The Catholic Thing
What If We Fail? Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 25 June 2012

Barring some unforeseen development, this week – perhaps even before you open this column, dear reader – the Supreme Court will hand down its decision about the constitutionality of Obamacare. The law’s supporters are very worried. The New York Times, for instance, tried so hard yesterday to soften the potential blow that the reporting resembled nothing so much as grief counseling.    

But given the division within the Court, expectations may be wrong and the healthcare reform may survive constitutional scrutiny. Voiding the law, of course, would put off the most palpable threat to American religious liberty – for the moment. And we’ll also have tangible proof that all’s not lost for the Constitution. But don’t be deceived: the struggle will go on anyway, in other guises.

The bishops in the trenches say it’s a really heavy lift.

If the individual mandate – forcing people to buy health insurance – is the only portion of Obamacare declared unconstitutional, then the battle will move on to the forty-three lawsuits challenging the administration’s intent to force religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception, sterilization, and treatments bordering on abortion –  “free” of charge at that, a status enjoyed by almost no other procedures.

Recent Court decisions protecting religious liberty are encouraging, but the mere fact that we’re in this situation suggests a much broader and darker backdrop to these cases that must be recognized and challenged.

A learnèd friend – an accomplished political philosopher – remarked recently that we should not consider it our fault if the Church fails at defending religious liberty and is forced into becoming a kind of sect in America, like the Amish. It was a bold statement, and in public too, among a gathering of people who, like him, are not happy at the prospect.

But he argues that because of the “early modern” nature of the American Founding, with its dependence on rights language and weak connection to the natural law tradition, such a development was possible from the beginning. And we now traveled far along a process that the Church only had so much power to stop.

He has a point. For decades, law schools have worked furiously to redefine rights and their foundations in ever more radical ways. The president, for instance, was only echoing such institutions a few months back when he declared “women’s health” a fundamental right – more fundamental, somehow, than the actual First Amendment protections of religious liberty.

And for the past half-century, many Americans have been conducting ill-advised experiments in living that, despite the mounting evidence of the disasters they cause (for marriage, children, community, crime, health, to name only a few), now seem beyond criticism in public institutions like schools, welfare agencies, and government offices.

But while my friend is right about Catholics not taking the blame and feeling guilt if we fail – even Jesus “failed” in immediate human terms – I’m not ready, and I don’t think anyone else should be ready, to watch stoically as America turns into just one more failed experiment in human history.

The Church can no more engineer a society than can anyone else: even Rome’s proposed New Evangelization – which I back 100 percent – cannot be sure of the means of conversion or predict outcomes. Only God is the Lord of history.

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio (1601)


But short of that cosmic struggle, some of us still believe that there’s a dance in the old dame yet. There’s no surer way of hastening decline than by suggesting that the people, and particularly religious people, maybe can’t do much of anything about the future.       

Social radicals talk a lot about the “inevitability” of gay “marriage,” universal coverage for “women’s health” (which, they hope, will soon also mean abortion), restrictions on religious influence on the public square – and social as well as legal acceptance of the whole agenda. Because these changes are inevitable, we’re supposed to stop trying to block them.

They don’t talk about the very real shift towards pro-life views – and the simple fact that religious people have more children. And that those children tend to acquire and retain non-radical views.

But in this as in many other matters, we cannot think like social engineers. Spiritual and moral challenges demand spiritual and moral responses. Yes, in the long run, demography could drive this country and the world in a much healthier direction. But nothing in social matters is automatic or mere mechanics.

Just consider the fact that the average American – including the average American Catholic – now spends thirteen years in government-run schools where same-sex parents are just another way of being a family; opposition to homosexuality of any kind is immediately classified as homophobia or hate-speech – i.e., mental illness or criminal behavior; and most important of all, learning to “think for yourself” means doing what you want and regarding your parents’ values as prejudice.

And we haven’t even gotten to college and graduate school.

And then when you think that to take a job in education, journalism, law, medicine, most big corporations, and even to serve in the military, now requires you to burn at least a little incense to the state’s idols, the size and extent of the task start to become clear.

Under the circumstances, it’s amazing that we’ve stayed as sane and kept the faith as much as we have.

We can stop some bad situations from becoming worse by standing up for the Church – and ultimately America – whenever and wherever we must. But any victory at that level now must become a further spur to carrying out the much bigger task of reforming institutions and an entire culture.

There’s real wisdom in recognizing that, despite our best efforts, it doesn’t depend on us. And it’s possible that, even here, the Church will “fail” and have to go into a kind of internal exile. It’s done so before, survived, and re-emerged even stronger.

But there’s no excuse for not trying every avenue and every thing possible, while there’s still time, light, and opportunity.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Frank, June 25, 2012
The Cold War ended in ways few thought, a Pope traveled to his home country and said, "Be not afraid." The culture war will end in similar manner; in ways no one ever imagined and much to the dismay of "the enlightened." The center target of the Left's actions is the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this, it's a war the Left will never win.
written by Jon S., June 25, 2012
Well written, Mr. Royal. Two quick qualifications: Thirteen years in Church-run schools often are not significantly different than thirteen years in government-run schools. Parents often have politically correct values, want their children to "think for themselves," and do not want Catholic schools to teach orthodoxy--and priests and bishops either share their heterodoxy or are afraid of alienating them.
written by Randall, June 25, 2012
@Frank - I'm with you on this. The pessimist in me thinks that things will get worse before they get better. And yet . . . I remember the Cold War and it didn't end at all in the way I or a lot of people expected it to. God's always a few steps ahead of us, so to speak. I suppose we'll all be astounded at the way the Culture War turns out.
Glory to God.
written by Gian, June 25, 2012
Why does not Church terminate all employer-provided medical care and just pay the required penalty. After all, paying the penalty would be cheaper than providing the medical care (even without objectionable parts).

And there is no obligation for Church to provide its employees with medical care. It is just the way things have evolved in America. But it is certainly not so elsewhere.
Eg in India, the Catholic Church does not provide medical care to its employees.

How is the conflict over contraception handled in other developed nations of Europe?. We never heard about any conflicts there.
written by Grump, June 25, 2012
All well and good, but 2 million "marched" in NYC celebrating "gay pride" as the mayor and other "leaders" cheered them on. Spenglerian doom may yet prove to be correct. I can't see America reversing course if current social trends are not checked. And they won't be so long as the mass media help push the liberal agenda and the re-education of upbringing of children stays on course.

Orwell was largely wrong and Huxley was largely right. There are too many "somas", chief of which is TV, to drug the masses into a mood of apathy and indifference to the issues you raised. All, we are told, is that it's the "economy" that is the main issue in the election, as it is election after election. More bread, more circuses, the mobs demand. Give us Barabbas, not Jesus. Nothing has changed.
written by Robert Royal, June 25, 2012
Just to clarify a point that's already risen in these comments, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, one of the wisest of counselors in these matters, repeatedly warned that a Christian has no business being an optimist or pessimist. We live in hope, not earthly hope, but the hope of Christians who know that God has already overcome the world. I, too, hope that we'll see a spectacular fall of the anti-Christian regime the way that the Soviet Union fell. But it's only speaking the truth to say that JPII's witness has fared better against Communism than against our radical autonomy and consumerism. That said, we have to be prepared for all sorts of possibilities, public and private.
written by Arnobius of Sicca, June 25, 2012
A well written article. It seems to me that if America fails, our existence as Catholics will be harder, but our obligation to proclaim Christ to the world will not change. We'll just be hated more while we do so.
written by Dennis Larkin, June 25, 2012
For forty years, bishops and Notre Dame have been giving cover to moral barbarism. With the emerging generation of bishops, we now have a chance. But they have to recover so much ground ceded by their elder bishops
written by Grandma, June 25, 2012
Gian: I am pretty sure your "pay the penalty" solution is a stop-gap. The penalty is designed to be small and look attractive at first. It then balloons to the punitively expensive range once enough employers have opted for that choice.
written by Manfred, June 25, 2012
In my opinion, the American Church is receiving Divine Justice at last. Thirty years ago, I sent my seven children to a "catholic" high school noted for its excellent AP courses. The "religion" courses consisted of, among others, LOVING which was a PRO-contraception textbook, and Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war screed by Dalton Trumbo (Google him). My wife and I brought these books to the attention of our Ordinary, Abp. McCarrick, who handed us off to an auxiliary bishop. After 45 minutes of the most inane conversation I have probably ever had, we asked that the Chancery review the books and we left them. Three months later, the books arrived by mail in a plain brown wrapper with no note or letter. If I appear intemperate at times in my replies on this site, it is because of my experiences, face-to-face with these destructive people. BTW, my family and I are very comfortable living as the Amish as we have been living their way for the last thirty years within the "catholic church" as well as the larger society.
Thanks for a fine update, Robert.
written by Mark, June 25, 2012
Communism fell because the devil no longer needed it for his purposes. The west was doing a far better job of destroyiing the morals of youth with the entertainment/media industry doing the heavy pulling.
written by Chris in Maryland, June 25, 2012
Gian's recommendation is unwise...because it surrenders to the government on the principle of who has the authority over medical treatment, service and insurance.

The current administration's position, and that of thousands permanently entrenched in its bureaucracy, courts and law schools, is that rights come from the government. The govt will define what rights exist and do not, and which have priority and which are subordinate.

They have decided that health care is a right, in contradiction of those who have correctly answered that no -health care is a "good" but not a right.

They believe that health care (HC) is a primary right, and that HC also trumps certain rights in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. For instance, they hold that Freedom of Religion is not a right - hence they insist that people are permitted "freedom of worship," but not "Freedom of Religion" as the Constitutional founders asserted.

Since the current administration and its political alliance declares that health care is a right, then they assert that they have the right to set prices and ration the shortages. They thereby intend to use this to "reward their friends and punish their enemies" (to quote the current President). They are determined to engineer which doctors and hospitals are priced out of the market, whose rights are favored in admission to medical schools, what companies are "permitted" to provide health care and "health insurance. They will decide whose rights are "more equal" than others.
written by Sue, June 25, 2012
"...the way that the Soviet Union fell. ...JPII's witness has fared better against Communism ... "
The rumors of Communism's death are greatly exaggerated - because the Soviet Union failed to have its Nuremberg, it has risen again (some contend it was a faked death). International Communism colluded with the Fabian Socialists and Frankfurt Schoolers to bring the West down through the Culture War rather than the Cold War. It required infiltration work inside our social institutions, which is why we must still be wary of fifth columns within the Church. The Rockefellers funded much of the decay in the 20th century, Soros has assisted with much of the destruction further in this century, funding evil groups with euphonious names.

What if we, America, fails? I am not an Americanist, but I would think it tragic if the principles of the Declaration went down with the ship. Jefferson committed the original sin with his slaveholding, but the 500k deaths of the Civil War ought to have redeemed our country, had the Marxists and Fabian Socialists not steered our country into the welfare state after the Civil War. The Church missed a great opportunity post-CW in not outreaching to the blacks in a major way.

The Church could take back America by leading it back to the Declaration - we have the exceptional teaching on human life, our leaders only need to put it into practice and stop incrementalizing. Abolish abortion! No exceptions!
written by Frank, June 25, 2012
@Randall; I'm afraid you may be right. Anticipate and plan on it getting worse before it gets better. Robespierre wreaked a lot of havoc and murdered many before the blade fell on his neck. I note Voltaire's quote: "The only way to comprehend what mathmaticians mean by infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity." It never fails that the trap a person sets for others ends up ensnaring them in the process as well. How the Left will come crashing down like ton of bricks built like a house of cards is a mystery to me. The Left has taken on Christ's Church. Guess the news, they lose.
written by Louise, June 26, 2012
1984: Fulfillment of Our Lady of Fatima’s request to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall. Coincidence? I think not!
Unfortunately Russia's errors had spread all over the world by then, just as Mary predicted.

On May 13, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.”

If we have let Mary’s requests slip, we can start anew. Remember what God told Abraham in Genesis 18:32: "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."

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