By Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
On the day before Palm Sunday 2018, young people in the U.S. participated in a march in favor of gun control. The following day, Pope Francis delivered a sermon at the Vatican encouraging young people to speak out on issues they feel strongly about. Though he has spoken in favor of gun control in the past, he did not mention it specifically in the sermon, so his advice was understood to be more general. Here is an excerpt:
The temptation to silence young people has always existed . . . There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. … There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive . . . Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet . . . I ask you: Will you cry out?
What should we make of Pope Francis’ sermon? We can begin by acknowledging that today’s young people need intellectual and moral guidance and no one is in a better position than the Pope to provide it. Furthermore, no fair-minded person would doubt his good intentions in doing so.
In addition, his assertion that many are tempted to “silence” and “sedate” young people, to keep them from involvement in important matters, and to stifle their dreams is not only true but also striking. I say “striking” because over the centuries the Church itself has struggled with the same temptation—as well as the companion temptation to silence older people—and in all candor has often succumbed to it. Even though Francis did not mention those facts, implying them underscores his humility.
Those positive aspects notwithstanding, Pope Francis’ message falls far short of the wise counsel he intended. For one thing, he does not acknowledge that protests are not always what they seem. They may be billed as one thing, yet be something very different. A demand for order and justice may instead be a means of sowing disorder and division. Crowds of well-meaning, concerned citizens can be transformed into a mindless mob shouting for actions with consequences beyond their imagining.
It has always been so—remember “Crucify him!” In our time, however, the methods of stirring up crowds have become vastly more sophisticated. There is today what economic analyst James Simpson has termed “the strategy of forcing political change through orchestrated crisis.”
Here is how such orchestration works. In a book he dedicated to “Lucifer,” community organizer Saul Alinsky advised young radicals to put aside confrontation and adopt an approach that masks their goal of social havoc. He wrote: “Tactics must begin within the experience of the middle class, accepting their aversion to rudeness, vulgarity, and conflict. Start them easy, don’t scare them off.” This approach, he explained, would facilitate “the radicalization of the middle class.”*
If modern culture emphasized emotional control and intellectual maturity, young people might be able to resist such tactics. But since the 1960s, our culture has been dominated by Humanistic Psychology, which claims that humans are born wonderful rather than flawed by Original Sin, and any shortcomings and failings they develop later are caused by their parents, teachers, and other authority figures. (Ironically, the Pope’s advice to young people seems to assume they have special insight or perception lacking in adults. He does not say—and assuredly would not say—that they are free from the stain of Original Sin, but at a time when Humanistic Psychology is still dominant, even a faint hint at that notion may offer false encouragement to those who deny the need for Redemption.)
Copyright © 2018 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved