Last week, Congressman Barney Frank, long a member of the House Banking Committee and a common source of discussion on the radio up here in New England, made an extraordinary admission. He said that some years ago when members of the Bush administration were suggesting that the federal lending agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were financially unsound, he was "blinkered by ideology" from seeing the truth. Specifically, he said that he believed that the officials were motivated by racial discrimination. He did not, however, draw any further conclusion from this remarkable suspicion of his. To be precise, he did not ask whether this suspicion, if common among his fellows in the House, would not have sufficed to shut down discussion of the sub-prime mortgage market, for people in the public eye would prefer to contract typhoid fever than to be accused of racism.
This causes me to ask how many political discussions we simply cannot have, because the fear of being accused of political evil stifles them before they begin. Examples abound. Can someone name a single public institution designed to help boys develop their identities as young men, so as to become responsible heads of households and pillars of their communities? I can't either. I can think of a private institution, the Boy Scouts, under constant pressure to do what Americans within living memory would have condemned as not only perverse but absurd, and that is to saddle the boys with scoutmasters, their role models, who have failed to grow into their bodily and spiritual manhood — men at odds with their own bodies, almost invariably because of cruelty and neglect they suffered when they were boys, from the most important males in their lives. But we cannot talk about boys, because that would call into question everything that we have accepted about sex, and feminism, and single motherhood, and masculine violence. Recently some six or seven boys, members of a gang, were arrested for their cruel attack upon another boy, one who had tried to join their gang, because they believed he was homosexual. And the whole incident was conveniently stowed away under the pigeonhole marked "homophobia," foreclosing the obvious discussion that should have ensued. After all, if the victim, a fourteen year old boy, really did feel ambiguous sexual attraction to other boys, that was, ironically and sadly enough, a result of the same neglect that caused his persecutors to form the gang in the first place. In other words, we have a bloody crime wherein all the characters are motivated by the same desperate boyish need for affirmation and approval from other males. But we cannot talk about that.
I know that it is the silly season in America, but even at that the shallowness of political discourse is depressing. Not only that, though, but the hatred — hatred that makes genuine debate impossible — surely should give the lie to the first tenet of the secularist creed, that only if we keep our religion behind closed doors will we be able to live in peace with one another. The reverse is much closer to the truth: that is, if the miner and the mine owner, the professor and the janitor, the thief behind bars and the lawyer who should join him there, the proud man and the vain woman, the old man and the child, the ignorant teenager and his arrogant teacher, are to be united by anything, it can only be by something like a common faith. It is instructive to check out the vicious comments that members of the electorate toss at one another at the tag-end of the usually simplistic political news report. Meanwhile, expressions of our common life, expressions of simple decency, fall by the wayside. A simple question: how often in the course of a year will a young boy or girl see someone displaying a part of the body that should not be displayed? Rather more often than they will see, I don't know, someone blessing himself before his meal at a restaurant?
Secularism is an aggressive form of enforced social dissolution. Religious expression, or even moral disapproval, is to be shut away in the closet, so that various forms of antisocial behavior can come out — divorce, to lead the way. Meanwhile, the secularists themselves have nothing to celebrate, once the opponents are swept aside. They then proceed to prey upon one another. Perhaps if Democrats and Republicans were found rather more often at worship together, they would not be so quick to see evil where the usual infirmity of human folly suffices to explain our troubles; and they might be quicker to acknowledge principles of good and evil that we must heed in our laws, regardless of our (always beneficent, don't you know) intentions. I write this as a faithful Catholic whose choices in any election are that of voting for someone who affirms the fundamental right of human beings to live, and staying home.