My friends know I'm a die-hard fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals, and something of a baseball historian, by hobby. I'm pleased to see the nouveau stadia of the last twenty years, with their funny angles and quirky walls. I like the grass fields too, aesthetically. There really wasn't much to boast about in the cookie-cutter stadia built in the early 1970's, such as Three Rivers (Pittsburgh), Riverfront (Cincinnati), and the truly awful Vet (Philadelphia). They were all outfitted with astroturf, too, leading to such anomalous injuries as turf-burn and turf-toe, and weird turf-hits, like a hot one-hopper scooting past the second baseman and splitting the outfielders for a ground ball triple. Bill James, the eloquent baseball statistician, hated astroturf too. The stuff, that is. But he did not hate the game that it produced. If you watch a tape of games played in that era — the 1982 World Series, for instance, won by the Cardinals over the then-American League Brewers, four games to three — you'll see all kinds of distinguishing features. The infielders played deeper; they had to. (Frank White of the Royals was the first second baseman to figure this out, and played well back into what we'd call right field.) There were more players who got their hits by chopping down at the ball. (Whitey Herzog, manager of the Cardinals, "taught" Ozzie Smith to do that, giving him a buck every time he hit a grounder, and taking a buck from him every time he hit it in the air.) The players, too, were much leaner. George Hendrick, cleanup hitter for the Cardinals, could not have weighed more than 185 pounds, tops. Baseball was played by a few beefy guys, outfielders like Greg Luzinski, and a few fat pitchers, like Gaylord Perry and Mickey Lolich, and a horde of skinny guys who could run fast. That meant, James said, that the game featured all kinds of offensive and defensive skills — and indeed the Cardinals and the Brewers were wholly different sorts of teams, the Brewers with power hitters at almost every position, and the Cardinals with a speedy outfield and a perfectly impervious infield (Smith at shortstop and Keith Hernandez at first can plausibly lay claim to being the greatest ever to field their positions).
I think about that sometimes when I confront the immorality or amorality of the sexual revolution. Quite aside from the question of whether fornication, readily available pornography, no-fault divorce, contraception, and abortion are morally licit — I'm a Catholic, and believe that all of them are evils — we should ask, "What kind of society has the sexual revolution produced?" For surely we have no right to solipsism. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. It does not compel us to submit to living in a sewer. We do have the right to ask, of every single one of our sexual customs, "To what does this conduce?"
It's strange, but when I engage in some on-line confrontation about the morality of this or that sexual proclivity, and I challenge the interlocutor to defend the sexual revolution based upon the goodness or the nobility of the society it has led to, that challenge is never taken up. It's as if the question is not even supposed to be asked. But I do ask it. For example: today we were visited by a very nice man, a little older than I am, and his young son, who used to live in our house, and who had to sell it in short order at a severe loss, as part of divorce proceedings. Our house is a three-story Victorian that has been a work in progress, I guess, for decades. So we took them on a tour, showing them what we'd done, and he told us about what he'd done, while reminiscing about what they used to do in the attic (now an enormous library with a 13-foot high peak), how he taught his son there how to throw a baseball, how they used to play ping-pong in the basement, how they had a pool table in what is now our music room. I had heard, back when we bought the house from a quick-change developer in 1996, that when this man had signed the papers over the year before, he wept; he had invested so much of himself and his love for the children in that house. But his wife was in the process of running off with her boss, and apparently she took him for all he was worth. He is still bitter.
Then I look at the apartment house across the street, which for all the years we've been here has seen a steady stream of renters. I believe there have been no more than four or five intact families there in that time. The others have been addled by this or that result of the moral free-for-all. So we have had plenty of "domestic" troubles over there, between unmarried adults, and uncared-for children (I think of the two-year-old boy whom his inattentive mother would let wander about a busy street), and filthy language, and drugs, and cops showing up in the parking lot three or four times a year, every year. One boy in particular I remember, a kid who wasn't too bright, but who had a pleasant personality. His mother and father, unmarried, would station themselves in their van in the parking lot late on a summer night and play gangsta rap at 100 decibels or more, so that I'd have to trudge out there at 3 AM and bang on the door. This young fellow should have grown up well enough, and probably would have, in a sane world. But he ended up turning to crime, and landed in the state penitentiary. The last time I saw him, he was out, and said that he had become a Christian while behind bars. If that's true, it would be the best thing that ever happened to him in this life — quite aside from consideration of the next.
Or I think of my next-door neighbor, a Greek man with a wife and four kids, two boys, two girls. The youngest, a boy, was not his own. His wife had taken to drugs and had run off with some man or other. Yet he took her back when she promised she would lay off the drugs, and he promised to raise the son as his own. That lasted for a while. The oldest, a girl, had the great good fortune of falling in with a charismatic Catholic group in Providence, led by an exceptionally holy priest (whose brother, a fellow priest, taught Renaissance literature in my department). The group met in the basement of a church, where there were also outreach programs for the sick and the poor (my family doctor, until his recent retirement, was the chief there). That group saved her from the filth and the confusion around her, both on the streets and in the local school. She is now, I am happy to say, happily married, and devoutly Catholic. But things have not turned out so well for the rest of the family. The wife turned back to drugs, decided that marriage cramped her style, and ran off with another man, taking along the younger boy. This time the husband refused to take her back, and divorced her. Then he in turn took up with a cynical lady lawyer, who made no bones about wanting nothing to do with the children; she was a regular rusty nail of a woman. Sex was more important to him than the happiness of his children, so he married her, and that made the older daughter leave home as soon as she could. They've been gone from the neighborhood for some years now.
Then I go to a little local diner, and the television is on. Usually that's not a problem, because we go there for breakfast after Mass on Sunday, and then what's playing is football. Since you can't hear the sleazy commercials in the hubbub, what's left is just the noise of the game and the commentary, which is unobjectionable. But last time we were there, it was Monday, and we were battered with the cackling of women on something called Talk Time, clearly a riff on the abominable View, and they were laughing and nattering on about sex, and what men want, and doing it in the bathroom, and suchlike. They didn't know how stupid and shallow and sleazy they sounded. A far cry from Annie Laurie, that.
I'll be visiting the state penitentiary in Massachusetts this spring, to meet a few dozen lay Dominicans, contemplatives now, serving life sentences. They spend much of their time reading and discussing Thomas Aquinas, and that, naturally, has led them to Dante. I am eager to meet these holy men, and to learn a little bit of what they have learned. I wonder, though, into how many of their criminal actions the sexual revolution had woven its venomous tentacles.
So, defenders of the sexual revolution — come with me to the prison in Norfolk, and let us ask the men about their lives. Maybe then you will admit that there is no "right" to help to destroy sexual virtues that are the basis of a decent and coherent community.