Some Unpolitical Thoughts in a Time of Crisis

The former mayor of Chicago and Obama political advisor, Rahm Emanuel, made himself noteworthy by recently reiterating his political principle, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” 1 He saw in both the 2008 economic crisis and the 2020 coronavirus crisis the opportunity to introduce changes, marketed as “reforms,” in many areas outside economics and health policy which his political clientele had been advocating for years without success. So compelling is a crisis, especially when “hyped” by media, that elected congressmen are willing to swallow pounds of pork inserted in major bills in the hope of demonstrating that Washington is doing something. Yet crises, especially instigated crises, can leave the body politic susceptible to manipulation by pressure groups intent upon particular goals but negligent of the common good. Edmund Burke’s perceptive and prophetic Reflections on the Revolution in France, published already in 1790, two years previous to the Terror, warned against precipitously introducing short-sighted goals, enabling political posturing and promising immediate gratification, at the price of wider and long-range vision, which includes respect for traditional institutions. For such institutions, matured in time and generally expressing the wisdom of ages, resist hastily concocted ideological programs for ameliorating the fortune of the human race. While temperate reforms can improve the functioning of institutions, enabling them to adapt to changing needs, rash implementation of enthusiastic programs usually leads to disaster.

After the unjust killing of George Floyd and the subsequent violent protests which have not only destroyed property but also injured and killed people, participants, police, and bystanders, American society has been struggling through some convulsions. Into the confusion have waded hawkers of ideological solutions promising to eradicate all evil and woe from our political and social lives. Such ideological proponents of a new creation are either very young and inexperienced or cleverly manipulative. The latter refuse to learn from history while the former are too naïve to recognize that history might hold lessons for them. Fortunately for Christians the Bible serves as much more realistic guide than ideologues beating drums for abstract theories. Jesus knew better than to let mere mortals distinguish and eradicate the weeds from among the wheat in the Church and the universe (Matt. 13:28-30). Judgment comes, but in God’s good time since God is patient. “’Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I shall repay’” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). In the meantime He counsels us to patience and charity. For God is infinitely patient, allowing time for repentance, even as He assures us that in His good season all accounts will become due (Lk. 13:6-9; 19:11-27; Matt. 7:19; 25:31-46; Jn. 15:6).

The Mystery of Evil

Though most men must feel at times a great desire to purify the Church and the world of evildoers – anger is the proper response to injustice – God is very wise in not entrusting that task to mere mortals. Even if they could read individual consciences, they would very soon be confronted by the problem of evil, what St. Paul termed “the mystery of iniquity (anomia: lawlessness)” (2 Thes. 2:6). Evil is fundamentally the mystery of perverted freedom, which rebuffs every attempt at human control. Evil is what should not be, and no creature can explain it. For the search for an explanation involves seeking a reason, or cause, an answer to the question “why?” That presupposes a necessary link between the effect and its cause. Otherwise the alleged cause would be at best just a propitious occasion for the alleged effect. Hence discovering the cause for evil entails affirming that what should not be must be, i.e., evil is necessary. That would result in an immoral universe, if it were not an inherent contradiction: evil depends upon a free choice from a corrupted will, not a necessary reason or cause.

The very choice of evil is a mystery. Evil cannot be a positive reality. God created all that exists and He made everything good (Gen. 1). Hence philosophers often describe evil as a privation, the lack of some perfection that belongs to or is owed to a reality’s essence. For example, were an eagle born without wings, that would be an evil since by nature an eagle should fly. Were a man born without wings, that lack would entail no evil since wings do not belong to human nature.2 Contrariwise a man lacking an arm due to a birth defect or accident would be suffering a privation, an evil. He lacks what his nature should have. But then a problem arises: if evil is a privation, how can anyone choose what is lacking? A lack does not exist.

Not surprisingly philosophers offer another explanation: evil results from the choice of a lesser instead of a greater good. We readily understand that from our experience. I might be tempted to watch a baseball game to the end instead of preparing my morning lecture and actually yield to the temptation. That hurts the greater good of my students and contradicts my primary duty as teacher. Likewise a child may prefer to play his video game and neglect his homework. But how stupid must one be to choose a lesser rather than a greater good? Admittedly children do a lot of stupid things. That is why they have parents, who keep stupid choices to a minimum. Tenured professors can get away with all sorts of stupidities, but stupidity remains stupidity. In any case, it should be clear that stupidity fails to provide a valid reason for a choice.

If evil, specifically evil moral choices, which lead to evil ontological results, cannot be explained, they cannot be understood and therefore cannot be controlled. No one can control what he does not understand; it would be like wrestling with an unknown, Protean assailant in the dark. If such is the human predicament, it behooves humans to be very cautious when ideological enthusiasts start preaching a social nostrum designed to resolve all of society’s problems. Abstract theories are always removed from the nuts and bolts of practice and they cannot foresee, much less prevent free human beings from throwing a metaphorical monkey wrench into the vast machine of progress.

Unfortunately in our time of crisis the mass media, while claiming freedom of the press, can hardly be trusted. Journalists habitually twist and spin the facts. Under post-modernism’s influence they seem convinced that by controlling language they can determine people’s perceptions of reality and thereby define reality itself. On FOX news one scarcely hears a critical word about President Trump while on NPR, CNN, ABC, and CNBC scarcely is a positive word about him pronounced. Pre-formed judgments not only dictate the commentary but also determine the news items deemed worthy of propagation. Anti-Trump networks consistently emphasize the looming danger of the pandemic for which the administration’s feeble, contradictory efforts at containment are to blame. The FOX channel stresses that COVID-19 is being overcome since the perilous cases indicated by the number of deaths are holding steady; besides, it is all China’s fault. While one expects politicians to polish their own stars and besmirch their opponents, the public media’s manipulation of the news undermines the press freedom upheld in the first amendment. Our founding fathers guaranteed such freedom in order to enable citizens to make informed decisions about matters of public policy. It was presumed that public discussion would let truth appear. The truth may be illuminated from various viewpoints, but when the prejudices of the press so exclude attempts at objective coverage the press forfeits people’s trust. Thereby the future of democracy is imperiled. Unfortunately the corruption of academe by its assimilation of post-modern thought, which denies the possibility of objective truth surpassing individual perspectives, encourages journalists and editors to persist in perversity.3

Are All Men God’s Children?

Among the falsehoods proclaimed in the press and by politicians on both sides of the aisle are two pious statements so often repeated that they are taken for platitudes. Yet both can lead to disastrous consequences. The first fallacy is that all men are God’s children. Enlightenment philosophes reiterated frequently this falsehood to deprive Christianity of its historical truth. God’s fatherhood was allegedly recognized through creation and natural religion; Jesus only preached what was available to all, and there is no further need of supernatural revelation. Of course Moslems find that opinion blasphemous: monotheistic Allah has no Son and certainly no children; all creatures are His servants or slaves. Many varieties of Buddhism and Hinduism do not even recognize a personal godhead. The Enlightenment dogma also contradicts Scripture. St. Paul reminded the Ephesians, “You were by nature (physis: birth) children of wrath” (2:3). Original sin broke the initial unity in love between God and man and among men. Instead of loving God and each other as God loves, i.e., selflessly, our primordial parents turned against God and each other, preferring to prescribe for themselves the moral canon. From that time forward humans did not trust each other. For love renders one vulnerable to the other(s) whom one loves, yet men do not want to be hurt. Consequently they protect themselves by amassing property, power, and money; instead of love they substitute transient pleasures. The rupture of external unity with their fellow men works internal confusion. Having been created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27) – God is love (1 Jn. 4:8.16) – men were made for love. They desire to be loved, yet fear to expose themselves to love’s demand. From this basic internal contradiction springs all the various forms of concupiscence which master people against their will and render them miserable (Rom. 7:14-25). To realize that all are not God’s children one needs only observe the surrounding world as well as his own distorted responses to God’s love. Do men treat each other as brothers and sisters in God’s family? Look at all the wars, physical and spiritual violence, financial, sexual, and social exploitation of people, broken promises and shattered marriages, the lying, pornography, stealing, killing, greed, jealousy, and unbridled anger which permeate the world. Does such behavior indicate the self-giving love characteristic of God’s children?

To become God’s children a profound conversion is needed. That is a primary reason for the Incarnation. From the beginning of His public ministry Jesus called all men to conversion, to follow Him and believe in the gospel of which He is the content (Mk. 1:1.15.17; 8:34-35; 10:29). His way, of course, is the way of self-sacrificial love which leads to death on the cross. Christians are challenged for the sake of their salvation to appropriate His mode of life in order to be conformed to their crucified Savior and share in His resurrection (Phil 3:10-11). Hence Paul sees baptism as a submersion into Christ’s death to rise with Him into newness of life (Rom. 6:3-10). Baptism’s gift of divine life is a bestowal of love as Christians become “sharers in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), a process which later Church Fathers, such as Athanasius and Augustine, described as “divinization.”4  This transformation involves a rebirth “from above (anothen: again) from water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-6). As John expounds the mystery in the first chapter of his Gospel: “To whoever received Him, those who believed in His name, He [Jesus] gave the power to become God’s children, and these were begotten not from blood nor will of the flesh nor man’s will, but from God” (1:12-13).

Nowhere does the Bible identify God as the Father of all men. At most the Old Testament designates as “son of God” only Israel (Exod. 4:22; Hos. 11:1), the king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7), and the paradigmatic just man (Wis. 2:13-18). This sonship is by election, not by birth (Deut. 4:37; 7;7; 2 Sam. 6:21; 1 Kgs. 11:34; 1 Chron. 28:4-6; Ezek. 20:5; Wis. 3:9). The New Testament narrows even further the extent of the designation. There is only one Son of God by nature or by birth: Jesus Christ. When pious Jews, then as today, avoided pronouncing the divine name “Yahweh,” He dared to address God as Abba, a charitative used by a child or a grown son and best translated as Daddy or Dad (Mk. 14:36). In teaching He always distinguished “my Father” from “your Father.” The sole instance when “our Father” passed His lips occurred when He was teaching others, His disciples, how to pray (Matt. 6:9). By accomplishing God’s will in following Jesus believers become members of His family (Mk. 3:35). 5

A conversion is required on men’s parts to become God’s children. For that reason Paul identifies Christian sonship as “adoptive sonship” (hyiothesia): “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying, “Abba, Father” so that you are not long a slave but a son, and if a son, also an heir through God” (Gal. 4:5-7; Rom. 8:15.23; Eph. 1:5).

In a biblical perspective being a child of God does not grant rights to anyone. Instead divine childhood is God’s free gift which bestows a task on believers. They have to live selflessly as God the Son did. That entails “doing good to all men, especially the members of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). On one of the rare occasions when Scripture speaks of “equality,” we learn of Christ: “Since He was in the form of God, He did not consider equality with God to be robbery, but He emptied Himself, taking on a slave’s form; born in man’s likeness and found in human form, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). 6 Jesus never insists on His rights vis-à-vis the Father since He is “meek and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29). Precisely because He receives all from the Father the Son confesses, “The Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28). Thereby He provides the model for disciples. Living in gratitude, they should be primarily concerned with helping others instead of insisting on rights since they live from God’s plenitude of charity. God’s beneficence should impel them to exhort others by deed and word to faith and baptism. For God loves sinners and wishes all to become His children in Jesus through saving baptism (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 5:6-9; 1 Pet. 3:21). When believers love Jesus, who loved them first, they are joined in their personal freedom, where they are most themselves, to God the Son and in and through Him to the Father. Hence in loving Jesus they share His life of love, which in its infinite superabundance moves them to communicate that love to others. Consequently Christian parents have their children baptized early in order that they may grow in and into an ambient of love, first manifested in the family, but also integrated into the prayers and witness of the universal Church.

Are All Created Equal?

The second pious falsehood again derives from the Enlightenment, not from the Bible, viz., “all men are created equal.” That phase in the Declaration of Independence was penned by Thomas Jefferson, who did not really believe it himself. He kept slaves, many of whom were treated harshly by hired overseers. Moreover, despite his public opposition to miscegenation, he engendered children by Sally Hemings, a slave owned by him. He employed their children as house slaves.7 Many philosophical difficulties encumber the notion of equality: how is equality to be conceived? of happiness, status, talent, opportunity, achievement? economic, political, legal? That John Rawls, the twentieth century’s leading egalitarian theorist, not only presupposed that societal morality depends on a contract but also had to construct a myth whereby pre-existent souls, ignorant of the individual conditions of their future incarnate state, choose the society into which they are to be injected makes one suspect the rational basis of egalitarian theory.8 A myth is make-believe. Surely anyone with an open mind would recognize the falsity of the statement that all are created equal. People are not all the same. It is obvious that they are all different, be it in strength, intelligence, sex, health, family background, religion, race, nation, etc. For one I do not enjoy the same DNA as Michael Jordan. No matter how much I exercised and tried, I could never set foot on the same court as he and have any realistic chance of winning. Why then was I not born the equal of Mr. Jordan? My inferior birth deprived me of the opportunity of playing a game I love while making a fortune. Basketball is the most popular game of the Philippines, yet how many Filipinos currently play in the NBA? Of course in the islands a Filipino would be considered a giant at 6’2”. That only gets him so far in the NBA. Is it unfair that the number of black players in the NBA and the NFL is egregiously out of proportion to their percentage in the general population? Why doesn’t the American Civil Liberties Union bring a suit on behalf of the many white athletes excluded from lucrative contracts and participating a game that they love? Maybe blacks have greater natural talent and develop it more strenuously? Is there an injustice is raising that possibility?

Analogously, are men and women equal? Anyone who thinks that, should make the experiment of getting married. He or she will very soon discover that men and women think and feel differently. Those differences are wonderful and good. Marriage calls both sexes out of themselves and teaches them to share their lives and learn to consider the needs, feelings, and abilities of their spouses. Humans were created not for self-fulfillment on earth, but to love each other. That entails sacrifice of self for the beloved. Children are the natural fruit of marriage and they certainly ensure that parents are called out of themselves, especially at 2 A.M. when they scream for comfort. Those little “brats,” however lovable, have to be changed from barbarians into civilized beings. Lest little Matilda continually scream when she does not get what she wants or little Johnny perpetually poop in his pants, discipline must be imposed. Such little battles unite parents more closely: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In difficult times when they do not seem to understand, much less sympathize with each other, spouses learn that self-fulfillment does not constitute life’s true goal. Frustration is augmented precisely because they love each other. They get under each other’s skin because they are already to some degree one flesh and one spirit. Surely friendships grow when friends go through difficult times and come out united. Each learns to deny himself or herself for the sake of spouse and family. Precisely by persisting they learn not only to understand and sympathize with each other but also to trust each other. They are there for each other. The gospel maxim of losing oneself to find oneself, or dying to self to live, has to be lived in the flesh (Matt. 10:39; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 17:33; Jn. 12:24-25). For a marriage to work, both spouses need to work at it. It is a hard challenge but the resultant friendship more than repays the sacrifices. One knows where one belongs, where one is truly at home, and sexual complementarity expands each partner’s ability to enjoy the other’s self-gift. In this way heaven is partially anticipated and witnessed on earth. Aristotle noted, “Without friends no one would choose to live” (Nic. Eth. 8:1 1155a 5-6) – certainly not forever. Analogously someone like myself does not become jealous of Michael Jordan’s achievements but rejoices at his athletic excellence.

Disastrous Consequences

Black people in the United States suffer many disadvantages. They should be helped, but we should also be wary of the ideology employed in groups purporting to protest in their name. “Equality” as a slogan can destroy societies, as during the French Revolution and even in our days. Here is an example of a destructive criticism: “If we are all equal and you have what I want but do not have, you must possess it unjustly. That fault is in you as an individual oppressor or in society. Since I’m talking with you and want to win you over, let’s blame it on society. Something must wrong with society; there is institutionalized injustice or racism of which you are unaware. Hence you ought to be ashamed of having what I don’t have, viz., privilege. Guilt applies to both you and your ancestors who bestowed this privilege on you. Thus we all should feel miserable and you should feel guilty to boot.” Such a view fails to acknowledge how parents love their children and rightly wish to help them in life. No one is a pure individual. Human beings need parents to exist, and they continue to exist in networks of relations for better and for worse. Parents help or hurt children, depending on their quality, because their love accompanies or should accompany them throughout their lifetime journey. To demand that parents neither love nor aid their children attacks the fundamental structure of Christian and Western civilization. As St. John Paul II wrote, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (Familiaris consortio 86).

An inherent danger of current social critiques concerns its classification of groups in terms of power. Machiavelli, Marx, and Saul Alinsky so analyzed the societies which they desired to reconstitute and control. 9 If a married couple were to conceive relations primarily in terms of power, their marriage would already be on the skids. Similarly any society which understands itself primarily in terms of reciprocal, opposed powers is in danger of dissolution. For power compels others, whether through actual or implicit violence, to acknowledge one’s own claims to various goods. Consequently it readily engenders “push-back,” contrary pressures of resistance. No society constantly engaged in implicit internal warfare can long subsist. As Abraham Lincoln observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and he was quoting a mind more profound than his own (Mk. 3:25). 10  Undergirding its institutional structures of law, order, and force every self-perpetuating society requires basic amical relations among its members.

The Role of Justice in Society

Justice alone is not sufficient to preserve societies. For one thing justice, like equality, allows divergent interpretations. Moralists generally acknowledge two principal types of justice: commutative and distributive. The former establishes a straightforward correspondence between deed and recompense: tit-for-tat: everyone who performs the same job receives the same salary. The latter allows for differentiated treatment of individuals according to their diverse needs, abilities, achievements, or societal positions in view of the common good. So the president’s motorcade speeds through red lights when the ordinary motorist is issued a ticket. Again, tax deductions are granted to families according to the number of children; hence from the same income a single individual pays more taxes than a person married-with-family. Rightly so since the children of the latter will be contributing to the social security payments of the former. Finally, among siblings both types of justice are in play. When one of my bothers received a special benefit or privilege from our parents, I would demand the same for myself, “Aren’t we all equal?” Yet if benefits were bestowed on me, to my brothers’ squeals of protest, I would manfully maintain the justice of my parents’ decision because of my special qualities, be they age, achievement, maturity, etc. Obviously what is justice to one can be interpreted as injustice to another. Fortunately my parents not only fed, clothed, and disciplined me and my brothers but also loved us. They knew which measure of justice had to be applied in which circumstances. In the vast majority of cases they were correct, and our puerile protests against partiality quickly evaporated. Yet in today’s public arena the same people who insist upon equality, however vaguely defined, also urge the public to “celebrate diversity.” Whichever side of the paddle is effective in forcing their will on opponents they are willing to apply. The paddle’s effectiveness is mightily enhanced when political correctness ostracizes all different views in the name of equality and justice. Yet as Benedict XVI reminded his readers in Deus caritas est, justice, though necessary in every state, never suffices for human well-being; it must be supplemented and supported by charity (28, 31). At his second inaugural address Lincoln recognized the same truth. Calling the nation to healing without judging either side’s intentions in the war, he concluded his speech with Christian wisdom: “With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have bourne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.” 11

While charity should serve as the firm foundation and cement of every society, a structure of justice must be implemented. “Equality” before the law can well serve as a norm of justice. In a fallen world power dominates. Concupiscent men take advantage of their fellows. The poor, the weak, and the uneducated may easily fall prey to the rich, the powerful, and the educated. Even if good people strive to conduct themselves lovingly, structures are required as a barrier against injustice and all the legal or academic chicanery employed to justify it. Hence the demand for equality can serve as a rallying cry for good people in favor of assisting disadvantaged members of society. Yet the demand must always be measured against reality and consider the most effective way of attaining improvements in society. In recent time the movement Black Lives Matter has come to the fore in championing justice for George Floyd and other black men killed by police. Some measure of retribution should be invoked lest others copy the action of bigots with impunity. But only with the greatest caution should Black Lives Matter be supported. Under the banner of retributive justice the movement desires to introduce into American society many alterations destructive of civilized life and contrary to Christian values. As its creed announces, it opposes the patriarchical or nuclear family, wishing to “dismantle” it; in place of “heteronormative thinking” it would establish a “queer-affirming network” encouraging homosexual and transgender activity within families or villages caring collectively for children. 12 The actualization of such an immoral project would divide society and profoundly wound the people subjected to it. Other organizations should not let themselves be instrumentalized even while protesting against injustice. 13

An Alternate Proposal

It has been long manifested in sociological surveys that the surest sign of success for children in later life corresponds to their origin in a stable family. Unfortunately government programs designed to eradicate poverty and improve scholastic results over the last fifty years, despite the enormous expenditure of financial and human resources, has resulted in the collapse of the American nuclear family. Fifty years ago just less than 25% of black children were born out of wedlock, now almost 70% are. The city of Detroit, where I live, has an illegitimacy rate of above 80% — beyond the abortion rate of 45%. Programs originally excogitated to support black families have extended their damage across all racial groups. Currently almost half the children born in the U.S.A. are illegitimate. 14 Why should a man wait around to support his child when the mother will receive more financial assistance in his absence? Admittedly the Clinton reforms cut back on direct assistance, encouraging single mothers to accept employment, but damage had been inflicted on social mores. For the absent father and the working mother the state now substitutes all sorts of programs; mothers are to commit their children to public nurseries. Are not all women equal for all tasks? But try to persuade a child that one woman (or man) caretaker is as good as another. Studies have repeatedly shows that the loss or absence of mother or father delivers psychological wounds to children that last a lifetime. 15 What politicians today propose or even support programs designed to strengthen the normal family composed of husband, wife, and children? Government programs abstractly concocted by academics have done incalculable harm to American children over the last half-century. Even academics, usually so deft at explaining statistics, had to admit the failure of once highly touted educational panaceas: the new math, bussing, ebonics, etc. Some programs still continue without appreciable results: introduction of black teacher role models, numerical classroom reduction, additional teacher aids, and, of course, elimination of charter school competition and ever greater financial compensation to administrators and teachers. Might not the lack of support from emasculated or maimed families explain the lack of educational success?16 When children do not learn discipline and experience its fruits at home or in school, is it any wonder that violence spills out into the streets? When the television presents scenes of recent riots in various American cities, no great clairvoyance is required to observe that many of the violent protesters are white-skinned. Where are their fathers?

Our country needs healing. The government may help in some ways, but experience should have revealed its overall incapacity to abolish poverty and functional illiteracy. Catholic social teaching has long advocated the principle of subsidiarity, i.e., as stated in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno 79: “It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order, to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by lesser and subordinate bodies.” That insight provides a warning against grandiose plans and their compelled implementation. When one deals with people, it is extremely difficulty to place all men under the same formula, especially because human freedom is involved. While some resist cookie-cutter categorizations imposed on them, others manipulate the abstractions of the system’s largesse to gain ungodly profits. Instead, when programs are drawn up and elaborated at the local level, they can more aptly correspond to the perceived problems and the people who need help. Admittedly corrupt politicians can divert moneys to their cronies as well as to personal slush funds by controlling the appointment of local administrators. That danger can be obviated to a certain degree by administrative oversight and by local involvement. When the community knows that specific funds are appropriated for local projects, they can more insistently express their views. Further, they will expect concrete improvements and hold the neighborhood politicians for downs. Finally and most importantly, personal relations are more easily established at the local level when people who know each other are more inclined to help each other. Bonds of trust and loyalty can more readily develop, and they may fructify in friendships.

Certainly Catholic Christians can most contribute to the healing process by testifying to the mystery of love in words as well as in deeds. Catholics know that the family was instituted by God in the order of creation to image Himself (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:21-24) and in the “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) Jesus confirmed the perpetuity of marriage vows since His love shatters human hardheartedness (Mk. 10:2-12). Charity is incumbent upon all believers, and this charity should not deplete itself in the sharing of material goods and good counsel but should also engage itself by inviting others into faith’s fullness. Only in Jesus’ love is the mystery of evil overcome. An amorphous belief in God is vapid since it avoids love’s concrete commitment. An amorphous or anonymous Christianity is a contradiction in terms.17 The theory is too effete to save people from hell. From Jesus’ gospel all learn that love is a reality stronger than sin and death, and through the sacraments believers live God’s life, finding the strength to sacrifice themselves for the good of their families, neighbors, and communities. When was the last time that you invited your neighbor to Church or talked to him or her about the reality of Jesus’ love and its meaning in your life? Societies are not converted unless its individual members are also converted. Love must be concretely lived.

  1. Cited at https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/717228-you-never-want-a-serious-crisis-to-go-to-waste#:; cf. also https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/rahm-emanuel-reprises-never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste-catchphrase-amid-coronavirus-pandemic
  2. Admittedly aviators and saints can earn their wings, but that is another issue.
  3. Anyone following the abortion debates has to recognize the blatant bias in so many news sources: instead of identifying pro-life associations by their chosen names they regularly dubbed them “anti-abortion” or “anti-choice” advocates. Similarly news stories about their positions are usually followed by observations by abortion or “pro-choice” advocates, but many stories about the latter are reported without mention of a counter-position. Cf. M. Memmott, at https://www.npr.org/sections/memmos/2019/05/15/723678750/guidance-reminder-on-abortion-procedures-terminology-rights. Groupspeech becomes Groupthink. Most recently in the wake of the George Floyd’s death the media has hyperventilated while highlighting disproportionate police killing of blacks – contrary to statistics: H. MacDonald, “The Myth of Systematic Police Racism,” Wall Street Journal (June 3, 2020), A19. The resultant retreat by the professors, who authored the fundamental study on which MacDonald’s article was based, from their own findings because of academic pressure from “woke liberals” is recounted in MacDonald’s subsequent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (June 8, 2020), “I Cited Their Study, So They Disavowed It.”
  4. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54 (PG 25 192B); Augustine, Sermo 192:1 (PL 38 1012); for a good discussion cf. D. Meconi, S.J., The One Christ (Washington: CUA, 2013).
  5. Cf. G. Schrenk, “pater,” in TDNT 5:974-1014; H.F.D. Sparks, “The Doctrine of the Divine Fatherhood in the Gospels,” in Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R.H. Lightfoot, ed. D. Nineham (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), 241-62; W. Marchel, Abba, Père! (Rome: PBI, 1971); J. Jeremias, “Abba,” in The Prayers of Jesus, tr. J. Bowden, C. Burchard, & J. Reumann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 11-65. This insight is important in refuting the atheistic assertion that theistic language is meaningless: how can God be called Father if He stands on the sideline while His children suffer? No human father would remain so distant. Actually God reveals His Fatherhood on the cross to assure us of His love: so much does He love us that He does not spare His own Son; nothing can separate Christians from His love in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:31-39). Cf. J. McDermott, S.J., “The Loving Father and the Tormented Child: Professor Flew and St. Irenaeus,” Thought 53 (March, 1978), 70-82.
  6. The verbal participle introducing this citation is usually translated “although,” which implies an inconsistency between God in Himself and God in the economy. Grammatically it can just as well be translated “because.” The revealed God is the real God. The Son is humble in the Trinity as well as in the economy. Love is self-giving. In a fallen world that entails self-sacrifice. – On the occasion when Paul calls for “justice and equality” (Col. 4:1) he requests masters so to treat their slaves.
  7. H. Wiencek, Master of the Mountain (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) provides in abundance the details of Jefferson’s handling of his slaves; cf. esp. 25, 56-57, 116-25, 172, 196-231. N. Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason: the Life of Thomas Jefferson (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1987), 62, writes that Jefferson considered blacks “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and of mind.” F. Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (New York: Norton, 1974), 158-59, holds that Jefferson thought blacks superior in bravery, adventurousness, and music but inferior to whites in reason, beauty, and imagination; also Wiencek, 46-52.
  8. J. Rawls, A Theology of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1971), 118-83. For the various understandings of equality and their apparent irreconcilability cf. the collection Equality: Selected Readings, ed. L. Pojman and R. Westmoreland (New York: Oxford U., 1997). It should also be clear that a sense of morality is presupposed by any contract; the contract does not establish obligation. If pure will grounds obligation, pure will can nullify morality.
  9. N. Machiavelli, The Prince, tr. L. Ricci, rev. E. Vincent (1935; rpt. New York: New American Library, 1952), esp. ch. 17-19. “A prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist . . .  But it is necessary to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler” (92-93). “A prince who wishes to maintain the state is often forced to do evil” (99). K. Marx, “The German Ideology,” in Karl Marx: Selected Writings, ed. D. McLellan (Oxford: Oxford U., 1977): “The communists do not preach morality at all . . . They do not put to people the moral demand: love one another, do not be egoists, etc.; on the contrary, they are very well aware that egoism, just as much as self-sacrifice, is in definite circumstances a necessary form of the self-assertion of individuals” (183). “If power is taken as the basis of right . . . then right, law, etc. are merely the symptom, the expression of other relations upon which the State power rests. The material life of individuals . . . is the real basis of the state and remains so” (184). Also “Address of the Central Council to the Communist League,” in Karl Marx: Essential Writings, ed. F. Bender (New York: Harper & Row, 1972): “It is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been displaced from domination, until the proletariat has conquered state power” (266). S. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (New York: Random House, 1971): “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away” (3). “My aim here is to suggest how to organize for power: how to get it and to use it . . . All of life is partisan. There is not dispassionate objectivity” (10). “The third rule of the ethics of means and ends is that in war the end justifies almost any means” (29). In social organizing “goals must be phrased in general terms like ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,’ ‘Of the Common Welfare,’ ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’ or ‘Bread and Peace’’ (45). Vagueness allows serpentine flexibility in promoting goals impossible of attainment. A community organizer should not let himself be pinned down. “He does not have a fixed truth – truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing” (10-11). After all the first known radical rebel who “won his own kingdom” and whom Alinsky acknowledges was Lucifer (xi).
  10. A. Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, ed. D. Fehrenbacker (New York: Library of America, 1989), 1:426 (speech given on June 16, 1858 at Springfield, IL).
  11. Lincoln, Speeches, 2:687 (March 4, 1865).
  12. Cf. blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe. This substitution of a collective for the family was previously promoted by Marx, who interpreted wives and children as the husband’s slaves: “German Ideology,” 168-69.
  13. A similar reserve is attached to “right-claims.” By focusing on inherent rights one sets each individual into an adversarial relation with his or her peers. M. Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York: Macmillan, 1991), rightly warns against its failure to teach responsibility and to inculcate a sense of social awareness. Catholic social teaching normally stresses obligation before “right-claims.” For life is not chosen by new-born babies. It is bestowed on them as a gift through their parents’ love. That should engender a sense not only of responding responsibility but also of gratitude and joy. Admittedly more recent Catholic moralists have employed rights-language. As far as I know, J. Maritain, Man and the State (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1951) is the first important Catholic natural law moralist to employ rights-language. A leader in drawing up the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), he wished to let Catholic more easily enter into dialogue with other moral traditions. Having recognized the dangers which Communists attribute to the primacy of the collectivity over individuals, John Paul II would appeal to the fundamental, inviolable right of children in the womb to life (Evangelium vitae 5, 60, 72); similarly he insisted on the right of parents to educate their children (Familiaris Consortio 36) and published the “Charter of the Rights of the Family” (Oct. 22, 1983). Familiaris Consortio’s argument, however, does not rely on pure rights-language. It allows the “right” to be deduce from the parents’ “obligation” to care for their children, the traditional manner of argumentation in Catholic natural law morality.
  14. Cf. B. Johnson at detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2018/09/10/black-community-must-foster-traditional-marriage; G. Hunter at detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2018/03/05/kids-male-role-models/111097478/; C. Page, “Out-of-Wedlock Births in Black America,” at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4865449; also R. VerBruggen, at https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-we-ended-up-with-40-percent-of-children-born-out-of-wedlock. In the middle part of the current decade illegitimate black births surpassed legitimate births: W. Williams (2016) theburningplatform.com/2016/05/29/the-true-black-tragedy-illegitimacy-rate-of-nearly-75/; on abortion cf. https://www.mdch.state.mi.us/pha/osr/Abortion/AbortionRates.asp. Cf. also N. Glazer and D. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970), 50-53.
  15. J. Bowlby, A Secure Base (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), esp. 1-36, 119-36, 162-80; J. Anderson, “The Impact of Family Structure on the Health of Children: Effects of Divorce,” Linacre Quarterly 81 (2014), 378-84; K. Yun, June 20, 2018 at thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/393316-the-science-of-family-separation-and-how-it-can-harm-children; also winteryknight.com/2019/06/27/does-the-legacy-of-slavery-explain-black-womens-72-out-of-wedlock-birth-rate/
  16. One must always be careful of extrapolating from one’s own experience, but when I attended Catholic school, in grades K-8 my classes contained never less than 66 students and sometimes as many as 72 – and only one teacher without teacher aids. We all learned to read, write, and do arithmetic without computers and other gadgets. In high school the number was reduced to 35-36 in a class. But the same structure persisted at home. My parents insisted that I finish my homework and checked it. Given their interest in my success, there was no need of police in the school to prevent violence. Present-day reformers seemingly forget that public school teachers requested the presence of policemen precisely because they could not control the violence. Fortunately concerned family members can overcome many deficiencies in broken families and school systems. Destiny is not always determined by poverty. Dr. Ben Carson has recounted how his mother, a single parent, insisted that he and his brother do their homework, even though she, unknown to her sons, was illiterate. Justice Clarence Thomas attributes his scholastic success to his grandfather’s discipline who cared for him after his father abandoned his mother.
  17. Rahner’s theory of anonymous Christianity has been strongly criticized by H. U. von Balthasar, Cordula oder der Ernstfall (Einsiedeln: Johannes, 1966), 85-97, and H. de Lubac, S.J., Geheimnis aus dem wir leben (Einsiedeln: Johannes, 1967), 133-154. Y. Congar, O.P., “Dekret über die Missionstätigkeit der Kirche: Theologische Grundlegung (Nr. 2-9),” in Mission nach dem Konzil, ed. J. Schütte (Mainz: Grünewald, 1967), 163, notes that at Vatican II in the debate over Ad Gentes the Council Fathers were very upset and strongly resisted an attempt to define the missionary’s task as a bringing to consciousness of what was already implicit in non-Christian religions.
Fr. John M. McDermott, SJ About Fr. John M. McDermott, SJ

Fr. John M. McDermott, SJ, currently teaches theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He previously taught at Fordham University, the Gregorian University (Rome), and the Pontifical College Josephinum. He was also invited professor at St. Joseph's Seminary (Yonkers) and Seton Hall University. He served on the International Theological Commission, various Roman commissions, and as consultor to the USCCB Doctrine Committee. He has published two books, edited two others, and produced more than 150 articles on philosophy, dogmatic theology, Scripture, history, and spirituality.

Comments

  1. I agree 100% with the responsibility of the Government, but I would add that the Family Structure is not working properly and we need to go back to religion, ethics and moral in the schools. USA is a Christian Country, even if we have minorities of other religions. The publics schools should teach religios again. Just my opinion.

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