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Dressing in the Emperor’s New Clothes

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

by Fr. Jonathan Atchley

Remember that delightfully satirical children’s story by Hans Christian Anderson? I say delightful because, to the consternation of those who would claim it is mean-spirited and caustic, Anderson’s tale, like all good fairy tales, points to the value of truth that liberates from lies.

Consider the story again: A king obsessively loves new clothes, and is more attentive to them than the needs of his kingdom. Enter the two charlatan weavers who offer to sell him a wardrobe of exquisite finery woven from threads invisible only to those who are incompetent of seeing them. The king sends wise and trusted souls to oversee the work, and they are taken in by the the weavers' lies about wonderful colors and lustrous fabric lest they believe themselves incapable of looking beyond appearances. The king dons his new suit and marches out with his loyal subjects following silently behind, because they too have bought into the lies of the clever weavers who are out to make a fool of the king. Finally, a child sees the reality for what it is and exclaims, “the king has nothing at all on!”

The ramifications of Anderson’s fairy tale are painfully obvious to us living in our disenchanted, post-modernist age of enlightenment that scorns the good and discards the true for what is safe, popular, and promulgated by clever salesmen promoting lies that undermine our common welfare. Kennedy Hall calls attention to this reality in an article [1] published this morning on the death of common sense. He exposes a similar kind of feigned ignorance on the part of those who react with disdain or horror when simple truths are pointed out, such as the World Youth Day scandal of a DJ priest playing rave music in front of an altar built from what looks like Lego blocks.

I find a similar calling out of those who disregard the truth in a second article [2] put out this morning as well, “Loving the Obese.” Here, the author contrasts the sharp criticism of a simple country song with common sense. Lyrics to the suddenly popular song address an unfortunate reality that people can take advantage of today’s welfare system, when it points out that a 300-pound woman can buy junk food and grow fat with government funds intended to subsidize the hungry poor. But critics of the song complain that it is cruel to sing about overweight people. And rather than realizing the song’s real intent--that government sponsored charity projects can be easily exploited by those who have no real need for them--such critics rip into the songwriter for pointing out such abuses.

Can you see the pattern here? Love for one’s neighbor sometimes obliges that one speaks the truth, however uncomfortable or critical it may seem to be. And yet, Anderson and these two authors argue correctly that there are those who forget themselves and common sense when they take umbrage over perceived social insensitivities. To those who cringe over truthful criticism, Mr. Hall refreshingly raises the question:“what happened to you?”

Indeed, what happened to Catholics who criticize pro-lifers putting themselves at risk for the sake of the unborn? What happened to social sensibilities that many would call a crucifix drenched in urine, “art”? What happened to juridical fairness, when critics of Trump rejoice that the former U.S. President Trump is being marched into prison for similar charges which are applicable to President Biden as well? What happened to the “sensus fidei” of Catholics who buy into Pope Francis’ synodal ecology that elliptically challenges solid Church doctrine? And for Pete's sake, what is happening to those who would welcome another round of obligatory face masks for a virus variant that hasn’t even begun to adversely affect the general populace?

In other words, what happens to common sense when faced with scathing criticism, however unfair? It wilts and surrenders. Because, sadly, as Anderson points out in his fairy tale, the common man lacks the courage to speak the truth when that truth becomes inconvenient. Oh, by the way, do you recall how Anderson’s story ends? The king ignores the truth and marches off in his underwear.

Heaven forbid that we fail to criticize errors and defend truths under popular siege by Satan’s minions!

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