Bestselling authors Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., and Teresa Tomeo will be giving talks this weekend in Washington, D.C., as part of March for Life Weekend activities. They will appear at 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2012, at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (400 Michigan Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20017-1517). They will answer questions from those in attendance and will be available for book signings immediately after their presentations, and copies of their new books will be available for
I recently spoke with both authors, in separate telephone interviews, about their books and their respective work in fighting the culture of death, promoting a culture of life, and demonstrating that faith and reason are not enemies, but the closest of friends.
Here, first, is my interview with Teresa Tomeo, author of Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture, a syndicated Catholic talk show host, and a motivational speaker with thirty years of broadcasting experience in both the secular and Christian media. Her daily morning program, Catholic Connection, is produced by Ave Maria Radio and syndicated through the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network. She is also the co-host of the Catholic View for Women on EWTN. Her other books are Noise: How Our Media-Saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families and Newsflash: My Surprising Journey from Secular Anchor to Media Evangelist
CWR: What would you like to tell potential readers about your book that they might not know?
Tomeo: That the book is not just for women; men should be reading it too, because men have been so affected by the culture and have been so emasculated. And women have become confused, which causes problems in relationships—the breakdown of communication. I hear from guys all of the time who are asking how to deal with their wife’s eating disorder, how to deal with their wife’s low self-esteem, and so there all kinds of issues affecting men and their marriages that are addressed in this book. This is a great book for couples—for engaged couples, for couples who may be struggling in their marriage—to help learn about what the Church gives us and the importance of sticking it out, which is part of my testimony in the first part of the book.
CWR: Our culture is so opposed to the differences between men and women, yet that not only goes contrary to Church teaching, it is opposed to reality and common sense, isn’t it?
Tomeo: Yes. And I deal a lot with male-female complementarity in the book, and I got much of that material from the congress I attended as a delegate in 2008 when I went to the Vatican for the 20th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s document on the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem). What I really stress is that the Catholic Church embodies what a woman is supposed to be, and really helps women to understand their dignity. Obviously the big thing in the Church is to recognize the gift of motherhood, but to also know the Church doesn’t put limitations on women. And just because women cannot be ordained, that is not a limitation, but a reflection of the way we are made in the image and likeness of God.
CWR: What do you think are the top two or three mistaken notions or misunderstandings men have about women? What do men have to get right before pursuing a deeper relationship with women?
Tomeo: First, they have to not buy into what the culture and radical feminism are selling them about men not being needed and men being dumb. Men have to make sure that they don’t buy into that message—that they’re not wanted, that they’re not important, that they don’t have something to contribute. But our culture, so deeply influenced by radical feminism, tells me that they really aren’t needed—that women can simply go to a sperm bank!
CWR: It’s a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, isn’t it? Our culture does so much to undermine men and marriage and authentic masculinity, but then it complains when there are no good men and no stable marriages and no authentic masculinity.
Tomeo: Exactly. It’s ridiculous; it’s a schizophrenic approach. It’s just like the media, which are the first to report on some shocking study about kids cutting themselves and engaging in really risky behavior, but then turn around and promote risky behavior all the time, whether it be drinking, partying, casual sex. Well, duh, connect the dots!
CWR: It seems as though matters have changed dramatically in the past twenty years; what has happened in the past two decades that has brought us to this point?
Tomeo: It’s confusing, I think, because young adults now have no clue about how to make moral decisions. Many of them are mostly interested in having sex, making money, and drinking. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is now. Where are they getting the message and directives to live and think this way? Granted, we have to look at the parents and the “role models” or lack thereof, but at the same time, when we walk out the door of our homes, the media are in your face. It used to be, 20 or 25 years ago, that we could live in some sort of seclusion, but you simply cannot do that anymore. You have to be so diligent, especially if you are a parent, in watching the stuff coming into the home. It’s everywhere. The constant flow of information that is coming in is overwhelming. And the content has changed, and mostly for the worse. There are so many more agendas, especially sexual agendas, whether it be a homosexual agenda or a multiple partner agenda; no one knows what a real relationship is.
CWR: It’s gotten so bad that we are now no longer even trying to defend traditional understandings of male and female, and marriage; we are having to explain what those understandings are in the first place. Are there any positives, however, to this situation?
Tomeo: Yes and no. I recently gave a talk on morality to an RCIA group, and it was amazing to see that amount of confusion among those present about what I was presenting. I felt like I was trying to cut through so much fog in their brains—and these were people who were going through the trouble to going to RCIA and were entering the Church or returning to the Church! I was amazed that I didn’t get more of an energetic response. One woman did said, “I’m getting confirmed because my daughter knows more about the Catholic Faith than I do”, which is great, but the rest of the people were looking at me like deer staring into headlights. I could tell they were so steeped in the culture, and that is what really stood out to me. I could see they were overwhelmed, and didn’t know where to begin in processing what I was telling them.
So, on one hand it’s good because we can go back to the basics, but on the other hand it’s not as though you have a fresh, clear mind to work with, as though you are working with a young child. These people have had so much garbage go in, you have to clear out the garbage first before you can really begin to build anew.
CWR: The challenge is getting people to love and desire truth and to rely on reason to make sense of things.
Tomeo: Yes. And the beautiful thing about using reason is that you don’t have to necessarily use theology or Scripture overtly to back everything up; we can appeal to natural law and commonsense. Yet people so often don’t even know how to think or to use reason to process information. So I ask, as I do in the book, if everything the world proposes is so wonderful, why is there so much misery and sadness? If you sleep around, you are going to have problems. “Gay marriage” is going to cause problems. Artificial contraception is going to cause problems. But people often don’t think that way. And people often don’t want to change the way they live, and they also don’t want to be seen as politically incorrect.
And Catholics have been so desensitized to so many things. In fact, Catholics are often among the worst in dealing with these issues. I meet so many Catholic parents who say, “Do I really have to tell my kids, ‘No’? How do I say, ‘No’?” Well, it’s not that hard, it’s just that we’ve lost our commonsense.
CWR: There are so many Catholics, it seems, who will go out of their way to reject the teachings of the Church and the statements of the pope, but will mindlessly take in everything fed to them by the media and the dominant culture…
Tomeo: And that’s what cracks me up, and it’s maddening. They take what the secular media says as gospel, and they don’t look any further. I often talk to Catholics, or e-mail with Catholics, who complain about the Church teaching about this or that issue, but when I ask them what Church documents they have actually read, they usually resort to talking about relying on their “conscience”. Well, what is the conscience, and how do we get a well-formed conscience? But we’ve been so dumbed down by the dominant culture.
CWR: Now, speaking sarcastically, don’t you feel insulted and degraded, as a woman, that you can’t be ordained a priest, and so you have no power or say in the Church?
Tomeo: Well, I have a whole chapter in my book about that very question, which is one that really drives me nuts. The Scriptures, first, show us that Jesus related to women in a way that was different from the way other men of his time did; he was having serious conversations with women, such as with the Samaritan woman. If the apostles marveled that Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, how can we not see that he was unique in how he related to women? And the conversations that he had with various women were very serious conversations about salvation and related issues.
Secondly, if the Church is so oppressive toward women, why do we love the Blessed Mother so much? How come she has such a high place in the life of the Church? Besides, there have been so many women in the Church who have important roles, not only in religious orders and education, but, for example, in chancelleries. Just because we cannot be priests doesn’t mean we don’t have a say in things. And there have been, ever since the Second Vatican Council, so many statements about the vital role that women have in the Church. So it’s not factual, but is based on what some people have stated in promoting their agenda, not the agenda given by God.
These women treat the Church like it is the Ford Motor Company, looking at it as a job. But it’s not a job. And they associate the priesthood with power, but it’s not about power, but servanthood. It goes back to the need to study, to pray, and to set your personal agenda aside.
We as Catholics have often been our own worst enemies, whether it be through poor catechesis or the priest scandals, which were handled miserably in the beginning. As Pope Benedict recently said, the main thing we have to be concerned about is sin within the Church.
CWR: What are some signs of hope right now for women and for the Church in general?
Tomeo: One is that science continues to validate and uphold Church teaching about things such as the beginnings and nature of human life. Another is the Catholic youth who are pro-life, who are so visible at marches and events, and who are so articulate and knowledgeable. And they are fed up with the genocide that has been going on. And they are using the new media, and they are using it well. There is also this explosion of Catholic media and Catholic apologetics, over the last fifteen years or so, which has been phenomenal. Yes, we are small compared to the secular media, but it is making a huge impact, and the Internet has really had a big impact in providing information and sources, so people can go online and look up Church documents. So there are a lot of different positive signs.
Here is my interview with Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., author of Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues, and is a noted philosopher, educator, author and former President of Gonzaga University. He is founder and President of the Magis Institute, an organization dedicated to public education on the relationship among the disciplines of physics, philosophy, reason, and faith. He is the head of the Ethics and Performance Institute, which delivers web-based ethics education to corporations and individuals. He is also President of the Spitzer Center of Ethical Leadership, which delivers similar curricula to non-profit organizations. His other books include Healing the Culture and Five Pilars of the Spiritual Life.
CWR: What will you be talking about at the Basilica during the March For Life weekend?
Fr. Spitzer: I’m going to be making three major points, all relating to the book. The first point is that we need to get a real intellectual justification for the pro-life position, because we as Catholics already have one. We have the whole of history and all of the philosophical principles on our side, but what we need to do is articulate it in a form in which people can make reference to it, and know that there is a solid intellectual defense of the pro-life movement. We do have some very good intellectual defenses, but it tends to be a bit prosaic. So I’ll go through the ten principles in my book and show how they can be used to make that defense.
The second thing is that of those ten principles—which are the major principles of all civilization, not just for the pro-life movement, but for all civilization—six of them originate with Catholic thinkers. They include Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine, and the Jesuit philosopher Francisco SuÁrez, who discovered rights theory. And the golden rule, the rule of beneficence, has its origin in Jesus, who of course was Catholic. And Catholicism effectively baptized the three principles of rationality—the principles of complete explanation, noncontradiction, and objective evidence—which were devised by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, but basically the Catholic Church brought them into modern Europe. So I’ll talk a bit about our great intellectual heritage.
The last thing I’ll talk about pedagogy. If we going to bring this even into our Catholic schools, we need to use the best strategy. What principal or teacher is going to say, “I don’t want my students to know the ten universal principles of civilization!”? [laughs]
CWR: On a practical level, what are the challenges of getting people to consider these principles and to rationally consider the arguments presented in your book? How do we open that door and get past emotional, irrational reactions?
Fr. Spitzer: In the book I speak of the four levels of happiness: beginning with physical/external stimulus and moving up to the fourth level, which is where we seek and live in ultimate truth, love, and goodness. My objective is to move people from level 2, which is characterize by intense ego-gratification, to level 3, which focuses more on “doing for” and “being with”. That’s not a movement of the mind, but of the heart and will; it’s about identity. Essentially, if I can get them up to a contributive identity, away from an ego-comparative identity, and I can show them what the ramifications are for words such as “love” and “freedom” and “ethics” and “personhood”, then they are on their way to getting the other nine principles of civilization. There’s no way they cannot pass it up and avoid it by merely emoting.
CWR: How do we get people to see that if they want to have all of their rights, that withholding the right to life from the unborn is contradictory to their assumption of rights?
Fr. Spitzer: That’s a big question. People need to understand that “rights” is a reciprocal term, and its reciprocal term is “responsibility”. Franciscio Suarez recognized that the moment you have rights, then everyone has rights as well. Rights, by definition, are what are shared by every human being. Therefore, what every human being owes is a responsibility to every other human being. For every right there is an obligation. And if you don’t want to acknowledge that fact, then on what basis do you deserve rights? And that, in a sense, goes back to the teachings of Plato and Aristotle.
CWR: What is the relationship between the philosophy and metaphysics covered in your book and the historical basis and context? How important is the historical rootedness of these things?
Fr. Spitzer: I want people to recognize that these ten principles are the basis for civilization, and that prior to these principles being understood and acted upon, life was much worse. The application of these principles paves the way from sophistry to science, which is really significant. The three principles of ethics basically defeated slavery, not only in the Roman Empire, but also in the New World. These are so essential for the building of a civilization. The three principles of ethics not only built Europe, but they built the United States. They are the undergirding structure of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which is really the founding document of the United States.
CWR: You begin your book by talking about sophistry, skepticism, and cynicism. And while the meaning of those terms have changed a bit over time, they are the three big enemies still today, right?
Fr. Spitizer: They are the three big enemies, and the enemies of rationality. And when they have the upper hand, civilization declines. And when they are put in their place, then civilization increases.
CWR: What is a good example of sophistry in our own time?
Fr. Spitzer: I think the whole academic milieu that is enamored with postmodern deconstructionism, and nothing can be more sophistical than that. It’s unbelievable. Basically, it posits there is no truth whatsoever—that every word we use is so laden with our own agendas and cultures, that the minute we deconstruct it, nothing is left but our agenda and our culture, so there is a despair of the truth. Why not just deconstruct ourselves out of existence? That is what Derrida says. And that perspective dominates the humanities. The scientists and the engineers don’t go for this; they look at it and go, “Oh, wait a minute; that is the demise of math, physics, and engineering. No, thank you!” They recognize that without some recognition of objective truth, bridges collapse. You simply cannot redefine the Pythagorean theorem and get away with it.
Deconstructionism is pure sophistry. Anytime the devil can create a despair of the truth, he wins.
CWR: And sophistry and skepticism go hand in hand…
Fr. Spitzer: They do. And sophistry just says that truth is false and falsity is truth, and everything is reduced to rhetoric. Sophistry seeks to make an agenda seems plausible. But like I said, the scientists and engineers and mathematicians are standouts in the academic community: they don’t buy it and they can’t buy it. They rely on a standpoint of objective truth.
CWR: You have worked with youth and college students for many years. Where are we at today with young people?
Fr. Spitzer: There are three things going on today with young people that are very significant.
The first thing is that there is a tremendous openness to the pro-life position, on the part of young people, including non-religious young people. They have a sense that there is real human life there, and one of the reasons, frankly, is because of genomics. When you say that somebody has a full human genome, a unique human being is there. Even though we know it has to grow to maturity, all the requirements for full and unique manifestation are present.
Secondly, intrauterine photography, a step up from ultra-sound, is stunningly good: no haziness, no shadows. While only the pro-life clinics will use the intrauterine cameras and technology, the word is getting out. Young people are already beginning to be aware of the vitality of first-trimester embryos in utero, and that has an interesting effect because the detail is remarkable. The Knights of Columbus, by the way, have been funding these cameras in pro-life clinics because they are very expensive still. The one thing that kids can do for other kids is to get them to see their unborn baby using these cameras.
The third thing is the exposés of the horrors from within the pro-choice movement itself. And you see more and more pro-choice doctors and personnel becoming pro-life, such as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, for example. You can try to hide this fact, but it is coming out. Look at the witness of Abby Johnson, the author of Unplanned, who was exceedingly troubled by what she witnessed and eventually left her work at Planned Parenthood to become a pro-life leader.
I think more and more of these stories and facts are getting out, and what is happening is that people, especially the young, are becoming more and more pro-life. And that is a great foundation to build upon. I think young people are open to a good case, made with good information. When they see the similarities to slavery, it opens their eyes; it affects them. You have to give them the intellectual case; you have to tell young people “why” and do it in a way that is plausible. They are remarkably open, and that is a very good thing.
This generation is more open to faith than my generation was. If we feed them, they are going to run with their faith. I saw that at Gonzaga again and again; it was not unusual to have half the kids going to Mass each week. During my day as a college student, in the early 1970s, that was impossible. There’s now an openness, and there are signs of great hope, and we need to get our case built and get our case for faith and reason out there.