As a continuation of our prolegomena on the Artistic Vocation, and in particular those on the topic of culture (begun here), I would like to relate a story that introduces a particular mindset that can cripple the believing artist.
Matt, a chaplain intern, led my men’s prayer group in college. The most vivid memory I have of his time with us was the interesting story he once told of his experience at the 1994 presidential prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C. The featured speaker was to be Mother Teresa, whose work amongst the destitute and a life of self-sacrifice lent her words a moral weight few could – or dared – question.
This was the mid-1990s, which in PoliticoLand meant a time of great upheaval. The Republicans were poised to win control of Congress for the first time in forty years, fueled largely by an emerging – and somewhat pissed off – constituency of evangelical Christians. The family values platform of the 1992 presidential campaign had collapsed under the weight of a recession, but those who come to be labeled “The Religious Right” were intent on making sure the Washington knew they still cared about the moral fabric of America.
Enter Mother Teresa. If you were interested in broadcasting loud and clear the voice of morality, who else would you rather speak to your president? The place was, of course, packed, and eager ears awaited the introduction of a tiny woman from Albania.
Matt arrived late, disheartened that he might have to sit this one out. His eyes darted all over the room, hoping for a chair – or even an inconspicuous spot to stand – where he might even the smallest glimpse of Mother Teresa. It appeared hopeless until something caught his attention: an empty seat – immediately in front of the podium! Barely believing his luck, Matt rushed to his spot just in time to hear Mother Teresa being introduced.
Here he was, within feet of Mother Teresa, President and Mrs. Clinton. Behind him, a roomful of believers, anxiously awaiting what this little woman might have to say in the presence of this pro-choice President. There seemed to be a tangible feeling of ‘this is going to be GREAT!’
The frail woman hobbled to the podium and began. She began unimpressively enough, quoting the Scriptures and the Prayer of St. Francis. She discussed the need for peace and the problems of the world, specifically drug use among the young. Yes, yes. So far, it was generic enough to be a Miss America interview.
Then she dropped the bomb: “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.”
Boo-yah! Here’s what the people were waiting for. In front of Caesar and Mrs. Caesar, she rendered a complete denunciation of abortion, ending with this: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
A tidal wave of applause engulfed the room. People swelled up from their chairs. From his unique position, Matt could see the President and his wife looking decidedly seasick, and the crowd seemed to know it. If applause could speak, it seemed to be shouting “Take that!”
Things settled down. The humble woman continued, discussing the need for adoption in a world scarred by broken homes, the need for responsible parenting. People reached for their coffee and orange juice, smiling, nodding. God was doing great things. They got what they came for. But they were about to get a lot more.
The way to plan the family is natural family planning, not contraception.
A few glances up from the raspberry cream cheese. What was that?
In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.
Silence. Stunned silence. Did she just say that contraception leads to abortion? But – well – that can’t be.
If abortion caused a swell, contraception had just pulled the plug from the drain. Enthusiasm swirled out of the room in an eddy of O.J. and raspberry cream cheese.
Matt looked up to the front table. He wasn’t the only one pondering the impact of Mother Teresa’s chastisement to God’s little ones. Hilary Clinton looked over the audience, perhaps a little smugly, or perhaps confused with what she saw, her eyes seeming to spit “hypocrites.”
I am not about to get into a discussion of life issues – abortion, euthanasia, and the oft overlooked issue of contraception – even though I think these are defining issues of our age. I tell this story to illustrate an attitude and a mindset that I think are more subtly dangerous to our culture – and to the coming generation – than the more sexy issues like putting in end to poverty, having peace in our time, and Christ’s most important commission, universal health care.
The attitude is what I will call Cru-Sadism. We like sticking it to the heathen, don’t we? Especially to them whose address begins with 1600 or who have things called constituencies. We are the Church Militant, the Itchy to a humanistic world’s Scratchy. We have the truth, the world fights it: attack, parry, riposte, flick, and a hit, a very palpable hit! The thrill of defending Christ’s Church and the truth it protects can very easily slide into the enjoyment of seeing your enemy on the mat. This is Cru-Sadism.
Cru-Sadism is partly a result, and partly a cause, of a Culture War mentality (something we will discuss in greater detail in future posts). We have to take that hill, boys, so move, move, move! Like ear-lopping St. Peter, we have good intentions – our aggression is rooted in love – and we’d rather scurry up that hill with a rifle than crawl up it with a cross. If we get to take out a few centurions on the way, all the better.
But Cru-Sadism is also a result of our tendency to sin, here especially the sin of pride. Yes, it is possible to be sinfully proud of what is actually true and good. This used to be called the ‘holier than thou’ attitude, but since religion has cozied up so nicely with politics in recent years, and we’ve taken on a few more Machiavellian traits, I think Cru-Sadism is a more accurate term. We love to see the world put in its place: right under our feet.
But wait. The earth is the Lord’s footstool.
Ever get caught sitting in the boss’s chair?