Nobody likes a heretic.
They have always been shunned and always will be. That is simple human nature, which is immutable, no matter what social or cultural upheavals it must navigate. The group is our sanctuary, and the barbarian at the gate must be repelled.
It can sometimes be tricky to clearly define the group and correctly identify the dissident threat, but the dynamic is timeless and universal.
For example, where do we look to find the refuge and the rebel in the Catholic Church’s ongoing battles over same-sex marriage in its religious schools in Indiana?
In the past year, Roncalli High School, operated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, has fired or suspended two guidance counselors because they're both in same-sex marriages. And just last month, the Archdiocese said it would no longer recognize Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as Catholic because it refused to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage.
Up until the recent past, there wouldn’t have been a doubt. The church would have been seen as a venerable institution defending the established values necessary for a cohesive society. The dissidents would have been vilified as dangerous malcontents trying to drag an unwilling public into untested moral territory.
But that was then.
Now, try as hard as you like to find a vigorous defense of the Catholic Church, you are likely to be disappointed. From every quarter — academia, the arts, the media, the political class — the defenders of same-sex marriage are praised as the fair, decent and honorable champions of inclusiveness and equality. The church is a monster.
“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” writes an Indianapolis Star columnist standing bravely at the sanctuary’s gate, “is propagating hate and homophobia in Central Indiana by walking in lockstep with the church’s discriminatory treatment of the LGBTQ community.”
Take that, troublemaker. Join the fold or shut up.
Clearly, there has been a tectonic shift.
For most of human history, stability was the norm, and challengers of the status quo were the enemy. Powerful institutions, including the press, were the faithful guardians protecting community standards against the encroachments of suspicious strangers and wicked, creeping newness. Look up how newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s treated coverage of minorities and see if you can keep from cringing.
Today, the hunger is for transformation, and those who urge a cautious embrace of change are the villains. Powerful institutions are presumptively corrupt, and any lukewarm support of commonly accepted principles and precedents justifies an a priori assumption of vile intent. Enthusiastically support whatever social justice agenda is currently fashionable or else get down on your knees and confess to the dark heart of your patriarchal sins.
Don’t misunderstand. This is meant neither to champion unchallenged tradition nor to deplore unrelenting progress.
The embrace of tradition has its strengths and weaknesses. It enables valuable qualities to endure and provide a stable base on which to build and nurture civilization. But it also allows the effects of our worst deeds to linger beyond all rationality — segregation, child labor, debtors’ prisons, take your pick.
There is likewise good and bad in the seize of change. It allows us to throw off the last vestiges of our mistakes without hesitation or qualm. But it also tempts us to blindly lurch into avoidable quagmires. Future historians are likely to look back on today’s uncritical acceptance of militant transgenderism as a bout of collective madness.
The group is not intrinsically good or bad. But it is comforting. It embraces us and validates us. It too seldom occurs to us that the lines can be blurry between community, herd and mob.
Apostates can be noble or base. It all depends on the worthiness of the cause being abandoned. But they must stand alone, at least until there are enough of them to start hunting for the troublemakers in their own ranks.
The present moment is captured perfectly in an exchange in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” one of the great scenes in cinematic history:
“You are all different!” shouts the prophet to the assembled multitude.
“Yes, we are all different!” the crowd roars in unison.
Except this one lone voice, which rings out:
Leo Morris is a columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, a magazine published by the conservative think tank Indiana Policy Review Foundation headquartered in Fort Wayne. Contact him at email@example.com.