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Without Community and Boundaries, They Win

Without Community and Boundaries, They Win


On May 11, 2024, an NFL placekicker, who happens to be a traditional Catholic, gave a commencement address to a tradition-friendly Catholic college on traditional Catholic themes and received a standing ovation. Nothing surprising happened that day, and yet the outrage from a certain segment of our population was prompt and severe, even to the point where over 220,000 unhinged individuals have ascribed their names to a petition demanding that he be fired.

So much for religious tolerance!  

I’d like to suggest that there are two conclusions we can draw from this one event. First, the visceral reaction of leftists against his speech is an exact analog to the reaction against perceived blasphemy in certain religious cultures; these people have religious-like beliefs that include the right to punish anyone who attacks their doctrines. As I argued in my reflections on last year’s Brownstone Institute Conference and Gala, “Wokism, covidianism, and climate apocalypticism are indeed the de facto theology of the class of the elites and expertocracy…”

Second, these people have massive boundary issues. Obviously not everyone is going to agree with the content of the address in question, but these leftists don’t know where they end and others begin, and therefore consider it within their purview to control the way other people think, feel, and speak. Such people are, by definition, pathological.

Consider the following example of religious beliefs confined by healthy boundaries. In just a few days we Catholics here will have a lengthy Eucharistic Procession through the roads of our territory, which involves carrying a host that we believe to be the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Obviously, the world is full of people who do not share this belief.

I expect Catholics will show reverence, especially as I occupy a role of authority in the community of Catholics here. From non-Catholics, I have no such expectations, as I have no right to control what they think and believe. This is a healthy boundary. I would only have the right to object if they violated the same boundary by trying to interfere in our ability to reverently conduct ourselves.

The history of the United States is full of examples of how incredibly difficult it is to live with each other and respect boundaries. One colorful local example here is the 17th mayor of the City of Pittsburgh, Joseph Barker. After having been arrested as a street preacher who incited nativist anti-Catholic riots, he was elected while in jail on a write-in campaign. Thankfully he would only serve a one-year term from 1850-1851. (In 1851 the cathedral for the Diocese of Pittsburgh would be destroyed by a massive fire.) Joseph Barker would never succeed in getting elected again and would die in 1862, having been decapitated by a train.

It should give us pause that such strife existed a mere 174 years ago and nearly six decades after the Bill of Rights enshrined the right of free exercise of religion into our Constitution. Living together in society is precariously fragile, and it demands a common agreement on appropriate boundaries.

Boundaries: Let Your Yes Mean Yes and Your No Mean No

It is possible to fill several books covering the topic of boundaries (see for example the series of books published by Henry Cloud and John Townsend on the topic) but for the purposes of our analysis here I’d like to narrow the concept down to two questions:

  1. Can you hear the word “no?” Those who can hear the word “no” don’t try to coerce or manipulate a person or persons into giving a “yes” just because that is what they want. The inability to hear the word “no” leads to aggressive, controlling, and authoritarian behavior.
  2. Can you say the word “no?” Those who can say the word “no” will not allow others to coerce and manipulate a “yes” out of them when their own judgment and conscience have concluded that they should refuse to comply. The inability to say the word “no” leads to being easily made to feel guilty for having boundaries and therefore leads to compliant behavior.

In every controlling relationship between individuals, there are two people with boundary problems; one can’t effectively say “no” and the other can’t hear “no.” Ironically, such people are drawn to each other and experience a certain euphoria followed by dissatisfaction. The resolution only occurs when the compliant individual acquires the skill of being able to say “no,” thus forcing the controlling individual to hear “no” either through accepting change in the relationship dynamics or the ending of the relationship. 

Applied to my historical example above, The Honorable Joseph Barker and his supporters were abusive controllers who insisted on absolute conformity to their religious and nativist beliefs. They were ultimately defeated because the Catholic immigrants were very strong in their ability to say “no” even when the short-term consequences appeared quite dire. The nativists were forced to hear “no” as Barker was kept from ever having political power again. With healthy boundaries established, a period of peaceful coexistence in civil society was established.

“Classical liberalism” is not enough to ensure this outcome. (See, for example, the gruesome martyrdoms that occurred at the hands of the “liberal” revolutionaries in France.) The Bill of Rights is not sufficient to ensure this outcome. Only a culture that enforces healthy boundaries can ensure this outcome. For a short time, we enjoyed the fruits of such an outcome. Gradually, however, a new secularism took hold, which first exiled traditional religion from the public square and now seeks to punish its existence. Diagnosing this movement as a religious movement with the same fervor as the riots led by Barker is essential to seeing the path to defeating it.

The Woke Left as a Controlling and Abusive Cult

Just because one rejects traditional religious beliefs does not mean that one possesses no beliefs of a religious nature. The atheist who tries to convince the believer to abandon his religion is no less a proselyte than the missionary.

The contemporary “woke” left views the arc of history as a successive series of injustices committed exclusively by Christendom/Western Civilization against the alleged perfect state of diversity, equity, and inclusion that would exist otherwise. Of course, they are then the pure and virtuous messiahs who will return us to utopia.

Their list of religious dogmas is quite extensive. Explorers and missionaries were necessarily villains. Every institution, even the Bill of Rights itself, is infected with the original sin of supremacy, especially with its protection of speech, religion, and firearms. Any suggestion that there should be restraint in the area of human sexuality is blasphemy, even if the innocence of children should be robbed; the regime has a right to the children! Family life and the rearing of children are dangerous and right-wing, in addition to being a cause of “climate change.” The practice of traditional religion is supremacy and injustice; “the dogma lives loudly within you” is among the worst things that can be said about an individual. Finally, as your saviors, the decrees of the elites must never be questioned, and those who don’t comply deserve to be destroyed, as in the case of the “unvaccinated.” For example:

In a healthy society, these unhinged and dangerous lunatics would have no power, for the simple reason that there would be sufficient masses in the population to answer back to their demands with a resounding “NO!,” thus rendering them completely irrelevant politically. The widespread lack of fortitude to stand up against these insane demands, even to the point of individuals abandoning allegedly strongly held beliefs, is proof of an unhealthy culture.

Never forget the Covid examples of the liberals against free speech and bodily autonomy, the conservatives for big government control and spending, the libertarians in favor of lockdowns and mandates, and the clergy in favor of people not going to church!

Beliefs and ideologies are useless unless we can clearly say “no” to violations of them, even when under duress. The strength for such fortitude comes from God, but also from a community and support structure that holds one accountable. In former days, religion, ethnicity, neighborhood, and family served this role. Today, we must be more intentional in finding such support.

Community and Support Structures are Essential

Everything we learned about how to keep true to ourselves and our moral code was taught to us in childhood when we were warned about hanging out with the wrong crowd; those we surround ourselves with will either hold us accountable to lives of virtue or of vice. “Birds of a feather flock together,” as the old proverb goes.

I’ve seen this precise phenomenon happen to adults in my life. Classmates from my Catholic high school abandoned the moral truths we were taught so as to fit in with their new social circles in college. Catholic students who managed to resist the prevailing culture by surrounding themselves with the small Catholic community at a left-wing non-Catholic university lost their faith when that support structure was withdrawn after graduation.

Almost all the culture war wins that the left has experienced have been through the use of emotional manipulation, the threat of disinvitation from so-called “polite society,” and then eventually the threat of material harm and joblessness. These strategies are, ipso facto, boundary violations; they seek to coerce their victims into abandoning prior held convictions. Once an individual allows their integrity to be violated by such coercion, the lack of interior integrity will, invariably, lead to a self-narrative that ignores ever having held beliefs that would convict him of his current actions.

Whether it’s seeing racism where none exists, pretending that something other than biology determines maleness or femaleness, or the ridiculous rituals that were devised to magically avoid catching respiratory viruses, these rejections of reality itself were spread at the hands of very unhealthy people who sought to control how others think and feel.

At any point, these pathologically dangerous influences on society could have been stopped in short order with a strong “No!” The sad fact is, however, that the natural sources of strength that humans used to be able to rely upon for support have decayed. Like any abuser, the woke have isolated their victims away from the traditional sources of the strength to say “no” such as traditional churches, intact families, and resilient communities.

The most radical example of this was the horrible years of lockdowns, mandates, propaganda, and censorship we just endured. We were physically isolated, muzzled, fed utter lies by our entertainment sources, and prevented from hearing what any of the brave truth-tellers had to say.

Consider for example this particularly wicked advertisement by Major League Baseball, where we were threatened that the only way we could ever be in the stadium again with other people would be to take injections that we didn’t want or need:

There is a reason why so many of us who were fighting the good fight from the very beginning of the hysteria initially thought that we were alone. We could see the propaganda but were prevented from finding each other!

We must make sure that such isolation never happens again. We must keep ourselves grounded with support structures and communities of people committed to repelling these boundary violations.

Brownstone as Community and Support Structure

I continue to reflect on my experience attending my first Brownstone Institute Conference and Gala last year in 2023. I was prepared to be the “weirdo” there, as I knew I was going to be the only Catholic priest, probably the only clergyman of any type, and in a room full of people of many religious and non-religious backgrounds.

By the end of the gala dinner, I was so moved by the genuine sense of goodwill and unitedness in service of the truth that I found myself having to remember that this was not in fact a seminary dinner and that we wouldn’t be singing the Salve Regina at the end. Instead, it was, quite unbelievably, a room full of people from many different beliefs and political ideologies who were united in their resolve to support one another and others in the face of the growing threat posed by the authoritarian powers that increasingly will not take “no” for an answer.

If we are to survive as a civilization, that is precisely the kind of community and support structure that we need to form, especially on the local level. For that reason alone, I warmly invite you to the 2024 Brownstone Institute Conference and Gala in my hometown of Pittsburgh, where we will seek to experience a community of collegiality and friendship in service of “The New Resistance.” 

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  • Rev. John F. Naugle

    Reverend John F. Naugle is the Parochial Vicar at St. Augustine Parish in Beaver County. B.S., Economics and Mathematics, St. Vincent College; M.A., Philosophy, Duquesne University; S.T.B., Catholic University of America

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