April 11, 2012
Converting the culture
By Russell Shaw *

By Russell Shaw *

“Social issues.” It’s a squishy, equivocal term suited to a mentality ill at ease with the hard-edged implications of “moral issues” and “morality.” What implications? That there are definite moral truths that show some things to be always and everywhere wrong and deserving of condemnation. Not what the “social issues” mindset cares to hear.

There’s some helpful thinking on this subject in a new book by an archbishop that I want to recommend. But before getting to that, let me do a little scene-setting.

Much of the debate about social issues, moral truth, and the like has focused so far in this election year on Rick Santorum and his run for the Republican presidential nomination. Think what you will about Santorum’s candidacy, he stirred up a hornets’ nest. A typical reaction from the secular left comes from a Washington Post columnist named Lisa Miller, who, in a state of extreme exasperation, delivered this wisdom:

"'You can’t go home again,' Thomas Wolfe said. Modernity is here, with all its progress and imperfections, and no matter how hard they pray, Santorum and his flock will never be able to turn back time."

Leaving aside the appositeness of using the title of a novel published 72 years ago to argue that there’s no looking back, Ms. Miller has a point. It’s the point typically made by liberal pundits who wish to tell us their particular take on modernity is the only correct one—and if you don’t like it, lump it.

But there’s a different way of thinking. Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, gave it an ironic twist when he said, “Truth is like a threshing-machine; tender sensibilities must keep out of the way.” Note that bothersome word: truth.
The quote is the lead-in to A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America, a new e-book by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. (Published by Image Books, it’s available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.) This is a feisty manifesto by an admired leader of the Church.

One of its surprises is the recovery of largely forgotten essay by Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., “The Construction of a Christian Culture,” based on lectures delivered in 1940. Father Murray is usually recalled a kind of precursor of progressive Catholicism for his advocacy of religious liberty against Church conservatives. Here, though, he’s saying something very different: “American culture … is actually the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world.”

“It’s most striking characteristic,” he writes, “is its profound materialism … It has gained a continent and lost its own soul.”

And this, Archbishop Chaput pointedly remarks, is the “American mainstream” of which all too many American Catholics have rushed to become part in the decades since John Courtney Murray wrote.

During this time, the dominant American culture has turned from secular to secularist, while efficiently secularizing its adherents, Catholics included. “Instead of Catholics converting the culture,” the archbishop laments, “the culture too often bleached out the apostolic zeal in Catholics while leaving the brand label intact.”

Here’s the triumph of Ms. Miller’s “modernity …with all its progress and imperfections” that writers like her tell us to accept, no questions allowed.

Archbishop Chaput doesn’t buy it. And  if American Catholics do buy it, he warns—as very many have—then Catholicism is finished as a significant cultural factor in the debate on moral values and much else.

Catholics have important choices to make about the future of the Church. A Heart on Fire can help us make them.

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus


Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Dedicating art to San Juan de la Cruz
Dedicating art to San Juan de la Cruz
A state without territory elects new government
The renewal of the Legionaries of Christ
Presentation of the book "The Pastor"
Synod on the Family October 2014
Preferential option for the poor
God is alive, even in sport
'A forbidden God' named Best Film at the International Catholic Film Festival
Vatican backs a 'Pause for Peace' during World Cup final
The effects of religious violence in Sarajevo 
The origin of Corpus Christi 
Corpus Christi at the Vatican 
Homage to an Indian Cardinal
Train of the Child's Light
New book explaining gestures of the Mass
Encounter between Pope Francis and the Charismatic Renewal in the Spirit Movement.
Religious tensions subside amid Balkan floods
John Paul II Center for Studies on Marriage and Family
Saint John Paul II on cartoon
Syrian Christian refugees

Liturgical Calendar

July 25, 2014

Saint James, Apostle

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 20:20-28


Daily Readings

First Reading:: 2 Cor 4: 7-15
Gospel:: Mt 20: 20-28

Saint of the Day

St. James »


Homily of the Day

Mt 20:20-28


Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
Text only

Follow us: