Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Sweet Subversion” first appeared in the September 2000 issue of Touchstone.
Because of the size of our extended spiritual families, clergymen attend a greater number of graduation exercises than most ordinary citizens. A colleague and I have made a hobby out of commencement postmortems, if only to make our frequent exposure to “the prayer of the just” (O Lord, we just want to thank you for just being with us on this wonderful day, and we just want to ask you to just bless us, etc.) more bearable.
Some occasions, however, move far beyond the petty annoyance of poorly constructed prayers being recited by people who obviously had months to prepare themselves to offer something better. When my friend attended the commencement of a famous Roman Catholic college for women, he was appalled by the absence of any prayer at all.
The “invocation” consisted of the reading of a few thoughts from the works of a “spiritual writer,” without any element of praise or petition. Nor did the address, presented by a feminist theologian, stray into the biblical language of God the Father and his Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
The assertion of rights was the order of the day. Against the great Roman Catholic tradition that natural law precedes natural duties and rights, the feminist speaker argued for just the opposite, in a very unoriginal reiteration of John Locke’s Enlightenment theory that the “right of private judgment” is the essence of true religion.
I asked if, perhaps, the traditional pieties associated with a graduation ceremony at a church-related school had been relegated to a separate and avoidable religious service, as is now so often the case. But the “official Mass” the night before had been just as bad in its own way. The “liberation” from “patriarchal” principles and order that the commencement speaker would articulate at the commencement had been acted out more winningly at the Mass as the freedom of the participants to do whatever they enjoyed.
My friend explained, “Certainly the girls sang well (for all were majors in music), but the priest broke at least twenty rules for the right ordering of the Mass, and girls in shorts and with little clothing on both handed out the sacramental bread as well as the wine. It was liberation in a sweet way so that folks who were there thought it was very nice. I heard many say that it was nice.”
What unites this “liberated” liturgy of the sweet young girls (and please, no one give this to the seeker-friendly people or they’ll be advertising “the liturgy of the sweet young girls” by the weekend, and packing in the crowds) and the graduation speaker’s Lockean belief in a right of private judgment in religion is that both are paths to an anti-Christian world. The young girls are on the road to anti-Christianity—the feminist speaker has already reached it—whether they know it or not, because the kind of sentimentality and coziness that their liturgy makes central leaves no place finally for a great and a transcendent God.
Cute liturgies, whether Roman, Anglican, or Evangelical, are a method of the fallen and unconverted human heart to domesticate the Crucifixion. All the “icky” business of the Blood shed for atonement and of a Life poured out before the throne in the Holy of Holies not made with hands is conquered by niceness, so that the Cross must submit to man, rather than man to the Cross.
The explicit argument for private judgment is only a slightly more intellectual version of the same reversal of man’s submission to God into God’s submission to man. Once the unique office of the Living Word of God, who is also the One who has bled, is replaced with the universal office of the conscience of every man (even if that man is a sweet young girl), there is no place for the real, objective Christ of the Incarnation or the Crucifixion.
While designed for politics and culture, John O’Sullivan’s Law—that whatever is not explicitly right wing will become left wing over time—has theological and liturgical applications in the forms “whatever is not explicitly orthodox will become heterodox” and “whatever is not explicitly Christian will become non-Christian or anti-Christian.” The reason is simple. Once the Lord Jesus Christ—the Christ who is Jesus of Nazareth, revealed to us in the Scriptures as the Eternal Son of God made man—is supplanted, whether intellectually or liturgically, there is no Christianity.
“No Christ equals no Christianity” is a simple enough formula. Locke would have said he was a believer, and probably most of the young women at that “sweet” college service and their “audience” would say the same. But with no Christ to protect them, they or those who follow them (as far as their religious practice goes) will become explicit pagans.
The inspired Scriptures, including their doctrine of no private interpretation (see 2 Peter 1:20–21), and the ancient liturgies (also inspired by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost) are explicitly Trinitarian. We worship the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Ghost. The Scriptures and the liturgy are great Trinitarian gifts for our salvation and protection from error. Subjectivize them, however, and first there is unitarianism, and then there is nothing.
The black mass attempted to perform this feat of de-numinizing God by reciting the Mass backwards. Reversing the order of Creator and creature works just as well. And that reversal, when accomplished through the liturgy of the sweet young girls, is more “winsome” than the older abomination where Satan showed his face and not merely his works.
—Louis R. Tarsitano, for the editors
Louis R. Tarsitano (d. 2005), a former associate editor of Touchstone, was a priest of the Anglican Church in America and rector of St. Andrew?s Church in Savannah, Georgia. He also was the co-author, with Peter Toon, of Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete: The Language of Common Prayer & Public Worship (Brynmill Press, Ltd., 2003).
“Sweet Subversion” first appeared in the September 2000 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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