By Charlie Johnston
Things are speeding up yet again. The runaway train our culture, politics and formal religion has become shows no sign of applying the brakes in time to avoid a crash. If it is now unlikely that anyone driving this dysfunctional train can get things back under stable control, panic can cause those not already caught in its wake to tumble.
I have written extensively about the importance of being deliberate in these increasingly difficult times. Most everyone has now chosen who they will serve, a world gone mad or the Lord, our God. Even so, those who have chosen Christ are not out of danger. The devil now seeks to inflame our emotions into disordered parodies of prudence. Fear, anger and vanity are the toxic emotions the satan hopes to use to infect and inflame the pious to destruction. Guard your heart.
Late last week, the leader of an order of nuns forwarded me an intemperate blast from Vassula Ryden. It has Jesus making violent threats against those who criticize any Pope for any reason. Ms. Ryden banishes all such critics from her organization – because Jesus “told her.” I have been largely indifferent to Ms. Ryden, picking up some good things among her writings, but am occasionally disturbed by some of her statements. She has a penchant, at difficult times, for pretending that Jesus has told her that anyone who does not believe and obey her will be cast into the burning pit. That is not from God. By Vassula’s latest doctrine, St. Paul would be cast into outer darkness for rebuking St. Peter – an obvious absurdity.
The only authority I fully submit to is Christ, and the only organization I recognize as commissioned to speak authoritatively for Him is the Church. Even there, I follow officials only in their lawful authority (though within those confines my obedience is absolute). We have a duty of obedience to Christ through Scripture and the Magisterium. We also have a duty of obedience to lawful authority. Now, as in many of the great historical conflicts within the Church, some of our foundational duties seem to be in conflict.
I am a Catholic evangelist, but not an Apostle. An evangelist proclaims the kingdom and offers counsel on how to navigate the obstructions that arise in the course of our pilgrim journey to God. An Apostle does these things AND is imbued by Christ with governing authority over the Church He founded. Even so, we are never allowed to abdicate our own moral agency. We each will be held accountable for the decisions we make. When foundational duties come in conflict, that is when our moral agency comes most to the fore. The decisions we make are important, but how we make those decisions becomes even more important. That is why the piece I wrote, “My Hierarchy of First Things,” is foundationally important in these times. It does not tell you what to think, but instead offers counsel on how to discern as a mature person what the next right step should be. I recommend you print it out and keep it handy. You are going to need it.
Over the last few years I have gotten strident pieces from various sources claiming that Pope Francis is the “false prophet” and citing various private revelations to prove it. These things all demand that I must submit to them or be damned. In the last week, I have received two pieces (including Vassula’s) offering “prophetic” certainty that I must follow Pope Francis in everything he does and says, regardless of whether it is within his legitimate authority or directly contradicts Scripture and the Magisterium or be damned. Whatever you decide, there are some who will furiously denounce you and pronounce you to be damned if you do not adopt their position. In the end, it is best to be judged for what you honestly believe – and take care that the principles you adopt for making such decisions are prudent, humble and exercised with fortitude. Be neither stiff-necked nor a reed shaken by the wind. St. Paul exhorts the faithful not to be shaken or unsettled by alarmists with their hair on fire pretending to authority they do not have. (2 Thessalonians 2)
You might think, thus, that when someone does something notably intemperate or errant you can then safely ignore them in all things. Frankly, I sometimes wonder (with amazement) whether most people have ever even read the Bible. Did Abraham, Solomon, Jonah, Moses, or David lead blameless lives? It is hard to find any major Biblical figure who did live a blameless life. The prophet Jeremiah (somewhat like Vassula) was given to making furious and violently intemperate denunciations of those around him. Have you ever done a timeline on the prophecies of the various Old Testament prophets? If you did, you would find that many (maybe even most) of their prophecies were off by five to several hundred years. Jonah was mad because God spared Nineveh, thus embarrassing him. For a time, Jonah would have preferred that hundreds, maybe even thousands, had died rather than that he be embarrassed. It was a pathetically dishonorable display. Yet it did not make him inauthentic. The fact is that God writes straight with crooked lines – and we are the crooked lines He writes with. Finding the flaws in the messenger does not invalidate the message. If you want to judge righteous judgment, you must look to whether a message confirms Scripture and the Magisterium or whether it contradicts it. It is through mud, blood and strife that authentic doctrinal development emerges.
It does not much disturb me when I see an otherwise honorable messenger stumble or fall. Most of the greatest Biblical figures sometimes went off the rails, came back, went off again and so on and so forth. Why should I be surprised when modern day figures do the same? And yet this does not excuse us of our duty to judge righteous judgment and do our best to take the next right step, even knowing that sometimes they will be wrong. All we can do is banish the sort of vanity that prevents us, when we see we have been wrong, of admitting it and hastening to find what is right.
There is a similar dynamic at work in temporal affairs. Being right is not sufficient to establish righteousness. There are three other factors that quickly come to mind in establishing right justice.
The first is process. No matter how right you are, if you promote it in a manner that drips with contempt for others, all you will do is trigger resentment and resistance, thus making it less likely that what is right will actually be done. If you are in a position of coercive power and force your will to be done, condemning and punishing any dissent, all you will accomplish is lay the seeds for revolt and widespread strife.
The second consideration is precedent. Even if you do what is right by corrupt means, you make corrupt means acceptable. However right your ends may be, you have empowered others to use corrupt means to accomplish their ends – including those whose ends are corrupt. If you use raw power to accomplish righteous ends, you have given others with unrighteous ambitions license to overturn you when they have sufficient power. If you do not consider precedent when you act, you guarantee that, ultimately, everything will degenerate into a raw contest for power, justice be damned.
The third major consideration is incentives. All actions have consequences, changing the playing field. Dull-witted sophists and bureaucrats always imagine the ever-dynamic system of human behavior to be static, which is why their plans always fail. On taxes, for example, they imagine that if they raise them enormously on some group, that group will just knuckle under and keep doing what they have always done. In reality, people react in a way to protect their interests, so if certain productive activity they engage in is suddenly made unprofitable, they hide the activity, slow it down, or cease it altogether. Never forget the iron law of economics and human behavior: what you reward you get more of and what you punish you get less of. Make policy with that firmly in mind and you will avoid a whole host of obvious errors.
Right now, the principles which sustain stability in society are almost entirely broken – and we live in a near-lawless state, both in America and the world.
I was startled by the verdict in the David Daleiden vs Planned Parenthood trial last week. I knew it was a San Francisco judge and a San Francisco jury. I knew that the judge had ordered much of the verdict. But I sat through some of the arguments and read much of the daily transcripts. Daleiden and company’s lawyers did not just narrowly prevail over those of Planned Parenthood: Daleiden’s team wiped the floor with them. On points, the Daleiden team led a complete blowout. But the judge and the jury ruled completely contrary to all facts and evidence.
I was startled by the conviction of Roger Stone last week. I have never been a big fan of Stone, but the reality is he was convicted of pretending to know more than he did. The fact is that he was actually convicted of practicing politics while supporting Donald Trump, the same thing that got Gen. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and several others in trouble – while people such as John Brennan, James Clapper, Andrew McCabe and a host of other leftists who admitted to lying to Congress and other very serious crimes get lucrative TV gigs for the Deep State Media.
This impeachment absurdity, which has just been a forum for the hurt feelings of bureaucrats who are angry that the president conducts foreign policy as he chooses rather than as they want, should not be taken seriously by any serious person. That it is shows that, A) we have weaponized impeachment as just another partisan tool and B) we are not a serious country anymore.
As we reach a point where a large segment of the population no longer cares how we accomplish anything, but only that they win, the bonds that hold us together as a people are in tatters. The western world is no longer functionally Christian, but functionally pagan. There are many things for which the possibility of compromise no longer exist. One side must prevail and the other must be defeated. The battle lines are drawn. Those of us who have chosen the Lord must be careful that we do not become imitators of the methods of those who have laid waste to a once-great culture, while simultaneously standing our ground with fortitude and resolve. Going forward, how to live that will be the main topic of this website.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, once the battle lines became clear, the hobbits had to leave the Shire to face innumerable perils. Along the way, they made mistakes and were often wounded. They encountered surprising betrayals and surprising allies. But they stayed the course. So must we.
We have left the shire and shall not find peace again until a great crisis has been reached and passed. Let us reason together, knowing that we, too, will sometimes be surprised and will sometimes err. The best way forward is what I have urged from the beginning: Acknowledge God, Take the Next Right Step, and Be a Sign of Hope to Those Around you.