Many years ago, in a terrible accident, a NASCAR collision caused a wheel to fly high into the air. The errant wheel killed a spectator sitting in isolation in the upper grandstands: an unfortunate, freak accident. An investigation of the crash scene would reveal the convergence of many unlikely events, mechanical failures, and errors of judgment that would lead to such an unexpected and shocking outcome. The probabilities were stacked heavily against that outcome—until it happened.
A freak is an oddity, an extreme departure from the norm. However, in using the term to describe the behavior of a human being, there are limitations. Is it charitable and necessary to call those who viciously violate the moral code “freaks”? Is it sinful, impolite, or ungracious? The cultural revolution that has occurred in the West over the last 50 years has effectively re-defined normal and has imposed tyrannical censorship. (The word “promiscuous”—like the word “freak”—is on the cultural index of forbidden and hurtful words.)
The 1960s and 70s were an era of social upheaval and rebellion in sexual matters. The 1970s and into the 80s were a relatively silent era of consolidation. During a brief period in the 1980s—with the onslaught of AIDS—a rollback of the sexual revolution seemed possible. But it failed to materialize. Homosexual acts and lifestyles are inherently unhealthy. (We don’t have any trouble warning others against uncovered sneezing or failing to wash hands.) But those with behavior-related AIDS successfully depicted themselves as helpless and innocent victims. The government, we were told, was responsible for failing to provide and fund medical treatment. The societal guilt reflex spawned immense investment in AIDS research that often choked off resources for other medical research. The medicinal breakthroughs allowed the dangerous acts to continue, so dangerous behavior didn’t need to change. The nation squandered a golden opportunity for a counter-revolution.
The revolutionaries transformed the culture following Lenin’s maxim: “Probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw.” There was plenty of mush. For big business, new market segments increased profits. Politicians cultivated voter blocs. Clergy saw new opportunities to justify secret lives. We can trace the breakdown to feminism, divorce, irresponsible masculinity, comfortably unfaithful clergy, the decay of families, and the dissolution of our once-proud American neighborhood culture. Our collaboration is rooted in compartmentalized and isolated lives following the breakdown of morally healthy human communities.
Even the pockets where resistance should have been firm proved tepid and even morally toxic. The revolution proceeds at “warp speed,” with the help of bishops (German, Belgian, and several American bishops), celebrity priests, cardinals, and even high-level Vatican officials promoting ambiguous (and sometimes not-so-ambiguous) statements that effectively endorse immoral sexual behavior. Ranking clergy expect traditionalist opponents to remain silent to avoid “divisiveness” and promote “inclusion.” And most traditionalists do.
Recently a young member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus composed a song with these lyrics:
We’ll convert your children—happens bit by bit, quietly and subtly and you will barely notice it…Just like you’re worried, they’ll change their group of friends, you won’t approve of where they go at night. And you’ll be disgusted when they start learning things online that you kept far from their sight…We’ll convert your children—Yes we will!—reaching one and all, there’s no escaping it, cause even grandma likes RuPaul.
Today, only a dwindling number of Americans respond with a mouthful of righteous expletives.
Of course, the culture does not permit us to refer to the young gay advocate as a freak (describing members of the Ku Klux Klan that way, however, would be another matter). Most advocates of traditional morality disapprove, calling the label uncharitable and counterproductive and reinforcing his alleged victim status. But any disapproval reinforces his victimhood.
Consider this likely scenario. The young man does not know what normal is. His moral compass never developed, and he has lost a portion of his humanity. He does not know where to turn for forgiveness and restoration. So he finds relevance as a perpetual victim and as a proud victimizer. But he does not stand alone. As an adult, he is not only a responsible agent, he is also a product of broken families, pornography, exploitation, and failed institutions. If it takes a village, such patterns of abnormality became the moral mush of a dysfunctional village. His activism is not only a cry for attention. It is a cry for help.
The convergence of many unlikely events has given rise to unexpected and shocking cultural outcomes. What odds would you have given, 20 years ago, against the possibility that the President of the United States would say that the greatest civil-rights challenge of our time is for so-called transgender equality? Who could have anticipated that the political, medical, and religious establishments would conspire to mutilate children and young people in the name of “transgender rights”?
Christian charity and kindness may motivate reticence in referring to the victims of such malicious societal dereliction as freaks. But the silence is ambivalent. We think our silence is polite, but usually, it is the stuff of negligence, fear, and cowardice. Hence, fear of rejection and retribution in the workplace and even within families is often a more realistic motive. Is the moral compass of our young people broken, or have we lost our moral compass? Are we the freaks? Silence is not an option except under the extremes of totalitarian duress. It hasn’t come to that, has it?
Flannery O’Connor advised: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” When challenging hardened hearts, it may be necessary to use words that are not empty of shock value to grab attention and shame sinful behavior.
Jesus, after all, indicted the Pharisees as “a brood of vipers”—freaks—for their arrogance. When confronted with hardened cultural hearts (Politicians? Churchmen? Medical professionals?), doing what we can to protect souls from the mush of indifference is worth the risk.
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Posted by: TheJournalist64 -
Jul. 16, 2021 5:47 PM ET USA
Exactly right, Fr. Jerry. Now what we need is a lexicon of useful things to say that are both rebuking and charitable. Surely we can get that with all the wordcrafters that read this site.
Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Jul. 16, 2021 3:55 PM ET USA
With Pope Francis, as with many like-minded prelates, rational and responsible criticism breeds contempt, rage, and vengeance. Cf. the latest Motu proprio. Certainly we have to speak out, but under the latest Catholic and political regimes, our words are proving to incite draconian responses. For example, how can one consider himself a "good Catholic" when the Pope hates his guts because of the way he prefers to worship? We make use of the sacraments, we do charity, we pray; yet we are detested.
Posted by: DrJazz -
Jul. 16, 2021 2:52 PM ET USA
As always, Fr. Pokorsky's writing is excellent and spot-on. If only large numbers of Catholics would read this and put it into practice!