The End of the World as We Know it. I Feel Fine. Update

My First Things column today will offend some, I know, but I hope it’s a net-uplift for many, that it helps others feel as relieved as I do that last week’s election was a clarifying move against what has become a stagnated impotency. It is not the move I would like, but those who think we just voted for the “status quo” have it all wrong. Quite the opposite, America is about to transition away from what she has been:

As the president might say, “make no mistake”: We do not come back from this election, and by “we” I mean America as we have known it; not with the present culture.

At National Review Online, Charles C. W. Cooke writes eloquently of this truth, but where he feels despair, I feel set free. This election has shattered, finally the illusion that if “good conservatives just keep fighting,” somehow “another Reagan” was going to come along and restore the “shining city on a hill”. For too long I have watched friends remain enthralled to the notion that a single man or woman equipped with rhetorical skills, a bit of spine, and right-thinking would be able to resurrect what is remembered by some modern conservatives as a golden age.

It’s not coming back because half the country didn’t want it, or didn’t even recognize what it had and therefore won’t miss it, and because for young adults and the generations coming up the backbone of conservative theory—rugged individualism, privacy, minimal government—is a complete non-sequitur; it does not compute. Their parents hovered and arranged play-dates and videotaped their every move; they went through public schools working on group projects rather than writing individual reports; they are less acquainted with an omniscient God than previous generations, and comfortable instead with the omnipresent camera and interfaces—the strange god of All Media, Interactive.

Quite unlike their parents, in other words, this is a generation less interested in their personal consciences; one tailor-made for living under authority, and with built-in limits to their liberties.

I hope you’ll stick with it and read the whole thing and maybe even pray about it. I’ve been praying for it for a long time, and it seems to me we’re about to enter a season of penance that, like the old Israelites, we have partly earned through pride and idolatry, and partly comes to us because the princes of the world continue to do what they always do.

I know some say “America cannot end.” But that is the first illusion we must put away, because it is all about pride — all about idolatry. It says America is eternal, when nothing is but God. Some say “we just need the right message,” but who had the right-er message than Christ, and the crowd still called for Barabbas. Who was more blessed than the apostles and saints, but they still were set upon and slain. Who was given a greater commission than Moses? And what kept him from entering the Promised Land?

God’s blessing, if it is truly upon America, does not mean she survives forever, the Dudley Do-right of Nations. In fact, if she is truly blessed, it means she gets to suffer for the sake of clarity — to spend some time in the crucible, in order to be refined.

Perhaps part of that refinement means we must rid ourselves of the impurities of our own fascinations with all that is false, or fantastic or merely distracting. I have mostly divested myself of television and pop culture, which keeps all of us both attuned to and somewhat vulnerable to the movement of conventional wisdom (read: sentimentalism) that runs the mob.

Now, with this election over, and the writing on the wall, I believe it is time to divest myself of my too-enthralled-attention to politics, which just a glance at Drudge will tell you is all-illusions, and has been for a very long time. I’m done giving attention and credence to the princes of the air, and the daily theater. I’m setting my attention and my eyes where they must go to prepare for what is coming; what I am feeling called to at this point has nothing at all to do with politics and everything to do with helping to prepare and mature our spirits for what lies ahead.

Read the First Letter of Peter — the baptismal letter: “There is cause for rejoicing here.  You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ appears.”  (1 Peter. 1:6-7)

People of faith, take a good hard look at the new landscape and do not be afraid; do NOT be afraid.

Changes are going to come, and they’re going to come quickly, so now is the time to work on strengthening the atrophied muscles of our spiritual lives — to make them stronger and healthier through the exercises of prayer, fasting, lectio and service and by divesting ourselves of the world and all of its things, its glamor its empty promises. Good heavens, look at that election in Massachusetts and see the emptiness, the aching void that the masses have unwittingly invited in to lead them.

We must be ready to help them; the remnant must be ready when the people who have invited the void into their lives become (as Pope Benedict prophesied back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) “unspeakably lonely.” And they will. “If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”

I reject that idea that this is a time to rend garments and howl about our loss. I want to Cher-smack the world and say “snap out of it!”

Yes, it’s going to be very hard. But remember the words, “there is cause for rejoicing here.”

I am excited. I am energized. I’m taking God at his word, which he invites us to do, over and over again. Do not be afraid. Do not.

UPDATED:
The country, today pretty much affirms my column. This does not fill me with joy. Just saying.

Rod Dreher
caught that whiff of idolatry too.

“End of the World photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.catholicmaniacs.com Tim Johnson

    Elizabeth, you have echoed much of my thoughts since the election. I have been pondering the pulling back from politics and the obsessing on the secular. While we are still called to be the light to the world, I am at the point where I fear it is time to entrench as we prepare to be that remnant. Political fortunes change all the time. At some point Republicans will be in power again, but I doubt they will be the conservatives I have known in the past. Society is changing and we are about to see permanent changes in the way our government interacts with us. I think things will get far worse socially and economically before things get better. I don’t know that I am at the point I can rejoice yet, but I know my faith and my ministry to God’s people (I am a deacon) has become that much more important to me.

  • Ted Seeber

    Catholicism has the answer to that- has had the answer to that for 1600 years or more.

    The answer to a lack of individual imitative is community.

    The answer to a lack of individual salvation is corporate salvation.

    And if we won’t do it, the socialists WILL. If we don’t expand our brand and fill our market with serving the poor, then big government and big business will fill the same market and exploit the poor.

    There is no real difference between pro-life and social justice, they are one and the same thing: Charity- Caritas- Love. That greatest of all human virtues is the answer, the solution.

  • Adam

    I like the image of the Israelites and Moses. I’d also recommend reflecting on the Jews who went through the Babylonian Exile with a healthy reread of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the later parts of Isaiah. Some scholars would say that that the Israelites were Judaism in its infancy, fresh out of Egypt and needing instruction and growth before reaching the promised land. The Jews of the Exile were like teenagers: rebellious, foolish, and forgetful of where they came from. After the successes of David and Solomon, they got lazy and turned to idolatry, paganism, and sin. God decided that the Israelites needed a good chastisement and stripped kingdom of everything it cared about: the Temple was destroyed and the Davidic kingship was terminated.

    If pressed for time, I’d recommend giving Ezekiel 16 a good read for a metaphorical summary of how the Israelites forgot their God. (http://www.usccb.org/bible/ezekiel/16) I see too many elements of pre-Exilic Israelite behavior in modern American society, and I shudder to think of where it will take us.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Anybody getting ready to purify themselves spiritually, and get ready for coming tribulation, should, first, google the video of the black Christian being crucified in Egypt. Watch it—if you can stomach it.

    Christ Himself taught us to pray, “Save us from the time of trial!” There may be much to rejoice at here, but there is also much to grieve over. Again, Christ Himself wept over Jerusalem.

    Somewhat off-topic, though not entirely—I do think we all need to be aware, and on guard for, what the Gospels describe as demoniac behavior: fits of rage, blaspheming, obscenity, physical attacks, “Worship of the Golden Calf” style behavior. Remember the recent cases of (God help us!) cannibalism, linked to “Bath salts” drugs? We may see a lot more of this kind of thing, in the weeks to come.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Ted, what exactly is “Social Justice”, and how does it differ from justice in general? Being Pro-life is, I think, essential to any sort of justice, or respect for human life in general. I think the term “Social justice” is misleading, and overused.

  • Peggy m

    Thank you for being here. This week I am less angry at my compatriots and more indifferent—they seem to be aliens with whom i have little in common (I keep thinking “pod people”). I thought I saw this coming and in many ways I had pulled back from the culture, but this is a clear wake-up call to get on the stick, now, seriously.

    I would appreciate learning what others plan to do. I want to be a Benedictine oblate, and have been praying the divine office for about a year—but I have not been doing it well or attentively. Now I do. I will pray the rosary more often. My approach to Christmas will be different. I refuse to participate in the obscene secular Santa version. Any gifts I give will be from abbeys.

    I am a painter and have been trying to produce art that reflects the glory and beauty of God. Some are obviously religious (icons), but I am trying to figure out how to impart these truths through still lifes and landscapes. I will view this as my vocation, and paint like my soul depends on it. I don’t know if I can make any in-roads into the ambient culture, but I will do what I can.

  • Margarita

    I first went to Europe in 1950. As a Catholic I loved the magnificent churches filled with worshippers. The music was so much better and I was surrounded by incredible art. Despite the ravages of war there was a bond of faith. I am married to an English Catholic so since that time I have spent many years visiting in England and the Continent. I gradually saw the erosion of religion as a rampant materialism arose. Why not! They had suffered terribly in the war. But with it came the increasing reliance on the state and a decreasing adhesion to faith in all religions. There came also a contempt for devout worshippers and almost a feeling that they should be marginalized and realize these outmoded beliefs had no place in this modern era. I never thought it would happen in my own country but it has and I regret that this president (a man of seemingly no faith of any sort) would actually push the tide forward. One should read Eamon Duffy’s books on the Reformation to realize how quickly faith can be abandoned and all of us are sadly aware of family members and friends who have done just that. I often pray for Cardinal Dolan as he tries to lead his tattered flock forward knowing full well that religion in this country is increasingly marginalized. I often wonder how Catholic politicians can live with themselves knowing full well they have put personal ambition above the tenets of what they claim is their faith.

  • Adam

    Peggy–may I recommend reading Michael O’Brien’s “A Cry of Stone”? The main character is a Catholic painter trying to find her way in the secular art world. The story goes deeper and wider than that issue, but if you like fiction, you may find it inspiring.

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  • Suzanne

    Let’s not forget: While persecution makes saints, it also makes traitors and apostates of our weaker brothers. This is nothing to celebrate. Really. God works all things to the good, and He chastens whom He loves, but honestly, this election shouldn’t be celebrated as an “I told you so” ya dang GOP worshippers! Really. This battle is going to, more than anything, break our hearts. We’re not going to suffer so much at the hands of the gov’t for whom we haven’t much love, but we will suffer much at the loss of souls we see around us — people we thought were solid rocks will crumble. I may very well crumble. I know my weakness. I’ll fight against it, but I fear I’ve never been very good at suffering. Humility requires us to tremble — at least a little. God is strong and will carry those who call upon Him, but…hang on tight, it’s gonna be one hell of a ride.

    [You're completely right - it's going to be very hard. But I am so relieved that we're finally moving past the illusion that everything is reversible if the political stratagems are just right. I know how hard it's going to be. It's going to be awful. Please don't translate relief as dancing -admin]

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Suzanne, yes, I worry about the treachery and apostasy, too. Not everyone’s cut out to be a martyr.

    And I don’t know any Republicans who could be accused of worshipping the GOP. Their attitude ranged from, “I wish Republicans wouldn’t be so dumb all the time!” to, “Well, they’re okay; at least they’re not as crazy as the Democrats!” This is really not an idolatrous attitude.

    [I guess you don't get all the "where is our Reagan?" wailing I am subject to. Someone wrote me today that Limbaugh was all over Reagan again today. Like he's the final word in human development. -admin]

  • Maggie Goff

    I don’t hear or see any celebration going on.

    [I've been dancing at my desk all day! :-) -admin]

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  • Maggie Goff

    Margarita, is there one particular book of Eamon Duffy’s that you would recommend as a starting point? He is quite prolific, as I’m sure you already know. :)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Elizabeth, I don’t listen to Limbaugh all that much, so I’m not aware of what he’s saying, or not saying; I have no way of knowing what “Someone” told you about him is accurate or not.)

    I’m sorry you’re getting all the “Where is our Reagan?” flak, but I’m just not hearing that from the Republican/Conservatives around me. Some of them have expressed a wish for another Reagan. Some of them have expressed a wish for more conservative candidates in general. Some of them have expressed a wish for the Bush era, or even for Bill Clinton—when they couldn’t stand either one of these guys, the first time around!

    And I’m certainly not hearing “America is perfect! My country, right or wrong!” from conservatives. Too many of them, like too many progressives, seem all too eager to give up on it, because it doesn’t live up to their ideals.

    I just don’t see this time as being one to celebrate.

    [Well, it's astonishing to me that you don't seen/hear the stuff I hear. We must have very different twitter feeds! :-) That said, where have I said anything about celebrating? I'm glad the blinders are coming off; I'm glad we have some serious sense of where things are headed. I'm not tooting a horn and celebrating. But I am relieved. Don't read a party into that, and you might feel better about it. Rod Dreher, btw, got the whiff of idolatry, too admin]

  • Margarita

    Maggie the classic is The Stripping of the Altars about the Reformation but itis a long read if sobering. I found Faith of Our Fathers to be the better book for people who are not historians. He talks a lot about the challenges facing Catholics in what he calls a post-modern world. He is a practicing Catholic and someone who went through the same adjustments many of us did after the changes in the liturgy.
    My daughter was at an academic conference where he was attacked as “too Catholic” to be taken seriously as an English historian. Needless to say his response was calm and logical and the questioner was left sputtering to himself. Curiously the conference was in Dublin another place I spent a lot of time in the 50′s and now a country where massgoers are dwindling.

  • Suzanne

    Okay, gotchya, Elizabeth. I guess I’ve seen what seem to becoming platitudes go up everywhere on FB, my own included, and all of a sudden I was crashed with thoughts of the reality. Guess that colored my reading here. But, yes, I do agree gov’t ain’t gonna save. It would have been nice to have something put the brakes on it all, though, even just a little bit.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I don’t have twitter feed; I don’t have a twitter account at all. I just talk to the people around me. :)

    (I kinow, I know—I don’t do twitter, I don’t listen to Limbaugh, or most radio talk show hosts on a regular basis; I can barely use a cell phone! I’m completely out of touch! I like Dennis Prager, which should count for something.)

    I’m sorry you’re getting flak from conservatives, but I think you’re letting some of the angry Emails/twitters skew your judgement a bit about actual people.

    I am picking up on idolatory in this society—though most of it isn’t coming from the Republican/conservative side. (All the Republicans I know are smacking their foreheads—figuratively, or literally—and saying, “Why are Republicans so stupd?”)

    (Dreher’s a nice guy, but a too crunchy for my tastes!)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Also, Dreher should have stuck up for Pussy Riot, the Ukranian Feminist rock band, jailed by the Russians, allegedly for blasphemy. (I think two of them have been sent to prison camps.)

  • Fiestamom

    While I agree with your take, Dreher’s is off putting. He seems to gloat Almost over Rush Limbsugh’s mistakes, and some who agree with Rush. Last week before the election, Dreher wrote from France (shocking), and pooh poohed those of us who are afraid of the socialism that is now descending into totalitarianism.

    I said the day after the election I was going to stop,reading Drudge,Hot Air, Insty, etc. I need to focus on preparing my family for the coming trials. But I just don’t like being tut tutted by the likes of Rod Dreher. Can I just mourn my country a little bit?

  • Mary

    The last paragraph of your First Things column was magnificent and inspiring. Thank you.

  • Elaine S.

    “we will suffer much at the loss of souls we see around us — people we thought were solid rocks will crumble. I may very well crumble. I know my weakness. I’ll fight against it, but I fear I’ve never been very good at suffering.”

    That more than anything else is what hurts me to contemplate — the future generations about to be lost to the faith, and the thought of my own autistic daughter being left alone in the world after my husband and I are gone. If only I could have convinced my husband to be more open to life, or to have stayed with the Church, after she was born, she might at least have had a brother or sister to look out for her; but I failed miserably at that. If there is anything at all good about a “smaller” and “more pure” church, I don’t see it; all I see is more souls being lost and nowhere for people like me to find refuge or support.

    I too had to give up reading the political blogs, including the Catholic political blogs, after election night as well because it was starting to drive me barking mad to the point where I could barely function. So I spend more time praying, trying not to worry about the things I cannot change, and being more kind to my family and those around me.

  • Peggy m

    If you did not listen to Rush Limbaugh today, you missed his observation that there are “too many generals taking orders from their privates”.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Call me idiotic, actually call me Quixotic, but I can’t give up. As long as I have a voice and a brain and a means to speak out, I will fight the good fight. There are cycles in culture, and the wheel will turn once again. It may not be in my lifetime, but if our truths are eternal they will come back. They won’t come back if no one speaks about them – no not just speaks, but preaches about them – and of course exemplarary lives are required to shine light in the dark.

  • http://reasonfaith.blogspot.com John Kivell

    I just discovered your blog through First Things. I must say you write beautifully. Your turns of phrases remind me of Chesterton, one of my favourite authors.

  • Ann

    Elizabeth, it was such a relief to read this. thank you. sentimentalism is right. Re-reading “Mr. Blue” by Miles Connelly. We’re not there yet, but what an example he is. Let us be fools for Christ.

  • RLM

    This post, and the one at First Things echoes much of what my husband and I were talking about the night of the election when the results came pouring in, albeit much less eloquently than you, Ms. Scalia, have put it. Of course, it has helped that we are just barely 30 years old, both have graduate degrees from Ivy League schools, and have worked in higher ed for a while – all of this means that we were never able to lie to ourselves about the current state of our nation and our culture. If anything, it made us much more pessimistic (realistic?) than many of our Christian friends, because academia tends to lead where the rest of the culture follows years later. We used to comfort ourselves by remembering JPII’s reminders to change the culture, but I think we’re a bit too far gone now to really expect that we will see the renewal of Western culture in our lifetime. All around me, I see people who do not believe in virtue, liberty, or God – at least not liberty or virtue classically understood, or a God who actually demands conformity to His will. Not only that, but they are so jaded that they take Christianity (and Christians) to be either boring and unsophisticated or despicable and extremist.
    So, as we watched not only the presidential elections come in, but also the results of the various state referendums, including in our own state (MN), it seemed like what we had long suspected was being confirmed. Our culture has decisively turned its back on Christian values. This happened before Nov. 6th, of course, and the election was simply evidence of it. As we processed this and talked about it, we decided that, apart from seeking holiness and fidelity to God more single-mindedly than ever, our task would be to provide comfort and strength to other like-minded Christians, because we will be needing it with the trials that are to come.
    God bless you, Ms. Scalia, for your hope and joy. Pray for those of us who cannot yet manage it. For a few years now (our first was born less than a month before Obama was elected the first time), my husband and I have wondered aloud whether we were having children just to raise them to be martyrs. Now I fear it may really be true and I cannot bring myself to feel joy at the thought.

  • http://bethweststudio.wordpress.com Beth West

    I felt through the whole election cycle that this election would show us clearly what model of government our fellow American’s wanted. And it did. But I am also reminded that almost half of all voters did vote for a more conservative, responsible government model. Almost half. I feel it is good that we are shaken up. It’s good to see the lay of the land and to pray and spiritually prepare more. It is not good to give up. Think about what we’re giving up on if we just lay down and take this crap. We’re giving up the right to practice free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to raise our children the way we believe best, freedom from excessive governmental interference in our every decision in our lives. How can we just surrender?


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