Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Did We Get Here?

How Did We Get Here?

My parish recently got a new pastor.  Before we did, the bishop sent a committee to the parish to meet with some of us and get a sense of the community so he could make an appropriate appointment.  In the course of the discussion I remember one woman standing up and speaking about our outgoing pastor.  She was involved in the women’s ministry but sometimes wandered into dangerous theological territory.  This is what she said:
          “[The pastor] shot down some of my ideas, and he told me I was wrong more than once.  But he was never unkind to me.  He was always concerned with how my family and I were doing, and he often greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.”
          Knowing this man, what she said didn’t surprise me, but it did strike me as an important trait in what made him such a good pastor.  He never compromised on the Faith and was not afraid even to rebuke someone when it was necessary.  But his motive was always love – love of God and love of his flock.  And he always treated people accordingly.
          Sadly, this is a rare trait in our current cultural climate.  Just look at the language that comes out of Washington.  President Obama throws around ridiculous talking points like “corporate jets” in order to tap into the basest parts of our nature and capitalize on envy.  Just this week, in reference to legitimate disagreements on government regulation, he accused Republicans of wanting dirtier air, dirtier water and fewer people with health insurance.  How childish can you be?  Certainly not fitting for the President of the United States, and a tactic to avoid discussion of issues.  Of course, the other side of the coin is not so shiny either.  Every proposal by the President is met with accusations of class warfare, and much has been written about the last Republican debate in Nevada, which turned into a slugfest with bickering and personal attacks. 
In Washington there’s no civil discussion as to how to address our current economic disaster.  It’s far worse when the discussion turns to social matters.
          I’ve said in the past that I would not much mind being called homophobic, but I would greatly mind actually being homophobic.  I pray that there is nowhere in my soul that would deny human dignity to anyone, and I pray that I would never look at someone’s sexuality and judge their worth as a person.  I have known many people over my lifetime who have same sex attractions, many who have struggled mightily with it, and many whom I love dearly.  But to be accused of being homophobic is meaningless because I know the only people who would call me that don’t understand the term and are the types that resort to insults and name calling to avoid real discussion of issues such as the definition of marriage.
          Not everyone who defends traditional marriage is homophobic.  The vast majority are not.  Not every environmentalist is an anti-human wacko.  The vast majority are not.  Not every feminist hates men.  The vast majority do not.
          But though we may have real disagreements on these issues, when is the last time you heard a reasoned, respectful debate about them?  In our cultural climate you win arguments by calling your adversary the most damaging name you can think of, belittling him and shouting him down.  As a result we have lost the power, on the whole, to accept or even understand reasoned arguments.
          So how did we get here?  I suspect, at the root, is the abortion issue and how it was perpetuated in the 1960s and early 70s.  Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a founding member of NARAL who later became a pro-life activist and converted to Catholicism, writes in his book Aborting America about how his group intended to force the legalization of abortion.
          They had no intention of debating the issue and certainly not examining the scientific evidence that showed a child in the womb to be a separate biological human being from the start.  They needed a scapegoat that they could say was oppressing women by pushing its pro-life views on people (even though they knew at the time the country was overwhelmingly pro-life).  They chose the Catholic Church.  There was a history of anti-Catholicism in the United States and the misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council was legitimizing dissent even among Catholics.  They also felt that if they pinpointed the hierarchy, it would be a small enough group to be a scapegoat and that America, being mostly Protestant, would recoil at the idea that the Catholic Church was affecting public policy.
          So out came the smear campaign, the name calling and the outright lies.  Dr. Nathanson lets us in on NARAL’s strategy and how they turned the debate about abortion from reason to the type of political discourse we have today.  This was certainly not the first time it had happened, but it has only snowballed unabated since then.
          I want to point out again that Dr. Nathanson himself was open enough to change his thinking and see what he had been blinded to before.  He died recently a hero for his tireless work to restore the dignity due to all human lives.  He died a humble, repentant and loving man.
          So what’s the solution to the mess we’re in?  I can tell you for sure that I don’t know.  There are a few things I think can help.  First, we have to be prepared to make reasoned arguments when defending our positions, particularly those regarding the Faith.  Those arguments may not be accepted right away, but they have to be presented with love, like my old pastor and like those who received Dr. Nathanson into the Church.  
          If people know we are more concerned with the truth than just scoring a point, that we want to win souls more than we want to win arguments, over time we will earn a hearing.  On a broader level the discourse in Washington has to change.  That seems rather unlikely, given that if there’s one place people are more interested in winning than being right, it’s Washington.  But there are some politicians who are not afraid to bring their faith to the public square and to defend it with dignity and respect.  Let’s support and encourage those people.  And most of all, let us pray, knowing that in Christ all things, even our culture, can be made new.