The incident with the boys from Covington Catholic at March for Life echoes ominously in our culture. It indicates the fragility of our society and the divisions that run deep in our country.
It reveals the levels of rage and blame in our society and there are several problems with what happened:
First of all, the mainstream media jumped on the story and promoted the anti-Catholic, anti-white, anti-right wing narrative. It’s hard not to do this in the age of instant news. It’s also difficult not to do this when the “evidence” is a video. However, we have since learned not only that pictures lie (they are easily manipulated with photoshop) but videos lie even more effectively. They lie not so much in what they show, but what they don’t show. When the “evidence” confirms your bias it is natural to want to publish it and shout it to the housetops. If you were a progressive, left wing secularist chances are you were already pretty annoyed at the mostly conservative, religious March for Life with its annual huge turnout. A video appears that seems to support your own bias? Shout it out.
The second problem is that so many people believed the first version of the incident and started heaping it on the boys from Covington School. They were attacked not only by their natural enemies in our culture, but their own school, diocese and Catholic bloggers and commentators were quick to throw them under the bus. When will we learn to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, wait to hear the other side of the story and listen and discern?
These two problems indicate some very disturbing trends. First, the culture of relativism means that nobody trusts anybody. Nobody knows what is “fake news” and what isn’t. In an age where “you speak your truth” and “I speak my truth” nobody speaks the truth. We are dancing on quicksand here and trust is eroded. Nobody knows what is true or false because everyone seems to be lying and everyone seems to be lying because there is no longer any shared voice of authority in society.
Second, this culture of relativism at first engendered toleration. Everyone was just supposed to tolerate everyone else. But this does not last for very long because human beings cannot stand to live in a truth vacuum. They need someplace to stand. They need a rock to build on. They can’t stand total relativism. Consequently they will turn to an ideology or they will turn to a religious form of ideology. This is what we are seeing increasingly. In the church and in society in general people are bolting for extremist positions because those extremist positions afford the a sense of security. It might be the extremism of some political ideology or economic ideology. It might be the comfort and certainty of belonging to a conservative religious group or an extremist progressive group. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the person looking for security sacrifices certain necessary traits of sanity in order to gain the security they crave.
Third, this quest for certainty invariably causes them to sacrifice open mindedness, discernment, listening to the other side, giving the benefit of the doubt, being compassionate and truly tolerant of others with whom we disagree. In other words, in the lack of any real source of authority and truth the person who falls for the ideological answer gives up their reasonableness. They resort to emotionalism and even if that emotionalism is sugared over with “rational argument” and “evidence and the scholastic method” their core reaction is still one of irrational emotionalism, and at the heart of that emotionalism is fear and the fruit of that fear will eventually be anger and rage.
Fourth, that anger and rage must invariably be focussed on someone else. It will be focussed on the “other side”. It must be focussed on the “other side” because, just by the nature of this dynamic, the person who has embraced the ideology (and those in his group) cannot be wrong. Ever. Not even just a little bit. And if they are not wrong, but there is still a problem, then the”other side” must be wrong. Furthermore, because ideologies demand a kind of uniformity and unanimity, not only does “my side” need to be 100% right 100% of the time, but the “other side” has to be 100% wrong 100% of the time.
Fifth, the rage must find a focus. “My side” will not be secure and right unless the problem of the “other side” is identified, targeted and scapegoated. That enemy is the problem and to solve the problem that enemy must be eliminated. Then comes the turning point where no amount of evidence about the enemy’s innocence will be accepted. They are the enemy. It doesn’t matter if they are innocent or not. The mob will even say, “That individual person may not be the enemy, but he stands for the enemy. He is the symbol of the enemy and he is therefore the target and he must die. Furthermore, if you seek to defend the scapegoat, be assured, the mob will turn on you. You will become the enemy.
The mob will gather and the enemy will be killed–if not literally, then ceremonially. The mob will demand their death and those who should protect the innocent victim will throw them to the mob saying, “It is better that one man die than all of us.”
I am speaking in general terms here, and not necessarily about the boys of Covington Catholic, although this weekend’s incident sparked my thinking.
I mentioned civil war because this is the mentality of a civil war. Two sides within the same tribe, the same country, the same church, the same group–both feeding on the unhealthy dynamic I have described–eventually coalesce into an alliance, and sharing the same enemies they set out to destroy that enemy.
I don’t think I’m being alarmist and I’m not predicting a literal civil war with open bloodshed, but certainly the divisions in America, and the increasing bitterness and tendency to confrontation do not feel good.
What’s the answer? The ultimate answer is the end of relativism and a return to a shared system of authority and truth, and as far as I’m concerned the only thing that could bring that about would be a total, supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit bringing repentance, conversion and faith to our land. It has happened before. There have been “Great Awakenings” and reform in the church, but these tectonic level changes have only happened through prayer, penance and sacrifice of a few faithful, hidden souls–souls who have not been willing to jump on the bandwagon of seeking certainty solutions in false ways–souls who have been willing to hang on and remain faithful not to a false ideology, but to the only one who brings peace–the Prince of Peace.
Father Longenecker, thank you for addressing the underlying issues that have made right the conditions for the incident involving the young men from Covington Catholic. Notice I wrote ‘involving.’ If it weren’t these young men, it would likely have been another group that was singled out for amplified, some might say manufactured, rage. Some might also say that this incident was intended to distract the nation’s interest from the crisis at our Southern Border and the Government Shutdown and the potential solution that was offered yesterday afternoon. What I found most disturbing, and you highlighted it, is the reality that so very may were and are eager to find guilty the high schoolers with only the most minimal ‘evidence.’ What’s worse is that so many Catholics ‘convicted’ the boys in the court of public opinion with absolutely no first-hand knowledge. I was not there. I did not see it. I can offer no valid opinion on what did or did not happen. But we can all be confident, the opinions on the incident offered by those who were not there to see and hear really do not deserve our attention. On this March for Life weekend, I’ll save my concern for those CINO politicians who support and defend the silent holocaust while still presenting themselves week after week for the Holy Eucharist.