This makes me think more deeply about the nature of the truth: the truth must be persecuted in this world, our Lord assures us of that, and if He had said nothing about it, His very death would have been evidence enough. The moment we see a religion or a philosophy chumming up to the world and receiving its flattery, we know, ipso facto, that it must be false. It is a strange and melancholy thing, this hatred of truth; it is surely one of the deepest wounds of original sin and one of the strongest testimonies to the fallen state of mankind. But at the same time, there is a consolation in knowing that the truth can often be recognized precisely by the unsavory character and selfish motives of those who oppose it.
Years ago, a dear friend of mine who had the rare combination of an appreciation for the natural world and a lucid intellect found herself strongly attracted to the Catholic faith because it was the only religion which unequivocally condemns artificial birth control, which she rightly saw as a perversion of nature. I remember how she said to me that Protestantism was simply not an option for her, since all Protestants uphold the primacy of individual conscience, and it was obvious to her that conscience can be erroneous. Buddhism was out of the question because, no matter what variety or sect one examines, it denies the reality of the world of experience, denies a divine First Principle, and denies personal immortality—all of which my friend, nourished on Plato and Aristotle, saw to be philosophically absurd. Islam repulsed her for two reasons: if you take the popular version, it has a slavish understanding of man’s relationship to God together with a history of violence and sensuality; if you take the refined intellectualized version, it has all the difficulties one finds in “perennialist” thinkers like Guénon, Schuon, Nasr, and the like, who write eloquently about primaeval revelation, common tradition, ritual and meaning, but who never adequately face the irreducible uniqueness of Christianity and its non-translatable claims. In other words, my friend spent years going through the claims “out there,” sifting, weighing, pondering, comparing; and like so many other intelligent people of goodwill in modern times, she came to the conclusion—which now strikes her as obvious—that the Catholic faith is the one true religion. By seeing that other paths lead to dead ends, she could find the one path that leads to everlasting life.
THE PILGRIMAGE TO THE TRUTH of the Catholic faith is never “easy,” but surely it is easier for those who see that something is radically wrong with modernity—that the modern experiment, whether in economics and politics, or in the servile and fine arts, or in culture and life in general, has failed and is failing ever more with each passing day. Such persons can see that whatever the true religion is, it must be essentially opposed to the errors of modern times. (As a side note, I don’t think it is always perfectly clear what is erroneous and deranged, what is tolerable or acceptable, and what is positively good in modern times; errors and vices are often mixed up with insights and virtues, like two plants that have grown together into one twisted hybrid. One can have a tough time sorting out the good from the bad. That is part of the problem of first principles, isn’t it? Principles are excellent, strong, firm, unshakeable—but they don’t come with instructions as to how to apply them to particular cases! Experience, prudence, good judgment, subtlety and perceptiveness, are all necessary for making successful application of first principles to some of the particulars of modernity. But I digress.)
It is, therefore, a great sign of the truth of the Catholic faith that, precisely in the modern world, the Church is opposed everywhere by nearly everyone. There is no party or philosophy or sect that does not save its worst denunciations and fiercest calumny for the Catholic Church. Protestant sects in their rainbow diversity may agree to leave each other alone, but nearly all of them agree to hate Catholicism, or at least hold it at bay. The many autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches may have jurisdictional or doctrinal differences among themselves, but they allow one another the unlimited enjoyment of liturgical reveries and never make much of an appearance on the world scene, for good or for ill. But the most “orthodox” Orthodox Christians turn red in the face when the Roman Catholic Church is mentioned. The same reaction tends to be seen, in a more or less pronounced manner, among Jews and Moslems, as well as votaries of Far Eastern religions. What is all this, but the unanimous confirmation of Christ’s assurance to His Apostles that they would be fiercely opposed, bitterly persecuted, to the ends of the earth and until the end of time?
What I wish to emphasize here is the universality and unanimity of this modern opposition. It does not suffice to have a neighboring sect or a merely local church condemn you; that would be too easy to arrange. You need to have the whole world against you—the secular atheistic world of journalism and politics, the world of the so-called “Great Religions,” the Protestant world, the Eastern Orthodox world. When you have all of these forces lined up against you, then “blessed are you”! This is certainly a sign that the Catholic Church, especially in the person of her Sovereign Pontiffs, is preaching the fullness of the Gospel, a sign of contradiction to this age and to every age.
In conclusion, may I quote the always provocative Walker Percy?
“Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight: i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less . . . I took it as an intolerable state of affairs to have found myself in this life and in this age, which is a disaster by any calculation, without demanding a gift commensurate with the offence.” (Signposts in a Strange Land)