November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 and the End of the Decade

By Father Thomas Berg *
Next Thanksgiving will find us, please God, at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. Our present celebration this Thursday finds us at the close of the peculiarly enumerated decade of the '00s.  Not surprisingly, the New York Times' David Segal recently invited readers to get a head start on one of America's favorite intellectual fetishes: "name that decade."

"You know the rules," wrote Segal: "coin a pithy, reductive phrase that somehow encapsulates the multitude of events, trends, triumphs and calamities of the past 10 years."  
Looking back at these past ten years, that's a tall order: from the now laughable Y2K scare, to the nightmare beyond imagining which was 9/11 and its aftermath, to America's painful soul searching about how to deal with Islamic terrorism, to our economic meltdown, to the ever widening chasm between left and right on issues ranging from stem cell research, to gay "marriage" to healthcare reform...

Segal suggests one possible name might be "the decade of the unthinkable" -- not a bad first stab in my opinion.  Bret Stephens writing last week in the Wall Street Journal suggests, on a more dour but realistic note, the decade "of American incompetence" -- symbolized by the gaping hole in lower Manhattan known to the world as Ground Zero, an erstwhile emblem of American resilience and determination.

In our more pessimistic moments, many of us are honestly assaulted these days by the sense that we are witnessing the gradual undoing of our country through a mechanism of state and federal policies, programs and regulations which are antithetical to the core principles of the American experiment.  Consider, not least among these, the aggressively anti-life agenda of the current administration, an ever more expansive "spread-the-wealth" mentality, the bloating of government, the bailout plan, the astronomical U.S. deficit, the creeping socialization of healthcare, and our paralysis in the war on terror.    
We know of course, that our beloved country -- obviously imperfect in so many ways, but in so many other ways truly the 'best there is' -- is not the final hope of humanity.  Christ, and only Jesus Christ, is the first and final hope of humanity. So, while it might be harder to feel thankful on this Thanksgiving Day, let me suggest that there are still plenty of reasons. How about these for starters?
  • For our faith in Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and Savior of the World;

  • For the enduring treasure of our Catholic Faith;

  • For all the good that, by God's providence, the United States of America has been able to bring to the world, beginning with the natural law principles embodied in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution;

  • For protections from evils known to God alone from which He, in his mercy, has spared our country;

  • For every new day of life that He gives us;

  • For the promise of eternal life with Him, in a 'new heaven and new earth' which he promises to those who die in his friendship.

And lest I be accused of finding purely eschatological reasons for gratitude, hope and optimism, we should be thankful for the notably growing vigor of moral discourse in our public square evidenced in the media, in town halls across the country and even in the more recent "tea party" genre -- all of these are hopeful signs of vigor that our political system can survive the current challenges.  

But returning to the question with which we began, how would I label the decade that now draws to a close?  It was, to be sure, the decade which spawned the "red-state-blue-state" dichotomy, and saw it evidenced in two of the closest (and most culturally and politically divisive) presidential elections in history. But the truth is that America has long been what Gertrude Himmelfarb famously described in 1999 as "one nation, two cultures." The conservative-liberal divide is not, in the last analysis, what characterized the decade of the '00s.  What did?  We'll need the distance of years to get it right. But that will require us to be careful, honest, and objective students of the dense history encapsulated in the ten years which now draw to a close.   

Father Thomas Berg is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie). More of Fr. Berg’s publications are available at

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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