Editorial: Should Catholics Even Bother with Politics?
This is no time to retreat from culture; we must work for its conversion by becoming men and women who influence it.
The men and women I met this evening confirmed my decision to recommit myself to helping lay Catholic men and women come to understand the treasury of the teaching of the Catholic Church on faithful citizenship and social responsibility, which includes political participation.Then, to do everything I can to encourage morally coherent people run for public office and help to get them elected.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - I write from the Washington DC area after having just concluded the first in a series of talks on Catholics and political participation for the Institute of Catholic Culture.
There was a large crowd. Many people stayed afterwards for ongoing conversation. They were eager to grow in understanding the implications of being a faithful Catholic citizen. What was crystal clear to me by the end of the evening was that we have the resources to prepare the kind of future political candidates this nation desperately needs in public office.
Many of my readers have been asking the question, should we even bother with Politics? My answer is a clear - Yes! Please, do not think I have one ounce of me naiveté left in me after all these years. I do not! However, I am convinced that Catholics, above all others, have an obligation to stay involved. To those to whom much is given, much is required.
In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, a brilliant work exposing the unseen spiritual warfare taking place around us through a series of letters between two demons - the older Screwtape, an instructor and the younger student Wormwood - CS Lewis wrote:
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."
In a sense, this is true of politics. Like many of you, I am still in recovery after the last electoral cycle, trying to make sense out of what is happening to this nation which we love. The temptation, so clearly present in our circles, is to fall into two separate approaches, both of which can lead to error.
One is to completely retreat from that area of culture and social responsibility referred to as politics. The other, is to pursue the path of the modern zealot or utopian and believe that politics alone can actually effect enduring change in the hearts of people and thus in the broader culture.
To paraphrase Lewis, The devils, so clearly active in the current political climate, "hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."
In 1947, Lewis addressed the decline of his beloved Britain in an insightful book entitled "The Abolition of man: How Education Develops Man's Sense of Morality." He warned of the subjective and relativistic trends in the British educational system of the time. He reasserted the timeless moral truths of Christianity as the solution.
He called for a return to the Christian vision of the human person and the cultivation of virtues as the path to true human flourishing and freedom. He defined what he called "the chest" in this work as the "higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character."
He wrote that without this "chest", men and women devolve into self-idolatry, losing their human dignity and true freedom. They become slaves to disordered appetites.
The West is in a moral mess, just as Lewis warned. With its decline we face the eclipse of true freedom. Lewis' words in that book are timely: "And all the time - such is the tragicomedy of our situation - we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive,' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity.'
"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."
We are living under what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, properly called a "Dictatorship of Relativism" in the West. Relativism is a philosophy which says there are no truths. The culture stumbles, drunken on the false notion of freedom divorced from norms to guide the exercise of human choice and govern our behavior.
When there is nothing objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life then there is no foundation for a truly free society. We teeter on the brink of anarchy precisely because we have lost our moral compass as a Nation.
We are accused of being against progress and anti-science for defending the dignity of every human life - including the lives of our first neighbors in the womb. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are Pro-life because it is right. In an age deluded by the architects of a cultural order of death we must never compromise on the truth concerning the dignity of every human life from conception through natural death. ...
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