Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is a Catholic philosopher and theologian, and the widow of philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. She taught philosophy at Hunter College and has written several books. In a recent wide-ranging interview in her New York home Hildebrand spoke at length on topics ranging from womanhood, marriage and celibacy, to the eternal destiny of the human soul. This is the third article in a series of excerpts from this interview:
People are so confused. Moral blindness is a cancer of our society. I hardly go into New York City anymore, but I went a couple of weeks ago. And when you look at today's fashions, you can't help but think: to be blind also has advantages. And to be deaf. You know, it's very sad not to have children, because children are one of life's greatest blessings. But if I had a child today, I think I would live in constant fear of them having to see pornography. When I was a child I didn't even know that it existed, and I certainly don't recall ever seeing it. But now when you go to the mall it's everywhere. How is one to protect an innocent little child today?
We read the words of Jesus: “Woe to those who mislead these little children. It would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their neck” (Matthew 18:6). This is what is happening. Children watch television or surf the internet, and what are they exposed to? Pornography!
If a person doesn't want to see that a problem exists, there is nothing that one can do. I experienced that in a college classroom in New York, where I spent thousands of hours teaching philosophy. Had I taught French, my mother tongue, it would not have been difficult, because if someone would have raised their hand to disagree with me, they would have made themselves look ridiculous. Clearly, I know French and they don't. But when you speak about questions of truth and goodness, about justice, about purity – whatever it is – people shoot up their hands and say, “I don't agree. That's just your opinion.”
At the college where I taught I had to be very careful about what I said. It is basically an atheistic establishment. So if I said anything that even smelled Christian, I was accused of teaching religion and no longer philosophy. One time I hinted at the fact that love should be the lifelong bond between a man and a woman, and not the thoughtless pursuit of fun. A student raised his hand, and declared, “I disagree. I'm having a great time and she is too. What's wrong with that? ” What else could I say? Either you see, or you don't. If you are young and every night you sleep with another person, and sometimes it's fun and sometimes it isn't, it's going to be very difficult to convince you that it's wrong. When you're morally blind, you simply can't see.
We truly need the Old Testament prophets. But many people don't want to hear the truth. When the atomic bomb was invented in the '40s, I thought to myself, “Now man is going to think, more than ever before, that he is God.” Today, we have “progressed” to such an extent that we think we can control everything. In Genesis, God said, “Be.” Man, on the other hand, says, “Be not.” When I go out onto my terrace where I can see New York City, I sometimes think to myself, “If some madman wanted to, he could blow this all up in a minute.” Press a button and nothing remains but dust and ashes – and cockroaches. Apparently cockroaches would survive an atomic bomb.
So we can destroy the world, and yet we still fool ourselves into thinking that there will come a day when we can create it; when we can actually conquer death. We are kings, we are gods. This is why our world is so threatened by death! Let's remember, it was Satan who said, “You shall be like God.”
So what are we to do? How can we help people see? Not by preaching. Preaching is a very risky affair, because people will accuse you of placing yourself above them. I believe the best solution is prayer. We have to pray for people, because no one can ever force another to see things differently. But we also have to look at ourselves. I'm at the end of my life and I know that there are certain things about myself that I don't see. In order to see my own faults I need one of the most crucial virtues taught in the gospels: humility. And who teaches us humility? Christ. The Son of God became a man, to share our weak human nature. He knew suffering. He knew anguish. He knew fear.
Let us pray for the world. Let us pray, because we are badly off. When you read the gospels, Jesus speaks of the end of time, when people are disobedient and living in confusion. It really seems as if he is speaking of today.
But there is hope. I still believe that the best way of helping others is to try to radiate what people really want but don't have: peace and joy. Let us try in our very modest way to radiate the peace that God wants to give. Let us keep striving for this until people finally ask, “What is your secret?” Then, perhaps, they may begin to see.