Writing for “The New York Times,” Slawomir Sierakowski paints a picture of a Poland dominated by unreasonable, backwards Catholics as opposed to sophisticated, liberal Westerners One just hopes that Poles are not intimidated by this sort of thing, and that they do indeed proceed to deepen their religious, cultural, and economic ties with those who truly share their principles.
I have noticed with some level of tardiness that The New York Times has picked up a new Op-Ed writer to tell Americans all about Eastern Europe and Poland. Mr. Slawomir Sierakowskis’ articles have been featured with some regularity now as to suggest they will be a permanent staple of the Times for the foreseeable future. This is not surprising, though it is unfortunate in a way. It is not surprising because The New York Times is one of the pre-eminent journals of revolutionary opinion leadership in the world. It champions socialism, imperial interventionism, gay rights, and a host of other tired mantras of the left. As its circulation has fallen, it has seemed to become narrower in its focus on being the progressive organ of American political journalism. Mr. Sierakowski fits in with this crowd perfectly, and the vision of Poland and Eastern Europe which he paints—a place that is provincial, backward and mired in religious dogmatism—is a useful one for those wishing to pretend that Polish and Eastern European traditions are not an essential part of the European heritage, but rather something that the progressive West must go about “fixing”.
The title of one of Mr. Sierakowski’s Op-Ed’s “Europe needs Ukraine” says it all: If you thought that Poland, Ukraine, and even Russia were participants in European culture and history for thousands of years—you were wrong. “Europe” and “European,” according to Mr. Sierakowski’s line of thinking, does not mean “arising from European history;” it means accepting homosexual marriage, secularism and a global and homogenous technocracy ruling from Brussels. In this sense, the millions of Poles who had always thought of themselves as Europeans, along with countless others across the continent, have awoken to a world where we hear every day that we need to be “more like the Europeans”—which, in fact, means more like the progressive ideologues want us to be. It is subtle propaganda; meant to convince millions of Europeans that they are, in fact, not Europeans at all unless they support a very narrow political ideology which, like Communism before it, was thrust upon parts of Europe by a small elite. The tenacity of this elite is not to be underestimated, as I hope to illustrate forthwith.
Years ago, when I first met Mr. Slawomir Sierakowski, I was impressed by the vigor with which he carried his revolutionary credentials on his sleeve. I had recently been lectured by a certain lady as to the proper way to greet women in Poland. Poles generally have a rigid decorum for greeting: men shake hands, women kiss one another on the cheeks, as do homosexuals (the social decorum for how a heterosexual should greet a homosexual remains foggy; sometimes a kiss on the cheek, sometimes a handshake). Men who are acquainted with women may also kiss them on the cheek, but if you meet a woman for the first time, you are expected to kiss the lady’s hand. When kissing the lady’s hand, you must not lift her hand towards your lips (the sign of the peasant passing himself for a gentleman!), instead, you must bow low and move your lips to her hand. So prepared, I found myself at a little dinner party attended by several ladies and Mr. Sierakowski. I proceeded to kiss the ladies’ hands, according to what I was taught, and then came to shake hands with Mr. Sierakowski. “Aren’t you going to kiss my hand as well?!?” he blurted out, instead of shaking my hand.
It took me several days of thought and reading to figure out my faux pax. Mr. Sierakowski, you see, believes that kissing ladies’ hands is a symbol of gender inequality. He ostentatiously displayed this fact by asking if I would kiss his hand as well, since all humans must greet each other equally. Apparently, he who kisses the hand of a woman believes that men and women are different in some ways. I can’t say I disagree with him, I just happen to believe in the virtues of gender inequality, and in the notion that there are some things men do with men and other things men do with women. I actually adore the concept of diversity of human types; that is how utterly distant from the egalitarian ideal that I am. Abstracting from the notion of individual freedom, which presumes our right to greet one another as we see fit, I personally appreciate a culture wherein men are expected to be gentlemen and women are treated as ladies. That this culture is antithetical to Western egalitarianism bothers me not a bit. There is something delightful and humbling about living in a world where you know some people are better than you in some respects, while others are worse. I do, however, find cause for alarm in a gender ideology so powerful that it would demand that even the charming courtesies of greeting women by bowing and kissing their hands be abolished in Poland.
This brings us to Mr. Sierakowski’s recent New York Times piece where he paints a picture of a homophobic Polish Catholic Church, trying to rouse paranoia amongst the ignorant masses by focusing public attention on the dangers of gender ideology by comparing it to Communism. Meanwhile, Mr. Sierakowski suggests, the Church conveniently ignores its greedy attempt at being recompensed by the Polish state for land confiscated under communism (an attempt Mr. Sierakowski and his allies paint as the Church raiding the public treasury). He further alleges that the Church ignores the pedophilia scandal within its walls as well as the urgent need to support the pro-EU protestors in Kiev. Americans reading The New York Times are, apparently, supposed to shake their head now and say: ‘those silly Poles and their silly religion! There are real problems in the world, and here they are being homophobic!’ It is precisely in order for Americans not to accept this completely false impression that I write this rebuttal to Mr. Sierakowski’s article.
First, Mr. Sierakowski claims that it is silly for Poland’s Bishop Pieronek to compare Gender Studies to Communism, sarcastically asking the Bishop to provide the data showing how many people were murdered or starved by gender equality. The Catholic Church, like the Russian Orthodox Church, recognized the dangers of Communism long before the murder and starvation it caused. It continued to warn the world about the dangers of Communism during the darkest days of Stalinism. It still did so even when the West was settling into détente, all the way through to the collapse of that morbid system. The intellectuals on the left, including The New York Times, were wrong about Communism for most of the twentieth century. What makes them think that they are not wrong about where gender ideology might lead the West? To claim that Bishop Pieronek is being paranoid in comparing the gender ideology to the communist ideology might be excused as political naïveté, if not for the fact that it is plain as day that both movements share a common intellectual framework.
Both communism and gender ideology seek to use government in order to transform culture in an effort to remake mankind and lead to its ultimate liberation from all physical and material constraints. We see the effects of this movement in practice in the West. Their most powerful diagnosis came from none other than the esteemed Alexander Sholzhenitzyn in his address to Harvard University in 1978. Every word in that address is important and prophetic, but none more so for Poland than these:
But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening. A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger—60 years for our people and 30 years for the people of Eastern Europe. During that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life’s complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generally [produced] by standardized Western well-being.
Mr. Sierakowski does not share Sholzhenitzyn’s view—in this, or, I imagine, much else. Instead, Mr. Sierakowski is a happy progressive who embraces what Sholzhenitzyn warns against: the West as it is now. Yet if a man like Sholzhenitzyn—who experienced the physical, material depravity of the Soviet Gulag—was not fooled by Western luxury into the mistake of believing that a society where, as Dostoyevski’s Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov put it “everything is permitted”, was a superior society, then what weight do the musings of Mr. Sierakowski have on this subject? The Church understands that man is body and spirit, and as Sholzhenitzyn taught, both are to be guarded against the revolutionary ideologues who would substitute the perfect love of utopian liberation for the imperfect love of families, citizens, and friends. Sholzhenitzyn did not need to find data on the amount of murdered and starved Americans who were burdened by Western liberalism. It was enough to look at the soul of the American republic to see that while the bodies of Americans were in relatively splendid condition, the character of the nation was not. Ironically, as Sholzhenitzyn noted, no amount of physical suffering under Soviet Communism could produce such spiritual suffering as American liberalism. In fact, the men and women of Eastern Europe and Russia, following their communist sojourns, were hardened, more firmly grounded in reality—the reality of mortality, the importance of seeking true meaning in life. Harvard University might have “veritas” as its’ motto, Sholzhenitzyn suggested, but the carefree Americans who passed through it had no understanding of what that meant because their lives had been soft.
It is just such softness that gender equality promises. Let us look at its results—by it, I do not mean merely the same-sex marriage movement, but more fundamentally, the entire attempt to liberate mankind from family, friends, local Church and city in order to make him a “free, autonomous individual.” The result in America, and in Western Europe, is that broken families make up a higher and higher proportion of the population. Divorce is rampant. We now hear stories about transgendered children (after all, children also have the right to “pursue” their gender identities, don’t they?). If not in law, we have in practice a polygamous society in the West. It is not a society that engages in sexual adventurism from time to time, but a society in which sexual adventurism is normal, monogamy boring, the definition of marriage and family—relative to whim. The Polish Catholic priests who understand these dangers most fundamentally are usually the ones who have spent time living in the West.
What should we care? If individuals chose to do it, what does it matter? These counterarguments might have some weight amongst the unexperienced in our midst, but if we think about the fate of a civilization in this context for a moment, we realize it matters a great deal. We might agree, for instance, that an individual has a right to smoke if he wants to—but would we like a society in which every young person was smoking, knowing what we know of the ills of nicotine use? We might agree that women shouldn’t be forced into relationships that they did not choose and feel oppressed in. But would we really like a society where people exchanged marriage vows, had children, and then gave up on them on a whim—as a matter of normalcy? Finally, would we really like a society in which even the suggestion of morality is treated as an insult to someone’s “lifestyle”, and the philosophical dialogue about how we ought to live is repressed through political correctness? Can we really have free government and free institutions if people are unreflective slaves to their passions? It is not without reason that the scope of legal freedom Americans enjoyed was broader when their culture was more Christian and rational, and has now diminished as their culture becomes more secular and nihilistic.
Still, Mr. Sierakowski seems to suggest: what’s the big deal? Mr. Sierakowski does not see anything to be worried about, because he does not understand Natural Right. It is possible that he learned not to understand Natural Right while a visiting fellow at Princeton and Yale. After all, how else do we explain this statement of his:
The clergy always protest that in vitro fertilization, abortion, civil unions for gays and teaching sex education are at odds with nature. Yet priests’ lifestyles, namely their celibacy, are hardly a textbook product of the theory of evolution.
Apparently, Mr. Sierakowski was taught at Yale and Princeton that when the Church proclaims something to be “at odds with nature”, then by “nature”, it means “the theory of evolution.” I am not surprised that they do not teach St. Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle at Yale and Princeton, and actually not surprised they don’t really teach it at Warsaw Univesity where Mr. Sierakowski studied earlier. Anyone with a rudimentary education should understand that when the Church cites Natural Law, it is not citing Darwin’s theory of evolution. Even those Catholics who hold Darwin in esteem, counting myself amongst them, know and understand this, which is why we distinguish a biosphere and a nousphere in the tradition of de Chardin and do not conflate Aristotelian Natural Law with the natural world, let alone the theory of Evolution.
The second part of Mr. Sierakowski’s rather crude attack on the Polish Catholic Church is the suggestion that the hysteria about gender ideology on the part of the Church is actually a smokescreen to cover up its own pedophile scandals and machinations to garner great sums of public funds. To this it ought to be noted that the “pedophile scandals” in the Polish Catholic church were non-existent until the entire “pedophile Church” craze was imported from the West, sort of like homosexuals were not abused in any way until the notion that they were actually being abused all along was also imported from the West. On this point, it needs to be said that Poles, who are generally a very liberal and warm people, took to heart the looming threat of being regarded as homophobic, and elected not just a homosexual to parliament, but even a transgendered woman. Both of these characters have used the bully-pulpit of elective office and the lucrative media circuit to talk about how oppressed they continue to be. In fact, Mr. Sierakowski, in mentioning the establishment of the “Stop Gender” parliamentary committee in Poland, “consisting of 1 woman and 15 men” fails to take note in his arithmetic of the inclusion of a transgendered member of Parliament in the committee. True, she did not fully join the committee, because a prerequisite was signing its statute, which called for opposing gender ideology, but she was and is a powerful voice in parliament for gender ideology and can join the committee any time she wishes. As to the accusations regarding the “property commission”—the real scandal is that the Polish state never compensated not just the Catholic Church, but thousands of Jews, Poles, Germans and others for land and property confiscated under communism. The issue is complicated, but it is hardly proper for The New York Times to allow Mr. Sierakowski to present it as some sort of greedy plot by the Catholic Church to defraud the State of money and land.
Finally, there is—on the part of Mr. Sierakowski—the obligatory interventionist chiding of the Church for focusing on the supposedly spurious issue of gender ideology instead of speaking out on behalf of the pro-EU protestors in Kiev. Mr. Sierakowski, like so many of Poland’s elite who have benefited from association with Western progressivism at the expense of their own country’s cultural patrimony, feels that it is obvious that Ukraine, like Poland before it, must become a member of the EU, and that in any case the street protestors are in the right. He can believe this, of course, but in a democracy, people are free to disagree. In any event, Mr. Sierakowski seems to consider the issue of Ukraine beyond the pale of democratic deliberation, much like the issue of gender equality, and he blames the Church for daring not to recognize that history is inevitably on the side of both.
Fortunately, the Polish Catholic Church does not make it a policy to speak out on the subject of who should and who should not be president of foreign countries. This does not, however, mean that the Polish Catholic Church is dormant in foreign affairs. Last year, it concluded an agreement to deepen ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, calling for reconciliation between the two nations. It appears to me that a call by the majority Church of Poland to make historic peace with the Russian nation by uniting behind the common Christian heritage of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is a far more important and noble method of contributing to regional peace and happiness than taking sides between Ukrainian security forces and a violent, undemocratic street mob that is trying to oust a democratically-elected government using cocktail Molotovs and rocks.
To suggest that somehow the Polish Catholic Church, which endured unspeakable repressions under Communism, is backing away from supporting democracy in Ukraine, is simply ridiculous. The fact of the matter is that what is at stake in Ukraine is whether the nation will decide its own fate, or whether Western progressives will decide for them. For sadly, it is the West, whose politicians travel to Ukraine to agitate in favor of violent revolution in the streets, not President Putin, who foments violence in that poor country. Mr. Putin uses economic and legal pressure, but does not dare to insult Ukraine by appearing in Kiev to lecture them. This is something only the pompous Western politicians do. Mr. Sierakowski does not have to agree with this assessment, but he could at least acknowledge that there are people in Poland, Ukraine and Russia who actually do not think that the world will come to an end if Ukraine deepens its ties with Moscow. The adolescent presumption that Ukraine is faced with an either/or situation is simply unrealistic. Do Norway or Switzerland have to choose between Brussels or Moscow? Why does Ukraine? And even if Ukraine chooses Moscow—so what? Eastern Ukraine has as many cultural ties to Russia as Western Ukraine has to Poland. Mr. Sierakowski applies his liberalism unevenly. Homosexuals can marry, children can have four parents—but Ukraine must have only one master: Brussels?
In conclusion, I must admit that upon seeing Mr. Slawomir Sierakowski, an intelligent but certainly radical and revolutionary fellow, writing in The New York Times, I seem to have come to a truly solemn realization: Sholhzenitzyn’s prophecy about America and the West has come to pass. Western man does not understand why children need mothers and fathers. Western man does not understand why it is undemocratic to hold an election in Ukraine and then support violent revolutionaries on the streets when the election yields results you don’t agree with. Western man does not understand almost any of the things that we like to call the Western heritage. Western man does not understand that liberty is limited government, not government that provides for all of your whims and desires. What Western man does understand, apparently, is Mr. Sierakowski—who makes enough sense to them that The New York Times sees fit to make him an Op-Ed writer. So be it. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the men and women of Eastern Europe whom Sholzenitzyn praised as “stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generally produced by standardized Western well-being” do understand the Western heritage. In their souls we still find remnants of the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman heritage that was once the patrimony of London and Washington DC. For this reason, perhaps, Mr. Sierakowski sees fit to paint a picture of a Poland dominated by unreasonable, backwards Catholics as opposed to sophisticated, liberal Westerners who are capable of having children with various partners, changing sexual orientations, rediscovering their inner selves, and bathe in a culture of banality masquerading as superior democracy. One just hopes that Poles are not intimidated by this sort of thing, and that they do indeed proceed to deepen their religious, cultural, and economic ties with those who truly share their principles.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.