The Catholic Thing
Lingering Blues Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 04 December 2012

In one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, a character remarks in a breezy way, “Well, tomorrow’s another day.” To which another character responds, “No, I find that tomorrow is usually the same day.” 

Friends, still trying to recover after the shock of the election, remark that the world hasn’t come to an end. True enough, but that bromide does not sweep away the gravity of what is before us, or the depth of the political and moral changes that the election portends. (And for young people in Georgetown a critical part of the world is coming to an end: We gather there at the end of the week for James Schall’s farewell lecture.)

My friend George Marlin, who knows more about the Catholic vote than just about anyone else, pores over the data and concludes that the thing he knows most about, apart from politics in New York and the bond market, has come now to mean less and less. The white Catholic vote among working people has been dropping dramatically, removed by what Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time.”  

Marlin reports that the Cafeteria Catholics voted for Obama at a level of 57-43, mirroring the vote for Romney among the Catholics who regularly go to Mass. The readers of these columns have often despaired over the erosion of the Catholic faithful, and now the so-called Cafeteria Catholics have helped make the country into one large version of the famous lawyer-joke: A lawyer is told that he will be made a success in business and love, if at the end he gives Satan his soul. And the lawyer, drawn but puzzled, asks, “What’s the catch?” 

Catholics are told that Barack Obama is the only national Democrat who has opposed the move even to protect the child who survives an abortion;  that he would impose on Catholic institutions and Catholic businessmen the obligation to fund abortions and contraception for their employees;  that he would install same-sex marriage, with the penalties sure to come for institutions and businessmen who would dare refuse to honor this new “right” inscribed in the law. And a large portion of the Catholic population, hearing these things, remarks, “Yes. . .and what’s the problem?”

A reader recently complained that George Marlin and I assumed that more Catholics would have voted for Romney if the argument over abortion had been made part of the campaign. But George and I are long past that assumption.

         Dark Day by Delos Palmer, 1934 (Stamford Histrical Society)

In the movie Ninotchka, Greta Garbo, playing a faithful Communist apparatchik, remarks approvingly of the purges going on in Stalin’s Russia:  “We will have fewer, but better Russians.” I detect, among many friends, that they would not be averse to a pruning of the tree in the Church, that there may be slightly fewer but better Catholics.

And yet, are we to be shocked – shocked – that in a fallen world the people around us, even Catholics, are not all they should be?  Pope Benedict a while back offered a meditation on the story of St. Andrew, put to death on an X-shaped cross. In the story, Andrew hails the cross as the object given an exalted meaning by Christ: “Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.” Benedict went on to say that “our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the cross of Christ.”

We are deeply disappointed with our fellow citizens and even with Catholic voters, but the task of making the argument to them should be taken up now as a gift, bidding us to the work we are fitted to do. And what else is there but to do it? 

The depression of the election lingers, and several friends say that they still feel it in their bodies. But they know that they must pick themselves up, and if they are not looking into real estate in Malta, they know that the only thing to do is to rejoin the argument in this, their own country – to sound the reasons again for affirming their faith and finding a way to teach anew.

John Kennedy, before he ran for president, used to tell the story of Abraham Davenport, the crusty figure in Connecticut in the days of the Revolution. Davenport was a colonel in the Connecticut State Militia and in his sixties during the crisis with Britain. He was a member of the Connecticut Council of Safety during the Revolution, a body that was said to have powers of life and death at that time.

He was also a member of the legislature. He was in the legislature in Hartford on that day in May, 1780 when the skies darkened, the birds went silent and disappeared, and the fear took hold that the Day of Judgment was at hand. A motion was made to adjourn the House. Davenport would have none it. He sought briskly to dissolve the panic and impart some clear-headedness. He is reported to have said:  “I am against an adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”  

Let the candles be brought; we have work yet to do.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and the Director of the Claremont Center for the Jurisprudence of Natural Law in Washington. D.C. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
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Comments (23)Add Comment
written by Ib, December 04, 2012
Great lawyer joke!

Thank you, Dr. Arkes, for being one of the candles.
written by Just Wondering, December 04, 2012
I think it is still helpful to pinpoint the source of our blues. I mean why would an election's results be as deep as personal despair and stay for so long? Is it because the choice being made really was for a continuation of our civilization or a descent into an unimaginable barbarism? Yes, Professor Arkes we need to try to renew our civilization and I am with you in getting to work but we need to do so with a clear understanding of the point we just passed. With the tyranny of this administration in full view some 60 million citizens voted to return it to power. This is the equivalent of Germany in the late 1930's or even worse because I don't think nearly the same % of German people had the knowledge available to them then as the American people do about Obama.
written by diaperman, December 04, 2012
Yes i wish Catholics voted differently this time too.

But I wish just once we could get a column by Dr. Arkes or George Marlin acknowledging that the GOP needs to do a better job presenting an viable alternative to Obama. Right now, except for the most diehard anti-abortion activists, it's a tough sell!

Running a primary where 80% of the candidates don't sound like kooks would be a start.

And maybe acknowledging that the country was not totally wrong for being very reluctant to return the GOP to power so soon after the Bush fiasco.

If the success of the pro-life movement depends wholly on GOP victories (apparently Arkes thinks it does)...then we need to do all we can to make sure the party is as competitive as it can be.

Failing that, forget about politics and focus on evangelization and changing the culture instead.
written by Thoms C. Coleman, Jr., December 04, 2012
As lovely as that Lincoln line about silent artillery might be, we should not liken the cause of the erosion of not only the Catolic vote but of Catholicity itself to a natural and inevitable process. That erosion was not wrought by time but by the intenional and systematic injection into Catholic life of ideas utterly incompatible with Catholic Truth for the futile purpose of destoring the Bride of Christ. Secularists grabbed ahold of colleges and seminaries and told people that Christianity was about social justice in this life rather than salvation. It told people that there were no moral absolutes except that Catholicism was the source of all evil and must apologize to the world. There simply is no mystery to this. It is a sin agasint hope to say that this cannot be reversed, but we must all recognize that there are rough times ahead. Cdl Dolan says that the Church "did not ask for this fight." Perhaps if other bishops would have followed the lead of courgeous men like Cdl Chaput not only could that fight have been averted but Catholics might have been awakened to what the Church Founded on the Rock of Peter was founded for, namely the salvation of souls.
written by Mark, December 04, 2012
The world didn't end, but it seems likely the U.S. has. We just elected the only U.S. president who's ever had American citizens -- including a 16-year-old boy -- assassinated without due process in violation of the 5th Amendment. Pres. Obama has repeatedly broken his oath of office, and Congress has done nothing, which means they've broken their oaths of office as well.

The country will continue. It'll still be called the United States of America, but those will be just words for a nation no longer operating under the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.
written by Frank, December 04, 2012
My guess and that's all that it is, a guess, is that the Cafeteria Catholics in my church are the ones that leave Saturay Night Mass early right after they receive the Eucharist for two possible reasons. 1) our parish is large and they want to avoid the large traffic jam that results and/or 2) "Okay, I've done my obligation for the week, now I've got to get on to more important things." No I cannot look into anyone's heart but leaving Mass under such circumstances is IMHO, rude to the core.
I humbly submit it is time to snap out of it. I too am not happy about for more years of Obama. We keep being told by the "winning side" that we are to get used to it as elections have consequences. Yes, elections have consequences and turnabout is fair play. It is becoming more likely with each passing day that we are l going to take a major economic hit with the current impasse on taxes. So it's time to fight YES FIGHT back. Here's how I will fight.

1. My Father-In-Law will be out for Christmas. Once he leaves, the cable TV and the bundled Internet service is gone. I can get a cheaper internet service someplace else.
2. I will not shop at unionized grocery stores.
3. Our eating out will no more than once every two most.
4. My wife and I carpool.
5. Vigilance in buying products from companies who support abortion rights and gay marriage. Is there a list out there somewhere on the Internet listing these businesses? If so, I'd be obliged if someone would advise.
6. No more Girls Scout Cookies.
7. No more donations or buying form High Schoolers when they come to my door trying to fund their trip to somewhere.
8. Tighter scrutiny buying at the doorstep.
9. Charitable contributions GONE except at my Parish and if I get one wiff that that Charity has liberal bent to it, NO CONTRIBUTION.

In most of the cases, my cutting out or reducing my spending in the areas above will affect those in entry level positions, a large part of the employee base being teens and young adults who supported and/or voted for Obama. If they are happy with the election outcome, then let them also feel the consequential sting of unemployment and other adversities having voted four more years for a narcissistic sociopath.

I am a lover and not a fighter. I'd rather not fight but this fight has been ongoing since the 60's. The Left has been at war with us and our values. I like many, have stood by too passively misguided in my belief that time, wisdom, and experience would soften our ideological adversaries to some modicum of reason. The children of the 60's (of which I am one) on the Left are now in charge. Time and experience have not persuaded them to seek common ground or as the Prophet Isaiah, "Come let us reason together."

Fight's on...elections DO have consequences!

written by Grump, December 04, 2012
Prof. Arkes,

Would the future be so much different if Romney had won? He virtually agreed with everything Obama said on foreign policy. The differences between the two on the economy were negligible -- mostly fiddling with numbers. And on social issues one must remember that you don't get elected to the most liberal state in the union -- Massachusetts -- by being conservative.

All politics is local. What my town chairman does affects me way more than anything done in Washington. I spoke to him the other day and he said he saved the town $200,000 by deferring some purchases and tightening the budget. He also said it was OK for me to set up a target range in my backyard and if anyone has a problem with my shooting to call him. He's got my vote next April when he runs again.

Now that's something neither Obama nor Romney could do.

written by Ray Hunkins, December 04, 2012
Well done Professor, well done! Let us continue to honor the things that deserve honor (eg.the great teacher, Father Schall) and resist the things that should be resisted (eg.the unconstitutional intrusion on religious freedom) But, in the words of the great Winston Churchill, let us "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Congressional Republicans, are you listening?
written by Stanley Anderson, December 04, 2012
Before virtually every election, I get lax by getting hopeful in the wrong way. I begin to think "oooh, if ONLY we can get THIS election to swing the in the right direction, we can help make sure God's will is carried out." Unfortunately, there is also a hidden thought of "...and if not, God -- and we -- will be in a real pickle. What will he possibly be able to do in that case?"

And then the election comes and goes with virtually every ballot item going in the opposite direction from the way I voted (I live in California and so have extra incentive for depression after every election).

And I begin to realize, yet once again (will I EVER learn, at least well enough to remember it when the next election comes 'round?) that we simply can't live in that state of expectation where we start to think, in perversion of Christ’s words, that because we do not belong to the world, but that Christ has chosen us out of the world — therefore the world LOVES us."

I have to keep reminding myself, even when things look "hopeful" (from a worldly point of view), that we are in a state of siege. We may make isolated forays into enemy territory here and there, but our primary duty is to stand our ground and, as the church in Philadelphia was advised, only hold fast to what we have until Christ comes.

I like to think that I can do that. I would like to think even more that I am capable of doing so in the manner of the apostles in Acts and rejoice that we are considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

Not sure about the latter case, but gonna give it a try at least...
written by Clement Williams, December 04, 2012
A great picker-upper Prof. Arkes. A little bit of history from the Old Testament to put in context of where our country was at its inception and where we are today may be in order. 1 Samuel Chapter 8 lays out clearly the the path we have travelled and warned about by good old Ben Franklin.
written by philfourthirteen, December 04, 2012
If you need some encouragement check out the "Catholic Stuff You Should Know" podcast entitled "Diary of a Boulder Priest". You can tell they're kindred spirits of Chaput.

written by Mack Hall, December 04, 2012
"Let the candles be brought; we have work yet to do."

Thank you.

written by Austin Ruse, December 04, 2012
Great column, Hadley. One of your best...
written by tom, December 04, 2012
I think it's very very dangerous for a religious denomination to attach itself to a political party. This is not what American is all about. It's clear to me that most, if not all, of those lamenting the recent election returns should tread lightly. There are many, many issues, other than abortion rights, that would cause a knowledgeable and discerning citizen to vote for Mr. Obama. Let's remember, if we outlaw abortion, women will seek abortions in the back alleys of this nation and thousands of women will die. Apparently, this is of little import to many of the commenters here.
written by Hadley Arkes, December 04, 2012
Our readers, writing in today, giving resonance to our despair, and yet proclaiming yet again their determination to stand against the currents-- they have actually lifted my spirits. Winston Churchill was once asked, What brought him into politics. “Ambition,” he said. What kept him there? “Anger.” There is a moral passion in anger, and the anger here is directed by a sense of the good to be sought and the evils to be resisted.
I find it curious that some readers hint that, in this short piece, I have understated the crisis before us. I can only say that if anyone thinks I have understated the depravity of the current Administration, or failed to appreciate the change of regime—the change in our way of life—that this Administration seeks to bring about, that person has evidently not been reading me over the last four years. We have never seen an Administration more determined to sweep away every lingering inhibition on the killing of innocent life in the womb. We may not have seen, since the New Deal, a President more willing to evade the discipline of the rule of law by the use of Executive orders quite detached from any authorizing statutes. His contempt for the rule of law may be sustained now by the appointment of judges who share his indifference, and who are determined to use the levers of power themselves to advance the agenda of the Left.
It is not necessary to have any beamish view of the Republican party as we recognize these hard truths. I remarked to friends that, if Romney wins, he will probably start disappointing us within weeks of his election, as he made his first appointments and moves. But even in this imperfect world, the hard fact of the matter is that the Republicans have become, for the moment, the distinctly pro-life party in our politics, just as they have become the party far more supportive of a free economy, far more resistant to rapacious public service unions—and oh yes, the party that supports the institution of marriage. The conservative party has also become the redoubt of serious Christians and Jews. In radical contrast, the liberal party has made clear its hostility to religion, its determination to drive it out of the public arena and make it disreputable even in private life as well. The people who wring their hands over the political choices, complaining of their imperfections, are simply blinding themselves to what should be plain to anyone with eyes to see. The next step is that moral obtuseness of that reader today who tells us that we must treat as a matter of little consequence the killing of 1.2 million infants in the womb lest that endanger the lives of those few hundred women, at most, who encounter hazards as they try to kill the innocent children they are carrying. In this way he seeks to illuminate those good things that may evade the sight of people as dim as we are.
Mr. Anderson, writing in, says rightly that we are in a stage of siege. But I’d urge him now to look around him at the readers who have joined him today. We find people who have made it through the 60’s and 70’s and yet were not despoiled by this culture. If that Catholic ethic survives in them, it can be imparted to others. If we are in a siege, I’d say to our readers gathered here today: You are the BEST COMPANY, the friends I would grasp to my side in these troubled times. What better evidence, finally, to lift the spirits?
My wife and I have mused over where we shall live. No, not abroad, but where in this country? The readers here in chorus were urging Grump a while back to come back to communion; everyone wanted him back. We never found out whether he did come back. But now after his report on the character of governance in his town, we really must be told where he lives. For there, surely, is where we should all move.
written by Graham Combs, December 04, 2012
Of course there is the cross. But we accept it by choice and by grace. How do the dying and those not allowed to be born add in to this calculus of sacrifice? The very baseline of morality is at stake here. And since so many in the Church seem to think that grown up Blacks and Hispanics are in greater need of consideration and paternal aid than the most helpless and powerless, how do we address the crisis within the Church and its deadly consequences?

What do you do when a priest won't shake your hand after Mass or an extraordinary minister expects you to share in post-election jubilation?

It is much worse than we want to acknowledge. Not that I blame anyone's desperate need for hope.
written by Maggie-Louise, December 04, 2012
" Let's remember, if we outlaw abortion, women will seek abortions in the back alleys of this nation and thousands of women will die."

Dear Tom,
I would like to recommend to you the autobiography written by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist, a co-founder of NARAL, a convert to the Catholic Church, an active pro-life worker, the producer of the film "The Silent Scream".

One item from his autobiography that I remember well is that, when it came time to produce the pro-abortion propaganda, he and his group came up with the idea of publicizing 3,000 deaths every year as a result of back-alley abortions. It was a number that shocked everyone at the time and made abortion much more acceptable with the expectation of saving 3,000 deaths of young women every year.

In his autobiography, Dr. Nathanson admitted that the actual statistics revealed that there were 300 deaths a year in all of the United States, not 3,000.

Of course, 300 deaths are 300 too many, but, keep that in mind before you find yourself repeating the lie that was so useful, namely, "thousands of deaths" from illegal abortions.

Prof. Arkes,
I have, myself, adopted Pres. Reagan's slogan, "It's morning in America", saying "It's 1936 in America." All the pieces are in place--frighteningly so. You have given us encouragement and hope. The only trouble is that generations may go by before that hope is realized. I wonder if anyone alive today will see that dawn.
written by Matt, December 05, 2012
The article implies that evangelization and excommunication are mutually exclusive. Excommunication is the charitable anathema; the tough-love evangelization for the obstinate.

Recall our Lord sent out his apostles (and our bishops) to evangelize the world with the additional instruction found in Matthew 10:14

[14]And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet. [15] Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Question: What is most appropriate when the brimstone is at the obstinate's door; lighting a candle or yelling "fire"!?
written by Grump, December 05, 2012
@Professor Arkes. Where do I live? Some up here call it "God's Country." To me it's more like the frozen tundra. A hint: Millions of trees, not densely populated and most folks are praying for lots of snow right now. I live in a very red county in a blue state.

Some months ago, at the urging of some of you, I did go to communion after a long overdue confession. I cannot say I felt changed afterwards in any perceptible way but since then I've tried to take few tiny steps back to the fold. For every two steps forward, there has been one backward. At this rate and at my advanced age, only God knows if I'll ever be able complete the journey.

Thanks for thinking of me.

May the peace of the season be on all of you!
written by Matt, December 05, 2012
Grump - A very holy priest said to me that "a saint is a sinner that keeps on trying." We are all on the same road to the same end. God bless and do not despair for the decision to align one's will to God's will is what matters to God, not the length of the effort.
written by Frank, December 06, 2012
Dear Professor Arkes,
Your reply above is appreciated. I try to limit myself to one reply to each daily article in TCT and of course, there are some days I do not respond. On this occasion, I would like to offer a polite caution to the phrase in your first sentence; "giving resonance to despair." The phrase is correct in the current context of time. At some point in the very near future if not now, ALL of us are going to have to rid ourselves of such despair. I will skip the long story of how I came about the conclusions I am about to offer. I have no solid evidence to back up my conclusion other than intuition and observation. Nonetheless, I don't think I'm off the mark by much.
For the majority of my life, fear was an unwelcome but predominant driver in my life, the proverbial "Elephant in the Room," cravenly snacking on the valuable peanuts of my labors and endeavors only to leave a mess of empty shells on the floor. A few years ago, I decided I'd had enough of the Elephant yet knew that the Elephant would never leave the room and had to be rigidly and vigilantly managed. Thus, it was time to see what made this particular Elephant tick.
From readings and personal observation, I came to the conclusion that fear and anger are opposite sides of the same coin, both travel together and NEVER alone. "Despair" is either a direct adjective or derivative of fear. One effect of fear reliably proven is the shutting down of the part of the brain that provides the ability to think clearly and solve the problem(s) at hand i.e. the problems generating the fear in the first place.
My point is this, we all must get over our despair and rather quickly. The job for all here is to fight non-violently and provide the credible counter to the opposition to cease, desist, and pose to the opposition that their actions will be opposed every step of the way and the consequences they will reap far outweigh the benefits of their so called "utopian vision" of applied secular values devoid of our living God, a God that we all need and they deny. There is no mincing of words here, this IS a war and a fight. It is a war we did not want but the war is at our doorstep and the enemy is at the gates. It is an enemy that cannot be appeased for it seeks no compromise, only complete domination. Thus we cannot make the mistake that Neville Chamberlain made at Munich. For upon his return from Munich, Churchill had a private meeting with Chamberlain and told Chamberlain at point blank range, "Mr. Prime Minister, you had the choice between war and shame, you've chosen shame, you shall have war!" The rest of course, we know.
There will be casualties, I expect to be one of many but one thing I do know and know for a fact, the opposition is comprised by bullies and cowards and one thing about both is that when a big blow is landed and their blood drawn, they run.
I intend to stand and fight and deny the other side all that I can and yes...make it hurt and their lives as miserable as I can. No longer will I cast my pearls to swine for they have shown they don't want our pearls and will confiscate the pearls of those they think possess too many.
written by Paul, December 07, 2012
Isn't a Catholic who votes for candidates who support the death penalty also a cafeteria Catholic?
written by Jack,CT, December 07, 2012
Paul,A "Caf Catholic",picks and chooses the aspects of the
faith almost "Creating a New Faith" and still "Proclaim"
to be Catholic.
Your correct the Lord gives "Life and is the only one who
should take it away"
I always felt that "Life without parole",was more of a
punishment than the "Death Penality".

We have no more the "Right",to Kill someone for a crime
than we do a child in the womb.
These beliefs are pretty much universal among all "Christians".
I hope this helps,Your Question was a good one!
God Bless you and I pray you and yours have a
wonderful Christmas.

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