“Authentic freedom has its necessary foundation in the truth about the human person: it is… in the search for Truth that we become free. When the demands of truth are ignored or repressed, the pursuit of freedom can easily become a mere pretext for license, a new form of tyranny, the first victims of which are always the weak, the defenseless, those that have no voice.” — Pope St. John Paul II.
If you have read through our survey of toxic ideologies that claimed almost 200 million innocent lives, and the detailed accounts of virtues that could have saved those lives, we think we know how you might feel: Overwhelmed. Anxious. Dispirited. We are no match for demagogues who craft “big lies” that turn ordinary, mediocre people into genocidal mobs. We cannot take down all the sophists who weave from fashionable half-truths a silk shroud to mask our everyday evils. Even the stories of heroes who risked all they had in the fight for human dignity can seem impossibly out of reach. We can tell ourselves that we are not made of the same kind of stuff, the fiber that lets a man defy his nation’s government, its ruling elites, its secret police. We are just regular Joes and Janes, and life will not ask us to make this sort of sacrifice. It had better not, because we will fail.
But that is a lie. It’s the same kind of lie that Subhumanism tells us about each other, about our neighbors and spouses and children, and especially about strangers who look or think or pray just a little bit different. Subhumanism, for all the intellectual or political masks it wears, says just one central thing: that man doesn’t really matter all that much. That there is nothing in us that exceeds or transcends the ugliness of Darwinian competition, the limits of biology, the inevitability of death. We are all just mammals here, scratching and clawing for the chance to follow our instincts and grab a pile of happy moments, before we go to the worms.
And the heroes among us prove that this simply isn’t true. The texture of their lives, and the sacrifices they made, prove that each and every one of us can do more. We can be better. Not one of the great men and women who helped to redeem the twentieth century was born with special powers, wearing a halo, or in a manger. They were ordinary human beings like me and you, who were confused and frightened and tempted. Each one of them could have made very different choices, have trundled along with the herd and averted his eyes from the truths that were being trampled. But they looked up, and also within, and found the spark of human dignity—the irreducible fact that men and women really are something more. You cannot change that.
We can treat people as if they were robots, ghosts, or beasts. We can starve, enslave, imprison them or kill them. But that is just pretending, and it doesn’t change the reality. Our thousand year reichs, our workers’ paradises, our brave new worlds, are ghastly fantasies that human beings create, and that history duly comes along and exposes. And what is left behind, bruised and battered but still unbowed, is the face of Man—as noble and as beautiful as Adam reaching out his hand to the God who made him. That stubborn, timeless truth is what those heroes saw, and if each of us remembers it, we will do what is needed. We will feel from the pit of our stomachs to the highest flights of our imagination a love of the Good, a hatred of cruelty and smallness of soul, and a loyalty to each and every member of our kinfolk, the human family.
We will fight to enshrine the basic principles of decency in our political, economic, and personal lives. We will have courage.
We will prevail.
Jason Jones is a producer in Hollywood. His films include Bella, Eyes to See, and Crescendo. Learn more about his human rights initiatives at www.iamwholelife.com.
John Zmirak is the author of The Bad Catholics Guide to the Catechism and blogs regularly at The Bad Catholics Bingo Hall. This column is from Jones’ and Zmirak’s upcoming book, The Race to Save Our Century (Crossroad, 2014).