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Ivy League Culture Wars

By now, the voice of the Catholic Church, spoken by bishops and certain laymen, on matters related to human sexuality has been heard at least by all media watchers, as has the opposing voice of secularists, utilitarians, and libertines. The culture war is out in the open, and the line dividing one side from the other is clearer than ever before. The recent, and at times heated, national debates over such topics as contraception serve as reminders that the de-Christianization of our culture continues apace, especially among the political and chattering classes. The view that serious religious beliefs are what educated people outgrow in college has inoculated otherwise intelligent people against investigating Christian ideas or trying to understand the Church’s point of view on public affairs. (Rare adult converts like Rick Santorum are the exceptions that prove the rule.) Many business and political leaders, even if Church-friendly, still regard her as just a large lobbying group. And so, from the perspective of faith, the halls of power and influence can truly be considered mission territory now.

The teachings of Bl. John Paul II, echoed by Pope Benedict XVI, allow for the fact that in a post-Christian milieu it is sometimes necessary to lay the groundwork for truth without a first, direct reference to the Gospel or divine revelation. John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemp­toris Missio, described countries with Christian roots, “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case,” he wrote, “what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.'”

John Paul’s pontificate saw the appearance of whole sets of terms and concepts, born of natural law and personalist philosophy, such as “the dignity of the human person,” “self-gift,” and “communion of persons,” applied to faith and morals in such a fashion as to attract modern thinkers, and to inspire them both to seek the truth and live by it. Certainly, the Pope preached love for Christ, but he also spoke to those who’ve never known a church and who “live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.” His teachings opened a door for “new evangelists” to bring in many souls to whom Christ and Christendom appear hidden in a chaotic culture.

It is instructive to those of us engaged in culture-war battles at an explicitly Catholic post to examine the same sorts of struggles in venues not necessarily Catholic, waged by warriors not necessarily Catholic or even Christian. These situations are a proof, if you will, of how well the “new evangelization” has permeated the greater society all about us. Have the truth seekers of today gotten the message and spread the word? Whither blows the Holy Spirit?

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