Worthy As Few Are Worthy

     Does anyone here remember the old “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s” rye bread commercials? They had a good point. Similarly, you don’t have to be Catholic to love Anthony Esolen.

     Dr. Esolen’s most recent column is a clarion call. While he reminds us to “expect no help” in our efforts to rescue contemporary life from its low estate, he exhorts Catholics to live and celebrate our faith joyfully, reveling in the fullness it brings to life. That is the faith’s “secret weapon:” sincere Christians are happier than others. Christianity, properly understood, is a religion of joy.

     Dr. Esolen’s Sunday punch:

     The world is now an astonishingly bitter and lonely place. You can see it in people’s eyes when you ride the train. You can see it in the listlessness of college students at even the healthier places. You can see it in the near complete withering of the love song in our time; in the collapse of marriage; in the default method in our schools, which is to belittle the greats and to kill wonder.
     We, by contrast, must be attractive in our health and our good cheer, our bounty of marriages, our children shouting at play.

     Success, be it said yet again, inspires emulation.


     Not long ago, I wrote:

     Contrary to the myths circulated by the Church’s enemies, Christianity is a religion of joy. After all, its Founder came among men to redeem us from our sins, from one end of Time to the other. We don’t practice and promote our faith or the virtues it exalts because they conduce to misery, but to happiness. Hilaire Belloc’s quatrain expresses it nicely:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

     That essay, written for the Lenten season’s Laetare Sunday, was largely about becoming more conscious of our habits of consumption. We have a lot of them, we Americans. They mustn’t be condemned uncritically; after all, eating regularly is essential to health. But to be unconscious of what one is doing is seldom commendable. Remember what our old friend Syme said about unconsciousness.

     And from the peanut gallery comes the cry of “GOTCHA! Porretto has just tripped over his own tongue! Faith demands orthodoxy, and Syme said orthodoxy is unconsciousness!” I’m afraid you’ve misconstrued me, friend. Faith is belief: the acceptance of an unprovable proposition as true. It’s human authoritarians who demand orthodoxy…and orthopraxis. There are such authoritarians attached to every creed, but it’s you, the critical mind, who decide whether or not to believe, to what extent, and to what effect. You can disarm the authoritarians of any faith simply by saying “Thanks, but I’ll pass.” A faith that doesn’t allow you that option is really a totalitarian political creed in religious guise. Why else would I condemn Islam as unfit for human consumption?

     The only faith worth having is that of the conscious mind: alert, unintimidated, informed rather than indoctrinated, and fully aware of its premises, its choices, and their consequences. One of the problems with the religious education of the very young is that children’s minds are far too susceptible to indoctrination. Remember the power of a child’s need to please those in authority over him.

     Which brings us to the next facet in this gem.


     It sometimes seems as if all our relationships are authority relationships. At any rate, a whole lot of people claim some sort of power to tell us what to do. Wives boss husbands around. Parents routinely order their kids around. Employers and their designated representatives order employees around. Police casually order civilians around. Home owners associations…no, let’s not go there; I’m not feeling that brave. At any rate, these are not normally pleasant relations, though We The Ordered-Around allow them for reasons of our own.

     There’s a quid pro quo, albeit it normally goes unstated, associated with all such relationships and orders. Do this and you’ll get that. Thus, except for cases associated with the threat of physical force, such relationships are essentially voluntary. Compliance with the orders involved is a matter of choice, though one might not bear that in mind at all times.

     Not long ago, I had occasion to defy an order. A supervisor – a middle manager of some repute who’d been in his position for a long time – ordered me to work sixty hours per week until a particular problem had been solved. I refused. It brough light to the voluntary nature of our relationship: he knew I wasn’t dependent on the employment he provided, and I made him aware that I knew it as well. We settled his dissatisfactions – which, ironically, I had no part in bringing about – without rancor.

     Sincere faith must be entirely voluntary. The fire-and-brimstone preacher of legend is far less successful at garnering sincere converts than is he who emphasizes the glorious beauty of the Christian faith and its many rewards, both temporal and eternal. Today’s priests and ministers are more aware of this than were their predecessors. Even religious education of the young has been influenced by it, though I don’t doubt that there are still some of the old “Speak loudly and brandish the Bolo paddle” type indoctrinators out there.

    C. S. Lewis knew it:

     [H]atred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful — horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame.

     Think about how Islam blends hatred and fear, and it will become irrefutable.


     It’s possible to go on too long, to blunt rather than to make one’s point. The message “should” be clear by now: Christians, live your faith joyously. Be an example to others of the temporal benefits of Christian belief. Non-Christians…regard the Christians among you. They’re probably not trying to get your attention. But if they have it…what does their deportment say to you?

     May God bless and keep you all. Happy Labor Day. Enjoy your barbecues. And remember what you’re supposed to do about those drones!