The New Revolutionaries
When I say “revolutionaries”, what comes to mind? Do you think of Che Guevara, immortalized in graffiti on the alleyways of favelas? Do you think of Robespierre and the French Revolution’s infamous guillotine? Or, perhaps more relevant to our American psyche, do you think of the “flower children” of the 1960’s, holding up peace signs and baking in the marijuana-hazed, summer heat of Woodstock?
When many people think of the term “counter-cultural”, they probably think about those hippies smoking weed and holding up “Make Peace, Not War” signs during protests on college campuses. They probably think of the “free love” movement, rebelling against the idea that sex should be reserved for marriage. They think of New Age practices (astrology, crystal “healing”, Wicca) replacing traditional religion. Many of us may be tempted to see these examples as counter-cultural. However, we would be wise to think otherwise in 2018.
For a movement to be counter-cultural, it needs to rebel and reject the norms set by the current, dominating culture. By its very definition, counterculture runs against the prevailing culture of the day. So, generations ago, counter-cultural rebels brought their ideological guns to the fight. Pot? Legalize it. Gay marriage? Celebrate it. Marxism? Defend it.
However, none of these things are counter-cultural anymore. Ironically, they have become the dominant culture. Don’t believe me? Look around. Free-access to legal abortion. Euthanasia on-demand. Forget cloning sheep, which gave us Dolly in 1996— Barbara Streisand has cloned her dog (twice!) Marxism has found new life among Millennials, many of whom are distrusting of capitalism. Governmental attitudes towards marijuana went from de-decriminalization to full-blown legalization.
Some would even claim that the LGBT movement is counter-cultural… but honestly, is it? My generation, more than any other generation, supports gay marriage. Support for artificial contraception, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia has reached new heights. We now live in a culture of sexual “liberation”, a culture which regards sex as a recreational drug legislated only by the laws of “consent”. Phrases like “gender is a social construct” and words such as “oppression”, “marginalization”, & “privilege” abound in popular Millennial parlance, with emojis filling in the gaps.
And so, while popular imagination still clings onto the idea that these liberal-progressive movements are somehow counter-culture and their proponents, revolutionaries, this could not be further from the truth. The fact is that those once-youthful, renegade flower children are now grey-haired retirees, sipping bourbon from the comforts of their comfy suburban home. Their peace-sign bumper stickers, which once donned their 1970s Volkswagen Beetles, are now replaced by faded “I’m With Her” stickers. The revolution is over. In their minds, they won. The rebellion against “the man” turned out to be successful. Their rage against the machine has abated, mostly because they are the machine, now. Their time is up, their revolution banners torn. Such persons can hardly be called “revolutionary” anymore.
And so, I offer to you the new revolutionaries, the new figures which push against the contemporary secular tide. Whereas the counter-cultural rebels of the 1970s fought against conservative institutions such as marriage, organized religion, and the family, the rebels of today reject the progressive tide, and prefer the stability, order, and fruitfulness of time-honored customs. The new (and true) counter-cultural rebels of our age are traditional, Catholic families.
For some of you, that term may be cringe-worthy, and probably conjures up images in your head of dusty mini-vans, out of which comes 12 awkwardly-dressed children all named after 18th century European saints. Chances are, you assume, they are home-schooled, and the majority of their friends are from other homeschooling families. While this caricature may find some truth in personal examples, it is not universal. Traditional Catholic families come in different shapes and sizes, with different personal histories and backgrounds. I have met a number of these families, and it is certainly not limited to Anglo-American white people living in the South. I have met Filipino families, Nigerian families, Mexican families, French families, Vietnamese families, Australian families, and many others throughout my travels. Despite language and cultural differences, many of these families would be, by the following, definition, “traditional”. Not all of them home-school their children, though some do. Not all of them own a large mini-van or ban their children from watching television. All of those caricatures miss the point and ignore the vibrancy of these new revolutionaries.
What truly is a traditional Catholic family? Well first, contrary to today’s contemporary liberal mindset, a traditional Catholic family upholds the Scriptural and traditional definition of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman. Second, the traditional Catholic family is, by its very definition, a religious family, one which values the teachings of Christ and His Church. But a traditional Catholic family is best-defined when it is placed in opposition to the dominant culture of today.
I further identify the “traditional, Catholic family” as comprised of the following characteristics (which I call the three ‘C’s):
Contra-Contraception — a Celebration of Fertility
In the 1960s, the counter-cultural revolutionaries had the motto, “No Balloons? No Party!” In other words, “don’t be silly; protect your Willie!”, and so on. By 1965, the landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut had ruled in the rebel’s favor — there was to be no prohibitions regarding the manufacturing, use, or sale of contraception. While some of the more conservative families voiced their opposition to this ruling, the general consensus in the United States and across the West made up their mind — sexual activity was not to be governed by divine nor natural law. This was the era of sexual “liberation”, where musty, old, patriarchal norms regarding sexual activity were to be demolished.
Now, in 2018, condoms are handed out like Halloween candy in college dorms. Go to Walmart, and you can find condoms in all sorts of colors, flavors, textures and materials. Nowadays, it is expected that all women have access to free birth-control, and some doctors will even push the use of birth control on their female patients, regardless of the female patient’s feelings about it. Public school students as young as 10 are exposed to mandatory health classes where “sex education” is taught. Prepubescent children watch while adults attempt to put condoms on bananas in an awkward demonstration. Contraception is no longer the exception, but the norm.
What has been the result of such sexual “liberation”? Well, you tell me. Birth rates in Europe (especially in Spain, Italy, Germany, and Finland) are plummeting, well-beyond replacement rates. Japan’s birth rate is shrinking to catastrophic levels. More and more Americans take pride in being “dog mommies & daddies” while scorning the idea of childbirth. A friend of mine traveled to Spain and marveled at the fact that it looked like a childless society. The deceased Libyan leader, Muammar Gadhafi, had a point — Islam would indeed conquer Europe, not by the sword, but by the womb.
The effect of liberal society’s acceptance of contraception did not spare the Church. In 1968, Pope Paul VI famously defended the traditional Catholic teaching again artificial contraception, warning that the growing acceptance of contraceptive use would result in the man treating the woman like a sexual object. As he wrote,
“…a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
Pope Paul VI, “Humanae Vitae”, #16 (emphasis mine)
Pope Paul VI’s magisterial teaching found criticism both within and outside of the Church. Critics slammed “Humanae Vitae” as outdated, arcane, and close-minded. However, one needs to look no further than the rampant sexual abuse in Hollywood which resulted in the explosive #MeToo movement to see how prophetic Pope Paul VI was in his words. Besides declining birth rates, the contraceptive mentality has led to an increase in abortion, sexual assault, pornography use and production, and the general instrumentalization of human beings for the satisfaction of one’s own sexual desire. Sex separated from the openness to life becomes a pointless act of humping and grinding one’s own body on the Other for pure pleasure and self-satisfaction. But for the secular liberal, openness to new life is not a requirement for the sexual act, and therefore, a person can have sex outside of marriage. Sex can be performed in new & exciting ways, even with someone who shares similar genitals!
Traditional Catholic families operate differently. According to Catholic teaching, the primary purpose of marriage and the conjugal act of sex is for the procreation and education of children in the Faith (Pope Pius XI, “Casti Connubi”, #17). Abiding in the truth of the Catholic faith, these families are contra-contraception — they regard it as sinful, and a crime against natural and divine law.
While Western society contracepts itself into near-oblivion, traditional Catholic families celebrate fertility, child-birth, and understand the sexual act to find its fulfillment only within the martial bond. Women within traditional Catholic families see fertility to be a thing celebrated — not resisted. Calls from liberal pundits telling these women to “have fewer children, protect the environment!” fall on deaf ears, mostly because these Catholic women see the hypocrisy in these “woke” pundits, the same one who fly jet planes to the Caribbean every summer, go on expensive, environmentally-degrading wine tours up and down the continent of Africa, and drive fuel inefficient luxury sports cars.
Modern, third-wave feminism has scorned nature, seeing a woman’s reproductive organs as a thing to be feared than a blessing to be embraced. Even within some religious circles, there have been attempts to distrust the understanding of a woman as “feminine” and mother. The idea that “women are meant to be mothers” is mocked as outdated and patriarchal. Traditional Catholic women (many of whom are self-proclaimed “rad-trad Cat Fem”s, meaning rad-trad(itional) Catholic feminists) are not afraid of having large families, nor do they see their maternal character as infringing upon their own identity. These women celebrate fertility and long to participate in God’s creative act. Thus, it is not uncommon to see them having two, three, four, twelve, or even eighteen(!) children. Without any discrimination to those couples who are not able to have children (an unfortunate reality which the Church certainly acknowledges as painful & needing pastoral support), those married couples who are able to have children and choose to manifest a spirit of generosity and are signs of God’s abundant blessings (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2373).
Communal Living — Living Simply, so that Others May Live
Nowadays, it is common to walk into a bookstore and find books on “simplifying your life”. Since the Second World War with birth of the suburban shopping malls, a booming economy, and a sense that “you are what you own”, subsequent generations have accumulated a lot of stuff. The clutter within our houses of old DVDs no one watches, the exercise bike no one uses, and more pointless stuff has led to a sense of material suffocation — we are being suffocated by the things we own. One of Netflix’s most popular documentaries in 2016, “Minimalism”, is an attempt to get back to the things that matter, and to value people and relationships over material goods. However, such an endeavor is impossible without a societal-sized Copernican revolution.
The Baby Boomer generation was famously characterized as the “Me” Generation, a generation which championed individual liberties and bodily autonomy over social responsibility and duties to one’s community. The “Generation iStuff” of today is the spoiled grandchild of these rebels of self-sufficiency. My own Millennial generation has long abandoned the idea that we should settle down, get married, and start a family. Why would we, when that would somehow interfere with our careers, force us to actually spend our own money on others, and place limitations on our personal freedom? The idea of having children is a scary one, because even those of us in our 20s still consider ourselves children. Blame the economy, blame our society — Millennials are still very much living in our mother’s basement.
Traditional Catholic families are revolutionary in their radical generosity and optimism about building a domestic community. One Sunday afternoon following Mass, I asked a 32-year-old mother of 7 children how she was able to travel the world & achieve her dreams with that many kids. She looked at me, somewhat confused, and said, “I and my husband live simply so that others may live.” Whether there is income from one or both parents, the prevailing idea within these families is that simple and intentional living is what leads us to happiness. These parents were once faced with a choice — “Do I avoid having children so I can do & go wherever I want, or do I have children and dedicate my lives to them?” With the responsibility of dressing 7 children for church, educating them, feeding them, and taking care of them while they are sick, it would seem as if these traditional Catholic families are miserable. But alas, they are not. They are joy-filled and happy, for they know what truly matters in this life. If anything, we are the miserable ones, constantly trying to grasp for ‘more’ and for validation from others, even to the point of falling $10,000 in debt trying to take expensive vacations in order to look “cool” on social media. Tell me, who is the bigger slave — the person who marries and has multiple children, or the person who goes into debt trying to impress her followers on Instagram?
Our current age tells us to eat, drink, and be merry. Traditional Catholic families see the value in self-denial and asceticism, discipline and control. You will not see many of these families going on luxury cruises, eating at the finest restaurants, having a closet like the Kardashian’s. Instead, you will see them pool their resources, live and eat sustainably, preferring to be poor & happy than rich & miserable. For these families, the gift of children and community is far more desirable than the latest gadget or smartphone. Spitting in the face of modern individualism, these families pray, eat, and live together. The children learn responsibility just as they did for thousands of years prior to Generation Me — through household chores, accountability, and mutual interdependence. Their parents are teaching their children that the world does not revolve around them, and that they have duties to a wider community.
Christ-Centered — “…without Me, You Can Do Nothing” (John 15:5)
Secularism is not a new thing, but its rapid growth is quite unprecedented. Even from the 16th century in continental Europe, governments were wrestling with the Church over matters regarding temporal authority and power. That stated, there remained a general sense of religious observance among people and across cultures. They all, for the most part, belonged to a particular faith or religious tradition. A major shift began during the mid-twentieth century, where the very institution of “religion” was questioned, if not outright attacked. In the 1960’s, atheist activists such as Madalyn Murray O’Hair were on the front page news for fighting so that the government could push the very mention of “God” out of schools. Filled with the 60’s revolutionary spirit, American and European religious observance began to decline. By 2017, the fastest-growing religious group is the “nones”, those who identify with atheism, agnosticism, or just “nothing”.
So, I guess you can say that having a religion in 2018 is quite revolutionary indeed. In an age where Mass attendance percentages are in the single digits, these traditional Catholic families attend Mass every Sunday, if not daily. These families do not attend Mass out of some civic-observation; the Mass is their entire lives. From the Mass, they unite themselves with Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice upon Calvary. At the Mass, they are fed by Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Mass and the Catholic faith become the wellspring of meaning for their lives. Popular prayer devotions, such as the Rosary, novenas to the Sacred Heart, and the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel find prominence within the life of these families. If it is true that “a family who prays together, stays together”, these families hope to stay together, not only in this life, but in eternity as well.
My experience with traditional Catholic families largely comes from my own participation in the Catholic Church. Each Sunday, I drive to my parish for Mass, and each Sunday, I see the same thing — a mother and a father ushering their children out of the family car, and they begin their journey with their children to the church’s front steps. The mother is wearing some sort of skirt or if not, some kind of modest dress. The father is wearing a suit jacket, dress shirt with a tie, and dress pants. The children are wearing various outfits, all of which signify that they are not going to a baseball game. I follow this family from the parking lot to the church doors. The children go on their ‘tippy-toes’ to reach the holy water font, where they proceed to bless themselves with the sign of the cross. They find a pew with room for the whole gang. Throughout the Mass, the parents take turn holding their youngest child, while their other children follow along in the missal, pray, look around, eat Cheerios, etc. Sometimes, one of the children gets antsy and cries. Still, the family remains there, week in and week out. After Mass, sometimes there is a coffee hour downstairs in the church hall, where the children get to play with their siblings and with the children of other families. The parents socialize a bit with their friends and with me, a newcomer.
I’m invited to one of the family’s home one weeknight to pray the Rosary. As I get there, the youngest daughter (age 8 or so) greets me at the door. She hugs my leg, and takes my hand, leading me to the dark family room. Here, I come upon a beautiful home altar. A marvelous statue of Christ, pointing to His Sacred Heart, takes center stage. Behind the statue is an open Bible, with frayed ends which reveal its frequent use. Above the Bible, on the wall, is a hand-carved crucifix. To the right of Jesus is a statue of Mary, the Mother of God. There are a few other statues of various saints for various occasions. Holy cards, rosary beads, and candles adorn the remaining space on the altar. The eldest boy (age 16) brushes by me, and lights the candles. The family quiets down, the mother in swaying in her rocking chair. I am given a pair of rosary beads, and the mother asks me if I would lead them in praying the First Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. I am flattered. And here, on the couch in the family living room, I begin our common and ancient prayer, “In the name of the Father…”
In 2018, the most radical thing is the traditional, Catholic family. How can it not be? Our society prides itself in its individualism, its self-sufficience, its wealth, its secularism, and most laughably, its “freedom”. According to popular, mainstream society, the traditional Catholic family is abhorrent. In an age where it is rare to see a family gathered around a dining room table every night for supper (let alone pray before meals), traditional Catholic families begin every meal with an act of thanksgiving to God. In an age where individual liberties (“my body, my choice”) have trumped communal responsibilities and duties, traditional Catholic families emphasize a coexistence based on mutual love, support, faithfulness, and sacrifice. The dominating, prevailing culture of our day sees “morals” as a hindrance: “Who the hell are you to tell me what I should or should not do?” Traditional Catholic families stress obedience to authority, and see the immense value in living a moral life, even when it requires some self-denial.
So, what characterizes the “traditional Catholic family”? Well most obviously, marriage. Children. Communal living. Participation in the sacramental life of the Church. These are practices seeing rapid decline in the West. Admittedly, I used to view these families with suspicion & mockery. To the modern eye, they’re weird, awkward, and force me to reconsider my own values. Unfortunately, in the past, I have mocked these families, their fashion, and their lifestyle. But if these past few years have taught me anything, it’s that a major crisis in our world is marriage, and the victim, the institution of the family. Recent events in our country, including the countless mass shootings, show that many of our society’s ills stem from a degradation of the family. For example, 26 out of the 27 deadliest mass shootings in our country were performed by men from fatherless homes. If our culture is ever going to return to more civility, the school of the family must teach us how.
In other words, it’s time to retire the concept that these Baby Boomers are still counter-cultural, for they have become the mainstream culture. In past eras, counter-cultural revolutionaries pointed out the flaws of the dominating, normalized society of the day. When Baby Boomers marched on the streets, very often, they were trying to convey an important message, such as the need to treat persons of color with dignity and respect, or for an end to an unjust war. However, their protests went beyond rationality. Though they claimed to be pro-environment, they protested against nature, such as when they suggested a woman has the right to abort her unborn child or that two people of the same-sex can enter a marriage. Though they claimed to be anti-institution, they began filling the seats of Congress and the Senate, making the poor poorer and they, the rich, richer. While their original intentions may have been noble, the counter-cultural rebels of the past became ‘normies’, imposing their revolution upon the fabric of society. They are no longer the #Resistance nor are they truly unique in any way. Their time is up, their battles are in our history books.
In an age of extreme individualism, consumerism, hedonism, and unrest, perhaps it would be wise to look to the traditional Catholic family for inspiration on how to live the “good life” here on earth. They, the Rosary-praying, rule-abiding, baby-making people, are the new revolutionaries.