Our Witness Protection Program

This past weekend, our dear friend and regular contributor Hadley Arkes was baptized into the Catholic Church. Wasn’t he already a Catholic? It’s no surprise that you ask, along with many others who have benefitted for more than thirty years from his brilliant defense of unborn life and of many things precious to human dignity. By my quick count, more than a dozen TCT writers were present, including Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., who concelebrated, along with about an equal number we hope will join our ranks soon. Many of us had been waiting for this and there were few dry eyes in the chapel when the waters, brought for the purpose from the Jordan River, were poured over Hadley’s head. At a dinner later, he spoke of how important his many Catholic friends have been in leading him to this step. (Of which, more tomorrow.) I was never certain when it would happen, but was sure it would someday. Several years ago I turned around after a noon Mass during Lent and found Hadley behind me. “Bob, what are you doing here?” “I know what I’m doing here, what are you doing here?” In the end, though, he was drawn, over the years, to the witness of the Catholic Church as a truth-telling institution.

As you may have noticed, religion gets a lot of public attention, though rarely as a teller of truth. More typically, religion attracts attention for its alleged sins (fundamentalist terror, child abuse) or for its supposed virtues (promotions of social cohesion, Darwinian advantages). In all this, the real question – whether faith expresses essential truths about human life and the ultimate nature of reality – has receded very much into the background. Indeed, most people seem to think the very question is meaningless or so difficult to solve that there’s no point in trying. A defense of truth, as any Catholic should understand, is a demanding task. It cannot be done entirely in the short bursts of modern journalism. But does that mean we cannot undertake public apologetics at all?

Professor Arkes has long remarked that it maybe isn’t such a surprise that a faith that believes God Himself comes to us in a bit of unleavened bread is also sensitive to the dignity of human life in even its tiniest form. We could use lots of similar insights in our public discourse.

A new book, God’s Brain, claims that religion is the ultimate brain candy, making certain brain structures quiver through language and ritual. No doubt. It would be odd if it didn’t, given the powerful effects of religion on individuals and groups throughout history, all around the world. The odder thing is that scientists and the people who try to interpret their studies never seem to think that other human activities present similar cases. Does science produce a profound sense of contact with reality and personal satisfaction and unite people in a common pursuit? Do brain tissues quiver while scientists do research? And does this call into question scientific truths or put out of bounds esoteric and seemingly unprovable scientific theories like string-theory and multiverses?

Yet as we all well know, any Catholic who steps out in public not merely to claim respect for the Faith as one among the great world religions, but as a teller of truth – indeed of the Truth – risks ridicule. Sometimes even from other Catholics. So at The Catholic Thing we occasionally think of ourselves as a kind of Witness Protection Program. Our mission, from the beginning, has been to present, in a brief and accessible format, as solid an exposition of Catholicism for our time as we can – and to defend those who do likewise.

These tasks take resources. And it’s a time in the year again when we are obliged to call upon you for help. If you are a regular reader, you know the story. Only $25 from each of you would make it possible for The Catholic Thing to continue to appear every morning. Since not everyone can send $25, if you can contribute some multiple of that amount to make up for others who appreciate the work, it would be an act of Christian generosity. I’ve said it before: our writers sacrifice time and energy for small returns because they believe in our mission. I call Hadley Arkes our Big Ben because in the almost two years of our existence, he has always chimed in on time, meeting every deadline without fail (Hadley, no excuses now that you’re an old Roman).

Our ever resourceful Senior Editor, Brad Miner, just confirmed that you can also help us quite a bit through another channel. If you’re a shopper on Amazon – lots of TCT readers are big book buyers – you can make contributions to TCT at no extra cost to you when you buy things on Amazon, even if they’re not books and are not shown in our Store. You have to click into one of the advertised books from our site, go into your Cart, and remain in that Amazon session while you shop around, but if you’ll do us the favor, we get about 6 percent per purchase. Say you buy a $20 book. That means $2 for the TCT each time – and I repeat, at no extra cost to you. And if you’re buying something bigger through Amazon, the help for TCT is larger as well. Many of you have been using this option already, but if you make a note to keep it in mind for the future you’ll be helping, painlessly.

And making your own contribution to our witness protection program at The Catholic Thing.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.