Tuesday, October 7, 2008
When I began exploring the Catholic Church more than a decade ago and was moving toward Rome as my spiritual home, one of the things that emerged as a small but persistent obstacle for me was the Church’s canonization of people whose behavior was, well, downright weird. I looked with discomfort, even dismay, at the veneration of a man who had lived on top of a pillar for decades, or a woman who had lived as a desert hermit in extreme ascetism, or a man who had whipped his back raw to ward off the sins of the flesh. How could these strange actions be seen as useful examples to the faithful, as instructive stories of great men and women held up as saints of the Church? The monsignor who led me into the Church well explained these behaviors to me as emphatic rejections of the corrupt and unbalanced societies in which they lived. Almost ironically, their prominent and startling behavior served as prophetic calls, not to the extreme, but toward healthy balance. When society has departed from the path to the good life or culture has become perverted, men and women who exemplify the opposite can be an essential antidote.
We live in a time in which far too many among the elites in academia, the legal profession, media, the entertainment industry, and government have abandoned the fundamental values upon which a healthy society is founded and have elevated themselves as superior not only in learning but in character to ordinary Americans. Rather than serving the people and being grounded in society, a detached form of intellectualism has emerged, disconnected from the real world of communities bound by shared moral values, economic markets, and neighborhood life. As we have seen during this campaign year, some of these elites look with disdain at ordinary working people, especially those who live outside of urban centers, as the unwashed and “bitter” masses who “cling to their guns and religion.” Those who are not centered in the professional enclaves of the Left or Right Coast are ridiculed as the unfortunate and ignorant denizens of “fly-over country.” Highly-educated academics and lawyers employ intellectual rationalization to justify the killing of unborn children and to embrace the Culture of Death as a constitutional good. Sexual experimentation by teenagers is downplayed by our social superiors as harmless fun (if undertaken with a condom of course) and, in any event, inevitable, while any attempt to promote sexual responsibility or suggest moral implications is demeaned as unrealistic and prudish. The experts in our colleges of education and the bosses in the teacher’s unions see the public schools as the laboratory for political consciousness-raising, while sneering at those who promote teaching the fundamentals.
Never having built anything, created anything, or grown anything, many of the elites in this intellectual class devote their entire careers to pursuing political or academic influence and prominence, not to advance principles of lasting importance but primarily to advance themselves. Being quoted in the New York Times or publishing a book with a university press is the coin of the realm. The things of the mind that are lasting and that are grounded in the higher things are impatiently pushed aside. Due to their supposed intellectual and cultural superiority, many intellectual elites regard themselves as holding an entitlement to govern, to use the power of government to remold society in their own graduate-school image, to capture the resources of society through taxes to be redistributed according to expert prescriptions for the Great Society, and to impose regulations so that everyone marches to the beat of their college-educated drums.
In such times as these, what a breath of fresh air it is to see a Hockey Mom from Alaska who has not spent her lifetime in political social climbing, who did not devote her youth to writing her memoirs and giving speeches, who knows what it means to run a business and to live day-to-day on the fruits of the family’s labor, who has volunteered for the parent-teacher association, and who has devoted her time in public service to the practical concerns of citizens on such matters as zoning rules, public services, energy production, tax reduction, etc. Although it only appears extreme by comparison with the hot-house intellectualism and government-centric expertise of the chattering class, Sarah Palin’s simple common-sense and uncomplicated approach to political matters is an antidote to those who would impose the tyranny of the expert. She stands as a reminder that the vital strength and moral foundation of America does not lie on Wall Street or in Hollywood or in Washington, D.C. –- or even in the college towns that dot the country (as much as we in higher education do add to our society). Instead, the Salt of the Earth kind of folk who have always made the sacrifices, worked the jobs, fought the wars, and lived the lives that keep this country going are still to be found in cities and towns, large and small, where you will see them at the neighborhood picnic, the school board meeting, the soccer game, and the church coffee hour. To paraphrase Sarah Palin, bless their hearts!