The Family and the New Totalitarianism

The mighty of the earth are moving towards absolute power in an effort to establish control over what they perceive to be the chaos of the human condition. It is a harsh period, for winter seizes the hearts of many. Love grows cold. Honesty declines. Crime reaches epic proportions. Marriage is picked to pieces by analysts; the relations between men and women have become horribly complicated, fraught with tension, riddled with ideology. The family farm has given way to the factory farm. The village to the metropolis. The craftsman to the mega-machine. The shop to the corporation. Men hurl their malice upon each other in high-tech wars, though the machete is still in use here and there. Millions of children die unseen within the death-chambers ofour clinics and hospitals, accomplishing, for sheer numbers, what Auschwitz, Bosnia, and Rwanda could not begin to do. Belief in human life falters, hearts are pumped full of dread. Theorists discuss ways in which the death of billions of human beings can be accomplished effectively, humanely—billions of miracles, billions of mysteries. And thus, more and more people are drawn into despair on one hand, or sensualism on the other, searching for the merest hint of the great fire of Love—a love that longs for them to turn to Him, if they would only believe.

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The New Totalitarianism

The word totalitarianism usually generates impressions of dictatorial systems which crush civic freedoms and negate the humanity of their subjects in an effort to achieve complete control. Images of barbed wire, jack-boots and thought-control are conjured up in our minds. 20th century literature has given us some powerful works of fiction which suggest a variety of possible totalitarian futures: one thinks immediately of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Common to these dystopias (utopias which have collapsed into tyranny) is the absolutizing of the power of the State, or systems controlled by the State.

Totalitarianism invariably strives to do away with genuine absolutes and to establish false absolutes in their place. Genuine absolutes are fundamental, ultimate, unqualified truths, independent of the ebb and flow of cultures, fashions, myths and prejudices.

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The Oaks in Winter

The words of the 17th century religious poet Thomas Traherne have stayed with me ever since I first read them twenty five years ago. I have never forgotten them because they express in a few potent phrases a fundamental element of our Faith: we are a people who stand as a sign of hope, and a sign of contradiction, in the midst of this confused world.

I know little about the climate of England, where the poet wrote these lines, but I assume the British oak must be famous for standing sturdy against the North Atlantic rain; must shake its arms in defiance against the occasional fall of swift-melting snow. The poet’s metaphor is a powerful one, and I have always loved it, though it lacks a certain accuracy for those of us who live in sub-Arctic regions.

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