Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

When Will the Prodigal Return?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 11, 2007

In a telling analogy, Catholic World Report editor George Neumayr has likened Europe to the prodigal son, squandering its inheritance and reducing itself to utter emptiness. In commenting on the recent Europafest sponsored by the European Union to celebrate European culture, Neumayr also observed: “The hollower the drum, the louder the noise it gives off.”

The Ideology of Prodigalism

What the European Union has managed to do is to make an ideology out of prodigalism, plundering and dissipating its own cultural inheritance and attempting to force others to do the same. I’ll cite just two examples within the last thirty days. The European Court found Polish President Lech Kacyzynski guilty of unjust discrimination against homosexuals when he forbade a gay pride parade in Warsaw while he was mayor there in 2005—this despite the fact that 58% of Poles oppose allowing homosexual groups to meet in public places, and 70% oppose the use of homosexual teachers in schools. In a similar action against Croatia, the European Parliament condemned a proposed reproductive health and sexual curriculum as “gender-biased” with “negative attitudes towards homosexuality.” Croatia is 90% Roman Catholic.

What the EU does for European culture, the United Nations tries to accomplish in the rest of the world. Thus were we treated just last month to arguments made by the UN’s “Special Rapporteurs” to the Human Rights Council, asserting the need to eliminate the ability of religion to influence culture in ways which restrict a woman’s personal control over her own sexuality (including abortion), or which link sexuality to reproduction in the education of children, or which distinguish homosexual from heterosexual relationships either morally or in terms of their impact on the social order. The UN Rapporteurs vow to target countries which continue to allow their religious heritage to shape their culture in these ways.

More Than a Culture War?

The remaking of local culture is unnecessary to the proper ends of either the EU or the UN. One would think that, sooner or later, a well-run country will decide that the diplomatic and economic benefits of either organization are not worth the constant cultural meddling. Or perhaps sooner or later a well-run country will take a stand on the principle of subsidiarity, asserting that human well-being is best served by organizing at the lowest level possible, and so choosing to opt out of institutionalized prodigalism, thank you very much.

The need for determined resistance is not merely academic. Italy was recently swept with defacement of Church buildings and death threats against the head of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, perpetrated by gays who objected to Bagnasco’s stand against legal recognition of same-sex unions. It is extremely unlikely that such behavior would have been possible apart from the pro-homosexual climate created in large part by the European Union. These issues are reaching their boiling point in Europe far faster than in the United States. The personal and social destruction wrought by the squandering of European cultural values is so obvious in the face of massive Islamic immigration that the very death of Europe is now discussed. When will the heels dig in? When will the war become more than just “cultural”?

Prodigal Europe, Prodigal Everyone

Europe is not alone in its danger. America faces the same questions, though in a slightly less stark and devastating context. Some Americans have responded by reinventing subsidiarity for themselves and eschewing public institutions as much as possible. Hence the continuous rise in the number of private schools, and the dramatic rise in the number of home schools. But Americans still mostly throw away their children when they reach college age, prizing potential economic opportunity above mature intellectual formation. And although American policy has its ups and downs, the sheer economic power of our too-commercial nation makes it a preeminent destroyer of cultural values.

In any case, resistance to the ideology of prodigalism is hampered everywhere by the support of the rich and famous and the confusion of ordinary people about the nature of liberty. Moreover, the immediate hedonistic benefits of squandering one’s moral and cultural heritage too often blind us to the ultimate consequences. The vacuity of fashionable thought has long since become embarrassing, but those who are well-fed find it easy to ignore intellectual bankruptcy. There would be considerable more hope if the bankruptcy were financial.

That, of course, is what prevents the war from being more than cultural. Apparently we can tolerate the loss of faith and family—and anything else but a loss of personal comfort. During the Napoleonic Wars, the English weakened their own blockade of Europe because it deprived them of their sugar. This lust for sugar may well provide a better symbol of our current condition, because when we think of the prodigal son, we think of him returning to his father. But he didn’t do that until he was flat broke. Had his inheritance been larger, he would have happily continued to be prodigal.

In the West, to one degree or another, we are all prodigals. We all want our sugar, and we will expend almost any kind of capital—financial, cultural, spiritual—to get it. Our cultural and spiritual inheritance is nearly used up. Very likely heels will dig in, and feet turn toward home, only after our financial inheritance is gone as well.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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