G.K. Chesterton says, “In a world where everything is ridiculous, nothing can be ridiculed. You cannot unmask a mask.”
There are some people who claim they don’t understand what these lines mean. So I will explain.
Our art and entertainment mocks traditional morality to the point that what is normal is portrayed as wrong and what is aberrant is portrayed as perfectly normal and right. Our news reporting twists the truth and leaves out the pertinent facts and degrades religious beliefs simply by adding a few doubtful adjectives. Our schools teach faddish philosophies and disregard the wisdom of the ages. In trying to address all of this with some pointed intelligence to expose the foolishness of this world, believers have been robbed of one of the great weapons of rhetoric: ridicule. You cannot make these things look ridiculous when they are ridiculous already. You cannot parody something that is already a parody of itself. You cannot make a fool look foolish; the effort is lost on him.
The modern world has become unreal. It has become unreal because it rejects the ultimate reality. It rejects God. It offers distractions and diversions instead, all of them leading to a dead end. It fills the airwaves with people who pose, whose commentary is nothing but sneers, and have nothing of any substance to offer. When we lift their masks, there is nothing behind them. You cannot unmask a mask.
So why am I telling you this?
It has to do with the last election. I watched how faithful Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, were enormously frustrated when they attempted to debate the issues most important to them and were simply met with blank stares. It seemed like a worthless effort to point out the empty and fallacious ideas that drive some political engines. There is nothing there but image. And you cannot unmask a mask.
In the meantime, the endless growth of government becomes a greater concern to people of faith. Chesterton pointed out prophetically that laws are being made that not only defy Christian beliefs, but defy common sense: “Recent legislation has ridden roughshod over the instincts of innocent and simple and yet very sensible people.” When religion has been legislated out of our society, the resultant laws will not only not take account of religious principles, but will replace religious principles. As Chesterton says, remove the God and the government becomes the god.
As the role of religion becomes diminished in the public square, it becomes a difficult if not hopeless task to condemn sins as sins. We cannot even discuss moral issues when we do not share a common moral base with the rest of society. And this is the point that too many Christians do not comprehend: we do not live in Christian society.
There are two ways of dealing with this situation.
One way is to do nothing about society, and simply focus on our faith. It is possible to live as a Christian in a non-Christian society. It is possible to live as a Catholic in a non-Catholic society. But it probably means that you will suffer for your faith. It could eventually mean open persecution. In a non-Christian society, any expressions of Christian belief will be subject to restriction. It could lead to the hatred of Christianity becoming institutionalized. Christians will not be seen as merely a nuisance, nagging at the public conscience, but as enemies of the State. It may become against the law to be a Christian. The Church would be forced to move underground. Believers could be hunted, imprisoned, executed. It’s happened before. It’s happening right now in other countries. Persecution sometimes strengthens the Church, as it did in its early history, bathed in the blood of martyrs. It sometimes weakens and nearly obliterates the Church, as it did in Japan in the 17th century, where nearly all traces of Christianity disappeared.
The second way of dealing with the situation is to do something about changing the society. But that cannot be done by sitting around and complaining. And it probably cannot be done merely by voting – which means expecting somebody else to fix our problems. It means getting actively involved to end the stranglehold of secularism in our government, in our schools, and in our arts and entertainment. It means getting ourselves elected to city councils and school boards. It means starting new schools ourselves. It means making new movies, writing new books and getting the truth in front of people’s faces in as many ways as possible.
Both strategies involve sacrifice, being willing to give ourselves totally to God. In a non-Christian, anti-Catholic society, we could indeed suffer enormous persecution but our interior lives would bloom richly. Or we could fight the good fight of trying to transform the society and the world. We must be living sacrifices, as St. Paul urges us to be. It is surprisingly more difficult to be a living sacrifice than a dead one. It means dying everyday.
But in any case, we cannot go on with what Chesterton calls our “one-sided truce” with the modern world. This is nothing but a disadvantage for Christians. We refrain from attacking the modern world, but we allow it to continue to attack us. The best thing to do, says Chesterton, is to admit that we do not live in a Christian society, and then “launch a crusade to convert or conquer the modern world.”