Last September, Pope Benedict XVI visited the original Grotto in Lourdes where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette. During his visit, Pope Benedict spoke about the West’s need to recover the Marianmodel of hope: that salvation comes not through obedience to man’s will but through humble obedience to God’s.
The modern world has largely chosen the man-centered model of hope over Mary’s, and this choice, as the grim and unfolding chapters of recent history illustrate, has delivered not salvation but despair. The ideology that promises man’s perfection through the domination of relativized science, technology, and politicswhat one might call the false self-sufficiency of secularism has led once-Christian countries into dystopias of one kind or another, nations so bereft of real hope that they abort thousands upon thousands of their own children.
On May 17, in a sports arena not far from a replica of that original Grotto in Lourdes, Barack Obama received an honorary degree from Notre Damea moment of hollow good cheer in which a university founded in Our Lady’s honor extolled an American president not for habitually hoping in God’s promises but in his own. Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, hailed Obama’s “audacious hope for a brighter tomorrow.”
As the first acts of his administration demonstratepaying for abortions at home and abroad, rescinding the Bush-era conscience clause for pro-life doctors and nurses, authorizing the over-the-counter sale of abortifacients to teens, placing gay-marriage proponents and aggressive secularists in powerful positionsthis “audacious hope” rests not on God’s immutable will but on Obama’s willful rejection of it: that killing unborn children is a “right,” that redesigning marriage and sexuality according to fluctuating human taste and desire is “enlightened,” and that “reason” is not the product of God’s mind but man’s.
Behind all the buzzwords and honeyed phrases in Obama’s speech to Notre Dame’s graduates lay an essentially man-centered, not Marian, model of hope. His advice to them contained an insidiously deceptive bow to religion even as he advanced unproven secularist claims that render God irrelevant to public life:
Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse. But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what he asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that his wisdom is greater than our own.
This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.
This is a jumble of half-truths and lies.
First of all, it is not beyond our capacity to know the intentions of God; he has written them on our hearts and promulgated them through our minds. It is certain, not doubtful, that killing unborn children and the elderly is unjust. It is certain, not doubtful, that man is made for heterosexuality, not homosexuality. It is certain, not doubtful, that God exists and man owes him piety. What is doubtful, indeed destructive, is Obama’s glib notion that a civilized democracy is attainable without these truths.
Notice that Obama’s straw-man secularism defines all of faith, including its preambles, as willfulness while cordoning off his own willful rejections of reality from rational scrutiny. To what universal truth, for example, does he appeal when describing abortion and same-sex civil unions as “rights”? There isn’t one; his claim springs from his own denial of the self-evident realities that make any moral reasoning possible.
And herein lies the fatal sectarianism, or to use his phrase, the “parochial principles” of secularism in this time and place.
A country that gives Obama’s skepticism and relativism a privileged and honored place in public life while treating the existence of God and the natural moral law as mere “opinions” and uncertainties has stripped away the grounds for hope. And it is only the reconciliation of reason and revelation, which was once the mission of Notre Dame, that can restore them.
Man, as a dependent creature who comes from God and culminates in him, cannot save himself from death nor his society from disintegration. By honoring Obama’s “audacious hope,” Notre Dame has put its faith in princes and forgotten the model of hope that its namesake preeminently embodies.