Crisis Magazine

Robert Novak–The Catholic Vote: Does It Swing?

Note: Robert (Bob) Novak was America’s premiere political reporter for decades until he died at age 78 in 2007. His work, starting at the Chicago Sun-Times and continuing through the Wall Street Journal, CNN’s “Crossfire,” and Fox News, is well-chronicled.  In 1998, the year of this article, Novak was received into the Catholic Church by Msgr. Peter Vaghi and Rev. C.J. McCloskey.  His wife, Geraldine, had been attending St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC for several years, but it was some books given to Novak by Jeff Bell, a prominent Catholic political consultant, that began his journey. Bob and I became friends shortly after I came to DC in 1995 but it wasn’t until later we began having regular breakfasts at the Army Navy Club. Eventually, I would accompany Bob and Geraldine on their first, and second, trip to the Holy Land. This article was written at my request for a special issue of Crisis Magazine on the Catholic vote which would turn to be perhaps the most influential issue ever published.

Robert D. Novak

Published November 11, 1998

The conventional wisdom among politicians and journalists for much of the past half-century has been that Catholics, 44 million currently of voting age, comprise a swing vote.

As the 1950s began, Catholics were departing their traditional home in the Democratic Party to support Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. That was followed by a massive return of Catholic Democrats—accompanied by a good many Catholic Republicans—to vote for their cocommunicant, Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. The gradual attrition of Catholic support for Democratic presidential candidates climaxed with heavy backing for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

But by 1996, Catholics were supporting Democrat Bill Clinton’s reelection much more strongly than other Americans; among Catholics, it was 54 percent for Clinton, 38 percent for Republican Bob Dole, and 8 percent for independent Ross Perot. That’s not the whole story. While Clinton ran worse among many voter groups in 1996 than he had in 1992 (including seniors and youth, at opposite ends of the age spectrum), he did better among Catholics: a gain of 2.3 million votes compared with Dole’s gain of 400,000 and Perot’s loss of 3.3 million. Of the 23 states with a Catholic vote above the national average, Dole carried only two: Texas and Colorado. Had Dole run just a little better among Catholics, his supporters surmised, he might well have been elected.

Is There a Catholic Vote?

Thus, at a time when the conventional wisdom has assumed a divorce between Catholics and the Democratic Party, it is no exaggeration to say that the Catholic vote elected Bill Clinton. In the Midwest (where there is a plurality of Catholics) and the Northeast, this vote was indispensable to the near-sweep Clinton had in these two regions. The apparent oscillation of the Catholic vote over nearly 40 years raises difficult, even troubling questions.

•If Catholics appear always to be on the side of the winner, whether it be Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, is there no driving principle that informs the choice? Or, are Catholics really no different from other American voters? If Catholics preferred Clinton in greater numbers than their fellow citizens, does that mean that they prefer a candidate who is irrevocably tied to abortion rights, gay rights, and racial preferences and is irrevocably opposed to school choice and school prayer?

•Does this then demolish the Republican concept of the Catholic voter as a natural partner of Protestant fundamentalists and evangelists in a religious coalition?

•Put bluntly, what evidence is there that there are distinctive political characteristics that bind together Catholics sufficiently to form a bloc vote with even some elements of coherence? Is there really a Catholic vote?

The only logical answer to this paradoxical question is that there are two Catholic votes—just as there are two kinds of Catholics in America, active and inactive religiously.

The active Catholic attends Mass every Sunday, probably subscribes to religious publications, may well belong to the Knights of Columbus and the Legions of Mary, and will tend to conform to the views of the Catholic bishops, at least on abortion.

The inactive Catholic is an inconstant communicant, likely is not a member of any parish church, and is cut off from the views of the bishops—particularly when it comes to abortion.

This distinction makes some sense out of what has been the otherwise inexplicable political migration of Catholics during the past half-century. Prior to that time, there was not much swinging by Catholic voters; they were—with some notable though temporary exceptions—Democrats.

Political History

The first migratory wave of Catholics in the 19th century was composed of Irish fleeing the potato famine and political exclusion. They settled into the Democratic Party in their new nation’s big cities as a power base against the American establishment—Protestant and Republican—that excluded them from power and privileges. German Catholics, many fleeing post-1848 political repression throughout Europe, followed the Irish and were generally their political allies in the Democratic machines.

The Irish-German Catholic loyalty to the Democrats was interrupted by Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s Anglophile policies and intervention in World War I, with Republicans scoring major Catholic gains at the presidential and lower levels in 1920. By 1928, when the Democratic nominee for president was urban Catholic Al Smith of New York City, Catholic voters returned to the fold and for the most part stayed there during the Franklin D. Roosevelt era and Harry Truman’s 1948 election.

But beneath this seemingly steadfast adherence to their ancestral party, Catholics were restless. They were unhappy that the Democrats seemed to have become the liberal party of blacks, Jews, and silk-stocking Protestants, as reflected in international policy toward Communism and domestic policy toward the welfare state. Eisenhower ran well in Catholic areas in both of his landslides over Adlai Stevenson, which began the political analysis of a Catholic swing vote.

But through the last ten presidential elections, there has been marked difference in the voting patterns of active and inactive Catholics, as the numbers of the latter rose dramatically. In 1960, 73 percent of Catholics still said they regularly attended Mass. The figure dropped to 64 percent in 1964 and to an all-time low of 40 percent in 1988, before returning to 47 percent in 1992 and 46 percent in 1996. That signifies a stabilized base of active Catholic voters for the past decade. Here is a rundown of the voting patterns of the kinds of Catholics in those ten elections:

1960:With John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic nominee for president since Al Smith, Catholics returned to their Democratic roots—especially the active Catholics. Kennedy won 83 percent of the Catholic vote (comprising 22 percent of the electorate), getting 87 percent of religiously active Catholics and 69 percent of inactive Catholics. This nonideological support from his coreligionists elected Kennedy. He lost to Republican Richard M. Nixon among both religiously active Protestants and inactive non-Catholics.

1964: Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson for the most part kept the Catholic voters he inherited from Kennedy. But the 79 percent he received represented a resumed Catholic erosion in the Democratic Party. Actually, he received a higher percentage of the inactive Catholics than had Kennedy, but dropped among the active Catholics. Also, the intensity of Democratic support among active Catholics was diminishing. In 1960, 52 percent of active Catholics described themselves as “strong” Democrats; in 1964, the figure was 32 percent.

1968: The migration of Democrats out of the Democratic Party continued, though less so among active Catholics. Democrat Hubert Humphrey fell well below the JFK/LBJ totals, but he still won 57 percent—divided by 58 percent from actives and 52 percent from inactives. Active Catholics were still supporting Vietnam policy more strongly than the national average, and that may have contributed to Humphrey’s residual strength among that group.

1972: In the year of President Nixon’s reelection landslide, the Catholic vote for a presidential candidate fell to the national average for the first time. Democrat George McGovern received only 39 percent among both active and inactive Catholics, reflecting the national antipathy to what was perceived as a fringe candidate. Little more than half of the nation’s Catholics described themselves as Democrats, though their ancestral hostility to Republicanism led them into independent ranks. Asked for the first time by the National Election Study to list their ideology, only 19 percent of active Catholics said they were “liberal” compared with 31 percent of inactives. Stating a “conservative” preference were 36 percent of actives and 30 percent of inactives.

1976: This post-Watergate, post-Vietnam election, paradoxically, showed Catholics rallying for Democrat Jimmy Carter—a born-again, Protestant Southerner—with 57 percent and 56 percent from actives and inactives, respectively. Both kinds of Catholics were clearly repelled by the Nixon scandals, but their ideological split was becoming more obvious. For the first time, a plurality of active Catholics (42 percent) called themselves conservatives; inactives were evenly divided between “liberals” and “conservatives.”

1980: Now the ideological division of American Catholics became clear. A majority of actives (54 percent) voted for Ronald Reagan, marking the first time this group had given a Republican presidential candidate a higher vote than the general electorate. A plurality of inactives (48 percent) backed President Carter. The party preference of all Catholics dropped from 49 percent to 42 percent, with some of them going to the Republicans (21 percent among actives, 11 percent among inactives).

1984: In his landslide against Democrat Walter F. Mondale, President Reagan won equal support—and lots of it—from active and inactive Catholics: 58 percent, one percentage point below the national share. Here was a national sweep that obliterated religious voting lines. Stated Democratic affiliation of Catholics fell to what is still an all-time low of 37 percent. For the first time, Catholics voted for the Republican nominee with a higher percentage than the country at large.

1988: Republican George Bush received 2.4 million fewer Catholic votes, including 2.1 million actives, than Reagan had four years earlier. In defeat, Democrat Michael Dukakis cut into the church-going Catholic, labor-union, and lower income households that had gone heavily for Reagan—in short, the famous “Reagan Democrats.” But Bush retained Reagan’s inroads among the inactives.

1992: In this year the gap between Catholics who go to church and those who don’t became an abyss. The inactives liked the looks of Bill Clinton so much that they backed him against President Bush, 51 percent to 28 percent in the three-way race with Ross Perot. But active Catholics who had turned away from Bush in 1988 did not like Clinton either; it was Bush over Clinton, 42 percent to 37 percent, among the actives.

1996: Beneath the superficial indication that the Catholic vote had reelected Bill Clinton while white Protestants overwhelmingly supported Bob Dole’s losing campaign lies the Catholic division. The inactives backed Clinton, 56 percent to 33 percent; actives supported Dole, 47 percent to 44 percent. This year also produced evidence of an ideological split. For the first time since the left-right preference began to be tested in 1972, half of active Catholics identified themselves as “conservative” and, also for the first time, a plurality of inactive called themselves “liberal.” Self-identified Democrats constituted 41 percent: the same as 1992, up from the low of 38 percent in 1988 and down from the 40-year high of 64 percent starting the period in 1960.

The 1996 Catholic vote was 29 percent of the national total, the highest in this 40-year period, but divided evenly among actives (15 percent) and inactives (14 percent).

Active Catholic Identity

The reality of two increasingly distinct Catholic votes should provide clear lessons for Republican politicians.

Inactive Catholics are an amorphous blob, undetectable from the rest of the electorate and certainly not classifiable as a voting bloc to be courted.

Active Catholics certainly do not constitute a monolithic bloc in the nature of African-Americans or even pietistic white Protestants. But they do have distinctive characteristics—including an anti-abortion position that belies claims by pro-choice Catholics.

In 1976, the National Election Study asked voters about abortion for the first time—and again the active/inactive dichotomy was apparent. Among active Catholics, 88 percent opposed permissive abortion laws, compared with 53 percent by inactives. By 1980, the anti-abortion bloc among active Catholics had declined to 75 percent.

In 1996, the National Election Study had changed the questions to make comparisons unrewarding, but the gap among Catholics widened. Enactment into law of a woman’s right to an abortion was favored by 26 percent of active Catholics but 50 percent of inactives.

The body of active Catholic voters cuts across economic lines and social status. Although they are patriotic, that is not a live issue with the end of the Cold War. What is relevant today, they are disturbed by the decline of traditional social values and maintain a belief in absolute moral values. As such, they prefer the conservative position on abortion, school choice, school prayer, and affirmative action.

If that profile seems familiar, it is because it is not much different from the outlook of born-again, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians. In 1996, these pietistic Protestants constituted 18 percent of the electorate—combining with active Catholics for a 33 percent share.

What this coalition feels about the size and function of government is unclear and surely not monolithic. What is certain is that these voters will not vote for a pro-choice candidate opposed to school vouchers and school prayer who advocates racial preferences. They supported the losing Republican candidates in 1992 and 1996 but not in sufficient numbers to avert the Clinton victories.

Will the Republican candidate and managers in 2000 be confused by lumping together the voting preferences and ideologies of all Catholics, active and inactive, and seek a centrist position on social issues while avowedly pursuing a phantom Catholic vote? The answer will shape the politics of the 21st century.

Paul Johnson on Liberty, License & Leadership

Editor’s note,Two years after taking over Crisis Magazine I was privileged to spend the afternoon with Paul Johnson (b. 1928) and his wife Marigold in New York City. Johnson as you may recall is the author of numerous books, the most influential being his 1984 Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s. That visit produced an interview but more importantly it enabled me to call Paul in London from time to time to ask for articles to would like to see published in Crisis. Here is, I think, the best of them.


Publisher September 1, 1998

The role America plays in the world today and for the foreseeable future—as her contribution to the health, wealth, and happiness of mankind in the 21st century—is something which is very much up to the American people themselves. They can, and will, choose whether that role is exemplary and determinant, the role of a leader and a guardian, or whether it is the role of a self-sufficient observer. America can shape the future—or withdraw from history.

The Numbers

America enjoys the material basis for leadership, there is no question of that. The demographic resources of the United States are growing faster than those of any of her military, economic, or political competitors. A year ago the U.S. population was calculated at 267.6 million, and at present growth rates should exceed 280 million early in the next century. In recent years, America has accepted, absorbed, and employed an enormous number of immigrants. Her birth rate is 14.4 per 1,000, much higher than those of Japan, Russia, Germany, and Italy—all of them below 10.5—and substantially higher than the British and French figures (around 12.5 per 1,000). This figure, combined with the lowest infant death rates in U.S. history and a steadily rising life expectancy, makes America the world’s third most populous country after China and India. Russia, the population of which was larger than that of the U.S. a generation ago, and expanding more rapidly, now has only 147 million and a birth rate which is falling fast.

The United States Gross National Product is by far the largest in the world, having grown from $6.38 trillion in 1992 to $7.57 trillion in 1997. In 1997, the GNP increased at 3.6 percent, a higher rate than that of any other advanced economy. The strength of the United States’s economy, which has been growing both absolutely and relatively over the past two decades, lies in its ability to create millions of new jobs, of every description and earning capacity, while keeping inflation low. At the time of writing, America has full employment (some would say over-employment) combined with zero or even negative inflation.

The record on productivity is much more difficult to establish, especially in comparison with other advanced economies, but all the evidence suggests that the American economy has never functioned more successfully. Indeed, it could be cited as a textbook example of a capitalist market economy. This may not last, of course; a long-overdue Wall Street correction could soon take some steam out of the economy. But even allowing for this, the general economic performance of the United States in the last quarter century augurs extremely well for the opening decades of the 21st century.

The expansion explains why the U.S. has been able to correct one worrisome economic weakness: a chronic budget deficit. This is worth dwelling on briefly because of its significance in U.S. history. Since Alexander Hamilton reformed the finances of the infant republic in the 1790s, the United States’s record of public financial management has been, on the whole, exemplary. The public debt was paid off completely under President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Thereafter, it rose during the Civil War, fell after it, rose during the First World War, fell again, rose during the Great Depression and Second World War, and then fell again—a pattern entirely consistent with prudent management. From 1975, however, a historic change occurred; the debt rose without the excuse of either war or depression and continued to rise for twenty years. America appeared to be maintaining an extravagant lifestyle and loading its progeny with insupportable burdens. That was an historic change for the worse, which posed a genuine threat to the country’s future well being.

President Reagan characteristically dismissed the phenomenon with a jest: “I’m not too worried about the deficit. It’s big enough to take care of itself.” Like many of Reagan’s jests, this one encapsulated a serious point. The American economy was functioning so strongly that it was, as it were, expanding itself out of deficit finance. With comparatively minor adjustments to spending and no substantial increase in taxation, the rise in tax revenues in the mid-1990s wiped out the deficit and began to push the country into surplus. What seemed like a permanent structural change became, by the end of the 1990s, a temporary, if extended, aberration. The end of the budget deficit corrected the last ostensible weakness in the economy, thus completing the picture of a great economic power with all systems functioning as they should.

This survey of America’s vast and growing resources underlines my point that America plays the role that the American people choose for themselves. The physical restraints, although they exist, are not prohibitive.

America’s Geopolitical Position

The United States at the end of the 20th century inherits more than fifty years of increasing involvement in international commitments. This is the major difference between the historic America of 1780-1939, with its comparatively detached position in the world, and the America of today. I say “detached” because, in my view, America has never been isolationist either by nature or by choice, except for a brief and aberrant period in the 1930s. But the detachment has been severely curtailed by five factors. First is the acceptance, in fact if not in name, of the United States as the world’s policeman, a sheriff-of-last-resort position—a notion reinforced since 1989 by the blunt fact of America as the lone superpower. Second is the political fact of her supremacy in the United Nations and especially in the Security Council, which has taken an increasingly influential position in world affairs. The Security Council can now be said to be functioning roughly as its architects intended, and this in itself places an obligation on the U.S. to exert leadership. Third is the military fact of America’s premier role in NATO, which, far from voting itself out of existence as a result of its bloodless victory in the Cold War, has begun to feel its way, slowly but surely, to its permanent place as the military executive arm of the Security Council.

The renewal of NATO, in fact, is crucial to America’s role in world affairs. Now expanded to take in other European powers which subscribe to democracy and the rule of law, NATO may one day include even Russia herself. If democracy establishes itself permanently in Russia and she continues to play a responsible part in international crisis solving, then her membership in NATO is not merely desirable, but essential. As NATO expands and finds new tasks for itself in the enforcement of international law and the deterrence of aggression, so America’s institutional position as NATO’s natural leader will dictate a major role for America in policing military geopolitics.

The fourth and fifth factors are closely linked. The last half century has seen a steady integration of the United States into the world economy. For the U.S., foreign trade has ceased to be marginal. Imports and exports have become a salient part, and the search for markets has established itself as a central element in U.S. foreign policy. In consequence—and this is the fifth factor—the United States has felt herself obliged to enter into a permanent trade grouping designed to maximize its worldwide share, the North American Free Trade Area. This is only the beginning of the story.

Traditionally, the United States has been a protectionist, high tariff country, though often divided on the issue. For the past half century it has become, on balance, a free trader, and its support for the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs—one of the world’s best known but more unsuccessful international agencies—has been an essential part of GATT’s continuing progress. America continues to back GATT, if anything more strongly than ever, and aims to reduce tariffs from their present average of about seven percent to near zero. The emergence of the European Union as a major internal free trade area protected by a GATT-permitted external wall led the U.S. to form an even bigger union with Canada and Mexico, not so much in retaliation as in limitation. This may expand either into a Pan-American free trade area or a North Atlantic Free Trade Area, embracing the United Kingdom and other maritime European states such as Norway, Portugal, and Spain—or quite possibly both. The fact that the United States is by far the biggest single element in each and all of these combinations further enhances her structural role as the world leader.

Called by Destiny

These are some of the structural factors which push America into a world leadership role, but they are not the only ones. America is an exceptional country, by virtue of her origins and growth, and American leaders have always recognized this exceptionalism, indeed often dwelt on it. The Pilgrim fathers founded their colony, as John Winthrop put it, to be exemplary: “We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”

This sentiment was primarily religious but it has manifest geopolitical overtones, since the vast riches of America were seen, as the Pilgrims put it, to be “the natural inheritance of the elect nation”—that is, of a people ordained by Almighty God, as the Jews had once been in Old Testament times, to lead the world in virtue and faith. This sentiment has been echoed again and again in America’s public rhetoric: in Washington’s valedictory address, for instance, when he told Congress he hoped that “Heaven may continue to give you the choicest tokens of its beneficence” so that the Union and its constitution “may be sacredly maintained.”

The early presidential messages to Congress, especially in Andrew Jackson’s day, were read aloud in many European villages and reprinted in British and continental newspapers. They were seen as messages to the entire world to follow the American pattern of republican democracy. As the Dublin Morning Post put it in 1830: “We read this document as if it related purely to our own concerns.” All great American presidents—especially Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and, in our own times, Kennedy, Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Reagan, have spoken to the world, urbi et orbi, as well as to the American Congress and people. Longfellow’s famous poem, “The Building of the Ship,” epitomizes the sentiment of leadership by example and still has a resonance, especially its lines:

Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

The American presidency itself is an important element in the leadership role that fate and institutions combine to thrust upon America. It reinforces, with a personal element, the status of America as a cynosure of the world’s eyes. No other office in the world so clearly epitomizes the concept of democracy in action. The president is the only official for whom all American electors vote. Enormous powers are conferred upon him. He is head of state and head of government, chief executive, chief magistrate, and commander in chief. Presidents have also discovered all kinds of additional powers in their constitutional functions, including the power to break strikes, conduct entire industries, mobilize manpower, seize assets, and exercise economic and financial authority which, in most democracies under the rule of law, would require legislation.

The American president, then, is a superpower in himself, a sort of strongman or caudillo as well as First Citizen. That inevitably focuses world attention on his person and personality. Yet the president is also under law, and the fate of President Nixon and the troubles of President Clinton are reminders that this subjection to law is a reality, not just a theory. Despite all his majesty, the president is legally vulnerable and his power constitutionally fragile. This adds poignancy and drama to the way the world sees him and his office. For all these reasons, then, who the president is and how he conducts himself are of absorbing interest to the world. Like the pope, and in many ways more so than the pope, he is a world figure whose character and routine are minutely examined and familiar to countless millions everywhere.

That gives the U.S. president a natural global platform, or bully pulpit, if he chooses to use it. Unlike any other statesman, he has the world’s ear, and if what he says makes sense, it will have an impact. Of course, when the president speaks, he is addressing two audiences: American citizens and the rest of the world. If the president forgets his local constituency and speaks only to the outside world, as Woodrow Wilson tended to do from 1918 on, he will fail to carry the country with him. If his words are designed primarily to secure domestic political points, as President Clinton’s are, then he will be ineffectual in world affairs. But if he is adept at striking a balance between the two audiences as both Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower, and more recently Reagan did, then he can exert powerful leadership in the world while ensuring the American people are behind him. Indeed it is true to say that the U.S. president’s ability to influence events by the force of his own personality and beliefs is immense—there has been nothing like it before in history. In the past, the actual authority and influence of world potentates, from Alexander to Hitler and Stalin, has tended to stop not far from the advance patrols of their armies. Under an able occupant, the American presidency stretches as far as the printed and broadcast word, and the shadow of his power is as long as his image on the TV screens. So that, too, is a factor pushing America in the direction of an active, major role in the world.

The cultural pull is strong, too. The extraordinary energy, adaptability, versatility, and vast resources of the English language have created a cultural background against which American world leadership seems increasingly natural. English is clearly in the process of becoming the first world language. This is partly a technical matter, as the pressure is on to adopt uniformity of terms and speech for scientific publications and instructions, computer programs, air traffic control and safety, and the world of international organizations of all kinds. But it is also partly a matter of taste and choice. Language is one of the most democratic of activities. What is spoken, and so ultimately what is written, is decided by ordinary people and works itself upwards, not the other way around. All the power and grandeur of the French government and the Academie Francaise have failed to halt the penetration of democratic French by English words and expression. Changes in language are largely determined by young adults, who are guided by convenience and enthusiasm. Despite the large numbers of Spanish speakers, Spanish has made no progress as an international language because of its prolixity. I find that when my books are translated into Spanish, they expand by twenty-five percent; there is no way round this linguistic inflation, which is structural. English is uniquely well suited to the sharpness, brevity, and force of modern vernacular demands.

The linguistic preeminence of English both accounts for and is promoted by what the older European powers, especially the French, call “American cultural imperialism.” Again, this is a democratic phenomenon, not something decided by elites and directed by governments. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue, like Detroit in its day, are the products of American freedom, and their influence in the world is promoted by the spread of freedom of choice everywhere. Coca-Cola and McDonalds, Disney and American comic heroes like Superman and Batman depend for their sales and impact on their ability to appeal to ordinary people. They are the triumphant products of a highly competitive market system, and as that system is accepted and takes root all over the world, the most successful products, with all their cultural implications, will establish themselves everywhere.

Imperialism is really a misleading word, therefore, because the key to it all is freedom. America’s cultural success is rooted in the fact that, in the United States, competition flourishes with the fewest possible restrictions. The products which emerge are most likely to be able to conquer world markets as well as domestic ones. Nor should we assume, as many Europeans do, that this triumphant American culture is likely to be lowest common denominator in its substance and appeal. Competition serves the cities as well as their masses. America is in the vanguard, not merely in producing animated cartoons, but in quality movies, novels and plays, poetry and paintings, sculpture and architecture. With its 3,500 universities she has the world’s largest and most versatile system of higher education, one that is likely to be increasingly used by an international clientele as incomes rise and travel costs fall.

Freedom in Balance

As someone who has studied 400 years of American history in detail, I have reached the settled conclusion that there is no mystery about the country’s continuing success: it is freedom based. Almost from its first settlement, America has offered a uniquely free environment—political, economic, religious, and social—in which men and women have been able to maximize the use of their talents and take the fullest advantage of the bounty nature offers. When we talk of American exceptionalism we are really talking about a society that always puts freedom first. As long as the United States continues to accord freedom the highest priority, her cultural impact on the world, as well as her political and economic influence, is likely to be greater than that of any other nation.

However, it is important to remember that this 400 year tradition, still robustly maintained, of upholding freedom of choice and action, has always been balanced by an equally tenacious tradition of voluntary religion. America was founded for religious purposes, and the religious dimension in American life, public and private, has been maintained by a series of religious resurgencies, which continues to this day and have been important in guiding the country’s development. The First Great Awakening was the dynamic behind the American Revolution, and the Second was the catalyst for resistance to slavery which made the Civil War inevitable.

America remains, in many key respects, the most religious country in the world, as well as the most materialistic. It is this paradoxical combination of other-worldly idealism and worldly success which makes her so formidable. If there were ever a serious possibility of America abdicating the global responsibilities that power thrusts upon her, the religious zeal which is so potent in shaping American policy would prevent it. With her present unrivaled resources, America, at the outset of the 21st century, is not merely a City on a Hill, a beacon for all to see and get their bearings by, but a city which contains police vans and fire engines and ambulances and every conceivable kind of emergency service, ready to come to the rescue of her global neighbors on the plain below. These responsibilities to a world which is often badly governed and impoverished, subject to catastrophes both natural and man-made, are often onerous, expensive, and occasionally costly in life. But I am confident the American people will continue to shoulder them, sometimes cheerfully, sometimes with resignation, but always dutifully, knowing that it is God’s will and ultimately in the interests of all, including America’s own.

Columns & Articles, Crisis Magazine 1995

Mortimer J. Adler and Multiculturalism


JANUARY 1, 1995

I am surprised by people who do not recognize the dangers of multiculturalism. They don’t seem to understand that there is much more at stake than “learning about other cultures.” Neither do they see the harm being done to American education and to the future of our culture. How did this happen?

No doubt multiculturalists won much approval by employing the Western notion that it is desirable to know something about nations and other peoples. They have gained even more approval by appealing to the need for empathy, by insisting that it is not enough to know about other people, we should also know what those people think about themselves. In short, we should seek knowledge with the least possible amount of prejudice.

No place but the West, with its legacy of scientific knowledge and cultural toleration, could have spawned anything like multiculturalism. What is disturbing, of course, is that the multiculturalists have enlisted Western values to promote the denunciation of the West.

If all multiculturalists wanted was for schools to cast a wider net, then there would be no need for multicultural curriculums to match the ethnicity of the student body. If the multiculturalists were sincere in letting cultures speak for themselves then they would not be manufacturing psuedo-histories of African contributions to European culture.

Multiculturalism as it is being practiced promises to be more exclusionary and more prejudicial than any form of education the West has ever known. Both curriculum and pedagogy will henceforth be tailored to the political purposes of a bureaucratic elite. This elite meanwhile will seek to distract students from noticing the education they are missing with loud protestations of concern for their psychological well-being.

I have before me a 5th-grade history textbook from the community where I live, Mt. Vernon, New York. Our 6 year-old daughter is enrolled in public kindergarten. Under the leadership of former Gov. Mario Cuomo and Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol, New York State has aggressively mandated multicultural reforms in public education. The city of Mt. Vernon, with a majority of African American residents, was designated as a vanguard community for this project.

Millions of state and local tax dollars have been spent. And what is the result? If this book, co-authored by teachers in the school district, is indicative, the results are as dismal as one could imagine. It was supposed to be only a supplemental text, but many of the predominately African American schools failed to order the primary textbook, making it the sole written resource for thousands of students in this city.

Thus, at this very moment, many Mt. Vernon 5th graders are reading an American history textbook which portrays Native Americans as a peace-loving and religious people who were ravaged by greedy and cruel white Europeans. The unit on the exploration of America shows that whatever white European males did, black Africans either did earlier or better. Africans, for example, discovered America before Columbus, who “some historians believe” used a black pilot. The four-week unit on the colonial period is almost entirely about slavery. The unit on the Revolution chronicles the involvement of blacks who “had a big effect on the outcome of the war.” The discussion of the Declaration of Independence occupies 2 pages out of 67, while the section on the Constitution once again focuses almost exclusively on the slavery and treatment of the native inhabitants.

Nothing need be said about the rest. The story is the same throughout: the white man destroyed a paradise of native Americans, enslaved African Americans, oppressed women, and destroyed the land; there was no significant, positive step taken without the input and influence of African Americans, and no harmful act or trait that could not be traced to its white, European roots.

Surely there is more at work here than a concern to learn about other cultures, more than an honest correction of previous imbalances and oversights. The aims of the multicultural curriculum lead back to a world ruled by tribalist logic, where ethnic myth and custom reign, where the political obligations due to our common human nature are ignored. Multiculturalists evince no interest in the humancondition, in the study of human culture for its own sake.

Of course, multiculturalists will use the language of human dignity and rights while they turn our educational institutions into places where students cannot learn what those concepts mean. Listen closely to the sweet rhetoric of multiculturalists who continually seek a “language” the public will accept, leaving the substance of their agenda totally unchanged.

In short, there is nothing good in multiculturalism that is not already contained in traditional Western education: Understanding different cultures, grasping the self-understanding of others, appreciating indigenous cultures or marginalized groups, the need for teachers to appreciate the particular backgrounds of their students, all were curricular and pedagogical principles established long before multiculturalism. This is precisely what gives Western education its capacity for self-correction.

But if the leaders of the multiculturalist movement have their way there will be no turning back to the old curriculum and pedagogy. Imagine how difficult it would be for students from a 5th grade class in Mt. Vernon to enter, say, a traditional great books program in the 9th or 10th grade. Once you have filled a student with hostility and doubt toward the great books and great ideas of the Western world, especially at such a formative age, it is hard to turn back.

I have wondered what effect these students will have on the high schools and colleges they attend. Will the traditional curriculums and book lists survive the “demands” they are very likely to make?

What is being done to these 5th graders is shameful and irresponsible. It is adults, after all, whose responsibility it is to provide them with an education. Multiculturalism is a kind of educational welfare; it almost guarantees intellectual poverty for generation after generation. Multiculturalists who claim they are giving first priority to self-esteem are ignoring the clear evidence that there is no correlation (except perhaps negative) between self-esteem and academic achievement.

Because of multiculturalism, these students will be less able to make their way in the world, less able to carry out their responsibilities as citizens, and less capable of dealing with the unforseen moral and spiritual challenges of the future.


Who is Mortimer J. Adler?

Deal W. Hudson

January 1, 1995

A longtime friend Of Catholic education, Mortimer J. Adler, who celebrates his 92nd birthday on December 28, has been fighting educational battles since the 1930s. In those days the issue was not multiculturalism but pragmatism. Adler’s “Great Books” movement which began in the 20s left in its wake the programs at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico; at St Mary’s and Thomas Aquinas College in California.

Last summer at the Aspen Institute a symposium was held in Adler’s honor, where the presentors included several Catholic scholars, including myself, Russ Hittinger, Ralph Mclnerny, Jeff Wallin, and Otto Bird. At the closing banquet, a toast was offered by Dr. Bird, a “great bookie” at Notre Dame for many years, in the name of all the Catholics who read and love Adler for his seeking the “truth” about things. Since “truth” is not a welcome word in polite company these days, his toast elicited some nervous jitters. But, of course, Bird was absolutely right, and Adler knew it.

Dr. Adler, as he has explained in A Second Look In the Rearview Mirror, was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church ten years ago. After decades of teaching Aquinas, and resisting the evangelical urging of his fellow Thomists, Adler found himself reciting the Lord’s Prayer in a Chicago hospital room and recognized his gift of faith. Many, including myself, have speculated on why he stopped short of Rome. But one thing is certain, Catholics owe him thanks. Adler’s Herculean labors as a philosopher, educator, and editor have long provided Catholics with a powerful ally in upholding the tradition of metaphysical realism, the tradition of our Common Doctor — St. Thomas Aquinas.

In 1982, before the present debates over multiculturalism and self-esteem pedagogy began to heat up, Dr. Adler founded the Paideia Project to reform American education from the ground up, from kindergarten through high school. He recognized that colleges and universities are unable to rehabituate students whose intellectual habits have been shaped by twelve years of previous schooling. Paideia’s purpose was not to impose a new curriculum but to mandate the kind of teaching that would inculcate intellectual skills, impart general knowledge, and foster good lives.

For Dr. Adler, a genuine liberal education does not need relevance tacked on to it by the consideration of social issues or the purposes of social engineering. A sound education shapes people who will be prudently disposed toward grasping the moral significance of social conditions regardless of circumstance. Such students do not need to be catechized in the correct opinions about today’s headlines. Adler’s constant appeal to the fundamental relation of liberal education to the good life and the defense of democratic government is advice we should continue to follow.


What’s in a Name?


MARCH 1, 1995

A number of people have suggested to me that the name Crisis should be changed. They worry about the magazine having a negative image. Beyond merely criticizing the present state of affairs, they feel the magazine should appear more forward-looking: the name Crisis doesn’t sound like a magazine showing the way toward a Catholicism for the next millennium.

It is easy to sympathize with this viewpoint; the morally higher ground always seems to belong to those who offer hope for the future. When all is said and done, the religious and conservative critique of contemporary culture must be completed by an integrated vision of familial, social, and ecclesial life. What we are for, after all, determines what we are against.

But I, for one, don’t think the name of this magazine is necessarily dated — there are still crises aplenty in the culture and the Church, and still the need to address them. Our culture has not yet reached its nadir; things are going to get worse before they get better. For example, if you don’t think that PC and MC (multiculturalism) have become mainstream, just wait until Disney’s new animated feature Pocahontas opens next summer. Assuming the preview is representative of the rest, we will soon be watching the deconstruction of Western Man set to music for our children to hum on the way out of the theater. Pocahontas promises to do for Eurocentrism what Bambi did for hunting.

How many parents will naively take their children to Pocahontas and accept without protest its depiction of white, male, Christian Europeans who bring violence and slaughter to a paradisical land populated by saintly native Americans? Robert Royal’s 1492 and All That, a brilliant response to the nonsense surrounding the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas, should be required reading for all parents before this next Disney onslaught.

Thus, the same sense of urgency that led to the founding of this magazine in 1982 still exists and, if anything, the advancing legions of the culture wars only heighten it. The possibility of transforming private and public life may end with the human heart, but it begins with the kind of critical analysis that has been presented in these pages over the last twelve years.

Let’s face it, many people still don’t realize that their cultural institutions have been corrupted, taken away from them by ideologues attempting to restructure society and recondition its citizenry along unrealizable, repressive, utopian lines. As Kierkegaard once said, the worst form of suffering is the one you don’t recognize. In spite of all the wake-up calls, including the November elections, we are still a society needing to recognize the mess it is in.

But Crisis means more than even this. More than the shortcomings of the state, culture, and Church, there is the perennial crisis of human life as seen from the cross of the Son of God. In this shadow, no temporal happiness, no political structure, no public policy, can claim finality. We are a people forever in need; we must pray for vision and for the strength to carry it out.

We must continue to test, measure, and discriminate in earthly matters, but without confusing the orders of nature and grace. Grace perfects nature, it does not destroy it, Thomas Aquinas wrote. This integration must be the guiding principle for the future of our humanism and our politics. We can give human nature its full due only by recognizing its fundamental need for divine help.

It is sometimes difficult to know which traditions and social structures are more effective than others in fulfilling human purpose, in encouraging ordinate pursuits of happiness. Yet to be reminded that our ultimate purpose is eternal happiness does not release us from our obligation to order all aspects of earthly life — economic, political, aesthetic, intellectual, scientific — toward this end. As a part of this task Crisis remains committed to articulating the advantages of both American democracy and democratic capitalism.

The question remains whether or not the positive contribution of Crisis and its contributors will be recognized in spite of its name and, one might venture, its reputation. Whatever its name may be, this magazine will continue its habits of debunking the secular faith and exposing questionable opinions and practices within the Church itself. But inspired by the spirit of John Paul II’s recent As the Third Millennium Draws Near, we will also offer opinion and articles about the shape of things to come. After the brambles have been cleared, it is once again time for planting.


Beauty—Buyer Beware!


MAY 1, 1995

Beauty has no trouble finding an audience. Truth and goodness pass by incognito while heads turn paying homage to the handsome passerby. Over a century ago Baudelaire’s poetry reminded us that through beauty we can move toward God or the devil. These days we need to be reminded that our hunger for beauty can make people a lot of money.

Why else did Miramax Films, subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co., plan to open its film Priest on Good Friday? Why else did Miramax go out of its way to invite Catholics to its previews? Obviously Miramax was hoping for the same type of outcry that greeted Scorcese’s laughably-had The Last Temptation of Christ. Given this kind of marketing strategy, judging Priest on aesthetic grounds takes second place to condemning the attempt to cash in on Catholic indignation. Only a director like Robert Altman could do justice to the scene where Miramax executives cooked up this strategy — “Hey, if we are real lucky maybe Act Up will charge into St. Patrick’s Cathedral again!”

The Hollywood establishment just doesn’t “get it” if they think that people are going to flock to movies just because the so-called “religious right” or “fundamentalist reactionaries” condemn them. Too many people have seen through that media smokescreen, too many people have come forward to affirm the traditional religious values so often mocked by the entertainment industry. By embracing wave after wave of left-wing causes, Hollywood has lost its power to provide the imprimatur for American morality and custom. The patina of political commitment, sought so eagerly by many actors and directors, has lost its luster. A movie director with a cause impresses us with all the sincerity of a Washington lobbyist.

Even though Disney still has to face the music over the flagrant multiculturalism of its upcoming Pocahontas, the entertainment conglomerate may prove itself a fast learner. After changing the opening date of Priest, Disney moved quickly to keep Miramax from distributing Kids, a movie about an HIV-positive teenager whose nickname is the “virgin surgeon.” Disney may want to retain its revered status in the eyes of our nation’s children after all.

In his ideal republic Plato thought that artists should be kept on a very short leash. While state control of the arts is not a good idea, it is to Plato’s credit that he recognized the unique power of artists to instruct the mind and shape character. How many of us have benefited from that power, as we enter the great cathedrals, listen to a choir, feel our eye drawn toward the rose window. Who would deny the continuing power of a cathedral or the liturgy to convert?

The beauty of Catholic culture, created by the work of its artists and artisans, still helps convert the heart toward God and Church. Among those who call themselves Christians, Catholics have the least suspicion of the beautiful and the greatest appreciation of the artist. Thus, philosopher Jacques Maritain advises us to protect the freedom of the artist from moralistic objections. The present furor over Priestdoes not constitute such interference. Miramax has obviously attempted to stir up and then to capitalize on Catholic backlash against their caricatured depictions of troubled priests. Movie-making is a business, and if Disney and Miramax want to manipulate and insult Catholics then they must be prepared to accept the financial consequences.

My daughter already owns two Simba dolls and one Nala from The Lion King, which my wife and I happily bought for her. But nothing will be purchased by my family to support the nonsense of Pocahantas. Priest should be treated the same way — just stay away from it — hopefully it will die quietly leaving both companies with a big loss.

Meanwhile, the best way to combat the worse is to reach for the better. You will have to look beyond the bestseller list to find that Catholic fiction is alive and well in work by Piers Paul Read, Alice Thomas Ellis, Jon Hassler, Torgny Lindgren, and Shusaku Endo. It is a pleasant surprise that the sacred music of Gorecki, Part, and Taverner has become widely appreciated, but now is also the time to rediscover the joys of older music, like Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Durufle’s Requiem, and Palestrina’s setting of The Song of Songs. Listening to and reading such things makes Priest seem like the small beer that it is.


For Children’s Sake


JUNE 1, 1995

It’s a pity we teach metaphysics to students before they have children. There is nothing like the happy presence of a son or daughter to make us thankful for life, and to God for giving it. While delighting in our children, how easy it is to grasp the all-important distinction between essence and existence, between something thought and something actually there. Parents can remember the time before their children were born, and be glad for the love that brought them into being.

The presence of children puts most everything, but especially ideas, into perspective. Children help strip us of the foolishness with which we serve ideas, turning them into idols, as we act without regard for their lived consequences.

Children remind us that before we go chasing after abstract notions of happiness, rights, justice, or love we should think ahead to how these ideas will be incarnated in future generations.

We are at a crucial juncture in our cultural life: the abstractions of post-war politics are being called into question by the very children they were meant to benefit. Ideas about rights and entitlements, ideas which fueled both the civil rights movement and the “Great Society,” now encourage divisive ethnocentricism and nourish a permanent welfare class.

Explosive resentments are building on every side. Meanwhile, everyone claims they are doing what is best for children.

Many of us once sympathized with the liberal rationale that welfare provides people access to the basic needs of life and encourages their happiness. The reason we can no longer sympathize is simple — welfare has not worked: rather than provide equal access to opportunity, it has spread poverty and unhappiness among its recipients.

The appeal to rights has also lost its force in defending the status quo. To have a “right” once meant that other citizens could not obstruct your exercise of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. In the mid-twentieth century a “right” somehow became the obligation of the government not merely to remove obstructions to exercise but also to guarantee outcomes for its citizenry, whether or not its citizens actively sought those outcomes for themselves.

Those who lament over a “country” that cannot educate its children, or make them happy, are confused. Countries do not raise children — families, friends, and communities do.

Our public policy tragically suffers from the same confusion, and, as a consequence, discourages children from growing up, from taking the initiative and providing for themselves. Any country or parent who proudly keeps children dependent and submissive is more concerned with displaying generosity than in doing the right thing.

It is clear that justifying further social assistance programs like those of the last thirty years cannot be done in the name of children. A nation that really cares about its poor can find a better way, one based upon a more realistic view of human motivation and aspiration. Otherwise, the nation will remain dysfunctionally mired in liberal guilt over the relative affluence acquired by the fortunes of birth, the care of families, or the rewards of personal effort.

There was a time when the happiness we wished for young children was different than the happiness we wished for older children. In their youth we wish them a happiness that includes not only prosperity but also a responsible, morally good life. When children are older, and have been buffeted by life’s disappointments, parents often consider their children happy if they “feel good” about whatever they are doing, about whatever they have done. These lowered expectations, the diminution of the meaning of happiness, seem to have become this nation’s wish for the poor. Surely the Catholic social teaching of a “preferential option” does not mandate treating the poor as if they were hopeless cases destined forever to be wards of the state.

At the core of our cultural confusion, and much of our public policy, is a misunderstanding about the end of human life. In helping people, we try to serve psychological and emotional needs to the neglect of the mind and will, the wellspring of human action. Veritatis splendor reminded us that true happiness requires “that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called.” The continuing political debate over welfare, and its effects on children, will require us to think about what this maturity means for loving our neighbor.


 The Last Outpost of American Manners


JULY 1, 1995

The scene at the final hole at the Masters Golf Tournament—Ben Crenshaw weeping for joy, bent over, head in hands, while his caddy Carl Jackson comforts him.

In that image many of us noticed something almost lost, nearly extinct, in American manners—the gratitude of a pious man who loves his game. Among professional sports, golf is the last outpost for such a sensibility. Tennis had it, but lost it after condoning a generation of rude and spoiled behavior. Hockey players, who nowadays are so busy getting stitched up, probably never had it. Baseball players surely felt nostalgic when they watched Crenshaw win. Their ten months of shamelessness insures it will be a long time before they can recapture the honor of their game, if ever. Football and basketball players lost it years ago, drowned by their PR, along with the rock music that blaringly interprets their sport to the fans.

In that moment on the 18th green at Augusta National, we saw a man overcome by the joy of winning, a man paying honor to his sport, not a man consumed by his paycheck or his celebrity stature. Crenshaw didn’t walk off the green to record a TV spot for Disneyworld or Nike shoes. Instead he talked about his golfing mentor Harvey Penick, of Little Red Book fame. Just a few days before the tournament, Crenshaw had served as a pallbearer at his funeral. As he received the green jacket, the new Master’s champion credited Penick with helping him somehow throughout the final round— how rare a thing such piety has become!

Those who know Crenshaw and his love for the game and its tradition knew he was overwhelmed by his awareness of winning his second Masters, and taking his place in the history of golf. Manners like his require piety, reverence for the past, for tradition, for the accomplishments of one’s elders, for those who have made the institutions that nourish us today.

As the writer Marion Montgomery has put it, “Manners allow the soul to catch its breath.” Manners take over where self-conscious reflection and deliberation leave off. Golfers tee off in an order paying homage to the lowest scorer on the previous hole—this is rarely discussed, it simply happens. Perhaps this is why golf is so refreshing, it has not taken on the confusion of contemporary life, particularly its deep skepticism regarding privilege and honor.

An older friend of mine recently said, “Golf is the last sport where a young man can learn to be a gentlemen.” Remaining quiet and motionless while another player hits, tending to the pin for a partner’s putt, praising good shots, offering consolation for bad ones, lending good cheer to a round’s conclusion, regardless of scores, all are civilizing habits. They are hardly in evidence on our nation’s streets.

Golf remains the only major sport to resist the thug element infiltrating our public life. One reason is that you simply cannot play decent golf with bad manners—it gets in the way of the game. John Daly is the perfect example: when he gets his life together, and shortens his backswing, his amazing talents will fully emerge. Temper may help you make the downfield block but it won’t help you sink a short putt. Initially playing golf is about learning the proper swing; ultimately it is about learning self-command.

People wonder why public civility is on the wane, why so little respect is shown toward tradition, the greatness of the past. Some of us have accepted this as the price of becoming cynical, of exposing much of past glory as counterfeit, as camouflage for greedy self-interest and class injustice. No longer believing in the accomplishments of the adult world we now venerate the scowl of adolescent rebellion. Why should our nation’s youth try to grow up and overcome an attitude that the adult world, in large part, has chosen to emulate?

Just like in golf, bad manners get in the way of living well. To grow, to mature, requires great effort and much help—we are helped both by God’s grace and the efforts of good men and women who have come before us. The essence of rudeness is not listening, in not knowing when to be quiet and to profit from those who know better. Ben Crenshaw’s bowed head, Carl Jackson’s fatherly consolation, the acknowledgement that help comes from beyond the grave—here are clear signs that manners are not dead, that they can flourish once again.


A Strangled Imagination



Some people think that religious belief makes you narrow-minded, parochial. If you think so, try lecturing on human rights to high school teachers in Estonia, a county trying to recover from its period of Soviet domination. My Estonian audience listened uncomprehendingly as I spoke to them about natural right and human nature.

This was no mere academic exercise for me. To visit the site of the “Singing Revolution” of 1992, to talk with a people living freely for the first time in their lives, to put a face on the suffering inflicted by communism, this was my first real boot camp in political philosophy. Under the sponsorship of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Judge Randall Rader and I tried to help the Estonians better understand the founding principles of American democracy, particularly the ideas that inform our Declaration of Independence—equality, inalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness.

Among the Estonians, however, there was a marked tendency to understand political struggle entirely in terms of competing ethnic groups. Their bottom line was the struggle of Estonians against Russians, not human beings rightfully claiming political liberty after decades of oppression. No doubt we can understand the painful weight of history that deters them from embracing the abstraction of “human equality” in favor of defending their small country against a historical aggressor. Abstractions, after all, the wrong abstractions, had held them hostage for fifty years.

But when I asked them to consider whether they would accept an Estonian dictator in the place of a Russian, the limits of their political imagination were exposed. They caught a glimpse of the principle invoked by Jefferson when he grounded the American call to revolution in the conviction that God is the creator of man, that he provides us with an endowment of “inalienable rights.” In other words, these Estonian teachers began to consider for the first time that political freedom is a natural right for all human beings, not just for a particular ethnic group rejecting the rule of another. Perhaps it was only a sign of my own naiveté that I was shocked at their attitude.

It has been the claim of twentieth-century Catholic philosophers, such as Jacques Maritain, Yves R. Simon, and Etienne Gilson, that Christian belief inspired many of the key breakthroughs in Western thought, ethical, political, and metaphysical. Maritain and Simon, in particular, have explained how Christianity provided the cultural “leaven” which directly stimulated the development of democracy.

My audience was filled with people who had been educated to regard religion as the enemy of political liberation and enlightenment. The notion that Christianity had a formative role in the development of Western democracy and freedom came as something completely new. I began to wonder if their lack of exposure to religious ideas, much less religious practice, had something to do with their inability to appreciate the political importance of our shared human nature. After all, anyone who believes in humans as creatures of God, and equal before him, are only a step away from understanding the political equality of man.

As I left Estonia, it became clear to me that by forcefully suppressing this country’s religious heritage, Communist rule had not only made it more difficult to pray, it had become also more difficult to imagine the natural right to political liberty, the right of all human beings to participate in their government. A Christian nation which believes in the creation of man has a natural advantage when it comes to affirming human equality. A nation deprived of this advantage can only imagine the struggle of nation against nation, and people against people, in other words, the politics of power rather than justice.

Lacking any help in viewing the universality of human claims against tyranny, these people are unprotected against the postmodernism now sweeping Western Europe and the United States. How easily it would be for the radical academics and bureaucrats now junketing through Eastern Europe to spread their gospel of multiculturalism and ethnocentrism. How easy it would be to take the native and well-founded Estonian fear of Russian domination and turn it into the ideology of an Estonian perspective on life which only another Estonian can understand or appreciate, thus impersonating Western feminism and Afrocentricism.

Difference and diversity have become the false currency of this decade’s public policy. Few people have come forth and publicly challenged the diversity hucksters to pay more heed to our common humanity. This silence may be due to the fact that our own nation’s moral imagination has grown impoverished. We may still remember that we are “one nation under God,” but we remember less and less of what that means for our public life.


Grace Alone


OCTOBER 1, 1995

As one who was born and raised a Protestant and became a Southern Baptist minister before entering the Roman Catholic Church, I am perplexed by the evangelical Protestant charge that Catholics misunderstand salvation. The constant teaching of the Catholic Church throughout the ages has been that salvation is bestowed alone by God’s grace. This was not the singular discovery of the Reformation.

As Louis Bouyer has shown definitively in The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, all three of the Reformation theses — the authority of Scripture, the necessity of faith, and our justification in Christ — were alive and well in the Catholic tradition long before they were singled out and thematized by the Reformers.

I discovered, as have many other converts from Protestantism, that there is no need to give up, or even minimize, the Gospel teaching on these matters. Rather, Catholic teaching reveals the richest and most profound meaning of the very principles evangelicals strive to defend. In this sense, they are our Christian brethren, and we speak to them in this spirit.

There probably is a tendency in popular piety to mistake the sacramental act of penance for some sort of spiritual merit. No doubt it is due to our fallen human nature that we take credit for the gifts we receive. Those Protestants who have dealt with tongue-speaking charismatics know how easily pride can be generated by spiritual gifts.

While Catholics believe it is Christ’s death and resurrection that puts the believer in a new relationship with God, this is not the whole story of Christian salvation. What some evangelicals consider salvation by works is merely an expression of Catholic belief in spiritual rebirth and regeneration, the ongoing blessing of grace in a person’s growth toward God. What Catholics properly understand as an effect or fruit of salvation some evangelicals unfortunately interpret as its cause.

These evangelicals also object to the role, the sacramental role, played by parish and priest in the drama of salvation. They argue that Jesus Christ needs no other mediator than himself, that the believer has been provided direct access to his saving love. This, I think, is the more important, more substantive difference between evangelical and Catholic than the issue of “faith alone.” We can agree with evangelicals that faith in Jesus Christ saves us from our sin, but it is much harder to agree on the form, sacramental or otherwise, of that acceptance.

Catholics are rightly confused by the evangelical insistence that Jesus Christ is something other than his Church, his priests, and his sacraments. “Isn’t this exactly how Christ is concretely present to us?” a Catholic would ask in reply. The Church as Christ’s Body, the priest as Christ’s representative, the sacraments as visible signs of Christ’s grace are all inextricably connected in the Catholic mind.

The power of the evangelical Protestant movement is seen in its emphasis on an encounter with God’s word as preached and encountered in the Bible. Catholics in America still have much to learn from this tradition of continually revitalized worship. Some evangelicals claim that their brand of Christianity to be more genuine, more akin to the early Church of the New Testament. They claim to practice a more immediate spirituality, a Christian faith shorn of its unnecessary accoutrements.

Yet evangelical Christians, if they are honest with themselves, are not without a form of religious faith and practice. They exude tremendous confidence in the mediation of the Protestant pastor, the sermon, their worship, and the study of Scripture itself.

Christ, we can agree, established these means for our conversion. But it is also true that he gave us more — the sacramental reality and priesthood of the Catholic Church. Thus, Protestants continue to find a home in the Catholic Church not because Catholics are Christian and Protestants are not, but because of the fullness of God’s revelation which they find there.


Ralph Reed on Catholics: An Interview


NOVEMBER 1, 1995

Crisis wanted to talk to Ralph Reed, president of the Christian Coalition, about his plans to create a Catholic Alliance within the Christian Coalition. Crisis editor, Deal W. Hudson, talked to him at the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. about the history of American Catholicism and his vision of Evangelical-Catholic cooperation in public policy.

What’s the purpose of the Catholic Alliance?

It really has a two-fold purpose beginning with an outgrowth of what has been a major emphasis on outreach and bridge building with Roman Catholics. If you go back to our original mission statements, there was always a heavy flavor of ecumenism. We have been bringing in not only evangelicals, which is our traditional base, but people in mainline denominations who are with us on many of the issues, as well as Roman Catholics and also, later, Jews, to build an organization that would bring together people from different faith traditions based on a shared Judeo-Christian value system. We’ve tried to be ecumenical in the best sense of that word. That is to say, not trying to ignore or blur theological differences, not trying to deny the authenticity of these different faith traditions. But while acknowledging theological differences, coming together on the things that unite us. Things like school choice and defending the right to life, opposing euthanasia, providing care and compassion for the poor by non-governmental means, through intermediary institutions.

The 1993 school board races in New York City were a real breakthrough for us where we distributed voter guides, half a million total-100,000 of those in Roman Catholic churches in the New York Archdiocese. The Catholic Alliance is really the natural outgrowth of it.

We already have, according to our internal survey, 16% of our members who are Roman Catholic. That means that right now we have about a quarter of a million Catholics involved in the Christian Coalition—but we want more Catholics. We would like to see the percentage of Roman Catholic members of the Christian Coalition meet or exceed the national average, which would mean 25% to 30% of our members would be Catholic. The best way to do that is to have an auxiliary that is explicitly Catholic to let them know in effect that the door is open and they are welcome. But I want to make it clear that it is not a segregation of Catholics.

When they join the Catholic Alliance, they automatically become members of the Christian Coalition. They receive our literature; they get our mailings; they’re not treated any differently than any other member of the organization. They’re full members in good standing, and they’ll be invited to all of our conferences and be included in everything. I think ultimately it’s going to have the desired effect. Right now at our national conferences, I’d estimate we probably have somewhere between 300 and 500 Catholics at those conferences. Maybe even more. We’d like to get to the point where a thousand or more of those people are Catholics. By having people join the Catholic Alliance and the Christian Coalition together, we will have identified the Catholics in our membership file so that we can mail to them, call them, and get them more deeply involved.

The other reason for the Catholic Alliance is that in my experience the idiom, the vernacular, and the apologetic for a public witness of one’s faith in the political arena is different in Catholic tradition than it is in Protestant tradition. Not just theologically but in the very language and the very appeals that are made. And so, we have got a group of people sitting on an executive committee that are working up a document that will in effect be an explanation or an apologetic for why they’re involved in politics. I think we needed that in the evangelical community 15 years ago. I don’t think we do anymore. The truth of the matter is that if you went into an evangelical church in 1978 and said, “You need to get involved in politics,” first you would have had to spend two hours explaining why that wasn’t unbiblical. You don’t have to do that anymore. The Protestant/evangelical community is now thoroughly steeped in the ethic of public service and why political involvement is an extension of your faith. The Catholic faith community, conservative Catholic faith community, still needs to develop that apologetic so that people feel more comfortable being political actors. In other words, if you didn’t have a Catholic entity doing that, you wouldn’t be able to develop that uniquely and explicitly Catholic apologetic.

We all know that historically there is some tension between evangelicals and Catholics. Do you think your plans for an alliance will cause any tension among your membership because of the prospective infusion of Catholics into the organization?

I honestly don’t. Having been trained as an American historian, I am intimately and painfully familiar with not only the religious experience but the religio-cultural isolation of Roman Catholics. As they came to the United States in the 1820s and 1830s and 1840s initially, and then flooded later, they needed to develop their own cultural institutions and effect their own Catholic culture within the broader Protestant culture of the United States. This was due to the hostility of evangelicals towards Roman Catholicism, which every American at least superficially understands. But until you’ve gone back and read the Protestant sermons of the 1830s and the 1840s when the first Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States, you cannot fully appreciate the level of hostility with which they were greeted. It wasn’t just a matter of different theological views. There were fears the Pope was trying to dominate America through the legions of his servants that were being sent over here. There were allusions to the anti-Christ and things of that nature. This is a really tough, painful history—a dark spot on America’s past.

All this was exacerbated, of course, by the immigrant experience. Not the language barrier, at least for the Irish, although that came later with the Italians and the Eastern Europeans, just the marginalization of the immigrant experience was deepened by their religious differences. In some ways, then, as Oscar Handlin wrote, it was worse than for African Americans that came here on slave ships for the reason that they, even in their subjugated condition, were here from the beginning and therefore were not treated as much as an oddity. And also because, frankly, they were Protestants and evangelicals and so there was a sort of commonality that united whites and blacks. So Handlin makes the point, at least, that the passage across the Atlantic for the immigrant was as bad as for slaves who had come a century or two earlier.

Let’s talk about the Reformation just for a second. As you know, there’s been a flare-up recently over the signing of an Evangelicals & Catholics Together document. You have a membership of 1.7 million, most of them evangelicals. How can you be confident that an infusion of Catholic members isn’t going to cause a similar problem within your own organization?

I think there are three reasons why it’s not going to cause a flare-up. The first is pretty obvious. We’re not a church; we’re not a ministry; we’re not a denomination. We, as individuals, clearly have a call in our lives to share our faith and to witness to others. But as an organization, there is no such institutional obligation because we’re a public policy organization. So, we don’t get bogged down in the theological disputes—whether we should be trying to proselytize the Catholics before we go after the unsaved. We don’t have to confront that dilemma as an organization. Clearly there’s a diversity of views within the evangelical community on that issue and it would be a mistake to take any view on that and suggest that it is the dominant view among evangelicals.

I can speak only for myself and not for the Christian Coalition. I have found, in my experience as an evangelical, a deeper level of faith among many Catholics than I have found with some evangelicals—the depth of their commitment, the seriousness of their prayer-lives and so forth—so I would say that I think it is far more important to go out and seek to convert those who are lost than to try and convert each other. But I’m not speaking for the organization. That’s just my own opinion. And there are individual differences. I think there are some evangelicals who need to be converted. I guess it was the Puritans who had the doctrine of the visible church and the invisible church. And I think the truth is there are probably some Catholics who aren’t genuinely saved and there are probably some evangelicals who aren’t genuinely saved. We ought to be trying to convert anybody who isn’t genuinely saved.

That seems to be the common sense of the matter.

That’s the common sense of the matter. The second reason why I don’t think it’s going to cause problems has to do with this pope. I think that Pope John Paul II is clearly going to go down in the history of the Church as one of the most significant religious figures, not only of this century, but of all time. I think that when the history books are written, he will be a pivotal, if background figure, in the collapse of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. And we now know that he was deeply involved in the Solidarity Movement and in assisting freedom-based movements which were all faith-based across Eastern and Central Europe.

Also there are two things that he has emphasized in recent encyclicals and pastoral letters that have had a tremendous impact on evangelicals. The first is the encyclical on human life, which probably had a greater impact on evangelicals than any other papal encyclical in my lifetime. The second is his emphasis on ecumenism and sort of cross-denominational cooperation in Ut unum sint. We’re going to quote from that in our document as to why we’re setting up the Catholic Alliance.

The third reason why I don’t think there will be a lot of division or conflict based on more Catholics coming into the Christian Coalition, is that I think that the right to life struggle has brought Catholics and Protestants together, not only as co-laborers on legislative and political issues, but as prayer-partners, as brothers and sisters, as soul-mates. The struggle to defend the innocent and to be a voice for the voiceless is ultimately—as Mother Teresa has reminded us far more eloquently than I can—is ultimately a spiritual struggle. It is ultimately a struggle against evil and against darkness and against death. There is no way to be engaged in that struggle as co-laborers across church lines and not grow to love one another with a depth that was unthinkable not only a century ago but even a decade ago. I think that that transformation is not fully appreciated. And I don’t think, for example, that the ECT could have happened before 1973.

The Gospel of Life of course combines a biblically-based morality with a natural law morality. There has been some question about how much Evangelicals can take advantage of the natural law. Do you think they’re open to that, and do you think it would be helpful in the political sphere to do that?

Absolutely, there is no question about the fact that the Roman Catholic idiom in debating and discussing social and political issues is far more amenable and tends to be less abrasive against the democratic ear of Americans because Catholics employ natural law theology. In fact if you look at somebody like Clarence Thomas—even though he now worships in an Episcopal Church—his training, his theological, and even broader education, was in the Catholic natural law tradition. The same with Robert Bork and Justice Scalia. The reason is historical. Unlike evangelicals, Catholics had to encounter a hostile culture and engage that culture on a moral level, bringing their faith to bear and doing it in a way that didn’t scare people, because they were the minority. Evangelicals have never had to do that until recently and so their rhetoric has tended to be triumphalist and arrogant, kingdom-oriented rather than natural law based.

I often joke with both my Catholic and evangelical friends that when we released the Contract with the American Family, one of the things I was most happy about was that it was drafted by a Roman Catholic, a Notre Dame-trained lawyer in our office named Susan Moska. And even though it was a very long document, it was probably the least edited document we have ever produced because of her natural law training and her Catholic background.

I think that the possibilities for cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics depends upon the mutual use of natural law language.

Yes. I think evangelicals need to be exposed to that language and insofar as they have not developed it themselves, they need to borrow from the Catholic tradition to be effective.

Do you have any favorite Catholic writers or saints?

I don’t know that I have any favorite Catholic saints. Somebody gave me the book about the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll. Your typical evangelical or even somebody like me who’s trained in history doesn’t fully realize what a major impact he had on America and what a difficult task he had and what a central figure he was in helping to bring Catholics to America and creating a place for them. With regard to writers and thinkers, without a doubt the most influential on me has been Bill Bennett. I think that he, not only as a Catholic but as a former liberal, has a way of thinking about these issues and writing about these issues and using language that that I think is the most effective in conservative American politics today. He’s had a huge impact on me, and he wrote the forward to my book which I’m really grateful for. And you know there are just so many others. I wouldn’t want to start playing favorites but there are many.

How do you respond to people who describe the Christian Coalition as scary? How do you respond to those who say that you’re imposing a private morality into public space or have labeled you the religious right?

Well, I think that we are probably no different than any social movement that is moving from marginalization to full integration into the public life of our nation. I think the first thing we have to do is to overcome the stereotype which in the infamous phrase of the Washington Post is “poor, uneducated and easy to command.” The notion that these are a lot of sort of ignorant fundamentalist hicks coming out of the bog, the Mencken-like character, the Sinclair Lewis-generated caricature—a stereotype which is deep and abiding in the 20th century.

We need to let people know who we are demographically, that, for example, 62% of religious conservatives are women and only 38% are men. That they tend to be upper middle class. The average household income of our members is $45,000 a year which is almost a third above the national average. Twelve percent of our members have earned advanced degrees, either a medical degree, a law degree, or a Ph.D. That compares to only 10% of the national average. When you begin to find out who these people really are demographically, they’re very mainstream and you see it isn’t scary at all.

But the second thing we have to overcome is ourselves. Some of the barbs that are directed at us are based on bigoted stereotypes but there is also an element of truth in it. We have our own history that we must bear as evangelicals—having demonstrated a hostility towards Catholics and immigrants when they first arrived, the fact that white, evangelical Protestants were on the wrong side of the struggle for racial justice throughout American history, but especially in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. And that again, I want to underscore, is why the Catholic presence in our ranks is so absolutely critical. Because unlike conservative, white, evangelical Protestants, Catholics were on the right side (most of the time) of those struggles for social justice on issues like child labor and the rights of the poor. I don’t mean entitlements and welfare, but I mean taking care of those who are poor and the most vulnerable as well as those who suffer discrimination. They’ve always been on the right side of the struggles so when Catholics pour into the public square, which cuts against the grain of what they’ve been taught to do historically, because they fear inciting anti-Catholicism, they do so with a tremendous amount of moral capital because they were involved in these other struggles. Whereas when Evangelicals say we believe that we ought to be involved in politics to save the unborn baby, the left says, “where were you in Birmingham? Where were you at Selma? You were preaching against our being involved in politics.” So that is a burden that we have to overcome and I think we’re doing a good job but we have a way to go.

What is your black representation?

Our minority representation is 10%. About 3% or 4% of that is African American. About 3% is Latino and about 2% or 3% is Native American. So it doesn’t quite reflect the national average but it’s higher, frankly, than we thought it might be.

What do you say to those who share your concern that Christian charity should be a guiding principle of our politics and that’s why the welfare system in this country should not be dismantled?

I don’t think we should completely dismantle it, and I don’t think the Christian Coalition has ever taken the position that the government has no role in helping to take care of the most needy among us. Our objection is not to the idea of a limited role of government in the work of charity. It is the idea of a bloated, corrupt, counter-productive, failed, modern liberal welfare state. We’re trying to reform a welfare state that has had the opposite of its intended effect upon everyone—upon the inner cities that it was supposed to turn into cities of alabaster and gold, upon the poor and the needy whom it was supposed to lift out of poverty, but instead has consigned to intergenerational poverty. To the children who it was supposed to save and instead it has consigned them to a life of hopelessness and violence and ignorance.

We think the welfare state has failed and what we want to do is take the resources that have been invested in the welfare state and do two things with them. The first thing we want to do is to shift them to government at the lowest possible level. Take it out of Washington and send it back to states, back to communities. Remove the notion of a federal entitlement and allow local governments and state governments to administer those programs closest to the need. We also propose a notion of subsidiarity or non-governmental vehicles of compassion, such as churches and synagogues, private charities, traditional vehicles like the Salvation Army and others. Gertrude Himmelfarb talks quite a bit about this in her notion of the Victorian ethic. No one, I think, is suggesting that this is the whole answer to the problem of poverty. But what we are suggesting is that traditional Victorian notions or traditional Judeo- Christian notions of charity certainly didn’t make matters worse. The illegitimacy rate in the late 19th century when private charity was handling many of these issues didn’t go up by three-fold in a couple of decades. The divorce rate among the poor didn’t skyrocket. You didn’t have all of these fatherless households.

Why do you think that so many people fail to understand clearly the kind of compassion you articulate?

I think the reason is that we, as a movement, frankly, haven’t done enough of it, and that’s clearly part of the problem. There is a lot going on, but not enough. There aren’t enough relief efforts and charitable efforts out of the church. If every church in America adopted just one family on welfare there would be nobody on welfare rolls anywhere in the country. So there isn’t enough of it going on. And there needs to be more. We need to make it a challenge to our community. Particularly as the problem of the deficit forces Washington, whether it wants to or not, to send a lot of this off to charitable and private and faith- based agencies.

But the second thing is, the only time the media is interested, the dominant media, is interested in covering people of faith is when they are trying to, allegedly, take over a political party or dominate a political issue. They almost never cover the quiet, unheralded things that we do every day to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, and to clothe the naked. They’re just not interested. I can speak personally about this because Pat Robertson, who’s the head of our organization, is also the head of one of the country’s leading broadcast ministries—and one of its leading relief organizations. Operation Blessing, which he heads, distributes about 2 million pounds of food every month in the inner city. They’re currently outfitting an L1011 airplane to be a fully mobile surgical hospital that will be able to fly anywhere in the world, to go into places like Zaire during the Ebola virus and provide state of the art surgical care to those in the most furthest flung corners of the world. It’s almost impossible to get anybody in the media to cover those aspects of what we do. So I think that’s the reason.

I’d like end on that note and I appreciate your talking with me


Together Again


NOVEMBER 1, 1995

Many people are surprised that Catholics and evangelicals are starting to get along so well— the media is surprised and disappointed, liberals are surprised and scared. I’m not surprised, I was a Baptist who became a Catholic at the age of 33. At the Christian Coalition meeting in Washington D. C., I remarked that one of my favorite hymns as a Baptist was “We are One In the Spirit.” After admitting how half-heartedly most Catholics sing, I was told by several members of the audience that Baptists had gotten the hymn from the Catholics.

So I came to two conclusions—Baptists have good taste in hymns and this newly-discovered cooperation had been in the works for some time, unawares.

Some people think that the political alliance of Catholics and evangelicals was caused by the pro-life and school choice movement—as well as the overall concern for defending the traditional family. It goes deeper than that, to the very foundations of our self-understanding, and reveals why cooperation with the mainline, liberal Protestant churches, as opposed to evangelicals, is nil.

Catholics and evangelical Protestants believe that we are creatures of God, made to love Him, to love Him according to His will, that the Word of God instructs us in how to love Him, and that this Word is not a human construct, but the authoritative measure of the Church.

Having these convictions in common made it possible for me to teach Thomism at a Baptist college in Atlanta for nine years. There were mild protests, to be sure, but overall my evangelical students quickly learned to appreciate the benefits of Christian philosophy, as it is taught in the Catholic tradition. We believe that God has spoken and given a real knowledge upon which we can base our lives, yet, Catholics have more confidence than evangelicals in God’s way of speaking through nature. But evangelicals, as Ralph Reed comments in this issue, are realizing the benefits of arguing from the perspective of reason and natural law.

Evangelicals are apparently overcoming their standard objection against the philosophical dimension of the Catholic tradition. They are realizing that bothorthodox Catholics and evangelicals look to the Gospel first and to the human sciences second, rather than bend the latter to the former in a vain attempt to appear up to date. This is because we each put a personal encounter with Jesus Christ before all else, whether by walking the aisle to accept Him as Lord or by meeting Him in the Eucharist. Perhaps there is something in the repeated gesture of walking the aisle toward the church altar that has been preparing for this meeting of minds all these years.

Some evangelicals have greeted this propitious moment in our cultural history by trying to reopen the wounds of the Reformation. It is a mistake to spend time fighting over who are the real Christians when we should rather confront this culture of death together, exactly as the signers of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together declaration of March 1995 urged.

It is a pity that some powerful evangelical leaders are shunning cooperation with Catholics. Evidently they don’t think it is a priority to take the culture back from the secularizers. They want to fight over church doctrine at a time when we have an unprecedented opportunity to win the political battles necessary, once again, to have influence in our social institutions.

They worry that evangelical cooperation means capitulation to Catholic views on justification and the priesthood. It is surely a leap in logic to say that just because some Baptists invite Catholics to work for school choice they also accept the doctrine of papal infallibility; likewise, Catholics working alongside Baptists need not accept their view of infant baptism.

Doctrinal differences will arise, but the obligation of Christian charity calls each of us not just to share the message of eternal salvation but to seek actively the redemption of the society in which we live. Loving the whole person includes his life on earth. It is a symptom of our own barbarity that we must begin with the protection of life itself.

We can revisit the controversies of the Reformation in the classroom, around the dinner table, and over the phone, but in the public arena we should thank God that Catholics and evangelicals have found one another. If some people find that scary, it’s because they realize that the tide is turning.


Meeting Mother


DECEMBER 1, 1995

She walks so slowly on her crutches she seems fragile, an impression that doesn’t last for very long. Mother Angelica is made of something as tough as the steel she leans on. This Poor Clare nun from Ohio has single-handedly built a multimillion-dollar television and radio complex on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, and created one of the most successful, influential Catholic broadcasting networks in the world.

I had little idea what to expect when I arrived at EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) for my interview on Mother Angelica Live. From previous broadcasts I knew my host could be direct and acerbic on the subject of the Church. But I wasn’t prepared for the woman I met, especially her humor, savvy, subtlety, and penetrating insight into the spiritual life.

In the course of my new editorial duties at Crisis I have gone for advice to many top business executives. Mother Angelica could stand toe-to-toe with any of them. She possesses an incisiveness that makes one wish for perfect recall, because some of the best things she says are off-camera.

I complained during the interview about the preaching one typically hears at Masses in this country. Then, feeling awkward about the priests who might be listening to the broadcast, I asked her if I was being “too hard.” Her reply brought hearty laughter from everyone in the studio, and relief to me — “You can’t be too hard on this program!”

Later, in the studio’s kitchen where everyone gathers for good-byes, after Mother personally greets nearly everyone in the audience, we continued to talk about preaching. Mother talked to me about the Cure d’Ars, what a weak preacher he was, but how multitudes of people would come to his Masses and line up at his confessional. Instantly I knew why I had been uncomfortable with my comments about preaching: the problem with my criticism wasn’t its harshness, it was simply misplaced.

The sacramental worship of the Catholic Church mercifully removes the spotlight from the celebrant as a brilliant rhetorician or even a charismatic personality. It frees the celebrant to be precisely that, one who celebrates the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is one of the central reasons I was first drawn to the Church, and it took an encounter with Mother Angelica to remind me of it. Old habits, as they say, die hard.

Meeting Mother Angelica has that kind of effect on people. Spend an afternoon talking to the people who work with her and it is difficult not to be infected with a certain back-to-basics euphoria. From the remarkable president of EWTN Bill Steltemeier, through the producers, to the radio technician who gave me the tour of WEWN, their mountain-top radio station, everyone I met was cheerfully devoted to Mother and the cause of EWTN. From Ohio and New Jersey, and across the South and Southwest, they have come to work for Mother, all of them sharing her belief that “God will provide.”

Anyone who watched EWTN’s coverage of the pope’s visit to the U.S. or listened to it on WEWN will appreciate the network’s possibilities, including the 24-hour AM/FM that is soon to follow. EWTN’s reporters and commentators simply outclassed and outcovered everyone else. Plans are under way to televise the pope’s upcoming visit to South America. When I asked Bill Steltemeier about the cost of broadcasting all those hours from another continent, including the costs of translation, he told me story after story of launching projects well in advance of raising the necessary capital. The words “Mother says” are their only business plan.

It is no accident EWTN has sprung up and taken root in the South. Its tone, like its founder, is enthusiastic and evangelical; no attempt to be the urbane, detached cosmopolitan here — just two-fisted Catholic intelligence reminding people to take full advantage of the grace they have been given.

As I was getting ready to leave for the airport, I looked out the window of the Madonna House where I was staying to see one of the extern sisters, fully draped in her traditional habit, walking down this suburban Alabama street carrying a huge yellow gladiola. I couldn’t help but wonder if sights like these had become such a commonplace in this predominately Protestant neighborhood that the neighbors had stopped noticing them. I hope not.

I found in that image something that captured the core of Mother Angelica’s ministry: she has brought an old-style Catholicism to the heartland of America. Her viewers aren’t simply responding to the firmness of her pre-conciliar tone, which they surely appreciate, but they can also see the flower in her upraised hand. This flower represents the beauty and the joy of the Church she celebrates without apology.

Columns & Articles, Crisis Magazine, 1996

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.

Catholic Liberation

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