“As with Rome, the fruits of American power now surround us. But success has always its cost in personal and national illusions. As a people, we seem to become more foreign to our origins every year.”
A healthy civic life depends on “permanent virtues” rooted in God and not self-developed “values,” he continued.
Citing St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis and the political philosophers Leszek Kolakowski and J.L. Talmon, Archbishop Chaput warned that the self-evident truths spoken of in the Declaration of Independence are “not at all self-evident to the modern intellectual world.” Democracy too can become totalitarian.
“Unbelief – whether deliberate and ideological, or lazy and pragmatic – is the state religion of the modern world,” he commented. “The fruit of that orthodoxy is a compression and destruction of the human spirit, and a society without higher purpose. This is the logic of the choices that America is already making. But they can be unmade. And they can be redeemed.”
For Fr. Murray, he told the scholars, “there is no real ‘humanism’ without the cross of Jesus Christ. And dismantling the inhuman parody we call ‘modern American culture’ begins not with violence but with the conversion of our own hearts.”
“The central problem in constructing a Christian culture is our lack of faith and the cowardice it produces,” the archbishop stated. “We need to admit this. And then we need to submit ourselves to a path of repentance and change, and unselfish witness to others.”
He recounted his reaction to the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto by leading Protestant and Catholic thinkers about pro-life issues, marriage and religious freedom. He took the document as a caution that a certain kind of America he and many others knew “no longer exists.”
Nonetheless, he urged the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars to look to Christ to renew themselves and their country:
“Sunday is the day we celebrate the Risen Christ, the real source of our freedom and joy. Christian faith in the Risen Jesus converted an empire. It changed the course of history and gave meaning to entire civilization. And in the Risen Christ, I believe God is now calling us, starting with those of us here today, to do the same.”