Cultural hurricanes and the debris they leave behind

November 14, 2017

Hurricane Harvey churned over the Houston area dumping what seemed to be an endless amount of rain in our area. Fifty-one inches is a lot of water. If it wasn’t falling from the sky, it was coming up from the gutters.

The aftermath was worse than the storm. Neighborhoods usually featuring manicured lawns looked like war zones. People’s homes were literally inside out with family’s lives and belongings out on display for the whole world to see.

In our walk as Catholic Christians, we have also been weathering cultural hurricanes that have left in their wake, death, destruction and giant piles of debris behind. The aftermath is much worse in this type of storm since the debris piles include the broken bodies and broken spirits of men, women and children.

If you think about it, human beings have been weathering both natural and cultural storms from time immemorial. Noah certainly would have had something to say about how best to prepare for a catastrophic flood. In Judges, Chapter 2, we learn about how the Israelites got carried away by the Canaanite culture and were seduced into worshipping Baal instead of Yahweh.

Hurricanes, both in nature and in culture, have essential elements or conditions that lead to their development. Warm ocean waters and cool winds combine to create those perfect storms that excite our meteorologists. The conditions that have led to some deadly cultural storms include: extreme individualism, relativism and a general disregard or abandoning of God. No one can deny that the cultural hurricanes of the past 50 years have been especially destructive to marriage and family life.

While there have been many, we can begin by mentioning the cultural hurricane called no-fault divorce. After being legislated into existence in California in 1970, all other states in the union followed suit. Prior to no-fault divorce, married couples had to have serious reasons to ask a court to dissolve their marriage. Today, it is easier to get a divorce than it is to get out of a cell phone contract.

According to a study by Dr. Paul Amato and Alan Booth, sociologists at Penn State University, 55 to 60 percent of divorces are “low-conflict.” These are what the sociologists consider “good enough” marriages that could have been saved. Left behind in the debris pile of this hurricane are broken hearted men and women, often abandoned by cheating spouses (all parties being treated equally by the court, of course). Left behind are also their children who are the ones who end up in therapy, instead of their parents. In the debris pile, the marriage support beams of “permanence.”

We can also address the cultural hurricane called contraception.

Experimental in the 1950s, the birth control pill flooded the marketplace after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960, in spite of deaths during clinical trials. Women were promised happier marriages, less pregnancies, and more independence and freedom. What they got can be found in the debris pile of this storm: more adultery, single motherhood, delinquent fatherless children, more poverty, health problems and a desecration of motherhood.

Pope Paul VI’s prophetic words in Humanae Vitae, “that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner who he should surround with care and affection,” has definitely come to pass.

This debris pile also contains the marriage support beam of openness to children, the human remains of preborn children lost to abortion and the women who died in the pill trials in Puerto Rico in the 1950s.

I would be negligent in my duties to report on the biggest cultural hurricanes of our time if I failed to mention what is known in the civil realm as “same-sex marriage.” The conjugal view of marriage, still alive and well in the Catholic Church and characterized historically by complementarity of the sexes, openness to children, permanence and faithfulness, has been replaced in our culture by a revisionist view in which marriage is simply anything anyone wants it to be.

In a way, this was the next logical step in a culture where permanence and openness to children went out the window decades before. In the debris pile of this hurricane: God’s vision for men and women, God’s plan for sex and marriage, manufactured children who never get to meet a biological parent (the desires of adults once again trump the rights of children) and of course, finally, on top of this heap of debris, the death of civil discourse about this subject.

So here we are, some neighbors still waiting for the giant debris truck with the swinging claw to come down the street to clean up the mess left behind by “Harvey.” I am sure they will come any day now and finish up. So here we are, in the middle of the debris created by cultural hurricanes, the aftermath worse than the storm, still holding on to hope, and still holding on to Jesus.
Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha!

Teresita Johnson is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Family Life Ministry.