Sed Contra: The Strategy of Separation

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 1999

It is always a temptation to read the facts through the lens of the pervasive mood. Paul Weyrich, prominent among religious conservatives, has become progressively depressed over the fate of our culture. In February, Weyrich sent a four-page letter to conservatives. It is a much more thoughtful letter that has been reported and deserves our serious attention.

Weyrich, who coined the term “moral majority,” has come to the conclusion that politics can no longer be trusted since the culture that sustains it has become bankrupt, a “sewer.” He seems to have been shocked into this conclusion by the evident sloth of the American public toward the president’s behavior and the toothless response of most Beltway politicians in the impeachment trial.

Weyrich thinks the time has come for conservatives to seek a “quarantine” from the culture, to “turn on, tune in, drop out” in the style of ’60s radicals: “what seems to be a legitimate strategy for us to follow is to look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness….”

He is right when he declares we have lost the culture wars. He is right when he says that the culture has infected our politics. He is also right to suggest we should be creating new institutions that reflect the old, traditional values. But Weyrich is wrong, however, to encourage us to leave the political fray.

Certainly, the reaction to the impeachment proceedings was no revelation, but only a graphic confirmation of what we all should have known much sooner—than a vast sea change has taken place in American society over the past 25 years. That change has been described under various rubrics—narcissism, self-absorption, autonomy—so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that politicians are mirroring that change.

Our culture no doubt needs serious attention, and there are conservatives and Catholics alike who have been making this their priority for many years. Even the heyday of the moral majority, religious conservatives, were never proposing that politics held the final answer. Religion is the heart of our culture, and if a cultural problem exists then the vagaries of religious belief and practice is the place to look for answers.

At the same time, this is not the time—it is never the time—to withdraw from the public square. To be a citizen is a vocation, just as being a lay Catholic is a vocation, and vocations do not change simply because the odds have been turned against you.

To be a Catholic means many things: For one, it means having an impulse to create a culture that reflects and expresses faith. Catholics, at least traditionally, have not viewed their faith as something private. The Catholic faith is something that can be embodied in education, art, architecture, music, poetry, fiction, manners, and even mystery.

We may not succeed, but we cannot retreat into the ghetto of interiority.

To be Catholic, I think, means moving beyond the temptation to isolation and individualism, the private solitude of brooding upon the truth that few people seem to recognize. To premise your action on the assumption that you are part of a majority, as Weyrich admits he has done, is to lose the evangelical perspective that governs any religiously-guided enterprise: “the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7.13-14)

No, we are no longer a moral majority, but we are misguided if we thought we would remain so. The signs have been clear for over a decade that the cultural trends were not in our favor. Merely to notice what passes for TV entertainment during the family hour on the networks, 8 to 9 p.m., makes the point beyond debate. Open homosexuality, sexual coupling as sport, flagrant disrespect toward traditional religious values—all are broadcast every day into millions of American homes.

This is the cultural air we breathe, and it has become poison to the Catholic faith. Because of this, much of Weyrich’s counsel make sense and should not be dismissed. He speaks prophetically when he says, at the conclusion of his letter, that it is time for conservatives to disengage from the culture and “create a little stillness.”

As a good priest told me recently, alluding to the book by Josef Pieper, “leisure is the basis of culture and the interior life.” What we need is not separation but engagement reinvigorated by the freshness of souls that have created some space to rest. And we must remember always that our true triumph remains elsewhere, in being enfolded in the arms of God.

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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