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The Church may appear to be on the wrong side of history but it is on the right side of truth

Catholics who oppose change are often informed that they “are on the wrong side of history”

By on Friday, 30 May 2014

People attend a protest march against France's legalisation of same-sex marriage in Paris (CNS)

People attend a protest march against France's legalisation of same-sex marriage in Paris (CNS)

Young people who go on to higher education today, if they are not put off at the start by the enormous loans they will have to pay off, are generally thinking of worldly success. Whether in academic research or in other careers they hope their university education will fit them for good jobs and better salaries. When my daughter graduated from UCL some years ago the vice-chancellor made a speech in which he congratulated the new graduates on the road to success in life and congratulated his own university in having equipped them for a bright future. I found it somewhat dispiriting. It should be remembered that the dressed-up skeleton of Jeremy Bentham, founder of Utilitarianism, who believed that it is “the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”, sits in a strange box structure, an “auto icon”, inside the main entrance to UCL as if he were its presiding genius.

Given my memory of this mummified symbol of rational thinking, I was glad to come across a different kind of speech, delivered by Mary Eberstadt, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Centre in Washington DC, on 19 May to the 2014 graduates of the Catholic Seton Hall University in New Jersey. In contrast to a Benthamite view, she told them that “Each human person bears the face of Christ and plays a unique role in history”. She reminded them that they would have an important role to play in the communities they joined after graduation, in their call to “see God in every human being.”

Eberstadt spoke of an “insidious new intolerance” in society that prevented ideas being freely debated. Although she did not cite it, I suspect the most glaring example of this in recent years is society’s determination to change the traditional definition of marriage at the same time as refusing to allow reasonable discussion or debate over it. Those who oppose the change are often informed that they “are on the wrong side of history” as if there is an inexorable march of progress in human affairs and those standing in the way are simply Luddites. But as Eberstadt pointed out, “There is no wrong side of history. There is only the wrong side of truth.” She emphasised the power of example, reminding her listeners that this is “the most underestimated force on the planet” and that their own example, “as a coach, a teacher, a neighbour, a friend, a grandfather or grandmother” would inspire others in the future in ways they might not realise.

She gave the example of a priest she knew “who once prayed on his knees in snow outside an abortion clinic” and who inspired a woman about to go inside to cancel her appointment and give birth to her child instead – “All because she saw this stranger praying in the snow.” That priest, “like all of you” she told her listeners, “mattered more than he knew.” She urged her audience to defend human dignity, saying that standing up for truths like these, and “protesting politely yet forcefully on behalf of them”, will be vital in the years to come.

Referring to the “new moral movement” that Pope Francis has been calling for, she told the graduates they were “foot soldiers and officers in the making of this moral movement now being born” and that their families, teachers and well-wishers “will never forget how proud we all are of you today.”

No doubt the wizened ghost of Bentham would call this speech, as in his famous dismissal of the idea of natural rights, “Nonsense on stilts.” Maybe he was on the wrong side of truth?


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  • Gogogarden

    A good point well made. There’s lots of history that I would be very happy to be on the ‘wrong side’ of.

  • Tim Robertson

    It is important to stand with and for the truth because Jesus said: “If you continue in my word … you will know the truth and the truth will make you free”. Free, that is, from sin, and from the errors that deceive and enslave.

  • Andrew Milhurst

    Mary Eberstadt is an important Catholic thinker. Her books are well worth reading. Try her on Wikapaedia. At the bottom of the Wiki-page click on her essay “Eminem are Right”, a very interesting take on the plight of American youth reflected in the lyrics of its songs. In effect this is the outpouring of rage at divorcing and philandering parents! She has her finger on the pulse of western society.

  • MIKE

    To accurately know and be able to accurately pass on the Catholic Faith, everyone must read a copy of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” which contains the Doctrine of the Faith and a Catholic Bible.
    These are the two most important Books for any Catholic.

    “….the CATECHISM has raised throughout the world, even among non-Christians, and confirms its purpose of being presented as a full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life.” – Pope John Paul II (CCC pg xiv)

    “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”

    Far too many people do not know the full truth. At the latest – all Catholics at age 16 should be reading the Bible and CCC.

  • solly gratia

    The term ‘wrong side of history’ needs to be banished from polite conversation. Since when did history become something that happens in the future? Just think of Mr Blair and his ‘history will judge me’ about Iraq. History is something that has happened, and we are still making it. Our opponents want us to admit defeat before we’ve even tried, using a phrase like this, but it isn’t over until it’s over. Abortion is on the decline literally and in public opinion in America despite what the liberals say. For us in the UK, the EU project is seriously suspect as more and more people realise that it is the source of much gender ideology being inflicted upon our schools and institutions. History is made by people, it doesn’t just happen; the other side want us to think otherwise. Twelve men changed the world by following their Lord.

  • Hennergogs

    If we are heading down the wrong path it is the person that turns and continues along the right path that will make the most progress.
    Your comments about how example eventually hits home reminds me of just how long it took to convert Rome.

  • James M

    “The Church may appear to be on the wrong side of history”

    ## Absolutely not. From C. S. Lewis, in his essay “Historicism”:

    “We must guard against the emotional overtones of a phrase like ‘the judgement of history’. It might lure us into the vulgarest of all vulgar errors, that of idolizing as the goddess History what manlier ages belaboured as the strumpet Fortune. That would sink us below the Christian, or even the best Pagan, level. The very Vikings and Stoics knew better.”

    ## There is no such thing as “the wrong side of history” – the very idea is nothing but a bogey to frighten the superstitious.

  • James M

    “Since when did history become something that happens in the future?”

    ## And if it were personal, and possessed moral attributes – IOW, only if it were a deity of some kind; or an avatar or hypostasis, like the Divine Wisdom in the OT.

  • MIKE

    Let us always keep our eyes on the goal – eternity with Jesus.
    He will judge each of us.
    Nothing else matters.
    Life is short.

  • Henry

    Yes, but it is the determination of what constitutes the ‘right path’ that gives us the problem. As one notable wag once said: If you come to a fork in the road, take it.

  • Henry

    You say that abortion is on the decline in the USA. Perhaps that is true only if you are willing to agree that the ‘morning after’ pill is not abortion. Do you?

  • Llewellyn “Tamerlane” Jones

    The Vatican II conciliar, ecumaniac ‘Church’ is both on the wrong side of history and of truth.

  • Llewellyn “Tamerlane” Jones

    “History has no need of the past”.

    Vladimir Lenin

    Seems that a goodly number of commentators here, devotees maybe unknowingly of the Marxist ideology (I am thinking of liberal-progressives such as Henry, but then again I think Henry knows exactly what his ideology is – Christianity it ain’t) believe as Lenin did.

  • MIKE

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566 AD) is incorporated and quoted within the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997).
    Both cover the Ten Commandments, Creed, Sacraments, Sin, Heaven, Hell, etc.
    However in 1566 there was no Church teaching on organ transplants, artificial insemination, use of public media, plus more, because those things were unknown 450 years ago.

    “ The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved … and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. ” – Pope John Paul II (CCC pg 5)

  • solly gratia

    No, I don’t agree. It was a quick remark referring to abortion as a surgical action. For some, the morning after pill is not seen as that, and is not that in all circumstances. However, there is a growing trend that sees it as an abortificant of choice, which is to be denounced. But the evidence i have seen is that the public are less in favour of liberal abortion laws than they were. It’s not shangri-la, but it’s something.

  • A Christian

    In criticising those “liberal progressives” as being Marxist and even non-Christian you seem to have forgotten to include Hitler and the Nazis in your equation.
    But seeing you being so dismissive of these commentators and then so dismissive of Vatican II it must be disappointing to some readers to see some “Catholics” (perhaps you do not represent many) being so aggressively radical.

  • Guest

    Then you are accusing the founding father, prime witness, and surest measure for the Councils Fathers, woefully obscure as the were, that is Venerable Pius XII. For his is the wisdom most often sought out, his the words most often repeated, his the humble witness to the Lord and the Faith most often set before us. Yes, the Fathers were all too ready to pander to their periti and the media-hyped expectations of the being updated according to the then ‘modern’ age – now merely another sad chapter of unrealised hopes in history – still that must not .. and cannot .. excise the Holy Ghost’s choice of saintly voice running through their final works.

    Do not allow the Accuser to take this field as if it were his great victory over the Catholic Church. Take the assault, L’T’J, onto his choice of battlefield, in liturgy, doctrine, practice, custom, understanding, misunderstanding, deceits, lies and obfuscations. Use his own favoured weapons, purified of their evil, in getting up to date (on how to use modern means to witness the Ancient Faith), by presenting it in a positive, pastoral, palatable (without emptying it of its meaning and purpose), and beating him and henchmen at their own game (as Aquinas, for instance, did in his day, Ignatius of Loyola in his, Don Bosco in his, etc)..



  • Henry

    Only Marx and Lenin?! That is lightweight stuff!! Some commentators here when they hear of “liberal-progressives” automatically get the whiff of Satan himself lurking around the corner.
    However, it might be interesting to get your description of what constitutes a Christian so that we can see how many or how few that description embraces.

  • Henry

    Is it not reasonable to expect surgical abortions to decrease as the use of the ‘morning after’ pill increases? And, of course, despite your saying that the pill is not necessarily an abortifaciant, the Church does ban its use except in limited cases, clearly defined, of rape. It is reported in the USA that one in nine fertile women have used this pill.

  • Sceptic

    The one thing you can rely upon from Ms Phillips is a smile after reading one of her pieces. Who knows which side of history anyone stands upon? Like most things, historical judgements are subjective, and usually written by the victors. Who knows the truth? Many claim to, including the RCC, but that doesn’t mean it is yours exclusively. What you possess is your opinion of what might be true. Doubtless sincerely held. Certainly passionately held and promoted. But true? Maybe.

  • cjkeeffe

    The winners write the history. The winners may not be be the good guys!

  • Nesbyth

    Yes, just as the Tudors vilified the Plantagenets!

  • TieHard

    How can the Church of Jesus Christ, the Living God be on the wrong side of History?
    What muddled secularism washes over us to contemplate such a notion.