Trials: An Early-Morning Meditation

     “It is part of the discipline of God to make His loved ones perfect through trial and suffering. Only by carrying the Cross can one reach the Resurrection.” — Archbishop Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

     The older I get, the more wisdom I find in Sheen’s statement above. It’s a sermonette on the requirements of living. Yet I cannot believe that God actually intends human suffering in some purposeful way. Rather, I think that He designed a universe with unbreakable laws that operate over time, and left the rest to the progress of time itself. For time is a thief; it takes everything from us. More, time is a traitor, the chief enemy of hope. For what it takes, it returns at best only a little learning.

     Perhaps not every man knows severe trials. Some, after all, are born to wealth and safety, and remain thus swaddled lifelong. But there can’t be many such. Time is too powerful an adversary.

     As with men, so also with nations.


     Until recently, America’s crosses had been few and easily borne. Yes, we’d had wars, internal strife, natural disasters that claimed scores of lives. Yet our resources, both in material things and in our spirit of independence and self-sufficiency, carried us through them all. Not only did we believe in ourselves, our responses to our trials provided confirmation of what we believed. We were a “can do” nation.

     Things have changed, and not for the better.

     I have no exact knowledge of the percentage of Americans who receive government support. I know it’s large. That sort of thing tends to sap the will of a people. Garet Garrett was one of the first to write of the process and its corrupting effect:

     No government can acquire power and put it forth by law and edict. It must have the means. A tyrant may issue laws and edicts, but if he lacks the means to enforce them they have no fury. In the ancient case, means might be the direct command of labor, food, and materials. So the pyramids were built. In the modern case, means will be money.
     That is why every government in the secret recesses of its nature favors inflation. Inflation provides the means. Under pretense of making money cheap for the people, the government creates money for itself. When it goes into debt for what it calls the public welfare it first fills its own purse and then, as it spends the money, it extends its authority over the lives and liberties of the people. It suborns them. Their consent is bought. It is bought with the proceeds of inflation.
     Senator Dirksen tells how Cordell Hull, then Secretary of State, expounded to him the New Deal’s doctrine of corrupting the people for their own good. “My boy,” Hull said, “this follows a bent of human philosophy. At first people will demur at the idea of subsidies and accept them very reluctantly, and then after a while they will accept them in good grace, and later they will demand them.”

     Money is the most addictive of all substances. Who has the strength of will to decline an offer of free money? It can be done, for it has been done, but not often. The withdrawal agonies from an addiction to free money must be as painful as crucifixion, for “getting clean” of it is virtually unknown.

     And it has made slaves of a great percentage of a once-free people.


     Government-provided money isn’t our only addiction We’re also hooked on government-provided protection from others – personal safety. This dependency is even more ironic than being weaned out of our self-sufficiency with our own money, for it is and has always been entirely illusory. In recent decades the illusion has steadily dissipated. Today we find ourselves as naked and defenseless as newborns.

     Not long ago, I wrote:

          Internal constraints are those that make it possible for police forces to do the job at all. Historically, those constraints were supplied by one’s religion. Hearken to Clay Christensen on the subject:

     Rose Wilder Lane was of the same opinion:

     The real protection of life and property, always and everywhere, is the general recognition of the brotherhood of man. How much of the time is any American within sight of a policeman? Our lives and property are protected by the way nearly everyone feels about another person’s life and property.

     With religion in decline – the aging of congregations everywhere would convince a man from Mars that it’s strictly for the nursing-home set – internal constraints are declining as well. The predominant ethical question is no longer “Is it wrong?” but “Can I get away with it?”

     And that’s before we factor in the concentration of a great part of our population in cities, the rise of black racialism, and the government-encouraged ingress of millions of Third World savages. Show me a man who sincerely believes that “the police” will protect him from all that, and I’ll show you an idiot.


     These addictions are at the root of our trials. We’ve lately been waking up, albeit slowly, to the realities of the bondage we suffer. The best of us can feel incapable of coping with them: “What can I do about it? I’m only one man.” Certainly I’ve often emitted that plaint, though I’m far from the best of us.

     I don’t have any guarantees to offer. Death is inevitable for men, and might be inevitable for nations as well. An organism that has ceased to grow must slide into senescence, and the United States ceased to grow some time ago.

     But there may be an alternative to dying along with the nation, at least for some of us.

     There are admirable, self-sufficient communities dotted throughout the nation. Some of them aren’t easily recognized; others conceal their self-sufficiency behind ethnic or religious guises. Murray Rothbard wrote about some of them:

     Albanian-Americans are an extremely poor group, and in New York they are almost invariably poor slum dwellers. Statistics are scanty, but their average income is undoubtedly lower than that of the more highly publicized blacks and Puerto Ricans. Yet there is not a single Albanian-American on welfare. Why? Because of their pride and independence. As one of their leaders stated: “Albanians do not beg, and to Albanians, taking welfare is like begging in the street.”
     A similar case is the decaying, poor, largely Polish-American and almost totally Catholic community of Northside, in Brooklyn, New York. Despite the low incomes, blight, and old and deteriorating housing in the area, there are virtually no welfare recipients in this community of 15,000. Why? Rudolph J. Stobierski, president of the Northside Community Development Council, supplied the answer: “They consider welfare an insult.”

     Rothbard also praised the Mormon approach to fostering self-sufficiency among Latter-Day Saints and insulating them from the appeal of government hand-outs:

     …the Mormon Church sternly discourages its members from going on public welfare. “It is requested that local Church officers stress the importance of each individual, each family and each Church community becoming self-sustaining and independent of public relief.” And: “To seek and accept direct public relief all too often invites the curse of idleness and fosters the other evils of dole. It destroys one’s independence, industry, thrift and self-respect.”
     There is no finer model than the Mormon Church for a private, voluntary, rational, individualistic welfare program. Let government welfare be abolished, and one would expect that numerous such programs for rational mutual aid would spring up throughout the country.

     These communities are notable in other ways, being extremely self-protective and bound by their shared heritages and faiths. It should make us ponder the value of such bonds, rather than dismiss them as vestiges of a benighted era.


     As usual, I could go on about this, but not at this hour. I’ll close by saying that while our trials – especially the ones discussed in this piece – might prove fatal, they certainly will prove fatal if we just shrug and say “That’s just the way things are.” If revival is possible, it might be through the revival of communities: groups concentrated enough to possess an internal vitality independent of larger things. If there’s a simple prerequisite for the emergence of such a community, such as a common ethnic heritage, a common faith, or even a shared belief in freedom and independence, we should be searching for it. Perhaps it’s waiting for us to discover it.

     Else our national and societal crosses will crush us.