Why Not Ask “Why?”

In the vault of modern political oratory is a speech of one senator in the 1960’s quoting George Bernard Shaw: “You see things; and you say,’Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say,’Why not?’ “ There are noble dreams, such as those of our nation’s Founding Fathers right up to the last century’s civil rights movement. Jacob saw a ladder to heaven in a dream. But dreams can also be the sugar-coated nihilism of John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” which is still dear to the hearts of the mindless.

The Risen Christ ate food to show the Apostles that he was not just a dream, and so the Lenten preparation for the Feast begins with hard reality; “You are dust.” This is an alarm clock that awakens from moral slumber, and we have been slumbering a lot in our culture. The surest way to ensure that evil can happen here is to say that evil cannot happen here. God constantly posits a choice between life and death, precisely because both are real, even for those who dream of existence with neither heaven or hell and “only sky.”

Recent attempts of the Health and Human Services department to promote a culture of death by violating the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion are in part in the work of public officials who have boasted their admiration for a bad dreamer, Saul Alinsky. That strategist for “community organizers” insisted that there is no objective truth. Pope Benedict XVI would call this the “dictatorship of relativism.” Alinsky, as the common man’s Machiavaelli, used this relativism to approve corruption in public officials as a matter of policy, the justification of unethical means to achieve ends, and the destruction of any opposition. Alinsky’s guide book, Rules for Radicals, is prefaced with a tribute to “the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer.”

While some journalists would give the impression that the government mandates are all about contraception, they also cover sterilization and abortifacients. Many Christians themselves do not understand the moral implications of artificial birth prevention as explained in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae. In 1968 his prophetic warnings were widely ridiculed as nonsense: moral breakdown, increased infidelity and illegitimacy, pornographic exploitation of women by men. Then he asked:“Who will prevent public authorities from favoring what they believe to be the most effective contraceptive methods and from mandating that everyone must use them, whenever they consider it necessary?”

Who will prevent them? Only those wise enough to distinguish between noble dreams and nightmares. They will know what many utopian dreamers do not know: The voice in Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah that spoke of dreams that never were and asked “Why not?” was the Serpent In the Garden.

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • Carl

    Logically, wouldn’t the next step in free health benefits include on demand abortion, euthanasia,  China-like limits on family size, Sex reassignment therapy, 
    Sex reassignment surgery?   Where does Obamacare health “benefits” end? 

    Whyssss Notssss?

  • Sherry

    Thank you, Father Rutler, for once again summarizing a complicated issue in such a powerful way. We need this kind of clarity during this time of deception and confusion.

    People who have been surprised by the HHS mandate should not have been. Maybe a reading of a book like The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson will help people be able to recognize what is happening and  will continue to happen unless we pray and fast and stand up for what we know to be the Truth.


  • hombre111

    Why and why not are what distinguish a conservative from a liberal.   And as a pastor for forty years, I resent the effort to connect birth control with the culture of death.   I say this because I have known so many good Catholics over the years who are prayerful, love-filled, life affirming and…have practiced birth control.   I would consider them much further from any culture of death than, say, Santorum, who wants to go to war with Iran, or all those good Repubs who got us into Iraq. 

    • Carl

      Wow, talk about comparing a mountain to a mole hill!

      Remember, there’s a big difference between a non-negotiable (sexual morals) and rights of a state (just war, which is arguable).

      And, you have just unwittingly displayed how the culture wars have been argued in the past and probably this fall.  I can vote for an abortionist, contraception, Marxist because I’m against war!  I’m Social Justice!

      And after Iran wipes Israel off the map then what would you say?  It wasn’t my friends who used contraception and were for social justice who caused Iran to bomb Israel! Really?

      • Carl

        It’s interesting that in Shaw’s Back to Methuselah man’s fall occurs after the serpent explains the secret of reproduction.  What were the mixed emotions Eve felt after this explanation? What did the serpent explain? Humanae Vitae?

        Why did Cain in Shaw’s Methuselah grow up a murderer with little respect for others and creation.

        The parallels to the truth are interesting.

      • hombre111

        Another cafeteria Catholic in a different hue.  The discussiona about just war theory is at least as clear and well nuanced as an argument based on natural law. 

        As for Iran attacking Israel.  It will be the other way around, and the U.S. will dutifully go to war on behalf of its master. 

        •  ah, the anti-semite in you is finally revealed.

          • hombre111

            Not ant-Semite.  Just appalled by a nasty little country called Israel that deflects criticism by shrieking:  You are anti-Semite! 

    • I don’t sit in judgment of anyone, not “good Catholics” who practice birth control, or of myself.  God alone can judge us.  However, we are called to judge truth from error based on what He has revealed.  Please read how birth control is connected to the culture of death.



    • Mosy

      Dear Padre,
      It is priests such as yourself who have managed to misinform, and misguide many good Catholic people into anesthetising their consciences and living duplicitous lives apart from God.  How many of these parishioners have ended their marriages or have found themseves addicted to porn or are living in loveless unions?  Did you read Humanae Vitae lately?  It was positively prophetic.  I will say a prayer for you and for all those you have led astray.

      • hombre111

        I think it’s more Catholics try to follow Humanae Vitae and find themselves up against some kind of wall and so they continue to do the best they can while filled with fear and doubt.   I think of my former secretary, very much a “John Paul” kid now having her fourth kid and surely, if her timing continues, soon to have a fifth kid on a very marginal income.   Visited with her the other day and I could see that she and her husband are now having some interesting, but tense conversations.

        Should she come to me, I would say:  1)  Inform yourself widely about the whole issue.  Listen respectfully to the Church.  2)  Talk to each other about your reality, your fears, your doubts, your sturggles.  Talk about faith and hope.  3)  Pray, which means explaining the whole thing to Jesus until you feel  you have explained things as well as you can.  4)  Follow your conscience.  

        If that is bad advice from your perspective, well, I’m sticking to it!

        • Carl

          “Follow your conscience”

          Is this conscience based upon Disney’s Jiminy Cricket or a conscience formed by God and Church teachings?

          I had no religious upbringing and married my Catholic wife.  We had a question about Church teachings on sexuality and the Priest back then in 1990 or so said basically, if you do it out of love it’s OK.

          I wasn’t even Catholic back then and later I told my wife that the Priest was full of it!

          Only later after I converted, in 2002, I read about the “Vatican II religious” who took it upon themselves to put their own interpretations to Church teachings and the GRIM.

          hombre 111, you sound just like that Priest from 1990.

          • Carl

             Catholics who “find themselves up against some kind of wall,” sounds awfully close to comparing children to some kind of disease or medical ailment! 
            Maybe the “John Paul kids” were worried that under Obamacare they would be subjected to forced sterilizations! 

            And I meant GIRM not GRIM above.

            • hombre111

              In my long experience as a priest, the truly grim, joyless Catholics were those conservatives with all those kids.  They felt obliged to do what they were doing, righteous maybe, but clearly not very happy about it.   And they were furious if other people chose another way. 

              And yes, there is a wall.  I think that is what effected me my entire life…the experience of agonizing with a family that had run into the wall of the woman’s health.  All I had to offer her then was the stock answer.   Helped celebrate her funeral a couple of years later.  The pastor talked about her courage.  I kept looking at those five kids without a mom.   Nope.   It is not my job to tie up huge bundles for other people to carry.

              I ask them to listen, look at reality, pray, and make up their own mind, so they cannot lay it all on me. 

              • Carl

                Fallen away Catholics mired in debauchery, divorced, co-cohabitation, drugs, alcohol, hating God, yea the truly joyful people!

                Are you kidding me? Just look at all the liberal ardent Catholics in Congress, they are righteous, furious, and not very happy with the Bishops taking away women’s contraception and abortive rights—oh the audacity!Have you ever heard of NFP Natural Family Planning? I married under the full consent of the Catholic Church in the 80’s and I didn’t learn about NFP until after 2002.  I’m one of those shinny new Catholics who can’t read enough about the Catholic faith and I’m always amazed how Her simple truths are ignored by so many of her so-called faithful.I certainly consider myself orthodox, conservative, Papist, whatever.  But I certainly don’t despair because I don’t live up to all what the Church teaches—if you understand rightly you know you can’t. But because no one can live up all Her teachings doesn’t make any teachings false—or to ignore them.I seriously mean no disrespect but saying it’s “not my job to tie up huge bundles” and  “so they cannot lay it all on me” sounds like a person who didn’t have a joyful vocation—or the right frame of mind. 

                • hombre111

                  Carl, in your first paragraph you created a straw man.  Such people exist, of course.  But I am talking about what I call the salt of the earth kind of folks.  They try to deepen their marriages, raise good kids, get involved in the parish, do stuff for St. Vincent de Paul and etc. 

                  NFP–  We always have a couple come in and explain it to young people who are getting ready for marriage.   There is an NFP group in the valley and they advertise regularly in our bulletin and occasionally make displays on our bulleting board. 

                  And no, it is not my job to tie up huge bundles for other people to carry.  Christ condemned that.  I can outline the possibilities, and do.  But then it is up to mature Catholic adults to act like mature Catholic adults.   Instead of making an adult decision, people say, “Because Father told me I had to.”   Kind of like a twenty-five year old saying “I don’t have extramarital sex because my mother told me not to.”  I don’t run a kindergarten. 

                  • Carl

                    You just debunked your own  straw man! 
                    Humanae Vitae is not “huge bundles” to carry because the Church teaches self-control through NFP.

                    Christ would never condemn someone who attempts to stop another from committing mortal sin… in fact He condemned those people who would stand by and do nothing.

                    “up to mature Catholic adults”  
                    “Father told me I had to” 
                    “my mother told me not to”
                     “not my job to”
                    “tie up huge bundles”

                    Your aren’t known for your interpersonal skills are you? 

                    • hombre111

                      When I was a campus minister, just finishing a couple of years ago, several of the young married couples decided to go NFP.   Bought all the right videos, brought in an experienced NFPr from across the state, etc..   I said wonderful.   Within a year and a half, most of the young women were pregnant.   Had a long talk with the experienced NFPr who told me all the things that could happen.  Very complicated, stuff comes up, physical and emotional, which changes things.   I have nothing against NFP.  Couples can really work together on an equal basis.  They can learn how to pray together.  Great stuff.  But it does require a firm commitment on the part of both.  All in all, for a lot of people, it can be a very heavy burden. 

                      As I said, their decision.   I personally think the Church is wrong about ABC, but I would never say that to any couple.  Treating people as an adult is one of my strongest beliefs, and so, as I said, I talked about options and asked them to make up their own minds. 

                    • Carl

                      LOL, these com boxes get narrow after a while. Maybe there’s a message here.

                      ABCs? The Catholic Church teaches A (abstinence), then M (marriage), then NFP if you want to limit or time child births.

                      What Christian denomination did  you retired from as a Priest?

                    • hombre111

                      I retired in the midst of the folks, most of whom have not “received” the hierarchy’s teaching about birth control, and will continue to resist it, no matter how hard the hierarchy pushes.  In the end, it becomes a matter of the hierarchy trying to maintain its authority.

                      I was there when Humanae Vitae appeared.  I watched millions leave the Church.   I watched even more millions decide tha the hierarchy simply had no sense of their struggles.  Before Humanae Vitae, the Church’s teaching about ABC might have had a “probaliter” theological note.  After Humanae Vitae, the certainty of the teaching dropped.  It was questioned by too many good moral theologians, by most of the sincere moral theologians of other Christian faiths, and by the vast majority of the laity. 

                      It was a catastrophe for the teaching authority of the Church.   I have read the encyclical a dozen times.   One of the most interesting thing about Humanae Vitae is the second part of the letter.  “Let (the married couple) draw grace and charity above all from…the Eucharist.  And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged, but rather, let them have recourse…to the sacrament of Penance.   In other words, go to Confession and Communion.  This means that birth control cannot be a mortal sin, because the pope could not hav said that if ABC was morally sinful. 

          • hombre 111

            Notice, I didn’t say, just do it out of love.  I said, study the matter.  Listen to the Church.  Try to understand and appreciate what the Church is trying to say.   Talk to each other because it’s your life and your reality.  Pray together.  Talk it over with God.  Ask God to help you be honest.  Tell God you don’t want to run away from the cross that comes with every vocation.   And then follow your conscience.  

            Some people are only satisfied if they are taking the hard way, the struggling way.  Well, if they feel that is what God has called them to do.  But it might just be part of a very rigid personality.

            Maybe, after it is all over, God says, “Why were you so hard on yourself?   I thought this was about joy, as well as the cross.”

            • Carl

              Just like that 1990 Priest you did not teach or provide access to the the correct answers.  Sexual matters are not  Protestant sola scriptura studies, you had an obligation to either inform or provide access if you were weak in this area so that these people were  properly educated.

              As I right this it brings me pause…I have no intention of judging you or anyone else in these com boxes…I’m simply responding to anonymous words typed on my computer screen.

            • flexo3000

              Again, the moral obligation is not to simply “follow your conscience,” but to follow a GOOD conscience. 

              One cannot justify his conduct merely by saying that, because he does not feel bad or think it wrong, such conduct does not violate his “conscience,” as if he could choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will.

              The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law or decide for itself what is right or wrong; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law, it is the voice of God who is Love and Truth within the person calling him to act in conformance with love and truth, to do good and avoid evil.  And the Lord never says to act against His Holy Bride — indeed, He gave us the Church and sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Magisterium precisely to help us know moral truth.

              Following only a good conscience, as opposed to the will disguised as conscience, does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls a person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free.

        • flexo3000

          The moral obligation is not to simply “follow your conscience,” but to follow a GOOD conscience.  If your conscience is bad, if your conscience is malformed, it is not good, and you have an obligation to NOT follow it.

          The Magisterium being guided by the Holy Spirit and protected from error, and it existing for the purpose of helping people properly form a good conscience, NO ONE can ever in good conscience go against the teachings of the Magisterium.  And to the extent that the conscience is the voice of the Holy Spirit prompting one toward knowledge of moral truth, the Holy Spirit never counsels one to act contrary to the Church.

          Mosy is right – I fear you have done a great disservice to too many people, especially with such an obstinate attitude.

          • hombre111

            The Magisterium is not married.  That is not their sacrament.  If married people, prayerfully trying to listen to the Holy Spirit and live their sacrament, come to the conclusion that they must practice birth control, they are acting out of good conscience.  In fact, St. Thomas says that a conscience formed in this way is “infallible.”   By that, he does not mean that it could not be mistaken.  He means it must be followed, and to refuse to follow an honestly formed conscience would risk a person’s eternal salvation. 

            Look, Humanae Vitae is based on rational, natural law thinking.  It is not based on scripture, but on a rational process.  This involves three things:   One–good logic.  Two–a correct assessment of the facts.  3)  The best perspective or point of view.   If someone has better logic, or new facts, or a better point of view, then the rational argument falls.  And I think that is what has happened. 

            I have nothing against NFP.   But if it is a valid universal moral norm, it should apply to all people, not just Catholics.   And really sincere, deeply religious people see value in NFP but no universal moral obligation.  

            • Flexo3000

              Sadly, it appears that you have taken a contraceptive approach to the truth of the Catholic faith, having a grossly erroneous — not to mention contemptuous — view of the Magisterium, the sacraments, theology, the conscience, and the authoritative Humanae Vitae.
              Humanae Vitae and the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and chastity are not a collection of mere opinions or or personal policy preferences. They are not the fruit of a bunch of old men dictating on-high what they think is or ought to be. And they are not a set of arbitrary negative rules dictated or revealed to us by an arbitrary God. They are not a restriction on authentic freedom.
              Rather, they are nothing more than a re-iteration of the fundamental vocation of each and every person who is made in the image of the Triune God — to love God and love one another in truth.  They are a call to a complete gift of self in love, such fullness of love being by its very Trinitarian nature unitive and fruitful.
              It is the mission of the Church to be a light of truth to an increasingly dark world because it is only in truth that we may be free.  Unfortunately, there are some in the Church — priests even — who have instead helped to make the world a darker place.

              • Flexo3000

                 It should be noted, too, that Humanae Vitae was only following the teaching of the Council, not to mention the immediate predecessor of Pope Paul, as well as the doctrine of the Church since her earliest days.  And, as was stated with extreme clarity by John Paul II on 5 June 1987: “What is taught by the Church on contraception is not one of the matters that may be freely disputed by theologians. To teach the contrary is equivalent to leading the conscience of spouses into error”. 
                To teach the contrary is equivalent to leading the conscience of spouses into error.  That is exactly what you have done, either explicitly or implicitly by such an obstinate rejection of Humanae Vitae and promotion of your own personal views rather than Catholic doctrine.
                In doing so, you have done a grave disservice to the laity entrusted to you.  You have robbed them of their patrimony and fundamental right to know the truth of the Catholic faith.

              • hombre111

                I agree with all the above about sexuality and chastity.   The Theology of the Body is a beautifu concept.  But I do not agree that Humanae Vitae is profoundly based in the deep teaching of the Church.   It is based on faulty logic, outdated facts about the larger reality of human sexuality, marriage, and freedom.   And it is written from an inadequate point of view: An old man who summoned some of the best married people on earth to come to the Vatican and discuss the issue.   Then he chose not to attend their meetings, getting no face to face input–when he was about to make a decision with huge impact on their lives.  Somehow, this lacks a certain kind of integrity.   The bishops who did sit and listen recommended an adjustment of the Church’s position.    

      • Aj-10

        No, Fr. Rutler did not mis-inform; he told us how it truly is and how we who are Catholic should be woken up from this false utopia many want to create.  I can see you did not read what he wrote at the end; because he too called Humanae Vitae “Prophetic” and qouted from it.  So many Catholics have become agnostic or arrogant; only wanting to ask  to be start a fight.  You Mosy are very arrogant and ignorant in how you responded to this priest; who is compared to being like Cardinal blessed Newman.  If there were more priests willing to tell it how it should be than sugar coating and not telling all the truth; many families and people would respect and follow Church Teaching; including you.

        • Carl

          Easy Aj-10

          Mosy was responding to hombre111 who claims to be a retired Priest!
          Read hombre111 then take Mosy’s reply in context!

        • flexo3000

          I think that you have misunderstood to whom Mosy was directing his or her remarks.

          With respect to Blessed John Henry Newman on the matter of conscience, he wrote, “I observe that conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. ‘Conscience,’ says St. Thomas, ‘is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.’ Hence conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors.”
          –Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, December 27, 1874

    • Alecto

      I don’t care who you are.  If you’re a pastor, you KNOW that there is no such thing as a “good Catholic” who practicies artificial birth control.  That simply is not part of being Catholic. 

      Why do people like you mislead and confuse others?  Do you not see your responsibility here?   Your job isn’t to judge politics, your job is a good and noble one – salvation. 

      Lastly, can I remind you since your memory seems to be failing you, that Hilary Clinton and a majority of Democrats voted to support war in Iraq?   Dude, I hope I never attend your church.

  • Bill Walker48

    Fr. Rutler, you went right to the crux of the problem.  When I was a young man I thought perhaps my church had gone a little to far.   Now I am 63 have a wonderful family, and have been blessed with a deeper understanding of how right on the church is.  Looking back contraception has been an unmitigated disaster and now, I can plainly see that Pope Paul VI was extremely prophetic and correct. I am a big fan of John Lennon and used to love the song “Imagine”, until I realized (some of us are slow) that is not what I believe!  Heaven and Hell are real, and I am hoping to get to heaven, and drag as many people with me I can. 
      The Bernard Shaw explanation was perfect, I did not know that, learn something new every day. I will be looking to read everything you write!
    Bill Walker
    Blessed Sacrament, Burlington, NC

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  • sjm

    To Hombre111 – you may want to check out the website: SpeakingofMotherhood.org.  There you will see beautiful young women with large families who talk about the joys of motherhood. The difference between them and families you have seen may be that these women (and their husbands) have a deep faith and trust God. Their prayer lives are essential to their joy. Jenn Giroux is someone you might want to talk with to understand what is different and wonderful about their families.

    There are three books, The American Tragedy in Trilogy – Fatherless, Motherless, and Childless  that are essential reading for Priests as well as everyone. They are about several families who were from   the same parish, from the 1980’s until the 2020 or later – and their parish Priest. Not only do the books address everything discussed in these comments but they also show where we are headed if we do not change the destructive path we are on. These books have been life-changing for a number of people.

    Your frustration is common but your response is not helping the people you are trying most to help.