OPINION: The Establishment is Dying - We Need to Change
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"Send not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee," is a line by the English Catholic poet, John Donne. His words are rich in meaning, but today they are a poetic description for the establishment as we know it. An end of an era is upon us, and recognizing this fact is critical for adapting to the coming changes.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Last spring, I spoke to many friends whose only concern was a return to normalcy after the initial shock of the COVID lockdowns. The phrase they used over and over was, "getting back to normal." They wanted a swift return to 2019. Each time, I shook my head and calmly explained, we aren't going back to 2019. Those were the "good old days," and they are forever gone. I added, 2021 will look nothing like 2019. I don't think many of my friends believed me then. But almost a year later, they believe me now.
I see what's happening because I am a trained historian. History repeats itself, and the present age is similar to so many revolutionary periods in history.
As I write this, an insurrection is underway. This insurrection is the equivalent of the storming of the Bastille. What the storming of Capitol Hill on January 6 attempted to be, the Reddit rebellion against Wall Street of January 27 likely is. The details remain sketchy, but what is known is some users of the popular website Reddit, learned that some hedge fund companies were short-selling Game Stop, a business that chiefly sells console games and accessories. Short-selling means buying stocks and gambling that those stocks will be worth less money in the future.
Offended at the situation, Reddit users banded together in a viral campaign to use free stock trading apps like Robinhood, to buy shares of Gamestop and a few other firms similarly short-sold. The frenzy of buying drove the shares up instead of down, causing at least one hedge fund to go bankrupt to the tune of billions of dollars.
Today, Wall Street retaliated by freezing purchases of Gamestop and other stocks using free stock-trading apps like Robinhood. This measure caused stock prices to drop and millions of average folks who joined the viral campaign will lose some or all of their invested money. The house always wins.
In turn, some investors filed a class-action lawsuit against Robinhood for market manipulation while several members of Congress are threatening an investigation. Odds are, not much will happen to Wall Street, which seems to enjoy a kind of house advantage, like that possessed by casinos. The losses will be suffered by the small, casual investors while the institutional money will be protected. Even if the class action suit gains traction in the courts, it's unlikely to affect much. Millions of Americans see this plainly, and that's the problem for the powers that be.
In the Catholic Church itself, we've seen the coming reckoning for years, decades even. Some members of the Church have engaged in corruption of various kinds and even enjoyed protection from investigation. At the same time, the Church has been active in the political arena, often siding with establishment forces. We can debate the right or wrong of this, and the details, but the results don't lie. Church attendance has been in decline for a long time. Vocations are too few to replace attrition due to retirement or death. And Catholic schools are closing by the hundreds each year. Catholic hospitals are going extinct.
America itself is likewise suffering. Atheism is becoming one of the fastest growing systems of belief (or non-belief) and the youth have an overwhelmingly favorable view of socialism. So we can argue the points above, but the proof is in the data.
The deal given to my generation, and the generations before mine isn't the same one offered to those who are younger than me. (Full disclosure, I am a member of "Generation X.") I was taught that if a person goes to school, attends college or trade school, follow the rules, and works hard, they can have a decent living, a retirement at age 65, and enjoy their golden years doing what they love. The boomer generation is living proof of this. My own father made a living without so much as a high school diploma, by virtue of hard work. I enjoyed college and while I paid my own way, I did so at a reasonable cost and I repaid my loan by age 30.
But today's youth haven't got that deal. The world and the economy have changed. The internet allows us all to compare notes. We now have data, a lot of data, to tell us things are different. Young people pay a lot more, are getting degrees that are becoming obsolete due to globalism and changes in technology, and their costs are much greater. We told them to go to college, pushed them that direction. In fairness, we didn't know things would change either. But they have and we need to adapt. The insanity hasn't just hit tuition, but rent as well. For millions, home ownership is right out. I'm a homeowner, but I know very few younger than me who are owners too. Even most of my peers are still renting (I admit that's anecdotal evidence).
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It's not that the old advice is bad. It's logical that hard work, saving money, and living within your means is the only way to make progress. That hasn't changed and it never will. It's a law of the universe. But what has changed is how much harder it is for people today than it was for my generation and those before mine. The systems that extract wealth from the workers are much more efficient. Prices are much higher and wages have fallen, even in the professional world.
Young people see this, they know this, and when older people criticize them, it only reinforces that the senior generations have no appreciation for their condition, which is literally unique. And it isn't a lack of work ethic or values. Young people want to work hard. But in return they want fair pay and the rewards that should come after a reasonable time. And those things aren't forthcoming. Therefore, they are looking elsewhere for salvation. They are looking for government control of the economy, (a false prophet), socialism, atheism, (all false prophets) and in all kinds of strange places.
The Church, is also struggling. This is a tragedy because the Church IS the solution. It's the ONLY solution. Yet the messaging from the Church isn't penetrating the hearts of millions. How many young people understand the Mass? Heck, how many older folks understand it? How many Catholics can explain the idea of Purgatory and define it correctly? How many people own a copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church and actually read it? I do. I know most do not because they don't know the simple answers within. The fault lies with us. Our inability to catechize. Our fixation with preaching using one of two failed strategies. On the one hand, there's the conservative Catholic who is quick to warn of the fires of hell. They vote on abortion and that's usually it. (How's that working for us? Murder of unborn children is STILL LEGAL. Horrifying.) Then there's the liberal who is quick to declare everything okay, no matter what the Scriptures plainly say. Rightfully, millions of people are rejecting these images of the Church because they are one-sided. They aren't full or fulfilling.
The Establishment is dying because it has failed to serve. It has failed to honor its pledges, to provide opportunities, and to explain the value of basic things. And each time it reacts, its reactions are tone-deaf and counterproductive. It's repulsive.
Recognizing this is key to our salvation, as a nation, as a Church, and as individuals. We are called to hate sin. Rightfully so. But we forget to love the sinner. We are called to understand. The kings of ancient Israel periodically called a jubilee. We assume this is a religious event, and indeed it has religious significance. But it was also a form of economic relief. It was an economic reset that periodically occurred to prevent the rich from preying on the poor and aggregating an excess of power. Likewise, when we hear young people are downing in debt, what is our response? Telling them to save when wages are low isn't acceptable. Telling them to pay back usury-based loans, taken when they were conditioned to accept them isn't an effective response either.
Telling people to reject socialism because "Venezuela," or "the Soviet Union" doesn't work because most youth do not relate to these things. They do relate to capitalism however, and by their experience, capitalism is much closer to 1980's Soviet socialism with shortages, and a lack of opportunity. They see the world differently.
I don't know what the answer is, other than love and Jesus Christ. We need to be compassionate when dealing with the youth, not contemptuous. We must accept the data that things are different for them. We need a jubilee, both spiritually and economically. We need to preach differently. Less anger, and less politics. But also less wonton permissiveness. We can teach the Gospel correctly, but with love. We need to share a message of hope and salvation. And we need to be substantial in our teaching. It isn't enough to tell people to pray the rosary and avoid premarital sex. We need to teach the catechism. We/They can handle it. We need to be straightforward when teaching core truths, such as the existence of Purgatory, the reality of heaven and hell, that the dead do not become "angels," that there is both a particular and a general judgement, that the Eucharist provides the ONLY intimate, personal relationship with Christ one can have, that certain sins are in fact, mortal sins, but that we can obtain forgiveness through sincere reconciliation and an effort not to repeat our sins. We are called to love GOD AND OUR NEIGHBOR, even if our neighbor is from another country, or thinks and feels differently than we do.
The establishment way of being is dead and dying. It's time to go back to the Gospel for inspiration. We must be as loving as Jesus, wise as Solomon, and as firm, yet forgiving as God Himself. We must listen without contempt and we must adhere to the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes in equal measure.
A new future is being written now. Will the youth turn to Christ or to Baal? It's up to us and how we relate to them. Which way will you point?
St. Katharine Drexel
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