What has modesty to do with smoking? Not much, it would seem, except that they both serve as handy cultural barometers. I am visiting Thomas Aquinas College where a number of things “stand out” as counter-cultural. The first thing a worldly visitor notices is the students’ modesty in dress and demeanor.
For a college campus, the fact that a Catholic man can relax his eyes somewhat first comes as a bit of a shock, and then a welcome respite from the usual warfare required in such a place.
Another thing that strikes one as counter-cultural here is the tolerance for smoking. Smoking! Among educated people in California, it’s hard to name a bigger sin than smoking, except perhaps the sin of intolerance (which is oddly permitted when it comes to smokers). Here at TAC some of the students do smoke, right out there in front of God and everybody, and no one bats an eye.
What does this mean? On most college and university campuses today, immodesty is ubiquitous and smokers are “in the closet”. But here there is no immodesty, and while smoking is not encouraged and few students smoke, smoking is quietly and charitably tolerated as it ought to be. Smoking, potentially, can harm the body; immodesty destroys the soul. How society ranks these two behaviors says everything about its priorities. In this small contrast, as in many others, TAC stands out as a little island of sanity.