By Charlie Johnston
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil – Isaiah 5:20
There is an old saying that a guilty man tries to hide all the evidence he can because he doesn’t know which piece, if revealed, will convict him. Similarly, an innocent man tries to get as much evidence out as he can because he doesn’t know which piece, when revealed, will exonerate him. It isn’t always true, but it offers a compelling insight into two vastly different mindsets under stress.
Some conservative commentators are arguing that Alabama’s rigorous new abortion laws are a mistake; that they will lead to a backlash that will cause more damage than good. I am with First Thing’s Philip Jeffery: enough incrementalism, already.
When what you advocate for is repugnant to ordinary people, morally or otherwise, you must cloak your aims in euphemisms to hide what it really is you propose. Thus abortion advocates speak of reproductive rights instead of abortion, products of conception instead of infants, women’s health instead of abortion on demand, women’s rights instead of a universal human right to life. Their very Orwellian language is designed to obscure what they advocate for, not to openly proclaim it. Even they know that the more ordinary people know about the reality of abortion, the more repulsed they will be – and the more likely they will become pro-life advocates.
The mutilation of language to hide what they do is only the beginning of their mendacity. Abortion providers are heavily federally funded. Crisis pregnancy centers, which help mothers manage their pregnancy and care for their child, are funded entirely voluntarily – and must contend with abortionists constantly trying to use the government to shut them down or force them to promote abortion. Doing all they can to put crisis pregnancy centers out of operation, abortionists then turn around and accuse pro-lifers of doing nothing to help babies after they are born. The abortion providers are a behemoth, using federal and some state governments as their funding and enforcement arm and using the establishment media as their press agency. Pro-life activists and crisis pregnancy centers are a sometimes ragtag band of volunteers and activists who have to attract private donors by the worthiness of their cause. They are sustained by the fortitude of their commitment, all while battling the efforts of abortionists and governments to shut them down and media barons to smear them. Truth is the wind that keeps pro-life sails aloft in the face of all these obstacles.
It is abortionists and their advocates who must slink around, using soothing language to hide what they do in order to seduce ordinary people into looking the other way. When the truth of abortion is confronted, ordinary people overwhelmingly support life. Our 45 years of incrementalism has effectively collaborated with the abortionists in anesthetizing the conscience of people who should be our allies. I do not speak of being offensively provocative (though David Daleiden told me several years ago that it was a picture of an aborted baby he saw when he was in middle school that shocked him – and ultimately fueled his determination that this evil must be ended).
I wrote recently that most people try hard to ignore contentious issues for as long as they can, not out of moral deficiency, but because they don’t want any trouble. Laws like those in Alabama and the states which have adopted heartbeat bills force people to confront what abortion really is. The abortion crowd reacts to facts and evidence like Dracula does to sunlight. If the facts of abortion cannot stay hidden (and they can’t if we challenge the establishment orthodoxy on the matter) everyone must eventually choose where they stand. No more abstentions. The fundamental question is the humanity of the unborn (and now, with New York’s law and some other states efforts – the newly born). If they are not human, there would be no controversy in the first place. If they are human (as both science and faith confirm they are) then a woman has no more “right” to kill her unborn infant than a 1940’s era German had a “right” to kill Jews or an 1850’s era American southerner had a right to enslave black folks. The canard that no one who doesn’t have a uterus gets a say is just a dodge to avoid the fundamental question of the humanity of the unborn. On matters of universal justice, ALL must choose. In the prelude to the Civil War, southern Senators would sometimes taunt their northern counterparts by saying that if they didn’t like slavery, they shouldn’t buy one – just as abortion advocates now say if you don’t like abortion you shouldn’t get one. It is just shoddy sophistry to avoid the fundamental question.
It is time to confront this question boldly and directly – to induce all to address the fundamental question without euphemism or slogans. Real science says definitively that the unborn are fully human (as opposed to #science, which lefties so love because it can be perverted to say whatever they want). The American Declaration of Independence declares life to be first among those inalienable rights endowed to each of us by our Creator. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Scientifically, philosophically and legally, abortion is untenable. Only malignant sophistry and the perversion of science, philosophy and law prop it up. For those of us of faith, the fate of our immortal souls depends on our defense of the most vulnerable among us. It is time to directly confront the misshapen behemoth the abortion power has become. Make all choose whether we remain committed to a culture of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness or whether we are just a pathetic, disfigured remnant of the noble people we once were. Even abortion advocates will have to take care, for if they succeed in making humanity into an arbitrary construct to be determined by those with sufficient power to serve their own preferences, it will only be a matter of time until they, too, fall into a disfavored category and set on the path of extermination. Either we commit to objective standards for personhood or it is all just an increasingly brutish scrabble for power.
Enough with incrementalism. It is time to choose.
Pope Francis has gotten people in a tizzy again, with recent comments that the Church must let go of her traditions, renounce the desire for clarity and order, and abandon the pile of doctrines and traditions in favor of saying that “God is love.” Even some of those who are heterodox seem taken aback by this bumper sticker theology.
That God is love is a centerpiece of faith. It is, however, the beginning of wisdom, not the end of it. Love is demonstrated by the behavior of a person, not by mushy sentimentalism. St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “to will the good of another,” a definition adopted in toto by the Church in its Catechism (Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 5, Line 1766). Christ refined this to being self-sacrificial love, declaring that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
Doctrine, traditions, clarity and order played a pretty big role in Jesus’ teaching. When showing His mercy to the woman caught in adultery, He did not insipidly ask her tormenters, “what is wrong with love.” Instead, He told them to let the one without sin cast the first stone – and after all had left in shame, forgave the woman and told her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11) A few years back, the Pope accused those who wanted to protect the integrity of marriage of being rigid Pharisees. At the time I first read the statement, I chuckled in astonishment, for the Pope literally had it exactly backwards: it was the Pharisees who wanted loose rules on marriage and Jesus who insisted on tight ones.
I know how terribly disheartening these frequent strange – and occasionally bizarre – statements can be for ordinary faithful Catholics. Yet I stand by my stance that Pope Francis is a lame-duck Pope who has squandered his influence – and so we should not let it disturb our peace. The wheels may turn furiously at the Vatican, but the gears aren’t meshing anymore.
His off-the-cuff comments are not binding on anyone. A Pope’s formal statements become Magisterial when they are made in union with the Bishops of the world. It does not require a vote; the Bishops’ silence is consent. It does not require unanimity; but even if a small group of Bishops objects, the Pope must respond. If the objections remain, then a vote must be taken in synod or council. If the Pope refuses to answer or consult the Bishops after such objections, the teaching cannot become Magisterial. Pope Francis issues ambiguous statement which he refuses to answer any questions on. This method ensures that his pronouncements, imperious as they may be, are mere transient scribblings in the sand of the seashore which will be wiped away by the incoming tide.
A Priest, a Bishop, a Pope are all called to be defenders of Scripture and the Magisterium. They are guardians of the faith, called to help us all live it with fidelity. But they are fallible men, called to serve as both shepherds to the faithful and palace guard to Christ’s immutable and infallible edifice. (Yes, the Pope, too, is fallible, save for particular rare and narrowly circumscribed circumstances – none of which has been called upon these last six years). They can – and should – help us live the faith, but nothing they do can prevent us from living it with fidelity. If a Bishop ordered you to commit adultery, that would be clearly contrary to the faith – an unlawful order you were obliged not to obey. On all matters of faith and morals where there is some ambiguity, you are obliged to follow your Bishop’s lead. On purely temporal, political, economic, or scientific matters (that do not involve any methods illicit in themselves) the highest religious authority’s voice is just one opinion among many – an opinion that does not bind you. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:1-3 of the religious authorities of His time, you should do what they say, but not as they do – and what they authentically say is through Scripture and the Magisterium. If it is doubtful, follow your Bishop’s lead with a clear conscience. Only if it is directly and clearly contradictory to Scripture and the Magisterium should you stick with what is clearly and authentically taught.
I pay little attention to these things any more, rarely letting them disturb my peace. When the Pope handles controversial matters in a way that prevents his statements from becoming Magisterial, why worry overmuch about what is transient anyway? For all the contention in the Church, it worries me that almost no person or institution outside the Catholic Church looks any longer at the Church as a reliable arbiter of morality. Outside the Church, its moral authority is in utter collapse. The efforts by some Bishops to conform themselves to the world have alienated many of the faithful while only gaining the contempt of secular authorities. I have commented boldly of late of my contempt for the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops (TCCB) policy of supporting forced involuntary euthanasia in that state and mislabeling it pro-life. Insiders maintain that the Bishop who took the lead in doing the Texas Medical Assn. and the Texas Hospital Assn.’s bidding is Ft. Worth Bishop Michael Olson. Dallas Bishop Edward Burns has not publicly spoken against the policy – yet while this silence has alienated the faithful, it did not immunize him from secular police raids. Now I find some prominent lay organizations have taken an interest in the mangling of Catholic Doctrine by the TCCB. There will be consequences for all of this. (An earlier version of this article mis-identified Dallas Bishop Edward Burns as a driving force behind the TCCB’s position. That was incorrect. In fact, Burns is one of two Bishops pro-life advocates put the most hope in for getting the TCCB back to authentically supporting life. I apologize for the error – CJ)
This is the time of the ordinary man. Each one of us can live our faith with fidelity. Most of our Priests and Bishops are ordinary men, too, trying hard to navigate these astonishingly stormy waters. Watch for them – and then help to lift them up. If we live our faith with fidelity, navigating the rapids we find ourselves in with focus and without panic, we will rebuild a culture of vibrant faith as the rotted wood below and around us falls away. All we need to do is to choose, to take the next right step with neither malice nor hesitation. It is time to choose.
Kansas City (Kansas) Archbishop Joseph Naumann is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Last week he issued a statement applauding those states which have strengthened pro-life laws. He also emphasized that the Church is committed to helping all mothers with the care and resources they need, particularly those in crisis. It was a welcome statement. Archbishop Naumann is a notably faithful and orthodox Bishop.
I know that one thing that contributes to the general unease of the faithful is the seeming silence of those Bishops who have been faithful, who are not participating in attacking either the faith or the faithful. I have a great deal of sympathy for most of these clerics. They, too, are struggling to navigate these stormy waters while finding themselves in an unexpected and unprecedented situation. They have a truly fiduciary duty of fidelity to Scripture and the Magisterium AND a real duty of obedience to their superiors. When those duties are in real conflict, it can be a matter of deep prudence to consider all the implications before acting boldly. Their ultimate duty for both of these matters is to God.
I hear privately from a lot of Priests from around the country these days. Most are in real torment trying to figure out how to live these duties well. Some are considering leaving the Priesthood. That’s understandable. These days, they have much of the laity giving them the stink-eye if they appear in public with their clerical collars – and find themselves persecuted rather than supported by their superiors, particularly if they are notably orthodox. I pray for these good men, and I pray by name for all who contact me. The best and most committed among the hierarchy are finding their sea legs in this unprecedented situation.
It has pleased God to knock all the props out from under us. We can’t live our faith by casual rote, anymore. We must choose who we are. Whatever we choose, we will suffer: attacks by the spirit of Jezebel that has overtaken the world if we choose the good and the true, the contempt of those who keep fidelity to faith if we betray it – and those who betray will find that even their secular “allies” still hate them. Now the time comes that we must either be intentional disciples or we will no longer be disciples at all. There is no place of neutrality left.
I first saw this horrible Storm some 55 years ago. Though I had trouble believing it would come, I knew if it did, it would shake everyone to their very foundations. No complacency, no easy answers. Perhaps it is because I have had so long to contemplate it that I counsel patience for all of us as we find our way. If a person is not actively attacking the faith or the faithful, give them time and room to find their way. While it is impossible not to notice abuses, I prefer to be on watch for the little, hopeful signs that more and more are finding their way, that they are finding a reserve of strength they never knew they had to fuel a growing resolve. Let us bear with one another as we find our way to becoming intentional disciples. AB Naumann’s statement, released by the USCCB, is a sign of hope, a little stirring, and a proclamation of intentional discipleship.
A little humor…if you have never read the Babylon Bee, it is a satirical site with a distinctly Christian flavor. It skewers the pretensions of our times. Beckita put up a link in comments to an article that ridiculed the ongoing transgender destruction of women’s sports, entitled, “Grizzly Bear Shatters All Pro Wrestling Records After Identifying As Human.” My recent favorite was an article about the House Judiciary Committee issuing a subpoena to God to explain why He colluded to allow Trump to become president. Over the last year or two, I think the Babylon Bee has overtaken the Onion as the premier site for biting satire. They have chosen to be funny – and ridicule the ridiculous.
The amazing and iconic painting at the top of this article, by Salvador Dali, was based on a vision of St. John of the Cross – and then a dream of this vision by Dali, himself. While hostile to religion and Catholicism during his youth, Dali found himself re-drawn to the Church in his mid-30s. Some of his most profound work was inspired by his deep love for his Catholic faith. At the bottom of the page, I have posted his take on the Ascension of Christ.
Just a reminder. This week, I begin my travels to the east of Colorado to speak and meet with people. If you want to see where I will be, click on the Menu button at the top right of the page. From the drop-down menu, click on “Travels With Charlie” and it will give you regularly updated dates and locations with local contact information. Hope to see you out there.