Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus ‘What is Truth?’ and Jesus responded by demonstrating Truth on the Cross. Today we are inundated with ‘truths’ from liberals, populists and ‘conservatives.’ We are bombarded with politically driven rhetoric which pushes ideology as ‘truth.’ We are stuck in the middle of a political slugfest less interested in truth and more concerned with gaining, or retaining, power. To make matters worse, many American Catholics have succumbed to relativism and political correctness in the form of cafeteria Catholicism.
Not wanting to retreat into a protective cocoon, or revert to past isolationist over-reaction, true Catholicism must look beyond politics and remain in the Truth of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, we must continue dialogue with the outside world in order to evangelize. And to evangelize we must meet the predominant ideologies head on in the all important quest for truth.
The first predominant political ideology to address is populism. Current American populism has Donald Trump as its most prominent manifestation. So what is populism? Wikipedia defines populism as an ideology which “pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice.”
The major problem with current populism is a lack of conviction for certain definable tenets, whether moral, ethical, Constitutional, or political. What makes current populism possibly dangerous, moreover, and antithetical to Catholicism, is its reliance on anger, vengeance and the revolutionary spirit (a spirit unhinged from definable morality and ethics). Further, populism is in disconnect with unity, solidarity, and reconciliation, for instead of seeking to solve problems through dialogue and compromise, it builds socially divisive ‘walls,’ while calling people insulting names, and inciting unnecessary violence.
The Catholic response to populism can best be described in the words of St. John Paul II, from his encyclical entitled ‘Sollicitudo Rei Socialis’:
“The condemnation of evils and injustices is also part of that ministry of evangelization in the social field which is an aspect of the Church’s prophetic role. But it should be made clear that proclamation is always more important than condemnation, and the latter cannot ignore the former, which gives it true solidity and the force of higher motivation.”
Wikipedia defines the next ideology on our Catholic evangelistic agenda, liberalism, as: “a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality.” Yet a more realistic, and experiential, definition would be: “Since the French Revolution liberalism has become more or less identified with a philosophy that stresses human freedom to the neglect and even denial of the rights of God in religion, the rights of society in civil law, and the rights of the Church in her relations to the State.” (Fr. Hardon, Catholic Dictionary, p.264-265)
Current American liberalism has Hillary Clinton as its most prominent manifestation, but as we can see, liberalism in 2016 American society isn’t as virtuous or magnanimous as the days-gone-by definition given to us by Wikipedia. Its manifestations, moreover, are a pantheon of anti-family, anti-traditional, anti-patriotic, anti-Constitutional, and anti-Christian ideologies, ideologues, and organizations. For groups such as the LGBT movement, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Socialist movement, and a large segment of the journalistic, entertainment, and news industry, have an axe to grind against Holy Mother Church, Judeo-Christian values, and Constitutional rights. These groups, moreover, utilize the tools of postmodern liberal philosophy, specifically relativism and political correctness, to demagogue and rule the common people with an anti-classical liberal bias. This bias, hidden in emotional appeal to inclusiveness and progress, attacks sound reason, natural law, Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and common sense. It contradicts itself in care for the death row murderer, while persecuting the unborn child; it contradicts itself with righteous indignation for the rights of Moslems while ignoring the reality of radical Islam — and the misogyny, and the murder of gays, by the very same people.
Yet Catholicism speaks of an inclusiveness, and progress, based on objective truth, Justice, and Divine Mercy:
“People today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil. Christ is the Teacher, the Risen One who has life in Himself and who is always present in His Church and in the world. It is He who opens up to the faithful the book of the Scriptures and, by fully revealing the Father’s will, teaches the truth about moral action. At the source and summit of the economy of salvation, as the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), Christ sheds light on man’s condition and his integral vocation. Consequently, ‘The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly — and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being — must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter Him with all his own self; he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder at himself.’” Veritatis Splendor
Wikipedia defines the final ideology on our Catholic evangelist agenda, conservatism, as: “Conservatism as a political and social philosophy promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization.” But conservatism in 2016 America can better be understood as a hodge-podge of ideologies such as libertarianism, fiscal conservatism, and pseudo-conservatism, all fighting for our vote. True conservatism builds upon Judeo-Christian values, traditional family values, Constitutional rights, and small government. But, sadly, true conservatism is either falsely promised from a career politician, or is an ideal unattractive to an ever progressively leaning society.
Another danger, moreover, of pseudo-conservatism is the covert activity mixed into this ideological agenda from far right wing organizations such as the Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK. Also, we must realize that many pseudo-conservatives forget their constituency and acquiesce to many progressive initiatives which attack religious freedom, the right to life, traditional marriage, and the Christian conscience. Conservatism, as a guardian of objective truth, has quite often failed us.
Yet Pope St. John Paul II reminds us in Veritatis Splendor of whom we can trust as the genuine guardian of objective truth:
“Within the unity of the Church, promoting and preserving the faith and the moral life is the task entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28:19-20), a task which continues in the ministry of their successors. This is apparent from the living Tradition, whereby — as the Second Vatican Council teaches — “the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to every generation all that she is and all that she believes. This Tradition which comes from the Apostles, progresses in the Church under the assistance of the Holy Spirit”. In the Holy Spirit, the Church receives and hands down the Scripture as the witness to the “great things” which God has done in history (cf. Lk 1:49); she professes by the lips of her Fathers and Doctors the truth of the Word made flesh, puts his precepts and love into practice in the lives of her Saints and in the sacrifice of her Martyrs, and celebrates her hope in him in the Liturgy. By this same Tradition Christians receive “the living voice of the Gospel”, as the faithful expression of God’s wisdom and will.”
Come November — amid the clamor of ‘truth’ claims, and within the struggle for earthly power — Traditional, faithful Catholics bear the awesome responsibility of sharing the only Truth that won’t change every election cycle — the Truth of Jesus Christ. For Catholic Truth includes the interests of the populists in defending the downtrodden in Catholic Social Teaching. And Catholic Truth includes the interests of the liberal in the ‘progress’ of a more just society based upon Gospel values. Catholic Truth, moreover, represents the zenith of conservatism in the perennial defense of Life, Objective Truth, and the freedom to search for God in religion. Therefore, Catholics must heed the call of St. Peter and lead our nation in a re-invigorated evangelism based on faith, hope, and charity.
“But sanctify Christ the Lord in your hearts, being always ready to give an explanation to all who ask you the reason for that hope which is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15
For only in faith, hope, and charity can American Catholicism lead the way, not only to survive, but to thrive through the current political madness.