On the face of it, it’s not immediately obvious what the sobbing students outside my office this post-election have to do with the beaming countenances of the highest-ranking Catholic clerics who recently journeyed to Sweden to commemorate 500 years of Martin Luther and fifty years of dialogue with Lutherans.
Nevertheless, millions of young people at universities all across the nation are besides themselves with fear and trembling, not least because no less a person than the President of the United States warned them days earlier that if Donald Trump was elected, he would subsidize the Ku Klux Klan: “If you accept the support of Klan sympathizers — the Klan — and hesitate when asked about that support, then you’ll tolerate that support when you’re in office.” To which President Obama added the imminent loss of habeus corpus: “[Y]ou threaten to throw your opponent in jail without any due process,” he said, “….imagine what you’ll do when you actually have the power to violate the Constitution along those lines.”
Knowing full-well that African-Americans would not be coming out in droves to vote for Hillary Clinton as they had for Obama in 2008 and 2012, a desperate Democrat President doubled down on fiery rhetoric. Question: Since all politicians are guilty of this tactic, what precisely is the problem with the President’s conduct? Answer: College kids aren’t taught classical rhetoric anymore. Neither are they taught how to reason through an argument—only how to emote their feelings. Result: They took Obama’s words as Gospel, so now pupils from the purple mountains to the fruited plains are being talked-in from steep window ledges because they are utterly convinced it’s the end of the world as they know it.
Simply put, in both Academia and America at large today the “hardest thing to find…is an argument,” to borrow the prophetic words of Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “Prejudice there is in abundance and sentiment too, for these things are born of enthusiasms without the pain of labor. Thinking, on the contrary, is a difficult task; it is the hardest work a man can do that is perhaps why so few indulge in it. Thought-saving devices have been invented that rival labor-saving devices in their ingenuity.” Soundbites and slogans like “Love Wins!” or “Love Trumps Hate,” again to invoke Sheen, “go rattling by us like express trains, carrying the burden of those who are too lazy to think for themselves.”
As a consequence, today’s young people (and not so young) believe, for example, that “love” is a feeling—no thought needed. Indeed, few have ever been informed, even by Catholic professors, that as human beings they possess more than sense-based sentiments, but an immaterial soul with an intellect that reasons and a will which chooses. Fewer still have learned the actual definition of love: willing the good for someone. No wonder that among Millennials who don’t attend church, 91% equate the word “Christian” with the soundbite “anti-homosexual.” If love is merely a feeling two people share, why forbid that, even to members of the same sex? They subjectively feel it, don’t they? But if love is willing what is good for someone else, however, then one’s intellect needs rational input to come to understand what exactly is the objective good for the other, what’s the truth of the matter?
But regrettably, the decline of the art of argument is not only a cancer on our college campuses, it is a malignancy which has infected all modern religious thinking. Christian churches today, Sheen said, teach only “one great and fundamental dogma that is at the basis of all the other dogmas, and that is, that religion must be freed from dogmas. Creeds and confessions of faith are no longer the fashion; religious leaders have agreed not to disagree and those beliefs for which some of our ancestors would have died they have melted into a spineless Humanism.” Latimer, Cranmer, and Ridley come to mind just as easily as Fisher and More. What would they and the countless others who perished on both sides in the sixteenth-century fires of reform (for refusing to recant dogmas) have to say today at the sight of a statue of Martin Luther on prominent display at the pope’s weekly audience?
“The last thing you must do is ‘to say, to convince.’ It’s not right to convince someone of your faith…Proselytism is the strongest venom against the path of ecumenism,” So Pope Francis reportedly addressed thousands of Lutherans in Rome this past October 13th ahead of the ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately it seems the case, as Sheen argued, that: “[T]he man who can make up his mind when proofs are presented [and thus, he who presents proofs as well] is looked upon as a bigot.” Meanwhile the man who “ignores proofs and the search for truth is looked upon as broadminded and tolerant.” What depths have we reached, when even a sitting pope speaks this way.
If reason must return before higher education can be reformed, then concomitantly, the practice of conversion of non-Catholics by rational and charitable contest must be restored to Catholicism. No less a figure than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI urged this return to tradition, not only in his famous Regensburg Address, but in another given two years later at the Collège des Bernardins, Paris:
Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith…The universality of God, and of reason open towards Him, is what gave them the motivation—indeed, the obligation—to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.
Bishop Sheen summarized his thoughts on this subject by stating: “The passing [away] of creeds and dogmas means the passing of controversies.” We end this piece by affirming that the converse is also true: “The passing away of controversies means the passing of creeds and dogmas.” That is to say, post-Vatican II ecumenism without convincing has led to contemporary Catholicism without conviction.
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