From time to time we have a wave of new readers on this little community. With a link from Michael Brown’s Spirit Daily today, we have one of those waves going on. So to new readers, here are a couple of things to be aware of if you want to comment here:
1) No vulgarities or simple ugly name-calling. Period.
2) I am Catholic, so this website has a decidedly Catholic flavor. But I have a deep respect for the profound faith of many of our Protestant and Jewish brethren. In fact, I have been told (as regular readers know) that we are to treat all faithful Protestants and Jews as full partners in the work before us. God, Himself, will see to the unity, which will be one of the great fruits of the Storm. There are no junior partners here.
3) We do not engage in the “Jane, you ignorant slut” style of debate so popular on so many blogs today. If you look back at the archives (and if it is a particular subject or person in the news that interests you, just enter the name in the search feature and it will pull up all articles related to that person or subject) you will see from comments – and even a guest column – that I both encourage and welcome people to offer serious, clearly stated opinions that are different than mine. Properly understood, debate should lead us closer to truth. A sneer is not a substitute for an argument here, so if that is all you can muster, please go somewhere else.
4) We believe that when we are commanded that we should not bear false witness, that does not just mean we should only tell the truth about people we like or agree with – but that we should not bear false witness against anyone, even Hitler or Stalin. If someone has chosen evil their actions will speak for themselves. If we add to it to try to further discredit them, we simply are adopting evil, ourselves. Take the time to make sure your facts are reasonably accurate.
5) I understand that in the modern world, people frequently want to jump into the middle of a debate without seeing what is already said. We treat each other seriously and with respect here. If you want to jump in, use the search feature to at least see what has been said recently on a subject.
6) The comments make up at least half of the best stuff in each article – and in some cases have been meatier and more inspirational than the column itself. You are missing something if you don’t check them out. By doing so, you will also get an idea of the tone here.
I have waded through several efforts at comments that used scatological descriptions of homosexuals (make your point – do it effectively enough and you do not need ugly descriptors), challenged me to explain how I could defend people like Cardinal Dolan (already did last week. If you want to jump in, it is your job to get up to snuff – not mine to repeat material we have all been through), or simply trying to bash one denomination or another. Despite having let one fairly easy Catholic-bash through (which I did to illustrate a point), we don’t do that here. That is not to say we are nice and don’t say hard things or make tough criticisms – but it must be based in evidence rather than simply emoting feelings – and all is designed to build up the people of God, not to tear each other down.
I realize that public debate today has all the courtesy of a street brawl, so many coming here new expect it because that is the way it is usually done. Not here. Take some time to read previous controversial topics and the commentary and you may be able to offer some real wisdom, but we do not engage in a contest to see who can make the ugliest insults.
Now we have the final column from outgoing Chicago Cardinal Francis George. It is as powerful a witness to truth and the fundamental issue of our times I have seen from a sitting Bishop:
A tale of two churches
This church, a hierarchical communion, continued through history, living among different peoples and cultures, filled with sinners, but always guided in the essentials of her life and teaching by the Holy Spirit. She called herself “Catholic” because her purpose was to preach a universal faith and a universal morality, encompassing all peoples and cultures. This claim often invited conflict with the ruling classes of many countries. About 1,800 years into her often stormy history, this church found herself as a very small group in a new country in Eastern North America that promised to respect all religions because the State would not be confessional; it would not try to play the role of a religion.
This church knew that it was far from socially acceptable in this new country. One of the reasons the country was established was to protest the king of England’s permitting the public celebration of the Catholic Mass on the soil of the British Empire in the newly conquered Catholic territories of Canada. He had betrayed his coronation oath to combat Catholicism, defined as “America’s greatest enemy,” and protect Protestantism, bringing the pure religion of the colonists into danger and giving them the moral right to revolt and reject his rule.
Nonetheless, many Catholics in the American colonies thought their life might be better in the new country than under a regime whose ruling class had penalized and persecuted them since the mid-16th century. They made this new country their own and served her loyally. The social history was often contentious, but the State basically kept its promise to protect all religions and not become a rival to them, a fake church. Until recent years.
There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class. Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA. It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires. But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what “values” they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country. Until recent years.
In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.
When the recent case about religious objection to one provision of the Health Care Act was decided against the State religion, the Huffington Post (June 30, 2014) raised “concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen.” This is not the voice of the nativists who first fought against Catholic immigration in the 1830s. Nor is it the voice of those who burned convents and churches in Boston and Philadelphia a decade later. Neither is it the voice of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, nor of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned crosses before Catholic churches in the Midwest after the civil war. It is a voice more sophisticated than that of the American Protective Association, whose members promised never to vote for a Catholic for public office. This is, rather, the selfrighteous voice of some members of the American establishment today who regard themselves as “progressive” and “enlightened.”
The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure. It takes a deep faith to “swim against the tide,” as Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to do at last summer’s World Youth Day.
Swimming against the tide means limiting one’s access to positions of prestige and power in society. It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.
A reader of the tale of two churches, an outside observer, might note that American civil law has done much to weaken and destroy what is the basic unit of every human society, the family. With the weakening of the internal restraints that healthy family life teaches, the State will need to impose more and more external restraints on everyone’s activities. An outside observer might also note that the official religion’s imposing whatever its proponents currently desire on all citizens and even on the world at large inevitably generates resentment. An outside observer might point out that class plays a large role in determining the tenets of the official State religion. “Same-sex marriage,” as a case in point, is not an issue for the poor or those on the margins of society.
How does the tale end? We don’t know. The actual situation is, of course, far more complex than a story plot, and there are many actors and characters, even among the ruling class, who do not want their beloved country to transform itself into a fake church. It would be wrong to lose hope, since there are so many good and faithful people.
Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him. There is no such divine guarantee for any country, culture or society of this or any age. – Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I.
For those of you who would like to read more of Cardinal George’s past columns, they are all published here in “The New World,” the Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.