This morning, I came across an article published in May of this year by my friend Hilary White, the Rome Correspondent for Lifesitenews. The focus of the piece was about Pope Benedict’s message to the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan.
The Holy Father’s repeated message has been that families are the foundation of society, and White pinpoints the reason why:
Behind the primacy of the family lies a uniquely Christian idea. The reason the family is so important a defining feature of our societies is that it is founded in the concept of the equal moral dignity of all persons. The reason family traditionalists are nearly always also pro-life, the reason that the two go hand in glove, is that the two proposals, the primacy of the family and the right of the unborn and vulnerable to life, are founded on the same principle: that all human beings, regardless of their age, abilities, social status, anticipated income, nationality or state of “wantedness,” are persons entitled to precisely the same protections under the law.
This is precisely what is under attack, not only in the United States, but around the world. I’ve written before about our descent into barbarism and our need for true heroes in the form of men and women willing to take up the cross and become saints. I’ve talked about the need for our clergy and our Catholic leaders to give witness to the power, efficacy, and essential necessity of the sacraments.
But what is at stake? As we face these challenges to our way of life, to our beliefs, to our fundamental ideas of society, what might we lose if we are unable to win this fight? What would our culture look like if our ideological opponents go unopposed, and remake the world in their image?
White offers a sobering analysis drawn from the lessons of the ancient world:
Taking the longer historical view, however, the idea that the pro-life and pro-family point of view is “retrograde” is heavily ironic. We in the Western World have been Christianised for so long that we have unconsciously subsumed these civilisation-building principles without being able any longer to articulate and define them. We have had our civilisation for so long that we have forgotten the barbarism it defeated and tamed. The result of this societal amnesia is that we are increasingly condemning as “retrograde,” or “oppressive” the very concepts that built, nurtured and protected our society.
So immersed are we in these foundational ideas, we have little insight to imagine a society not run on Christian moral principles. Beginning history students, even those who regard themselves as “emancipated” and secularised, are often shocked by the ideas that were considered normal in the ancient world.
In the world before Christianity, the idea that all human beings are equal under a divinely authored Natural Law was a wild innovation, an unprecedented and revolutionary novelty in an ancient world that had, since the dawn of history, universally accepted slavery, women and children as chattel and routine infanticide at the whim of parents.
On the other hand, nearly all the ideas so frequently championed by our philosophical opponents were part of the normal fabric of life in the ancient world; violent, brutal and arbitrary as it was. The notion that one spouse could dispose of the other at whim by a “no fault” system of divorce; that one parent, without being obliged even to consult the other, could decide which child would live and which would be “exposed”; that merely being human was not sufficient grounds to bestow the legal protection of the state: all were among the uglier aspects of Roman law. The notion that a man’s wife and children, slaves and dependent “clients” were possessed of exactly the same dignity and legal status as he was, would have shocked a Roman patrician of the 2nd century. As it would an Indian Brahmin of the 10th or a Confucian scholar-official of the 12th.
Only Christianity, and Christian philosophy and jurisprudence, has ever proposed to treat financially or physically or socially unequal human beings equally in law. The very concept of “person” in law did not exist until it was developed by Christian philosophers who also developed the notion of “human rights” based on nothing more than membership in the species, made in the image of the author of all creation.
Elections are important business, and we need to be sure to support those candidates who will fight to maintain and restore this Christian jurisprudence upon which is predicated the fundamental dignity of all human persons.
But at a deeper level, the culture war must be fought beyond the political arena. This fundamental principle of societal change was understood by those who set about undermining Christian values in the West in the early 20th century. Antonio Gramsci, an influential Communist who had been imprisoned by Mussolini after attempting to take control of the Italian Communist party, laid out the blueprints for many who followed in his footsteps throughout Europe and the United States. In his seminal work Death of the West, Catholic writer and political commentator Pat Buchanan wrote of Gramsci:
Gramsci concluded it was their Christian souls that prevented the Russian people from embracing their Communist revolution. “The civilized world had been thoroughly saturated with Christianity for 2000 years,” Gramsci wrote; and a regime grounded in Judeo-Christian beliefs and values could not be overthrown until those roots were cut. If Christianity was the heat shield of capitalism, then, to capture the West, Marxists must first de-Christianize the West.
Rather than seize power first and impose a cultural revolution from above, Gramsci argued, Marxists in the West must first change the culture; then power would fall into their laps like ripened fruit. But to change the culture would require a “long march through the institutions” – the arts, cinema, theater, schools, colleges, seminaries, newspapers, magazines, and the new electronic medium radio. One by one, each had to be captured and converted and politicized into an agency of revolution. Then the people could be slowly educated to understand and even welcome the revolution.
Gramsci urged his fellow Marxists to form popular fronts with Western intellectuals who shared their contempt for Christianity and bourgeois culture and who shaped the minds of the young. Message to the comrades: “It’s the culture, stupid!”
It would be hard to argue that this approach to change was not effective. Gramsci’s ideas were brought to America’s shores (and ultimately, her universities and cultural institutions) by, among others, the members of the Frankfurt School. This group of Marxist thinkers also believed in – you guessed it – attacking the family and traditional notions of human sexuality.
While we fight for better politicians and sound laws, we must also recognize that this is where the battle will ultimately be waged: at home, in the workplace, in the schools, in the media, and in the arts. Those who have undermined our culture have done so painstakingly, and through very nearly a century of work. The fight for the hearts and minds of the citizens of the West will not be a quick or easy victory.
The alternative, however, is nothing less than reversion to a society steeped in the barbarism that Ms. White described so vividly. That’s a future that none of us can afford.