I was reminded of Fr. Longenecker's book and my first crack at it in the post, Immortal Combat and Cerberus Unleashed: One Priest's Insight into 2020, after listening to Andrew Klavan answer a mailbag question yesterday. He addressed a secular Jew who was reading his book, The Great Good Thing, about his own conversion to Christianity, and who was questioning whether his experiences were really coincidences or were God-directed. Klavan answered at length, but he began by saying, "The narrative of materialism is so powerful that you can't talk about the supernatural without sounding like a lunatic, even to yourself." I know this is how I sound to non-believers, because I was one once, and Klavan is right: I sound nuts even to myself.
This is why I find Fr. Longenecker's book so valuable. As westerners, Madonna had it right when she said we live in a "material world," but it's also true that we accept that fiction and myth can teach us about reality. Novelist Andrew Klavan would agree. Fr. Longenecker uses this to great advantage by engaging our imaginations.
In the first part of the book, Fr. L writes about the three-headed Hound of Hell, representing power, pride, and prejudice. In the middle chapters, he takes up the mythical figures of Medusa and her sisters, the Gorgons, to reveal the next unholy trinity of fallen human nature: Resentment, Rivalry, and Revenge.
He purposely capitalizes the three R's because he wants us to consider that Resentment isn't some temporary peevishness at some slight. It's a way of life. He writes, "It is the repeated reliving of a negative emotion. It is a deep-seated cycle of anger in a person's life. It is relentless restlessness and discontent that comes from our power, pride, and prejudice being frustrated." He calls it the "Resentment loop." And like looking into the face of Medusa, it hardens us and allows us to justify cruelty to others.
Dennis Prager has long described this as the poisonous effect of the victim mentality. But, Fr. L goes even further and explains why we enjoy it: In the Resentment loop, "we are asserting ourselves over our rival. We feel powerful again. In our minds, we prove that we are right, and they are wrong. Our pride is fed. Our prejudices have been proven. We prevail. We are omnipotent again, and that feels good. Very good. . . Resentment becomes the motivating factor in our life." And If we're busy blaming others for our unhappiness -- which, even if accurate (there really are victims of mistreatment), resentment is self-destructive -- we aren't very adept at assessing our own culpability.
Sidebar: this is why the Christian notion that "we're all sinners" is so essential to civil society. A people who are preoccupied with putting their own house in order do not wish to assert dominance over others. They're practicing the conservative ideal of personal responsibility (through self-reflection, or what Catholics call the "examination of conscience") and are amenable to limited, separated powers of government, understanding that no one is qualified to tell others how to live. Drew Klavan describes this in his answer to his pen pal as acting "in humility," knowing that there's a (supernatural) reality beyond our ability to comprehend. Or, as I said in my first post, practicing self-doubt.
Now, once a powerless person enters the Resentment loop, he relieves his frustration by expanding both the target of his resentment and by gathering with others into a Resentment group. "His unhappiness isn't 'caused by 'that woman,' but by all women. Her problem was not caused by 'that rich white man,' but by all rich white men. Their problem was not caused by 'that Hispanic or African American or Jew or Catholic, or Muslim,' but by all Hispanics, African Americans, Jews, Catholics, or Muslims." And by forming a group of the resentful (BLM, Antifa), the Resentful has more power -- "stronger together," as a certain failed Democrat nominee for president declaimed.
"The Resentment group is not satisfied with discussion and debate. They want action. They need to go to war against the enemy. They develop an identity and demand change -- and all of it fueled by Resentment." In other words, they become activists. I think Fr. L may be onto something, she says dryly.
When the resentful form into a collective mob, it is truly frightening to see. Their Resentment and rage render them irrational. There is no discussion with the slaves of Medusa. They are obsessed with their righteous crusade because it has become the source of their self-esteem. Unwilling to compromise, they are driven by an unholy energy. Like the living dead they stagger on, never stopping, never resting, always seeking Revenge.
They can never be appeased because they do not want their problem solved. They do not want the problem to be solved because their Resentment has become the only source of meaning in their lives." [emphasis mine]
Before leaving the Gorgon sisters for even darker images, Fr. L makes one more important point: the religious zeal with which the Resentment group pursues their crusade makes them feel noble and heroic. And it is under the guise of good works -- "social justice" -- they act out on their Resentment. I have some personal experience with this in my interaction with what Fr. L calls a "religious Resentment" group called JustFaith (which is connected with Jim Wallis of lefty-evangelical Sojourners notoriety, who has been in the news recently for being canceled and removed from his own publication for not being anti-Catholic enough).
Several other conservative Catholics and I joined a pilot program with JustFaith many years ago to discuss the moral implications of the federal budget. When I questioned if the "socialist" justice ideas the group had for the budget were actually doing good, the mask slipped from the leader's face. I contend this moment when the pious lefty Christian "shocks you with a snarl instead of the usual smile" and "his eyes flash" and "you are turned to stone," is the moment you've struck on a truth he doesn't "handle" well, as Colonel Jessup might say.
Which brings us to Geryon, the guardian of Dante's eighth circle of hell, where the fakers, the cons, and the hypocrites reside. Where the damned are so convinced of their righteousness, they perpetually question why their golden robes are lined with lead. These are the People of the Lie. And the horrifying part about them is their monstrous form is disguised with the face of an honest man or woman. "Indeed, they often have a respectable face of a member of the establishment. The 'honest' face is smiling and charming. The face has good manners. The face is courteous and polite. The face is well educated. The face is caring. The face is pious. The face is even prayerful and serene. . . Judas himself had the face of an honest man." Maybe even more terrifying is that we're all People of the Lie. We all want to be seen as righteous crusaders for truth or justice, no matter how distorted our view of reality is.
Fr. L says you can spot the People of the Lie because they never admit they're wrong (Nancy Pelosi's spa scandal comes to mind. -- she actually blamed the salon owner!), or they deflect from their errors, dismiss your attack, and "prove" their moral superiority with brazenness and skill (Democrats' failure to quell the violence of their voters is Trump's fault). It's always someone else's fault. There's always a scapegoat.
Fr. L tells a couple of heartbreaking stories about kids of "respectable," churchgoing families who project their problems onto a "black sheep" child and ruin his or her life. The People of the Lie are capable of such cruelty because 1) they're self-deceiving 2) they project their own Resentment and rage onto others (Saul Alinsky's "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."), and 3) they are impervious to criticism. They are "experts at the fake apology" and "their failure cannot be their fault. Others must always be to blame." Wow, anyone else picking up on the resemblance to the left-wing movements Antifa and BLM?
But, it's even more common for the People of the Lie to "occupy the top jobs" rather than be rioting out in the streets. They are "the smooth, successful ones -- the media manipulators, the polite politicians, the urbane bankers, and the smiling socialites. They are the pastors with pleasant faces, the bishops and cardinals with slick diocesan systems, and the smooth prelates in scarlet robes. . . They are charming and sophisticated. They are suave and svelte, respectable and smooth. They are powerful and persuasive, but deep within they are the sons and daughters of perdition. Their father is the Father of Lies, and they are the People of the Lie, and there is no human cure for them."
I wanted to quote the former at length to contrast Obama and Trump. Does anyone really think Trump, the quintessential Ugly American, wears the mask of shape-shifting Geryon? How about Obama, whom Joe Biden called "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy?" I credit Trump with being an authentic sinner rather than a fraudulent saint.
Before getting to God's supernatural solution as explained by Fr. L in Part 3, we have to go all the way down into the pit of hell of human depravity with Geryon, because "the perceptions and behaviors of the People of the Lie are basic to our humanity. This is the Sin of the World" which Jesus came to take away.
Power, pride, and prejudice lead us to Resentment, Rivalry, and Revenge, which ultimately end in self-deception, projection, groupthink, scapegoating, and eventually, murderous tribal mobs. Activism in pursuit of "social justice" (never just "justice") becomes a religious crusade complete with warrior heroes and martyrs. War, whether metaphorical or literal, is a means of unifying and inspiring the Resentment group. However, there is no possibility of a perfect union based on lies, so those who stand out as unique -- whether because they're eccentrics or disabled, or even particularly talented or intelligent (think Socrates) -- must eventually be purged from the group. What we call "eating their own." And it must be done violently to appease the gods and as a deterrent to other non-conformists.
Ironically, Fr. L says "we may not burn witches at the stake or wheel out the guillotine, . . ." But, he wrote this book last year (2019) and didn't anticipate the vicious hatred of the President, who was guillotined in effigy at one of the protests recently. Can the real executions of political opponents be far behind? I know. Don't answer that.
We become habituated to this cycle of sin and violence such that anytime a new crisis arises (Chinese flu), we "solve" our problem with blood sacrifices and scapegoats. Cain had no remorse for murdering Abel (out of resentment). In fact, he snarkily replied to God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Remember Obama badly distorting this story to mean the opposite? Was that ignorance or a lie?
"Eventually the dynamic of lies reaches a climax. The dark cauldron boils over, and violence erupts. And the system of sacrifice is the way the society of lies channels the violence." Today, it's the police and whites (mostly white men) designated as the sacrificial victims -- the scapegoats. It's different from when the Jews would designate a literal scapegoat on the Day of Atonement and send it out into the desert with the people's sins attached to it. There is no admission of guilt in our society of lies. Only blame-shifting.
This is why the Baptist preached repentance -- "make straight the way of the Lord," and God Himself provided the blood sacrifice in Jesus. There is hope. Stay tuned for Part 3.
First published on September 11, 2020 on Ricochet. Reproduced here with some edits in anticipation of Part 3.