out such absurdly obvious holes in the pro-choice rhetoric feels a bit like—well, taking candy from a baby. But when those selfsame sloganeers extrude their faces from the backs of their skulls and scream for legal sanctions compelling us to put vaccines into our bodies, how can we possibly treat them as mental adults?
The question was put into a larger context when I came upon the work of Dr. Joost Meerloo, a sociological scholar of the process behind the rise of totalitarian regimes. His 1956 book Rape of the Mind bears a horrific (if unsurprising) relevance to our own daily experience, detailing such procedural steps as the inculcation of chronic fear, the turning of a population against its own neighbors, and of course, the crucial element of isolation. The most striking insight, however, concerns the reduction of adult citizens into a child-parent relationship with their leaders. “By playing on the irrational child lying hidden in the unconscious and by sharpening the internal conflict between reason and emotion, the inquisitor can bring his victims to abject surrender.”
This approach, creeping up from the primal sewers to attack the throne of reason, was no accident, but the fruit of rigorous study (regarding the use of his psychological research against political prisoners, Ivan Pavlov once wrote directly to Josef Stalin, saying it made him ashamed to be Russian), and our knowledge of the human brain has only grown since then. Couple Meerloo’s insight on the reduction of adult citizens with his observation that “monotonously repeated nonsense has more appeal in a cold war than logic and reason,” and we find the Oval Office possessed by an avuncular figure, endlessly insisting on pro-choice Catholicism.
This, too, is no accident. Because the disparate wisdoms of Jerusalem and Athens find their confluence in Rome, forgotten theology represents the Woke mind’s tedious apotheosis. Whether the amnesia is literal, as in the case of Bishop Rozanski’s bungling proclamation that the Anointing of the Sick could be administered from out in the hall while a medical professional bestowed the actual anointing, or moral, as in the case of Cardinal McCarrick and his ilk, makes no difference; as long as “the fool saith in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps 14:1), it hardly matters if lack of brain caused lack of faith or the other way around.
Yet the spirit of our age seeks not Atheism but a transferral of divinity onto those aspects of “Science” that appear to support Leftist claims. Obvious evidence of personhood in the womb is thus out of court, but the emotion that prompts (say) a male athlete to jump genders and pummel women in mixed martial arts is sacrosanct. Thanks to A’s putative non-equivalence with A, that sinister Zeitgeist can have it both ways—for awhile, at least. Eventually it must either recede like the tide or slither up from the abyss to rule by more or less undisguised whim. In the latter event, its own children will ultimately be no less its prey than those who opposed its rise, and being in a position to say “I told you so” will be cold consolation. The upside-down ziggurat already wobbles on its apex, and we’re all standing in its shadow.
Immature minds can’t be corrected by reason. They need pictures. The vivid red of the Crucifixion—see, He understands your suffering—and the bright gold of the Resurrection—see, it’s not all for nothing. They need what is negatively called ad hominem argument: Christian precepts demonstrated, not by principle, but by their visible effect in the lives and characters of their adherents. They need the example of good, honest people they can look up to and seek to emulate. When a mind is naturally immature, through belonging to an actual child, it can do a great deal with examples that are merely not terrible. The developing brain has a marvelous ability to fill in blanks, and Our Lord reserves great stores of grace for our little ones. But an ostensibly grownup mind, bent and stunted by wicked teachings, needs supernatural healing. It needs to see living saints. It needs to be converted by a love too great for the soul to keep inside.
It’s not coincidental that the Woke tide is cresting just as the Church plummets to a grim new depth. On the contrary, it’s inevitable that a solid body moving down into slime will displace that slime outwards and upwards. But we have to remember (I have to remember) that only the ideology, and the spirit behind it, constitute the hateful clinging slime; the minds and souls that are its misshapen victims are fellow pilgrims to Purgatory, and they can’t be saved by our anger and hatred. Indeed, the more we hate the ideas, the more we should sympathize with the people infected by them. We’re commanded to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt 10:16), and perhaps in the present battle, that means distinguishing between thinkers and thoughts: approaching the former with dove-like tenderness and the latter with the sharpness and speed of a viper. Heavy emphasis on the “love” aspect of “speaking truth in love” may be our strongest tactic in the battle to free our straying brethren from the fanged doves and stupid snakes that occupy their skulls.
In short, our enemies have not only forgotten Jerusalem but actively fight to scrub away her memory everywhere (again, it’s no accident that they unleashed their virulence upon statues and memorials, while tradition’s custodians wrung their hands). The forgetting of skill can be seen in the classroom, the courtroom, and the war room—for nothing functional can be built on the premise that A is not A. And yet, another common slogan of the Left is, “Love is love.” It conceals new and inconsistent definitions of the word, of course, but it’s a precious admission all the same. The shrillest voices in the great debate are naturally the ones we hear, but these remain a minority; there are still countless people, misled but honest, who can and will listen to the truth, and may yet perceive the sepulchral hypocrisy of the lies they’ve been taught. St. Paul asks, “What do you have that has not been given to you?” (1 Cor 4:7). Our own faith is a gift, not something earned, and if it causes us to despise our fellow humans, it’s misused. (Chesterton again: “We are not entitled to despair of explaining the truth.”) God is Love; Truth is an attribute of God; ergo, Truth is an attribute of Love. If we can curb the prideful urge to simply win arguments, and keep fighting to seek the highest good of our opponents, then ultimately those who have ears will hear.