I had a wonderful English teacher my last year of a Catholic prep school in New York City. Father John Jones was a scholarly Jesuit who instructed me in the fine art of the metaphor. Thanks to him I wrote a paper on Macbeth that was surfeited with blood-curdling images of daggers dripping all sorts of gore. Little did I realize that Xavier High School, the alma mater of Justice Antonin, Scalia, would provide my life with an apt metaphor that continues to inspire me.
Since Xavier was still a military school in 1958, we had to march in a parade every First Friday of the month from the school to the church down the block. That February our bored algebra teacher, a Jesuit scholastic, gave back the results of our rhythm test. Since we met seven times a week, he dedicated two classes to a subject he really enjoyed — music. I had scored the lowest grade in the class and he proceeded to make sport of me just before our march.
During the ensuing parade, I tried unsuccessfully to overcome my rhythm deficiency by anticipating the beat of the drum. The few spectators lining 16th Street in Manhattan were treated to two parades that afternoon — that of the Xavier regiment and that of my inner drummer.
My inability to keep in step with the official drummer has become a dominant metaphor in my intellectual life. While my thinking was in step with the culture 50 years ago, the cultural drumbeat has changed dramatically.
The official drummer now bangs a beat that has taken the country’s moral parade drastically to the left with abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, moral relativism and socialism. Today I am as out of step with the cultural rhythms of our times as I was with our drummer that chilly Friday afternoon 58 years ago, and happily so.
The predominant factor in this new beat is a culture that has loosened its moorings from the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Our cultural icons are more representative of a culture that does not recognize God or holds any interest in Christian morality. They effectively employ a peer pressure that is as important to adults as it is to high school or college students. It is what Newsweek once called the conventional wisdom, which is designed to determine, not only what we think, but how we think.
History, Voltaire wrote, is a pack of lies agreed upon. His enlightened cynicism clearly identifies our status quo. Today the general will tend to filter down from the image shapers, spin doctors and pollsters. As if in a huge Skinner Box, the American people are being subtlety conditioned to accept a distorted standard of belief that bears little resemblance to any objective reality.
Mainstream opinion shapers have composed a cultural rhythm for all Americans to march to. Each new note, whether on abortion rights, same-sex “marriage” or “man-made global warming,” is designed to further enhance the powers that tenaciously control the American consciousness.
The country’s custodians of truth are reminiscent of the baseball players in Mark Harris’ screenplay, Bang the Drum Slowly. They engaged in a card game called Tegwar, which was an acronym for the exciting game without any rules. The players simply made up their rules as the game progressed. Of course the card game was a scam, designed to separate the adoring fans, who wanted to rub elbows with their baseball idols, from their money. America’s conventional wisdom is akin to Tegwar because it ignores the basic rules of civilization — namely, logic, morality, and truthfulness.
Truth for the conventionally wise Tegwar player is only what is useful. Objective standards and absolute and immutable moral principles have no place in their utilitarian wisdom. Modern Tegwar players — in politics, government, business, law and even some clergy — change the rules to ideologically fit the situation. In a word they slowly bang a cultural drum that will eventually lead the American parade over a cliff of despair. Catholics and all Americans must skip their beat and march to that of their own inner drummer.