Volume > Issue > Briefly: October 2007

October 2007

American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms With the End of Secular Politics

By Bruce Ledewitz

Publisher: Praeger

Pages: 264

Price: $49.95

Review Author: Dan Flaherty

The role of religion in the public square remains one of the most contentious issues in American politics, as people of faith clash with avowed secularists. Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor, declares that the secular age is over and a new era of “religious democracy” has taken its place.

Far from being the disciple of a Pat Robertson or a Jerry Falwell, Ledewitz identifies himself as a nonbeliever. His target audience consists of his co-secularists. Ledewitz sets out to establish that the end of secularism and the rise of religious democracy is not merely a pet theory or prediction; it is a fact of American political life. He sees religious democracy not as a theocracy, but as a system where voters and candidates freely cite religion as the reason for their stances on public-policy issues.

Ledewitz sees the 2004 presidential election as a watershed. Exit polling showed moral values were decisive to George W. Bush’s re-election. Just how decisive will remain the subject of debate. Though the book was written prior to the Democratic sweep of last November, a brief Afterword addresses the election results of 2006. With the Democrats recruiting local candidates more socially conservative than the national party, and the emergence of issues such as the war in Iraq, religion-related questions receded in importance. But there is no reason to assume that that will remain the case, and Ledewitz remains convinced that, absent some drastic change, the Republicans remain the advantaged party. It is worth noting that no notable Democratic politician has attempted to spin the 2006 election victories as the consequence of a resurgent secularism.

Despite his status as a nonbeliever, Ledewitz does not bemoan the onset of religious democracy. He seems to welcome it and defends the rights of voters to express their political beliefs in explicitly religious terms. He rebukes his fellow nonbelievers who seem to think that one may hold a political position only if one has a secular-based reason for it. Ledewitz argues that it’s perfectly legitimate to cite the Bible and to use God’s law as a basis for political doctrine.

Secularists have long deemed themselves to be above the supposedly hot-blooded passions that motivate religiously inclined voters, and Ledewitz addresses their expressed concern that religious democracy means the end of compromise and negotiation. There’s no reason to presume that this is more of a problem in religious democracy than in secular democracy. He points out that political activists of all stripes tend to be rigid — for example, environmentalists don’t exactly harbor a friendly outlook toward voters who think global warming is nonsense.

Those alarmed at the rise of religious democracy are still hoping the courts will do for them what the ballot box could not, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Ledewitz cautions them not to hold their breath. He cites historical precedents to show how public opinion tends to influence the judiciary.

Ledewitz persistently reminds his fellow secularists that the question of religious democracy is now settled, and America is one. The question remains as to what kind. The author sees a coming religious renewal of the Left, albeit not a renewal in accord with Catholic teaching, particularly in regard to homosexual “marriage.”

The most attractive features of this book are its honesty and its professionalism. Ledewitz hints at his opinion in many areas, but avoids an in-your-face thrusting of the left-wing agenda. He acknowledges the rights of religiously oriented voters to frame their views in faith-based terms, and doesn’t use the tactics of condescension and bullying to silence them. He lays out the landscape as he sees it and suggests a new direction. For orthodox Catholics looking to understand how others view that landscape, American Religious Democracy is a good place to start.

Archipelago Church

By Stanley L. Jaki

Publisher: Real View Books (1436 Devonshire Ln., Port Huron MI 48060; 888-808-2882)

Pages: 77

Price: No price given

Review Author: Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Fr. Stanley Jaki believes the Catholic Church today resembles fourth-century Christianity: rather than being a large “contiguous body,” it is but an archipelago of islands. Like the Arians, the exponents of naturalism in the Church today see nothing really wrong with our human nature and treat our Lord as the “supreme exemplar,” rather than our divine Redeemer.

Fr. Jaki uses the term sea change to refer to the great alteration that occurred after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Mass, the “sublime sacrifice” that makes “the faithful ready to be crucified with Christ,” turned into something that makes salvation seem “ouch­less.” It became a meal, albeit a sacrificial meal, taken in common. The result of this sea change, which included the removal of the Communion rail, can be seen in one cardinal’s pastoral letter on the Eucharist, wherein he relegates the Real Presence to a mere footnote. Meditations on Christ’s suffering were no longer central to Catholic devotions, and a Protestant subjectivism entered the Church in the guise of “loyal dissent.” The Vatican itself became concerned with “the sensitivities of progressive theologians,” rather than with the pain of the ordinary faithful. Besides all this, there was a sea change of language and gesture regarding the reunion of Christians, as when the hope of a corporate reunion with Canterbury led Pope Paul VI to pull the ring from his finger and put it on that of Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

In his second chapter, “Continents Awash,” Fr. Jaki notes that Europe’s apostasy was already in full swing when Hilaire Belloc declared, “The Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.” Since then, the Netherlands has become mission country, and England the most pagan land in Europe. Pope John Paul II wept when he begged European leaders to mention God and their Christian roots in the EU Constitution. His tears went unheeded. This was a bitter pill to swallow for a Pope who, after seeing the break­up of Communism, had heralded “a new springtime of Christian culture” and a “Catholic renewal of Europe around the corner.” Instead, he watched the rising tide of secularism, of assaults on innocent life, and of militant homosexuality.

Fr. Jaki mourns the failure during these past decades to catechize the young, who have merely been “offered” the Faith, instead of being instructed in it. A generation passed after Vatican II before the Catechism appeared, and when it did, this 800-page work contained no reference to the Sacred Heart, a devotion promoted by every Pope for 150 years as a capsule of the Catholic Faith. Nor did the later Compendium mention it. And Ex Corde Ecclesiae was never implemented, despite John Paul II’s desire to halt the secularization of Catholic universities.

While it is true that Catholics could not prevent the world from changing “for the worse” over the course of the 20th century, they found no encouragement in the documents of Vatican II to engage in an all-out struggle against a tide of decadence: “In its Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (#37) there are only a few lines on the never dying hostility of the world toward the Church.”

Fr. Jaki regards modern pagans as “far worse” than the ancient ones, who at least admitted that moral precepts had objective validity. When Europe became Christian, the natural morality of antiquity was affirmed in the context of a supernatural salvation history and carried to a much higher level. But Western society now cavorts with moral anarchy. The privacy principle, a determining factor in many legal decisions, opens new moral abysses (such as same-sex “marriage”) disguised as liberty and progress.

In his final chapter, “Ever New Islands,” Fr. Jaki reflects that the flood of immorality and unbelief that has recently washed over us has not only “tested” our resolve to remain Catholic, but has also caused “the emergence of new pockets of genuine Catholic life…islands amid a deluge.” These islands include many lay organizations, secular institutes, and third orders. What is new is the notion that one can follow the three evangelical counsels to holiness while still carrying out one’s duties in the world. This is to engage in an all-out struggle with the world: “For the confrontation between the world and the Church is forever around the issue of holiness.”

Islands of Catholic holiness have always arisen amid “storms of moral destruction.” It happened in the Middle Ages, when they rose around such saints as Boniface, Bernard, and Francis of Assisi. It happened after the Reformation, when new missionary efforts were launched in the Americas, Africa, India, and beyond. It happened after the French Revolution, when new religious groups gave unmistakable signs that the Church was alive. Islands of “supernatural vitality” always rose in the darkest times: In 1858 Bernadette Soubirous had visions of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes, and ten years later a chief Freemason in France ruefully noted that had it not been for Lourdes, the lodges would have celebrated their final victory. Padre Pio was another such island from the mid-1920s.

Fr. Jaki concludes that the Church is a “supremely living organism” with a firm internal structure. This skeleton is the ecclesiastical hierarchy which, though not always made up of saints, is linked generation by generation to the Apostles. Her bones produce the “marrow” that is necessary for the existence of “truly living flesh.” This is why our Church down the ages has had an “uninterrupted chain of saints” who have worked miracles, acts by which the supernatural makes the natural “its servant.” As members of this ever-vital Church, we can trust that islands of holiness will continue to emerge “ever fresh” amid the dark waters of the world until the end of time.

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