Thomas Sowell has a new book about intellectuals that looks very interesting. The National Review has a review:
Sowell writes that it “was part of a long-standing assumption among many intellectuals . . . that it is the role of third parties to bring meaning into the lives of the masses.” Many people were shocked when in early 2008 Michelle Obama proclaimed, “Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. . . . That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.” Sowell probably just shook his head in knowing disgust.
This Christmas my local parish was something to behold. Midnight Mass began with light only from decorations on the Evergreen trees, the Priest, escorted by the Deacon and members of the local Knights of Columbus, processed through the Pews with an icon of the baby Jesus to be laid in the Manger. The entire Church was silent and it was beautiful.
As is typical of Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter Masses, the Church was full. This is an unusual circumstance for my parish, as on any typical Sunday the Church is probably half empty. In New England, people who don’t usually come to Church come to Church on Christmas. This is a disheartening aspect of Catholic life in America. Is there anything that can or should be done about it?
Michael McConnell, a Law Professor at Stanford, offers this in a First Things review of Philip Hamburger’s new book titled Law and Judicial Duty:
Hamburger traces the development of modern conceptions of the law to the realization, in Europe and especially Britain, that human reason rarely provided clear answers to moral questions and therefore that an attempt to ground law in divine will, or a search for abstract reason and justice, would inevitably lead to discord. As a result, “Europeans increasingly located the obligation of law in the authority of the lawmaker rather than the reason or justice of his laws.” The task of judges, then, was not to seek after elusive notions of justice and right reason but to enforce the law of the land. Natural law shifted in emphasis from moral content to legitimacy and authority, and increasingly to an understanding of authority based on the will of the people.
This seems to me a profound explanation of how and why we understand law today the way we do. It simultaneously shows you what is wrong with the modern conception of the law and what is right.
My short answer is no.
Christ’s Kingdom is, as He says in today’s Gospel, “not of this world.” We are called to build Christ’s Kingdom on earth not by ruling the secular realm and enforcing Christian morality and charity with the force of law, but by living out of vocation as Christians and winning hearts and minds by word and deed. Christians are called to transform society from within – we are “the salt of the earth,” ideally bringing out the best in all of our various communities. In this way, Christians do not need the secular law to be successful. I do not mean to imply that the secular law is not necessary for social order; it is clearly a fundamental component of the common good. Catholics do and ought to work for the common good in our political life, but we should not seek this good in the name of Jesus (of course everything we do ought to be for Jesus). He Himself did not establish a political party or an Earthly kingdom. His Kingdom is “not of this world,” and it is our task as Christians to build this Heavenly kingdom here on Earth. The Heavenly kingdom is not one of coercive political force, but freely given sacrificial Love.
Archbishop Charles Chaput writing in First Things this month:
We need to rededicate ourselves to the work of Christian charity and the Catholic soul of our institutions. Charity is a duty for the whole believing community. But is also an obligation and privilege for every individual member of the Church, flowing from our personal encounter with the mercy of Jesus Christ. Government cannot love. It has no soul and no heart. The greatest danger of the modern secularist state is this: In the name of humanity, under the banner of serving human needs and easing human suffering, it ultimately, ironically – and too often tragically – lacks humanity. As Benedict foresees in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: Continue reading
A strong belief in free will is an essential component of happiness. We are free to choose good or evil; true happiness consists in choosing what is good. It follows that belief in determinism cannot produce true happiness. It is important that we work, as Catholics and other people of good will, to remind people of the true way to happiness, and to steer people away from thinking that they are helpless with respect to their state of soul.
Here is a useful bit of information I find very helpful to many people thinking about religion:
Faith is not some state of feeling we get ourselves into. It is much simpler than that. It is simply believing in God and therefore believing everything he has revealed – no matter how we feel. “God said it, so I believe it, and that settles it.”
Feelings are influenced by external things, like fashions and fads, wind and weather, diet and digestion. But when God gives us the gift of faith, he gives it from within, from within our own free will.
The devil can influence our feelings, but he has no control over our faith.
We are not responsible for our (unfree) feelings, but we are responsible for our (free) faith.
Yet, though faith is not a feeling, it often produces feelings: of trust, peace, gratitude, and confidence, for instance. And faith can also be aided by feelings: for instance, when we feel trustful or grateful to someone, God or man, it is much easier for us to believe him than when we feel mistrustful or ungrateful.;
But even when we do not feel trustful or peaceful, we can still believe. Faith is not dependent on feelings. It is dependent on facts: divinely revealed facts.
- Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity
It is easy to reject something because we do not feel it to be true. Personally I can say there are many times when I do not feel something to be true; nevertheless, I know it is true because of faith, or conscience, or experience.
So what is one to do when faced with something that is supposedly divinely revealed but contradicts one’s feelings, perhaps strong feelings? My suggestion is to try out what God says – take a leap, trust in God for a moment. Humbly submit yourself to God’s will. See what happens.
A New Jersey representative was on the floor of the House last night clearly and passionately articulating the connection between state-funded health care and state-funded abortions. Sure, the House was empty and he was talking to two other Representatives. His arguments were no less compelling.
The number of abortions will dramatically increase under the coming state-controlled health care plan. This is something we need to amplify for public consideration; especially to those of a religious mindset who may be inclined to favor state-enforced health care.
I hope to find a video soon; let me know if you do!
Our President was elected under the influence of great anti-war sentiment. He was “the anti-war candidate”. It ought to be disappointing then, for his supporters, to learn that he is decidedly not the anti-war President. In fact, President Obama is actively pursuing the war-on-terror, significantly expanding the Afghanistan theatre with another troop surge. And we shouldn’t forget that President Obama hasn’t pulled the troops out of Iraq yet, and the best estimates are that troops will be in Iraq for 2-3 more years - the same amount of time President Bush would have kept them there. (The article says all “combat troops” will be out of Iraq in August of 2010, but this is misleading. The article goes on to say that there will still be 30,000-50,000 troops there until 2011. The Obama administration redefined people who count as “troops”.) President Obama’s continuation of the war on terror says a number of things. First, the silence of his anti-war constituency indicates that they were not opposed to the Iraq war on principle, but rather opposed to the Iraq war when a Republican candidate was president. In fact, they seem to have a great and newfound tolerance for war now that they like the guy at the helm of it all. It also tells us that the foreign policy of President Bush was not offensive enough for the country to elect a President who would have actually changed things.
The easiest conditions to live in according to the world are the most difficult to live in according to God, and vice versa. Nothing is so difficult according to the world as the religious life; nothing is easier than to live it according to God. Nothing is easier, according to the world, than to live in high office and great wealth; nothing is more difficult than to live in them according to God, and without acquiring an interest in them and a liking for them.
I wish President-elect Obama the best. In all sincerity, I hope his presidency advances the common good. I pray most of all for the unborn children who will continue be killed unjustly because our Constitution does not protect their right to life. I pray for their mothers and everyone involved in such situations. And I pray President-elect Obama has a change of heart. If he is truly a liberal, perhaps he will support expanding the community for which we are held responsible; perhaps he will grant civil rights to that currently dehumanized segment of our population, the class of unborn human persons. I have to at least have the hope.
As for those who have supported President-elect Obama, I hope they maintain the same level of enthusiasm they exhibited throughout his campaign. I hope they pay attention to the news; I hope they read; I hope they become thoughtful, civic-minded citizens. Complacency and indifference are a great evil, and I hope President Obama is able to shake people out of it.
For those who share my great sense of defeat, I implore you not to move to despair. Conservatives know that politics is not everything, and it is certainly not the first thing. While our country may suffer greatly, we know that life’s important battles are fought in the quiet of the individual soul. We must pray for the conversion of one heart at a time. Remember St. Augustine: “One loving soul sets another on fire”. Let us continue this truly important work, remembering that in the end it isn’t in our hands anyways.
The enlightenment myth of infinite progress has not yet died. This assertion of mine is based largely on anecdotal evidence and the general impression I get from the cultural and political commentariat. It is commonly held that things are getting better or they will get better in the future. Peter Kreeft calls this the religion of progress; or, the belief in change for change’s sake. I think it’s a fair description of a common mindset of some on both the left and the right.
One reason this mindset is so pervasive is because the of the free economy. (I am using the word free here in a sense that means this: our economic actions are no longer under the control of some state or social organization that limits who we can do business with. Free also means generally free from excessive taxation). The free economy has resulted in the massive creation of wealth which gives us the false impression that humanity has no limits. An important part of conservatism, then, is to remind people that mankind does indeed have limits, and that the idea of a limitless humanity is a dangerous cultural, political, and moral poison.
Perhaps no one expresses this danger better than Wendell Berry, especially in his latest essay on this very subject. It is titled “Faustian economics: Hell Hath no limits”. I think it gives a great outline of the kind of cultural changes that are going to need to occur in the coming years. Continue reading
The title of this blog is intended to be descriptive. But it is possible that some will misinterpret the title, thinking that the term “American” someone how qualifies the term “Catholic”. Father Richard John Neuhaus speaks of this problem in his recent book Catholic Matters:
“the great thing to discover is not what it means to be an American Catholic but what it means to be a Catholic American. One might think the noun is more important than the adjective, but that is not necessarily so. The adjective qualifies and, in qualifying, controls. To say that I want to be an American Catholic assumes that I know what it means to be an American but am uncertain about the Catholic part of ‘American Catholic.’ The goal, rather, is to be a Catholic American; to be a person who knows what it means to be Catholic and is working on what it means to be Catholic in America.” (pp. 166)
Fr. Neuhaus is right. We are first Catholics, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our political ideas are not our faith. Rather, when we are at our best, our political ideas are informed by our faith. And that is perhaps the primary goal of this website: to express clearly and persuasively the influence our Catholicism has on our political life in America. Despite protestations to the contrary, this website is not about the American influence on Catholicism, but the influence Catholics ought to have on America.