Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame


You can read the transcript of his speech here. It really comes down to a "let's agree to disagree" statement where abortion is concerned. And of course under that formulation, abortions will never end. Which is what Obama wants.


As crucial as abortion is, there are other issues. Above all, Notre Dame has a symbolic importance to American Catholics that other institutions do not have. Obama could have given this speech at Georgetown, or Marquette, or the University of San Francisco, and it wouldn't have mattered nearly as much. But because Obama came to Notre Dame, it matters a lot more.


I'll have more to say about all of the following points, but as I've thought about this moment, I've come to the following conclusions.



  • Catholic universities, and Catholics generally, have to make a choice that everyone else in the West has to make; do you look to tradition and the accumulated wisdom of the ages, as expressed through faith, religious teachings, long-standing cultural norms and the hard-got lessons of human experience, or do you look to the secular worldview that concerns itself exclusively with this world? The good news about living in the West is this: at this time, in 2009, you can still choose. You get to choose whether you put your faith in the word of God and the teachings of your church, or you can pay more credence to man-created documents like the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and suchlike. It's my impression that many Catholics, including many who are leaders of Catholic institutions in this country, are more concerned with man-created documents than they are with engaging and understanding the teachings of the Church.

  • We've seen this same dynamic for years taking place with our Protestant brethren, especially in some of the mainline Protestant churches. And the results have not been good for these churches, which have struggled to maintain membership and support as they have drifted into a therapeutic secularism that is more concerned with the blandishments of this world than the promise of the next. It is precisely because the evangelicals have understood that one's faith in God is inextricably tied to the next world that they have been able to gain adherents.

  • If you hold the secular worldview you necessarily put your faith in the world itself, and if you see the world in those terms, Barack Obama is an attractive figure. He would seem to be the culmination of much that has been long desired. Many people who see the world in this way are in leadership positions in our most prominent institutions. Notre Dame is one of those places.

  • We often hear that the influence of the Church is on the wane in the West. This is especially the case in Europe, where secularism is a much more powerful force. The Church, which has ever adapted, understands this well. That is why the greatest energy in the Church right now is coming from places like Africa and South America. Benedict XVI may very well be the last European Pope for a long time.

  • If Benedict leaves the stage in the next 2-3 years, I would hardly be surprised if the next Pope is a person of color. And if the next Pope is from someplace other than Europe, he will immediately become a rival to Obama on the world stage.

  • In the past, European and American priests were missionaries to places like Africa and South America. In 2009 it is not unusual to attend a Mass in the United States in which the celebrant is a priest from Africa, or India, or Vietnam. I have been to many such Masses. These priests are, in the main, priests who came to the priesthood under the long, transformational papacy of John Paul II. These priests are now missionaries to the West. And they are traditionalists. They are not men who hold a secular worldview. They will be part of the transformation that is coming to the Church in the West. They are evangelicals in the context of the Catholic Church. And the younger bishops and archbishops who are coming to power within the hierarchy in the United States, men like Chaput in Denver and Nienstedt here in St. Paul-Minneapolis, are like-minded. They are the ones who drove the conference of U.S. bishops to condemn Notre Dame. They are the ones who pushed older leaders like Francis Cardinal George.

  • The current leadership at Notre Dame is not beholden to the new leadership that is emerging today. But that too will change.

  • Many conservative Catholics have watched the long march of secularism and worry that secularism will destroy the Church in this country. But the ground is moving under the secularists' feet. And in 20 years time, I suspect that we will view the honoring of Barack Obama by a major Catholic university not as the beginning of the end of the Church's influence in America, but rather as the moment where the secular tide began to recede.

22 comments:

my name is Amanda said...

Nice cap on this series; you tied it up well. A bunch of thoughts:

I was a faithful, Catholic church-goer for 20 years, and I would never have considered Notre Dame an encompassing symbol for Catholicism in the US. In fact, I don't even think I was aware that Notre Dame was a Catholic institution specifically, until I was 18, when one of my Catholic friends told me her brother was at school there. I feel like I'm quibbling here, but this has been one of your points throughtout this series. I WAS a good Catholic. It was important to me; it wasn't some mechanical thing I did because my family went to church. I paid attention. (OK, have read the whole thing now, and see what you are saying about this signaling "a beginning.")It is incorrect to say that Obama wants more abortions. That is willful misunderstanding, inference and hyperbole. Obama has never stated that he wants more abortions. Although he has always supported the pro-choice movement, he has been consistent in promoting PREVENTING abortions. For alot of good Catholics, and other good Christians, this means making children as IGNORANT about sexuality as possible. (Tangent: After 8 yrs of the Bush policies, we're experiencing an increase, for the first time since the Clinton administration, of teen pregnancies. It's not coincidental when less money was provided for education groups and free birth control.)

Ironically, the inability to see the godliness in peace-keeping efforts in "man-created" documents like the Geneva Conventions to me shows a lack of faith in the teachings of the Church. There is nothing spiritual in protecting and honoring human life currently upon the earth, and yet protecting the unborn is holy and spiritual?! People don't have to choose to EITHER put their faith in the church, or put their faith in human-created laws. (If everybody had the same faith, there wouldn't be a conflict between these two supposedly separate ideologies, but GOD didn't create humans that way.)

As for the rest of the ideas here - and more to the point of your series - I can't necessarily argue that Notre Dame isn't politicking. The school is purporting to endorse a person who will not support outlawing an act that the school's church has stated is a sin. Although I dread the idea that this is symbolic of a fissure wherein the Catholic church grows to be as crazy as the evangelicals in this country, you're currently in a better position than I to witness a change like that. I'd rather hoped the diminishing number of followers would influence the church to change their current bigoted policies toward women and homosexuals (then I could start going again).

After all, it's not as if the church is the same church that existed in the first years of its creation. The church has continually (slowly) changed since its inception. For hundreds of years, priests were allowed to be married. There were people in the 6th century complaining that we were turning against "long-standing" cultural norms. Does that mean they were wrong or right?

Anyone who agrees with me that the answer is "both right and wrong," understands the greater meaning of exactly what I'm saying in this comment.

Mark Heuring said...

Amanda,

Thanks for your comments. I think they speak for themselves.

Obviously we agree that the Church itself changes. It has to, because no matter how saintly the figures running the Church might be at any given time, they are all necessarily sinners.

My son Ben is 13 and he's struggling with his faith right now. He asks me how I can believe when I've never seen God's face. And the answer to that is that we can see God every day if we bother to look, because the Holy Spirit is evident.

My sense is this: secularism has its limitations and they will become increasinly evident in the years to come. And there will be an opportunity for reawakening. The Church will be ready for that moment.

As for your one point about Obama -- I've tried to be careful not to say that he wants more abortions. What I am saying is that he doesn't want abortion to end. But that's only part of the story.

And I will be writing more, probably a lot more, about these topics in the future.

Night Writer said...

Every man and woman must choose at some point which tenets will be foundational in one's life (and thinking that you're not making a choice is still a choice). Secularism is pervasive and easy to adopt: it is the air we breathe and the water we swim in; it is the instant majority in the world. In an effort to be more "relevant" the "Church" (whether Catholic or Protestant by doctrine) has moved to be more secular, to appeal to the masses. By worldly logic they are doing what they need to do to gain or preserve "market share".

And membership from the mainline denominations is dropping because you really can't out-secularize the world and it's easier for people to go with the flow. To over-simplify, if there's no fundamental difference in worldview between two camps, why not go with the one that lets you sleep in on Sundays, or that doesn't appear to require orthodoxy and obedience (of course, the secular does require orthodoxy, but that's a whole other argument).

There is another world, or kingdom, for those who have received the revelation and it is largely populated by those who have been drawn out of the secular; even if you're born into it you still must make a choice. It is why we are exhorted to "be not conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." It is typically not an instantaneous process, but a deeper and more profound revelation continually calls us to shed the artificial measures and weights of the comely facade that obscures but can't obliterate the real foundation.

I'm sorry to get all mystic about it, but it's not something that lends itself to easy exposition in a comment box; after all you've got hundreds of years of thought and revelation on the topic. Perhaps a simple explanation comes from C.S. Lewis: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Mark Heuring said...

I think we're saying the same thing, NW. As usual, you're saying it better. Thank you.

Night Writer said...

Thanks, Mr. D.

Btw, I haven't dug into the numbers behind last week's report of an increase in the number of illegitimate births (I've had a few things on my plate lately!), but the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline was whether this statistic indicated an increase in the amount of "illegitimate" sex, or if the activity levels are staying the same but more and more people are deciding that abortion is wrong and choosing to have their babies (especially in light of the report cited in SiTD last week about the abortion pendulum swinging deeper into the pro-life side).

I'm not saying that that means all is wonderful for those mothers or their children, but here's a question I've always asked those who say that it's horrible for a child to be born unwanted or in poverty: Are you telling me that there is a fate worse than death?

Gino said...

amanda,
good remarks, but i do need to correct one small, but vital, point.

the issue isnt that abortion is a sin. the issue is human dignity, the rights of the individual, and social justice. just as slavery is a sin, the issue is much bigger than just sin.

what if we made slavery safe, legal and rare? would that be acceptable? is there a middle ground?

this is the issue.
and why there is no room for compromise.

(it amazes me that many of those who oppose safe waterboarding of terrorist suspects have no problem with the deadly waterboarding of babies using a saline solution.
or the torture of a partial birth procedure.)

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Gino!

Richard said...

You have touched on a subject that must be expanded upon. Not just secularism in an otherwise conservative Catholic church. But Leftism and Marxism itself. Much of what passes for social justice in today's church is really the politics of the left. It's up to alert parishioners to turn the tide.

Gino said...

richard:
lefitism and marxism are part of the whole pro-abortion mentality.

the goal is to subjegate the rights and value of the individual in order to serve the goals of the powers.
abortion, of course, is the same thing on a more personal level.

such notions as the dignity of the individual, at any stage of life, are a threat to the order they want to impose.

Anonymous said...

Mark,
Interesting article, and great comments from your always trenchant readers. No surprise that I thought Obama gave a great speech.
I first want to point out that I’ve never placed ND as high in the Catholic pantheon as you do. Growing up in a very Irish-Catholic family on the South Side of Chicago, you would think I’d be the one that would place ND in such a lofty position. But I have always thought of Georgetown as the premier Catholic University in America, and Notre Dame as the best Catholic University in America to stage insipid and cliché ridden movies at.
Back to the speech: Obama’s focus was on laying the groundwork for a common humanity; not demonizing others; not rejecting differences; but of ending the culture war and planting the seeds to listen and try to reach a common ground. You can go on and on about moral purity, but isn’t reducing abortions better than not reducing abortions? I know that many will accuse me of moral relativism for saying that, but I would disagree. Put abortion on a ballot, and I will vote against it in its current form every time. But I had to qualify that because, even as a practicing Catholic, I would still have to allow abortions for victims of rape and incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. And you and I both know that many Catholics would condemn me for that (witness what happened in Brazil two months ago). Furthermore, I know that life is sacred, and as a categorical moral imperative, ALL abortions are wrong. Yet, I can’t imagine imposing my moral system on the victim of a crime when clearly, this is not a subject that even comes close to consensus in our country. So as Catholics, I think we need to work toward changing people minds about abortion, but we must also do everything we can to make certain that alternatives to abortion exist for women who find themselves with unwanted or ill-timed pregnancies.
I also think you’ve downplayed the President’s larger themes in favor of quibbling over less significant details (The UN Charter? Huh?). The President didn't take the easy way out by ducking the controversy surrounding the abortion issue. He addressed it head on. He noted that the country will be divided on this for years to come, so he encouraged us to use civility and courtesy in search of common ground. That is not the same as agreeing to disagree. Did you honestly find nothing constituting common ground in the speech? It is a simple fact that we live in a pluralistic and secular society. It is also a fact that we live in one of the world’s most religious societies. Given those two seemingly incongruous facts, can’t you recognize the importance of our ability to find shared beliefs and values? Especially on difficult ethical, cultural and moral issues. Think of nascent Christianity. There was a large contingent of Jewish Christians who wanted to insist upon circumcision, the maintenance of Jewish dietary laws, etc. remaining in effect for all Christians. Fortunately, others had enough vision to see that the Jewish laws were secondary and incidental. The resolution was to agree to allow for inclusion and both groups to keep their cultures but focus on their shared beliefs. I think that is what the President is calling upon us to do. I guess you can do that, or you can call everyone who doesn’t agree with you a Marxist. Whatever works, but I doubt you are winning any hearts and minds by doing the latter.
And Gino, it amazes me that many of those who claim to be pro-life, and go on and on about the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of life at all stages can be so blithe about state sanctioned torture. It honestly boggles my mind.
Regards,
Rich

Night Writer said...

Mr. D -

for your Ben:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYQWLhPzn64

W.B. Picklesworth said...

"Obama’s focus was on laying the groundwork for a common humanity; not demonizing others; not rejecting differences; but of ending the culture war and planting the seeds to listen and try to reach a common ground."Obama has no interest in doing any of this to end the culture war or to improve the climate of communication in this country. He's happy to say the words, however, if it will get him what he wants. And of course plenty of people will believe the words because they want to believe them.

Obama's record, on the other hand, tells a different story. "Demonizing?" He's all for it if it serves his ends. "Common ground?" As long as its his.

Feel free to agree with him on his positions, but please don't pretend to fall for the charming, but meaningless speech. We see through the bs and I'm sure you do too.

Mark Heuring said...

Rich,

There's so much baked wind in your comment that I don't even know where to begin. Let's just hit a few jaw-dropping assertions.

Think of nascent Christianity. There was a large contingent of Jewish Christians who wanted to insist upon circumcision, the maintenance of Jewish dietary laws, etc. remaining in effect for all Christians. Fortunately, others had enough vision to see that the Jewish laws were secondary and incidental. The resolution was to agree to allow for inclusion and both groups to keep their cultures but focus on their shared beliefs. I think that is what the President is calling upon us to do.Are you really comparing abortion to Jewish dietary restrictions? Really?

Put abortion on a ballot, and I will vote against it in its current form every time.Except you didn't. You voted for Barack Obama, who supports partial birth abortion. You voted for Barack Obama, who will put justices on the Supreme Court who will vote to uphold Roe v. Wade. And you would do it again, and most likely will do it again in 2012.

Yet, I can’t imagine imposing my moral system on the victim of a crime when clearly, this is not a subject that even comes close to consensus in our country.Yet you have no problem whatsoever imposing your moral system on the torture issue, on which there is nothing that comes close to consensus, either.

I think we need to work toward changing people minds about abortion, but we must also do everything we can to make certain that alternatives to abortion exist for women who find themselves with unwanted or ill-timed pregnancies.And the Church and pro-life organizations have both been doing those things all along. And will continue to do so. It's clearly not enough, now is it?

He noted that the country will be divided on this for years to come, so he encouraged us to use civility and courtesy in search of common ground.So I take it then that you'll be civil and courteous to the former Bush administration officials who were involved in what you believe to be a categorical moral evil? They're counting on your courtesy and civility.

Picklesworth is correct -- support Obama on this issue and any other if you wish. But let's be honest; there can be no common ground on this issue, for the same reason that you cannot find any common ground with the Bush administration officials. On some things you have to stand firm.

Anonymous said...

Great article Mark. Hit the nail on the head as usual. It's been a while since I stopped by to read your Blog. I am very happy I did today. Living in Madison and having a Bishop that has been characterized as a tyrant by the local media, it can often times get discouraging to be Catholic in our neck of the woods. Your thoughts were tremendously uplifting. Thank you. -- Mills

Anonymous said...

Yes Mark, you are right. We are all moral relativisists.

Rich

Mark Heuring said...

Yes Mark, you are right. We are all moral relativisists.

No. We are all sinners. And maybe if you keep challenging the world on the things that matter to you and I do the same, we'll all do a little better.

Mark Heuring said...

Mills,

Thank you -- faith is not an easy thing and I get it wrong a lot. But I'm trying to understand.

Gino said...

rich:
i do draw a distinction between an innocent child incapable of harm, and an al quaida leader planning another 9/11.

and obviously, so do you.

now, where is that common ground you and i can meet upon?

Anonymous said...

Gino,
I would suggest common ground on a consistent ethic of life, at all stages of life, regrdless of circumstances.

And I don't mean that as a criticism of anyone, in any way.
We respect life at every phase of life. That means no abortion, no euthenasia, no capital punishment, and no torture.

By failing to be consistent on this, both sides dilute their message and give the other side room to call the other on their BS. It quite simply means that we don't play God.

Rich

Gino said...

so now you want to erase the distinction between interrogating a mass killer and mass killing of the innocent?

sorry,fella.

i see a marked distinction.
and, as i've said, so do you.

my way: nobody dies, though a 1/2 dozen or so are safely inconvenienced.

your way: millions die.

as for BS, i think you need to change your boots.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for playing God Gino.

Rich

my name is Amanda said...

I'm finally going back to read the rest of the comments; this has turned out to be very thought-provoking discussion!

He asks me how I can believe when I've never seen God's face. And the answer to that is that we can see God every day if we bother to look, because the Holy Spirit is evident.I'm happy to share for once that I completely agree.