A popular series of “Saturday Night Live” skits in the 1980s and 1990s featured Dana Carvey as “the church lady,” a Christian television channel host who would berate her guests for their immoral, un-Christian behavior. The funny climax of the skit would be when the church lady would offer a dramatic pause before accusing her guests of being in league with … Satan!
I’ve been thinking about that playful allegation lately in reference to contemporary politics. Whatever one thinks of the Bible — a true representation of God, a literary masterpiece, or a book of myths — secular progressivists’ politics are taken directly from the devil’s playbook. “The Power of Truth,” a recent book by German cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, shows how.
Müller’s chapter “Faith’s Political Witness: The Demands of Justice and Love,” is a reflection on the creation and fall narrative of Genesis chapters 1-3 and its application to contemporary politics. Müller interprets the opening of Genesis as illustrating the components most essential for a flourishing human society. In the narrative of the fall of man, argues Müller, we see an assault on “three core principles: the dignity of human life, of marriage, and of freely chosen relationship with God (or what we would today call ‘religious freedom’).”
Human Life Is ‘the First of the Fundamental Rights’
The pinnacle of God’s creative act is man, whom God creates in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). The meaning of this “image of God” language entails “our freedom, our intellect and will, our powers of moral deliberation, judgement, and choice.” This unprecedented degree of dignity among the created order is oriented toward relationship: relationship with the eternal divine and relationship with one another in community. Müller explains:
We are not atoms in a zero-sum struggle to survive, as Hobbesian individualism supposes. Nor are we mere means to social ends, as collectivist ideologies holds. Images of a triune personal God, we are personal and social beings, equal in dignity, who are fulfilled as persons in relationship with other persons.
Because we are not reducible to the result of random genetic mutations, but possess an irrepressible transcendent quality, men and women have a right to be. This right to be, the right to life, is “the first of the fundamental rights,” as Saint John Paul II taught.
Thus any assault upon this right — abortion, euthanasia, in-vitro fertilization — reflects a violent undermining of what makes a human person distinctly human. Müller explains: “A community must exist in its integrity before its good can be fostered. The right to life defines and preserves the community whose good we would promote.”
Marriage Is a Necessity
A second core principle of functioning societies is marriage and the family. Müller notes, “Like each person, marriage bears the divine image.” Genesis 1:27 reads, “In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Moreover, says Müller, “the first married couple is the seed of all social order: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28).
Genesis teaches that there is a certain incompleteness in both sexes, one, at least on a natural level, that is answered through “the embrace of conjugal love and the children it brings forth,” which demands a “lifelong and exclusive commitment.” The family is “The First Society.”
In our society, the “vision of marriage as a truly common good — for family and the whole of life — has been eclipsed.” This takes many forms, including postponing or simply dispensing with marriage, as well as the societal acceptance of no-fault divorce. All have had predictably catastrophic results.
Refusing to marry and have children, whether for the sake of convenience or careerism, reinforces the atomization and loneliness of modern American culture, while providing society smaller future generations to generate wealth and support the elderly. Children exposed to divorce in turn are more likely to suffer from serious social or psychological pathologies, to drop out of high school, to become teen mothers, and to spend time in prison.
Family instability fosters more educational failure, teenage delinquency, need for therapy, tendencies toward violence, and suicide attempts. As Müller concludes, “Crucial for the political as well as spiritual common good, marriage must be defended.”
Religious Liberty Began in Genesis
The final principle found in Genesis is religious liberty. Although God creates Adam and Eve for relationship with himself, he “leaves them free to reject or spurn his friendship,” observes Müller. Indeed, Adam and Eve do exactly this in reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of which they eat, in clear violation of God’s edict. Citing “Dignitatis Humanae,” Müller notes:
Within the bounds of public order, no one is to be coerced into acting contrary to his beliefs in religious matters. And it identified the basis of this right in the dignity of the person and in the goods or ‘values’ of religion itself.
This right extends beyond autonomous individuals to the societies they form. Müller explains:
So it is not just individuals that must be immune from coercion, but also communities of faith; not just in private, but in public; not just in secret assent, but in open witness; not just in sacred assemblies and rites, but in ‘educational, cultural, charitable, and social organizations’ and services.
We can easily identify attempts to weaken, if not vitiate, this religious liberty. Politicians and medical institutions attempt to force medical practitioners to perform abortions in violation of their religious beliefs, and to offer insurance covering contraception or abortion-inducing drugs. Courts seek to force Catholic adoption and foster care agencies to place children with couples engaged in lifestyles and sexual behaviors at odds with the mission statements of those agencies.
State politicians aim to force Catholic priests to violate the seal of the confessional. Catholics understandably have little confidence this trend will soon subside.
Satan Still Attacks These Three Core Principles Today
What is so pernicious about the serpent in Genesis is that he attacks all three fundamental tenets of civil society. The serpent, Satan, deceitfully tells the man and woman they will not perish when they eat the forbidden fruit, precisely in order to bring about their demise.
He venomously works to place the man and woman in opposition to one another, targeting the woman first to foster relational division and enmity. And he falsely promises true freedom in disobedience to God, that Adam and Eve will “be like gods,” though in truth, their free will weakens as they become enslaved to their passions and Satan’s temptations.
Müller connects Satan more explicitly to the secular progressivist paradigm:
It is hardly surprising that as these foundations are undermined, the state looms larger; and conversely, that as the state expands into the proper sphere of the individual, the family, and the Church, they are weakened and their dignity is obscured.
The progressivist secular state — whatever its claims — is no neutral, disinterested party, but a proponent of a “latter-day form of paganism against which the Church has contended from its infancy — a mythology with its own idols and superstitions.” In the anti-life, anti-family, anti-liberty agenda of secular progressivists, we find the same strategy “Old Scratch” employed in the garden.