2014: The Year the Culture War Divide Became Deeper, Darker, and Weirder

If further proof was needed that secularism is bankrupt, this past year provided it. But there are signs of hope.

In the late 1990s, I found myself in the awkward position of explaining the appeal of World Youth Day and Catholicism to a table full of intimidating adults, most of whom were twice or thrice my age; one was a state Supreme Court judge and another the wife of a federal judge. “The policies of the last 25 years, particularly Roe v. Wade,” I said timidly, “have not given my generation the promised happiness, but has left us reeling from the pain of abortion and broken relationships, while wallowing in malaise, angst, and emptiness.”

You could have heard a pin drop as these “grown ups” looked at me with puzzled faces. “Catholicism,” I added, somewhat self-consciously, “is the antidote to all this misery.”

These adults were not alone in their puzzlement. Pope John Paul II’s meeting with youth shocked and astounded journalists and pundits and elites who expected young people to share their own disdain for the old man in the white cassock.

Little did I realize then how true my words were and that each passing year has only confirmed them further. This year in particular, the media was still getting Catholicism wrong, as evidenced by their remarkable bungling of nearly everything Pope Francis says. But more importantly, secularism continues to reveal just how bankrupt life is without Christ. The darkness of life without the Light of the World just keeps getting darker—and weirder.

Who could have ever imagined even just a few years ago that we would be having a national discussion about the so-called “rape culture”—prompted by false allegations made to Rolling Stone magazine? Or that the Little Sisters of the Poor could possibly be categorized as part of the “Dirty One Hundred” by the National Organization for Women (NOW) for their legal opposition to providing contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees? Not to mention the latest, steady advances of the “same-sex marriage” agenda. Unsatisfied with legal triumphs over those who believe in marriage, “gay marriage” activists bully those who give even the slightest hint of not fully embracing their “lifestyle” choice, such as HGTV canceling the Benham Brothers, the Duck Dynasty dust up, and the resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla for his pro-marriage donation.

Recent events indicate that even the moniker “same-sex marriage” will soon be passé because “marriage” is becoming as nonsensical as the catch-all “rights.” If we really have, as was just announced by the Department of Justice, a “right” to cross-dress, then why can’t a woman “marry” a bridge (in France) or a building (in Seattle), or even herself (in London)?

How tiresome the intellectual acrobatics must be for opinion makers to constantly contort the “sin is good and religious people are bad” narrative to fit day in and day out? And yet, when promoting sin, the same pattern always emerges: lies, thuggery, selective “editing” of the facts, shrill voices, betrayal, slander, corruption, and more lies. Those perpetuating evil and sin can only play the same old tune.

Meanwhile, in what seems like an entirely different universe, Catholics simply living out the precepts of their faith are doing what one would expect from a religion that built Chartres Cathedral, gave us the genius of Thomas Aquinas and Hildegard of Bingen, the jocularity of Philip Neri, and the soaring beauty of Fr. Antonio Vivaldi’s music. They are bearing fruit. Most are living quiet, humble, yet heroic lives as they raise more than the requisite 2.1 children. Others are living more dramatically by following a religious vocation. And still others are following the quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit to do something a little outside of the box.

Take, for example, 40 Days for Life in College Station, Texas. Starting from the humblest of beginnings—three people praying around a conference table—their semi-annual campaigns of prayerful protests in front of abortion clinics now include 559 cities across the US and involvement in 27 other countries; 9,699 lives spared from abortion (that they know of); 107 abortion workers have quit and left the industry entirely; and 59 abortion facilities have closed. Not bad for just ten years of operation.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Michael Miller at the Acton Institute has produced the film Poverty, Inc. about the big business that foreign aid has become, while revealing that perhaps our good intentions aren’t really meeting the needs of the poor. Forty years of aid with very little to show for it in many African nations forces us to think differently about how to truly help those in poverty. Miller’s film does just that. Focusing upon the dignity of the human person and man’s creative force, this award-winning documentary is making its way into the Whole Foods grocery chain.

In Pleasant Hill, California, Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, has produced the films, Eggsploitation, Breeders, and Anonymous Father’s Day to raise awareness about the indignity and dangers of IVF—both for unsuspecting parents and offspring. Lahl, a former nurse, addresses difficult issues about fertility that few want to touch because of the emotions tied to having children, but as she makes clear, emotions can only go so far when grave damage is being done.

In Ave Maria, Florida, author, theologian, and former ambassador Michael Novak, at 81 years old, isn’t slowing down to rest on his laurels or simply live in the rear view mirror like many of his contemporaries (although he is certainly entitled to at this point in his illustrious career). Novak, having retired from the American Enterprise Institute, is starting a new blog in January 2015 over at Patheos, “Coming Down to Earth”, teaching a course at Ave Maria University, and traveling extensively. Having lost his beloved wife Karen Laub-Novak in 2009, he devotes much of his time to cheerfully and generously mentoring younger generations of Catholics in the serious pursuit of the intellectual life for the common good.

In the historic downtown of Leesburg, Virginia, Ever and Soren Johnson have just opened Trinity House Café. In addition to serving up soups, sandwiches, and coffee, Trinity House hosts talks, art classes, theatrical performances, and movie nights, providing a platform for faith, local community, and culture to meet in a charming and comfortable setting.

And in Washington, D.C., Ryan Anderson, who is equal parts gracious and tenacious, continues the good fight against same-sex marriage. A veritable David fighting Goliath, this young man has become one of the most outspoken defenders of marriage in the country.

While these various endeavors have little in common, they do all bear a different set of hallmarks from the promotion of evil—they are calm, kind, patient, and creative, looking to serve the authentic needs of the most vulnerable, self-giving and ultimately trusting in God’s providence as they battle against the biggest issues of the day.

While many continue to disparage the Catholic Church, both inside and out, modern day disciples live with the response of Simon Peter to Christ: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:67-68).” Indeed. And as the our culture has made abundantly clear this past year, we have the much better portion.


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About Carrie Gress, Ph.D. 49 Articles
Carrie Gress has a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and was the Rome Bureau Chief of Zenit's English Edition. She is the author of Nudging Conversions, Ultimate Makeover, and The Marian Option, and co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints. A mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her online at CarrieGress.com.