Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Archbishop Chaput’s response to Fukuyama and his ilk

Well, not explicitly....

In any event, our friend Gary Seaton sent along the text of this speech by Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver. There’s so much I’d love to quote, but I’ll restrict myself to a few snippets:

I think the current American debate over religion and the public square has much deeper roots than the 2006 and 2004 elections, or John Kennedy’s 1960 election—or the Second Vatican Council, for that matter. A crisis of faith and action for Christians has been growing for many years in Western society. It’s taken longer to have an impact here in the United States because we’re younger as a nation than the countries in Europe, and we’ve escaped some of Europe’s wars and worst social and religious struggles.


But Americans now face the same growing spiritual illness that J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, Romano Guardini, and C.S. Lewis all wrote about in the last century. It’s a loss of hope and purpose that comes from the loss of an interior life and a living faith. It’s a loss that we can only make bearable by creating a culture of material comfort that feeds—and feeds off of—personal selfishness.

After an extensive discussion of Georges Bernanos, he offers this updated reflection on a passage from Frank Sheed:

The tidal wave of our toys, from iPods to the Internet, is equally effective in getting us to ignore history and ignore our own emptiness. The struggle for real human freedom depends upon the struggle for human history. Unlike the ideologies that deny the importance of the past and the present and focus on the illusions of a perfect future, Christianity sees the most important moments of the human story to be the past event of the Incarnation and the present moment of my individual opportunity to love.


The Christian faith is grounded in what God has done. Our love is what we choose to do now, and our hope is founded in God’s past acts of love and our present ones. Without history, there is no Christianity. So the fundamental question, for Bernanos, is “whether history is the story of mankind or merely of technology.” Modern man must be convinced again that he is free, that he can really choose in this moment of time between very different paths to very different futures. In the act of choosing, we regain history as our own.

Finally, there’s this:

The “common good” is more than a political slogan. It’s more than what most people think they want right now. It’s not a matter of popular consensus or majority opinion. It can’t be reduced to economic justice or social equality or better laws or civil rights, although all these things are vitally important to a healthy society.


The common good is what best serves human happiness in the light of what is real and true. That’s the heart of the matter: What is real and true? If God exists, then the more man flees from God, the less true and real man becomes. If God exists, then a society that refuses to acknowledge or publicly talk about God is suffering from a peculiar kind of insanity.

I actually addressed these issues much more lamely in a much narrower context in a class today. We/ve been reading Kent Greenawalt’s Religion and the Constitution: Free Exercise and Fairness, and I’ve been trying to find some big theoretical issues in a very nuanced and lawyerly book. The issue I was trying to flog today was the way in which the law tries to treat churches as just another species of voluntary associations, which obviously distorts the phenomenon somewhat. An example upon which I seized was Greenawalt’s discussion of the issue of clergy malpractice, where he, so to speak, privileges the "secular" view of a person’s crisis as psychological or physiological, as opposed to spiritual. Here’s a very small chunk of Greenawalt:

Unless the [religious] counselor says, "Well, perhaps you should see a secular professional as well as me," or "You need to understand that I do not have all the training of a licensed psychotherapist," the client may be encouraged to put his problems into the counselor’s hands, unaware of the limits of the counselor’s competence....

Perhaps someone representing herself as available for formal counseling relationships has a responsibility either to state very clearly the limits of her competence or to possess a minimal acquaintance with highly dangerous conditions and who should treat them.

For Greenawalt, the authoritative position seems to be that of therapy and drugs, not prayer and religious discipline. We should be able to require pastoral counselors to be congnizant of their limits, but shouldn’t or couldn’t expect parallel admissions of spiritual humility from secular psychologists and psychotherapists: "Perhaps your problem is a spiritual one, for which my therapies and chemicals will not avail."

I may in some respects be unfair to Greenawalt here, since he’s writing for people who wish to advise and guide judges and policymakers, but a law or policy that requires religion to acknowledge its inadequacy in the face of materialism but can’t compel materialism to acknowledge its inadequacy in the face of religion is not, in Chaput’s terms, realistic.

Update: Over at Wheat & Weeds, RC2 has some very smart thoughts on the archbishop she is wont to call Chaput the Great.

Discussions - 2 Comments

The modern legal establishment desires to treat religion, especially religious organizations, as if they were nothing more than another selection offered in the great buffet of life. As if religion, and all that it signifies and means, was something that one could either take or leave, without any real impact upon wider society. But the attempt to trivialize what Western civilization was built upon, treating Christianity as if were nothing more than a glorified yoga class, results in a vast intellectual dislocation. This intellectual dislocation translates itself rapidly into the culture, morals and politics of society.

To the extent that our understanding of religious toleration is derived from Locke, should it come as a surprise that we treat religion as "another selection offered in the great buffet of life?"

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