A Deadly Culture Needs More than Legal Remedies
by Anthony Esolen
A few days ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a teenage girl was taken off life support. She had hanged herself, driven to it by two years of humiliation at the hands of the worthy young people in that wealthy and progressive city.
The facts in the case are hard to determine, because the event that brought on the suicide was not fully investigated by the police. The girl—I will call her Jane Smith—was at a party at a friend's house. It wasn't a party at which you play Frankie Avalon records and dance and eat ice cream and talk about the baseball team. It was a party at which you get yourself blind drunk, or stoned on pot, and do disgraceful things in public in a state of undress. That's what Jane did, and it was not a new thing in her life. According to testimony accepted by both the Crown—which is now prosecuting two of the four boys accused of rape—and the defendants, there were at least a half-dozen young teenagers at the party having sexual intercourse.
Jane's friend told police at the time that she had tried to get Jane to leave, but she wouldn't. She had already had intercourse with two boys, and she was thoroughly drunk. The friend left the party and returned with her mother, and still they could not persuade Jane to leave. Then they gave up. But the boys didn't. Sometime later that night, while Jane was vomiting out of the window, one of the boys took a picture of another boy penetrating her from behind, and posted it on "social" media.
When Jane learned about the photo, she went to the police and claimed she had been raped. The police determined there wasn't sufficient evidence for prosecution. Girls at her school turned against her and called her a slut. Boys texted her and subjected her to obscene taunts and proposals. She left the city for a while and received psychological treatment. But finally she returned to Halifax and that hotbed of hardheartedness, cruelty, lust, and revenge that is known as Cole Harbour District High School. And that proved too much for her.
Making a Jungle
What strikes me in this case is that there is not a single sensible adult in sight. Everyone is calling for "the law" and "school programs"—the dogmatic arm of the law—to "do something," anything, to keep such tragedies from occurring. We're to blame, apparently, because the boys haven't learned to respect women, says Marilyn More, the provincial minister in charge of women's issues. And yet these boys have been drilled in the feminist dogmata since kindergarten. They've also been taught, since they were still singing boy soprano, that sex is for recreation, so long as you top off the banana split with a dollop of "responsibility," a feint towards niceness, having nothing to do with marrying and having children, or, perish the thought, obeying the law of God.
In other words, these are the monsters you have raised, Ms. More. You have made a jungle, and are surprised to find brutes in it. The far-left premier of Nova Scotia, Darrell Dexter, wants to make it illegal for somebody to post an "intimate" photograph without permission, even if, he says, the person consented to the photo in the first place. Sure, whatever. Might that include, Mr. Dexter, a photo of a politician caught in flagrante delicto?
Jane's mother wishes to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to see to it that no girl (or boy, presumably) will have to suffer what her daughter suffered. How this can happen by legal mechanism, applied from Ottawa, two thousand miles away, is not clear. Ms. Smith did not address her own failure, which was much closer to home. She and Jane's father do not share the same name or the same house. It's hard to ferret out from the Halifax Chronicle Herald whether they were divorced or never married at all, which is no surprise, since feminist-a-go-go Canada no longer bothers to keep statistics on divorce. In either case, Jane, tattooed and tongue-pierced, regular partygoer and living the heartless and dissipated life held up as a model for pleasure-seeking Canadian youth, never learned about the interrelationships between love, modesty, holiness, sex, the beauty and indissolubility of marriage, and the raising of children.
Not one account I've read expresses dismay that there was such a party, at which people—for does their age really matter? does depravity, like wine, grow fine with age?—were doing such things.
It is easy to destroy and hard to build; and bad law, even from a distance, can wreak a lot of destruction. But not all the good and wise laws in the world, applied extrinsically and, as it were, mechanically, can do much to change the hearts of men. Good laws corroborate and invigorate what is noblest and wisest in a culture, but the nobility and the wisdom and the culture must be there to begin with. Bad laws have allowed the jungle to proliferate. Good laws, without religion, without the life of the spirit, at best can prune the creepers here and there. Bad laws have made it easy for Jane to have grown up without a father. They have made it easy for morally dubious teachers to play Funny Aunt and Funny Uncle to impressionable children. And now, what will it accomplish to crack down on vicious bullies on the internet—to restrain the monsters you have raised? A little, here and there.
But the real problem is not legal. There never should have been a Jane Smith growing up without a married mother and father, without strong moral direction, without a vision of human love that is oriented towards marriage and the raising of innocent children. Nor should there have been all those depraved boys and cruel girls.
Can the law mandate love? No more than it can raise the dead.
What, then, must we Christians do? We have a duty to fight destructive laws and to promote healthy laws, but we should never put too much trust in the principality of the law. Our secular opponents place most of their trust in those mechanisms. Let them. The fight is for a Christian (and therefore human) culture, one town, one parish, one school, one classroom, one family, one soul at a time.
We need more (and other) than politicians and lawyers. We need fully committed mothers and fathers. We need genuinely Christian schools. We need poets, playwrights, artists—all who quicken the life of the imagination. We need celebrations, in public. We need the innocent feasts that used to bring real boys and real girls together, on the shores of married life. We need all those things that Jane Smith and her tormentors never had—or had, but in hell's own form. The hour grows late. •
Anthony Esolen teaches English at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and is the author of many books, including Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity (St. Benedict Press), Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books), Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery). He has also translated Dante's Divine Comedy (Random House). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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