Politics, Culture, or the Church?

Deal W. Hudson
November 6, 2010

Anyone who has been to a Catholic conference has heard the following remark rise up out of the audience: “What we really need to do is to pray and get before the Blessed Sacrament!” Anyone who has spoken at a Catholic conference has had to confront this statement. Usually, in order not to appear like a pagan, you will be tempted simply to remind the audience that you were not invited to discuss prayer or Eucharistic adoration.

Having been put in this situation more times than I can remember, I am comforted by the spectacle of seeing speakers like Jeff Cavins, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and the redoubtable Alan Keyes placed in similar circumstances.

For the sake of argument, let’s call this kind of comment the “spiritually obvious move” (SOM). There is nothing particularly wrong with stating the spiritually obvious, except when misunderstandings follow.

The rhetorical force of the SOM resides in two assumptions, one valid, the other invalid. Every Catholic should know that prayer and the grace of Christ’s real presence is the foundation of life and the grounding of all our evangelical efforts. A radical commitment to mental prayer is simply obvious, but not simply done.

Nothing here poses a problem, that is until you subscribe to the second assumption. What irks me, and what constantly erupts in public debate, is the false dichotomy – or should I say trichotomy – among politics, culture, and the Church.

The job of evangelization, to which we are all called, is undermined by this false dichotomy. However, the problem can be easily adjusted by two points. First, the Church and the Gospel that is proclaimed by the Church are about human life and the institutions that nurture life. Therefore, the Church that seeks to awaken all persons to a realization of their basic dignity is unavoidably concerned with culture and politics. So a Christian does not retreat into his faith; rather, his faith propels him into a usually agnostic relationship with his world.

Faith may seem like a private matter, but it has consequences in the public sphere that cannot legitimately be pushed aside. A Christian has no neutral vantage point from which to observe casually the vulgarity of culture or the compromises of politics. Like it or not, the work of the Church must pass through both tainted vessels. And sometimes it doesn’t. After all, articulate defenders of life, such as Hadley Arkes, have documented for years the cultural decline instigated by Roe v. Wade. Rot and nonsense, like bacteria, can travel in any direction, from culture into politics, from politics into the culture.

False dichotomies threaten to hatch an unfortunate political strategy. One defeatist course of action espoused in some pro-life camps proposes letting the political scene totally deteriorate until some sort of countervailing spiritual backlash occurs. Such a strategy seems to me as heartless as withholding a cure for AIDS. And as this century’s two world wars demonstrate, cultural collapse is accompanied by horrendous repercussions. The demands of charity make it our Christian obligation to oppose evil at all times; it is never an option to encourage or countenance evil in hopes that goodness may abound as a result of its destructive advances.

The impulse behind such tactics is nothing less than a postmodern form of medieval Catharism – a radical, uncharitable impatience with anything less than total purity of mind and heart. Purity, in the true sense, is always attractive and compelling. History shows how purity, often bathed in spiritually obvious platitudes, leads to a divisive demagoguery in which everyone is the loser. Ideological purity in any guise leads to misunderstanding the living tissue that connects politics, culture, and the Church.

This article originally appeared in the May 1999 issue of Crisis Magazine.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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