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Whose side are you on?


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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 02/03/22

British author Hilaire Belloc warned against total loyalty demanded by the modern nation/state.

Whose side are you on? How do you know? And how do other people know what side you’re on?

Well, a lot depends on what you mean by “side.” When I was living in London, passions ran high for favorite football (soccer) teams. Certain pubs wouldn’t allow patrons in the bar on game day if they were wearing certain team colors. It would be like wearing gang colors in enemy territory—an invitation to mischief or worse.

I didn’t quite understand how serious an issue team colors was until it nearly got me mugged in Spain. I was spending the day in the venerable city of Avila. It was very cold that day; I wanted to buy a sweater but couldn’t afford one—so I settled on a scarf. I picked a scarf that was mostly purple with a bit of white because it was the season of Lent, and purple would be the right color to wear. I scarcely took notice of the words “Real Madrid” (Royal Madrid)—the name of a prominent soccer team.

With my new scarf on, I happened upon a large group of Madrid fans, and I was treated to a warm welcome. I was on their side! Then I rounded the corner and happened upon a large group of supporters of Barcelona—the rival team.  It took some quick talking in my very poor Spanish to explain that for me it was just a scarf—just something to keep my neck warm. I had a narrow escape.

Now let’s ask again, “Whose side are you on?” And this time, let’s think of that question asked by that most jealous of lovers—the state. In his “Survivals and New Arrivals—the Old and New Enemies of the Catholic Church,” British author Hilaire Belloc warns against total loyalty demanded by the modern nation/state:

The worship of the nation has been able to make men tolerate under its authority what they could never have tolerated from princes: a submission to rule, which, through sumptuary laws on food and drink, through conscription, through a cast-iron system of compulsory instruction for all on State-ordered lines, and through a State examination at the gate of every profession, has almost killed the citizen’s power to react upon that which controls him, and has almost destroyed that variety which is the mark of life.

The past 100 years have confirmed what Belloc cautioned against so long ago. The burgeoning nation/state wants absolute loyalty, dependence, undivided attention. Family, Church, God, free associations of free individuals—all these get in the way of the absolutism and control that are the lusts of the modern nation/state. We saw this confirmed in the past two years, when government officials “decided” that worship was not “essential.” We see this in the United States as the federal government has repeatedly dragged the Little Sisters of the Poor into court in order to force them to pay for contraceptives and abortions that government officials have decided are the object of “rights” that must be supported without resistance. And we see this again and again as government officials have “decided” whose religiously-formed consciences are sufficiently “sincere” to merit the concession of “exemptions.”

Christian culture will more and more come under attack as the contemporary nation/state metastasizes into a totalitarian cancer. We cannot afford to be naïve about this. But take heart! There is a specifically Catholic antidote to this totalitarian poison. More about that next week.

When I write next, I will continue my reflections on the challenges to Christian culture. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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