I’ve been seeing some articles recently about college professors and entertainers—who are self-professedly liberal—expressing a growing concern that college students today are becoming more extreme. These individuals have expressed a concern over the need to self-censor themselves because the students will not consider(or even hear) any views other than their own, and in fact, tend to become hostile to hearing ideas which conflict with their own. We Christians should not hold an attitude of schadenfreude however. If today’s students are so intolerant of even liberals of previous generations, then we should take seriously how will they then deal with us who have to say to one of their cherished views that, “No, this is wrong and must be condemned."
Personally, I am reminded of the French Revolution. An extremely partisan affair that once called for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," it grew more and more extreme, turning on those who once were the radical leaders until nobody felt safe and the Revolution was eventually destroyed because those acting for the “good of the people” eventually saw these people as an enemy. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," turned out not to have so much liberty, equality or fraternity if you did not share the views of those in charge.
Watching this from the perspective of being a Catholic, I see parallels between them and now. Not so barbaric of course. We don’t have the guillotines and the constant death sentences to live in fear of. But we are seeing the growing radicalization of a generation which considers anything which is not in line with what they see to be “fair” to be “fascist,” and carried out in malice. Under such a viewpoint, the Catholic Church is the enemy of the generation who must be co-opted or destroyed—and either one is an acceptable option.
So, the question is this—is there a limit which will be the breaking point before society revolts against the revolutionaries? Or will we continue to see things get worse and worse here until they are throwing us into prisons as enemies of the state in fact instead of just in rhetoric? Ultimately, from the Christian perspective, it cannot triumph forever. We know God will ultimately triumph over evil. But that doesn’t mean we can just sit in our bunkers and wait for the rest of the world to go to hell in a hand basket. We have to take concern over the fate of these individuals. True, we don’t want them to destroy us. But more importantly, we don’t want them to damn themselves. Our Lord uses the parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep and return him to the fold. We have to follow His example.
Now, obviously, we cannot take a humanistic view that, if we work hard enough, we will correct all errors on our own. God gave His Church the mission and authority to bring the Gospel to all nations and people—but that does not mean they will listen to us. But on the other side of the coin, we have to take an active role so that God’s will may be carried out through us. We can neither argue that it is impossible to change our opponents nor argue that because our opponents have not changed that it means the magisterium has failed in her role. The former is shirking, the latter is shifting the blame, denying that our own actions and inactions may have a role to play in the opposition to the Christian mission.
Regardless of whether society becomes even more extreme or whether it bottoms out and starts rising again, we have a role to play. We have to prepare for persecution in some form, whether it be mild harassment or whether it be martyrdom or (most likely) it is somewhere in between. We also have to keep in mind our role in times of hostility. Even when Christians were persecuted, the Church continued to carry out her mission. Persecution hinders the mission in some ways, but does not make it impossible. We can witness by our lives that Christianity is not the demonized institution it is made out to be, but is the relationship between God and man. Our task is to be God’s means of reaching out to others so that they might be saved.
Our task is clear, regardless of who the radicals are and what ideology they embrace. We are called to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, even when it is difficult—and it will get more difficult.