Thursday, July 17, 2014


The following is a letter to the editor that I read this morning in the Augusta Chronicle. It is an apologetic for secular morality as superior to our Judeo-Christian morality.

The way this so-called morality is presented would certainly resonate with American ideals and sensibilities and I posit as the reason for its success in the secular world.

As our American society and culture becomes more and more secular, I wonder how we can help our Catholics to view it with a critical mind and to remain faithful to our religious morality.

We should not demonize, however, the word secularism. But it is interesting how secularism has a counterpart to religion in many different areas. There are benign secular counterparts to Christmas and Easter and now to Christian morality.

Does this letter to the editor capture the reason why secular morality is gaining so much ground in the USA and elsewhere?

Secular values have made this country great.
Many readers of this paper write in to express their disgust with secularism and calling for a return to the “Christian values” upon which our country was founded. They often use the famous “this country is going down the drain” case that older folks have been making since the dawn of time.
These people have a selective memory.
First, many of our Founding Fathers were deists – about as secular a form of Christianity as could be found at the time – who believed in the moral teachings, not the divinity, of Jesus Christ. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are examples. Rather than base the U.S. Constitution on “biblical”principles, they did precisely the opposite by forming a government that wasn’t dedicated to any religion.
Second, many would blame secularism for the faults in our country today. But hasn’t religion been the basis for unspeakable amounts of violence and ignorance in history? Religion was used to justify slavery and the subordination of women. Christians argued that inequality was fair because God made people unequal and therefore not deserving of the same rights. People use religion to justify discrimination against homosexuals today. We might even still be living under a monarchy if the Founders gave credence to the “divine right of kings.”
Speaking of gay rights, some justify their homophobia by claiming that being gay is a choice, and our communities shouldn’t validate this “perversion.” This argument is absurd. Homosexuals don’t choose to be gay any more than heterosexuals choose to be straight. Why would a child want to be gay when he or she faces so much rejection and condemnation for doing so? Gay-rights advocates are to be admired for standing up to this bigotry.
Religion frequently makes people’s rights contingent on how they are born and what they believe. Secularists know that everyone deserves dignity and respect without exception, simply by virtue of being human. This is the core of secular morality and our greatest hope for the future.
Alex Rice

Then I read at the Rorate Caeli blog the following post that I think makes a great deal of sense. In pre-Vatican II times, the Church often did not engage in the culture wars that exist today. You would always find in Catholic countries a "red light" district. New Orleans which could be considered a French USA and of our Catholic culture had Bourbon Street and its sensuality. 

But the reason for Catholic morality, or at least the most important reason, was to enable us to receive Holy Communion. It wasn't to build heaven on earth (it wasn't eschatological). It was for one's personal salvation and breaking communion with the Church in the areas of morality (mortal sin) meant one could not receive Holy Communion and if one died in a state of "broken communion" or in a state of mortal sin, one would go to hell and not pass go and collect $200!

This post makes great sense to me and I wonder if it were still the case today, meaning that morality for Catholics meant being in full communion with the Church and thus able to receive Holy Communion, that we would not be engaged in all the culture wars and alienating the secularists like Alex Rice above? We would not be viewed as puritanical trying to shove our morality down the throats of those who care not to be receiving Holy Communion in the Catholic Mass?

From Rorate Caeli:

It in many dioceses in Germany it is customary for the bishop to invite artists to a meeting on Ash Wednesday, an Aschermittwoch der K√ľnstler, an idea taken from Paul Claudel, who had organized something similar in Paris. On Ash Wednesday 2013, the novelist Martin Mosebach was invited to speak to assembled artists in Limburg, Germany, on the theme of the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite. It need scarcely be said that is highly unusual for a traditionalist thinker to be invited to a regular diocesan setting to speak on that subject.

Toward the end of his speech Mosebach made the following point:

One difficulty that arose from the Church's abandonment of her traditional liturgy was surely quite unexpected. Many who observe the Church from a distance, and this includes many nominal Catholics, now see the Church as embodied principally in the moral teachings that she requires her faithful to follow. These teachings include many prescriptions and proscriptions that contradict the customs of the secular world. In the days when the Church was above all oriented toward the immediate encounter with God in the Liturgy however, these commandments were not seen merely in relation to the living of daily life, but were concrete means of preparation for complete participation in the liturgy.

The liturgy  gave morality its goal. The question was: What must I do in order to attain to perfect Communion with the Eucharistic Christ? What actions will result in my only being able to look on Him from afar? Moral evil then appeared not merely as the that which is bad in the abstract, but as that which is to be avoided in order to attain to a concrete goal. And when someone broke a commandment, and thus excluded himself from Holy Communion, Confession was ready as the means to repair the damage and prepare him to receive Communion again. A surprising result of the reform is that while the Church of the past, which was really oriented toward the liturgy, appeared to many outside observers as being scandalously lax in moral matters, the current Church appears to contemporaries (and not only to those outside) as unbearably moralistic, unmerciful, and meanly puritanical. (From: "Das Paradies auf Erden: Liturgie als Fester zum Jenseits," Una Voce Korrespondenz 43 (2013), pp. 213-214; translation by Sacerdos Romanus).


JBS said...

Interesting questions, Fr. McDonald. I agree with this selection from Mosebach. Indeed, this is essentially what Pope Francis is getting at when he warns us against becoming "obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines" at the expense of building communion with Christ. Also, I think eschatology is about the Four Last Things, not about creating some sort of Heaven on Earth.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

You are correct about eschatology, however in the 70's we were taught in my seminary that it was more secular, bringing heaven to earth by doing "what Jesus would do" and it was disconnected from the last 4 things which in those days was frowned upon.

Anonymous said...

Secular "morality" is winning because the Church has stopped teaching the Truths of the Faith in a clear, uncompromising manner.

A false understanding of what it means to be pastoral has destroyed the Faith in a whole generation of Catholics.

The best illustration of the Church's failure is that interview with Cardinal Dolan when asked about a practicing homosexual athlete. What was the response of a cardinal of the Roman Church.....he looked like a deer in headlights who had no backbone and said "Bravo". Would Fulton Sheen have ever said that? Would any ordinary pre Vatican II priest ever say such a thing? No of course not.

Until the Church stops this nonsense the pews will get more and more empty. But then again one has to wonder if that isn't the plan. Why would the Church continue on a path of self destruction for 50 years if it wasn't intentional? Chaos and confusion reigns. For proof just look at not one , not two, but three, and counting outrages interviews given by this pope. And also by those who should know better defending the indefensible actions of a prelate out of a misguided and unCatholic belief that he is some kind of oracle with a direct line to the Holy Spirit. The Church's position which is of course that of Christ is losing the fight in society because those entrusted with teaching authority have abandoned their responsibility.

Anonymous said...

"The Church's position which is of course that of Christ is losing the fight in society because those entrusted with teaching authority have abandoned their responsibility."

A question is, whether they have abandoned their responsibility because they have lost their faith.

I recall a priest who had spent much time in and around the Curia in the Vatican speculating that only about 40% of the cardinals retain personal faith in the basic tenets of Catholicism.

Flavius Hesychius said...

I'd be willing to bet the person who wrote this is around my age and a product of the public school system.

For example, "Secularists know that everyone deserves dignity and respect without exception, simply by virtue of being human. This is the core of secular morality and our greatest hope for the future." is laughably stupid. Even as an atheist I found this line of thinking extremely idiotic for more than one reason.

Anonymous said...

Google this:
Religion becoming obsolete? It could happen.

Marc said...

The secularism of modern America is pseudo-intellectual nonsense where a bunch of people with college degrees who happened to take a philosophy course and a history course feel like they are enlightened enough to opine on such great topics as MORALITY and HUMANITY.

It's just another example of the hubris that comes along with a slight amount of education and reading (of secondary sources no doubt) usually coupled with very little independent or critical thinking.

The great secular thinkers of the 20th Century, or at least the ones I consider to be great, had an esteem for religion rivaling its own adherents. They recognized the contributions of religion in developing the civilization that allowed them to do nothing other than think, instead of, like, finding food and not getting killed by another person or nature.

This sort of non-critical acceptance learned through higher education presents as secularism (such as it is) and scientism. And it proves that a little education is a dangerous thing...

Gene said...

Mr. Rice is clearly a moron.

Anonymous said...

Whether or not someone chooses to be 'gay' (i.e. to experience same sex attraction) it doesn't follow as the editorialist (and many like her) claims that they can't help but commit sodomy.

The very presence of the 'closet' proves that they can in fact control their behavior. It's sodomy, a physical act that is intrinsically evil, towards which the attraction is a disorder.

But if we accept the sexual revolutions claim that ANY sexual behavior is just as good and healthy as any other, then it would certainly follow that any attraction would be good and thus any discrimination would be bad.

But that core assertion has not been proven and indeed, all the evidence points to some behaviors being intrinsically harmful to people regardless of their subjective states.

JBS said...


Quite right. The new secular morality concerns nothing more than self-esteem and animal rights. That's all. In a few years, the only remaining secular sins will be hurting someone's feelings and not letting your dog lick your face. In the past, even offensive fellows like Marx and Nietzsche at least gave one something to think about.

JBS said...


Well said. Homosexuality, which serves no useful purpose, should be treated as a sort of "fetish". Those who suffer it's temptations should keep it between themselves and their confessors (or psychologists), as should be the case with all fetishes.

Marc said...

JBS, I certainly had in mind people like Nietzsche and Marx when writing my comment (admittedly, more Nietzsche than Marx). I think of Albert Camus when considering the great atheist writers of the 20th Century. They were reacting, in a sense, to Nietzsche with a sense of fear about the consequences of atheism and trying to explain how to avoid the logical consequence of atheism--nihilism--while setting up an atheistic basis for morality, which they seemed to recognize came naturally from religion in some way. These sorts of thinkers were clearly saddened by the idea that there was no God, but they were forced to recognize what they saw as an objective fact. So, they almost lament there being no God.

On the other hand, the pseudo-intellectual masses of our day rejoice at their "realization" that there is no God. In fact, they are reacting against a very limited understanding of some forms of Western Christianity (and perhaps a caricature of Islam). So, they are militantly anti-those forms of religion that they see as "God." And they've all been led to believe they are the first to come up with these ideas.

In the absence of an actual God or at least an intellectual defense and consideration of atheism or metaphysics in general, they have constructed "causes" like the ones you point out. Even assuming atheism is a correct position, there can be no doubt that people are "hard-wired" in some sense to tend toward religion or contemplation of "greater things" especially, as I said, when they are not completely consumed by doing those things directly necessary for survival.

So people have created their various causes and projects to fill that void. They are indoctrinated with these things through media and education structures. From an existentialist perspective, I suppose that's one way to approach the problem of living a meaningless existence. I guess I would understand the causes better if I thought people were legitimately interested, but I have a feeling that people of my generation (I'm now 31) become involved in these things because it's "hip." For whatever reason, they still feel like they are fighting "the system" even though it is "the system" that led them to fight for these silly causes in the first place.

John said...

Modernity supports us in satisfying any of our desires as long as the satisfaction involves consenting adults.
The new standard is: Do not be judgmental!
Until Benedict XVI resigned we seemed to have moral standards but they are impossible to defend today. Now, every one knows the Pope said 'Who am I to judge?'. I know his remark is being taken out of context, however with all the rest of the loose talk since the context is irrelevant.
The Holy Father also said many good things in since his election. To the secular word the good things means nothing. The only way he can correct the inestimable damage his remarks have done already is to resign and apologize.
I am afraid he is not going to do it, humility test time is here.

There have always been bad teachers teaching error. Until recently though we could ask what does Rome (Pope) hold on any disputed subject and be assured to get a satisfactory answer. This system operated pretty well until Pope Francis came on the scene to "make a mess" and stir things up.

Since "Who am I to judge"

Anonymous 2 said...

I tend to agree with Flavius. The piece in the Augusta Chronicle is very superficial. Unfortunately, the author has a selective memory himself.

First, regarding the Constitution:

(a) Many of the Framers of the Constitution were traditional Christians; and the views of even so called “deists” were much more complex and nuanced than the usual sophomoric characterizations of their views suggests;

(b) It is true the First Amendment prohibits the “establishment of religion” but the prohibition only applies to laws passed by Congress. It says nothing about established churches in the states, some of which indeed retained such established churches for decades. So, if by “forming a government” the author is referring to the entire scheme of the Constitution, including its federalism, he is incorrect. If he means only the federal government, his account is incomplete and misleading;

(c) Even at the federal level, there is an important distinction between prohibiting the establishment of a church and banishing religious discourse from the public square. Even if one thinks the latter is a good idea (which I do not), it is difficult to maintain it was the Founders’ idea.

For a more complete analysis of the historical errors regarding this first point, see the following:

Second, the author is correct about the historical misuses and abuses of religion. But he fails to mention all the good that has come from religion. In this, he falls into the error made by vehement opponents of religion like Richard Dawkins. For just the Catholic Church alone, see Thomas Woods, “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization,” which others have mentioned on the Blog before:

Third, the author says that “Secularists know that everyone deserves dignity and respect without exception, simply by virtue of being human.” Well, they may “know” this but they have much more difficulty finding a convincing justification for their belief and working out what it means in practice. There are fundamental disagreements among post-Enlightenment secular moral philosophies regarding both the justification and the content of their moral norms. For example, Nozick and Rawls are both Kantians but could not be more different in their prescriptions. There are also different camps within utilitarianism (whether of the Benthamite “greatest happiness” or Posnerian “wealth maximization/preference satisfaction” stripe), and being able to operate the calculus convincingly is often an issue too. This fragmentation is central to Alasdair MacIntyre’s seminal demolition job on Enlightenment morality in “After Virtue.”:

Of course, this does not mean that secularists will find faith based moralities any more convincing than they find each other’s secular moralities convincing or any more than people of faith find secular moralities convincing. Some of us hope, however, that serious dialogue at a fundamental level may yield some progress sin overcoming these divisions and a greater understanding of the Truth.

JBS said...


To be honest, I never really developed any sort of appreciation for 20th century philosophy. It always struck me as the domain of restless middle-class undergraduates. But you can sink your teeth into 19th century philosophy. All that said, anything beats the saccharine nonsense we're given so far in this silly century.

Anonymous said...

Marc, it's worse than that. Most people are "low information" but "high emotion"... the coin of our social pop culture is outrage. Being outraged means you don't need an argument to justify your demands. It's enough to have a demand (and want it right now!).

Most are incapable of actually forming an argument as to why they have a right for anything much less whatever is hip today. So it's all a mish mash of slogans and sound bytes. If you show beyond all doubt their contradictions, they just go ad hominem and thus ratchet up the outrage.

I believe this phenomenon is what's just beyond our consciousness, it's the inchoate sense that people are less and less reasonable but more and more passionate that's at the core of the horror and yet fascination with 'zombies' - those overwhelming hordes of ravenous "other people" with whom one cannot negotiate and who pose an immediate and deadly threat to one's life.

It seems the icon of our age. Thus to beg to differ on the equal health benefits between heterosexual intercourse and sodomy, is to declare people with SSA have "no human rights". To opine that there's a difference between feeling gay and acting on the urge is to "want them lonely and doomed". And of course to want that is to be homicidally 'hateful', which justifies the reverse homicidal rage in 'return'.

It's the darkening of the intellect that St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle warned us happens when people give in to vice.

This phenomenon might also explain the common man's 'spider senses' tingling in 2008 that led to the largest peace time civilian arms race in world history. People know something is 'off' about society, they feel vulnerable from rather than safety in the state and other institutions including the Church. They feel exposed and at risk. So they're reaching for immediate 'guarantees' of their physical safety.

We live in the calm before the storm. These are the good old days.

Anonymous 2 said...

Regarding the “purpose” of Catholic morality and the issue of the “culture wars,” the Church may indeed have to accommodate itself to certain social “realities” such as the existence of legally recognized homosexual marriages or the non-criminalization of abortion, which means pragmatically that it can only “enforce” its moral norms against Catholics. However, this does not mean, nor should it mean, that the Church should cease speaking out in the name of what it believes to be the Truth. And the Church and Catholics should not let themselves be silenced in the public square by media bullying. At the same time, the Church and Catholics should also not act as bullies. Respectful and civil dialogue in the public square should be the goal.

Anonymous 2 said...


Thank you for another interesting post.

“It's the darkening of the intellect that St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle warned us happens when people give in to vice.”

You seem to conclude on a rather dark note yourself. More optimistically and constructively, what can be done?

Anonymous said...

Marc said: "So people have created their various causes and projects to fill that void."
I agree with your take on the current situation, especially among younger people, and in addition, I have noticed most of these "causes and projects," have a very short term (almost immediate) perspective. It is "solving a problem for right now" without considering how the solution might actually play out. Laws are being changed to accommodate the latest cause, but no real thought is given as to how those changes might impact society, let alone civilization. Secular morality is built on the shifting sands of relativism, and hardly anyone notices. Their arguments make sense only in the very short term but I wonder what kind of distopia they are creating. I dread living in the world that is being created by these "secularists".

Flavius Hesychius said...

A2, I'd disagree on one point (unless I'm reading incorrectly what you've written): I'm not sure even "secularists" (as the author wrote) "know" "everyone deserves dignity and respect without exception", because many secularists (including my former self) see a logical dissonance with the notion of an objective equality—especially if both parties agree that all life is the result of a design-less universe and design-less evolution.

You are quite right, however, when you state secularists have a difficult time justifying their belief in the "dignity" humans supposedly possess. Despite believing in a "lawless" universe, rules about how special humans inherently are suddenly came into existence. (Probably around the same time gravity came about, or sometime shortly after. lol...) In fact, if pressed hardly enough, this author would likely admit his own beliefs are as "created" as the religions he supposedly disavows, because, as Marc wrote, the alternative is too uncomfortable to modern Urbanites.

More than likely, this author is a secular humanist, which (at least to my former mode of thinking) makes him less a secularist and more of an adherent to a modern form of paganism which includes in its pantheon Progress (in both scientific and social forms), Sexuality, Material Wealth, and the "Human Spirit".

Gene said...

Remember the Grand Inquisitor? "If there is no God, then all is permitted." We are there, people. Nihilism is the order of the day and it permeates everything from the newscasts to the vapid and insipid network TV shows. It is entering the Church. It is our zeitgeist.
I have said before on this blog, either Christ is who He said He was or, ultimately, there is no meaning to human existence. It is really very simple and all the convolutions and twistings of modern philosophy are laughable…in a gallows humor kind of way.
Marc, your post is quite correct and well-stated.

Flavius Hesychius said...


Did we meet at some point during my atheist years? You've described me to the letter.

Everything you've written I can find no fault with, except that I'd add I'm not certain how long the "causes-as-alternative-to-nihilism" will last. Access to popular technology seems to be eroding any sense of responsibility to anything. Why be worried about society's problems when I can play Angry Birds or Candy Crush for 12 hours a day? Why concern myself with "others" when I can go on Twitter or Facebook?

Marc said...

Flavius, I was an atheist until age 24 or so. I was thinking your posts were also descriptive of my time in that camp!

I agree about causes. I don't think, though, that they have to be important. I take it Candy Crush and the like are about as "good" a cause as many will ever subscribe to, sadly.

George said...

Martin Mosebach:

"A surprising result of the reform is that while the Church of the past, which was really oriented toward the liturgy, appeared to many outside observers as being scandalously lax in moral matters, the current Church appears to contemporaries (and not only to those outside) as unbearably moralistic, unmerciful, and meanly puritanical.'

Appeared scandalously lax in moral matters?

60 years ago and prior, the Church
didn't have to concern itself with abortion and only marginally with artificial contraception which at that time was still illegal. There was no readily available (to even pre-teens) on-line pornography, There wasn't same-sex marriage or the glorification of homosexuality.

I don't know if Mr Martin Mosebach was around back then but the historical record is readily accessible and available for anyone to read.

As for the "current Church appearing to contemporaries (and not only to those outside) as unbearably moralistic, unmerciful, and meanly puritanical.' "


George said...

It is our zeitgeist.

And for some (certainly for the enemies of the Church and what she stands for) it is schadenfreude.

Pater Ignotus said...

I'm not sure that it is accurate to say that, "...the reason for Catholic morality, or at least the most important reason, was to enable us to receive Holy Communion."

In his work "The Way of the Lord Jesus Christ," Dr. Germaine Grisez offered this criticism of both old and new schools of Catholic moral theology: "But the new [moral theology] remains as legalistic as the old [moral theology]. It provides no account in Christian terms of why one should seek human fulfillment in this life, what the specifically Christian way of life is, and how living as a Christian in this life is intrinsically related to fulfillment in everlasting life."

One of the things Grisez was attempting to do was to establish in his moral theology the connection between this life and the life to come. This does have a significant eschatological flavor.

A little further on he makes his more explicit: "Such a treatise [on moral theology] needs to explain how human goods determine Christian moral norms. It should show why a life in accord with Christian norms is, in this fallen world, the only life which is really humanly good. Moreover, the contribution of human goods and acts to heavenly fulfillment in the Lord Jesus must be explained."

Grisez spends a fair amount of time on the human goods we enjoy in this life, departing from Augustine's view that, "... nothing one does in this life contributes directly to human fulfillment; the only human fulfillment is in enjoyment of God in heaven."

Living according to Catholic moral teaching offers us what was read from Isaiah this morning: "The way of the just is smooth; the path of the just you make level." When we act in justice toward ourselves and others, which is another way of saying "when we live moral lives," then we find in this life AND the next the blessing of God.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

We can insult the secularists such as Alex but there are scores of well meaning Catholics many of them academics who would agree with him. Without insulting anyone how do we challenge the secularists to better critical thinking?

Marc said...

Well, Father, first of all, I don't see much insulting going on in this thread. I think most of us have provided the sort of retort that might lead to a meaningful dialogue and to critical thinking from the target secularist.

Second, in such a dialogue, we have to demonstrate that their arguments are aimed at a straw man version of Christianity.

The sad truth is that education these days fails to include very important aspects of history and logic. So, most conversations with secularists devolve into hyperbole pretty quickly because one or both sides runs out of their standard talking points.

I'm sure we've all had conversations wherein a secularist provides a litany of the Church's sins through the ages in an effort to demonstrate its backwardness and anti-scientific history. One simply can't argue with such a person who has a fundamental lack of knowledge about the foundations of western civilization itself.

I happen to think this is a job for the laity. Secularists need to see us in the world being "normal" (as in not the stereotypical crazy Evangelical legalist) but sticking to our beliefs and being willing and able to defend them with reasoned arguments.

George said...


" fascination with 'zombies' - those overwhelming hordes of ravenous "other people"

Zombies are the "walking dead This is so symbolic and emblematic of our age. So many are dead to God and right behavior. In modern cinema the zombie has a liking for human flesh. Isn't this interesting coupled with the fascination of some of the young today with "vampires" who seek human blood. We can with contrast this the desire of Catholics to consume flesh and blood, not of other humans but rather the Body of Blood of Christ.

Gene said...

I'll go with Augustine. When you start talking about "human good contributing to fulfillment in eternal life" you are on dangerous ground.

George said...

Once, Prussian forces were on the outskirts of the town where the convent was staying in was located (Nevers), preparing to capture it. A French official having heard about Bernadette, came into the convent and asked if she had any messages from God or advice for him. She told him no. He asked her "Aren't you scared?". Bernadette replied, "The only thing that scares me is BAD CATHOLICS." (Bernadette's life was well-chronicled by those who resided in then convent with her).

George said...


Once, Prussian forces were on the outskirts of the town where the convent Bernadette was staying in was located (Nevers), preparing to capture it. A French officer having heard about Bernadette, came into the convent and asked if she had any messages from God or advice for him. She told him no. He asked her "Aren't you scared?". Bernadette replied, "The only thing that scares me is BAD CATHOLICS." (Bernadette's life was well-chronicled by those who resided in then convent with her).

Anonymous said...

Notice all of George's quotation marks. It's the real deal.

Anonymous 2 said...

Father McDonald:

You ask “Without insulting anyone how do we challenge the secularists to better critical thinking?”

I have a practical suggestion about this. I have been waiting for an opportunity to offer it and this seems like the time. You may recall, because I have mentioned it before on the Blog, that in 2011 the Mercer Law Review held a Symposium on “Citizenship and Civility in a Divided Democracy: Political, Religious, and Legal Concerns.”

One of my Mercer colleagues, Jack Sammons, who is a devout Episcopalian and one of the finest human beings I know, wrote “Concluding Reflections: Recovering the Political: The Problem with Our Political Conversations.” I think it is a wonderfully thoughtful and eloquent piece that may offer a real way forward and I would like to commend it to everyone. Here is a link:

If Jack’s style and thought processes seem a little unfamiliar at first, my suggestion is to open up to the piece and see what happens. Here is Jack’s central prescription, which can only be fully comprehended, however, by reading the whole:

How can we recover a politics that, at least to some measure, thinks beyond itself, which is to say . . . how do we recover a politics that thinks? How can we, that is, recover a political conversation with the humility of knowing that it too, like the religious and the legal conversations is, at least to some measure, apophatic?

I think we can do this, as is often the case, by doing that which we least want to do: talk more. We need to talk, face-to-face, with those we oppose; talk about political matters far more serious than what level of taxation is optimal, or how to deliver health care, or more serious than abortions, gay rights, immigration, race, or what to do about various other social inequalities. Pick the issue you care most about right now, ask why anyone, you included, should care about it at all aside from self-interest; take your most thoughtful answer to that question and ask why anyone, you included again, should care about the value(s) upon which it rests; take your most thoughtful answer to that question and ask what the words you just used to describe these value(s) mean, where they come from, and why and how they prompt your caring. Now offer this thought in as persuasive and as personal a manner as you can in a face- to-face political conversation with someone with whom you typically disagree, someone about whom you might now say you do not understand how he could hold the views he does. It sounds hopeless, I know, but please let go of this sense of hopelessness for just a few more pages before rejecting the suggestion.


Anonymous 2 said...

And here is a brief summary of Jack’s paper from the Symposium Introduction (for the whole Introduction, describing the Symposium and summarizing all the papers, see

If Constable and Smith have taken us to the heart of all three conversations in their consideration of the use of language itself, Sammons takes us to their soul. For Sammons, all three conversations in their essence are about our identity, about “who we are,” however different the “imagined community” or “polity” of each may be. The problem with our politics is that politics, unlike religion and law, has for various reasons (including those mentioned by Garver) forgotten this elementary fact. Incivility is a symptom of this forgetting and of the resulting flight into inauthentic identities that are “false and incomplete.” The solution, then, is for us to talk with each other about political matters that are truly “serious” in that they take us to the place where, as can still happen in the case of religion and law, the conversation will point beyond itself to the “ordinary mystery and silence that surrounds us,” the “mysteriousness of our being” which “is not us, but defines us.” By engaging in such “serious” conversations (for which Sammons offers a concrete procedure) in which we trust, and listen for, what this mystery might reveal, we will recover the art of rhetoric, discover more of the truth about ourselves leading to a more authentic identity, and thus find our way to an honest and genuine civility.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous2, I ended my zombie comment on a dark note because the times are dark. Now is the time for the theological virtue of hope (which is not optimism).

When vast numbers of our fellow countrymen lose their virtue and then their faith in God, and then their ability to reason correctly ("right reason") due to the darkening of the intellect (which chiefly is seen in a genuine inability to make basic distinctions), the end result is always some type of warfare.

Because how can the general rule of law endure if men generally have no self-control, no virtue, no habitual discipline of mind and passions? Indeed, from the highest authorities to the lowest local government officials we are no longer shocked to hear of scandals. It's now expected that they're all corrupt and on the take somehow. Rare is the bureaucrat (who is a 'ruler' through their arbitrary regulation on the rest of us) who is fired when caught in something that would send us to jail immediately.

War is coming - whether it be a world war or 'just' a conflict between us and someone else, or between ourselves, the fact is, this sort of darkness rarely gets driven out peacefully. It requires nothing short of dynamic holiness, saints and martyrs. People without fear for those who threaten the body but cannot touch the soul.

In Poland the awakening did come perilously close to open war after martial law was imposed. But thanks to genuine saints and martyrs the sword was lifted and the USSR fell.

Across Latin and South America the peoples groan and low grade conflict smolders. Africa and the Middle east are on fire. People are dying for admitting to be Catholic. Most Catholics on earth are 3rd world, poor, and second class citizens. We are the anomaly. To whom much is given, much is expected.

So what can be done? Pray. Fast. Go to Mass as much as you can. Devotions to the Divine Mercy. Make reparations for those who live in darkness.

Network and make as many friends as you can with as many people as you can both Catholic and non. Be light and salt and leaven for them.

We decry what big institutions or big parishes do or fail to do. Yes, it's well and good, but we must be about our own business. Much of the struggle depends not on what Pater or Fr. McDonald do or fail to do, but on what we do.

You or I may be one of the "10 just men" for whose sake the Lord spares the city from certain ruin.

So Job 1 is: keep the faith.

Gene said...

Another way to preserve peace, leaving theology aside and speaking practically, is to make your nation so powerful and so militarily prepared and with such a huge military presence in the world that no one would dare attack you or anyone you support. Then, all the Priests and nuns and good Catholics can pray for peace without worrying about being slaughtered by savages and tyrants. Hey, it works…

"If a large dragon moves into the neighborhood, people will just naturally give him a wide berth." Sun Tzsu

Anonymous said...

Oh Gene, you're being practical!

Well, fine. If you want details as to what to do...

Prepare for nuclear war. Seriously. What would a middle class guy need to do (obviously over several years as few of us have the disposable income right now) to prepare to ride out a nuclear war so as to mitigate most harm to kith and kin?

It's really pretty basic stuff surprisingly.

1) shelter, food, water, security, morale, communications, community.

2) fall out shelter (a place to hang out for 4 weeks) including food, water, etc.

3) security - take your pick
4) morale - how to keep sane and holy while in a small confined bunker for 4 weeks without internet
5) communications: ham radio is cheaper than ever to get into - the cheapest sets are $40. Get two hand sets and start working. Instant 'off grid' comms.

6) community. If you were literally prepared to hunker for 4 weeks straight without resupply, you'd be better off than 98% of your neighbors, so think of immediate neighbors and friends who would join you and advise them on what to bring (or prepare accordingly).

Get all this 'stuff' done and you're basically prepared about as much as anyone can be. Only other thing might be passports, a small ocean going yacht or friends/family agreements to relocate to far off rural farms at a moment's notice.

All in all a nuclear war is much easier to plan for than general social depression or worse, socialist rule with a hot pogrom against Christians. if that happens no bunker will save us. If we're treated to the typical anti-Catholic repression like in China, then the only preparation is to be holy and at peace with God. He'll give you detailed instructions on the rest.

But take this to heart - many of our Vietnamese Catholics ended up fleeing with nothing but the shirts on their backs in open boats. If that's our fate having foreign friends and family would be priceless.

Gene said...

Anonymous, A real nuclear war with modern nukes would be unsurvivable by the great majority of the world's population, unless everybody was nice and used low yield weapons…they would not be. But, a powerful nation such as I am describing is also a deterrent to nuclear war. The world was actually better off when the US and Russia were in the Cold War under Reagan and Gorbacev. The Russians are nominally Western and civilized and share many of our values and Christian beliefs. With two super powers like that running the show, things are more stable. Reagan and Gorby should have sat down together in some secret, smoke filled room and divided up the Middle East…just conquered them, subdued them, and taken the damned oil. We'd all be better off and gas would be cheap again.

George said...

In my post above to Anonymous referring to zombies, I ended it with "Body of Blood of Christ."
Of course I meant to type "Body AND Blood of Christ." Instead of just spell check, I need "grammar check"
or "typing check." Even better: "re-check."

Gene said...

BTW, isn't "secular morality" some kind of oxymoron.