I suppose it was more than ten years ago that the waiters at the café I was managing started telling me about “Raves.” These were all-night, drug-infested parties where the music was loud and, to my Bach-attuned ears, obnoxious, the incidences of copulation or near-copulation many, and the over-doses not uncommon. They were called “Raves” because the kids were so high they were raving mad. I thought of these raves when I read Bill Donohue’s screed in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” columns yesterday.
Here is how he begins: “There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom; sexual libertines seek to upend the cultural order by attacking religion; artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity; Hollywood relentlessly insults people of faith; activist left-wing legal groups try to scrub society free of the public expression of religion; elements in the Democratic party demonstrate an animus against Catholicism; and secular-minded malcontents within Catholicism and Protestantism seek to sabotage their religion from the inside.” Nihilists. Sabotage. Beat down. All of it finishing with that dark, McCarthyite fear of traitors working “from the inside.” This is raving mad.
I am sure that what struck most people about Donohue’s column, which is evidently recapitulation of themes from a book he is promoting, was his relentless indictment of “secularists.” He writes, “Yesterday's radicals wanted to tear down the economic structure of capitalism and replace it with socialism, and eventually communism. Today's radicals are intellectually spent: they want to annihilate American culture, having absolutely nothing to put in its place. In that regard, these moral anarchists are an even bigger menace than the Marxists who came before them.” He equates gay activists with the Marquis de Sade and claims their primary motivation is a “pathological hatred of Christianity.” He complains that Hollywood no longer makes pro-Christian movies except, of course, Mel Gibson who got “run out of town.” (Not, of course, because of the movie but because during an arrest he unloaded, on tape, a catalogue of anti-Semitic tropes that would have done Father Coughlin proud.) Donohue says of the ACLU: “Lying about their real motives, they say their fidelity is to the Constitution.” And on and on. Nothing new here except the even higher decibel levels of paranoia cum nostalgia that has long been Donohue’s calling card.
I think much of this is unfair. I do not see anyone who wants to “annihilate American culture” although the titans of Wall Street did a pretty good job of crippling it. I think the ACLU is misguided but I think they are sincere in their very different reading of the First Amendment, and I see why reading a few columns by Donohue would convince many to write a check to the ACLU. He says that pro-life Catholics are not welcome in the Democratic Party but I have not been shown the door and, much more importantly, neither has Sen. Bob Casey.
But, what is really problematic with Donohue’s screed is not his caricature of contemporary culture but his caricature of Catholicism, although it is worth noting that Cardinal Francis George, in his new book The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, makes the point that following the Master, we must love the culture we seek to evangelize. Donohue’s words are the words of a Puritan not a Catholic. We Catholics have confidence that we bring Christ to the world and to the culture, that in our encounters with the lost and the poor we find a privileged place for the operation of grace, we have, in a word, hope. Donohue’s dark vision neither sees any hope nor encourages any hope.
I was having a conversation with Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete the other day about an event being sponsored by Crossroads Cultural Center tonight in New York to present Cardinal George’s book. I encourage anyone in the NYC area to attend. At one point in our conversation, Msgr. Albacete said that one of the problems with our culture today is that we have lost the “taste for life” and that the Church must find a way to rekindle that taste if we want to invite people to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” that is, if we want to evangelize. Catholics are not Puritans. Cardinal George grasps the fact. Pope Benedict grasps that fact. Alas, Bill Donohue is too busy being angry to even notice it.