The Catholic Thing
Awakening America Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 08 October 2012

The Knights of Columbus is a group familiar to most readers of The Catholic Thing. I suppose there’s no Catholic organization more well known throughout the world, and this has been true for a century.

But more recently, under the leadership of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, the organization has become more than a visible charity; it’s a leading voice in the public square, especially in debates about religious liberty and the threats thereto.

I’m sure Mr. Anderson’s predecessors – most recently Virgil C. Dechant and John W. McDevitt – were superb leaders. Yet I don’t recall (I’m not a Knight) ever having seen or heard of either man, whereas in our current national discussion about the collisions of faith and culture and politics, Carl Anderson is, as they say, a key player.

We’ve had occasion here to review two of his recent books, Beyond a House Divided and Our Lady of Guadalupe (with Fr. Eduardo Chavez), and now comes a new and quite pointedly political Kindle e-book (available for download tomorrow at $2.99): Proclaim Liberty: Notes on the Next Great Awakening in America. As his subtitle suggests, Mr. Anderson finds reasons for sober optimism in a time of lurid cynicism.

Mr. Anderson’s argument is rock-solid: America is founded on the belief that our most fundamental rights come from God, not from government, but this premise is not currently in vogue in Washington, where the dominant view reflects the so-called Cuomo Doctrine: tolerant of immorality, although allegedly opposed to it – a line of attack on Catholic teaching frequently reinforced by many “Catholic” politicians. No need to name names or cite issues here.

Yet research has convinced Mr. Anderson that most Americans actually embrace the substance of Catholic social teaching, and, less convincingly in my view, that we have a chance to cool the fevered public debate through civility, charity, commitment, and cooperation.

Now, in a sense I agree: we would make more political progress and, perhaps, achieve a more Catholic resolution on social issues were the polity persuaded of the primacy of Christian virtue – of love especially. But that’s post hoc ergo propter hoc. And as Mr. Anderson himself observes, lots of Catholics (and many others) have come to “regard the ‘Cuomo Doctrine’ as a kind of truce in the culture wars.”

Mr. Anderson takes the long view, rather in the spirit of Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “there is absolutely no inevitability, so long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening” – and change it. But given how entrenched both sides are on life issues, willingness truly seems far off if not farfetched. Voters vote narrow self-interest, to which politicians pander.

I suppose change will begin only when a leader emerges who embodies what Mr. Anderson advocates. In fact, I wish Carl Anderson would run for president.

             Carl Anderson

In the meantime, our politics is about power, not principle.

Forgive me for quoting the familiar passage from Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons in which Thomas More disputes the assertion of his future son-in-law, Will Roper, that the devil is loose in England and every law should be felled to stop him. Roper hates injustice. But More, the future martyr and saint, will have none of that:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down . . . do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

I think of this whenever somebody justifies the current administration’s refusal to enforce a law or see demonstrated its willingness to bypass Congress in pursuit of its own notions about justice. And make no mistake: every regime, democratic or totalitarian, believes it seeks justice. There are fundamental differences, of course, but whether a ruling elite murders its opponents or offers them due process, the elite always believes it’s acting for the best; for the long-term good of the people.

One of the reasons for political hostility in America is the utilitarian willingness of “both sides” to seek specific ends without regard to moral or legal means: warrantless wiretaps; immigration policy via fiat. What neither side seems willing to recognize is how this extra-legal embrace of government power (and the ever-growing legal expansion too) cuts both ways. Power inevitably passes from one party to the other, which is to say, if you are a Democrat, you’ve ginned up broad-ranging Federal authority only to put it into the hands of Republicans. And vice versa.

Are we really so myopic as to believe our “enemies” will never regain power? Has the pendulum stopped?

In the immoral pursuit of moral imperatives, both sides have forged powerful weapons that in the hands of enemies are turned against them.

Carl Anderson is a fan of A Man for All Seasons and an admirer of St. Thomas More, and in the end he recommends a More-like restraint in the public square. More disagreed with but did not dispute Henry VIII’s secular authority and died, “His Majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Were American Catholics to restrain from voting, which – pace the USCCB – Anderson suggests is a legitimate means of peaceful protest when both candidates positions are morally deficient, would we really be imitating More’s example? Anderson asks: What “candidate or political party could withstand the loss of millions of Catholic voters?”

Good question, but I fear the answer.

I hope Carl Anderson’s sanguinity prevails and my gloominess collapses. It might if he’d run for president.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His book, The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (19)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, October 07, 2012
Mr Miner,
I join you in your admiration for Mr Anderson.
There truly is so much at stake this november.I truly
hope people relize what is at stake,I heard one expert
say FOUR MILLION will imediatly loose there Health ins.!
How ironic when the bill is suppose to "Promote" health
care.America has so much at stake.
I am "optomistic" people will see what is at stake,
but the MILLIONS of dollars spent to change the narritive
has made a dent in the wrong direction.
Deeep prayer for "Our nation" is needed and I for one
shall pray,I hope we all do.
Thanks for a great read!
written by ib, October 08, 2012
Thanks, Brad for a timely book review! "A Man for All Seasons" is one of my favorite films.

As George Neumayr has recently pointed out, polls show that most Roman Catholics are in the tank for Obama: "As CNN reports, 'Obama leads opponent Mitt Romney among Catholic voters by 54% to 39%, according to the survey, conducted from September 12 to 16 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.'"

Neumayr, as is his wont, blames the Bishops. While that's partly true, since "the bishops have sent plenty of mixed signals to Catholics about the race," it's not the whole story. Roman Catholic adults bear the primary responsibility for their own spiritual welfare, and they cannot shift the responsibility to anyone else, even their local ordinary. A feckless ordinary does not excuse me from forming my conscience according to RC teaching.

So who is to blame that the most anti-Catholic president in the history of the U.S. is benefiting from the widespread support of the herd of American Roman Catholics? The wastrel Roman Catholics who are supporting the current president and his anti-Catholic policies, that's who's primarily to blame!
written by Thomas C. Coleman< Jr., October 08, 2012
Dr. Miner: Thanks for the good words about the KofC and Supsrerme Knight Anderson. I sincerely hope that you will consider becoming a Knight of Columbus, becuase we need all of the serious, knowledgable, and orthodx memebers we can get. As you probably know, the requirements for memebership are merely that one be a man who is at least eighteen and a "practical Catholic as understood by the Church." (Yes, we use the archaic and unclear word "practical" intsead of "practcing.") The reason why we need more men like you is that we end up with men who, for reasons that I am sure you can fathom, do not even know WHAT the Church understands to be the practice of the Faith. We need more brothers who are not afraid to confront the schismatics and heretics. Our fraternal order does many wonderful things, and the Supreme Knight Anderson is great things, but when I encounter members who support the non-negotiables I know that we need more brothers who will tell the ill-informed what a practicing Catholic really is.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 08, 2012
I would guess that a relevant question for Catholics to ask themselves is which party comes closer to the belief that our human rights are given to us by God and not by the government. Since, when God is removed as the source of our natural rights, man is left to define righs in his own fashion and morality is relative - which is to say non-existent. In the absence of God as the source of our rights and an absence of objective morality, then power is all that remains.

To repeat: which party comes closer to a belief that our natyral rights are given to us by God and not by the government or powerful elites?
written by Other Joe, October 08, 2012
The answer to the question posed is that the Democratic Party would flourish if the Catholics did not vote. The average Democrat believes in one party rule. Commentators, spokesmen, writers and pronouncers (even characters in "comedy" shows) mock, belittle and hold to be illegitimate members of the Republican party and their thoughts (ideas). The key members of the Democratic Party cobbled together a phony political majority by bribes, intimidation and bluster to take over the health care industry against the obvious wishes of the majority of the people. It was the most partisan act of major legislation in the country's history. Catholics staying home from the poles would enable more of the same. To quote one of the perpetrators "We won". In a fallen world, we have to fight the good fight. In a fallen world, we don't usually win.
written by Grump, October 08, 2012
I might vote for Anderson but neither Obama nor Romney is getting my vote. I think I'll write in Thomas More. We have lots of choices for toothpaste and dog food but when it comes to political parties we only get two and there is no substantial difference.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner is prosecuting four wars that we know of, bombing civilians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, while the Rich Guy is vowing not to cut a dime from the military budget and enthusiastically promoting new wars in Syria and Iran.

America is supposed to be a democracy of sorts, but where is the proportional representation? In Germany, for example, if a party wins at least 5% of the votes it gets a proportional number of seats in parliament. In America's winner-take-all system, the "losing" voters are totally disenfranchised. Who speaks for them?

$2 billion pocketed by Obama and Romney so far, proving the modern "golden rule" -- he who has the gold rules. What a corrupt nation we have become. As Will Rogers once said, "A fool and his money are soon elected."
written by Manfred, October 08, 2012
The Knights were formed in the 1880s in New Haven by Fr. McGivney, a parish priest who was tired of burying Catholic workingmen who died leaving their widows and children destitute. In order to join the Knights the member had to buy life insurance on himself. Now Mr. Anderson feels the need to help fill the need for an adult Catholic voice in this election. He is joining other Catholic LAYMEN who are being forced into leadership roles in the Church because of the feckless,incompetent bunglers with their miters and croziers who have failed, and continue to fail, miserbly in serving the Church. They refused to EXCOMMUNICATE errant Catholics, many of whom are working for Obama's reelection and pushing for abortion and aberrosexual marriage. Both of these evils are NON-NEGOTIABLE! (Do you know that Cdl Burke of the Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, had ordered that Ted Kennedy not be given a Catholic funeral because of his pro-abortion and pro-SS marriage positions?) A three week synod has just begun in Rome to ask where have all the Catholics gone? They have all left the Titanic. "If the trumpet sounds an uncertain sound, who prepares for war?"
written by Jacob R, October 08, 2012
Yes, but St. Thomas paid the price.

He didn't manage to only have an opinion when it wouldn't get him in trouble. He lost his livelihood and his life for his beliefs (he reminds me of Socrates I just realized, the Catholic Socrates, Socrates if he had been born after Christ came).

These modern people we're talking about on the other hand would sell Christ for thirty pieces of silver if it meant they wouldn't miss out on any opportunities for social advancement in the secular world.
written by Athanasius, October 08, 2012
To Grump: I understand your frustration at the two party system, but be careful what you wish for, it just might come true. The reason for our two-party system is the electoral college, which is often misunderstood and thus often criticized. But it is actually a remarkable invention of the Founders, and it really does work in practice to moderate legislation and dampen extremism. An excellent resource for more information is "Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College" by Tara Ross.

If you look at other countries that really do have the proportional representation you speak of, you will not like what you see. In practice, this gives disproportionate strength to the radical fringe views. Look no further than most of Europe. The electoral college forces candidates more to the middle. And I believe a good reading of St. Thomas Aquinas would direct Catholics to the middle. He said each virtue has two vices, one tending more to the deficit of the virtue, and one tending more to the excess.

If neither party is supporting a good Catholic view, it is because that is what our citizenry wants. The real solution is not to change our moderating system, which has worked well for over 200 years, but to change the hearts of the citizenry. Carl Anderson has done a great job towards this end with his many fine books, as have many others.

We can support their efforts by being informed ourselves and telling our family and friends about the truth. I am always pleased when I wear a Christian t-shirt to an amusement park to see how many people quietly tell me they like my shirt. This is a quiet witness, but it does have a "mustard seed" type of impact by letting these people know they are not alone.

When we change hearts, we will change laws.
written by Jacob R, October 08, 2012
Catholicism in this country is absolutely and utterly dead.
Though we're busy with our favorite secular affairs and not too concerned about it, we're actually not so much praying to Christ to forgive the discretions of a wayward disciple as we are begging him to resurrect Lazarus.

There aren't many people left going and those who do see it more as a part of their cultural memorabilia, or akin to a state sticker on their RV's American flag decal (it's somewhere they've been).

The idea of Christ being one's center and doing what the bible commanded: evangelizing, is nonexistent.
That would be offensive to American "Catholics", who would be forced to skip their favorite secular events if they had to deal with talking to people about, YAWN!, Church stuffff!!
written by Grump, October 08, 2012
@Athanasius. Gore actually got 500,000 more popular votes than Bush and had an honest recount been conducted in Florida...well never mind. As Scalia said, "get over it."

You blithely discount "radical fringe views," but America needs more dissenting voices from all sides of the political spectrum it if it is to live up to the Founders' view that this is a government of "We the People" where everyone can participate in the so-called democratic process lest one feels his/her vote for a "fringe" candidate is meaningless.
written by Mack Hall, October 08, 2012
The Electoral College also mitigates the oppression of rural areas by population centers. In the UK, the axis of Birmingham / Manchester / London controls the nation, and rural folk suffer because of it.
written by Dave, October 08, 2012
An excellent article and an excellent exchange! I'm not so sure however that most Americans embrace the substance of Catholic social teaching; if they do, the substance they are embracing is insufficient, for broadly speaking, Americans dislike abortion but it happens anyway, a lot; intrinsically evil things like artificial contraception, sterilization, artificial insemination, and, increasingly, "euthanasia," are accepted as matter-of-course things; and the national debt has reached alarming levels in part -- perhaps in large part -- because people don't want to see the bennies and entitlements cut back and in part because it is just so much easier to pay the taxes and complain about inefficiencies and inequities in the social welfare delivery system than it is to love one's brother as oneself. The life issues are paramount. Where life is not protected -- and where marriage is not privileged and protected -- all else falls to the wayside. As John Paul II reminded us in Evangelium Vitae, the life issues are the first principles of social justice; without defense of the innocent, the whole thing becomes a canard, and the entire political discourse embitters and diminishes those who engage in it.

@Grump: maybe you're right, maybe you're not. A lot of people who live in both NY and FL voted in NY and FL, and they still couldn't, um, win the election. Mr. Miner's points on power and utility speak to that issue far more eloquently than can I -- especially as I have turned a new leaf and am keeping to two paragraphs!
written by tz, October 08, 2012
Amen. But the first principle is Subsidiarity. Right now the federal government controls everything, and the argument is about who rides leviathan, not about slaying it. Pelosi is criticized for saying we needed to pass the Affordable Care Act to find out what's in it, but even fewer read the PATRIOT act. Every liberty was abridged since 9/11 but only now do we make a fuss - about paying for contraception. Not airport porno scans or rape-like searches. Not torture. Not indefinite detention. Not assassination - even of citizens and their teenage sons. Not using drones against rescuers or funeral mourners. Not the suspension of Habeas Corpus. Or even that old, stale, abortion holocaust issue, the 9-11 every 18 hours in our border.

Yet apparently "The Man for all Seasons" lost his head over nothing. In the debate today over 'gay marriage' we are told that remarriage after divorce is still between a man and a woman, so Catholics, e.g. businesses or agencies, can recognize such as valid - Luther's position about civility. Henry and Parliament could define marriage and declare whatever legal, as long as it was between a man and woman

Would it not be better to keep our pearls instead of giving sacraments to the government to define? And chop your head off if you dissent from their definition?
written by James G. Bruen, Jr, October 09, 2012

"the feckless,incompetent bunglers with their miters and croziers who have failed, and continue to fail, miserbly in serving the Church. They refused to EXCOMMUNICATE errant Catholics, many of whom are working for Obama's reelection and pushing for abortion and aberrosexual marriage."

Although it's proven difficult to implement, at least it's possible to discipline publicly and adamantly proabortion Knights -- and actually been done at least once. See my ebook Errant Knight: The Scandal of Prochoice Knights, available on Amazon for Kindle.
written by c matt, October 09, 2012
The answer to the question posed is that the Democratic Party would flourish if the Catholics did not vote.

I would disagree- Catholics are a far larger number for the Democrats than they are for the GOP. If Catholics (all Catholics, including nominal ones) did not vote, the GOP would be in a strong position.
written by Lankester, October 09, 2012
Couldn't disagree more vehemently! The KofC under Carl Anderson accepts pro-choice members and snipes at pro-life members who complain about this scandal.
written by WSquared, October 09, 2012
Not so fast, Jacob R. When Christ promised us, "the gates of Hell will not prevail" against His Church, he also means bad Catholics.

Christ is the vine, and the members of the Body of Christ are the branches. Those branches that live in Him will live life in abundance. Those that don't, He cuts off and throws into the eternal fire. For, without Him, we can do nothing.

Now. Note that I did not say that bad Catholics themselves will be thrown into the eternal fire, unless they of course remain unrepentant unto death. It's nothing that simplistic. They, like every single one of us, are always given all the chances they need to turn back to God. They either recognize that they're about to collapse under the pretension of a logically untenable theological and spiritual position and do the right thing, or God will say, "very well, thy will be done."

Rather, I do say that the vine-and-branches thing works in terms of the Sacramental Life regarding every individual Catholic who partakes in it: when we go to Confession and offer up whatever B.S. we've been hoarding, the parts that have become moribund in our lives are cut away from us so as to permit fresh, fruitful growth pleasing to Him. I garden to a limited capacity, so I know how this works. It's a win-win situation for the Church. Furthermore, it allows us to better know Jesus and who (and what) He is more intimately and clearly. In a culture full of counterfeited Jesuses where almost anyone mistaking sentimentality for love can make "WWJD?" mean whatever the heck they want, this will be crucial. What DID Jesus do, *and* what is He doing right here, right now? Any Catholic who believes in the True Presence, and who goes to Confession and prays regularly should be able to answer this question.

We are heading for some rough times, but don't underestimate how that grace can and will work if we let it, and don't underestimate what God will use to make Himself heard and seen. This is not pie-in-the-sky, hippy-dippy optimism (believe me, given that I study history, I can be quite the cynic if I allow myself to get in a rotten mood); rather, we are urged to have hope.
written by Graham Combs, October 10, 2012
When I walked out of law school for the last time I feared for the integrity of the law. As it happens my fears in 1994 were not baseless. But what is an effective public voice in response to the debasement of law and politics? And the contempt for religion? I thought that the K of C's recent and pricey series of ads for civility in political campaigns was wasteful and inevitably futile.

As a baby boomer I have picked through the debris field left in the path of elevated rhetoric and beautiful words. Mr. Anderson's phrase "civilization of love" left me unmoved at best, and wary always. As Catholics we have the Person, His Teachings, and His Sacrifice. Why are we always trying to compete?

We should both resign ourselves to the condition of the world and continue the centuries'-long struggle to ameliorate it. I wonder if Mr. Anderson doesn't confuse the world with the Lifeboat. The irony here is that as we have focussed on nuclear-free nations, equality absolutism, and peace, the Church has so debilitated herself that she is less and less able to help when help is needed. Closed hospitals, abandoned schools, shuttered parishes, the hollowed out family.

I have thought for a long time that too many in the Church do not know what time it is? I hope this isn't the case with the well-intentioned Mr. Anderson.

As it happens, when I entered the Church on Easter Vigil 2009, I chose St. Thomas More as my patron.

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