Religion Magazine

Lies, Damned Lies, and a Spirit of Confusion

By Stjohnpa @faith_explorer

Today we see linguistic and moral confusion in almost everything said about the subjects that have us most perplexed: man and woman, marriage and children.Lies, Damned Lies, and a Spirit of Confusion

“He is a liar and the father of lies,” said Jesus of Satan (John 8:44). They who are committed to holiness must be committed to clarity of intention and speech: “Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil” (Matthew 5:37).

The lie is the distinguishing feature of evil, because of its self-devouring commitment to what is not: it is an inner vacuity. Shakespeare’s villain Parolles identifies himself as a “corrupter of words,” and the sardonic Porter in Macbeth remarks wryly upon the liar who equivocates his way down the primrose path to perdition. Orwell’s dystopian regime in1984 rests upon a ground floor of terror and violence, but its bedrock foundation is the lie: witness the hero Winston Smith’s work at the “Ministry of Truth,” sending precious archival materials down the “memory hole,” where they will be lost forever. It is why Dante situates fraud below violence in the Inferno’s decrepit descent into non-being and idiocy; so we find the giant Nimrod, builder of the heaven-aspiring Tower of Babel, sputtering gibberish, and the consummate liar Satan uttering not a single word, but telling the same old lie again and again with every flap of his bat-like wings, “I rise by my own power.”

The result is, literally, confusion—pouring together, a disorderly mélange, a chaos. I believe, in our day, that we see this linguistic and moral confusion in almost everything that is uttered about the subjects that have us most perplexed: man and woman; marriage and children.

Examples abound.  A recent paper in a journal of medical ethics has recommended “after-birth abortion” as a morally sound measure for those parents to take who, once they see their child, determine that they would have killed it in the womb if they had known about its specifics beforehand. I note here that “abortion” itself was already a linguistic dodge, as its early meaning, the morally neutral “miscarriage,” was applied to soften the perception of an intentional killing. Nobody could sensibly say, “I am going to the doctor’s to miscarry,” because the absurdity of the infinitive would be immediately apparent; that is what made the more technical noun handy.

But now our moral pathfinders wish to extend the utility of the initial lie. Of course they must, for the sake of feeling, limit themselves to the vicinity of birth. No one can sensibly say of her two-year-old son, “Johnny is proving altogether too much for me to handle. I’m going to take him down to the doctor’s to have him aborted, poor guy.” So it will have to be near enough to the birth for the pretense to take hold.  It is as if one were to fly to Paris, land on the tarmac, have a look about, and say, “I think after all that we shall abort our flight to Paris,” as if one had not already arrived there. What would then imply a completed trip to Paris? Wine and cheese on the Champs-Elysees? What would imply afils accompli? A highchair and jars of stewed apricots?

We may find the same embrace of confusion in the odd alliance between feminism and the homosexual movement. Each of those terms in itself embodies a confusion or a contradiction. Feminism should mean the promotion of what is peculiar to women as women: what is feminine. But that is precisely what it does not mean, or at least what it does not mean on odd-numbered days. On odd-numbered days, the feminist argues vociferously that there are no important differences between a male homo sapiens and a female homo sapiens. There are all kinds of important differences between a male equus equus and a female equus equus, or between a bull and a cow, or a stag and a doe, or a silverback orangutan and his consort, but when we come to the most complex of all the mammals, whose marks of sexual differentiation are more pronounced than those of horses, cows, deer, apes, dogs, cats, and what have you—well then, presto, they suddenly disappear. On the odd-numbered days, that is; for on the even-numbered days, we learn that women are superior to men. If there are no important differences, then, as far as the common good is concerned, it should not matter much if all of a nation’s congressmen are in fact men, or women, or half and half, or whatever. Then, since the feminist does cheer the advance of (some) female leaders, she must acknowledge the fact of difference; but if men and women are indeed different, we should expect to find talents and dispositions for various things unequally divided among them. Thus does the feminist saw off the limb upon which she is sitting.

A similar contradiction bedevils us when we use the rather recently coined term “homosexual.” Sex implies difference-in-relationship. The sexes are, literally, distinguished and separated one from another. That is what the Latin sexus means: it is related to a host of Indo-European words having to do with separation, division, or distinction: cf. Latin scindere, Greek schism, German verschieden, English shed. But the separation-from, in this unique case, implies a being-for. To be male is to be oriented toward the female; that is what it means to belong to a sex. If we could imagine a group of human beings endowed with an organ not present in others, say a sixth finger, that would not constitute a sex, because there would be nothing intrinsically male or female about it. There is nothing that six-fingered people and five-fingered people need to complete in one another.  (Read the complete article here)

About the AuthorAnthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College. His most recent book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Press).

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