Father Chet, May 1, 1969
In a recent article in the magazine, Crosscurrents, Michael Novak says: “The enemy in America (today) is the tyrannical and indifferent majority (of our fellow American citizens) – the good people, the churchgoers, the typical Americans, the ones who have been taught that to be an American is by that very fact to be moral, just, free, generous, and trustworthy.”
Such a statement merits consideration. Novak claims that the majority of Americans today are interested primarily in an ever-higher standard of material comfort. He says that this comfortable majority of Americans are fundamentally racist and selfish in their attitudes and actions if not in their words and thoughts. He contends that during the past 25 years, America, almost without realizing it, has become militaristic and uses military force and violence to preserve its brand of economic and political stability in the world, regardless of whether or not other nations and peoples agree with us.
The old American values, which we have cherished in the past and of which we have been so proud, are now suddenly under the scrutiny of young, intelligent representatives of a new generation. The validity of our ideals of ethics, morals, education, democracy, and our American brand of freedom and liberty are being questioned. We are being accused by today’s youth of excessive hypocrisy, control – power, materialism, pragmatism, and racism. They are telling us that these old shadows of human nature have surged ahead, while our very real and more worthwhile values are submerged or lost. They say that we have become a smug, complacent, egotistical, and self-righteous nation.
When we hear these criticisms of our American way of life, many of us in the older generation are usually very quick to dismiss them as being totally irrelevant and rash. After all, most of us are reasonably content with our present way of life. We may complain a bit about high taxes and the ever-increasing cost of living; but we never go hungry and manage somehow to buy the things we really need or want. So, we of the comfortable majority still implicitly trust our basic American goodness, wisdom, and energy; and we hope that somehow everything will work out for the best. America has faced many serious challenges in the past, but hasn’t our “good old American” initiative always triumphed above them all?
But are we perhaps rationalizing to reach the above conclusions? Are we using our reason to arrive at a conclusion that is feasible and plausible regarding our present desires? Is it perhaps true that the majority of comfortable Americans today are guilty of an unconscious rationalization of a way of life that has gradually become unjust and evil? Is it not true that we, who are really comfortably established and fixed in life, are very quick to write off is utterly false the things these critics are saying? We keep telling ourselves that America is highly moral and good, basically just and fair to everyone and especially to the underdog. We have been a part of all that has happened during the past twenty-five years, and we cannot see that anything really serious has gone wrong to compel us to draw a different conclusion from the one that has always made us proud of our country. Haven’t we in our complacency allowed basic ideals to wobble a little” so that the “status quo” can be maintained?
A study of both ancient and modern history indicates that one nation after another has risen to prominence and power only to fade away into oblivion and insignificance. Sometimes the collapse was due to the military conquest by a more powerful nation. More often the collapse was due to the loss of the high ideals that once motivated the government and the people. Instead, luxury, greed, and lack of respect for the rights of other people both within and without their country gradually corrupted the nation until it collapsed by its own weight of sin and evil. Seldom do we find that such a corrupted nation succeeded in bringing about an inner conversion of its morals and way of life. Perhaps the only exception is that of Israel in the Old Testament. Again and again it became fat and rich and soon forgot it’s God and worshipped the false gods of money, pleasure, and greed. However, God did not abandon the people who had turned away from God. Again and again God sent them prophets to call them back from the wayward ways. If they failed to heed the prophets, the Lord permitted all manner of temporal disasters to overwhelm their country until finally the Chosen People came to their senses and returned to God and God’s ways.
What future can we hope for America and the other rich nations of the Western world? Will we collapse and disappear as did ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome? Will we instead heed the voice of the prophets of our time, whom God’s loving care sees fit to send us? The voice of the true prophet is seldom if ever pleasing to the ears. Almost always it is the false prophets who tell us what we want to hear. Therefore, it behooves us to listen to the voices of protest which today so many of our youth are raising in ever louder tones. The wrong approach is to tell them: “Don’t rock the boat.” “Don’t disturb the equanimity and stability of our country and our people.” Even though it is true that we have the highest standard of living ever attained in the history of mankind; even though there is less unemployment, less starvation in our country than ever; even though every year things get better and better in a material and economic way – nevertheless, it is quite possible that our beloved American way of life is morally and spiritually as sick as some of those ancient nations who “played on their fiddle while Rome burned.”
As part of this country we must accept our share of the responsibility for its conduct. If there are wrong attitudes toward the have-nots of the world, toward race, war, and greed, we have a duty to do all we can to change these attitudes in ourselves and in our fellow citizens. Rather than reject the accusations of hypocrisy, injustice, and gross inequity in the distribution of the world’s wealth, which many of our youth are throwing against us, let us open our ears and our eyes to see how much truth there might be in their taunts. Instead of opting for stability, the “status quo”, and high standards of material prosperity, let us take a long look at the ever-increasing material greed among our fellow citizens, the continued open practices and attitudes of selfish racism toward African Americans, the new brand of colonialism we are exhibiting in Vietnam, the open militarism we have frequently shown during the past quarter of a century with our immense “peacetime” army in large stockpiles of nuclear warheads.
These messages from Father Chet are his original writing and reflect his thoughts, insights and wisdom. While there may be some edits for clarity and/or intention, his meaning remains intact — and timeless.