Why football boots?

We do not see what is easily seen, not because it is not easily seen, but because we choose not to see it.

(us.fotolia.com/Alison Bowden)

In a P.G. Wodehouse short story entitled “The Ordeal of Young Tuppy” in Very Good, Jeeves, Bertram Wooster has been invited to Bleaching Court, Upper Bleaching, Hants. for the holidays. In the meantime, he receives an urgent letter from his old schoolmate, one Tuppy Glossop, who also intends to spend the holidays at Bleaching Court. Bertie is asked, for some unknown reason, to have Jeeves, the Wooster butler, bring along Tuppy’s football boots from London when he comes down. Bertie cannot quite understand why Tuppy might want his football boots during the holidays. So, puzzled, Bertie asks Jeeves: “But why football boots?” To this difficult inquiry, the wise Jeeves answers: “Perhaps, Mr. Glossop wishes to play football, sir.” Some things need no further explanation.

Needless to say, much can be learned from such a delightful scene. Some things are so clear that any need for further explication reveals a rather lower level on the intelligence scale. Of course, the implied question being asked was not: “Why does Tuppy need football boots?” but rather “Why does anyone play football during the holidays in the countryside of England?” As it turns out, unsurprisingly, in the case of Tuppy (and usually also of Bertie), it has to do with trying to impress a young lady by means of a traditional village football (rugby) match in which Tuppy planned to star.

The loss, in our day, of the understanding of basic things—first things, self-evident things—is obvious. Few can miss what is at issue when individuals in a culture have freely rejected its grounding in reality. This same reality they did not make, but they insist that they can replace it with something better that they did make.

Yet, we wonder, is it really so difficult to grasp the things that cannot be otherwise? For instance, how brilliant does one really have to be to see that, say, marriage, at bottom, is the word used to define one single relation: the permanent relation of a man and a woman joined to have children and family. “Why football boots?” “Why marriage?” No boots, no football. No male and female, no marriage.

Does it really take a genius to see that intimate relations, whatever else one wants to say about them, between male and male or between female and female are “in vain”, as Aristotle would say? They can themselves produce nothing in terms of new human life. Such latter are perhaps “relations” but not “sexual” relations, which can only refer to what is related directly or indirectly to the begetting of human life.

The Supreme Court’s cagily changing the legal definition of marriage so that it does not include the relation of male and female is deliberate subterfuge. It does not change the reality of the difference. It merely allows people to pretend that something which is not the same is the same. It allows us to lie to ourselves about what never should be lied about.

Again, is it really difficult to see why children need both a father and a mother, even if they do not have them? We can legislate all the “rights” in the world to the contrary, but they only prove in practice that the original purpose cannot and should not be replaced.

If one group of people has many children and another ceases to beget significant numbers of children, is it not clear which group will be around in twenty or thirty years and which one will not?

Does one really need to be a genius to see why mothers should not consent to the killing of their offspring? Or to see why fathers of the same offspring ought not to encourage or demand this killing? Experience quickly teaches us why couples, for their good and that of their children, ought not to have children until they marry and are ready to care for them?

And if we doggedly go ahead and slaughter millions and millions of unborn children in the name of our new found “rights”, do we really think that nothing is wrong with us?

The list of obvious things that are now said not to be obvious is lengthy.

Is it true, if you have implemented a complete diversity criterion for hiring or admissions, so that every division, race, gender or nationality is represented in just the right proportions, that you will necessarily end up with a corporate body that is just, equally talented and motivated in its members?

Is it true that one’s “identity” is equivalent to a measure of one’s virtues or vices? If morality is to be judged in terms of color, class, or self-identification, there can really be no morality. None of these identity characteristics as such have anything to do with what morality is about. They are all based on a calculated determinism that is indifferent to the moral freedom that measures human dignity.

Is not euthanasia little more than the state authorizing the killing of its citizens through its agency on the basis of misplaced compassion? Do we want the question of life and death to be solely left to the state?

Are kindergartens really the places where little children should be encouraged to wonder what sex or gender they belong to?

How can someone be guilty of “Islamophobia” by citing what it says in the Qur’an about jihad, or what has happened in Islam’s historic endeavor to expand to conquer the world in the name of Allah? Is it wrong to point out that the Crusades were primarily defensive actions belatedly undertaken to prevent Europe from becoming Muslim by military conquest in earlier centuries?

Or again, “Why football boots?” Why is it so difficult to see that what ought not to be, really ought not to be? Or to put it in a positive way: “Why is something real out there in the first place without our making it so?

Why is it that, when we set out to reconstruct man in our own image, we so often undermine the most obvious and best things about his given being? When we re-fashion him to what we think that he ought to be, why do we so often end up with something worse?

We have other perplexities. Why has “hate language” succeeded in undermining freedom of speech? It is because “hate language” was invented precisely to prevent us from asking, “Why football boots?” That is, the only way we can prevent people from seeing that football boots are related to playing football is to prevent our speaking clearly about what we are dealing with, what we are playing.

We cease to call things by their right names. We know we do. That is why we seek to place heavy sanctions on those who dare to disagree with our particular ideology that is now often established in law. It cannot bear exposure for what it is. The law itself comes to reflect not reality but imagined, reconstructed reality that alienates man from himself.

Actually, many stories in our culture remind us of this problem. The most famous is probably the one of the Emperor who had no clothes about which no one but a child would finally point out. We refuse to call the most obvious things what they are so that we are not free to acknowledge what we are.

The burden of what I am getting at here is not that many nuances and clarifications can be made about each of these supposedly pressing issues. It is rather that the truth of things is not difficult to see and understand, even if we refuse to will it.

It follows from these considerations that a much heavier burden is laid on our souls than we are wont to admit when we deny what is so easily seen. We want everyone to “get along” no matter what they hold, as if this were either possible or a good idea. We think the way to accomplish this public “peacefulness” is to forbid any differences however fundamental. No matter what anyone does or thinks is quite all right if they let us alone. We are not allowed any judgement or speech based on the truth of things and our conformity to it.

“Why football boots?” There are answers to basic “why’s” that no one can miss without denying what he is. Our world was not given to us in a necessitarian mode. It was given to us in order that we might first understand it, then choose it because we saw that we were made from the beginning in a way that was much better than anything that we came to reconfigure in ourselves.

In brief, we are beings who can refuse to be what we really are. Our era is marked by the carrying out of this refusal at each stage of our concrete, existing being. We do not see what is easily seen, not because it is not easily seen, but because we choose not to see it.

And on so choosing, we have to lie to ourselves and to one another about what we are. Once the first lie is accepted, things get ever more complicated. Each lie leads to another. We have to prevent anyone pointing out to us what almost anyone can see who will answer, if he will, Bertie Wooster’s question to Jeeves: “Why football boots?”

About James V. Schall, S.J. 157 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until recently retiring. He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His most recent book is Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism (Ignatius Press). Visit his site, "Another Sort of Learning", for more about his writings and work.

3 Comments

  1. This has actually been going on since time immemorial. The Father of Lies has been plying his trade since Genesis 3:4. Getting people to lie to themselves (AKA self-deception) has been part of the way we become enslaved to sin. Many saints have warned against it, and that is why making an honest examination of conscience everyday is very important.

    In modern times, it does seem to have gotten worse. Kierkegaard especially warned that modernity is the age of self-deception without historical parallel. And if it was bad back in the 19th century, it has become very much worse in the 21st. As Fr. Schall perspicaciously points out pur social and cultural institutions and practices have become mostly techniques of lying to ourselves.

    And in the midst of such a desolate land of lies, those who preach the truth of Jesus Christ will be hated and persecuted.

  2. The initial sense perception of reality is First Principle of all knowledge [Aquinas]. After the fact argument is imaginative hypotheses based on presumption. Descartes, Hume, Kant all base their thought on denial of this one fact. Fr Schall touches on the keystone of intellectual integrity. And acquisition of truth. “Our world was given to us in order that we might first understand it, then choose it because we saw that we were made from the beginning in a way that was much better than anything that we came to reconfigure in ourselves”. This initial premise is the line of demarcation from which the idealist enters into the world of the mind and all its idiosyncratic predilections. It is also the borderline of schizophrenia. Disordered behavior can be traced to that distancing from reality in which we create our own cognitive premises. Most for example suffer from some form of self afflicted inordinate fear and depression. Both mental health and moral health are closely aligned with the simple acceptance of the world given to us by God. That requires humility rather than the presumption Fr Schall says “we came to reconfigure in ourselves”. It’s pride, self adulation that’s behind that turning into ourselves rather than loving God’s creation. And finding the beauty of its order and the God who ordered it.

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