Guest ColumnistBook review - "Strangers in a Strange Land"

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Woven into the fabric of American society, present in every milieu, and taking some part in all the complicated ways we relate to each other in public and private settings are over 70 million American Catholics. We mirror the demographic changes of the general population, and are the largest religious denomination in the country. And yet, there are many of us who feel exactly like the title of Archbishop Chaput's new book: Strangers in a Strange Land.

We are clearly living in a culture that is very different from that of the past, and one becoming quickly more different. Archbishop Chaput does a masterful job in the first part of the book explaining how the culture shifted. As he writes in his introduction: "People who hold a classic understanding of sexuality, marriage, and family have gone in just twenty years from pillars of mainstream conviction to the media equivalent of racists and bigots." He goes on, in his lucid and measured prose, to explain just how we found ourselves here – in this strange land – and what we are supposed to do now.

The classic Western view of marriage as between one man and one woman, faithful, permanent and exclusive, was, up until only recently, the general and normative view. It is based on the Christian belief that men and women have equal personal dignity and they each deserve a love that is unique and exclusive.

Now we are seeing even polygamy being presented to us as yet another co-equal and dignified arrangement between consenting adults. For example, a recent episode of Say Yes to the Dress showcased a polygamous union, as a throuple got married: two women in white walking down the aisle to the groom. This scenario was presented as based on generosity and kindness, as the old wife no longer wants physical intimacy with her husband but doesn't want him to be "lonely." They all seemed very pleased with their arrangement, open minded, and sympathetic. How long before it's considered bigotry to call these unions wrong? And how long after that will those of us who can't participate – in good conscience – through our small business health plans, adoption agencies, parish ministries, and wedding-cake baking efforts – be wholly excluded from the public square?

It is in the last few chapters, however, that Strangers in a Strange Land uplifts and points out our path. There is a way forward for us Catholics and other disoriented Christians. And the way forward is not to wall ourselves away out of despair, or to fearfully go along with the post-Christian philosophies that are only sowing sadness and dysfunction all around us. Although we find ourselves resident aliens in a radically changing world, our job is to attest to the glory and purpose of the human person. "We're here to live a witness of Christian love, in all our public actions, including every one of our social, economic, and political choices; but beginning with the conversion of our own hearts."

Grounding ourselves and our concerns in God will protect us from despair and bitterness, and give us the hope and joy that American Catholics need to be not just a significant demographic, but credible witnesses to the word of God. At the close of this fabulous book, the Archbishop writes: "So we are strangers in a strange land, yes. But what we do here makes all the difference." 

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