goes its own way without much regard for the Church, because it has very little
regard for truththat is to say, for reality.
go to the roots of current ways of thinking. The modern movement of thought
began as an attempt to attain security and certainty by emphasizing what is
practical and by imposing strict standards of evidence. That meant tossing out
quite a lot: tradition, revelation, and the insight into natural forms and
functionsand their connection to permanent human concernsthat lies behind our
understanding of natural moral law.
wanted to be scientific, and that meant rejecting many normal ways of thinking.
They hoped the result would be knowledge that was exact, reliable, and useful,
and modern natural science has indeed given us amazing advances in medicine and
weaponry. Modern forms of organizing society, such as the modern state and the business
corporation, have also proved immensely effective in important ways.
also been other results, the most notable of which is the reduction of all
seriously-considered human concerns to technology and desire. After all, if
higher goods and ultimate truths can’t be measured or produced to order, and it
seems we can get by without them by figuring out how to give people what they
want, then why not simplify matters and forget about them?
what’s happened in our public life. Everybody who matters is a secularist
today, and the situation has far-reaching implications. One is that educated
and well-placed people now believe that the institutions on which social order
is based should be technically expert, economically rational, morally
nonjudgmental, and universal in their reach. So the world should be ordered
comprehensively by global markets and expert regulatory bureaucracies, together
with subsidiary institutions such as universities, think tanks, media
organizations, and various NGOs that serve or try to influence government and
business. That, it is thought, is the uniquely rational way of organizing
society, and whatever threatens it, or attempts to limit it or introduce other
authorities, is irrational, disruptive, and a threat to humanity.
the people who run things in Europe have rejected Christianity and adopted the
EU as their religion. For those committed to it, the European Union is not
really a practical contrivance to be judged by its visible or likely effects.
It is a supreme principle that must forever expand and deepen in its
application without regard to practical considerations or the outlook or
well-being of the people the governments involved supposedly represent.
Anything else would violate the vision of the secular development of the human
world into an ordered and beneficent cosmos. That, it is thought, would be the
triumph of chaos, irrationality, and violence.
is that the society aimed at has no room for man as he is. It treats him as
fundamentally a careerist and consumer, with no natural particularities, and no
higher aspiration or destiny than the perfection of the system that enables him
and his fellows to get what they want. Any qualities that go beyond that are
disruptive, and must be eradicated or neutralized by confining them to a purely
private sphere where they won’t influence anything.
reason it has no place for the attachments that have always formed human life
and to which we have always given our deepest loyalties: family, religion, specific
community, particular people and culture, ultimate truth. Such things become
private, sentimental matters with no special definition and therefore no
serious public function. They are not permitted to make a difference, because
when they do the kind of rational, transparent society at which liberal
modernity aims becomes impossible. So to the extent they retain a connection to
aspects of how people live, it’s a problem to be dealt with under the rubrics
of equality, tolerance, and inclusion.
is utopian, which means that it does violence to human nature by trying to root
out things that make us human. To make matters worse, the situation can’t be
discussed intelligently because the abolition of ultimate truth leads to the
abolition of truth as such. Truth becomes first a matter of what is useful,
then what is comfortable and pleasing, and finally what helps the teller get
what he wants. Integrity disappears from commerce, politics become spin and
optics, and even scholars present truth as something constructed for other
purposes. When such tendencies join with the view that common sense doesn’t
count, and we should only pay attention to what experts say, the result is a
tendency to ignore the obvious in favor of the assertions of those who have
social authority and claim special insight. For examples, consider contemporary
architecture and educational theory. People hate the one, and the other
notoriously doesn’t work, but nothing can be done about either.
problem with present-day life is that it’s short on truth and reason. Our job
as Catholics is to stand for those things, so if (to pick a prominent example)
the truth of marriage and the sexes is rejected, then we need to say what it is
and work toward it.
People sometimes say that the Church has had two ways of dealing with the
modern world, the “fortress Catholicism” symbolized by Trent, and a more
flexible Catholicism, symbolized by the Second Vatican Council, that,
as Paul VI put it, “felt the need to know, to draw near to, to understand,
to penetrate, serve and evangelize the society in which she lives.”
their uses and limitations. Working for truth involves knowledge and
proclamation. Knowledge is mostly a matter of understanding the teachings of
the Church, as well as any relevant secular knowledge, proclamation of
presenting what is known in the most effective way. In such matters flexibility
is necessary, as long as we remain grounded. As an earlier Paul said, “I became
all things to all men, that I might save all.”
truth also involves faithful acceptance of the truth, living in it, and making
it easier for others to do so. For most of us, doing all that requires, if not
a fortress, then at least a Barque of Peter that is able to keep out waves,
sharks, and seaweed so life can go on. We are social creatures who depend on
what’s around us. It is possible to be chaste in a brothel and faithful in a
world that treats faith as a danger to be suppressedthe saints have done
sobut most of us are more fragile, and if Catholics want to maintain their
faith and evangelize others they need a concrete way of life to offer that is
backed by reliable, common understandings and generally works for people who
are presently less than saintly.
with our example, then, promotion of the truth about man requires, among other
things, a setting where the habits, expectations, and beliefs necessary for
marriage and the family to thrive can maintain a stable and reliable presence.
That means that if the world becomes more actively anti-Christian, it becomes
necessary for the Christian community, in important aspects of its practical
everyday life, to separate itself more from the world. If we want to live in
the truth, we can’t be entangled in a system based on lies and the virtual
reality of propaganda, pop culture, and electronics. It is difficult, for
example, if we want to teach our children the truth about the sexes, to accept
the intrusion of the mass electronic media into domestic life, or to send them
to schools where they will
be punished for referring to a boy as a boy.
Part of the story of the
Church in America has been the struggle of Catholics to achieve full inclusion
in American life. The tendency of events shows that attempt needs to be
rethought. Engaging the world in hopes of gaining it is a wonderful thing, if
that’s what the struggle has been about, but not at the cost of losing the
faith and way of life we hoped to gain it for. We can offer the world something
only if we maintain what we have to offer, and we can’t do that if we are
absorbed by present-day society.