Crisis Magazine 1997

Sed Contra: Philosophers and Generals

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 1997

I have always been puzzled by the wide popularity of C. S. Lewis. I have wondered how many of Lewis’s readers, or fans of Shadowlands, understand the countercultural implications of his thought. Here was a figure who deserved to be popular, but does his wide popularity mean that he has been misunderstood? The Problem of Pain is hardly a handbook for the therapeutic society.

But I think there is an element in Lewis’s writing that may account for wisdom finding its popular market. That is, that Lewis was never content with just giving the right answer, he was always trying to tell his reader what to do with that answer. You may remember his advice in Mere Christianity to those who think they lack the feelings of love: Act lovingly, he said, and the feelings will follow.

So we move from the general truth—that love is an act of the will, not a state of feeling—to concrete advice about how to love when feelings are lacking. Lewis was more than a philosopher, he was a kind of general; he knew how to get us moving in practical directions. Take a look at his brilliant, and ever more relevant, a critique of contemporary education in The Abolition of Man.

Since I became editor of Crisis, I have thought a great deal about Lewis’s example. More and more, I see the importance of answering your question: “What can I do about the situations you describe in Crisis?”

Crisis should not only inform but empower. Thus, last month we provided a short curriculum for you to participate in the pope’s millennium project, “Jesus Christ in 1997.” And this month we are giving you a detailed analysis of the Catholic dissident groups and their network so that you can be watching for their influence in your parish. In a few months, I want to announce, Crisis will be adding a public policy section each month to help you fight the cultural and political battles more directly.

Readers of Crisis are fighting for the Church and fighting for America. These battles are even more serious than when the magazine was founded in 1982. This year we face the We Are Church referendum, the Supreme Court’s assisted-suicide opinion, the continuing struggle over same-sex marriage, and the abortion pill. Eminent figures like Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Bork, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Crisis contributing editors Hadley Arkes and Russell Hittinger have rightly questioned in First Things whether judicial activism has put American society in such a deep hole that it can never climb out.

It is clear that none of these men, as Arkes writes in the present issue, is interested in aiding militiamen and other backwoods revolutionaries. But once the conclusion has been reached that the courts have struck a critical blow to America, people inevitably want to know what they can do about it. There are grass-roots energies in this country that can and should be mobilized against the culture of death, not against America.

We need leadership, pure and simple. My generation (I just turned forty-seven) has just awakened to the responsibilities of leadership. I suppose we thought the culture was on some kind of moral autopilot, or we didn’t care, as wrapped up as we were in feathering our own nests, serving our own pleasures. Have we opened our eyes too late? I don’t think so. Yes, something is rotten in our society, but our only viable alternative is to regain lost ground.

How will we do this? Parish by parish, community by community, institution by institution—exactly the way they were taken from us. This is why ecclesial and political leadership must not only explain but empower—tools must be provided for cultural and spiritual renewal.

Look at what Father Joseph Fessio, S. J, has done with Ignatius Press, what Mother Angelica has created with EWTN and WEWN, or Tom Monaghan with the corporate CEOs of Legatus, among others. They are creating new institutions that refuse to collaborate with the culture of death.

In the battle for the Church, John Paul II is our guide—who in the mid-1970s could have foreseen what our Holy Father has accomplished? In our battle for America, we have no better guide than Lincoln, who found a way not just to free the slaves but to free America from the belief in slavery.

It is hard to foresee who will be our Lincoln and rid us of our reliance on abortion and euthanasia. It may not be a single man but a coalition of many who are not afraid of confronting this judicially generated idol called the autonomous individual.

The readers of Crisis represent only a portion of millions who will undoubtedly do what has to be done if they have something concrete to do.

Think with us, pray with us, as we consider our course of action toward the new emancipation of life.

Sed Contra: Letter to Warren

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 1997

Dear Warren:

Your letter telling me of your decision not to renew your subscription to aims raises several important issues I want to address. I am doing this publicly, with your permission, because you probably represent other Crisis readers who wonder why, as you put it, we spend “all that intellectual energy blasting away at the encroaching barbarians….”

You specifically mention our articles critical of Al Gore, Bill Moyers, the Jesus Seminar, environmental education, and my own column, “Duped by Civility.” I only hope that all our readers take our magazine as seriously as you do! But I would like to explain why we are critical of “nice guys with good intentions” like Gore and Moyers and of the current use of ideas like “civility.”

It was promising that someone with Moyers’s media clout picked the Book of Genesis as a topic of conversation for a national television audience. Yet even the New York Times found fault with the sophomoric free-association that was substituted for informed comment in the PBS series.

As a result, Moyers has added to our confusion about Genesis. In addition, he has inadvertently undermined the good advice of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. Moyers is an admirer of Adler but his Genesis series could hardly be held to the standard of an Adler Great Books Seminar.

I told you once that Moyers’s televised conversations with Adler on the contribute existence of God helped lead me toward Catholicism. But both his Genesis series and his Jungian conversations with Joseph Campbell demonstrate a basic misunderstanding, perhaps intentional, about the nature of religious belief. Moyers now refuses to consider religiosity from inside a tradition. Consequently, Moyers cannot do justice to any of the world’s major religions.

A similar problem is found in Gore’s Christian environmentalism. We can defend the environment against over-development and pollution without marrying God to Mother Earth. Indeed, the stronger our awareness of God as Creator, the stronger should be our motivation to be good stewards of his creation. Just as religious belief is not strengthened by ignoring established traditions, there is no need to divinize the planet in order to protect it.

If Crisis draws attention to the downside of psychologized spirituality and pantheistic eco-theology, it’s because we believe there will be a cost to pay for their influence.

I think you missed my point regarding the warning against the recent calls to civility. All of us should acquire true civility. But this does not require that we stop speaking the truth about evil. Many of those shouting the loudest about civility is really insisting that everyone recognizes the equal legitimacy of their moral perspectives. They won’t settle for mere toleration.

The same strategy is being used in public schools where, under the guise of “respecting” homosexuals, our children are being taught to regard homosexual acts as morally equivalent to heterosexual acts. If we try to remove the disguise from this “respect” agenda, we are not rejecting real respect, but exposing a deception.

You also think Crisis should have a greater sense of inclusiveness and open-heartedness rather than always attacking the “infidel.” Yet, it is impossible for Crisis to fulfill its mission of addressing the crisis both in the culture and in the Church without “discerning the spirits.”

Your suggestion, however, makes me wonder, just what it means for a magazine to have an “open heart.” Surely you are right in suggesting I should closely monitor the tone and tenor of the magazine. We live in a therapeutic age; to hurt someone’s feelings is the cardinal sin, so shaping our tone is a constant struggle: Do we deliberately ruffle feathers to make our point, or do we carefully maintain our good relations with the opposition and risk being ignored?

Crisis, after all, is a magazine; it is journalism, not diplomacy. Our first job is to issue a wake-up call, then to inform and empower our readers. What bothers me most about your letter is our failure to persuade you. Only by persuading our readers can we actually contribute to evangelizing and redeeming our culture.

What would it take to persuade you that the barbarians are inside the gate? Perhaps &rums should make you laugh more often. Nietzsche once said that “laughter kills” more surely than any intellectual argument. If I can’t get you to see the danger, perhaps I can make you laugh with me at the foolishness. After all, Warren, there is a razor-thin line between comedy and tragedy, and faith is the difference.

Editor’s note: Subsequent to this letter, and after a friendly phone call and the offer of a golf game, Warren decided to renew his subscription after all.

Sed Contra: The Bright Future

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 1997

Anyone who thinks the Church in America is in danger should spend a few weeks with me on the road. In the past few months, I have witnessed many many instances of renewed vitality among Catholics. Emerging out of this remarkable growth is a new alignment among orthodox Catholics, a network that is already challenging the wearied hegemony of establishment liberals.

While those who are informed only by the mainstream media continue to think that Catholics are clamoring for women priests, the real story is elsewhere. At the heart of this realignment are Catholics fiercely loyal to John Paul II and just as determined to bring dissident influence to an end. The recent episcopal appointments in Chicago and Denver reflect less the determination of Rome to nurture orthodoxy than the desire of the grassroots faithful for leadership. Archbishop Chaput, bless him, didn’t waste much time taking on the association of Catholic theologians who, ignoring the infallible teaching of the Church, continue to press for women’s ordination. Indeed, I am told, that the passing of Cardinal Bernardin has bequeathed a tentative mood to the United States Catholic Conference.

There was nothing tentative about the mood at EWTN in Birmingham, Alabama where I spent a week filming a 13-part series of television interviews entitled, “The Church and Culture Today.” Mother Angelica knows exactly what she wants to accomplish and clearly has the faith to do it. She is building a new monastery for forty nuns, starting a house of studies, and closing a deal to broadcast EWTN to four countries in Europe, in addition to her broadcasts throughout North and South America.

It is Mother Angelica’s radio and television networks, not the USCC, that are connecting the dots between Catholics dedicated to orthodox teaching and genuine evangelism. Her apostolate is undoubtedly the biggest ongoing Catholic news story in this country, yet receives little or no coverage.

As I followed her into the studio for “Mother Angelica Live,” I watched the members of the studio audience reach out to touch her. I recalled Leon Bloy’s famous line that “the only sadness is not being a saint,” but this time I experienced it.

This was my second dose of humility in a week. I had gone to Nashville to lecture for the sisters at the Dominican campus. Unexpectedly, I was taken into the cloister to visit over twenty of their novices. Looking around the room I saw face after face filled with the desire for holiness and the love of God. “If only every Catholic in America could be where I am sitting right now,” I thought to myself, “they would see how bright is the future of the Church.”

The Dominican campus in Nashville contains one of those handfuls of small Catholic schools that affirm their identity without turning “catholicity” into an excuse for ignoring the moral and doctrinal substance of the Catholic faith. St. Thomas More in New Hampshire, where I recently had the pleasure of addressing the alumni, is another. With fewer than a hundred students, the college demonstrates a heroic commitment to the Catholic tradition of liberal arts education—it’s like getting a Catholic education on Walden Pond, without the bad transcendentalism.

In addition to these, colleges like Thomas Aquinas in California, Franciscan University in Steubenville, the University of Dallas, Christendom College in Virginia, and Assumption College in Wooster present Catholic families with more choices for their college-age children. Joseph Hagan, president of Assumption, is an example of a college president, like Father Michael Scanlan, who has stayed at his job long enough to ensure the Catholic identity of his institution.

Leadership takes time to bear fruit, but today we are reaping the results of some courageous initiatives. I remember in the early ’80s, I visited Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. in San Francisco. He had already launched the exemplary St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco and was getting ready to publish the first vol

umes from Ignatius Press. Catholic publishing, at the time, was owned lock-stock-and-barrel by liberals. Almost anything worth reading had to be plucked from the dusty shelves of a used bookstore. I was wide-eyed, to say the least when he told me he was going to publish everything he could find by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Pieper. And, now looking up at my bookshelves, I see more Ignatius Books than old Sheed & Ward classics.

As with Mother Angelica, there are few who give Father Fessio the credit he so richly deserves. A new Catholic Renaissance has indeed started, and we can give thanks to those who began laboring twenty years ago, just when everyone predicted the game was over.

Miracle at Miramax

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 1997

Just when you think that nothing good can come out of Miramax, it comes up with this gem of a movie, Wide Awake. This story of Joshua (Joseph Cross), a ten-year-old boy who searches for God in a Catholic boys school in suburban Philadelphia, is breathtaking in its directness and simplicity. This is a movie for Catholic families who think there is nothing at the movie theaters that will touch their faith. Wide Awake will leave you speechless.

The talented screenwriter and director, M. Night Shyamalan, is unfamiliar to me, but his ability to bring a young boy’s spiritual quest to the screen in a believable way is uncanny. The missed notes in the movie are so few they are not worth discussing. Even the potentially disastrous use of Rosie O’Donnell, as the nun who uses baseball to illustrate the relationship between Jesus and Judas, provides just the right touch of balance…

The film opens as his grandfather’s (Robert Loggia) death causes Joshua to ask whether this God taught by the Catholic Church really exists. The flashback scenes between Joshua and his grandfather are each memorable for their tenderness and the reminder of what our children miss when they lack an extended family. His grandfather had once told him that he really believed in only two things: “Keep both hands on the ball and that God really exists.” He decides to find out if both are really true. He tries out for football; he trails a cardinal famous for healing; he confronts the class bully; he befriends the class outcast.

Those Catholics who have become so used to seeing their Church bashed and distorted on the screen will expect this story is going to turn in the same predictable direction. It never does. In fact, the story surprises you by delving even more deeply into the religious issues raised at the beginning of the film.

Case in point: a scene between Joshua and the school priest at Thursday morning confession. When Joshua asks the priest, “Can we just talk?” I feared for what would follow. I just knew we would get a hip priest shoveling mountains of psychobabble. But an unusual artistic sensibility guided this project, one that was not afraid to give witness. The dialogue between the priest and Joshua becomes a realistic and probing turning point in the film. The priest is slightly world-weary and admits to his own momentary doubts, but without the nonsense that plagues so many cinematic treatments of the same subject.

It is also to Shyamalan’s credit that he clearly outlines his narrative. The film takes place over the course of the school year—the three parts are entitled: “September: The Questions”; “December: The Signs”; and “May: The Answers.” The answers do come, and when they come they are both surprising and provide biblical resonance that only the most illiterate Christian could miss. There are many an opening sequence scanning pictures of saints on the wall of the school. As saints’ pictures gradually give way to sports heroes, the sound of sacred organ music transposes into a baseball park theme. The overall musical score by Edmund Choi is quite affecting, by the way.

The humor of this movie, insofar as it is about being Catholic and about going to a Catholic school, is both tasteful and funny. I’ve heard racier stories from priests at parish dinners. Totally lacking is the sardonic subtext that we have come to expect in movies where Catholicism is depicted.

Wide Awake affirms and espouses the faith in a way reminiscent of the great Frank Capra. Shyamalan has evidently not heard we live in the postmodern age where such questions and such religious affections are subject to scorn and skepticism. The meaning of the title itself, as you will find from the film, could not be more in line with Catholic realism and the sacramental vision of the Church. Which leads me to ask a question I cannot answer: How did such a movie ever get produced? And distributed by Miramax? I imagine that’s quite a story in itself.

In the meantime, those of us who were quick to point out the problems with Priest and Kids should just as quickly say “thank you” for Wide Awake.

Sed Contra: Fifteen Years and Counting

Deal W. Hudson
September 1, 1997

Fifteen years have passed since Ralph McInerny and Michael Novak gave birth to Crisis. Their investment of a few thousand dollars gave the Church a new and lasting voice. What began as Catholicism in Crisis, a cry of protest against the liberal Catholic establishment grew into a multifaceted movement for the promotion of Catholic culture.

The history of Crisis will be on display in the pages of our upcoming fifteenth-anniversary issue, to be published in November. The best writing from each of our fifteen years will be presented, along with a timeline reminding readers of significant events in the Church and culture. In editing this section, we recognized even more deeply how closely the editorial content of Cm’s has followed the lead of the Holy Father.

This anniversary issue will be dedicated to John Paul II. George Weigel, hard at work on the authorized biography of the pope, will present an overview of his extraordinary papacy. Crisis writers and editors will contribute to a symposium predicting the impact of John Paul II’s papacy on the next millennium. In particular, we will address the dissident opinion that John Paul II’s orthodoxy is just a momentary finger in the dam of tradition before the flood of democratization breaks through.

Catholic schools and other organizations that wish to use this special issue as a fundraising tool may place bulk orders at a reduced price by calling 202-861-7790.

No pope has better grasped the importance of the media for evangelization. Following his example, Crisis is extending its voice to radio and television. Thanks to Mother Angelica, both “Crisis Conversations” and “Truth Talks” can be heard twice a week on international shortwave stations, as well as AM stations throughout the country.

In October, EWTN will begin airing our new thirteen-part Crisis television series entitled, The Church and Culture Today. Guests include the former commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn; National Review editor, Kate O’Bierne; pianist, Stephen Hough; Bob Royal; Helen Alvare; and, Jody Bottum, among others.

After two years of halting steps toward new media, I am delighted to announce the arrival of our new website at Please visit us there and tell us what you think. You can also order the last two years of Crisis on CD-ROM for free by calling 888-228-1789.

Far from abandoning the print media, Crisis is expanding in that direction as well. We are reprinting Admiral Jeremiah Denton’s When Hell Was in Session to appear in a new commemorative edition this fall. When I first met him, the Admiral gave me a copy of his book. I immediately became absorbed in it. But Theresa, my wife, started reading it before I was finished. She wouldn’t give it back until she had finished. Deeply moved by the story of his imprisonment in North Vietnam, Theresa picked up the phone and called the Admiral. They finally met at last year’s Partnership Dinner, and, needless to say, they are now fast friends.

Crisis readers, I have discovered, are quite an exceptional group of people. It’s been exciting to watch them come together for the first time at our dinners. The first Wodehouse dinner made me realize the possibilities inherent in bringing our readers together. It is one thing to share common ideas and religious beliefs, it is quite another, better, a thing to share them face-to-face. We now hold a Wodehouse dinner, each January in New York, co-sponsored by the Homeland Foundation.

Friendship is precisely what we have in mind by planning a conference cruise for next January. Rev. George Rutler will celebrate daily Mass and speak on the life of Jesus. Admiral Denton will talk about the lessons of Vietnam, past, and present. Other speakers include Ralph Mclnerny, Michael Novak, Russell Hittinger, Mary Jo Anderson, and myself. Six days together—in prayer, conversation, and relaxation—will provide a great opportunity to hear your ideas about the future of our magazine. See page 21 for more details.

This month Crisis will begin celebrating its fifteenth anniversary at our annual Partnership Dinner in Washington, D.C. Michael Novak, and Ralph McInerny will be there, along with many of the men and women who have supported the magazine’s growth. Tom Monaghan, founder, and president of Domino’s Pizza, is our honoree this year. As his article in this issue attests, few laymen of our time have done as much to spread the message of the Church. Crisis honors him, as we did Admiral Jeremiah Denton last year, as one who leads not only by words but by example.

Sed Contra: The Slumbering Giant

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 1997

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile recently told a story that should be treated as a parable for Catholics in America. His Excellency attended a local banquet as a guest of honor and, appropriately, was seated in everyone’s view on the dais. As the jokes of the after-dinner speakers grew more and more vulgar, he found himself in an embarrassing position. He asked himself: Should I stay or leave?

In respect for his hosts, the archbishop chose to stay. But he regretted his decision later on and had the courage to share his regret with the citizens of Mobile through his weekly column in the diocesan newspaper. I was visiting Mobile just after the column was published—the archbishop’s honesty was the talk of the town.

The archbishop’s parable contains two lessons for Catholics in this country. First, there is a warning against worldliness. Catholics have so successfully assimilated themselves into American culture that they are assumed too worldly to object to the vulgarity and violence that mark our cultural landscape.

The Catholics who came to this country worked hard to enter the fabric of its society. In doing so, they kept a low profile among a citizenry suspicious of those so-called idol-worshippers. Catholics have so successfully stayed out of the line of fire, that they have made themselves passive and unsure of their vocation in the public arena.

But, secondly, the parable contains a kind of warning. The archbishop, like many Catholics in this country, has decided this period of dormancy, so to speak, is over. No longer will Catholics sit silently and imply their approval of the increasing coarseness of our public life.

Does this mean that the slumbering giant that is this country’s huge Catholic population is beginning to wake up? I think so. This nation has already witnessed the moral-political clout of its Protestant evangelicals through the leadership of James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Ralph Reed. The day is quickly approaching when Catholics, like Archbishop Lipscomb, will declare an end to their implicit approval and complicity.

It won’t take many more incidents like the airing of the TV show Nothing Sacred to completely rouse the slumbering giant. No doubt new insults will come. The media elite have grown so used to the open season on Catholics they will hardly notice the change in wind direction. As Brent Bozell recently put it on my WEWN radio show, the entertainment moguls of New York and Los Angeles hardly seem to notice the America that lies in between, the America that believes in God, the family, and traditional values.

One hopeful sign is the success of the Catholic League for Civil Rights in getting a genuine national petition drive started in protest to the airing of Nothing Sacred on ABC. By the time you read this column, the first few episodes, barring a miracle, will have been broadcast. Michael Eisner, president of Disney, which owns ABC, tried to dismiss Bill Donohue’s heroic efforts by calling him “non-big time.” How much is revealed in this choice of words! Eisner and his fellow executives clearly consider themselves occupying the big time, well above the heads of the 300,000 members of the Catholic League, or any other disagreeable Catholic group for that matter.

It’s too bad that Jesuit America provided ABC the smokescreen of its Catholic imprimatur. But, of course, a Jesuit was the screenwriter of the pilot episode as well as several of those that will follow. I suppose that is also why the president of Georgetown University, Leo O’Donovan, S.J, found the original episode “promising.” Having watched that episode closely, I must say the only promising thing about it was Father Ray, the main character, resists the insistence of the feminist nun who wants to call God “mother.” But no doubt future episodes of Nothing Sacred will find Father Ray receiving enlightenment on this matter along with the rest of the dissident agenda.

Eisner may well rue the day that he so grossly underestimated the discontent among many of this nation’s 60 million Catholics. Even by Disney’s exalted standard, that’s a sizable market share! I hardly need to point out the tragic, and sad, irony of this entertainment giant that is gradually alienating its audience—the traditional family. The company that used to affirm the best for our families is now, apparently, fully invested in promoting a social outlook at odds with the wisdom and teaching of the Catholic faith. Like Archbishop Lipscomb, none of us can sit smiling at the cultural table while our guests require us to endure cruel jokes at the expense of our humanity and all those around us. Let’s hope the joke of Nothing Sacred gets us up out of our comfortable seats.

Sed Contra: John Paul the Great

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 1997

It has been a great privilege to edit the pages that follow. Imagine having dozens of reflections on our Holy Father, written by the best Catholic minds of our age, with which to arrange a fitting tribute to this Man of the Century. We at Crisis dedicate this issue to him for what his leadership, in fifty years as a priest and nineteen as pope, have meant to the Church.

“Courage” is the word that came up most often in the contributions to our symposium on the papacy of John Paul II. “Be not afraid,” he told us at the beginning of his reign, and fearlessness has characterized his nineteen-year pontificate. John Paul II has shown us that courage combined with wisdom can move what seems immovable. He did not set his course with studied calculation for satisfying the predictions of professional pundits. The man who discovered his vocation under the shadow of Nazi occupation has no fear of wrathful elites anxious to protect the prerogatives of their delusional autonomy.

Courage, as we all learned in school, is the willingness to do good in the face of danger, even death. Courage does not cling to comfort. Courage does not blindly assert itself but pursues its object with clarity of purpose. Courage can be costly, but it can be glorious. How many men would so generously forgive their own paid assassin? The courage of our Holy Father has enlarged the limits of the possible for all of us. Before John Paul II many assumed we were destined to suffer a gradual eclipse of orthodox Catholicism, but he has shown us the way to evangelize in modernity: Call God’s people back to the simple truths that anchor our faith, the truths that everyone, in spite of their complaints, is hungry to hear.

He has taught Catholics once again to think beyond the headlines, to retain their confidence in the restless heart of mankind, and to serve the deepest needs of the human heart rather than the manipulators of popular opinion. In doing so, John Paul II has given us the agenda for the next century, and strong and effective tools to implement it.

Nothing could be more fitting that this pope leading us toward the next millennium. Unmoved by fanatics awaiting the end times, John Paul quietly but firmly instructs us to reflect upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He directs us, for the sake of renewal, to ponder the foundations of our faith. He ignores those who place their bets on ideological solutions to human problems. John Paul II knows that wisdom, like courage, comes from constant prayer: a prayer in union with the Church and the communion of saints. Confident in the power of that prayer, the Holy Father’s example is our shield from the spiritual exotica of our time.

Professional dissenters in the Church are already trying to label this papacy an aberration in the development of a “new” church. Despite his great popularity, there remains a constant undertone of criticism towards John Paul’s papacy in the mainstream media. It is often insinuated that John Paul II is overly traditional, even reactionary, in his affirmation of the Church’s authority and moral teaching. For example, the declaration that the Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women has been dismissed as a mere delaying tactic in the inexorable march toward a redefinition of the priesthood. In addition, his writings on sexual morality, his devotion to Mary, and his rejection of liberation theology are regarded as out-of-step with the Church emerging from the reforms of Vatican II. Our symposium contributors respond to this question: Is the leadership of the Holy Father merely holding back the tide of inevitable changes in the form and content of the Catholic faith, or do you envision a different future?

Like so many lay initiatives obedient to the Magisterium, Crisis was born just after Karol Wojtyla was elected Bishop of Rome. The late ’70s was a time of great uncertainty for Catholics: old institutions, co-opted by activists more interested in carrying out the social agendas of the ’60s, lost sight of the Church’s perennial work. The Holy Father’s papacy has strengthened the visibility of the invisible Church. The Catechism, the Code of Canon Law, his unmatched series of letters and encyclicals: all these great gifts to the Church will continue to bear their fruit. New institutions—colleges, publications, associations—born in the era of John Paul the Great, are now coming to maturity as leaders of the Catholic faithful. The next generation will deliver a wake-up call to the secularized Catholic establishment: the period of willful cooperation with the culture of death is over.

Mere Taste

Deal W. Hudson
November 18, 2010

At present, more rap stars have been killed than abortionists. I was sitting on an airport shuttle bus when I overheard two men in their thirties discussing the second murder of a rap singer. “People need to see that this isn’t just about music,” one said. I think I know what he means.

Taste never has been just an aesthetic issue; our preferences in the arts have always betrayed strong affinities for certain lifestyles and moral attitudes. We express these allegiances in our dress, our grooming, and our habits of play and recreation. (For example, I despise backward baseball caps and gum-chewing.)

Have you noticed that in the middle of all the chatter about values, there is one value that we never hear about? The value I have in mind is taste. It’s the right moment to discuss it. We have arrived at the point where arguments over taste have become more explosive than morality.

The general silence on the value of taste, it seems to me, stems from an obvious cause. We earnestly discuss our “shared” values in an attempt to draw people together, to create a new consensus on the subject of morality. We can confidently espouse our belief in peace, justice, and love knowing that only the most beastly among us would dare disagree. Such moral generalities guarantee a minimum of quarreling. Mention taste, however, and this happy unanimity begins to crumble.

Why? Because taste is always about a specific object, this movie or that piece of music. Propose the importance of good taste and people immediately cringe at the possibility that their taste will be found lacking. Questions about taste quickly turn toward the concrete in a way that justice and love do not (but should!). “What’s wrong with Pulp Fiction? I liked it!”

The fact that disputes over taste quickly turn to particular films or novels is refreshing: For a moment we are actually freed from the airiness of the theoretical. We suddenly feel the weight of what values are actually for – to make judgments, based upon universal standards, about concrete things and actual practices.

Thus, the mere mention of taste actually raises the long-ignored substantive issues about the nature of value itself. We have grown used to ignoring its function as an external measure of actions and character. Taste forces us to face up to the deeper questions we want to avoid.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that taste raises the problem of objectivity in values while seeming to be the most subjective of judgments? In fact, it is commonly heard in the history of ethics that contemporary moral theory resembles aesthetics – moral values gradually are being reduced to matters of “mere taste.”

For years I argued lightheartedly with my students about the downward spiral of popular music. One day I realized: The argument wasn’t about beauty – the quality of melody, harmony, rhythm, or lyrics – it was about the identity they felt through their musical preferences. As much as the aestheticians would like to limit the experience of art to pleasure alone, it’s clear that the sociological-moral dimension can’t be denied.

It’s inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it’s no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn’t squandered foolishly or violently.

Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

The hegemony of bad taste is evident everywhere – it’s the dominant form of the incivility that people are complaining about – the backward baseball caps, the murderous drivers, the tattoos and navel rings, the tell-all talk shows, our obsession with the dark side of celebrity lives.

Of course, the knee-jerk answer from parents whose kids are running around listening to rap music and emulating rappers’ dress, will be “Well, I wore beads and long hair in the ’60s and I got over it.” My response is: “You may have gotten over it, but we all know people who are still using drugs with grey-haired friends while the children are asleep upstairs.” The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no “mere” luxury.


Christmas is for Children

Published December 1, 1997

I heard our president on the radio this morning, announcing, “We must make sure that parents are able to spend time with their children whenever they can.” If the “we” had been the American people, not the government, then the comment was merely an obvious truism. Apparently, though, the president feels that the facts—a fifty percent divorce rate, the spread of the two salary family— require that the government step in and ensure children get enough quality time with their parents.

Sad, isn’t it, that we have created a society in which we must talk about children in this way. In a country where forty-five percent of all children under a year old are in day care, it’s no wonder manger scenes are banned from public places. We don’t like reminders of the family we have lost.

The Christmas season reveals the fault lines everywhere— inside ourselves, within our families, and throughout society. It’s not simply a matter of our anxiety about meeting emotional expectations. At Christmas we relive the definitive entrance of God into the world, establishing himself for all time as “the way, the truth, and the life.” Christmas inevitably reveals the direction of our spiritual compass.

It is ticklish, to say the least, to raise the issue of childcare in this way. So many heroic parents are raising children by themselves, so many others are working hard together to support their families. But as much as those parents want our sympathy and support, I would imagine those same parents deeply wish for a world of intact families where every child is raised by a parent at home. In other words, it is one thing to sympathize with the present situation, and quite another to hope for what children really need.

We have lapsed into the cynicism of accepting the status quo, speaking vaguely for the need for sympathy, and resolving to “face reality.” What troubles me, however, are the deeper currents that course through the culture. I notice, for example, how a kind of gay chic has taken hold of the popular mind. The call for toleration has been replaced not merely by normalization but by positive celebration. Nothing could spread messages more at odds with either Catholic social teaching or the natural law.

We have seen it all before. Remember the speech in Plato’s Symposium extolling the superiority of homosexual love over heterosexual? The argument is based upon the supposed advantage of begetting ideas and “beautiful conversations,” rather than the gross matter of human life. Heterosexual couples, or “breeders” as they are now sometimes called, are naturally inclined toward shaping their lives around the creation of a family, specifically for the purpose of raising children. With the mainstreaming of homosexuality into our culture, children are pushed more and more into the background of our attention and our caring.

In the context of Greek culture, we understand why abstract ideas are given more importance than the life of a human person. Even Aristotle, for all his realism, didn’t base his argument for heterosexuality on the creation of life, but on proper biological functioning. With the coming of the Incarnation, however, it was no longer possible to misunderstand the unique value of the person, or the fundamental purpose of marriage, family, and sexuality to beget and nurture persons.

Charity requires a great deal more than sensitivity and concern for the heroic efforts of single parents who raise children, or for those parents whose two salaries combine to put their children in private schools. Charity requires that we actively work and pray for a transformed society, one that does not depend upon government daycare to do the job of parenting, but one where fathers and mothers are actually present.

At Christmas time, we focus primarily on the perfect humility of Mary but in the midst of these thoughts my mind turns to Joseph. Joseph married the woman he loved, but found that he would never consummate his marriage or receive its physical comforts in the expected fashion. Despite this, he remained chaste and true to his family. He is the purest example of a true promise keeper. Joseph understood his role as one of taking care of his family, not of using his family as a means to his own personal fulfillment.

Gay chic, following on the heels of the “pro-choice” movement, only throws fuel on the fire of the culture of death. It is for this reason the Church has wisely chosen the term “objective disorder” in describing the tragedy of homosexual orientation. Since lay Catholics have been invited to join a dialogue on homosexuality, we at CRISIS think that the gathering of the Holy Family at Christmastide is an ideal occasion for beginning that conversation.

Special Report — Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality: What the Bishops Didn’t Say

Published December 1, 1997

When reporting on “Always Our Children,” the secular media failed to note that this was not a document issued by the entire NCCB. What must be said at the outset is that a small committee of the bishops’ conference should not be allowed to use the media to shape opinion on Church teaching. Structural changes in the bishops’ conference must be made to ensure it truly speaks for all the bishops. They also need to review procedures for releasing statements to the press that are pastoral, not doctrinal, in nature. The press, not knowing better, completely ignores this distinction, thus ensuring that the “pastoral” teaching gets passed into the public square; as the “the Catholic Church now teaches. . . .”

No one can doubt the good intentions of those who have drawn up the document. Their desire to help anguished parents, and show compassion to homosexual men and women, is obvious throughout the text. Its concern is expressly pastoral, not doctrinal, meaning that the statement leaves out much Church teaching on homosexuality. At such a moment, it is helpful to remember what was left out.

Two generations ago, the phenomenon of homosexuality would have been fundamentally a personal matter, a truly individual pastoral concern. The classical personal moral norms developed by the Church would have been rather clearly, if not easily, applicable. If an individual experienced strong same-sex attractions, he or she would have to be vigilant in avoiding occasions of sin, such as gathering places for homosexual persons. He or she would have to “mortify” the imagination, avoiding unclean thoughts and inciting reading material. Two generations ago that would have been easier to do than in our own day. Homosexual gathering places were few and difficult to find, and homosexual pornography was almost nonexistent.

The earnest Catholic suffering from same-sex sexual attraction disorder used his common sense and avoided going on a weekend camping trip with a friend he found attractive, or would shower at home rather than in the YMCA locker room. Finally, there was always recourse to the sacraments, to penance, to the Eucharist, to retreats and spiritual direction.

Today homosexuality has developed into a social/cultural phenomenon. The first executive order President Bill Clinton issued after his inauguration overturned established military and legal tradition by admitting homosexual persons to military service. During both of President Clinton’s inaugural celebrations, there were special balls for homosexual persons. The inaugural parade featured a “family float” with homosexual couples. Major corporations have chosen to provide health care and other social benefits to homosexual partnerships. Princeton University opened its married graduate student housing to homosexual couples, excluding some heterosexual married couples because there was no longer enough housing available. Harvard University permitted a homosexual “wedding ceremony” in its chapel. The state of Hawaii seriously has considered granting legal marital status to homosexual partnerships.

A character on a national TV sitcom declares her homosexuality, and major news magazines celebrate the event with laudatory cover stories. Homosexual persons now proudly broadcast their proclivities by flying the homosexual rainbow flag from their windows and affixing homosexual symbols to their automobile bumpers. Homosexual activists take to the streets, linking arms in common cause with feminists to support access to abortion.

Homosexuality has, over the past twenty years, become de rigueur. Now it is a cause celebre, the “in” thing. Undergraduates who formerly dabbled in leftish causes now dabble in homosexuality. Hardly a week goes by in which National Public Radio does not have a homosexual feature. Every major city now has “gay and lesbian” bookstores, cafes, theaters, gyms, restaurants, and newspapers.

What is most perplexing about “Always Our Children” is the total lack of acknowledgment—or even recognition—of this terribly complicating social/cultural phenomenon. Those well-intentioned people who, in their naive desire to be sensitive, use the ostensibly benign terms “gay” and “lesbian” do not see how this plays into the larger social picture. This lack of insight is even more perplexing when church ministers are asked to use the words homosexual, gay, and lesbian in “honest and accurate ways . . . from the pulpit.” The whole tenor of the pastoral message leads one to think that its authors would be horrified if those words were indeed used in “honest and accurate ways from the pulpit.” In that instance, “homosexual” would refer to one with a same-sex sexual attraction disorder that is ordered toward objectively sinful actions. “Gay” and “lesbian” would be identified as the charged political—indeed, ideological— terms that they are.

To name these realities accurately is no disservice to those who suffer from the disorder, but instead provides the basis for the kind of pastoral care and family solicitude homosexuals require.

The spiritual writers were unanimous in counseling immediate flight from any sexual temptation, avoiding even an occasion of sexual sin with the same rigor one would avoid the sin itself. One did not dally with sexual temptation, or be so arrogant as to think one could “handle” it— because experience had long shown that one would lose more often than not.

Sexual questions have always formed part of the training of Catholic priests. There was a time when the awesome power, the delicacy, and the divine character of human sexuality was so acknowledged that moral theologians, lecturing on sex, would don white surplices over their cassocks and keep a lighted candle on the desk! Such was the reverence— and the realism—shown by the teachers of the Church before the power of human sexuality.

In the pastoral message, one does not sense this respectful, cautionary attitude toward the power of the human sex drive. That caution is all the more in order when the drive for life has become fundamentally disordered. It then becomes, potentially, a drive toward death rather than life, as Josef Pieper makes clear in his chapter on temperance in The Four Cardinal Virtues. Homosexual acts always have been potentially destructive, even before the advent of HIV/AIDS.

Our society has come to speak of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (yes, honest-to-goodness) as though they constituted a particular race of human beings. These categories have actually come to be used in the nondiscrimination policies of many civil jurisdictions and companies, and homosexuals are listed among protected classes of persons who suffer from hate crimes.

No one should be subject to unjust discrimination or violence in this country or anywhere in the world. However, immunity from prejudice or violence is derived from the dignity of our fundamental humanity, not from an accidental human characteristic such as race or sex or ethnicity.

When it comes to providing some special societal protection or privilege to certain individuals by virtue of their homosexuality, the question must arise: What is a homosexual? Or if one prefers to use the nomenclature: Who is gay? Who is lesbian?

Is one gay or lesbian by self-proclamation? Is the designation based on outward behaviors or inner dispositions? Is it determined by the magazines one reads, by the bars one frequents, by the fantasies in which one indulges? Is there really such a thing as a homosexual, and if there is, how is he so classed? If he feels a strong same-sex sexual attraction but has never acted upon it, does he qualify as a homosexual? Would he want to qualify? If, in a moment of weakness, he committed a single homosexual act over the last five years, does he qualify as a homosexual? Would he want to qualify? Why would anyone want to adopt as one’s fundamental social identity a persona based on a sexual attraction, strong or weak?

In 1986, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” it chose its words very carefully. It did not speak of homosexuals. It certainly did not speak of gays and lesbians. It spoke first and fundamentally of persons, because persons are those who carry the dignity of the children of God. The document refused to reduce persons with immortal souls, persons destined to the divine dignity of the Godhead, to sexual proclivities. Sexual drives are not to be ignored, to be sure, but they do not define us. God has created only men and women, men and women who are either chaste or unchaste, whether the actions they engage in are homosexual or heterosexual.

Scripture still has it straight: “Male and female he created them.”