The Catholic Thing
A Voice from the Front Lines Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Last week, late in the day on July 4, I received a remarkable message from a former Marine. (I am out of the country and have only been able to get around to it now.) It contains a heartfelt, without being merely emotional, expression of the disconnect many of the very finest among our fighting men and women now feel. On the one hand, they sacrifice – some to the point of no return – for our nation and its deepest truths. On the other, they get little thanks and, still worse, face contempt for their own deepest values, including their religious values.

In some ways, of course, this has now become a commonplace in our society. People fight and die for us so that the rest of the country can go along unconscious, thinking that nothing we do as individuals or a society much matters to our well being or moral quality as a people – or our sheer survival.

It’s sometimes puzzling to me why millions are still willing to bear that burden under current circumstances.

But there’s a wistful quality to this particular memoir – especially with regard to Catholicism, that’s worth careful attention.

My correspondent begins:

On 4 July 2004, I remember stopping to take a break during a patrol in and around Fallujah that lasted for five days straight.  I remember the heat being unbearable; and the grind of being IED'd, shot at, and mortared had become so normal that fear had been supplanted by motion.  I remember being in between my vehicle and a berm of sand which gave me cover from enemy fire. . . .My plates, ammo, radio were so heavy every movement was hard.  I lay there catching a break looking up at the sky. I thought although I am tired and no one supports this war I am serving my country, leading Marines, and I am serving to protect my constitution.  And on 4 July 2004 in Fallujah I thanked those men who years before in Philadelphia penned my rights as an American.  I wished I wasn't in Iraq, but I knew it was my duty.  
I should add that I know this person personally and also know that this is a truthful description, not something worked up – as similar accounts sometimes are – on national holidays.

No small number of Americans these days mock this connection of fighting in foreign wars and our Constitutional foundations. In fact, we’re now engaged in using the military to conduct anti-Constitutional and, in some instances, anti-Christian social experiments.

    Fallujah, 2004

My correspondent adds a hair-raising twist to these sad developments:

Today 4 July 2013 almost ten years later, many battles later, I am sad.  Yesterday an American told me That Constitution is outdated and it should be rewritten.  It was conceived by a bunch of farmers that couldn't manage what we have today. The conversation ended with several individuals telling me: Your faith will never be attacked; but if the Catholic Church continues to believe what it does your faith will be like the racists who refused to accept the civil rights movement. 

There was a time when you might have doubted a conversation like this could really take place, but no longer. President Obama has never said such a thing outright. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that he and his administration have this basic view of things. They use the prestige of the Constitution when it suits their purposes, but otherwise think – and rightly so, to judge by the lack of pushback from the people or other parts of government or the press – that they can ignore the confining idea of those long-ago “farmers” when it comes into conflict with something they want to do, like impose their own values on other Americans and the Catholic Church.

There’s a longstanding American arrogance towards the Church, of course, mostly rooted in ignorance of the cultural richness and intellectual solidity of Catholicism. That has now been augmented with the burning hatred towards anyone who stands in the way of radical individualism, almost exclusively in sexual matters. Americans have so little interest in religious questions per se anymore that they no longer deride the Catholic Church over the older sore spots: theological questions, the Virgin Mary, the confessional, or “priestcraft” (though the celibacy of clergy is now denounced with the same fire that the mere existence of the priestly office once was – a telling change).

Now, it’s all about contraception, abortion, homosexuality and a vision of human beings and the world that denies the new ethic. That our whole civilization until quite recently and virtually all other civilizations known to history agree with Catholicism on such questions counts not a whit in this new American dispensation.

We ought to be clear that as traditional Christianity disappears the threat to the constitutional order of America grows. My correspondent gets this exactly right:    

So today I am sad because my faith and my Church are considered bigotry; and the silly document I have sworn an oath to protect and done so for thirteen years in multiple wars. . .is considered by some as foolishness written by farmers.  Thankfully those “farmers promised me that I would I have the freedom to practice my faith and voice my opinions.  I hope Americans remember this today.  I fought for this freedom, along with many others who gave everything, and we surely will. 
I myself am not as optimistic, but when you have fought and risked death for something, however bad things may look, your opinion deserves to be heard.

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 (12)Add Comment
written by Ib, July 10, 2013
Chesterton wrote a chapter in "Orthodoxy" (chap 5), which famously discusses optimism and pessimism. There is a strong connection between the excerpts of the soldier's letter and Chesterton's discussion. How's that?

Chesterton finds that behind both optimism and pessimism there must be something of a "universal patriotism" or "anti-patriotism". He writes:

"Whatever the reason, it seemed and still seems to me that our attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. "

The sadness of the present state of this country is not cause for pessimism, but for "loving it more" and working to bring it closer in actuality to what it has always had the potential to be. I highly recommend that your soldier-friend read (or re-read, as the case may be), this highly pertinent and edifying chapter from G.K. Chesterton.
written by Top8305, July 10, 2013
lb, your contribution is immensely poignant and wholly Christian. Thank you and God Bless you.
May God Bless our Troops and their loved ones.
Support our Troops, before, during, after
written by Rob, July 10, 2013
Mr. Royal, you have stated the issue very well and the letter from your marine friend is truly from his heart.
Liberalism started ruining America in the 60's and the last 5 years have been a Liberal Tsunami with of course, the continuous catastrophic results as well.
While the liberal mentality disses the constitution, like that sill "farmer" reference, the intellect level in the USA is so awful, so embarassingly naive, if you asked these morons EXACTLY WHAT about the constitution they do not like, I would bet they could not tell you.
Thanks again for a great posting.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, July 10, 2013
Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison on September 6 1789, "no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation: they may manage it, then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters, too, of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors are extinguished then, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being, till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of thirty-four years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right." He goes on to explain why a power of repeal is not an equivalent.

Of course, if law is simply "the expression of the general will," he is absolutely right
written by Dan Deeny, July 10, 2013
Mr. Royal,
This is a very important contribution. You should have more conversations with men and women like this man.
I was in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia when the abortion business was legalized. Sometime later, about 1975, I remember sitting in a hotel room in Negele Borana reading an international edition of Newsweek or Time. This edition, and editions in this time period, equated the homosexual movement with the Black American Civil Rights Movement. I didn't think Black American leaders would go for the comparison, but they did. Also, the abortion business had taken off; the fetus wasn't a person according to articles in these magazines.
I came up with the idea that racism, homosexuality, and abortion make up a sort of satanic trinity.
I hope you can write an article describing the connection of these sins.
written by Meyrat, July 10, 2013
What's troubling is that these progressive forces really hope to dismantle the checks and balances that exist to curb these passions. More than before, I've seen more arguments made against the constitution, against Federalism, and against the Church. The executive branch continues to overreach its authority, granting itself more powers (see the ACA, PRISM, the IRS); the states lose more and more authority; and it seems that the Supreme Court makes more laws than the Legislature (see DOMA). The progressive ideas that fuel these trends have no respect for the opposition, and they do not even consider their counterarguments. This leads to some serious blindness and ignorance on what constitutes the world, and how the world works--not to mention conducting a rational and fair debate. All this works into changing our democracy into a tyranny of the mob, who increasingly believe that hedonism will liberate them from their own problems--they've stopped caring about other people's problems.

It's a sad state of affairs, but Catholics need to avoid these mistakes through education and holiness. We can't succumb to the arguments they have, which charge us with bigotry, backwardness, and elitism. We should know better, and act as such. They make these arguments through ignorance more than through any justifiable rationale. They don't know what marriage, so they mis-define it. They don't know what democracy, so they abuse it. They don't read, so they lap up the propaganda fed to them through internet and television. We shouldn't feel afraid of their reasoning, but the lack thereof. We need to model better behavior and superior reasoning. God will arm us with these things if we allow Him.
written by Athanasius, July 10, 2013
America is more than a government. It is our home, and we are its people. And, despite many sins from the past (slavery, racism, cruelty to the Native Peoples), it has on the whole been a force for good in this world. Our culture had grown into one of true freedom, real tolerance, and one that recognized God as our Father.

Right now I think we are heading in a very bad direction. The culture is moving away from the vision of the Founders in government and the Judeo-Christian vision of virtue.

I see people moving in four directions:

1. The statists: They control the culture and like the direction we are moving in. They want the state to be run by the elite (whom they consider themselves to be) and they want to control every aspect of life. God is their competitor, so He must be removed by destroying His Church, the family, and sexual morality.

2. The Libertarians: They just want to be left alone with no government intervention. They may choose to live according to moral norms, but they don't want to force others to, for they are not their brother's keeper. As long as they can carry on their daily activities in peace they don't care what others do. They don't like the statists views on economic policy, but they are okay with their sexual morality.

3. The Islamists: Like the statists, they want to control every aspect of daily life for everyone. But instead of setting the state as god, they make everyone subject to their own conception of God, which is quite different than the Catholic vision. They don't like the godlessness of the statists, but they are very much like them in their style of leadership.

4. The Conservatives: They seek to give people freedom as a means to better themselves within the norms of the natural moral law, not as license to pursue every adolescent desire of their will. The moral law they seek is consistent with Judeo-Christian tradition. While recognizing that people should be free to worship as the choose, and live as they want, they also recognize that there are reasonable boundaries to what people can do, and they it is appropriate to regulate morality within these boundaries. They view the government as a means to allow imperfect man to live in ordered liberty, but they view religion as the higher call because it prepares man for his real home in the next life.

For a large part of our history, America was run by Conservatives. I think that is the best path for our country. We must work to restore a conservative culture, which is a culture of life. Loving your country means speaking out when it is going in the wrong direction, like it is now. We must work where we can, and pray to ask God to bless our endeavors and lead us in the right direction.

Unlike the Europeans of old, I don't see any where else that we can flee to. Like it or not, we are still the best hope for true, virtuous freedom in the world.
written by Tony, July 10, 2013
A bunch of farmers, indeed.

Such ignorant self-satisfied bigotry, from people who would have a hard time reading the broadsides and the pamphlets published during the debate on the Constitution.

They have no idea how much scientific, technological, geographical, and economic knowledge it took for somebody like Jefferson or Washington to run those farms.

They have no idea that in all likelihood every single one of the signatories to the Constitution was at least bilingual (English, French), and that the more formally learned among them (Witherspoon, Dickinson, Adams, Madison) read Latin and probably Greek -- they read Cicero in Latin and Plato in Greek.

They have no idea that the signers were students of centuries of political thinking: Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Cicero, Tacitus, Polybius, Livy, Grotius, Bodin, Hooker, Montesquieu ...

They have no idea that the signers also knew history quite well (except for their blind spot as regards the Middle Ages).

These were men of tremendous talent, wide practical experience in the worlds of education, law, agriculture, and business, and broad and deep learning in the humane letters and in Scripture. There is not one person in all of DC who would be allowed to stay in the same room with a Madison or a John Quincy Adams or a John Carroll ...
written by Layman Tom, July 10, 2013
Very well put Athanasius. I would only add that these four directions you describe can only be attributed to the portion of the populace that actually pays attention enough and/or cares enough to take part in the democratic process. I won't give the remainder a moniker, but you can imagine any of the ones I'd choose.

I agree that the best political hope for our country is conservative leadership. Unfortunately, I'm afraid we may be doomed (politically). How to win when the last election was one of the starkest opportunities to defeat Fascism on our shores and basically ended a 50-50 tie in the popular vote among the first group? Statistically, when you add the second group in, we are at a 75-25% disadvantage in the country as a whole. 25% are against us and the other 50% doesn’t give a rip. Not sure what would rile that second lot up, but it is evidently not the ascension of evil in our country.
written by Jack,CT, July 10, 2013
Mr Royal and friends,
I am so glad you wrote
this Marines story.The truth is all writtin
above by you and the contributors.
I come from a Military family and so i truly
apreciate the careful thoughts of you friends.
Thanks so much to all and may the good Lord
Bless all fighting for the freedoms we all
take for granted.
Thx again Mr Royal! Jack
written by Jack, July 22, 2013
written by John OBrien, July 31, 2013
Mr.Royal there is an isolation that I feel, as the soldier feels, and I have spoken to my wife about it, that I am trying to do battle against abortion and euthanasia and even inside the church their seems to be a party going on, and I cannot for the life of me understand why, to me it is a matter of today and everyday, a battle for life similar to what the soldier feels not in the sense that my life will be taken, but that dear God, I feel like a fool because I can't understand why we cannot come together and win this battle as a church.

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