Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Please bear with me. I want to take a shot at explaining why those who proclaim God's truth often end up decorating silver platters with their heads; or, to be a little more up-to-date, find themselves the target of protests, hate mail, death threats, and demonization by the media. Back in John the Baptist's day the evolution from prophet to corpse is a bit easier to explain. It shouldn't surprise you that you land in jail after you tell the king—you know, the guy who commands an army—that it's illegal for him to marry his brother's wife. Add to the mix a party, a beautiful dancing girl, a spiteful mother, and a foolish vow, and you get a how-to manual on getting a prophet's head on a platter. Explaining how truth-tellers in our own day find themselves drowning in manufactured outrage and media scrutiny is more difficult. The circumstances are certainly different now—we have 24 hr news, blogs, twitter, Youtube. We also live a democratic culture where political speech is free of gov't interference. What's not so different is that those who seek to punish truth-tellers (then and now) do so for the same reason: those with darkened hearts lust after power and the light of truth can enlighten even the darkest heart. Hearts given to Christ know that worldly power is trap.
By the early 20th c. it was clear to Antonio Gramsci that his beloved Marxism was an economic and political failure. No industrialized nation had undergone the workers' revolution that Marx had predicted. What went wrong? He concluded that orthodox Marxism fails to address the basic human need for cultural and spiritual expression. He admired the Church for her success in achieving cultural dominance in Europe through art, music, and literature. But this dominance was unacceptable b/c it kept the capitalist middle-class in power. The workers needed their own culture, a secular culture. To achieve this, Gramsci argued that force and coercion had failed to bring about the workers' paradise, so the machines of culture—the press, educational institutions—needed to be revolutionized to serve the working-class. The principle target for this revolution was language. Traditionally, language is used to describe reality. Words match things in the real world. Gramsci argued that this theory made it impossible for the working class to overthrow the capitalists b/c the capitalists attached their moral and political values to reality. Institutions such as marriage, family, the Church all worked against the working-class. How to undermine their influence? Detach language from reality and make language the creator of reality.
I know this sounds crazy, but this is exactly what has happened in our pop-culture—the media, the academy, even some churches. Two generations of Americans have been trained in the art of constructing their own realities by manipulating language. For these folks, words no long describe a reality independent of the mind. If I want the word “marriage” to refer to a relationship btw two people of the same-sex and you say that this is an impossibility, I can accuse you of oppressing me with your hatred. Reality is nothing more than what I choose it to be, so how dare you deprive me of my right to choose my reality! Off with your head! When we stand up to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and all that it entails for our culture, we make ourselves a target for those who have darkened their hearts. For them, this is a battle about power, about who gets to control the construction of reality. For us, this is a mission to tell the truth about God's creation and how His creatures can be freed from darkness and brought to His light. There is nothing new about this mission, nothing at all novel about this battle. The ancient Enemy thrives in lies and chaos. Our task, our prophetic duty is to stand with Christ and shine with the Spirit's fire, proclaiming over and over again: the truth will set you free!___________________
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