The Catholic Thing
Looking Unusually Cheerful Today Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Editor’s Note: This morning, Professor Arkes situates the five years of this publication’s existence in the larger context of a struggle over religion and culture that many of us have been engaged in for decades. A reminder: if you would like to see him, Michael Novak (another of our founders), Brad Miner, George Marlin, and several more of our writers at our anniversary reception Wednesday, June 19, in Washington, please click on the invitation in the photograph above and register. – Robert Royal

We are marking now the Fifth Anniversary of the Advent of The Catholic Thing: A band of brothers and sisters, led by Robert Royal, launched this new journal on the web, with no surety, of course, that it could last for more than a season or two. But here we are still, publishing even more thanks to Bob’s leadership, with our ranks augmented by gifted writers and by a community of readers who have formed around this journal. 

Some of us had been together in Crisis, the magazine founded by Michael Novak and Ralph McInerny. The “crisis” was a crisis in our culture that was deepening now for our politics and law, and spilling over, showing its most dramatic effects, as it worked to erode the moral convictions that sustained Catholic teaching and the life of the Church. 

As we mark this Fifth Anniversary, who among us could deny that the crisis has become anything but worse? By the time my own column appears again in two weeks, we will have learned whether the institution of marriage in this country will have survived the Supreme Court. The best we can hope for is that the Court will leave this question to be decided in the political arena, as the American people remain free to shape their laws on this subject. But that in turn, we know, will produce the most rancorous and poisonous divisions, with a population that no longer seems to have its bearings on the meaning of marriage and even the meaning of sex.  

In a recent memorial service for Robert Bork, Judge Raymond Randolph recalled a phone call from the Judge when Bork’s former student, Bill Clinton, was elected President of the United States. “There is a time,” said Bork, “to fight – and a time to leave the country.” The measure of how things have changed is that we could now look back on those days of Clinton, as “the good old days.”  

The Catholic Thing began in the midst of the year that would see the election of Barack Obama. In persisting, we have seen his reelection, with a strategy that sought to sharpen the political lines in the country by seeking to sharpen the lines of moral conflict with the Catholic Church. Even the most seasoned observers of politics found it hard at first to believe that the Obama White House would deliberately pick a fight with the Church and faithful Catholics by bringing forth mandates to require the support of contraception and abortion in plans of medical insurance made compulsory in the law.

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The brazenness of the move could be explained only by the political sense that the Church might not hold the loyalty of most Catholics on contraception, and hold perhaps a bare majority on the matter of abortion. But to that raw political sense was added now the kind of inversion that could spring only from a culture corrupted or just dumbed down: For how else could we explain why policies that sought to bar women from killing their own babies, including their female infants, could be taken seriously by broad segments of the public as a “war on women”?

My friend George Weigel recently prepared a memo for the advisory board of the journal First Things, looking back more than twenty years to this project launched by Fr. Richard Neuhaus. He recalled that Fr. Neuhaus “could assume a broad range of religiously engaged people.” Neuhaus had said in his inaugural editorial that, “if the American experiment in representative democracy is not in conversation with biblical religion, it is not in conversation with what the overwhelming majority of Americans profess to believe is the source of morality.” 

But the jolt of recognition now is that we are no longer as sure, as Fr. Neuhaus could be twenty years ago, that the majority of ordinary folk were with us in that religious and moral perspective. In this respect, Weigel takes as an alarming sign the rise of the “Nones,” the people professing in public surveys no religious attachments. This group, he notes, “has grown dramatically, now exceeding 20 percent. Moreover, this group has become politically significant, now making up the single largest identifiable constituency in the Democratic Party.”  

We used to assume that most of the American people were not in accord with the ethic that was shaped in our academic enclaves since the late 1960s. That may still be the case, but that so-called “elite” has shown a remarkable aptitude for getting its way as it molds the people who fill the law schools and the courts and the major media. 

And yet. . .it was one of Fr. Neuhaus’s signature lines: “We can still turn this around!” We were never without hope. I noted one of the leading indicators of hope in a column last year: the emergence of new generation of young priests, orthodox and smart – and immensely appealing – with the gift of inspiring the young and firming the confidence of people of middle years. (See “The Jewish Past and the Young Priests”)  

Even in dark times, something brings us back to those last moments of Brideshead Revisited: Charles Ryder, childless and loveless, goes alone to the chapel, with gestures of devotion only lately learned. When he leaves, a fellow soldier, passing, says, “You’re looking unusually cheerful today.” And so do we today at The Catholic Thing.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Ib, June 17, 2013
Congratulations! The Catholic Thing staff certainly deserves to celebrate.

But, if "turning this around!” means restoring the ascendancy of Christian values in the hearts and minds of enough American citizens to undo the follies and evils done by our government (in our names), I can only shake my head. Fr. Neuhaus was a saintly man and a dynamo, but he couldn't stop the rot. I'm afraid Judge Bourke was right, except there are very few places to go if you're thinking of leaving the country that aren't in even worse shape.

At least there's no world war raging ... yet ...
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 18, 2013
Perhaps, we should recall the words of Lucien Laberthonnière, written over a century ago now, with reference to the “political Catholicism” of l’Action Française, “The triumph of the Church in society? That would be excellent. But then, it is necessary to examine by what means our religion permits us to pursue it. Moreover, it has not been promised us. And then, it is not, perhaps, the most pressing of our tasks... Her power does not consist in giving orders, to which external obedience is required, backed up by threats or favours. Her power is to raise souls to the life above. It is to give birth to and to cultivate in consciences the supernaturalising obligation to live for God and for others, through Christ, and to pass through temporal defeats to a triumph that is timeless. Do not indulge in childish dreams, when you have in your grasp eternal realities that invite you. Understand, all you who would triumph and reign on earth – Et nunc, reges, intellegite”
written by Jack,CT, June 18, 2013
thanks for all the "Hope" we all get from
this wonderful site...
written by Frank, June 18, 2013
First, congratulations to TCT. Times are tough and I'd be disingenuous to write something akin to making lemons out of lemonade. I love my new Catholic Faith and the richness it has brought to my life. The American Church gives me pause for concern given all the things Dr. Arkes posits above. Faith, like the times, can try the soul. Matthew 16 and Isaiah 55 are my anchors.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, June 18, 2013
There is great hope for the Church, as indeed there is for society. Hope for a few reasons:

#1 There is a reformation going on in the Church. As Professor Arkes points out, there is a "new generation of young priests, orthodox and smart." But more importantly, this is the age of the laity and the appearance of many new converts to the Church who have served to strengthen the Church in the world and whose erudition insures orthodoxy in the Church. This, combined with the 'aging out' of the 60's generation that helped dismantle the Church for awhile, augers a brighter future.

#2 The other thing that should give us hope is that no matter how low the culture seems to degenerate, there will reside in man always that desire for communion with the Good, the True and the Beautiful. It is for those of us in the Church to be ready to present this to them and be open to receiving them into the Church who is Christ's body.

With the knowledge of both these things, we have the courage to look the future in the face.
written by Manfred, June 18, 2013
A very sound article, Dr. Arkes. Thank you. Fifty-three years ago, the Pope decided to have a Council rather than announce a severe warning from the Mother of God. Today, a once Protestant country is now populated with Nones and the "catholics", who voted for Obama twice, are now effectively protestant. I find it fascinating to see how God punishes us so that even the dullest fools realize that something substantial has to change.
written by DS, June 18, 2013
I don't take issue with the author's intent, but how do we convey the centrality of the faith, and reach and convert a sinful world, without mentioning God, Father, Jesus or Holy Spirit?

Similarly, I would modify Fr. Neuhaus' sentiment - "We can still turn this around!" I would suggest "God can still turn this around, working through his faithful people."
written by Frank, June 18, 2013
@Ib and all.
I was hoping to write more about an hour ago but time and another task got in the way. Here are my additional takes.
First, there are at least two "elephants in the room" within the American Church: 1)apathy and 2)willful ignorance. Where one begins and the other ends and vice versa I don't know. It is important enough to know that they exist. How do I know what I know? Let me offer this question, DO CRADLE CATHOLICS REALLY KNOW THEIR CHURCH AND THE TREASURE THEY POSSESS? Some do but I am going to throw the grenade that TOO MANY DON'T. So since I've thrown the grenade I expect return fire so bring it on. I look to my lovely wife, a cradle Catholic who I cannot have a wonderful discussion with simply because while she's a dedicated Catholic and always will be, she's not taken the time to read and study the richness of the Church, it's origins, how it has survived and flourished through the ages, and the elegant beauty of its faith and theology. Last week, I was at dinner with a six other cradle Catholics and several subjects on the Church came up. The discussion was at best superficial and being the only one of the seven that had "crossed the Tiber," I was amazed at their ignorance. I was amazed and for the record, I don't consider myself better than them or anyone else but the ignorance I observed is telling. Is it any wonder that contemporary and prolific Catholic apologists and clergy like Dr. Scott Hahn and Father Neuhaus crossed the Tiber. I will never ever hold a candle to the scholarly knowledge and faith of these men but they stand as shining examples of men who get it and went through the long struggle as I did to finally find a wonderful peace that surpasses all understanding. I do have hope but on a quantitative scale, little hope. These are tough times and it is time to get tough, to take the gloves off. So let me be the first to state that each day, I pray for the political demise, destruction, whatever, of ANY ELECTED politician actively working against Christ's Church. I mean them no harm but at the end of the day, I don't want even want to see them on the public payroll picking up dog poo in the local parks. Evil IS evil. At what price to us? John the Baptist confronted Herod Antipas and his sin at the cost of his life. We can do no less. At the end of the day, it all comes down to us and how we get the elephants out of the room. Prayer obvioulsy but when it is time to act and step out in faith to confront the monstrous evils beofer us, let us hope everyone will do his/her duty and TCT has been faithful to that calling and hopefully for many more years to come!
written by Ib, June 18, 2013
About my comment above: Funny how the mind works late at night ... I had just read about Cardinal Burke, and then in this post by Dr. Arkes, about Judge Bork ... So of course I combined them into Bourke in my remarks ... Crazy!
written by Seanachie, June 18, 2013
As The Christophers might share, "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness"...keep up the good work, Hadley.

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