Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: The Whole Story
January 1, 1996
During four years of college and seven of graduate school, most of it in philosophy and theology, I heard only one lecture on virtue — the virtue of art. Thus I consider it miraculous that the language of virtue has returned to public discourse. But the virtues don’t tell the whole story about human life. We need once again to begin talking about happiness.
Our ideas of happiness, implicit or explicit, inform our judgments about the virtues. How else is it possible for someone to admire the courage of adolescent rebellion against parental authority? Or how can someone see justice being served by giving mothers a “right” to kill their unborn children?
We must admit that the actual content of virtuous behavior is open to differing, even opposite, interpretations. This is where happiness comes in, or should, but happiness thus far has been ignored in this debate. My recent Happiness and the Limits of Satisfaction (Rowman Littlefield) demonstrates that the idea of happiness needs to be seriously reexamined, and that the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness has led us badly astray. Jefferson’s happiness was much closer to the happiness of the ancient Greeks than our own.
First of all, Jefferson would reject the identification of happiness with “feeling good” and “self-satisfaction.” This unquestioned assumption is running amuck ruining lives and institutions. Secondly, we need to rediscover the moral meaning of happiness, precisely where Jefferson found it, deeply rooted in the traditions of classical and Christian ethics.
It will certainly come as a surprise to most, as it did to me, that there was a time when you could call no one happy who wasn’t also making a serious attempt to be morally good. To call someone happy, even oneself, implied a moral judgment, and was not simply a statement about someone’s apparent feelings.
So to be happy, in this ancient and Christian sense, requires the virtues. But the virtues also require happiness— because a person’s awareness of the final end he seeks determines his understanding, and actual content, of the specific virtues. This is why the same act can appear virtuous to one person and objectionable to another. This is why the present discussions of virtue are only the first step.
No doubt the revival of interest in the virtues reminds us that lives are not governed at every turn by a mental checklist of rules and commandments. Human beings will inevitably follow their dispositions — habits of thought, action, and emotion. Better lives and better communities will result from focusing on these wellsprings of action, rather than on clamoring for adherence to abstractions. No one, for example, who is incapable of temperance is capable of obeying a commandment consistently.
If the importance of virtue can be restored, why not make the restoration complete by addressing the meaning of happiness? People are reluctant to tackle the question of happiness for at least two reasons. Obviously, the idea of happiness itself has been discredited, and those who talk about it can appear like another huckster on the self-help market. But more important, to ask about happiness is to ask about the purpose of human life. And about this people clearly differ, sometimes quite bitterly.
It is easier, frankly, to talk at a level where people of totally differing purposes can use an identical moral vocabulary and avoid public disagreement. Discussions of happiness expose these differences. They force people to reveal their bottom line, what they live for, what they are willing to sacrifice and suffer for.
Happiness and suffering — these are words that are rarely seen together. To an age so preoccupied with maximizing satisfaction and delight they will seem not merely unrelated but diametrically opposed. The moral meaning of happiness will be recovered only when our vision of the happy life is widened to include suffering. By this, I mean the suffering we undergo for the good and for God, and also the unexpected suffering that visits us as limited and vulnerable creatures.
This is precisely why thinking about happiness points back to the necessity of virtue. The virtues are those dispositions — those habits of the heart—that keep us on track when the soul and body are shaken. Without the virtues we cannot pursue true happiness; without happiness we cannot recognize true virtues.
Let’s start telling the whole story.
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Choosing Sides
February 1, 1996
At lunch with some Catholic editors, I heard the following comment, “The trouble with Catholics who support cutting government spending is that they don’t seek direction on their knees before God.” I replied, “How do you know that, and how do you know that those who support the status quo are making prayerful decisions?”
The assumption of divine blessing in the present political climate is always awarded to those who favor more government assistance, not those who favor less. The recent bishops’ statements on the Contract with America, welfare reform, and new Catholic Alliance have reinforced this prejudice. It is no surprise that conservative reformers have been made to appear mean and unChristian in their attempts to lessen the debt burden, while preserving Medicare and Social Security, for future generations.
I’d guess most bishops would agree with my editor friend that if conservatives prayed they would hear the voice of God telling them not to abandon the poor by downsizing government. The mainstream media, with its torrent of features about those who would be “hurt” by government cutbacks, obviously agree.
Catholics are rightly proud of their legacy of civic charity—it would be hard to overpraise, if praise were appropriate, the spirit of Catholic service that permeates American institutions. In terms of party loyalty, Catholic voters have traditionally followed suit by supporting the party carrying out the mandates of the New Deal and the Great Society.
In 1994, however, the majority of Catholics voted for conservatives. It wasn’t simply “pocketbook” issues that moved them: it was the issue of American character, of the kind of government that best encourages what this country has always valued—freedom, personal responsibility, and work. Catholics have big hearts, but they can recognize when institutional compassion is no longer effective.
Whether or not Catholics continue to move in a conservative direction remains to be seen. The new Catholic Alliance of the Christian Coalition promises to rally more Catholic voters to its conservative cause. Leaders of the Catholic Alliance must help their members to understand the distinctively Catholic reasons for their political agenda, and not merely disseminate a cosmetic touch up of Coalition positions.
The tradition of Catholic social thought, as Ralph Reed has commented in these pages, promises to add a rich dimension of moral-political reflection to the basic biblical principles already espoused within the Coalition. A truly
Catholic alliance will operate according to its own distinctive reasons for political action. Can the Christian Coalition lacking any Catholic board members run a Catholic Alliance? (Maureen Roselli, Executive Director of the Catholic Alliance, will address these concerns in the March Crisis.)
The bishops are doing all they can to reverse the conservative trend and counteract the influence of the Catholic Alliance, in particular. Undoubtedly it is the bishops role to inform us of Catholic teaching, including social teaching. But beyond stating general principles, say, the principle of subsidiarity, there is no reason, beyond the force of their wisdom and intelligence, that Catholics should heed the bishops’ view of public policy. This distinction is particularly important, given the fact of the bishops’ inability to recognize that welfare is a principal cause of the poverty they despise (see Crisis, March 1994).
Catholic social teaching, as shown by Michael Novak and ratified by Centissimus annus, supports a work-centered approach to addressing poverty and human vulnerability. As Michael Warner shows in his forthcoming book, Changing Witness: Catholic Bishops and Public Policy 1917-1994, the social encyclicals contain aspirations for the human person diminished by the statism of the American bishops. Catholics are called to help provide every person access to the basic goods of life, but constantly depending on the state is a clear violation of subsidiarity and an impediment to the strength of local communities, beginning with the family.
It comes as no surprise that the breakdown of our welfare system comes at the same time our appreciation for the civic benefits of the nuclear family has been renewed. Good parents help their children grow up. Parents who spoil their children may operate on the assumption that self-esteem is integral to living well, but they forget to draw the line and demand responsibility.
One hopes that our bishops in their unwavering allegiance to discredited institutions of care do not lose the opportunity to collaborate with conservatives who prayerfully seek a renewal of national character.
Deal W. Hudson
A Letter to CRISIS Readers
March 1, 1996
Ralph Mclnerny and Michael Novak founded this magazine in 1982. They broke new ground with Curses—in doing so they changed the landscape of Catholicism and the conservative movement in America. For the first time, lay Catholics who were obedient to the Magisterium and confident in the past and future of the American founding could be heard in the public square.
McInerny and Novak have served as CRISIS publishers and editors for fourteen years; they nurtured it from its perilous beginnings to the established place it occupies today. Meanwhile they pressed onward with their own distinguished careers: Ralph Mclnerny, who is scheduled to deliver Scotland’s prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1999, is one of the world’s foremost Catholic philosophers, as well as a leading mystery writer, the creator of Father Dowling. Michael Novak, the internationally known philosopher and social theorist, lecturer, and columnist, was the recipient of the 1994 Templeton Prize. Between them they have published more than eighty books, all the while overseeing the publication of a monthly magazine called CRISIS.
Mclnerny and Novak have asked me to take over the reins of publishing CRISIS, and I have gratefully accepted. They will remain with CRISIS as founders, writers, and constant advisers. Any attempt to say “thank you” to them for the generosity they have shown in trusting me with their creation can only fall short. I will show them my appreciation by carrying CRISIS toward the next millennium. In doing so, we will take our Holy Father’s On the Coming of the Third Millennium as our guide. Over the next four years expect to see a series of meditations as suggested by the pope in his apostolic letter.
In taking this road, OUSTS will continue to follow the vision of its founders for the future of the magazine. McInerny and Novak have always sought to bring the authentic teaching of the Church to bear on America in a manner that would replace its defunct and discredited liberalism. It is a vision I share, in part because I have received it from them and those who instructed them.
The first page of the first volume in November 1982 contains the words, “A new Catholic spirit is being born. It calls for a new voice.” As its new publisher, I promise that CRISIS will continue to speak with that voice. I also promise that as we speak we will listen, especially to John Paul II and the Magisterium, as well as to the great voices of the past—the fathers and doctors of the Church, and the leaders of this century’s Catholic renaissance, among them Maritain, Dawson, Chesterton, Belloc, Gilson, Mauriac, Undset, Simon, Sheed, and Von Balthasar.
CRISIS, however, has never been content simply to recall past glories; we will continue to bring you the best in Catholic and conservative thought. Expect to meet the new Maritains and the new Chestertons in the pages of Otis’s. Expect to read about the whole range of cultural concerns, from politics and the Church, to education, art, public policy and philosophy. Expect also an unwavering stance in the protection of the unborn and the traditional family. CRISIS may be changing hands, but it is decidedly not changing its commitments.
In the months ahead we hope you will be hearing more about CRISIS. You can see it now on national newsstands, such as in the Barnes & Noble Superstores, or you can dial us up on our World Wide Web page. Many other exciting projects are now in the formative stages and will be announced soon. We hope you are happy with our progress thus far. Next month’s issue will include a reader’s survey card just so you can tell us how we are doing—please tear it out, fill it in, and send it back. I promise that we will act on the results.
Thus, as I attempt to follow in the footsteps of two great men, I am
Deal W. Hudson
Publisher & Editor
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Praying by the Numbers
April 1, 1996
Several years ago this month, I nearly disturbed the decorum of my parish church in the northern suburbs of New York City. It was Easter morning. Theresa and I had brought our three year old daughter to Mass. The church was packed with people, but when the organist began playing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” practically no one sang.
As the Mass continued, in spite of large numbers who stood around the walls of the sanctuary, there was never a moment when the voice of the congregation rose above a muffled grumble—we sounded like schoolchildren being forced through our daily grammar lessons, without much success.
Crisis readers who are aware by now of my Baptist years may consider me overly sensitive on this topic. But my complaint is one that I make on behalf of all Catholics who crave a greater sense of collective expectancy and gratitude in our worship.
Theresa and I are both converts, but our daughter, Hannah Clare, is a cradle Catholic. Her parents have the advantage of having consciously chosen the Catholic Church—we can see beyond the limp and lifeless liturgies. That morning, however, I wanted my daughter to be touched with the mood of unforgettable exultation that comes through the words and melody of “Now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia.”
I tried to make excuses to myself. Perhaps they don’t know the song, etc. But looking around all I saw were grim and bored faces, interspersed with a few faint smiles.
I confess that I probably panicked that day—was my daughter, I wondered, ever going to feel the pulse of great worship, the heartfelt songs, the rousingly chanted prayers? What about other young Catholics on this Easter morning: don’t they need more to take home with them than this reminder of the lukewarm church at Laodicea?
I was standing at the rear of the church, near the baptistery: how easy, I thought, to simply step forward at a momentary lull and say to everyone present that Easter morning was a time of joy and celebration, not mourning. “Let’s get off the treadmill of dreary obligation! Don’t we owe our children here a more vital expression of faith, of our gratitude and thanksgiving in the Risen Christ?”
I struggled with this, possibly Protestant, impulse for what seemed half the Mass, but I never moved. Theresa told me later she knew exactly what was going through my mind; she was glad I restrained myself. I’m not sure myself—perhaps I was only being a coward.
The problem I met in that parish on Easter morning appears to be widespread. Few things expose more clearly a parish’s spiritual temperature than its singing and praying. Robust singing also says “welcome” to both friends and strangers—it says we’re glad to be here and we’re in no hurry to leave.
What’s wrong? Are Catholics confused by all the changes in the liturgy? Are they turned off by all the had post–Vatican II music? Or does Mother Angelica have it right when she says, “People don’t sing when they’re broken-hearted.”
Whether confused, grief-stricken, or simply overwhelmed by bad taste, the tepid atmosphere of much Catholic worship needs discussing.
Catholics in America, for a variety of reasons, are not naturally evangelical. Peggy Noonan recently told me that she tried to get involved again in the Catholic Church during the early ’80s and would have stayed with it “if only someone had said, ‘Hi.’”
Our Holy Father has called us to a new evangelism. It is difficult to respond to such a call when we are reluctant or embarrassed to share our faith in word and song. I have some concrete suggestions for every parish that needs them: start singing, welcome friends and strangers, and make sure new parish members get more than offering envelopes.
My cradle Catholic friends tell me I will regret encouraging such things, that we are all better off without the awkward and superficial friendliness that results from church-supervised programs. I know what they mean. But we still must address the important issue of forming the religious emotions and affections of our young and rekindling the joy in older souls.
I want my daughter to know her catechism, “Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” But just as important for her, for all of us, is to experience the joy of celebrating that day and to express through song and praise the love that all Christians offer up in gratitude for their salvation.
Lovers don’t recite formulas, they sing—whether they have a decent voice or not.
Deal W. Hudson
What Cradle Catholics Take for Granted
May 1, 1996
Our Holy Father, John Paul II, has called us to participate in the new evangelization of the Catholic Church. These very personal remarks are offered in the spirit of that evangelism. Perhaps hearing from someone who discovered the Church for the first time as an adult will be helpful to those who have lost heart in their faith or who have given up. Surely there are untapped resources still available in our shared faith to help them turn toward home.
It’s only human nature for us to take things for granted, such as family, country, and religion. But there’s a special problem among Catholics about taking their faith for granted. I didn’t know this when I entered the Church more than a decade ago. I found out about it in the course of answering the many questions that came my way about my conversion.
I was constantly asked, for example, how would a Southern Baptist minister from Fort Worth, Texas, make his way to Rome? As I would share my story, enthusiastically as any ex-Baptist must, I found that enthusiasm doesn’t get you very far among Catholics. I was met with blank stares.
I started classifying those blank stares. The first classification was, “What is he talking about? Aquinas, Natural Law, Maritain. I’ve never heard of that!” The other set of blank stares I classified as, “I thought we’d done away with this kind of Catholicism.”
Discovery of Catholic Tradition
So as I moved through the first decade of my life as a Catholic, I began to realize that some Catholics did, in fact, take their Church and its great legacy for granted, specifically: Catholic wisdom, Catholic doctrine, and the Mass.
I used to look forward to questions on my conversion until I started meeting incredulity and hostility. I loved to tell the story about my discovery of Catholic wisdom at Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the great Protestant seminaries in this country, through the work of St. Augustine, On the Trinity. As I read this treatise, I encountered something I had never seen in any of the Protestant theologians I had read—the perfect cooperation of natural and supernatural intelligence. In St. Augustine I met a command of history. A command of classical learning. The invention of the psychological method.
This encounter with St. Augustine led me to more years of reading than I care to admit. I’m embarrassed it took me so long after that to enter the Church. I should have known better. I read Aquinas. I read the Church Fathers. I read the great Reformation and post-Reformation debates. I read the great Catholic novelists, whom I still recommend to you. I read the great Catholic poets. I listened to your music. I tried to learn your language. Have you tried to learn your language?
This culminated in a reading of the two volumes of the documents of Vatican II. I devoured those documents because a book by James Hitchcock called Decline and Fall: Catholicism and Modernity made me worry that the Church I wanted to enter was becoming Protestant. When I finished the documents of Vatican II, I realized very clearly that the Church I had first glimpsed in the life and work of St. Monica’s son still existed. It hadn’t changed.
When I went to my first Mass and tried to get a grip on all of that moving around, all of that unexpected motion, all of those unconsecutive page numbers, it was a lot harder and it took a lot longer to assimilate. But, finally, it dawned on me that just as there is tremendous power in your wisdom and in your doctrine, the greatest power of all is in the Eucharist. Catholic worship culminates an encounter with the objective presence of Christ on the altar.
I know that enthusiastic stories of converts are met with a little bit of suspicion. Ronald Knox, bless his soul, wrote a great book called Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion. I sometimes wish it had never been written. Every time I mention to my Catholic friends, one exception being Mother Angelica, who agrees with me on this, that we need a little more enthusiasm in the Catholic Church, I hear, “Oh, Ronald Knox, Ronald Knox.” I don’t think he meant to expunge all of the energy out of our faith. I think we know the kind of dangers he was warning us against.
Most Catholics, I think, are baffled why anyone would choose to carry the baggage of this old, outdated faith. I’m living proof that this is not a religion acquired only by birth. In fact, if you think back through Church history, isn’t it true that large families alone didn’t make the Catholic Church great? Large families alone didn’t make the Catholic Church endure. It was evangelization that made the Catholic Church great. Evangelization made it the universal Church universal—global in its scope.
The Church grew because missionaries shared the faith, told its stories. We can’t just rely on having large families to keep the Catholic Church great. Large families are wonderful. They’re a blessing. But what will keep the Catholic Church great is a commitment to telling its stories, to evangelization, to witnessing. When is the last time you did it? When is the last time you were able to articulate to your alienated Catholic friends why you remain a Catholic?
We all take things for granted. We take our families for granted. We take our country for granted. We take our religion for granted. But in this case of family and country, I’ve noticed there’s kind of an automatic correction that goes on. You get older, you have children, and you think, “My mother and father, how great they were. How grateful I am to them. Why didn’t I realize it until now?” It happens almost automatically, at least it did for me. The significance of last Veterans Day hit me very hard. On that day I thought about thousands of people who have died or risked their lives, including my own father, so that I could be free, so that I could raise my daughter in a free country. I’m sure as I grow older, this love of country will just get stronger.
The Mind of Christ
But there’s a special problem with the Catholic Church. There’s no evidence that cradle Catholics who fall away, who lose heart, there is no evidence they return. When I ask them why they haven’t returned, they sound inarticulate. They don’t really know why. They use phrases about the irrelevancy of an authoritarian masculine church, about the lack of women priests, about nuns who were mean to them in the third grade. But in all of this they’ve not taken on the mind of Christ. They’ve taken on the mind of the media. The mind of Christ was never imparted to them.
We have to take this indifference seriously, because the fate of our children is at stake. We now live in an era we call “modernity.” Modernity is defined by options—an almost unlimited range of options for young people. Our young people are not automatically going to choose the faith of their parents. Protestant evangelicals are wooing them. The culture at large is wooing them—the secular culture—and they have very powerful tools on their side. They have the movies on their side. They have films on their side.
Why would your children, when they come to an age of decision—and of course ages of decision arise all through life—why would they want to return to a lukewarm, lethargic, inarticulate Church? Why, when there’s so much passionate commitment elsewhere? Don’t tell me the Catholic Church should be a place where enthusiasm is excluded. That’s nonsense. We should be just as excited about the gifts we have in our Church as about any other gifts, any other pleasures.
Another sign of a special problem in the Catholic Church is what I call the “post office phenomenon.” People who can’t explain what they are doing hide behind a posture. People who think they alone deliver the spiritual mail but can’t explain why, will make you stand in line until they’re ready to serve you—but don’t ask any questions in the meantime! How can the Church expect people to remain faithful, devoted, and grateful when they’re being treated like that?
Catholic faith is old, yes. It is venerable, yes. But it still needs to be explained to each new generation, your children and their children. May I remind you that the older generation needs a refresher course from time to time? That’s why you’re reading Crisis magazine and other Catholic publications.
Wisdom, doctrine, and worship—the very reasons I became a Catholic—are being taken for granted.
What did it mean for me to discover the Catholic Church? First, it was totally liberating for a Baptist to realize that Christian intelligence is not limited merely to citing texts from Scripture to support arguments, but rather that Christian intelligence takes in the whole of the natural order and that God speaks through the natural order to the prudent eye. This was nothing less than the recovery of my intellect, the intellect that God gave me to use in making man in his image and likeness.
Second, it was liberating to realize that the biblical revelation, the revelation through the prophets, through Christ, had been contained, reflected, and commented upon throughout the history of the Church, which is the body of Christ. That a weighing and sifting had gone on for all of these centuries gave me the confidence that I didn’t have to jump back nearly two thousand years every time I wanted to know what Christ calls me to do. This, for me, was nothing less than a recovery of human history.
For a Baptist to come into the Catholic Mass, to realize that the culmination of worship does not come in response to a man’s voice, however melodious, however articulate, but comes in response to the objective actual presence of Christ, was nothing less than a recovery of the full meaning of the Incarnation.
I maintain that all human beings hunger for this kind of liberation—for the recovery of the whole person and all of human history. Notice there’s nothing extraneous about these issues. These are not intellectual issues. These are not academic issues. These are the very issues that distinguish us as Catholics, not Protestants; Catholics, not Jews; Catholics, not secularists. It’s what makes us Catholic.
These are the very issues—wisdom, doctrine, and worship—that give us our advantage in the public square. Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition has welcomed Catholics to the public square. It should be obvious that we have much more ammunition to bring than anybody else. Pope John Paul II’s speech on human rights at the United Nations is a paradigm to which we should all aspire.
The Catholic Advantage
For the last ten years, I pursued a research project on the meaning of human happiness. It was a project inspired by my entry into the Catholic Church. This is an example of what I mean by the Catholic advantage in the public square—in politics, in the arts, in the humanities, in the social sciences. If we look at the way the meaning of human happiness has been misrepresented and made superficial in the twentieth century—the way it has affected our political life, our moral life, our family life, and our education—we realize that the corrective is to go back to the Tradition. Back to Catholic wisdom. Back to the Bible. Back to Augustine and Aquinas. To Jacques Maritain and Christopher Dawson, Martin D’Arcy, and G. K. Chesterton. We must go back. What we will find there is a way to correct our problem. There is a wisdom there. There are ideas there that can have consequences for us. We can change things not just by adjusting public policy but by fixing ideas that we live by.
How can you take for granted a legacy that has everything we need to know about telling the story of the good life? Not just the good life in private, at home, but the good life lived publicly. The good life in the world of work. The good life in the world of the arts. The good life in the academic world. It is not a story to be divided between public and private. It is a story to be brought to bear on the whole of civilization. It has been brought to bear on the whole of civilization. The books in my library are rows deep. They’re all there: Dawson, Maritain, Chesterton, Guardini, Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel. I’m perplexed by Catholics who know nothing about the amazing influence, the formative benefit of the Catholic Church on world civilization.
Certainly you know about the role of the Catholic Church in the formation of hospitals, universities, libraries, social services of all kinds, the growth of economics, the development of democracy, the emergence of freedom. The next time someone trying to intimidate you brings up the Inquisition, don’t resort to some sort of misplaced notion of charity or tolerance and apologize for your Church. Say, “Sure we’ve made mistakes, but what about universities, hospitals, and democratic institutions, the notion of the human person itself, which arose right out of the heart of the Church—nowhere else?”
When the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. talks about the self-correcting aspects of Western civilization, he could have well said that Catholic wisdom had a great deal to do with that self-correcting dimension of Western civilization.
Catholic wisdom particularly protects the family. Catholic wisdom, which draws upon both divine revelation and reflection on the world of nature, testifies to the ordinate union of man and women in marriage, not random arrangements. These ordinate unions are the ones that should be protected and nurtured by law.
Consider the situation now in the state of Hawaii. What we need to realize—those of us committed to public Catholicism—is that the problem there is not just same-sex marriage. The problem there, which is growing among Catholics in Hawaii, is that many issues are coalescing into one horrible stew that is about to boil over. Same-sex marriage, allied with the gay rights movement, with multiculturalism, with national sovereignty, with new-age liturgy and spirituality, is making it very difficult for our brothers and sisters in Hawaii.
Public Catholicism of the type the Catholic Campaign for America is espousing requires us to be well armed with wisdom and doctrine. We must start with the writings of our pope. We must read his books, his encyclicals, his speeches.
Converts go through a kind of Catholic retooling process. That’s why some of us have a fairly explicit, if not always entirely accurate, grasp of its principles. I once asked my wife, who is also a Baptist convert from the South, if her meeting me had anything to do with her becoming Catholic. She said, “Yes, meeting you and your circle of friends in Atlanta. . . . The one thing that kept coming through as I listened to your discussions is the fundamental notion that life is good: life is good regardless of the pain of that life, regardless of the suffering, regardless of the obstacles to be overcome, regardless of what is missing materially from that life, regardless of the fact that a life may not be loved by some human being that should love it.”
That life is good is one of the first principles of Catholic wisdom. It is the principle we invoke to save our unborn children. It is the principle we invoke when we explain our position on birth control to skeptics. It’s the position we invoke when we discuss euthanasia. Life is good.
You might be thinking now, “I can’t accuse my friends of taking things for granted that they never knew about.” In that case, it’s partially the responsibility of those people who formed you in your faith that they didn’t pass it on. We all know there’s been a great confusion about Catholic doctrine in the last forty years, but what do we have now that we didn’t have two years ago? We have the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The amateur experts in your parish and your Catholic schools can’t invent theology on the spot anymore because you can look in the Catechism yourself. You read the section on the sacraments. They are not psychologized; sacraments don’t exist to make you feel good. In fact, they exist to make you feel bad sometimes. That can be good for you, that can lead you to happiness, that can be part of your happiness. The sacraments in the Catechism aren’t politicized or communalized. The sacraments are the power of God sustaining us from conception to eternity—not to death—through death to eternity. They are the participation in the life of God that can be lost only by outright rejection—not by sin, not by failings, not by death.
In my journey to the Church, one of my most important moments was a passage that I read in a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Heart of the World. It read something like this: “Because of Christ and His sacraments, none of us can fall so low that we don’t fall into the arms of God.” It was a very powerful message for me then, and it still is.
This brings me to my last point. Worship. What can be done to revitalize it so it can’t be taken for granted? It’s a more difficult question because we just can’t hand people a book like the Catechism; we can’t just ask people to read John Paul II’s Documents on Liturgy and Worship, because worship is something that is done in a particular place, at a particular time, among particular people. Books aren’t enough. Something else has to happen.
I have a hunch what that is. I don’t have any survey data to support me on this, but I’ve noticed that whenever there is vital worship, there are people who pray. The common denominator that I have seen between a vital worship, something that works, something that draws me in, is that people are at prayer. It is the power of prayer at work through the celebrant, the power of prayer at work through the people that is transformative. It’s a transformation that is immediately intuited by everyone present.
This reminded me of a great lesson I was taught by Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. In one of the first books they ever wrote—they wrote it together in the 1920s, Prayer and Intelligence—they argue, indeed they celebrate, that prayer, intelligence, and worship reach toward the same source. That each act is bathed in the same iridescent and illuminating light—a divine light.
I hope by now you realize that I’m not saying that cradle Catholics are at a disadvantage. After all, my wife and I have made a long journey to have an opportunity to lay a Catholic in our cradle. It’s not easy to enter this Church. You don’t make it easy. And you shouldn’t. I thank God that our seven-year-old daughter, Hannah Clare Hudson, is a cradle Catholic. I make you these promises, these promises in gratitude for your Church that has received us, the Church of your forebears. I promise you that I will share with her, my daughter, all the wisdom I’ve learned. I promise you that I will do my best, with the help of our wonderful parish school, to make sure she understands the glories of Catholic teaching. I promise you I will pray with her each and every day and at Mass. And most of all I promise that I will pray to God that neither Hannah Clare nor her parents will ever take the gift of his Church for granted.
Reprinted with permission from Public Catholicism: The Challenge of Living the Faith in a Secular American Culture, edited by Thomas Patrick Melady, 1996, © by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, Indiana 46750 (text is slightly revised).
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Don’t Cross Here
May 1, 1996
“Tenderness is the first disguise of the murderer.” Thus the novelist Walker Percy, echoing Flannery O’Connor, foresaw the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision discovering a “right to die” in the Constitution. Once again we witness a court thinking with the woeful sentimentality of a talk show host. Judge Reinhardt, the author of the court’s opinion, speaks the language of a people who have lost their tragic sense—a people who would rather die than suffer.
To a culture living in the fast lane, some lives are increasingly considered burdensome. We flinch at the prospect of taking care of Grandma and measure lives with phrases dimly remembered from TV commercials—”It’s quality that counts!” Unfortunately, all quality disappears from view with the approach of a painful death.
In older days, people accepted the tragic dimensions of life, the unexpected setbacks, the unexplained suffering, the limits of satisfaction. Wise men, often trained in the law, counseled courage in the face of hardship, a commitment to life, not a surrender to convenient death. It’s hard not to be angry at such backward steps.
How can a culture that traffics in death be so proud of itself? It’s easy. Wrap yourself in a gauzy veneer of caring for others, of pursuing their happiness, of looking out for their rights, and feel good about yourself. When you look in the mirror you will see your “virtues,” actually the pseudo-virtues of a society losing its grip on the foundation of morality—human life ordered to the Creator.
More that twenty years ago we began by officially sanctioning mothers to kill their unborn children, now we are encouraging mothers and fathers—everyone—to wish their sickly parents dead. Notice that it is the middle, the strongest among us, who has taken the initiative against the two ends, the weakest and most dependent. One wonders: Who will be deemed unwelcome next?
It has been said that growing up is harder now because our youth have so many more decisions to make. Well, we’ve just added more, a big one. Perhaps this is one time we can be glad teenagers don’t read newspapers. It has been hard enough counseling depressed sixteen-year-olds with suicidal thoughts—now they will wonder if they too have a right to pull the trigger. Of course, we can be sure a caring teacher or social worker will inform them of their options!
The Ninth Circuit decision affects all of us, not just the elderly and the terminally infirm. It lets loose, with the authority of official sanction, a terrible and demonic idea—that one more choice we must all make in life is when and how to die.
We should not be surprised, then, if our youth begin to take their death option seriously, and to act on it. Clearly they have little love or respect for the adult world they must enter. Now they have a right to opt out of it altogether. Why shouldn’t they, when adults have made it so difficult to be born and so unnecessary to die in God’s time.
Persons have no right to die—this is a line in the sand that cannot be crossed. Jefferson’s inalienable right to life presupposes a deeper obligation to live, a duty that is never annulled by suffering. Give way on this and anything becomes possible, like the world without God envisioned by Dostoevsky. This surely is not the world we want to leave to our children.
Perhaps America can recover its tragic sense. Perhaps the destructive absurdity of the Ninth Circuit decision will send a wake-up call. Most likely it will take more than this. How about the spectacle of assisted suicides on a mass scale?
Only a few years ago I stood for several days at the bedside of friend dying of AIDS. He talked to me about ending his humiliating descent toward death. Together with his friends, I spoke to him about waiting for death and promised I would wait with him. When it came a few days later, death took a soul who had decided, in spite of the suffering, to wait on God.
As hard as it is to say, and to accept, death is one more painful experience in life that measures who we are. Death also measures our communities, their willingness to meet real needs. My friend died well. His example in those last days left was a gift of hope and dignity to those friends who waited with him. We who urged him to live saw something more than we expected, something miraculous, arise from a bed of terrible suffering.
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Benign Appearances
June 1, 1996
Today’s radicals hide behind the skirts of old liberals. This tactic pervades the National Catholic Reporter’s lame defense of Call to Action (CTA), recently disciplined by Bishop Bruskewicz of Lincoln, Nebraska. In that piece, Editor Tom Fox makes CTA’s radical dissent sound like the mild idealism of aging flower children.
Far more serious issues are at stake. The problem is not the old liberalism, however misguided it was. Old liberals sought to reinvigorate a Church they thought basically sound; CTA’s radicals want to tear it down and replace it. Radicalism means “getting to the root,” and they mean to do just that.
As the Crisis exposé (February 1996) made clear, what CTA offered for consumption at its annual meeting was directly disrespectful and dismissive of the Magisterium and the Holy Father’s leadership. The diocesan newspaper of Lincoln promptly reprinted our article in support of the bishop’s judgment that CTA is at odds with the Catholic faith.
It is typical of Catholic radicals, when they are called on the carpet, to run for cover under the blanket of “responsible dissent” and “freedom of conscience,” the familiar mantras of the old liberal establishment. But even the liberals of old did not seek to overthrow all hierarchical authority in the Church, or look to goddess and nature worship to “correct” the so-called patriarchal problem of the Catholic tradition.
Such is the nature of this revolution, as our society moves from modernity into the postmodern. Modernists, for all their faults, were still largely romanticists—they believed the world had an intelligible order, a heart that could be discovered, though they labored in vain to find it.
Postmoderns no longer look for the logos in the world or in humanity—they reject the possibility of its existence. They reject the knowable order of the world, the given nature of things, because it restricts their personal options, their agenda for restructuring society.
Groups like CTA suffer from the postmodern malaise—a radical disdain for hierarchy, tradition, and claims to universal truth, especially moral truths.
Not all the people attracted to CTA and its look-alikes are aware of its downside. A spiritual quest can place us among diverse wayfarers. But some know exactly what they’re doing and allow their message to be conveniently and usefully laundered through media always willing to champion the enlightened activist against the hidebound traditionalist. Notice how the label “extremist” is always slapped on the same side!
Don’t mistake it, a deep philosophic divide is emerging in this country—and it’s not necessarily between liberals and conservatives. It’s between postmoderns, those who improvise their morality to justify unfettered self-definition and fulfillment, and those who still seek to know and obey the moral order as it was created before us.
As Russell Hittinger has pointed out in these pages (September 1992), even our highest court has been infected by the postmodern mentality as witnessed in the Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
Orthodox Catholics and realists of different stripes find themselves in an increasingly countercultural stance. Bishop Bruskewicz has had the honesty and courage to point this out. Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider, was at the top of his list of offending organizations. It seems somewhat incongruous that at the same time the bishops would stand up to the president on his partial-birth veto, they would fail to offer the bishop of Lincoln some public support.
Indeed, the president’s veto perfectly illustrates the bait-and-switch tactics of the postmodern mind. Clinton’s justifying rhetoric about “health” masks the underlying nihilism of a culture increasingly clueless about how to make a moral argument.
Catholics who consider themselves moderates are being duped by the rhetorical evasions, the liberal masquerade, of postmodern dissidents. Ever so sympathetic to those who are seeking greater participation and inclusiveness in the Church, they fail to recognize the destructive consequences of their ideas and attitudes.
But once moderates begin to trace their unease about the state of society to the duplicity of radical slogans, they will see that the debate has gone well beyond the vagaries of personal fulfillment. Today it’s about protecting innocent life, marriage, the priesthood, and the infirm against the principalities and powers arrayed around us.
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Who Are We?
July 1, 1996
A few days ago I witnessed an event that made me even more grateful for a magazine named Crisis. “We Are Church” is a coalition of twenty dissident Catholic organizations that want a married clergy, a female clergy, homosexual rights, birth control, abortion, and, get this, the popular election of all bishops.
Those who spoke on behalf of the coalition at the press conference all seemed like nice people. But that’s not the point—and we must speak plainly here: In the name of “seeking dialogue,” they want to destroy the Church we love.
They say, of course, that they want to change the Church because they “love her so much.” They will not leave the Church because they “are committed to her until the very end.”
Well, I thought it was hate that destroys, but then again we are living in an age when words are commonly appropriated for purposes of communal self-denial.
“Dialogue,” for example, doesn’t mean conversation, it means doing what they say. If you disagree, you aren’t willing to “dialogue.”
Real discussion with this crowd is problematic anyway, since they are so skilled at presenting a version of Church history and Vatican II that belongs in a comic book.
Their method of argument consists in finding whatever practice they espouse somewhere in the history of the Church in order to proclaim their “restoration of true Catholicism.” Using this logic, one could advocate the burning of heretics again.
It makes no difference to them when the practice they want to “restore” was done, who did it, whether it was ever condemned or corrected, or whether it was deliberately changed. They blithely ignore the fact that doctrine develops in the crucible of genuine authority.
I am not alone in my worry that many Catholics are extremely vulnerable to this specious form of argument based upon a highly selective reading of Church history. Bishop Pilla, President of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, in his strong warning against the referendum, voiced his concern about the “confusion that may be created by a technique so inadequate and inappropriate to deal with these matters.” At the press conference, however, we were told that several well-known cardinals in Europe were “very open to what we are doing.” (Crisis is in the process of verifying this claim.)
We Are Church is confident that based upon polls, such as Gallup and others culled by various news agencies, Catholics in this country are entirely on their side when it comes to the priesthood and birth control. Thus, the real bottom line for We Are Church is the election of bishops by the laity. This way, if your bishop doesn’t buckle under to the majority opinion in his diocese on matters of faith and morals, then you just elect another one. I presume We Are Church would insist upon a recall mechanism to ensure popular control over elected representatives.
It will be harder, as they admit, for We Are Church to collect a million signatures in the United States than it was in Europe, where they have collected 2.7 million. In Europe they profited from starting their referendum on the heels of several very public scandals involving priests and young boys.
I cannot understand why such a moral failing should translate into support for married or women priests. Homosexual priests are not likely to marry, leaving the problem as is. Unless, of course, we are blessed with same-sex marriage. Women priests and married priests will bring their moral failings to the priestly role. In the meantime, the referendum’s logic fails to note the positive implications of celibacy’s discipline both as a witness to the supernatural and as an inspiration to fallen human nature.
Nothing substantive will be learned from this referendum. It is being staged as a press event, not as a scientific sampling of the nation’s Catholics. When asked how they would determine whether each signature represented a Catholic, their spokesman answered they would be “self-identifying”—meaning whoever says he is a Catholic is a Catholic, at least according to this referendum.
Being Catholic isn’t quite so nebulous. As Bishop Pilla states, “to be Catholic, by definition, means sharing a common religious heritage and moral vision. It is not something purely subjective, radically private and self-constructed. It is a system of religious teachings and moral imperatives which are to be freely embraced and faithfully handed on to the next generation.” Let’s pray this is the message heard from pulpits around the world.
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Two Cultures
September 1, 1996
Crisis readers are a unique group. As seen in the 1996 reader survey (p. 29), you are clearly well- educated, politically active, and religious. The results make me curious to know more. What other magazines do you read? What books and movies do you like, what television and music? I suspect the culture you inhabit, your home and close associations, is starkly different from the culture-at-large.
People magazine’s recent puff piece about the new president of Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider, makes us aware, once again, of the disorientation at the heart of the cultural mainstream.
People’s editors evidently consider her hobbies and her New York apartment view more interesting to their readers than Planned Parenthood’s determination to make the world happier by ridding it of a million children a year.
I remember as a teenager when magazines like People began to glamorize celebrities having children out of wedlock. I waited for the outcry against this violation of common sense, but none came. When Dan Quayle raised the issue thirty years later, he was scourged. Now his infamous Murphy Brown speech is hailed as prescient.
I also remember when the influence of The Phil Donahue Show convinced a generation of television watchers that expressing your feelings was the same as serious intellectual exchange. College classrooms would be infected for decades to come with students easily outraged by being told they are wrong. Fortunately the pedagogy of self-esteem—quickly assembled to satisfy these customers—is being discredited.
But, as a whole, my generation has accepted without protest both the moral dimunition and the dumbing-down of our culture. Americans have embraced media that scoff at morality and profit from inflating their self-esteem.
The widespread popularity of John Paul II is an obvious anomaly. Liberal critics dismiss this, saying that people respond to the person of the Holy Father, his charisma, and not to his message—his condemnation of a culture preferring death over personal sacrifice. Are the critics right?
Polling results consistently have shown that a majority of Americans prefer some kind of restriction on abortion. Yet when Clinton vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, even the cardinal’s protest failed to sway public opinion. Polling preferences don’t necessarily indicate the stomach for a fight.
Pundits who reflect on issues like the Catholic vote wonder why Clinton’s veto hasn’t cost him more support among Catholics. The answer is twofold. First, the dominant culture has successfully kept that story from penetrating public consciousness. Second, many Catholics have become too cozy with the idol of individual autonomy.
Lew Lehrman’s contribution to this issue of Crisis points us in a positive direction. As Lehrman shows, there are political and constitutional remedies to redress the culture of death. There is also the example of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership as president—his willingness to steer a course against the prevailing wind of the judiciary.
Religious conservatives are properly reminded that the ends of morality and politics are not the same, that we cannot expect a political realm dedicated to liberty to enforce the highest ethical standards. Lincoln understood that politics and morality are formally different, but he also understood, like the Founding Fathers, that no legitimate polity can operate without the protection of fundamental human rights. These rights designate what cannot be com-promised—the minimal standards of our life together.
Lehrman suggests that the political will to protect the right to life can be recovered by popular involvement, by political leadership, by telling the truth about the history of this country, and by taking the rule of law seriously.
One of the stated purposes of Crisis is to evangelize the culture. Because we have a Catholic vision, we will use all the means at our disposal in this effort—aesthetic, legal, philosophical, religious. Lehrman’s argument, like the ongoing work of Hadley Arkes, reminds us that even judging by its own stated first principles something has gone seriously wrong in American culture, quite apart from any specifically religious considerations.
Thus, the issue dividing the culture is not just one of belief and unbelief. It is a question, first of all, of reaffirming the American birthright. Our present misunderstanding of the right to liberty and happiness effectively nullifies the right to life. It’s a consensus that did not exist in 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade. Lehrman’s comparison of the present age with the years following Dred Scott should be considered by those who consider legislative initiatives premature. They may have the cart of public opinion before the horse of law.
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Common Ground
October 1, 1996
“You’re not really listening to me!” Thus, after hours of argument my mind remained unchanged. Presumably, if I had been “really listening,” I would have yielded long ago to my frustrated accuser’s incontestable reasoning. I had, however, been listening to him, very closely—I heard his ideas and rejected them.
This is not to say that I am always an attentive or charitable listener, but merely to say that sympathetic listening doesn’t necessarily bear the fruit of agreement. People can disagree due to different starting points for their interpretation of the world, not just because they fail to be “sensitive.” It’s no surprise that in a therapeutic age intellectual disagreement elicits psychological allegations with moral overtones. Insinuations of prejudice and intolerance are substituted for head-on arguments. My convictions arise from something more than my identification with a race, class, or the male of the sex.
Orthodox Catholics are routinely charged with an unwillingness to dialogue with liberals and dissenters. I don’t know what this means. I never have turned down an opportunity to discuss issues with them. I hardly remember a social occasion where I wasn’t asked to defend my position on abortion, women’s ordination, or contraception. It seems I spend a lot of time in these conversations, as do my friends. How are we avoiding dialogue?
I am sometimes asked why Crisis does not contain “both sides of the argument.” The answer is simple: Any good argument—say, for an exclusively male priesthood—is going to answer the best arguments against it. So both sides of the argument should be addressed.
Secondly, Crisis is one of the very few places where Catholics and conservatives can make their public arguments against the disintegration of mainstream culture. Those who celebrate the cult of
the autonomous individual already dominate most of the major media venues, where conservative voices, especially orthodox Catholic voices, are regularly filtered out or sandbagged. Witness 60 Minutes’ disgraceful treatment of Helen Alvare on the partial-birth abortion ban.
I continue to delight in discussing the teachings of the Church whenever and wherever I can. I’m not reluctant to face disagreement squarely in the face or agree to disagree. Disagree all you want—I certainly won’t use the psychological ploy of feeling offended. I will do the best I can to trace our differences back to their first principles in hopes of an ultimate reconciliation. Resolving claims of “offense” is another type of discussion involving another set of issues, often having little to do with the subject at hand.
When I am asked about the possibility of women’s ordination, I often surprise people by saying that it’s not my decision to make. I tell them that I accept the teaching of the Church, that I understand its theological rationale, but ultimately the authority of the Magisterium guides my thinking. It’s interesting to me how many non-Catholics, in this age of multicultural tolerance, have well-defined opinions on how the Catholic Church should change.
But of course the debate over “common ground” has now been raised by Catholics themselves who represent various positions on the theological spectrum. Conversation between contending forces is always good; debate over key documents of the Church is necessary for cultivating doctrinal understanding. But Cardinals Hickey, Law, Maida, and Bevilacqua are right in pointing to the obvious: The common ground long held by Catholics, a common ground always demanding reflection and discussion, is our Scripture and Tradition as interpreted through the Magisterium.
Let’s face it and not be naive. In the past six months there has been a well-orchestrated media campaign among key members of the Catholic Left. The We Are Church press conference, Father Greeley’s latest poll of Catholic attitudes, Grealey’s novel on the next papal election, the stories of Call to Action members allegedly persecuted by Bishop Bruskewitz, Leonard Swidler’s Toward a Catholic Constitution, Archbishop Quinn’s Oxford lecture and its subsequent coverage in the secular and Catholic press. Obviously, a lot of planning went on here.
Now we have received an invitation to participate in a process of mediation between right and left. In the July/August Crisis, Mark Tooley explored the way the Religious Left has repackaged itself as moderate. It’s Clinton’s “new Democrat” strategy transposed into the religious arena. “Fake Right, and run Left,” as a Crisiscontributing editor puts it. Whether the recent call to discover common ground is another version of this strategy remains to be seen.
Doubts are raised by the specific issues being placed on the table for discussion. The Church recently has spelled out its teaching on each and every one of them. Certainly we should be discussing these teachings so we can better understand and promulgate them. John Paul’s call to a new evangelization must begin among ourselves.
Deal W. Hudson
Sed Contra: Millennial Values
November 1, 1996
Imaging the following: a guest lecturer visits your parish to address the topic, “values for the third millennium.” He steps to the podium and immediately begins to describe the next one thousand years in such fantastic terms that human values as we have known them will be obsolete. We will need new values, so he says, for the beings who inhabit the century of cyberspace and space travel.
How would you react? Would you feel inadequate? Would you feel small in comparison to the future? Would you think you need the experts, like this lecturer, to tell you what those values will be?
I’ll tell you what I would do: I would laugh. I would laugh at his presumption and nonsense. And to those who did not laugh I would say, “Beware of anyone who comes forth to declare new values for the new millennium. Beware of anyone who implies the passage of a thousand years requires the reinvention of the moral wheel.”
True values remain the same, because the nature and destiny of man remain the same. They await rediscovery, recovery, and re-appropriation by succeeding generations. Even those generations who will inhabit cyberspace or search for life on Mars and beyond will need those values.
Some have complained that traditional values didn’t bring utopia, didn’t put an end to prejudice and hatred, didn’t return us to Eden. But then, nothing can restore the perfection we lost so long ago upon the earth.
What we need for the next millennium, as Father has written in his pastoral letter, “On the Coming of the Third Millennium,” is growth in the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love—those virtues conferred by Christ through the sacraments of his Church.
John Paul II says the “crisis of civilization” must be met with the message of the “civilization of love.” The civilization of love, he says, is “founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty, which find their full attainment in Christ.”
Unfortunately, the term “value” is misunderstood. Value is a great wiggle word—you can utter it knowing everyone in the audience will hear what they want to hear. People with diametrically opposed views can agree with what they hear being said.
Traditionalists will hear a deep concern about old-fashioned virtues, tradition, and the natural law. Progressives will hear an allegiance to individual autonomy, freedom of choice, the social construction of reality.
Our present age can distinguish right from wrong much more easily than it can explain it. Why have we become so inarticulate? Moral arguments require a firm grip on first principles, an understanding of the foundations of morality. We don’t think that morality has any “out there” upon which to reflect. We have come to assume that morality is cooked up in the murky, subjective recesses of the individual and collective heart.
In the natural order, reason gazes on the reality of human nature as seen through the history of its institutions and cultures. In the revealed order, the virtue of faith, itself a disposition of the intellect, comprehends the teaching of the biblical commandments and virtues.
Moral values, whether natural or revealed, can be apprehended by the intellect, because values are nothing less than the formal properties of natural law and biblical principles. In other words, if we say work is a value, we should be able to trace that back to our understanding of how human nature flourishes, or how the image of God becomes fully actualized, through work.
There is a millennium project to be undertaken. If we do what our Holy Father asks, if for the year 2000 we “gather with renewed fidelity and ever deeper communion along the banks of this great river; the river of Revelation, of Christianity and of the Church,” then our culture will once again be strengthened by the light of faith.
Faith will once again illumine reason. Reason itself will be restored to nature; the ground of true moral values will reappear. The true meaning of those rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will reemerge like a lost child stumbling out of the woods and into his backyard.
We will wonder how we lost our way, how we got so far from our familiar home. Was it the novelty? The need to be on our own? The attraction of the darkness? Or were we simply bored? Did we become indifferent?
Whatever the reason, let us take the opportunity of the coming millennium and put to death the culture of death. What must be new in this struggle will not be the values, but rather we who bear those values. We must be born anew, spiritually, in the Body of our Lord, our God who “makes all things possible.”
Deal W. Hudson
On the Contrary: Duped by Civility
December 1, 1996
Reading Nietzsche taught me one thing: people can talk about values and really be interested only in getting their way. Case in point: All the recent talk about “civility” is more about power than good manners. Specifically, it’s about marginalizing everyone who finds it necessary and appropriate to speak passionately on the subject of abortion.
The new civility spreads self-doubt and moral apathy. Those who speak boldly on behalf of life are treated like ill-tempered children who must be sent to their rooms until they learn to behave. It is strange living among adults who are not mature enough to discuss their differences frankly.
Being uncivil has little to do with provoking the hurt feelings of those who avoid serious moral issues. No matter how you talk about defending life, some people will take offense.
Who can blame these “civilizers” for preferring “dialogue?” To them, it is more important to protect their feelings than a human life. More important to “feel the pain” of someone who takes a life than to defend that life from harm.
Many good people have been duped by the call for civility. Both Dole and Kemp gave up their high moral ground when they refused to make the partial-birth abortion ban veto a major theme in their campaign. Neither of them seemed to realize how civility was being used by their opponents to protect their own power, to protect them from tough questions.
Nowadays, only politically acceptable evils can be passionately discussed—tobacco, assault weapons, toxic waste. Show your temper on the subject of abortion, euthanasia, or school prayer, and you are accused of being divisive.
As Lew Lehrman powerfully reminded us in the September Crisis, the founding fathers were certainly willing to acknowledge natural and revealed law. Politics alone, they realized, did not provide the foundation of a morally sound society. All religiously informed conservatives must take advantage of their broader perspective and call this nation back to decency.
In its root meaning, civility refers to the skill of living in, and governing, a city. What is more important to the skill of governing a city than speaking plainly about the moral evils that threaten it? Instead of speaking out, our leaders are reduced to wooing “soccer moms” (an odious phrase), like naughty boys afraid of being found out. Their big, had secret is believing in the right to life.
Every major institution in our culture encourages delayed adolescence. We are not just dumbed-down, we are literally drowned in a fountain-of-youth culture. Unfortunately our minds have regressed rather than our bodies rejuvenated.
In the latest presidential campaign, the media employed an effective strategy to ensure this childishness. It proceeded in four steps:
• The major papers and TV networks begin speculating whether “negative” campaigning will turn off undecided voters, especially women.
• Subsequent polling, commissioned by those same media, proves the American public highly vulnerable to suggestion—a large percentage will disapprove of negative campaigning.
• Newspapers and networks report the polls, thereby reinforcing the original strategy and deepening its message.
• Any candidates who are disposed to speak forthrightly on moral matters are put in fear of their political life.
Thus trained in civility, a confused and apathetic nation allows the media to define the accepted meaning of good and evil. Some of the evils they identify are serious, others are relatively trivial compared with the evils they ignore.
I have been accused of idolizing the Middle Ages. I have, in fact, threatened to flunk any student who uses the phrase “Dark Ages.” The medievals, however, had an unflinching view of evil. “Herod the King” was one of the most popular plays of the Middle Ages. Hardly a more despicable character exists in literature. In watching this play at Christmas, the medievals faced the stark contrast between the innocence of the child Jesus and the ruthlessness of a political leader who protected his power at any cost.
It has always been difficult to talk about Herod at Christmas. The sobs of heartbroken mothers hardly set the mood for Christmas morning. As the most ignored figure in the infancy narratives, Herod the King reminds us that Christ’s birth, not just his death, came with a cost.
By ignoring the slaughter of the innocents, we risk forgetting the lengths that power will go to protect its privilege.
@ 2014 Deal W. Hudson