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  • Smash the Secular State

    by John Zmirak

    If you’re like me, you can’t wait for Barack Obama to speak at the University of Notre Dame — if only because it will put a stop to the flurry of news stories and commentaries about the scandal. (Such as . . . the one you’re presently reading. And my piece from two weeks ago where I graciously offered to accept the used Laetare Medal meant for Mary Ann Glendon. NOTE TO FATHER JENKINS: I’m still waiting.) I wish I were shocked at the phenomenon of President Obama at Notre Dame, but upwardly mobile Catholics in America have been kneeling before the world at least since 1960, and (as this article shows) the Board of Trustees at Notre Dame is even more devout. If worldliness is a religion, these are the folks you see at its 6 a.m. daily Mass.
    Catholics serious about the defense of life are responding to Notre Dame’s craven gesture in a variety of ways. Alan Keyes got himself arrested walking an empty baby carriage — which a friend of mine called “tacky.” I disagree: Politics deals in visuals, and embryos are tiny. Bloody fetus dolls are tacky — as are the bent wire coat hangers used to such good effect by the pro-abortion movement. I think that an empty baby carriage is an excellent visual symbol of just what an abortion amounts to: a missing kid, like those we put on milk cartons.
    Randall Terry and his people, I’ve read, filled up the baby carriages with bloody dolls — a serious mistake. Like those appalling, truthful pictures of the victims of late-term abortions, such visuals have the opposite of the intended effect: They’re simply too horrible, and they lead us to turn away. We do our best to put the issue out of our minds, as “ordinary Germans” did throughout the Holocaust. The best response I’ve seen is a boycott by Notre Dame students of their own commencement exercises, promoted in a sober, dignified video featured here.
    One well-meaning response to the scandal that came through my inbox — an old friend helpfully sends me four or five news stories per day on this particular topic — struck me as particularly dangerous. It seems that one pro-life alumnus of Notre Dame is collecting money to take out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, including the following attempt at being irenic:
    To begin, we, alumni of diverse Catholic institutions, commend your defense of human life and dignity in other areas: your commitment to healthcare for rich and poor alike; your insistence on humane redress of our immigration challenges; your rejection of torture as an intrinsic evil.
    Then it goes on to cogently make the case for rejecting abortion. Now, as a teacher of rhetoric, I know the importance of picking battles. If you’re trying to win someone over on an issue of life or death, it might pay to fudge the other areas on which you disagree. But this statement concedes too much on issues of prudence and principle (and anyway, Prudence is a principle). As the governing natural virtue, Prudence is the means by which we determine how to recognize and implement Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. It is Prudence that tells us when charging up a hill is an act of courage . . . or simple suicide. Justice determines how steeply progressive our income tax may be . . . and where it shades into theft. And so on.
    Catholics who scoff at Prudence and latch onto unconditional statements torn out bleeding from their context in Scripture or Tradition do so, too often, to feed some private sense of moral superiority. Those who answer complicated arguments about immigration with the text “Welcome the stranger” (Dt 10:19), for instance, really ought to read eight chapters further to 18:10-11, which demands that Wiccans be driven out of the country. Exodus goes further: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (22:18). Churchmen once interpreted that one pretty literally, too — and it would be kind of refreshing to see our bishops use that phrase as the title of one of their letters. (“Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live”: The United States Catholic Conference Statement on Religious Diversity.)
    Leave aside torture for the moment (I don’t want to steal away Mark Shea’s thunder): Do we as Catholics really commend President Obama’s defense of human life and dignity in every other area but abortion? Is his de facto — nudge, nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more — support for homosexual unions supportive of true human dignity? What of the bureaucratic monster Obama would create as a means of offering “healthcare for rich and poor alike”? Such a system — not in the pastel daydreams of some vestigial Catholic Democrat, but in cold hard reality, which even for Catholics should have some claim — will surely include full coverage for contraception, sterilization, even sex-change operations, and will likely result (as socialized medicine has in larges swathes of Europe) in the acceptance and even promotion of euthanasia. No, in theory a government health system need not include all these abuses — but in reality, it will. And we will be helping to fund it.
    So we must oppose such a system for as long as we suffer under the laws and the courts and the legal and opinion elites who’d force us to fund intrinsic evils with our confiscated wealth. Leave aside any libertarian arguments about the proper limits of the State; this State, our State, is relentlessly secular. Its version of secularism is almost devoid of a true understanding of the Natural Law. Ironically, Natural Law — our notion of the truths and goods knowable even to pagans — is rejected out of hand by pretty much everyone but Catholics. Which renders Natural Law arguments pretty much . . . useless. In America, State action will be secular in spirit, utilitarian in execution, and in the service of the modern culture of death. Until and unless we can evangelize and overtly Christianize the State — I’m not holding my breath — we are morally obliged to shrink it, squeeze it, entangle in complications and starve it of funds however we can. We are obliged to be libertarians for the duration.
    What this means is that the daydream of so many Catholics nostalgic for the “good old days” of FDR and Monsignor Ryan (the “Right Reverend New Dealer,” as he called himself), the fantasy of a pro-life Democratic party, is in fact a toxic fantasy. It’s an impure thought, to be banished the old-fashioned way: with cold showers and exercise. The proper place of Catholics, for the foreseeable future, is alongside the people at Tea Parties, supporting candidates like Ron Paul — even if some of our fellow travelers are packing heat or smell of weed.
    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • antigon

      Dear Dr. Zmirak:

      As to your observation: “Bloody fetus dolls are tacky — as are…those appalling, truthful pictures of the victims of late-term abortions, [which] visuals have the opposite of the intended effect: They’re simply too horrible, and they lead us to turn away. We do our best to put the issue out of our minds, as “ordinary Germans” did throughout the Holocaust” –

      – I am shocked at your want of patriotism. Did you not read our Tribal Chief’s April 23 speech, from which part below is verbatim, about the ‘ordinary German’ reaction being unAmerican?

      “Today, and every day,” the President observed, “we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to confront these scourges — to fight the impulse to turn the channel
      when we see images that disturb us, or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others’ sufferings are not our own. Instead we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice [and] indifference in whatever forms they may take…doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities.
      “It will not be easy,” he added. “At times, fulfilling these obligations require self-reflection. But…in the end, you have a duty to life.”

      So a little self-reflection, Doctor, else, when the Federal Hate Crimes law passes, your remarks above land you in jail.

      Antigon

    • Chris B

      A powerful central government is the enemy of the Catholic Principle of Subsidiarity.

      All prior institutions are considered subordinate by the Obama / DNC / liberal academy machine:

      - The U.S. Constitution is subordinate to them;
      - The 50 States forming the Union are subordinate;
      - The local governments are subordinate;
      - The Church is subordinate;
      - the Charities are subordinate;
      - the Schools are subordinate;
      - Businesses are subordinate;
      - Taxpayers are subordinate;
      - The Family is subordinate.

      The Obama / DNC / academy line of thought = idolatry.

    • Joe H

      At the risk of having a whole blurb at Taki’s magazine dedicated to me again, and in the hopes that we might find some common ground somewhere, I’ll let you know I have my own set of reflections on this very topic at Vox Nova:

      http://tiny.cc/UruWq

      You say we’re all libertarians now; I think we are all communitarians now, for reasons I explain in the blog, and in an article to appear soon right here. Not that the two are entirely incompatible, of course. If libertarians and communitarians could put aside pointless and fruitless philosophical disputes about the ontology of the individual and society, they could focus on the common interest of promoting true subsidiarity. When an organic food co-op gets raided by the government (as happened just recently), libertarian individualists and communitarians should be working together to protect both individual and community rights.

    • Ann

      Your jump to healthcare reform, is well, a jump and your personal opinion, which is fine, but not necessarily a Catholic viewpoint. IOW, healthcare reform is a point on which reasonable Catholics could disagree, unlike abortion.

      I think that, as a Catholic, we need to find a way to get uninsured people access to healthcare.

    • I am not Spartacus

      “The proper place of Catholics, for the foreseeable future, is alongside the people at Tea Parties, supporting candidates like Ron Paul — even if some of our fellow travelers are packing heat or smell of weed.”

      Amen !!

      And, the next time you get a chance to speak to a politician who supports universal health care, ask them where in the United States Constitution they get the authority to legislate in that area.

      I was once at a public function in Maine where I asked my then Congressman, John Baldacci,(Now Maine Gov) how his voting record was consistent with the 9th and 10th Amendment.

      He became quite uneasy and, after fumbling around with some mumbled inanities, he averred he had heard of the 9th and 10th amendments but couldn’t really remember what they were; “Could you tell me what they are?”

      I told him and he then proceeded to tell us how much he loved us.

      Once he exited the room, many members of the audience attacked me for “putting him on the spot.”

      Always put your Congressman on the spot.

    • I am not Spartacus
    • Peadar Ban

      Dear Dr. Zmirak,

      I always enjoy your articles. As a self exiled New Yorker (Kingsbridge)anytime I hear in my mind’s ear the familiar sounds of its sharpness is a good time for me. Your “voice” has that pleasant sharp and very pointed ring, sort of like a two edged sword. Anyway…

      Soon after I read what you wrote above, I was treated once more to the excerpt from the Letter to Diognetes that appears (today) in the Office of Readings. I like the fact that it is paired with the part of The Apocalypse which ends, “As for the cowards and traitors to the faith, the depraved and murderers, the fornicators and sorcerers, the idol worshipers and deceivers of every sort — their lot is the fiery pool of burning sulphur, the second death.” Were the Apostle writing today he might add Democrats and, especially, folks like DK.

      But, back to Diognetes and someone’s letter to him. “Yet, there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own country as though they were only passing through.”

      I’ve just about decided to withdraw my allegiance to this land where I more and more “labor under the disabilities” of an alien, as “Anonymous” puts it, while I pray for the millions who think having tea with a mass murderer…oops, a President…is simply the best thing to do on a nice late Spring afternoon in Indiana.

      The good priest who Christened my children many years ago in a little Church near Gaelic Park in the Bronx, Fr. Eugene O’Sullivan, may he rest in peace, told me that he saw us being reduced to a hidden remnant, and this place being missionary country. Since January 20th I become more and more aware of his words, and their truth.

      Care to join me? I don’t think I am up to rubbing shoulders with gun nuts and stoners. Well, not yet, at least.

    • Austin

      I am frustrated at how neither major political party reflects my views. The Democrats are in hock to race pimps and militant feminists and have made abortion the cornerstone of their party. That and their mindless political correctness make them pretty toxic. The Republicans are pro-life, which is certainly important, but have morphed into a party which seems to favor the rich and engage in endless, unnecessary war. The GOP is less toxic, although George W Bush seemed to go out of his way to alienate people like me. I would like to se the GOP morph into a party which is more like Ron Paul: Pro life and anti-war.
      I am not foolish enough to be a pacifist, as I know we must defend ourselves when necessary, however, the Bush doctrine of invasion and occupation of virtually every nation on earth is not the way to go. I think it’s time to throw Dick Cheney under the bus and work towards making the GOP the party it should be.

    • I am not Spartacus

      “I don’t think I am up to rubbing shoulders with gun nuts and stoners. ”

      From “Harper’s Magazine, March 1894: Vin Mariani was the leading coca wine. “Your marvelous Tonic needs certainly no further recommendation as everyone is familiar with it, and no one would be without it. I claim ‘VIN MARIANI’ can have no equal; it will live forever.” The caption also proclaims “over 7,000 written endorsements from prominent physicians in Europe and America” and that the product has had acclaim for 30 years.
      And who endorsed Vin Marini wine? Pope Leo XII. He gave it a Gold Medal.
      http://wings.buffalo.edu/aru/preprohibition.htm
      And as for individuals bearing weapons? Pope Urban..
      http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-5vers.html

    • I am not Spartacus
    • RIch

      Is there any kind of moderation that addresses things like this:

      Dear Dr. Zmirak:

      As to your observation: “Bloody fetus dolls are tacky — as are…those appalling, truthful pictures of the victims of late-term abortions, [which] visuals have the opposite of the intended effect: They’re simply too horrible, and they lead us to turn away. We do our best to put the issue out of our minds, as “ordinary Germans” did throughout the Holocaust” –

      – I am shocked at your want of patriotism. Did you not read our Tribal Chief’s April 23 speech, from which part below is verbatim, about the ‘ordinary German’ reaction being unAmerican?

      “Today, and every day,” the President observed, “we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to confront these scourges — to fight the impulse to turn the channel
      when we see images that disturb us, or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others’ sufferings are not our own. Instead we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy; to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice [and] indifference in whatever forms they may take…doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities.
      “It will not be easy,” he added. “At times, fulfilling these obligations require self-reflection. But…in the end, you have a duty to life.”

      So a little self-reflection, Doctor, else, when the Federal Hate Crimes law passes, your remarks above land you in jail.

      Antigon

      It seems to me that one can disagree with the president’s words, policies and actions, but to refer to the first black president as the Tribal Chief? This is pure racism.

      I am surprised no moderators caught this.

    • Margaret Cabaniss

      It seems to me that one can disagree with the president’s words, policies and actions, but to refer to the first black president as the Tribal Chief? This is pure racism.

      I am surprised no moderators caught this.

      Rich, I confess that I didn’t read the comment the same way at first — to my ears, it sounded merely sarcastic (like calling him “Dear Leader”). I see what you mean now, though, and I apologize if others took it the same way. Obviously that’s not something we allow.

      Because of the ambiguity, I’m going to let it stand for now, but will consider what you said and keep an eye on the thread. Thanks.

    • Rob H

      When an organic food co-op gets raided by the government (as happened just recently), libertarian individualists and communitarians should be working together to protect both individual and community rights.

      Joe,
      What are “community rights”? Not looking for a laundry list, just an example to better understand the term. Also, if individual rights come from God (ala the Declaration of Independence) where do community rights come from? Thanks.

    • John Zmirak

      I looked at Joe H’s interesting post on Vox Nova, which I recommend. And here is the response I wrote, which I also recommend:

      Joe

    • Mena

      I can’t help but wonder if America’s “limited government” experiment has finally proven unsustainable. Nature abhors a vacuum, and humans despise inactivity. So it is with rulers — they hate being forced to sit idle.

      Despite all attempts at making federal power constitutionally illegal, our forefathers have failed to achieve their vision for the longer term. Modern Democrats rightly observed that activist leadership/decision-making from living officials trumps the on-paper-only “rule of law” each and every time. In the Democrat mindset, a federal U.S. judge is thus to act as a little king. Same for the members of the other two branches of government.

      So, the question is not whether or not some group is going to decide the laws for everyone else in a given society, but rather WHO is going to do so. I can tell you where I come down on this; I believe that American Catholic laymen and evangelicals must forge a massive united political coalition with the objective to run the country indefinitely, using many of the same tactics perfected by today’s Democrats (only with different values and objectives).

      I just don’t know if humanity and limited federal government are compatible. The State will always hate such restraints and defeat them by any means necessary. That’s the reality.

    • Austin

      The Founding Fathers understood that Governments tend to accumulate power and run roughshod over the citizens if given the opportunity: even so called “Democratic” governments. Over the past 40 years, we have witnessed the Federal Government run wild, getting involved in all sorts of things for which they were never intended to get involved with. This is true with both Democrats and Republicans. Government dictators claim to be doing things “for our own good” or that they “mean well,” There is nothing more dangerous than a person who means well, who is given a lot of power. Give me benign neglect any day.

    • R.C.

      Mr. Zmirak:

      I was confused by this remark at the end of your piece:

      The proper place of Catholics, for the foreseeable future, is alongside the people at Tea Parties, supporting candidates like Ron Paul — even if some of our fellow travelers are packing heat or smell of weed.

      I understand the “smell of weed” reference.

      But “packing heat?”

      I haven’t looked into it, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that certain religious orders in the Catholic church are forbidden to bear arms, just as they may be prohibited from certain types of property, from marrying, and so forth. That is all to the good.

      But that would be a particular requirement of an order. There certainly isn’t a universal prohibition for all Catholics.

      And I’m not aware, that there has ever been a notion, doctrinal or cultural, among Catholics that lawfully bearing arms, for those who are competent to do so, was at all odd or questionable…let alone that it should be placed in the same category with smoking dope!

      Everyone probably understands that there are several distinct gun-ownership cultures in the U.S.: The self-defense user, the hunter, the yahoo, the gangsta.

      The first group, amongst whom I was raised, are generally religious and sober-minded, and view ownership of a gun in the same category as ownership of a fire-extinguisher, or a smoke detector or a tire-changing kit, or a battery-powered weather-radio. Knowing how to use a firearm is viewed in the same category as knowing how to perform a water rescue (“reach, throw, row, go”) or knowing CPR. In short, firearm preparedness, for this group, is a matter of prudent planning for an emergency one hopes will never arise.

      The hunters, of course, hunt; they’re more “outdoorsmen” and know how to fish and how to clean a deer. Their friends occasionally get gifts of venison. Canteen water is imbibed in the field, and bourbon after one gets home. I have relatives in this category, too; there’s a lot of overlap with the self-defense crowd.

      The “yahoos” are found amongst both hunters and the self-defense owners, but they’re a minority, lurking at the fringes of both groups, and are viewed with suspicion and distaste by the majority because they lack the sober-minded reserve that one hopes for in a law-abiding gun owner or hunter. They’re just a mite too “into” wearing camo. Instead of carrying concealed and without remark, they’re a mite too anxious to talk about their guns. It’s usually a mild form of silliness which one hopes won’t ever lead to them hurting themselves or others…though in its extreme forms it might overlap with the survivalists and private militia types.

      The gangstas are an entirely different category, not overlapping the others; they don’t purchase their firearms legally or reputably, don’t have a permit to carry concealed, and unlike most hunters and self-defense folks, they don’t have friends/family in law-enforcement and/or the military. They carry a weapon (illegally) in their waistband (dangerously) to look like a tough gangsta (foolishly). They don’t practice, and if they did, they’d try to shoot with their hand turned over sideways (stupidly; one can’t hit the broad side of a barn that way).

      Now the folks at the Tea Parties are obviously not from that fourth category. They’re from the first three; or, to put the same thing another way, from the first two groups, but including that fringe of the first two which constitutes the third.

      Mr. Zmirak, do Catholics, either doctrinally or culturally, have some problem with the first two groups? (I assume they have a problem with the third group…but then, it’s the same problem that the first two groups have with the “yahoos.”)

      I ask, because I’m curious to understand where that comment “came from,” if you understand me.

      Thanks.

    • Joe H

      Thanks for giving my piece a fair read.

      There is a reason, at the end, that I call for a third party, a Catholic party.

      Keep in mind that I do not believe that the goal of a third party must necessarily be to compete against, and defeat, either major party at the national or even state level.

      The goal could be to a) capture local authority, b) sponsor local initiatives, c) pressure/discipline the major parties. Perhaps you and others are satisfied with the current crop of third parties; me, not so much.

    • Joe H
      When an organic food co-op gets raided by the government (as happened just recently), libertarian individualists and communitarians should be working together to protect both individual and community rights.

      Joe,
      What are “community rights”? Not looking for a laundry list, just an example to better understand the term. Also, if individual rights come from God (ala the Declaration of Independence) where do community rights come from? Thanks.

      I think community rights have always been poorly defined and understood. But with the understanding that although God is said to be their author, individual rights are ultimately pulled out of a hat, I’ll just state community rights are exactly what they sound like – the right of people within a community to structure that community in the manner they see fit as free citizens in a democracy.

      For instance, I’m not the biggest fan of Ave Maria town for many reasons, but I do believe it has a right to exist. The founder wanted to ban the sale of pornography in stores there, and on television, as well as contraception and abortion, and he was threatened with lawsuits from the ACLU.

      One article actually claims that ‘civil rights activists’ apparently have nothing better to do with their time than to make sure that the people of Ave Maria town can watch porno on their televisions and have access to condoms.

      No one forces anyone to live in Ave Maria town, it is built from the bottom up by settlers, a little like Mormon Utah. And I doubt anyone who thought pornography and abortion were very important things to have would ever move there. So if people want to get together and ban pornography in their town, to make that kind of a statement, they should have a right to do so. That’s an example of community rights.

    • Rob H

      I’ll just state community rights are exactly what they sound like – the right of people within a community to structure that community in the manner they see fit as free citizens in a democracy.

      Sounds like community rights are the same as, or similar to, the individual’s right to freedom of association. Maybe a concerted effort to better secure all of our individual rights would by neccessity also secure these community rights.

    • Mark

      “There is a reason, at the end, that I call for a third party, a Catholic party.” – Joe H

      Joe, don’t you think we should start with teaching Catholics their faith (Notre Dame/voting for the party of death and homosexuality) before we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s?

      “I’m not the biggest fan of Ave Maria town for many reasons..” – Joe H

      Joe, since this is the closest thing in America to your ideal and you don’t like it, how realistic do you think your idea is?

    • Joe H

      Rob,

      It isn’t that simple.

      As soon as you want to regulate what can or can’t be done in your town, you face lawsuits on the grounds that you are violating another individual’s right to that thing. The whole point of community rights is to move beyond just ‘the individual’, to be able to say to some individuals, ‘in this community, you can’t do/have/build this’. Right now there are some areas where this can be done, and other areas where it can’t. I find it appalling that Ave Maria can’t ban pornography, contraception and abortion, but remember, it is all being forced upon them in the name of individual rights – first amendment and then the so-called ‘right to privacy’.

      Mark,

      I think we can do better than Ave Maria town. I really mean it as no great and terrible insult when I say it looks like any other well-off suburb to me. If we want to get serious about resisting the dominant culture and the state that protects it, we also need to get serious about downsizing and simplifying our lives and removing ourselves from the consumerist loop. Yes, I know, its all a bunch of hippie talk, right?

      We are in Rome and we cannot do as the Romans do. Christians ought to lead and inspire and they can’t do that if they look and act like everyone else, and simply hold a different list of moral priorities in their heads, to be made known in the blogosphere and the voting booth.

    • Mark

      “we also need to get serious about downsizing and simplifying our lives and removing ourselves from the consumerist loop.” – Joe

      Can I be your marketing director? Here’s my idea :

      “Welcome to Joe’s Catholic Farms, where the unionized Amish built a Catholic Kabutz” smilies/smiley.gif

    • Joe H

      Funny!

      Seriously, though, it’s got to be urban and rural.

    • Rob H

      Rob,

      It isn’t that simple.

      As soon as you want to regulate what can or can’t be done in your town, you face lawsuits on the grounds that you are violating another individual’s right to that thing. The whole point of community rights is to move beyond just ‘the individual’, to be able to say to some individuals, ‘in this community, you can’t do/have/build this’. Right now there are some areas where this can be done, and other areas where it can’t. I find it appalling that Ave Maria can’t ban pornography, contraception and abortion, but remember, it is all being forced upon them in the name of individual rights – first amendment and then the so-called ‘right to privacy’.

      Ah, but that

    • John Zmirak

      Dear R.C.,
      Sorry my comment about “packing heat” raised anxieties. I’m all for gun ownership–and am ambivalent about the legalization of marijuana, which is a prudential matter about which Catholics can disagree. What I SHOULD have written was that we should stand with the people engaged in the concealed carry of either heat or weed even if many of us feel UNCOMFORTABLE around them. Most people make political decisions based not on principle but on which group of fellow citizens they feel comfortable being around. “I’m not the sort of person” who goes to environmental rallies, rescues, the shooting range, NPR fundraisers, Christian golf fundraisers, etc. Not ideal, but that’s the way it is. So doctrine doesn’t enter into it so much as “stuff Catholic people like” (e.g. bingo, electric candles, annullments).

    • Joe H

      The reality is that “freedom of association” in the sense we’re talking about isn’t really established by law. It is only ‘implied’ in the first amendment, and so far, what individuals want trump what communities want.

      I care that it is being done in the name of individual rights because this is about community standards. A community is not just an atomistic collection of individuals occupying a particular space. It is held together by real social relationships and shared values, and its members have common interests and goals, at least in the broad sense.

      Hence the need to work for community rights. That’s all I’m saying. We’ll never know if the suits against Ave Maria were valid because the guy (I forget his name) backed down without a fight. Perhaps had he fought, community rights and interests could have become more clearly defined by law. Maybe in the future someone will fight.

    • Rick

      Joe H.,
      We used to have “community rights” in this country. They were called states’ rights. The tyrant who now has his own Greek Temple in the Imperial-Capital-on-the-Potomac made sure that 650,000 people died to prevent these community rights from operating freely.

      Now, we can bring in the slavery thing…..Yes, states’ rights have historically been used to defend slavery and racial intolerance. But the problem with community rights is — as you have intimated — that they often conflict with the notion of individual rights. Liberalism means autonomous individuals under one all-powerful government that supposedly protects individual rights. That is the enemy that Zmirak seems to identify in his above piece.

      Personally, I do not see the practicality of advocating for community rights on a small scale when the feds confiscate 40% of my income (then the state and local governments get their take). That is not freedom — it is subjection to the mob.

      Zmirak is right. We must smash the modern secular state if we can hope to establish Catholic social principles in a real way. I am NOT advocating doing this in a violent fashion (lest my words be misunderstood). John is right, we need to stand next to the people who see the danger of the modern liberal state.

    • Joe H

      Yeah, I’m not so sure about the whole “smash the state” thing.

      About the best we can hope to do is make it irrelevant. I think that is best done through strong communities. There is nothing contradictory here. The more we can do for ourselves, the less we need the services they provide.

      And I don’t just mean economic. I want to know – is it illegal for a town to have a volunteer, part-time police department instead of a bloated, high-tech, surveillance equipped monster? Is it possible to set up a town where Child Kidnapping Services has no power or influence? How about a town where people can say no to McDonalds or Wal Mart, and sustain themselves through the food they grow locally? I know on the last point there have been intense legal battles in parts of the country.

      I really don’t think at this point that I have any conflict with practical libertarian ideas for the local level – its the philosophical individualism I reject. Does anyone know what happened to that ‘Free State’ project? Weren’t a bunch of libertarians going to turn Vermont or New Hampshire into an experiment?

    • antigon

      Sorry – in the, if anyone was offended sense – did not in any way mean to suggest a racist idea when referring to our President as the Tribal Chief.
      It is a phrase that Norman Mailer, I think appropriately, often used when referring to Nixon, Kennedy and various other of our heads of state.
      It refers to the manner by which the President, represents everybody, and hardly refers simply to African tribal chiefs.
      Interesting, though, that this should capture everyone’s attention, over against the President’s stirring words.

    • D.B.

      Joe H,

      As I stated before, not everyone is called to nor desires your “way of doing things” and remain good Catholics…much in the same way that one can be a Monarchist or a Republican and be in good stead with the Church. Go and live such a life if you wish, but any attempt to impose it on me through government will be met with stiff resistance by not only myself but by many others.

    • Peadar Ban

      “We are in Rome and we cannot do as the Romans do. Christians ought to lead and inspire and they can’t do that if they look and act like everyone else, and simply hold a different list of moral priorities in their heads, to be made known in the blogosphere and the voting booth.”

      I think that it may have been the author’s point when he wrote to Diognetes all those years ago that Christians, even as they looked like everyone else, did lead and inspire. I also think I understand your point about a third party, Joe, but I wonder where one would start something of that sort. Perhaps Ave Maria town is the place…or Merrimack, Nh, where John Zmirak is located…or Steubenville, Dallas or any of those places which host the few remaining centers of Catholic learning and culture in the country.

      It is interesting to contemplate a meeting some evening next fall…call it a Convention…where men and women gather, after mass, to begin the work of forming such a party. Would you be able to get a Brownback or one of the other faithful Catholics in mainstream politics today to lend themselves to the effort? I mention him simply because his name is the only one I can recall, now.

      I wonder, too, whether or not there is something being born along those lines both here and in Europe in the many new Ecclesial Movements which have arisen over the past couple of decades, most of them patterned along two lines: becoming more aware of our own “poverty” and smallness, and, through that awareness, becoming more aware of the second “great” commandment about love of neighbor.

      I know that the first of those things, the wisdom of humility before our radical dependence is quite counter-cultural, and the second of them has almost disappeared behind the assault of government “aid” in all of its many incarnations…and failures. But, I wonder nonetheless if there is in those two ideas some kind of synthesis of both what Dr. Zmirak speaks about and advocates for and what you do. I guess I see it as a both/and and not an either/or proposition.

      When/ where do we hold the Convention?

    • Lawrence Gage

      Dear Austin,

      The unfortunate reality is that there is not going to be a successful third party built along the very good and very idealistic lines you describe.

      In the first place, there’s a natural ratcheting of government power. People in power want to do things and think they can do them better than others, so they accrete power. When they leave office, the new incumbent takes the power left to him and adds more.

      Secondly, the underlying reason that the Dems are in hock, and the Republicans promote the wealth and the military-industrial complex is that one needs MONEY to run a political party. The genius of Ronald Reagan was to ally the forces for traditional morality with the money of the militarists (unfortunately we’re paying the price now). You need to find a similar source of money to run your movement.

      The sad reality is that, in this fallen world, there are very few massive sources of money that aren’t allied to the prince of this world.

      Similary with founding a town: villages are made of families and families are notoriously resource hungry. I think your chances of founding a successful town are much better than of promoting a mass political movement. But you need an economic base for any community.

      In the short term, the devil dances unhindered on the national stage and there’s almost nothing we can do about it. In the long term, our chances are better, because justice provides a long-term advantage. We need to have more children whom we form into well-catechized adults (liberals don’t have kids). But we also need to plan for the influx of immigrants that (for good or ill) may well dwarf any of these efforts: at least they’re mostly Catholic; we “just” need to educate them to reject liberal politicians.

      My advice: Think spiritually; Act practically.

      LG

    • I am not Spartacus

      “For instance, I’m not the biggest fan of Ave Maria town for many reasons, but I do believe it has a right to exist. I think we can do better than Ave Maria town. I really mean it as no great and terrible insult when I say it looks like any other well-off suburb to me… If we want to get serious about resisting the dominant culture and the state that protects it, we also need to get serious about downsizing and simplifying our lives and removing ourselves from the consumerist loop. Yes, I know, its all a bunch of hippie talk, right?

      We are in Rome and we cannot do as the Romans do. Christians ought to lead and inspire and they can’t do that if they look and act like everyone else, and simply hold a different list of moral priorities in their heads, to be made known in the blogosphere and the voting booth….Seriously, though, it’s got to be urban and rural.”

      Tom Monaghan is the name of the man credited with starting the town of Ave Maria with which you, generously, acknowledge has a right to exist(even though you clearly are displeased with it).

      So, even though you have never been to Ave Maria you think yourself at liberty to criticise it – repeatedly.

      Tell us, Joe H. What rural community do you live in?

    • Austin

      Yes, sad to say, cold, hard reality makes a successful third party all but impossible. The Democrats and GOP have stacked the deck against a successful third party. We are in the grip of the party of incumbency. Both parties have leadership that are essentially whores to various special interest groups from which they take money. No one is looking out for the “average” citizen. There is no short term fix, and I am not sure about your long term fix either.

      Can either party be “reformed?” I don’t know. Having to choose between Obama and Dick Cheney is like having to chose between being punched or kicked. Such a deal. The Democrats have been toxic for some time, and the GOP became toxic under the “leadership” of the odious George W Bush. The citizens of good will have no party. it would be good if the leadership of the Church could speak up for the citizens, unfortunately, too many of them are either silent or pathetic, right wing shills for the GOP. It’s time for the citizens to take our country back. If we only knew how….

    • Joe H

      I’ll admit that my criticisms are based on impressions from their websites, pictures of the town.

      If I ever gave you the idea that I was rigid in my belief and totally unopen to being proven wrong, well, that’s the wrong idea. I’m not really in combat mode here. Can we be cool? ::holds out fist for Spart to bump his with::

    • Joe H

      Joe H,

      As I stated before, not everyone is called to nor desires your “way of doing things” and remain good Catholics…much in the same way that one can be a Monarchist or a Republican and be in good stead with the Church. Go and live such a life if you wish, but any attempt to impose it on me through government will be met with stiff resistance by not only myself but by many others.

      What do you do if you want a Big Mac? I don’t know, prepare to feel sluggish, tired, and take another 20 minutes off your life.

      Seriously, what ever gave you the idea that I was talking about forcing anyone to do anything? You can read, right? All I did was offer the suggestion that, through alternative methods and means, we make the state irrelevant in our lives. Yes, I can easily see how you mistook that for “I want to force everyone to live the way I tell them to live.”

    • brendon

      The fact is that big business, big government, big banking, and big labor are all really, despite their occasional and rather violent public fights, in bed together. This is to the detriment of the individual, the family and the local community.

      Most would never think, for example, that modern unions are a problem, or anything other than a good. How could anyone have a problem with freedom of association and the right of labor to organize and bargain to getter a better price on their services?

      No one could. But most people don’t realize that modern, national labor unions are not simply free associations. Many aren’t free at all. No one ever hears the stories where non-union shops that do not want to unionize have to fight tooth and nail, against not just the union but also against big business and big government, to remain free. Take the misnamed “Employee Freedom of Choice Act.” In Philadelphia and the surrounding environs there are plenty who will tell you that it eliminates employees’ freedom, since union thugs will use fraud, forgery and threats of violence to get a union through via card check. The secret ballot is the only way some shops can truly preserve freedom for their employees.

      This is not, of course, to downplay the power of big business. But both big business and big labor use big government to get laws passed that favor them and help eliminate or reduce the ability of people to create or preserve viable alternatives. And all three, big business, big government and big labor, rely on big banking and its printing press at the Fed to create and supply the funds they need to keep this system running, all while debasing the savings of working and middle class Americans.

      So the reel restoration of freedom, the reel method of preserving the rights of individuals, families and local communities, is to gut big business and destroy big banking. Without the benefit of laws in their favor, government subsidies, and an endless supply of fiat paper, big business and big labor will dry up and wither. This isn’t to say that Wal Mart or the AFL-CIO will disappear never to return. But it would allow for the real possibility of local stores and unions to form up and compete with them on a more even footing.

      There’s no reason a local mom and pop store can’t compete with Wal Mart if Wal Mart is no longer benefiting from regulations and laws written in their favor and various kinds of government subsidies. There is no reason local labor cannot organize without the AFL-CIO as long as laws are not written to make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to do so. And the way to eliminate these laws and subsidies is to kill them at their source, i.e. big government and big banking. A truly free market would allow the small to stand their ground against the big. It would be nice if we could finally try it without the welfare-warfare corporatist state interfering on behalf of the warmongers and the moneyed interests.

    • brendon

      So the reel restoration of freedom, the reel method of preserving the rights of individuals, families and local communities, is to gut big business and destroy big banking.

      Wow. I really messed that sentence up. Misspellings and a miss-statement that makes my argument appear different than it is. It should read: “So the real restoration of freedom, the real method of preserving the rights of individuals, families and local communities, is to gut big government and destroy big banking.” Sorry about that.

    • Joe H

      Brendon,

      I’m in agreement with most of what you say. Some modern unions are quite corrupt, though not all belong to the AFL-CIO. I totally agree that workers should organize outside its narrow confines.

      I only disagree with this:

      There’s no reason a local mom and pop store can’t compete with Wal Mart if Wal Mart is no longer benefiting from regulations and laws written in their favor and various kinds of government subsidies.

      While I do think those things should be taken away from Wal-Mart, I think it is their exploitation of third world labor and even their store workers in the US that really gives them the competitive edge. Cheap labor translates into the power to lower prices if/when needed.

    • R.C.

      John:

      Your clarification (re: pistols and those who carry) is understood and appreciated.

      And I, too, am ambivalent regarding marijuana legalization. I said what I said about dope-smokers, not out of a dogmatic resistance to legalization per se, but because I’m culturally less comfortable around the dope-smokers I’ve met (some of them self-caricaturing stoners) than around the sober-minded and law-abiding firearms owners I know. That’s why I could easily understand your idea that faithful Catholics might feel odd in company with the former, but not understand their feeling odd in company with the latter.

      Re: “Stuff Catholic People Like”: Yes, America truly is a land of a million subcultures, and although one tries to love everyone, it can get exhausting trying to always hang with those different from oneself; one longs for the feeling of subsidiary solidarity that comes from finding one’s own niche, with one’s own type of folk, in the larger, wilder melange that is our body politic.

      It’s even more tiring, sometimes, to fall in-between two stools, for lack of sitting squarely on one or the other: Ask any former evangelical who, after learning the Catholic faith, still hasn’t learned to like “stuff Catholics like,” but has willingly given up the primary association which would bring him into regular contact with “stuff Evangelicals like.” And I’m sure it’s the same, coming from any other extra-Catholic point-of-origin.

      But that’s a tangent. Mainly I wanted to thank you for the clarification.

    • I am not Spartacus

      Joe H. Thanks for the comment re Ave Maria.

      Mr. Monaghan located it out in the sticks WAY outside of Rome and that community as done a lot for the poor and needy.

      As for the fist-bump, I prefer a hand shake. I’m opposing the dominant culture smilies/smiley.gif

    • V

      1. The term “packing heat” may sound great in cheesy movies, but it is considered mildly offensive in the shooting community as a whole.

      2. Either smash the secular state, or it will smash you is how I interpret the above comments. Does that sound about right?

    • Dan Bryan

      Democrat/Catholic – Republican/Evangelical

      Two sides of the same secular coin.
      The only losers are the ‘Church’ regardless of how it is characterized.

    • R.C.

      I’m feeling ornery today, so I apologize in advance, but….

      As long as there’s still abortion, who gives a frog’s fat fanny if there’s still war?

      As I said, I’m being ornery. In a normal, reasonable mood I’d find a more normal and reasonable way to say what I just said.

      But, really: If we were in a war that had a snowball’s chance in hell of causing the deaths or even injury of a million innocent persons per year, I would say all that you could wish about the importance of ending this or that war.

      But as it is, I think Catholics — I include the faithful here — care so much about war, and so little about abortion, because they can see shellings and bombings and the injured being rolled away on gurneys reported on the nightly news, whereas the abortions are largely unseen.

      Because they’re unseen, even faithful Catholics, who know objectively that abortion is (numerically if in no other way) the greatest human rights violation in history including slavery and the Holocaust, can’t bring themselves to feel it as keenly as what they see on the news.

      Hence their willingness to say “Republicans hate poor people, and Democrats love them” and “Republicans love war, and Democrats will keep us out of war,” and then gleefully use these absurd slanders as justification for voting in a Democratic majority.

      But if the abortions were as visible as the wars, then they’d see that even if those absurd slanders were 100% true, it wouldn’t matter. Because neither war, nor poverty in America, is going to kill anywhere near as many innocents annually as abortion. They’re just not in the same ballpark.

      Sorry if that sounds ornery; I mean no disrespect.

      Still, it was stubborn teeth-gritting insistence on facts and logic which drew me to confront the claims of the Catholic Church, despite my evangelical upbringing. I wouldn’t give a fig for Papal Encyclicals and Church Teachings had I not, at one point, made up my mind to follow the truth and the logic, wherever it leads.

      It seems to me that, in matters of public policy, the same stubbornness about truth and logic leads to one conclusion: If one is concerned with the dignity of the human person, “two sides of the same coin” is in a limited sense true, but in a larger sense horribly misleading. The Republicans are bad, and the Democrats are far, far, worse.

    • Rob H

      As long as there’s still abortion, who gives a frog’s fat fanny if there’s still war?

      As I said, I’m being ornery. In a normal, reasonable mood I’d find a more normal and reasonable way to say what I just said.

      But, really: If we were in a war that had a snowball’s chance in hell of causing the deaths or even injury of a million innocent persons per year, I would say all that you could wish about the importance of ending this or that war.

      In the 20th century, the nations of the world combined to kill 170 million with their wars. True, not all were innocent, but many, many were. Some estimates show that as many as 70 percent of the 50 million deaths in WWII were civilians. Maybe Iraq alone won’t approach those figures, but add to that conflict Afghanistan and the possibility of expanding further into Iran, Pakistan, etc. and the potential is certainly there.

      Can’t Catholics be against BOTH abortion and war?

    • R.C.

      Rob:

      Can’t Catholics be against BOTH abortion and war?

      Surely! I never meant to suggest otherwise.

      Speaking more broadly, Christians in general, or even well-intentioned folk in general, can be against a lot of things. I am against abortion and slavery and totalitarian socialisms and high taxes and boy bands and war and shoddy thinking and bad poetry and mean people and bad hair days.

      My point was only that, as we consider our condemnation of the evils men do and the intensity of the tone-of-voice we use in condemning them, we should ask:

      (1.) Is this a thing so evil as to be utterly unjustified by any plausible circumstances? Or something which is sometimes okay, and sometimes not? Is it something for which justification was quite likely? Somewhat likely? Was it even plausibly justifiable?

      (2.) To what degree is the injustice of the thing mitigated by a lack of intent to cause injustice, or uncertainty of our judgment as to whether it is unjust after all? To what degree is the injustice of a thing mitigated by failure to anticipate secondary consequences? Conversely, to what degree is the mitigation mitigated (!) by the fact that voices to whom we should have listened were warning us ahead of time?

      (3.) How severe are the harms caused by it, qualitatively and quantitatively? To what extent were those harms the responsibility of those choosing to act, and to what extent were those harms the result of the actions of others, or of misadventure?

      Now when those factors are taken into account, I put abortion at the top of the list, followed by (unjust) wars, followed by slavery and the various totalitarian socialisms (e.g. National, Soviet, Maoist).

      One reason I put abortion at the top of the list, and in fact regard it to be far-and-away worse than the others, is that (if we trust the Church on such matters) abortion is never justifiable except indirectly in “double-effect” scenarios, such as when it occurs unavoidably in the saving a woman’s life from the effects of ectopic pregnancy.

      War, by contrast, can be “just” or “unjust” (which is why I had to clarify with the word “unjust” in the list two paragraphs back). And whether a particular war is justified is sometimes hard to discern. And of course I’m “against” war at all times in one sense; namely that even when it’s necessary, I wish it wasn’t.

      I also put abortion at the top of the list because of the number of innocents killed. It’s true that 20th century wars by all nations killed many millions more than the many millions killed by the American legalization of abortion, which I believe is something like 35 million. But then, that’s comparing the world’s warmaking with only America’s aborting. The more just comparison would be to compare the intentional slaying of innocents in America since Roe v. Wade with the intentional — heck, even the plausibly avoidable — slaying of innocents by American warfighters over the same time period. I think you’ll find there’s no comparison.

      In summary, YES: Let’s oppose unjust wars, unjust taxes, and unjust judgments by Simon whatshisface on “American Idol” — but we naturally oppose those in different levels of magnitude. And for the same reason, that of keeping things in proper proportion, we oppose legalized abortion at another, even higher, order of magnitude.

    • Rob H

      Now when those factors are taken into account, I put abortion at the top of the list, followed by (unjust) wars, followed by slavery and the various totalitarian socialisms (e.g. National, Soviet, Maoist).

      It was my understanding that under Saddam abortions were illegal in Iraq. Today there are abortion clinics in Iraq that are funded by the U.S. taxpayer.

      In summary, YES: Let’s oppose unjust wars, unjust taxes, and unjust judgments by Simon whatshisface on “American Idol” — but we naturally oppose those in different levels of magnitude. And for the same reason, that of keeping things in proper proportion, we oppose legalized abortion at another, even higher, order of magnitude.

      Maybe we could add to your list “unjust wars that foster legalized abortion” at an even higher order of magnitude.

    • Rob H

      Now when those factors are taken into account, I put abortion at the top of the list, followed by (unjust) wars, followed by slavery and the various totalitarian socialisms (e.g. National, Soviet, Maoist).

      One reason I put abortion at the top of the list, and in fact regard it to be far-and-away worse than the others, is that (if we trust the Church on such matters) abortion is never justifiable except indirectly in “double-effect” scenarios, such as when it occurs unavoidably in the saving a woman’s life from the effects of ectopic pregnancy.

      It was my understanding that under Saddam abortions were illegal in Iraq. Today Iraq has abortion clinics that are funded by the U.S. taxpayers.

      In summary, YES: Let’s oppose unjust wars, unjust taxes, and unjust judgments by Simon whatshisface on “American Idol” — but we naturally oppose those in different levels of magnitude. And for the same reason, that of keeping things in proper proportion, we oppose legalized abortion at another, even higher, order of magnitude.

      So maybe we could add “unjust wars that foster legalized abortions” to your list at an even higher order of magnitude.