The Agnes M. Pharo? A writer of such eminence that even the otherwise open-to-all-comers Wikipedia has no entry for her. Still, as a purveyor of vacuous pap to America’s credentialed class for all-purpose cultural cringe, she’s hard to beat. One unfortunate soul on the distribution list wandered deplorably off message and enquired whether the text “is problematic because the answer to the question ‘What is Christmas?’ from a Catholic perspective is that it is the celebration of the birth of Christ.” Her colleague patiently responded that, not to worry, all this religious-type meaning was covered by the word “blessings.” No need to use any insufficiently inclusive language about births of Saviors and whatnot; we all get the cut of Agnes’s jib from the artfully amorphous “blessings.”
When an explicitly Catholic institution thinks that the meaning of Christmas is “tenderness for the past, vapid generalities for the present, evasive abstractions for the future,” it’s pretty much over. Suffering no such urge to self-abasement, Muslim students at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., recently filed a complaint over the lack of Islamic prayer rooms on the campus. They find it offensive to have to pray surrounded by Christian symbols such as crucifixes and paintings of distinguished theologians. True, this thought might have occurred to them before they applied to an institution called “Catholic University.” On the other hand, it’s surely not unreasonable for them to have expected Catholic University to muster no more than the nominal rump Christianity of that Catholic college in New England. Why wouldn’t you demand Muslim prayer rooms? As much as belligerent atheists, belligerent Muslims reckon that a decade or so hence “Catholic colleges” will be Catholic mainly in the sense that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia is still a cathedral: That’s to say, it’s a museum, a heritage site for where once was a believing church. And who could object to the embalming of our inheritance? Christmas is all about “tenderness for the past,” right? When Christian college administrators are sending out cards saying “We believe in nothing,” why wouldn’t you take them at their word?
Which brings us back in this season of joy to the Republican presidential debates, the European debt crisis, and all the other fun stuff. The crisis afflicting the West is not primarily one of unsustainable debt and spending. These are mere symptoms of a deeper identity crisis. It is not necessary to be a believing Christian to be unnerved by the ease and speed with which we have cast off our inheritance and trampled it into the dust. When American municipalities are proudly displaying the execution of skeleton Santas and giant Satans on public property, it may just be a heartening exercise of the First Amendment, it may be a trivial example of the narcissism of moral frivolity. Or it could be a sign that eventually societies become too stupid to survive. The fellows building the post-Western world figure they know which it is.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn