Substitutes for Thought

“Liberalism reduces Christianity to slogans; slogans are a substitute for thought.” That’s how Dartmouth College English professor and National Review editor the late Jeffrey Hart, my revered teacher and friend, thus categorized the anti-intellectual distortions that we are now being peddled by the cancel culture that plagues our society and the Church.

The promoters of the liberal spirit in religion, which was defined by St. John Henry Newman as the anti-dogmatic principle, will not tolerate any contradiction of their dictatorship of relativism sloganeering. The only dogmas to which they demand assent are the latest never-to-be-questioned slogans used in the ongoing project to dismantle the Church’s doctrines, especially her moral teachings.

Failure to agree with their revolutionary demands is treated as a culpable failure by “haters” who do not “get it.”  Slogan brandishing progressives seek not rational dialogue with presumably honorable opponents but rather a mea maxima culpa submission from those they stigmatize as recalcitrant, self-interested defenders of their own “privilege.”

The Catholic wing of the liberal cancel culture is not interested in constructive debate and discussion, in the joint effort of rational people to convince each other, through the use of reasoned arguments and objective evidence, of the truth of things. Opposition to the ever more outrageous claims of the sexual revolution is treated as an evil and malevolent expression of irrational hatred for people who are “different.”

The indiscriminate slogan “love is love” is offered as a justification for denying what the Church has always taught, and continues to teach, to be immoral unnatural sexual activity. The slogan “born that way” is likewise utilized to deny the Biblical “male and female He created them” and the Church’s teaching that God in his creative design does not intend that anyone engage in the misuse of his/her sexual powers by acts of sodomy.

The promoters of transgenderism resent any reminder that God’s creation of male and female persons is not subject to human reworking. They assert that it is unjust to deny someone (who is in fact a deluded person) the right to assert his/her “true, not assigned at birth, identity.” Any resistance by others to being compelled to go along with this delusion is a hate crime, pure and simple.

The Church has always engaged in reasoned confutation of errors and heresies. She knows that it is her duty in charity to attempt to convince people who have fallen into error to see that their opinions contradict God’s truth as made known to mankind in revelation and in the natural law.


Dogmas, therefore, are not slogans designed to shut down discussion. Dogmatic truths are a crystallization of God’s reality made known to man. To come to know the true nature of God’s created order is the pathway to gaining an understanding of our purpose and goal in life.

The cloud of slogans that obscures the beauty of truth is a cause of spiritual blindness among those who lack proper grounding in the reality of God’s Creation. Ignorance of Catholic teaching has even led many to embrace the facile sloganeering of immoral and destructive ideologies that masquerade as the fulfillment of Christ’s commandment of charity. Subversive agents of change in the Church use their positions of authority to mislead poorly catechized Catholics to embrace the deceptive slogans that are at odds with Catholic doctrine.

When someone challenges such false teachers and their misguided disciples to explain their refusal to embrace the truths taught by the Church, their spiritual blindness leads them to issue indignant accusations that “haters hate, that is what they do.”

The cancel culture’s pervasive use of the accusation of hatred as the sole motive of those who disagree with the revolutionary agenda is a manipulative technique that plays upon the Christian’s proper obligation to love one’s neighbor. When agenda-driven progressives insist that a sincere Catholic is in fact a hater when he professes Catholic teaching and seeks to defend it, the hope is that the believer will eventually relent and accuse himself of failing to love that offended person, who is made to feel “unsafe” when contradicted. The attempt here is not to convince by reason, but to intimidate into submission by making “love of neighbor” into an ideological cudgel.

The Church stands in need of courageous Catholics who are well instructed and are not fooled by slogans and coercive shaming campaigns. In the order of knowledge, the most charitable thing one can do is to share the truth with others. In the case of those who reject that truth, charity demands that we not affirm that rejection out of a misguided notion that contradicting them is hurtful and offensive, hence un-Christian.

A defense of the truth of Catholic teaching may not convince those who wrongly consider that their happiness depends upon denying that teaching. Yet Christian hope and the fulfillment of our duty to be witnesses to Christ in season and out of season are sources of strength and inspiration in the battle for souls.

People who live by deceptive slogans that promise a happiness they cannot deliver are bound to recognize at some point that their choices in life have brought upon them misery and emptiness that are not assuaged by a stubborn refusal to consider that perhaps the Church does teach the truth. At that moment the remembrance of the fidelity of those who refused to be silenced by accusations that they were simply haters, not disciples of Christ, may serve as a spark to put aside sinful and false ways and embrace the reality of God’s truth and love.


*Image: The Iconoclasts by Domenico Morelli, 1855 [Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples]

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.