The Pill, far from reducing the numbers of unwanted pregnancies, actually led to more.

The Sexual Revolution started 50 years ago. At least, that was the view of the poet Philip Larkin, who wrote: ‘Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three /(which was rather late for me) / Between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles’ first LP.’

Probably when today’s students read this poem, they understand the reference to the Beatles first LP, but need a bit of help with ‘the Chatterley ban’.

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Editor’s note: They probably need a lot more help than they can possibly imagine.

The trends unleashed in the 1960’s threw all of American Christianity into crisis.

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.

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Memories of a Catholic Boyhood

By Kenneth L. Woodward

In 1971, I looked back on that Catholic parallel culture and tried to capture for the readers of Newsweek the contours of a world that was already by then receding into history:

There was a time, not so long ago, when Roman Catholics were very different from other Americans. They belonged not to public school districts, but to parishes named after foreign saints, and each morning parochial-school children would preface their Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag with a prayer for Holy Mother the Church. When they went to Mass—never just a “Sunday service”—they prayed silently with rosaries or read along in Latin as if those ancient syllables were the language Jesus himself spoke. Blood-red vigil candles fluttered under statues and, on special occasions, incense floated heavily about the pews. Kneeling at the altar rail, their mouths pinched dry from fasting, the clean of soul were rewarded with the taste of God on their tongues—mysterious, doughy, and difficult to swallow. “Don’t chew the Baby Jesus,” they were warned as children, and few—even in old age—ever did.

The Catholic Church was a family, then, and if there were few brothers in it, there were lots of sisters—women with milk-white faces of ambiguous age, peering out of long veils and stiff wimples that made the feminine contours of their bodies ambiguous too. Alternately sweet and sour, they glided across polished classroom floors as if on silent rubber wheels, virginal “brides of Christ” who often found a schoolroom of thirty students entrusted to their care. At home, “Sister says” was a sure way to win points in any household argument.

Even so, in both church and home, it was the “fathers” who wielded ultimate authority. First, there was the Holy Father in Rome: aloof, infallible, in touch with God. Then there were the bishops, who condemned movies and sometimes communism; once a year, with a rub from a bishop’s anointing thumb, young men blossomed into priests and Catholic children of twelve became “soldiers of Jesus Christ.” But it was in the confessional box on gloomy Saturday nights that the powers of the paternal hierarchy pressed most closely on the soul. “Bless me Father for I have sinned” the penitent would say, and in that somber intimacy, sins would surface and be forgiven.

There were sins that only Catholics could commit, like eating meat on Friday or missing Sunday Mass. But mostly the priests were there to pardon common failings of the flesh, which the timid liked to list under the general heading of “impure” thoughts, desires, and action. Adolescent boys dreamed of marriage when it would be okay by God and the fathers to “go all the way.” But their parents knew full well that birth control was not included in such freedom. Birth control was against God’s law, all the fathers said, and God’s law—like Holy Mother the Church—could never change.

The church, of course, did change, which is why it is worth recalling what it was like before the reforms of Vatican Council II took hold.

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The Bible is replete with “discriminations” shocking to modern man.

The Sixties brought about not only political revolutions but religious, artistic, and cultural ones as well. Today discriminating has assumed an almost exclusively negative meaning: to be prejudiced, intolerant, unfair, politically incorrect. Many are those who live in constant fear of a lawsuit because of an accidental remark they made that is (willfully) interpreted as discriminatory. There are plenty of lawyers who specialize in cases of discrimination. This historical fact had the regrettable consequence of making us totally forget that we should be “discriminating.”

The curse plaguing our society was already identified by Isaiah: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness . . .” (5:20). “Dictatorial relativism” (so designated by Pope Benedict XV) commands us to eliminate distinctions: Statements and propositions are “true for oneself,” and not necessarily true for another person. To call some modern churches shockingly “ugly” is arrogant and undemocratic. To place Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven above rock music should be condemned as elitist, and an imposition of one’s subjective taste on others. The individual subject is the “measure of all things” (Protagoras). Truth, moral values, beauty are empty words; what matters is what the individual accepts as true, what he calls morally good, what he likes. It is up to the all-important “me.”

This is “the climate of the time.” That it is nefarious and unhealthy is best proved by the Bible: One of the plagues affecting modern man is that he has caught the disease diagnosed by Isaiah quoted above — we no longer know how to discriminate.

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Nihilism

But sadly most people today suffer from some form of Nihilism. Most people deny the fact of objective moral norms. Even more deny the notion of absolute moral norms. Most people today no longer consider things to be true or false. Rather, most everything is seen just as opinion or a subjective point of view. It may be true that many things are just opinion but does this mean that there is really no objective truth to be found? It would seem so, according to many if not most people today. All of this of course leads to a rather deep cynicism as well as an incapacity to come to agreement on many important issues of the day. Since no agreed upon norms exist, life amounts to a power struggle between factions. Nihilism has so permeated our culture that most people don’t even know its there. It’s like talking to a fish about water and the fish says, “What water?” Most people congratulate themselves for their Nihilism by calling it other things like “open-mindedness”, “tolerance”, “acceptance”, “progressiveness” and the like. There are real virtues by these names but it is likely that most who claim these virtues for themselves are actually just suffering from some form of Nihilism. Yes, I want to argue that nihilism has reached the suburbs, the kitchen table, the family hearth.

And more than ever this is why we need Catholic culture and faith. It is only with something that we can battle nothing. I have come a long way out of my Nihilism that reached full flower in the late 1970s. I had turned my sights away from God and the Church and found only  “nothing.”  I cannot say I have fully emerged from Nihilism for it has  so permeated everything. And yet I credit the Catholic faith for restoring to me to truth and its existence. I credit the faith for restoring my hope and healing so much of my anger and cynicism. I thank the Catholic Faith for restoring to me my sight. Truth inevitably leads to beauty and goodness,  and what a beautiful view it is. There is great serenity and freedom in the truth. I know that Nihilism brought me only anger and struggle against perceived enemies (i.e. my father, the Church et al.) that was far from serene.   So here I stand more blessed than I deserve, coming out of nothing into everything, out of darkness into light. The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be. (Matt 6:23-24)

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