It seems that everywhere I travel these days, faithful, classical Christians, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, are disillusioned with politics – and understandably so. Many are withdrawing from any political involvement at all. Others are reassessing their approach, with mixed results.The political polity is a fractured mess.
I long ago resisted all of the political labels. That has not stopped those who disagree with my positions on life, marriage, family, freedom, solidarity and subsidiarity to attempt to disparage and marginalize me by sticking such labels on me.
Over all the years in which I have been engaged in citizen action, I have simply been trying to infuse my political participation with the timeless principles and values derived from classical Christian social thought. I know this treasury is not just for Christians, but for the whole world.
I have committed my work to standing at the intersection of faith and culture, because I believe that is where I am called to stand vocationally. I am called “into the whole world“. I love the line out of the ancient Letter to Diognetus, one of many early Christian writings which we should revisit, “what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.”
We are living in what some cultural observers routinely call post-modernism. Utopian promises about ourselves – and our place in the universe – under various “isms” have led to the some of the bloodiest centuries in history with gulags, gas ovens, Jihadist terrorist attacks, bloody beheadings and abortuaries pretending to be health care centers and funded by tax dollars.
What was hailed as modern was and is, in some respects, more barbaric than the barbarisms of past ages. But what will replace the failures of modernism, its political sister liberalism, and its dressed up offspring called political progressivism?
More importantly, how are we who are Christians to evangelize the dehumanized and devastated culture left in its wake?
The early Christians of the first centuries carried on the saving mission of Jesus Christ and they transformed their own cultures. This and nothing less is our task as we must now respond to ours.
Christians have led the way out of darkness many times in the two millennia of Christian history. We can – we must – do so again. The Christian Church is always counter-cultural and prophetic. She is leaven in every human culture, and as a part of her mission, is called to transform culture and elevate it from within.
Many now ask me, should we even bother with Politics? My answer is a clear – Yes!
Please, do not think I am unaware of the failures and serious limitations of political activism. My hair, what is left of it, is white, for good reason. However, I am convinced that Christians, above all others, have an obligation to stay involved in the culture. To those to whom much is given, much is required.
Politics is a part of culture! If we abandon it, we will bear the brunt of the acceleration of the decline, and we will have to render an account.
In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, a brilliant work exposing the unseen spiritual warfare taking place around us through a series of letters between two demons – the older Screwtape, an instructor and the younger student Wormwood – CS Lewis wrote:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
In a sense, this is true of politics.
Like many in the United States, I am trying to make sense out of what is happening to this Nation which we love. The temptation, so clearly present in our circles, is to fall into two separate approaches, both of which can lead to error.
One is to completely retreat from that area of culture and social responsibility referred to as politics. The other, is to pursue the path of the modern zealot or utopian and believe that politics alone can actually effect enduring change in the hearts of people and thus in the broader culture.
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, The devils, so clearly active in the current political climate, “hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
In 1947, Lewis addressed the decline of his beloved Britain in an insightful book entitled “The Abolition of man: How Education Develops Man’s Sense of Morality.” He warned of the subjective and relativistic trends in the British educational system of the time. He reasserted the timeless moral truths of Christianity as the solution.
He called for a return to the Christian vision of the human person and the cultivation of virtues as the path to true human flourishing and freedom. He defined what he called “the chest” in this work as the “higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character.”
He wrote that without this “chest“, men and women devolve into self-idolatry, losing their human dignity and true freedom. They become slaves to disordered appetites.
The West is in a moral mess, just as Lewis warned. With its decline we face the eclipse of true freedom. Lewis’ words in that book are timely:
And all the time – such is the tragicomedy of our situation – we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’
In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
We are living under what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, properly called a “Dictatorship of Relativism” in the West. Relativism is a philosophy which says there are no truths. The culture stumbles, drunken on the false notion of freedom divorced from norms to guide the exercise of human choice and govern our behavior.
When there is nothing objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life then there is no foundation for a truly free society. We teeter on the brink of anarchy precisely because we have lost our moral compass as a Nation.
We are accused of being against progress and anti-science for defending the dignity of every human life – including the lives of our first neighbors in the womb. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are Pro-life because it is right. In an age deluded by the architects of a cultural order of death we must never compromise on the truth concerning the dignity of every human life from conception through natural death. We also stand for fundamental human rights, grounded in a Natural Moral Law, the first of which is the Right to Life.
Medical Science confirms what our conscience has always confirmed, those little girls and boys in the womb are our neighbors. They are, as we all are, in development. They are in the first home of the whole human race, their mothers wombs. It is always wrong to intentionally kill our innocent neighbors. To say and do otherwise is barbaric.
We also insist that true marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. That is because they have. Truth does not change, people and cultures do; sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. Marriage is the first society into which children are to be born, learn to be fully human, grow in virtue, flourish and take their role in families and communities.
We must make the claim that children have a right to a mother and a father. They do. Of course we care about the single parent family and the many broken homes. However, their existence does not change the norm necessary for a stable and healthy society.
Intact marriages and families are the glue of a healthy and happy social order. We need to be a visible, palpable reflection of this truth about marriage and family in our own lives. To live a faithful marriage is now counter-cultural. Our convictions and claims concerning life and marriage are not outdated notions of a past era but provide the path to the future.
We insist upon the existence of a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. This is not only a Christian position. It is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built.
It has been the source for every great and authentic human and civil rights movement. The Natural Law gives us the moral norms we need to build societies and govern ourselves. It must also inform our positive law or we will become lawless and devolve into anarchy.
Two years before becoming Pope, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla spoke to the U.S. Bishops. His observation was republished in the Wall Street Journal on November 9, 1978:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully.
We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church must take up.
He was prophetic in his assessment. We are in such a confrontation. And take it up we must. There is much to do. The ground has shifted and the struggle is intensifying. Our cultural mission lies at the heart of what it means for us as Christians to be leaven, light, salt and the soul of the world.
This is no time to retreat from culture; we must work for its conversion by becoming men and women who influence it. What is needed are Christian men and women of courage who are morally coherent and do not separate their faith from their participation in every aspect of culture, including political participation.
We must work for the conversion of culture by working for the conversion of hearts – as well as – the transformation of social and economic structures which promote the REAL common good. In fact, among the many other phrases stolen by thieves such as those using the moniker of progressiv-ism when they do NOT promote true progress, take back the phrase Common Good!
Procured abortions never serves the REAL Common Good. Denying the vital role of true marriage and the family never serves the REAL Common Good. Pushing a counterfeit notion of freedom as some Promethean “right” to do whatever one pleases – and denying the fundamental right to religious liberty in the process – never serves the REAL Common Good.
Insisting that our obligation in solidarity to the poor, in all of their manifestations, is somehow best discharged by federalized programs which are inefficient, ineffective, often discriminatory, and not very good at compassion, does not serve the REAL Common Good.
I could go on, but not in this article.
In intend to be very politically involved in the months ahead. I am recommitting myself to helping Christian men and women come to understand the treasury of the social teaching of the Church on faithful citizenship and social responsibility, which includes political participation.Stay tuned, there is much, much, more to come.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church issued a directive instruction in 2002 entitled a “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” It called upon Catholics, indeed all Christians, to be “morally coherent” in the exercise of their citizenship and in their political participation. I will do everything I can to encourage morally coherent people run for public office and help to get them elected.
I will not give up on Politics – and neither should you.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.