On Cruelty and Heresy
Next to the social fruit of the Modern Attack on the Catholic Church is the moral fruit; which extends of course over the whole moral nature of man. And throughout this field its business so far has been to undermine every form of restraint imposed by human experience acting through tradition.
I say, “so far,” because in many parts of morals this rapid dissolution of the bonds must lead to a reaction; human society cannot co-exist with anarchy; new restraints and new customs will arise. Hence those who would point to the modern break-down of sexual morals as the chief effect of the Modern Attack on the Catholic Church are probably in error; for it will not have the most permanent results. Some code, some set of morals, must, in the nature of things, arise; even if the old code is on this point destroyed. But there are other evil effects, which may prove more permanent.
Now to find out what these effects may be, we have a guide. We can consider how men of our blood carried on before the Church created Christendom. What we chiefly discover is this: That in the realm of morals one thing stands out, the unquestioned prevalence of cruelty in the unbaptized world. Cruelty will be the chief fruit in the moral field of the Modern Attack, just as the revival of slavery will be the chief fruit in the social field.
Here the critic may ask whether cruelty were not more the note of Christian men in the past than it is today. Is not all the history of our two thousand years a history of armed conflict, massacre, judicial tortures and horrible executions, the sack of towns, and all the rest of it?
The reply to this objection is that there is a capital distinction between cruelty exceptional, and cruelty the rule. When men apply cruel punishments, depend on physical power to obtain effects, let loose violence in the passions of war, if all this is done in violation of their own accepted morals, it is one thing; if it is done as part of a whole mental attitude taken for granted, it is another.
Therein lies the radical distinction between this new, modern, cruelty and the sporadic cruelty of earlier Christian times. Not cruel vengeance, nor cruelty in excitement, nor cruelty in punishment against acknowledged evil, nor cruelty in repression of what admittedly must be repressed, is the fruit of an evil philosophy; though such things are excesses or sins they do not come from false doctrine. But the cruelty which accompanies the modern abandonment of our ancestral religion is a cruelty native to the Modern Attack; a cruelty which is part of its philosophy.
The proof lies in this: that men are not shocked at cruelty but indifferent to it. The abominations of the revolution in Russia, extended to those in Spain, are an example in point. Not only did people on the spot receive the horror with indifference, but distant observers do so. There is no universal cry of indignation, there is no sufficient protest, because there is no longer in force the conception that man as man is something sacred. That same force which ignores human dignity also ignores human suffering.
I say again, the Modern Attack on the Faith will have in the moral field a thousand evil fruits, and of these many are apparent today, but the characteristic one, the one presumably the most permanent, is the institution everywhere of cruelty accompanied by a contempt for justice.
From The Great Heresies