By: Fr. Paul Scalia
Over at the Freedom to Marry website, they have a boastful slogan: “The right side of history.” It is really a threat: You had better not be on the wrong side of history. You had better be like them and get on the right side of history…or else you will be left out. Apparently, being on the wrong side of history is just not cool. In effect, this phrase is a pseudo-sophisticated version of the adolescent “Everyone else is doing it.”
The phrase is remarkable for its arrogance and its ignorance. Arrogance, because it means not that I agree with history but that history agrees with me – that all of humanity has been evolving to this idea that I have. Ignorance, because so many have tried to predict the current of history and get on its “right side,” only to find they have tragically miscalculated (e.g. Robespierre, Napoleon, Lenin). On the other hand, some figures that once seemed condemned by history later emerged as enormously important (e. g. Ulysses S. Grant, Winston Churchill, the 2004 Red Sox).
Nevertheless, the presumption persists that history is always moving in the right direction, to a better world for everyone. Science and technology have improved dramatically. Certainly other developments parallel this improvement, right? Never mind that we use that same science and technology for wicked purposes. Yes, we have great means of communication. But what good is it if what we communicate is evil? Yes, we have extraordinary science. But in the hands of Kermit Gosnell, is that progress? Material progress does not mean moral progress. The man that uses new technology has the same fallen nature as Cain.
The Church sees history quite differently. First, she knows the One Who guides history – not some vague force called the “right side,” but God Himself. We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history (CCC 314). But the Church does not for this reason think that she will always encounter an ever-improving world, one more hospitable to her Gospel. Quite the contrary. She sees history moving towards a definitive confrontation between good and evil that will culminate in the return of our Lord.
The Catechism puts it this way:
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (CCC 675).
Now, if that does not shake us of the “right side of history” delusion, the next paragraph should do the trick: The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatalogical judgment (CCC 676). When we conform ourselves to the “right side of history” rather than to Jesus Christ, we set up history itself as a god. We become idolaters.
Because the Church rejects the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism (CCC 676), she will increasingly be seen as on the wrong side of history. But not to worry: this has been happening to her since our Lord’s Ascension. From Nero to Napoleon, from Julian the Apostate to Stalin, the Church always seems to be opposed to the “right-siders.
Certainly the Church has had her moments of greatness in history. But those are not our consolation. We hope, neither in some chimerical historical evolution, nor in our own historical triumphs, but in Christ the Lord of history. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (CCC 677).
So the petulant threat of getting on history’s bad side should not frighten us. We should be concerned about, but joyfully detached from, the warp and woof of history. In Chesterton’s words, The Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. This freedom from the threats of history should also create in us a boldness – even a carelessness – in our fight for the truth. Because the victory does not depend on us. Yes, we must do our part – and increasingly at a great price. But having done all that we can, we rest content in His Lordship. History will not be mad at us. He has history well in hand because the victory is His already. So even should we lose every battle – even should we lose continuously and know nothing but loss, ever being on the wrong side of history – even then, we would go on losing…all the way to victory!