There are times when momentous events are so compressed and juxtaposed that symbolically they represent a lifetime of great issues. Such was a recent period. Squeezed into a few days was a chunk of metaphysics, significant not only as single events but in happening side by side.
First, my close friend Lee Burke announced her family is being transferred, requiring their pulling up life-long roots and moving to another city. Second, my friend Ann O’Donnell, contributor to this magazine and a brilliant leader in the pro-life movement, died of cancer. Finally, Rosemary Radford Reuther, a leader of the feminist movement and Georgia Harkness professor of theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, delivered two lectures at my alma mater, from which she received an honorary degree.
How these apparently unconnected events appeared dramatically to connect becomes clear when one sees what each of these women represents. What Lee and Ann stand for opposes in principle what Rosemary Radford Reuther signifies. The issues that divide them form an unfolding scene that portrays virtue, friendship, and faithfulness as essential to the moral basis of society and dissent as destructive of it. With that understanding, then, the contrast between Lee and Ann, on the one hand, and Professor Reuther, on the other, is stark.
The story unwinds.
Lee and Ann are the Mary and Martha of womanhood. Lee has a serene madonna face, sweetly contemplative. Her features are a classic Irish combination of dark hair, gray eyes, and fair skin. Even in repose her face carries a lingering smile and her eyes a luminosity that seems to arise from an inner hush of intuneness. She could be the subject of one of Sargent’s stately paintings, beautiful, quietly elegant, formally, even ceremonially dressed, her dress an echo of the richness of her interior self. Interiority is a mark of Lee. Friendship with her takes time, and friendship is what she spends time cultivating. While others may expend energy on being busy, Lee, in her leisurely, measured, balanced way, puts her effort into spending time with people. Many a friend has discovered that in a moment of sorrow or difficulty Lee is the first to offer help. A standard phone call from her produces not a recital of her own doings but a cheery inquiry about what her friend has been up to.
If anyone has seen her scowl, no one has reported such an incongruity. There is not the slightest edge of harshness in her. One of her friends recently described her as a combination of faith, humility, and feminine graciousness. Her home, which she loves and opens with Biblical hospitality, is the flowering-place of her gentleness and wisdom and for her literary and artistic tastes. She has touched each room with beauty. There, at home, to her husband, children, friends, and fellow-parishioners she ministers with a reverent courtesy and dignity as charming as her mother’s lily lavalier that she delights to wear. An afternoon spent with her is a soothing balm. An unhurried cup of tea sipped in her sunny window seat, strewn with her needlepoint pillows, with Lee’s smiling self beyond the tea cups, is one of the great joys of life.
The late Ann O’Donnell was, in sum, a powerhouse. Where Ann was there were sparks. Vivacious, witty, charming, intellectually sharp in a non-bookish, highly intuitive way, she in one glance saw the world whole. Purposefully active, blessed with clarity of vision, faithful, fearless, courageous, she did everything — reared a family, debated, gave lectures, telephoned, wrote articles and letters, made television appearances, organized conferences, took in unwed mothers, brought together young scholars, traveled over the country, raised money — everything and anything to defend and to teach orthodox Christian principles of faith, life, and family. In her utterly engaging way she never lost an opportunity to evangelize or persuade, for, as she would laugh, she had the heart of an Irish politician. And if she hit a snag in her endeavors, she refused to become downcast. Instead she immediately began to redirect her plan. With her verve and stamina and her astonishing insight she accomplished things that slower or less astute people could not. Ann spoke the truth as if it had never been said. Her audiences and her friends were captivated. Her Irish looks were of a different sort from Lee’s, perhaps because she had a Greek grandfather. Ann’s dark brown eyes snapped and danced. Her strong, square, pretty face, lit with a sunny wash of freckles, was either wreathed in smiles or earnestly attentive. Her unfussy breeze of a hair-do was as casual, insouciant, and a bit sporty as she was. When Ann took the speaker’s platform, she looked the picture of elegant conservatism. But her favorite self was the one that could wear jeans and thongs and a Budlite hat tied with a bandanna and be off to give friends an exuberant tour of St. Louis.
Though Lee and Ann never met, they came within a hair’s breadth of doing so. They knew of each other; and their backgrounds were more than a little similar. Of identical age and each the eldest of seven children, both grew up in St. Louis. Both had educations with the Mesdames of the Sacred Heart. Both had battles with cancer. Lee won. Ann temporarily lost. Both were Irish girls who married blue-eyed Irishmen of remarkable gifts, affability, and strength of character, men devoted to these women and worthy of the equal devotion they have received from their wives. Lee, as was Ann, is a supremely happy woman. She has, as did Ann, a knowledge of self and a sureness and integrity that arises from living in harmony with a transcendent purpose. She has, like Ann, a rock-hard faith that does not budge or shift. The very immovableness of the faith of these women has inspired courage and hope in others less brave.
Who are these women — Lee and Ann — and what do they stand for? Who are they — and countless other Catholic women of their age, education, and station — who bear an unmistakably similar stamp of faith, duty, and common sense, whose charity and sense of responsibility has little equal among a younger generation, whose moral authority is a potent force in their stable, happy homes, in their church and in their communities, whose whole mode of thinking and living is based not on the “is” but the “ought”? For those of us who did not grow up in the Catholic faith and who became Catholics only after our formal education was behind us, the peculiar mark that is upon this special group of Catholic women is all the more intriguing. From the sanctum of their homes these multi-dimensioned women find time and energy for every sort of worthy pursuit or interest. They are the least dull of humankind and seemingly the happiest. For all the talk of the current liberation leading to fulfillment, it is difficult to miss the point that these women like Lee and Ann have found fulfillment in obedience to the faith.
These women have found happiness, Aristotle would say, because they practice virtue, a state of character which can become ever stronger through habit. Virtue leads them to choose genuine, not simply apparent good, to act in ways right and proper to their human and specifically feminine nature. By choosing the good these women find happiness. Their own goodness, then, their own right thinking and acting, not some accidental possession or power or prestige, is the real source of their happiness. Virtuous character, moreover, Aristotle says in his discussion of friendship in the Ethics, is exactly what makes women like Lee and Ann the best kind of friends. Women of their high character are able to make friendships in which the friends are loved for their own sake, their own goodness, rather than for how useful they may be. It is, furthermore, just such virtuous women capable of the friendship of virtue, who are the sort of citizens essential to the maintenance of a good state, a state in which people live together in trust. Because private virtue is the foundation of public virtue, a citizenry educated in virtue was essential to Aristotle’s idea of political life. It was likewise essential to the idea of government devised by the American Founders.
“All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, ” wrote Jobn Adams in his Thoughts on Government, “have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue….If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?”
The Founders understood that only a virtuous citizenry could be capable of responsibly exercising the liberties protected by a republican frame of government. A government of laws, as Adams called it, and not of men — that is, of tyrants — would build habits of virtue in its citizens. Where fixed, known laws were equally applied there would be justice and the trust required for people to live together in friendly feeling. Moreover, if a government of laws was to foster virtue, it was necessary that the laws be good laws. The good was always seen by the Founders as transcending the state. The good for which the state existed always pointed to a transcendent source and goal. Thus the moral and spiritual dimension of each citizen did not originate or end in the state. Rather it was prior to and above and beyond the state. In other words, the state was not an end in itself; it could not exist for itself and by itself. It could not be a god. It existed for the people who were meant for the good, not the other way round. Though good laws could foster virtuous citizens, the reason for virtue, the purpose for striving to practice virtue lay outside and far surpassed the sphere of the state.
With their insistence upon the classical idea of freedom as possible only when understood, finally, as an obligation to do the good, in their concern for right order, in their understanding of a moral and spiritual dimension as the basis of a good state, the Founders, even though they decided against an established church, assumed that the background of America was moral and religious. Man’s spirit was too precious to risk putting it under control of the state. Far from denying the importance of the spiritual, the Founders considered it to be the pervasive element of life, the backdrop of all activity. So sweeping in scope was it that to put it under state control would be to shrink and confine it to mere political limits. No lawgivers have been more conscious of religion and morality than the American Founders. Their energies, their worries, their debates and writings all focused on the problem of how to prevent one of the greatest immoralities — making the state into God.
On the evening of Ann O’Donnell’s wake and on the following morning of her funeral Rosemary Radford Reuther gave the Mendenhall lectures at DePauw University. The lectures, dating back to 1905, were the bequest of a Marmaduke Mendenhall, who had intended the lectureship to deal with “evidence of the divine origin of Christianity.” Professor Reuther entitled her two lectures “Can Christianity Be Liberated from Patriarchy?” and “Dualism and the Problem of Evil in Feminist Theology.” She gave her evening lecture in Meharry Hall, venerable centerpiece of East College, oldest building on the campus. She spoke from a Victorian walnut lectern carved with a cross, a lectern used by Methodist bishops and university presidents. She was introduced as “one of the most prominent theologians within the Roman Catholic tradition.” Her works were described as “controversial and illuminating” and “pioneering.”
Opening her lecture with what seemed to her a joke, she referred to Pope John-Paul II as “the whore of Babylon.” Then she gave a lengthy history and criticism of patriarchy, a phenomenon she defines as an economic, social, and cultural system in which men dominate women and sometimes, as well, other weaker men. Both from Judaism and Graeco-Roman philosophy Christianity has inherited a double patriarchal system. In the traditional European patriarchal system, on which Christianity is based, women are defined legally as dependent on the male head of the family. Professor Reuther lists a number of results of patriarchy. Males are sexually free. Male children are preferred. Husbands have the right to beat their wives and to rape them. Wives cannot interfere with the generative powers of the male; hence knowledge of contraception and abortion is unknown to wives and belongs to husbands and prostitutes. Wives have no right to divorce, to political power, to priesthood or to higher academic roles. Finally, the cultural creations of women are erased and lost from the collective social memory.
Christianity, says Professor Reuther, has not only modeled itself on the European patriarchal system but has ideologically sanctioned it, declaring patriarchy to be the will of God. In the theology of the church, which is marked by “androcentrism and misogyny and overt hostility to women,” women’s ideas are censored. The male is the normative representative of society and culture, woman’s nature is defective and prone to evil, and the memory of women’s dissent is wiped out. The final victimization of women, in Professor Reuther’s view, is found in I Timothy 2:15 — that “women are saved by bearing children.”
Androcentrism in theology, according to Professor Reuther, covers five categories of understanding of humanity: sin and salvation; Cod; Christ; and ministry and the nature of the church. Professor Reuther criticizes the conclusions she sees growing from these categories that males are normative and females secondary; that woman sinned by questioning God; that God is male; that the maleness of the historical Jesus “allows women to be redeemed by Christ but not to image Christ”; that the Church is founded on the patriarchal metaphor of Christ as the head and the Church as the body, of Christ as bridegroom and the Church as the bride. Women, consequently, are symbols of bodily and earthly existence. Thus, according to Professor Reuther, we have a patriarchal clergy in which women cannot be ordained and a laity doomed to “pay, pray and obey.”
To counteract these injustices imposed by the Vatican “central administration” Professor Reuther cites an “alternative tradition,” a dissenting movement which she claims is aimed at the “poor, the marginalized, the victimized.” But she sees much resistance to this movement in such occurrences as the hostility of male students, a “politicized fundamentalist movement,” a “continued assault” on women’s “reproductive rights,’ “‘token accommodation” of women, “patriarchal bias,” “lingering infallibilism” in the church, and the Vatican’s aim “to get rid of all dissenters.” She answers these problems with a “religious expression of social conflict.” Her solution is concise: “Reconstruction of God, Christ, human nature and society.” Such reconstruction can be accomplished partly through “inclusive language and changing of symbols” in liturgy, scripture, and theology. It requires “restructuring” of the academic curriculum in which the “foundations of public memory” would go through a “paradigm shift.” It is “more creative,” she says, “to create a new paradigmatic base rather than to try to win women’s ordination from the top of the hierarchy.” People fear a paradigm that eliminates a male god. They see that removal as a basis for a collapse of order and an invasion from the bottom of the structure of “riff-raff types.” In the present environment of the church “dissenters become scapegoats.” Consequently, Professor Reuther looks for hope to “alternative feminist gatherings” such as the Women’s Theological Center in Boston, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, and Women-Church.
That Lee Burke and Ann O’Donnell, on the one hand, and Rosemary Radford Reuther, on the other, are seen both by the world at large and by a sizable segment within the church as having legitimate claim to call themselves Catholics indicates how the drive toward pluralism and “tolerance” ends in relativism and logical absurdity. The metaphysics and theology represented by Lee and Ann, on one side, and Professor Reuther, on the other, cannot logically coexist. They are opposed to one another. If one is true, then the other is false. In an earlier day Professor Reuther likely would have withdrawn from the Church and founded a schismatic sect — which perhaps she has done with Women-Church (see Phyllis Zagano’s review of Professor Ruether’s Women—Church: Theology and Practice of Feminist Liturgical Communities, November 1986).
But despite her denial of the most basic Church doctrines — in particular the doctrines regarding human nature, life, death, procreation, and the whole gamut of sexuality — Professor Reuther, with other dissenters, remains in the church because of one thing: she needs its power. Because her theology is political far more than it is spiritual, her theology is also meaningless without some basis of political power. The Catholic Church, for all its difficulties, does hold power. Furthermore, even in our day no other institution carries heavier moral weight than the Catholic Church. Dissenters such as Professor Reuther hence remain in the Church and continue to try to wrest power from orthodox hands. Too well have they succeeded. Yet they do not win their battle. Therein lies their outrage. Therein lies the key to their hatred of the Church.
Professor Reuther’s feminist liberation theology grows out of a heresy nearly 2000 years old. The Gnostic heresy has changed names and forms over these millennia, yet it rears its head over and over again. Today it thrives in Marxist liberation theologies, of which feminist liberation is a major ingredient. Its basic tenets have not changed. The world, in a nutshell, is ill-founded. If it is ill-founded by God, wrongly created, then it must be re-created by man. Creation is not God’s great gift, freely and lovingly bestowed, as Judaeo-Christians believe. God is not Lord of history; his power is not so great as we think. There are dualisms in the world, body versus soul, good versus evil, man versus woman, man seen as normative and woman as evil. The body poses a terrible problem for the Gnostic. Only the spirit is real. Because the body is evil, it must be made to go away somehow — through denying it, controlling it, desecrating it.
Gnostic denial of the body sometimes goes in opposite directions, either toward asceticism or toward permissiveness. In the first instance the point is to bring the evil body under submission to the spirit. In the second the rationale is that since the body does not mean anything, then, in order to achieve spiritual union with another, it does not matter what one does with the body. Feminist theology plainly struggles with the problem of the body. Feminists look upon the body as hateful. They consequently spend enormous energy in trying to squelch the childbearing nature of a woman’s body. A man’s body is equally despicable — for it, after all, is the tyrant that impregnates, and nothing in the feminist view more enslaves a woman than to subject her body to the ignominy of something at least partly out of her control, childbearing. The body, in short, is the enemy of the rational mind. All that is bodily — our differentiation into man and woman, our sexual union that results in a child, our birth from a mother, our growing old and dying — is all distasteful and to be denied. All “rights” over life, then, are pivotal to feminist theology, including euthanasia and “reproductive rights” that would en compass contraception, abortion, sterilization, and the ultimate sterilization, homosexuality, as well as in vitro fertilization, surrogate mother hood, and genetic engineering.
Professor Reuther’s Gnosticism leads directly to her Marxist view of history. If creation has been wrong from the beginning, then we must follow Professor Reuther’s dictum for a new social order: “Reconstruction of God, Christ, human nature and society.” The feminist, Marxist pattern of reconstruction is to blur all distinctions of sex, class, merit, property, education, and so forth. There hence can be no higher and lower, no hierarchy, no authority, no social order as we know it. There can be no legitimate patriarchy, of course, which means no biblical authority, no Church patristic tradition, no papacy, and, in the context of America, no Founding Fathers and no founding of America. America, too, is ill-founded and must be re-made.
To create a new human nature and a new society means creating a new world, a utopia. God, therefore, is not God. Having done a bad job of the first creation, he has lost his post. Man is the new god, the redeemer and savior. As his own savior he will achieve salvation in the only place where he has any control: here on earth. Liberation theology is strictly a this worldly affair. Fulfillment comes on earth. Salvation lies in politics.
The Marxist liberation theologians have three tools with which to accomplish their work. The first is technology. Anything that can be done with technology will be done. Possibility determines ethics. If something can be done, it ought to be done.
The second tool is history — a re-made history, that is. The students diligently taking notes in Professor Reuther’s lecture were not hearing genuine history. They were hearing propaganda masquerading under the guise of academic trappings. We must take Professor Reuther at her word—that her method would be to re-make the curriculum. History for the liberation theologian must be rewritten. Unsatisfactory as they are, the facts of the “collective memory” must be rearranged, eliminated or new ones invented.
Finally, the third tool of the liberationists is to restructure our language and symbols, that is, to restructure the meaning of words and, ultimately, of Word. As humans we are made for language. Created by a Word, we cannot think without words. For that reason to change the meaning of words changes t he way we think of those words. Take, for example, such words as life, death, person, man, woman, marriage, family, church, ministry, priesthood. Or words such as God, Christ, Holy Spirit. If we can change those words, if we can restrict them in various ways, then we have changed their meaning. We have then changed how we can think about them. Though Professor Reuther despises the Roman Church, she knows how useful to her cause are the symbols and structures of the Church. As they stand, however, those symbols and structures represent a truth that opposes her cause. Professor Reuther’s method, then, is to try to change the meaning of the symbols and structures of the church so that feminist liberation theology can use them.
Professor Reuther’s project gives evidence that liberation theologies have changed direction. No longer is it fashionable for feminists to go about picketing and carrying placards. For long-term gains they have given up marching and shouting in favor of quiet maneuvering of the academic curriculum. A single visit to nearly any college campus shows how thoroughly feminist theology is taken for granted by boys as well as girls, by faculty and administration.
The contrast of Lee Burke and Ann O’Donnell with Rosemary Radford Reuther runs far deeper than a difference between personalities. The contrast between these women represents two diametrically op¬posed claims of truth; these assertions form the basis of a metaphysical and subsequent moral problem that cuts to the core of the modern dilemma of Judaeo-Christianity. Both claims of truth cannot reside together intellectually or morally. If one is right, the other is wrong. The Church consistently has said the second. the Gnostic Marxist liberation metaphysics. is wrong.
The issue concerns at heart the ancient temptation to re-make human nature and society. And, as is so often the case with our most fundamental struggles, the issue largely concerns our sexual nature. Liberation theology rejects our sexual nature, which is simply the human nature God gave us. It instead looks for every possible way to re-make men and women into androgynous beings. To do that liberationists devise every means to separate men and women from a sexual transmission of life. Thus the continuing thrust of feminist liberation is against life in all its forms. If we often have the sense that feminism is dry and dead, the reason is metaphysical. Its impetus by its very nature is toward death. It is not surprising, then, that dissenters who support feminist positions become trapped not only in an intellectual but a moral and spiritual dilemma that logically moves them into greater dryness, anger. and preoccupation with self.
Though the Gnostic temptation has always been with us, a particular historical development of this century and a new mastery of technology has caused it to pick up speed and intensity. That historical event is the acceptance, first by the Anglican Church in 1930 and then shortly by other Protestant churches, of contraception. Introduction of the Pill in the early 1960s heightened momentum toward acceptance of contraception as something taken for granted by the general population. As a result, the great cultural phenomenon of the last fifty years has been growth of a contraceptive mentality and consequent sexual revolution. Only the Catholic Church and orthodox Judaism have been significant hold-outs against the contraceptive mentality. And dissent in the Catholic church has been so widespread that the orthodox Catholic position sometimes is seen as a radical fringe movement.
The undeniable and plain fact is, uncomfortable and unpopular as it may be, that dissent today hinges largely upon dissent from church teachings on sexuality, specifically rejection of the teaching against use of contraception that is declared in Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio. Some moral theologians consider Familiaris Consortio, the exhortation of Pope John Paul II on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, as an even more important and authoritative document than Humanae Vitae. At least one theologian has cited Section 29 of Familiaris Consortio as a particularly key passage which would indicate that the prescription against contraception is an irreformable, infallible teaching of the Church.
The term “contraceptive mentality” means the anti-life cast of mind and the approval of activities that flow from contraceptive practice — divorce, premarital and extramarital sex, sterilization, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, other sexual perversions, and laboratory manipulation of life through in vitro fertilization, genetic engineering, and so forth. The relationship of acceptance of contraception to those other practices is a connection often not realized by the multitudes who accept contraception but who do not condone those other practices and would be shocked to realize that there is such a link. Yet the connection is borne out by two reinforcements of experience.
First, we have but to open our eyes to see that the sexual revolution, failing its promises, has not made people happier. With all the technology to control reproduction we have not achieved happier, more stable marriages and families. On the contrary, it is obvious that especially since the 1960s, the decade of the introduction of the Pill, which meant for the first time an almost fail-safe contraception, the sexual revolution has brought about exactly the moral’ collapse that people of good will did not want. In the 1930s the solution looked so simple and even noble. Allow contraception within marriage for the purpose of spacing births, and people would become more loving and responsible spouses and parents; families and thus communities would become more stable.
Those doomsayers who predicted moral decay and deterioration of family life as part of the contraceptive mentality were dismissed vehemently. Who then would have thought that the simple barring of the marital act from transmission of life would lead within just a few decades to such sad developments in our society as the startling growth of homosexual practice? Who then would have thought that what was once unspeakable the killing of unborn life would become the law of the land? Who then would have expected the appalling rise in divorce? Who then would have expected such bizarre developments as surrogate motherhood, freezing of embryos, and gene manipulation? Yet all this happens today, an indication that the Church’s prohibition against contraception indeed may be the metaphysical keystone of the entire Judaeo-Christian code of sexual “thou shalt nots.”
The second affirmation of Church orthodoxy is the experience of couples themselves who live with that teaching. Natural family planning (NFP), which has been greatly encouraged by Pope John Paul, is a practice whereby a married couple uses knowledge of a wife’s fertility to decide when to engage in the marital act, depending on whether the couple desires pregnancy or with good reason wants to postpone it. NFP, as couples practicing it attest, is an artful way of living that draws a man and woman deep into the mysterious core of their reality as creations and gifts of God.
For such a man and woman living in tune with the ebb and flow of their own fertility, using their intellect to act upon their knowledge of their fertility, making day-by-day decisions throughout a cycle, knowing that they do nothing to render their acts sterile — for such a couple the wonder of this kind of life is awesome. Most NFP couples say romance and newness grow; most become ever more aware of God’s presence and grace. A man in such a marriage is awestruck and fascinated by what in a month’s time goes on in his wife; conscious of his power to generate life in her, he responds with reverence and tenderness. A woman, noting the movement of her own fertility, discovers what a gift her fruitfulness is, how identified it is with her entire being; moreover, seeing how her husband regards her not as an object but as beloved, she responds by loving him more. These responses are only to be expected in a man and woman living as they are meant to live. Stressing that point, Ann O’Donnell, who was a teacher of NFP, was fond of saying that only when a woman knows her own fertility and lives by it, can she really teach a man to respect and love her as she hopes he will.
Statistics further bear out the impression that NFP couples are mostly a happy lot. Divorce among them is rare, as low as one or two percent by some calculations and certainly no higher than ten percent.
The difference between the orthodoxy Lee and Ann represent and the sexual revolution for which Professor Reuther stands, the chaos and confusion in the Church caused by dissent from its teaching on sexuality, the adoption of a contraceptive mentality and corresponding erosion of civic virtue in America are all part of the same issue. The Gnostic temptation to re-make the world has sprung forth in the contraceptive mentality. Contrary, however, to the Gnostic view, we are people of both bodies and souls. We cannot separate our bodies from our souls. For that reason what affects one affects the other.
Sex is a powerful good; it is supposed to be. It is foolish, therefore, to assume that we can misuse our sexuality but still keep our minds unclouded. On the contrary, immorality of the body leads to a moral crisis for the intellect and will. That is why dissent is as much a moral and spiritual as an intellectual problem. Dissent undermines the very act of faith. Aquinas asked the question whether a man who disbelieves one article of faith can have Catholic faith. Aquinas said no. The obedience of faith requires a submission of our intellect and will to the God who reveals. If we select cafeteria-style the revelations to which we will assent, then, Thomas says, that selection destroys our faith. That destruction follows logically, for if we reject point A, then logically we must reject points B and C that follow from it. In Catholic theology — and, formerly, in mainline Protestant theology, as well — the sexual act cannot be severed from its end, the possible transmission of life. When there is disobedience to the commandment not to break apart what God has joined, then the integrity of the marital act as exclusive only to husband and wife comes into question, followed by a train of other evils.
In the end the Catholic entangled in dissent faces a moral dilemma: Do I choose to believe or not? Accepting the gift of faith is a choice of the will. After the questioning and examination to which we are all entitled, then we must make a choice. There are certain truths of doctrine proclaimed by the church. We cannot really be dissenting Catholics. Dissent is a limbo, a nothingness. If we dissent to what the Church has defined as true, then we should consider whether we ought to leave the Roman Church and find another fold. If we are members of the Church, then we should accept the responsibility of obedience to the faith. It is no external coercion that forces us to make this choice. It is instead the logic of truth itself.
The contraceptive mentality of the sexual revolution has caused a deterioration of private, in particular sexual, morality that has spilled over as a fast-paced erosion of public morality. No one would deny that the contraceptive mentality is nearly universal in Western society. Among the most grievously damaged victims of that mentality are the young people and young couples who have never heard from any of their elders that there is an alternative to living contraceptively. These are the young people, founding families, who have no idea of the happiness of another way of life.
When an erroneous mentality has so thoroughly pervaded a whole society, can that error be remedied? Perhaps, if we in America take advantage of what Richard John Neuhaus calls the “Catholic moment.” As he has said numerous times, “This is the historical moment at which Roman Catholicism has a singular opportunity and obligation to take the lead in reconstructing a moral philosophy for the American experiment in republican democracy.” George Gilder, too, has suggested that a new acceptance of Catholic moral teaching is what America requires to return to health.
If this is the “Catholic moment,” if mainline Protestantism is dying and Judaism and other denominations for a variety of reasons are not able to carry the moment, then the Catholic laity must be the group to translate into fact the possibility of a revitalization of Catholic morality. The clergy and hierarchy seem at least temporarily paralyzed. It, is up to the laity, consequently, and most especially to women, to look to the one Catholic leader we have — John Paul II — and to try, as he does, persuasively and with love, to educate our young people and our young families in the truth and beauty of Catholic teachings on the Christian family. Even in the disarray of our .world, there are still countless Lee Burkes and Ann O’Donnells who can offer our young people a model of something special: a happy and faithful woman.