Cahiers Péguy


These Fifty Years

At noon, I said good-bye to a weekend visitor and dear friend who is in discernment about becoming a Catholic. We talked upside and down, from Friday evening until this morning, when the friend attended Mass with my wife and me. In the end, I understood that this person's greatest reservation about the Catholic Church is its position on social issues, particularly on homosexuality. “How,” my friend asked, “can I stand with a Church that asks me to condemn homosexuality—especially when I know and love several homosexual people?“

Whatever I said to this person—and I said a number of things including, but the Church does not ask us to condemn anyone—I was left with a core thought: The past fifty years, the half-century since I was ten years old and began entering the age of reason, starting with the decade of the Beatles and Vatican II and the war in Vietnam and the sexual revolution, have seen an avalanche of attitude changes largely related to sexuality and its natural result, pregnancy. As my father said in another context, when I told him I was becoming Catholic, “My mother would roll over in her grave.” Yes, and Grandma Bull’s corpse would make like a weather vane in a hurricane if she got wind of this avalanche. As it decidedly did not in the 1950s, liberal or progressive thought now supports contraception, abortion, and homosexual activity, including same-sex marriage, while demanding a female priesthood. What has happened in the half century since my grandmother’s death?

At the end of a long weekend, I can only conceive of two answers to this question, two fundamental reasons for these changes: Either we are finally enlightened, as our forebears were not and as the liberal mindset holds, or else we are going crazy and quickly. From the perspective of my generation and especially that of my parents, born before the Depression, the landslide has been so sudden and devastating to the old moral landscape, that there can almost be no middle answer. Enlightened or loco, take your pick.

Now, a few hours after my friend’s departure, I am reading this article about Anthony Burgess's dystopian 1962 novel The Wanting Seed and I am forced to ask the question again. (H/T Semper Vita.) In The Wanting Seed Burgess, most famous for A Clockwork Orange, imagined a future overpopulated world in which a Ministry of Infertility actively promotes homosexuality to reduce the number of people in the world.

The article summarizes Burgess’s vision: “It’s a world where straights are discriminated against because there’s nothing more disgusting and destructive than potential fertility, than a ‘full womanly figure’ or a man with ‘paternity lust’; straights are passed over for jobs and promotion in favor of homos, giving rise to a situation where some straights go so far as to pretend they are gay, adopting the ‘public skin of dandified epicene’, as Burgess describes it, in a desperate bid to make it in the world. There’s even a Homosex Institute, which runs night classes that turn people gay, all with the aim of reducing the ‘aura of fertility’ that hangs about society like a rank smell, as one official says. ‘It’s Sapiens to be Homo’ is the slogan of Burgess’s imagined world.”

Pretty crazy stuff, huh? Yes, then, and so are we, as the article notes. An op-ed piece in an American newspaper recently commented:

“‘Given the social hardships of our era, the benefits of homosexual marriage could be immeasurable. Even America, though its population pales in comparison to that of other nations, is considered overpopulated because the amount of energy each of its citizens expends in a lifetime is enormous. Obviously homosexuals cannot, within the confines of a monogamous relationship, conceive offspring.” Therefore, legalizing gay marriage would “indirectly limit population growth.”

This post is not about homosexual love or marriage, anymore than the Catholic Church is. This post is about the landslide and my own cry of bewilderment from a depth of fifty years: What in the blazes just happened?!

I vividly remember my grandfather and father discussing the fate of humankind in our living room during the 1960s. Granddad Bull, approaching his earthly end, was clear that we were going to hell in a handbasket. Dad—still young, hopeful, ambitious, energetic—was all optimism. Me? I’m not a grandfather yet, but I’m of the age.

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About Webster Bull

Webster Bull is a writer and publisher living in Beverly, Massachusetts, north of Boston. His latest book is "Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811-2011," to be published in April 2011. You can follow Webster on Facebook.
Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hi Webster,

    I remember my grandmother looking at a flick with us on TV. I think it was young Frankenstein or some such gem. After a few minutes she turned to us and said, completely serious; “Obviously the world is coming to an end”

    Nice but perplexing article, I mean: you honestly don’t know?? Is it a trick question?

    Let me simplify: In the absence of knowledge and left to our pseudo-zombie instincts the most plausible hypothesis of what leads to happiness is sex. I mean ‘cmon it gives quite a bang. Since it clearly doesn’t make us happy the next pseudo-zombie conclusion is that we just lack quantity and quality of sex. Well few of us get to verify that that really makes you more miserable so the next step is attacking anything that appears to impeded the quantity and quality of sex. And there the (no longer so pseudo) zombies are stuck. They don’t get any happier and they keep nonsensically attacking any hypothesis / knowledge / institution that contradicts the notion that sex makes you happy. That’s all.

  2. I share your bewilderment at the speed of the change and the crazy conflicting situations we live through.

    If you have not seen the film Demographic Winter, I highly recommend it. Many of the best scholars (secular) giving a warning cry about our the too-low birth rates around the world.

    How can this be? As one says, “World population is not growing because we are breeding like rabbits, but because we stopped dying like flies.”.

  3. Thanks for both comments. I will look for the film Demographic Winter! As for Vincent’s question “you honestly don’t know?” Well, no, I don’t. Understand, that is, why now? why at this time, 2000 years after Christ? And will the pendulum swing back or will we just boink our way mindlessly to the apocalypse?! I am reading the new book of interviews with our Pope, “Light of the World,” and what continues to strike me is his hopefulness, his perception that while, yes, the world is off its axis, the Church is strong, Christ is still with us, and there are hopeful signs everywhere. This is really moving to read.

  4. Cmon I gave you the answer and you’re not convinced? Now that’s just plain silly. The world is not off it’s axis. Reality is good. The common mentality lewdness helps affirm my celibacy.

    As far as ‘why now’? Well the flip answer is ‘why now what’? [there is something about your thoughtful manner that inspires the inner smart-ass school boy in me, (promise me: if you ever teach a course in anything please invite me!)] But in truth the question fascinates me. I think we assume too much about what the past was like. Their reality was as vivd as ours now. Their struggle with evil was as strong as ours now. It was simply different. Our grandfathers may have had a uniform morality about certain things we lack now, but we often glibly reduce the obvious evils of their times to certain historical figures or circumstances. It was not just Hitler or the Nazis who generated and executed the evils of the day. My blue collar Dutch grandfather was more than sympathetic. Him and a huge percentage of Dutch nationals.

    More interestingly, and back on topic, is this: did the more common sexual morality of their generation really spring from love of Christ? Or was it just fear of reprisal, social stigma or some such thing? E.g. was it just another skin?

    Finally in the last 2000 years there has been a lot of seeking of joy outside of Christ. It’s nothing new. It’s always changing but one thing is unchanging: no matter the garbage Truth and Beauty will prevail. Isn’t it obvious? What leg does garbage have to stand on?

  5. I thought of writing a separate post about this, but I’m afraid I’m already something of a loose cannon here at CP. . . . So I’ll simply link to it As with the Burgess book, it’s a case of outlandish art (in this case a Monty Python movie) prefiguring our present-day, uh, situation.

  6. TV and possibly the automobile – Think about the ramifications of just these two inventions. Mass indoctrination disguised as entertainment and the break-down of traditional community as everyone left their neighborhoods for …. whatever.

  7. Loose cannon? Perfect! I get a bit weary sometimes of things written by committee, or to conform to the party line…

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