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Who wants to know what could go wrong?

Today’s mantra is “choice”—make a choice, no matter how young you are, no matter how much information you lack or how little you’ve experienced, no matter the credibility of those informing your choices.


I recently read an article in a national newspaper about young Poles leaving the Catholic Church. The subtext of the article was Catholicism narrows human freedom. And, surprise, there are sinners in the Church, including in high places. So, naturally, the young want out.

As with many of today’s news stories and influencer voices, claim about Catholicism is the exact opposite of reality. But does anyone care about reality?

Today’s mantra is “choice”. We must make a choice. It is this or that. Make a choice, no matter how young you are, no matter how much information you lack or how little you’ve experienced, no matter the credibility of those informing your choices.

Those freedom-narrowing Catholics persist in using the word and. Freedom and responsibility, faith and reason, justice and mercy, sinner and child of God, master and servant, the fetus as part of a woman’s body and a distinct human being, a boy with feminine traits and the complicated male the Master of the universe created him to be.

While the world increasingly splinters into innumerable ways of viewing life and the universe, only Catholicism proclaims that art and science and faith are different ways of seeking the same Truth. When Catholics use the word Or they reserve it for the things that matter most—heaven or hell.

What about the scandal of clergy sexual abuse? What about corruption within the Church? What about clergy and laity giving their allegiance to states or grand secular projects ahead of their allegiance to Christ’s Church? Catholics know that any and every sin is possible when one is unmoored from Jesus and the Gospel. And the world, including the demonic world, is constantly trying to unmoor humanity from the Gospel. We wish it weren’t so, but it is so. “Blessed be God in all his designs,” proclaimed Blessed Solanus Casey of Detroit, who saw plenty of human misery and recklessness.

As to what could go wrong, the world isn’t the least bit interested in that. After thirty years of studying and exploring crises, I’ve learned that world leaders and so-called experts do next to nothing to try to anticipate what could go wrong. And that the bigger the risk, the less they are inclined to do anything. In the case of Covid-19, a number of actions could have been taken years ago to mitigate or prevent a worldwide pandemic, but financial considerations, turf protection, misbegotten priorities, concerns about legal liability or reputation, forestalled any meaningful action.

The Flint drinking water crisis was also a failure to explore what could go wrong—it could have easily been prevented—before it became a legal bonanza. In a recent article about cyberwarfare in Ukraine (or any modern war), a world expert unbelievably stated, “It is not something we have war-planned and mapped out and said: ‘Hey, this is what we think is going to happen.’” Really?!

Catholicism often asks what could go wrong because the Church understands that human beings cannot save themselves nor redeem human societies. When we make an examination of conscience, when we promise to “avoid the near occasion of sin” in the act of contrition, when we ponder Scripture where any and every human enterprise went wrong, when we ask the Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” when we reflect on Jesus’s demanding beatitudes and commands to forgive, when we hearken to the saints who considered themselves great sinners—and before the Master of the universe, so they were. If we Catholics don’t know what could go wrong, it’s our own fault.

In the 20th century, man was bent on recreating the world without God, or coopting God in the pursuit of their recreations. Science would produce this “better” world, or a perfect economic system, or the elimination of “lesser humans”, or establishing the rule of people who knew better than the rest of humanity. Choices were made by leaders and societies, often with little or no consideration given to the human toll. Many Catholics embraced or were duped by these grand and glorious projects to re-make the world. How many Nazis and Bolsheviks were raised in Christian households and taught in Christian schools, then chose to turn their backs on the truth? But never did the Church change her teachings to accommodate these cruel utopias, nor did her 20th-century saints fall for these lies.

Blaise Pascal, who embraced faith, science, and art, offered keen insights into the consequences of the human preoccupation with diversions. Pascal asserted that excessive diversions keep people from seeking truth in matters of ultimate importance and hinder them from understanding humanity’s true condition. Human preoccupation with creating a “better” world without God’s Truth is an uber-diversion in the sense that such projects ignore man’s true condition and so have no possibility of good outcomes for humanity. One of the greatest delusions in the world that proceeds from frivolous and uber diversions is that Jesus can be put into a philosophical, psychological, cultural, historical, or mythological box. Such people have never immersed themselves in the Gospels with open minds, open hearts, and an ear to what the Church has taught over 2,000 years, or else they have come to the Gospels determined to see Jesus as an agent of their worldview.

The law of the choice seems to be a moral law akin to the physical law of gravity, in which choices aren’t predetermined but consequences, harsh or ameliorated, are inevitable. In a word, we may choose but we can’t choose the consequences. As the law of gravity is necessary for stable solar systems and human life, so the law of the choice seems to be necessary for the authentic human freedom that’s rooted in God’s love. Therefore, what could go wrong means choices must be carefully considered, and repented of when necessary.

The law of the choice is starkly depicted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. The elves who renounce the blessed realm to return to Middle-earth and battle the arch-demon make evil choices along the way, and then stubbornly refuse to repent those choices (today, we’d say they doubled-down). Dire consequences cascade from those choices, impacting not just those rebellious elves but other elves and men who associate with them. Mysteriously, others in Middle-earth who aren’t allied with the rebellious elves are also affected—as happened to ordinary people who were caught up in our 20th-century world wars. Nor did the end of World War I or World War II or the fall of the Berlin Wall unleash eras of peace, because man continued to choose to recreate the world apart from God’s Truth. Likewise, in Tolkien’s myth, the fallen angels rampaged and ravaged in Middle-earth, while the faithful angelic powers refused to intervene for an age, as if constrained by the law of the choice.

Those displaced Polish Catholics, and so many other displaced or disgruntled Catholics, are making exactly the wrong choice. Like the world, they refuse to consider What Could Go Wrong.

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About Thomas M. Doran 84 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.


  1. Hmmm. After almost a decade on college campuses, I found that many of today’s young people postpone choice rather than make it. They have so many options: what if a better choice awaits in the future? A better field of study, a better job, a better significant other, a better tv series to binge–choices big and small.
    We do well to be the best we are called to be, and not compare ourselves so much with the positive and negatives of past generations

    • I think a big part of the problem with the young today is that they have too many choices. Some folks are naturally driven to this or that thing, and it works well for them. I have two children like that. But one has not found his “thing” and is at a complete loss.

  2. Thought provoking, perhaps the upshot is that we have abandoned the “lover of our soul” Jesus Christ!

    God’s word is living and active. The Bible is not a one time read, but instead it addresses the problems of life and more important matters of one’s eternal soul. Chaos is solved by order and God is orderly, systematic in His plan for mankind.He wishes none to perish, yet He leaves the evil, unrepentant to their own devises.

    Jesus is the way and truth and the life and any wishing to come to heavenly bliss must have a sponsor and the only acceptable advocate, is Christ Himself. We must worship the Lord in spirit an truth and the Bible is the source of truth and the Way. Prayer opens doors and knowledge is given to the seeker by the Lord.

    Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

    Colossians 1:14 In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

    Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

    Colossians 1:20-22 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

    Psalm 111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!

    Praise God.

  3. Choice is the situation to most Americans who choose “alternative reality” from that which is real and true in the case of those who still believe and spread the big lie that Trump is still the POTUS because of the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

  4. Doran reports: “After thirty years of studying and exploring crises, I’ve learned that world leaders and so-called experts do next to nothing to try to anticipate what could go wrong.”

    While there is much truth to his assertion, I find it to be simplistic. But to the extent that it is true, then things are getting worse as the broad perspectives afforded by Liberal Arts education are sidelined by STEM education and the trajectory of the industrial-educational complex.

    Adding to Doran’s examples, we might add these two:

    FIRST, the 2008 global financial meltdown, beginning with Washington Mutual and then spreading to all “derivatives” (bad real estate investment apples blended into a barrel of more solid instruments)–Said Alan Greenspan(chair of the Federal Reserve Board) who might have acted early, on October 23, 2008 during a Senate hearing: “This crisis, he said, “has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined.” Again, what is it about leaders who cannot “imagine”–and then be influenced in this way by what they actually know?

    SECOND, said the 9/11 Commission in its published investigation of the Twin-Towers infamy: “Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies…It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, the 9/11 Commission Report (2004). Let us bureaucratize imagination, said the spider to the fly?

    There’s a great line in the Jason Bourne movie series where the imaginative head of the CIA remarks, “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” Some experts actually do this after all. A Liberal Arts background exercising imagination does have a practical application, after all (or as Doran proposes, before all). Imagine that!

    • On your first example, all the leaders had to do was listen to the liberals rather than to own them. People can tend to greedy. More money seems to generate more sin. All financial leaders had to do was prioritize fair play, restrict questionable practices that only benefitted the rich short term. In other words, legislate responsibility.

      People hear what they want to hear, and ignore what they don’t like. We see it continually. Bishops encouraged to cover up sex criminals rather than go tough-love and laicization. They were told in the 1980s. A generation later it cost them and us billions.

      It’s not about one ideology or another. It’s the human condition: we don’t like to change our ways based on unpleasant news. Leaders hear those more expert than themselves on all sorts of things like bullying, climate, banking, espionage, military adventurism, etc.. When they–politicians, bishops, business leaders–don’t like the news they’ve heard, they just don’t listen.

      • It gets worse. The banks were threatened by the federal government that if they did not issue home loans to underprivileged persons (who could not meet the mortgage payment criteria), then they (the banks) would risk losing their charters to operate (that’s my distinct memory).

        As for Greenspan, the rest of his testimony included the remark that as chairman of the Board he would not place the issue on the table, but would have responded if one of the other members took the initiative. A sort of facilitator, if you will…

        Greenspan would have made and excellent bishop under the guidelines for local synods (Vademecum)—where the successors of the apostles (!) are role-cast “primarily as [what?] facilitators.”

        As with the earlier bundling of bad bank loans with the good, now bundle the unchallenged bad stuff from the sin-nods with the good. Just move things along. Batzing and Hollerich are well-positioned to penetrate the package into the Mystical Body of Christ.

        • Banks have been packaging up and selling mortgages for decades. Maybe that should’ve stopped. Why shouldn’t a local bank keep financing local? At the very least give a homeowner right of refusal on who they pay things off? Seems totally fair to me.

          I remember my 2008 mortgages getting sold off before my wife and I even got to closing. Back in the 90s, another mortgage got sold off and both companies drained my checking account. You can bet if I stole some hundreds of dollars from a cash register, I’d have the cops called on me right quick. They corrected the matter soon enough, but I had to explain to a bank teller why I thought I could get $20 in cash, and she had to explain I didn’t have it.

          No, I think it’s easy to blame the lower middle classes. Much more difficult to acknowledge that hard working people in starter homes could actually pay off mortgages if they had rates comparable to what rich people got. And if the oligarchs actually cared about the 99%. Trust me: the libs care a lot less about our beloved oligarchs.

          • My reference was not to the secondary mortgage market by which home loans are bundled together for sale into mortgage-backed securities (secured by the federal government)and sold to investors such as pension funds, insurance companies, and hedge funds.

            My reference, as stated, is to “more solid instruments,” meaning other investments having nothing to do with real estate. As the bad apple in this bigger barrel, the abuse metastasized, leading to a broad and general loss of confidence and the global meltdown of 2008.

          • Okay.

            I suppose I don’t get the connection with bishops or synods. On one side you have business practices of questionable ethics and profitability. On the other, you have a church tradition going back centuries.

  5. Black Swan events, as seen, will always occur. Only a very, very few, if anyone can forecast them and prepare adequately. Those that try have predictions all over the place.

    For Catholics, IMHO, we needed to live in the Catholic world. It’s not easy, but we must understand our faith and live it. This means doing our own re-catechizing of ourselves in understanding the faith. By this I means understanding the sacraments, the Mass, where Christ is present in Holy Communion. This must be followed by daily prayer, rosary, Eucharistic Devotion, reading the bible, lives of saints etc.

    Unfortunately there is no easy way out. People can make up all kinds of reasons to leave: too much work, rules and hypocrites, which can no doubt dent ones faith. But to me, for the most part, these are just excuses and complaints to justify those who really don’t know or spend the time to understand the faith and in prayer. So to maintain a solid Catholic faith in a world where bad things happen it comes down to a binary decision: (1) understand, know and pray your faith and sacraments or (2) do nothing.

  6. Pascal, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Jaspers, et-al – I hope the Synod allows for a greater gleaning of post-Aquinas philosophers. For instance: Spinoza indicated there is no freedom of choice only variations of self-survival and self-edification. In going through life thinking only of oneself there no human freewill only will to survive no different than other temporal living thing or even temporary compositions of matter in nature…the exception being love for God above everything else which is an acknowledgement that only God is eternal and the only human act of freewill as love for God is also eternal. Matt 22:34-40.

  7. I regret that I cannot recall where I read online, just a few days ago, that the anticipation of what could go wrong is a Celtic trait.

    This January, I spent hours figuring out how I could move a unique and valuable table top (not my property) from a horizontal position to a vertical position a few feet away. Every aspect of what could go wrong as I moved a 76 pound, 56 inch square object was considered, from where the table top would land if it slipped, to how much damage could be done to the table top and nearly objects, and how badly I might be injured. Everything went according to plan, until I slid the tabletop off the mattress on which it was resting, and realized that I had not taken into account the resilient edge of the mattress, and that the table top would land on the floor a few inches closer to the bed than I had anticipated. That was easily corrected.

    As someone who is always thinking about what might go wrong, I have to admit that my favorite TV show is Air Disasters, on the Smithsonian Channel (this episode is about happy endings; note the Sign of the Cross):

    Miraculous Plane Landing on New Orleans Levee

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  1. Who wants to know what could go wrong? – Via Nova Media

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