MultiCulturalism 101 

~ 4 Keys to Meaningful Understanding in a Pluralistic Society ~

 

            The concept of multiculturalism is familiar to all college students and is a favorite of professors and college administrators throughout the United States.  Students from many parts of the world are present on our campuses and the study of various cultures and their unfamiliar and differing practices can be fascinating and consuming, to students in a pluralistic society.  Numerous cultures are the subjects of serious study and inquiry throughout the Social Sciences and Humanities disciplines.  Sensitivity to cultural differences is one of the primary components of a college education in America today and is increasingly important in corporate America too.  As a result, multiculturalism is a significant and pervasive concept that emphasizes understanding, respect, tolerance and acceptance of all persons in a pluralistic society. 

            Truth be told, college students who understand and appreciate cultures other than their own exhibit a particular insight and intelligence that is often praised and rewarded by Professors and their peers.  The ongoing, overt “celebration” of diversity that is present on many college and university campuses can be intoxicating to students, so much so that they may forget precisely why they are studying other cultures.  And therein lies the inherent danger in teaching multiculturalism – its intoxicating effects and the fervor with which it is often taught and learned without a clear, meaningful end or goal for the Christian student to grasp. 

     

            The acceptance of the many messages of multiculturalism in a diverse campus setting seems to happen quite naturally for most Christians.  Yet, the broad, uncritical acceptance of multiculturalism’s subtle messages without a searching inquiry into its particulars can lead one to prematurely reject fundamental tenets of the Christian faith in favor of a relativistic or humanistic philosophy that is indifferent, or worse – hostile, to the Holy Trinity and Christ as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  For those who profess the Christian faith, it is fundamentally important to learn the Christian faith in greater depth throughout your college years and to gain a solid knowledge and understanding of culture and history in order to appreciate and assess the many “truths” contained within a secular humanistic philosophy of multiculturalism and the Truth of your Christian faith.  This article is a humble effort to assist you in this crucial task.

  

 > Key Concept 1

The Academic, “No Good” Bias of Relativism

            The necessary emphasis on cultures and differing cultural beliefs, practices, traditions and mores in the college curriculum can serve as a powerful temptation to students to doubt the Truth of their Christian faith.  The multicultural, pluralistic or humanist approach may cause even a student with a strong faith to doubt the very existence of common, universal truths about man, God and reality in general.  Truth may be perceived as merely relative to a particular culture, nation or society.  Thus, practices such as killing, slavery or terrorism may be spoken of only as good or bad in relation to a particular culture and may not be seen as inherently good or bad as a consequence of such an approach.  One may even be taught that differences existing within the same culture or at different periods in that culture’s history affirm the relativity of truth to a particular culture.  Thus, slavery was right for America and the world in the 1700’s but wrong for subsequent generations.  (Yet students often overlook the historical fact that it was the Christianized western civilization that acted to eliminate slavery!).  What is just, good or right is seen as merely relative in this way.  The academic lesson becomes nothing more than that  people, pluralistic societies and Western democratic societies in particular are ethnocentric and must strive to be more open-minded, tolerant and respectful of the various cultural and ethnic differences and practices encountered in college and throughout the world.  Those who shun or disregard this “important” lesson of multiculturalism risk being labeled intolerant, close-minded, disrespectful, and perhaps worse, if they dare speak of judging another culture or of imposing values or viewpoints that may be seen as absolute, religious or Christian.

    

            This is a common dilemma experienced by the majority of thoughtful, faithful Christians – one that can be very frustrating and confusing.     But what is the Christian student to make of this?   At first blush, multiculturalism seems so neat, compelling and logical in its simplicity.  The typical Christian student recognizes that the Christian faith requires us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  He or she is predisposed to want to embrace wholeheartedly the lessons of multiculturalism since Christians are called to love every human being, pray for their enemies and respect their human dignity as creations and temples of the Lord.  We were all taught the Golden Rule and are acutely aware of the biblical admonition to judge not lest we be judged by the same measure.  Yet, we remain unsettled by the relativistic implications that multiculturalism presents. 

     

            If this sounds familiar to you, then you must recognize that you have now arrived at a necessary starting point for growth and maturation in your education and in your faith as well.  As Professor Allan Bloom observed in his bestselling book “The Closing of the American Mind,” it is insightful to recognize a general student mindset here:

     

The danger they [students] have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.  Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating.  Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings – is the great insight of our times.  The true believer is the real danger.  The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past, men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism and chauvinism.  The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right, rather it is not to think you are right at all.      

     

A. Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, pp. 25-6 (Simon & Schuster 1987).   According to Dr. Bloom, the higher education system is not designed to make students scholars “but to provide them with a moral value – openness” and to make them a particular type of human being.  Ibid. at 26.  It may be shocking to realize that one’s education is ultimately reduced to indoctrination of a moral value and that the search for truth, goodness and virtue has the real potential to become subordinate to this goal – or worse, that it may be abdicated or rendered unattainable in a pluralistic, relative worldview!  In “Truth and Tolerance,” Pope Benedict XVI warns us that “[b]y treating all content as comparably valid and with the idea that all religions are different and yet actually the same, you get nowhere.”   Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance:  Christian Belief and World Religions, p. 204 (Ignatius Press 2004). 

    

            It is in that way that unsuspecting college students risk becoming the innocent targets of ideological agendas that can be prominent in courses and majors such as peace, gender, global and ethnic studies.  In his 1991 book entitled “Illiberal Education,” Dinesh D'Souza details the pervasiveness of teaching multiculturalism and various ideological agendas at many American universities:

      

Over the past few years, presidents and deans on most campuses have assembled task forces to set their agenda for ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘pluralism,’ and  have then incorporated several of their recommendations into official policy.  Diversity, tolerance, multiculturalism, pluralism – these phrases are perennially on the lips of university administrators.  They are the principles and slogans of the victim’s revolution.

       

D. D’Souza, Illiberal Education:  The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, p. 17 (The Free Press 1991).  D’Souza informs that “the revolution” is one centered around the injustices perpetrated upon minorities as victims and students oftentimes fail to recognize its scope:

        

Many students are unable to recognize the scope of the revolution, because it is a force larger than themselves, acting upon them.  Thus, they are like twigs carried by a fast current.  They are well aware that something is going on around them, and they might even squirm and complain, but for the most part students do not shape the rules that govern their academic and social lives in the university.  Rather, those rules are intended to shape them.  There are, on virtually every campus, organized alliances of minority, feminist, and homosexual students, who generally form the youth corps of the revolution.  But they are not its prime movers; their numbers are too small, and they have no power to make fundamental decisions that change the basic structure and atmosphere of the university.

       

Ibid. at 19.  The astute student may come to realize that their education is largely focused on the study of societal victims and minorities that portray a bias, and even an animosity towards the traditional and religious values of white America.  As D’Souza points out:  “[m]ost university presidents and deans cooperate with the project to transform liberal education in the name of minority victims.”  Ibid. at 15.  D’Souza is not alone in his observations.  The National Association of Scholars, Professor David Horowitz and Students for Academic Freedom have echoed them in recent years. 

    

            In fact, the very definition of culture these days may be seen in Academia as nothing more than a socially constructed concept!  The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology defines culture in precisely such terms:  “In social science, culture is all that in human society which is socially rather than biologically transmitted, whereas the common usage tends to point only to the arts.”  J. Scott & G. Marshall, Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, pp. 132-33, (3rd ed.)(Oxford Univ. Press 2005).  Regarding contemporary notions of “culture,” the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology states that they “arose through the work of field anthropologists such as Franz Boas, around the turn of the century, and tend towards relativism.  The intention is to describe, compare, and contrast cultures, rather than rank them.”  Ibid. (emphasis supplied).  The concept of “cultural studies” is defined in equally subjective, if not alarming, terms:

      

As a field of interest, cultural studies seems to lack a distinctive or coherent disciplinary core, and over the years it has borrowed both its substantive topics and theoretical orientations increasingly from other areas of scholarship.  Recently, some critics have claimed that it now exerts a pernicious influence on teaching and research in sociology, political science, and social history, by encouraging them to abandon structural concerns.

        

Ibid. at 131.  These are remarkably candid and stunning statements!

    

            The institutional desire to foster unity and excellence through diversity and inclusiveness is a primary focus of many influential and significant groups, institutions and initiatives in higher education, including but not limited to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, and the Ford Foundation's involvement in the Difficult Dialogues  initiative.  The predominant, ostensibly noble focus of these organizations is on “underserved” minority, religious or cultural groups, inclusiveness, global citizenship and transforming societies and nations through pluralism, intercultural understanding and dialogue.  Regrettably, however, these organizations invariably underserve the Christian and Catholic Christian student.  Oftentimes, these well-intentioned diversity initiatives are promoted overzealously or in an unbalanced, disproportionate way, and almost always at the expense of Christianity.

    

            As a result, these diversity or multicultural initiatives can convey to the typical Christian student indifference, ignorance and animosity towards Judeo-Christian cultures and the rich, dynamic history and achievements of western civilization itself.  By way of example, a recent article appearing in Diversity & Democracy, a publication of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, stated that “[o]ur national diversity challenges us to look carefully at our successes and failures in providing equal opportunity and equal justice to members of groups that have been denied these rights.”  A. Clayton-Pederson, Rethinking Educational Practices to Make Excellence Inclusive, vol. 12, no. 2 (2009).  The article fails to address our national, Judeo-Christian heritage or the triumphs and achievements of western civilization, and focuses instead on making global citizens of us all through increasing individual awareness, empathetic understanding and commitment to a liberal education.  The Pluralism Project at Harvard University expresses a “public commitment to pluralism” and a focus on “the religious traditions of Asia and the Middle East that have become woven into the religious fabric of the United States” in its Project Mission Statement.  

    

            Thus, the Christian student who comes to college, even with a strong faith and understanding of Christianity and history, will be constantly challenged in his faith at virtually every level and may well find himself on the defensive through most of the humanities curriculum.  To many Christian students, this realization is surprising, confusing and discouraging.  The potential for ideological bias or animus at the college or university level requires Christian students to become sensitive to the concepts of relativism and humanism and to any campus bias or animus that may exist in their courses, textbooks or disciplines that render goodness and truth inherently subjective.  George Weigel, bestselling Catholic author of numerous books including Witness to Hope, vehemently warns against an undiscerning view of tolerance and an indiscriminate acceptance of relativism:

     

Absent convictions, there is no tolerance; there is only indifference.  Absent some compelling notion of the truth that requires us to be tolerant of those who have a different understanding of the truth of things, there is only skepticism and relativism.” 

     

G. Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral:  Europe, America and Politics Without God, p. 110 (Basic Books 2005). 

  

 

> Key Concept 2

Religion and Culture are Inseparable

             To gain a proper understanding of multiculturalism, one must initially recognize and appreciate the importance of religion and spirituality to cultures in general.  Religion clearly constitutes a key element of culture that shapes important beliefs and values.  Social Science courses like Human Geography or Cultural Geography typically focus on the complex nature of culture and its many, varied components – and their textbooks can state expressly that “[h]uman geography increasingly recognizes the pluralism of cultures within regions,” or that “[c]ulture is a complexly interlocked web of behaviors and attitudes.”  See, e.g.,  Fellman, Getis and Getis, Human Geography (9th Ed.), p. 37 (McGraw Hill 2007).  Notwithstanding such verbiage, religion is inevitably studied and viewed as a cultural innovation or identifying agent that can “intimately affect all facets of a culture,” even in societies that “largely reject religion.”  Ibid. at 156-57. 

            Christianity is a major world religion that is often seen as a significant, cultural influence.  Christianity began with and transformed the Jewish culture – and thereby formed its own separate and distinct culture.  Thus, in a very real sense, Christianity is a multicultural culture:

    

If culture is more than mere form or mere aesthetics, if it is much more a way of ordering values within a historic form of life, and if it cannot ignore the question concerning the divine, then there is no way of getting around the fact that, for believers, the Church is a separate cultural entity in her own right.  This cultural entity or agency, the Church, the people of God, does not – even in periods when particular peoples seem to have been fully Christianized, as people used to believe was the case in Europe – coincide with any of these historic cultural entities; rather, she retains her overarching form and is indeed on that account significant.

     

J. Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, p. 69.  The essence of its transformative power lies in its natural, multicultural appeal and its appeal to the universal Truths of mankind!  For the Christian people of God, “the primary and immediate agent of his culture” differs from the classic cultural agents defined by language, borders or either communal or national boundaries and actually “subsists within various different cultural entities.”  Ibid. at 68.  In effect, a “dual” culturalism is inherent in Christianity whereby one does not cease to be an American, German, Frenchman or Russian while being a Christian.  Moreover, the Christian culture, by its very nature, respects the heritage and cultural traditions of those who adopt it – an approach that serves to deeply enrich the Christian faith too:

     

One and universal, yet present in the multiplicity of the Particular Churches, the Catholic Church can offer a unique contribution to the building up of a Europe open to the world. The Catholic Church in fact provides a model of essential unity in a diversity of cultural expressions, a consciousness of membership in a universal community which is rooted in but not confined to local communities, and a sense of what unites beyond all that divides.

      

John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa, par. 116 (2003).   Put simply, the Church has the unique ability to make a peaceful, democratic, multicultural society succeed!  Saint Augustine posited long ago the notion of two kingdoms, i.e., the earthly and heavenly kingdoms, in his political philosophy and was pessimistic about the prospects of success and longevity for any earthly government that was not founded on universal Christian principles of love of God and neighbor. 

      

            Through the study of pluralistic societies, one can rationally conclude that history shows us “that democratic stability and cultural diversity are often incompatible in the post-independence politics of many plural societies.”  A. Rabushka & K. Shepsle, Politics in Plural Societies:  A Theory of Democratic Instability, p. 207 (Pearson/Longman 2009);   C. Drogus & S. Orvis, Introducing Comparative Politics: Concepts and Cases in Context, p. 136 (CQ Press 2009)(“Multi-ethnic and multi-religious states need not be conflictual, though they often are.”).  Ethnic politics is not unique to the underdeveloped world but is a phenomenon that repeatedly occurs throughout the world.  Politics in Plural Societies, p. 7 (“Ethnic conflict is constrained neither by time nor space; the history of plural societies is replete with tragedies of civil strife dating over centuries and located in nearly every region of the globe.”).  In the absence of a “common social will” or national consensus, “economic competition among the separate communities is the only feasible, mutual activity.  All other activities are determined by the specific cultural values of the separate communities.”  Ibid at 11.  These observations and reasonings led Messrs. Rabushka and Shepsle to state in their landmark survey work that:

      

Ethnic conflict in plural societies since 1966 confirms [J.S.] Furnivall’s expectations and belies those that his critics have held.  Neither intraethnic factionalism, mutual knowledge, cross-cutting cleavages, nor shared values hold together many plural societies today, and normative political consensus does not exist among the respective ethnic strata (even if some politically irrelevant shared values do exist).

      

Ibid. at 15.  Societies deemed pluralistic in nature, however, have been observed by some political scientists to require cultural assimilation and/or political integration of minority cultures or acquiescience to a shared system of values to achieve a unified political balance or a nationalistic identity.  Ibid. at 18;   see also: Introducing Comparative Politics, p. 136 (“Some degree of recognition, autonomy, or both is usually essential if a mobilized [religious or ethnic] group is to find its place peacefully inside a larger state.”).

    

            The quandary remains of primary interest to political scientists, political theorists, sociologists and many other humanities disciplines in our academic institutions and rightfully so - it is a key question for humanity – can human beings engineer a peaceful, multicultural, pluralistic, world or a secular, humanistic culture of shared values that will engender the respect, participation, tolerance and excellence in diversity that is being contemplated and heralded in many academic institutions?  Aristotle wrestled with this classic question in his work “Politics” and referred to politics as the master science because it dealt with matters of great import to all of society in general.  Plato’s classic work The Republic offers an insightful critique of democracy and an intriguing approach to government wherein he purports to premise a just society or polis on the notions of human nature, the Cardinal virtues and a Philosopher-King.  Cicero, Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Founding Fathers and even our Popes have addressed this issue in a variety of ways – all worth reading to the serious student.  The United Nations continues to discuss and debate the notions of freedom, peace and universal, human rights while these along with notions of “Justice,” “freedom,” a “just society” and “just wars” remain well-defined and represented by the Catholic tradition for all to review and consider!  Pope John Paul II put it this way in his October 1995 speech to the United Nations General Assembly:

        

Freedom is not simply the absence of tyranny or oppression.  Nor is freedom a license to do whatever we like.  Freedom has an inner logic which distinguishes it and ennobles it:  Freedom is ordered to the truth, and is fulfilled in man’s quest for truth and in man’s living the truth.  Detached from the truth about the human person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of individuals and, in political life, it becomes the caprice of the most powerful and the arrogance of power.  Far from being a limitation upon freedom or a threat to it, reference to the truth about the human person – a truth universally knowable through the moral law written on the hearts of all – is, in fact, the guarantor of freedom’s future.

      

(See: full text of 1995 U.N. Papal Address by clicking here;  see also JPII’s January 2002 World Day of Peace Message for a post-9/11 reflection on justice and mercy;  G. Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral, p. 78-86 (an account of freedom according to St. Thomas Aquinas)).

     

            In political science, students focus upon the concepts of power, justice, government, political institutions and political culture through major theoretical approaches such as the rational choice theory, primordialism, religious freedoms, human rights, and ethnic or “culturalist” theories, that are concerned, in significant part, with the relationship of religious and spiritual values upon governing processes and political beliefs.  See, e.g.,  M. Etheridge and H. Handelman, Politics in a Changing World: Comparative Introduction to Political Science, 5th ed., pg. 89 (Wadsworth Cengage 2010).  Religion is quite properly considered to be an “agent of political socialization” in politics and political science classes nationwide.  See, e.g., T. Magstadt, Understanding Politics (9th ed.), pp. 311-12 (Wadsworth Cengage 2009).   Marxist ideology denounces religion as “the opiate of the masses” while atheistic, communist societies historically, deliberately and energetically attempted to limit its effects upon the political culture.  Yet Christianity remains inseparable from the cultures of Russia, Poland and Cuba, and in many other European, North American and Latin American cultures too.  One simply cannot study history or the ancient, classical civilizations in earnest without important references to religion in their cultures nor can an honest study and understanding of philosophy occur in an earnest or meaningful way without reference to metaphysics and its transcendant and divine dimensions.

     

            Renowned Harvard University Professor Samuel Huntington in his oft-studied, scholarly Bestseller entitled “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” reminds us that “a civilization is the broadest cultural entity.”  S. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 28 (Simon & Schuster 1996).  Huntington affirms that “[r]eligion is a central defining characteristic of civilizations” and agrees that the world’s great religions constitute “the foundations on which the great civilizations rest.”  Ibid. at p. 47 (quoting Richard Dawson’s Dynamics of World History, p. 128 (Sherwood Sugden Co. 1978)).  

       

            Professor Huntington devotes his comprehensive, scholarly efforts to a notion that political scientists continue to study today, i.e., that the world’s major religions primarily account for the national and cultural alliances and divides that shape our modern world.  While noting that culture in a post-cold war world “is both a divisive and a unifying force,” Huntington bluntly warns against the loss of our cultural identity through a generous acceptance of multiculturalism:

       

In the 1990’s, however, the leaders of the United States have . . .  assiduously promoted the diversity rather than the unity of the people they govern. 

            The leaders of other countries have, as we have seen, at times attempted to disavow their cultural heritage and shift the identity of their country from one civilization to another.  In no case to date have they succeeded and they have instead created schizophrenic torn countries.  The American multiculturalists similarly reject their country’s cultural heritage.  Instead of attempting to identify the United States with another civilization, however, they wish to create a country of many civilizations, which is to say a country not belonging to any civilization and lacking a cultural core.  History shows that no country so constituted can long endure as a coherent society.  A multicivilizational United States will not be the United States; it will be the United Nations. . . .

            The clash between the multiculturalists and the defenders of Western civilization and the American Creed is, in James Kurth’s phrase, ‘the real clash’ within the American segment of Western Civilization.  Americans cannot avoid the issue:  Are we a Western people or are we something else?  The futures of the United States and of the West depend upon Americans reaffirming their commitment to Western civilization.  Domestically, this means rejecting the divisive siren calls of multiculturalism. . . .  Americans are culturally part of the Western family; multiculturalists may damage and even destroy that relationship but they cannot replace it.  When Americans look for their cultural roots, they find them in Europe.

      

Id. at pp. 306-07.   Indeed, “Christianity is so consubstantial to the West that any surrender on its part would have devastating consequences.”  J. Ratzinger and M. Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, p. 32 (Basic Books 2006).  

     

            In his more recent work entitled Who Are We?, Professor Huntington notes that America’s “mainstream Anglo-Protestant culture” has for nearly 400 years “been the central and the lasting component of American identity.”  S. Huntington, Who Are We?  The Cultural Core of American National Identity, p. 59 (Simon & Schuster 2004).  The Declaration of Independence, and its recognition of “inalienable rights” rooted in the Christian tradition, has become an inspirational and foundational document for many other countries around the world.  D. Armitage, The Declaration of Independence:  A Global History, (Harvard University Press 2007).  Of America, DeTocqueville wrote in 1835 that:

      

there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

      

A. DeTocqueville, Democracy in America, Bk. I at pp. 350-51 (Bantam 2000).   From the Great Awakening movements to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement through today’s abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage battles, Christian America continues to be a significant, if not a driving, force in these cultural and political debates.  Notwithstanding Nietzsche's famous admonition or Time Magazine’s 1966 cover story, America continues to identify itself largely as a spiritual and Christian nation, unlike its democratic counterparts in Europe.  (See: M. Crepaz & J. Steiner, European Democracies, p. 11 (6th ed.)(Pearson/Longman 2009)(“Americans are some of the most religious people in the world”), and 2002 Pew Research Study  US stands alone among wealthy nations...).  Professor Huntington understands that “Americans are . . .  overwhelmingly Christian” and asks America whether it will choose to recognize and appreciate its cultural, Christian core:

      

Religion has been and still is a central, perhaps the central, element of American identity.  America was founded in large part for religious reasons, and religious movements have shaped its evolution for almost four centuries.  By every indicator, Americans are far more religious than the people of other industrialized countries.  Overwhelming majorities of white Americans, of black Americans, and of Hispanic Americans are Christian.  In a world in which culture and particularly religion shape the allegiances, the alliances and the antagonisms of people on every continent, Americans could again find their national identity and their national purposes in their culture and religion.

      

Huntington, Who Are We? at pp. 20 and 365.  Indeed, the very notion of what it means to be an American depends precisely on this question.  (See: T. H. Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class, pg. 24 (London: Pluto Press 1950)(“Citizenship requires . . .  a direct sense of community membership based on loyalty to a civilization which is a common possession”)).  As college students, seek to understand that which compels author Dinesh D’Souza to conclude that “America is the greatest, freest, and most decent society in existence.”  D’Souza, What’s So Great About America?, p. 193 (Regnery 2002).  The serious historical study of the Charter Documents of this Nation, including the Declaration of Independence, along with George Washington's Farewell Address, the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, the Inaugural Address and the many speeches and writings of President John Adams along with the writings and papers of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail are interesting if not insightful here.  Ask whether America was founded as a Christian nation, but note that the more meaningful inquiry, according to Huntington, is whether we are still a Christian nation?

    

 

> Key Concept 3

Insist on Respect for Christianity’s Role and Contributions

             All students should insist upon learning Christianity and appreciating its many historical contributions.  This approach is consistent with an authentic understanding and any true spirit of multiculturalism.  Despite the educational emphasis on multicultural studies, it appears that today’s concept of “multiculturalism” too often denies and engenders hostility towards our rich and profound religious heritage and to an American national identity based on the Christian religion.  Secular Europe and the European Union continue to whitewash their profound Christian heritage while President Obama boldly (but erroneously) declares that America is not a Christian nation.  Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington believes that today’s multiculturalism movement has elitist roots in the 1960’s and 1970’s, reflects a political and academic desire for an alternative to the prevailing, traditional Anglo-Protestant national identity, and amounts to little more than an anti-western ideology:

Multiculturalism is in its essence anti-European civilization. . . .  It is basically an anti-Western ideology.  Multiculturalists advance several propositions.  First, America is composed of many different ethnic and racial groups.  Second, each of these groups has its own different culture.  Third, the white Anglo elite dominant in American society has suppressed these cultures and compelled or induced those belonging to other ethnic or racial groups to accept the elite’s Anglo-Protestant culture.  Fourth, justice, equality, and the rights of minorities demand that those suppressed cultures be liberated and that governments and private institutions encourage and support their revitalization.

      

Huntington, Who Are We? at p. 171.  According to Huntington, the multiculturalist movement is one of four significant challenges to the traditional American identity that is purposefully designed to deconstruct the American Creed and to “ignore the mainstream culture of America because to them there is no such thing.”  Ibid. at 174.  In short, multiculturalism as preached today renders it largely insignificant, if not a matter of shame, to be American.  Natan Sharansky and others provide insights into the deconstructionist nature of multiculturalism – “multiculturalism is relativist;” “multiculturalism inevitably paves the way toward a globalized society;” “multiculturalism calls on . . . societies to weaken their own national uniqueness and recognize that European [or American] cultural tradition should not be defining and determinative.”  N. Sharansky, Defending Identity:  Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, pp. 74-5 (Public Affairs 2008).  Such deconstructionist ideologies like multiculturalism will assuredly erode national and cultural identity according to Huntington and Sharansky:

  

In effect, these [deconstructionist] ideologies deny the right of a national culture to sustain itself and, by refusing to make value judgments about cultural forms, call into question the supremacy of the very democratic culture that has enabled different groups to coexist in mutual respect or tolerance.  As these post-identity ideologies have systematically hollowed out Europe’s unique national identities and cultural forms in the name of peace, equality, and justice, groups without democratic experience or traditions have flooded into Europe.  And these groups do not have the slightest qualms about the supremacy of their identities.

   

N. Sharansky, Defending Identity, p. 75.   Indeed, the very notion of identity is considered to be a social construct subject to manipulation by elites and changes over time.  See, e.g., C. Drogas and S. Orvis, Introducing Comparative Politics:  Concepts and Cases in Context, pp. 125 – 28 (CQ Press 2009). 

     

            A few years back, Boston University Professor Stephen Prothero made a splash with his book entitled Religious Illiteracy:  What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t (Harper SanFrancisco 2007) that exposed America’s general lack of knowledge concerning Christianity and the world’s religions in general!   Prothero is concerned about the “inattention” given to religion in secondary and higher education today, calling it a “failure of the highest order” and argues persuasively that religious literacy is necessary to us for purely civic and educational reasons.  Religious Literacy, pp. 8-9.  Inattention – maybe, but students will no doubt hear enough negative comments about the history of Christianity, Catholicism and religious thought during their college years.  You might, therefore, find it easy to dismiss and difficult to learn of the many positive influences that Christianity has had throughout European and American history.    So let’s quickly recall some of Christianity’s positive contributions!  Shift the focus for a moment and indulge Dr. Bloom’s finding that “[h]istory and the study of cultures do not teach or prove that values or cultures are relative.”  Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, p. 39.

      

A number of prominent scholars and historians have documented the contributions of the Catholic Church to Western and European civilization.  Recent Books, such as Triumph:The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church by H.W. Crocker III, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and What’s So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza, chronicle many of these contributions in popular, readable and detailed fashion.  Christian students should be happy to learn that the cultural view that portrays the historical Roman Catholic Church as ignorant, repressive and stagnant is erroneous.  The truth of the matter is that the Catholic Church often fails to receive credit for its historic contributions and that “Western Civilization stands indebted to the Church for the university system, charitable work, international law, the sciences, important legal principles [i.e., natural law and “rights”], and much else . . . .”  T. E. Woods,  How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, 1 (Regnery Publishing 2005).  Its contributions as a force for good throughout Western civilization go well beyond the recognized music, art and architecture and are perhaps of far greater significance to today’s world than the artistic contributions of the Renaissance period by Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael or the Gothic architectural wonders of the Medieval period.  The following examples serve merely to scratch the surface:

·The Church developed schools, including but not limited to the university system in the Dark Ages, and “cherished, preserved, studied, and taught the works of the ancients, [including the Holy Bible] which would otherwise have been lost.” Ibid. at 41

        ·The university, the institution we recognize today, “comes to us directly from the medieval world.”Ibid. at 48

·The Carolingian Renaissance and the development by the monks of Carolingian miniscule were “crucial to building the literacy of Western civilization.” Ibid. at 18.

       

*The great efforts of Alcuin, Gerbert of Aurillac and other Catholic Bishops, monks, priests, scholars and leaders saved Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries from barbarian influences and collapse.

·The university system and Scholasticism, with its scholarly exchanges and rigorous, intellectual debates, provided the framework for the Scientific Revolution.

·The Church’s “true role in the development of modern science remains one of the best-kept secrets of modern history.” Ibid. at 5.

·Saint Benedict and the Benedictines were the “Fathers of European civilization” and attracted many of Europe’s most powerful as followers, as well as various barbarian groups.

·The monks of the Middle Ages preserved and advanced western civilization in a variety of ways, including literacy, a model for factories and livestock breeding, spiritual zeal and scholarship.

·The monks restored agriculture to a significant portion of Europe after its barbarian influences subsided.

·The monks were pioneers in wine and champagne production, i.e., Dom Perignon of Saint Peter’s Abbey, Hautvilliers-on-the-Marne.

·The advancement of technological prowess by the Cistercian monks allowed the medieval world to mechanize for industrial use on an enormous scale, far surpassing the ancient, classical world.

·Catholic Priest and Professor Francisco deVitoria heralded as the Father of International Law

·The Jesuits contributed significantly to math and science, and were “the first to introduce Western science into such far-off places as China and India.” Ibid. at 101.

·Canon law provided a workable model for the modern European legal systems.

·Catholic theologians of the 15th and 16th centuries preceded Adam Smith and contributed greatly to modern scientific economics, even refuting Marxist notions and “defending the principles of economic liberty and a free-market economy.” Ibid. at 166.

·The spirit and scope of the Church’s commitment to Charity and aiding the poor “constituted something new in the Western world and represented a dramatic improvement over the standards of classical antiquity.”Ibid. at 7.

 As impressive as the above may seem, the contributions of the Church to charity, human rights, natural law and human dignity are evident and continue to this day!

   

            The inescapable, undeniable truth concerning the life of Jesus Christ and the history of Christianity is that Jesus Christ and His Church are inextricably intertwined with the history of the world.  The interaction of Christian cultures with Eastern civilizations is of great significance.  Christianity, as its own universal culture, began in the Near East, not in Europe, but precisely at “the geographical point at which the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe come into contact.”  J. Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, p. 85.  Its universal nature was not limited solely to its geographical reach:

    

This was never merely geographical contact; rather it was a contact between the spiritual traditions of the three continents.  In that sense, ‘interculturality’ is part of the original shape of Christianity.  And in the first centuries the missions, too, reached out just as much to the east as to the west.  The heart of Christianity lay in Asia Minor, in the Near East, but Christianity soon pressed on to India; the Nestorian mission reached as far as China, and in terms of numbers Asiatic Christianity was more or less equal to European.  Only the spread of Islam robbed Christianity in the Near East of much of its life and strength . . . .

Ibid.  

       

            The revelation of God through Jesus Christ and the universal message of Jesus is not “just a belief” but a message of truth, hope, salvation and love for all of mankind.  Pope John Paul II states in his papal work Dives in Misericordia:  “[t]his truth is not the subject of a teaching; it is a reality made present to us by Christ.”  (emphasis supplied).  The Universal Church is not a fiction, but a reality.   Today, over one-third of the world’s population is Christian.  Our sheer numbers make Christianity the largest of the world’s religions today and the largest religion worldwide throughout the 20th Century.  (See, e.g., H. Smith, The World’s Religions, p. 317 (HarperSanFrancisco 1991)(“Of all the great religions Christianity is the most widespread and has the largest number of adherents.”).  The Roman Catholic Church alone claims millions of congregants worldwide and has faithful adherents on every continent on the earth.  In the United States, Roman Catholics account for approximately one quarter of the Christians in America, second only to the Evangelical Protestants.   Nearly 40% of Catholic Americans are Hispanic and that population will continue its growth into the foreseeable future.   In short, our "Judeo-Christian tradition continues to be dominant in the United States. . . ."   T. Magstadt, Understanding Politics (9th ed.), p. 312.

    

            Each one of us as Christians have proclaimed the Truth of Jesus Christ as a living, loving God who offers us “life to the fullest.”  To be a Christian and a relativist is, therefore, a logical impossibility.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is either an ordinary, ancient, insignificant, historical occurrence or an extraordinary event in human history that cannot be ignored by humankind and human history.  One cannot be indifferent here.  Even a minimal, relativistic notion of respect requires that a reasonable judgment of a culture and its merit be made prior to respecting or rejecting a particular culture or belief or prior to asserting that all religions or cultures are the same and essentially have equal merit.  Blind or uncritical acceptance of any person’s sincerely held beliefs is a patently unreasonable choice for Christians and non-Christians alike, is tantamount to intellectual pacifism or laziness and should not be an acceptable approach at the college level. 

    

            By these standards, it would appear that Christianity is entitled to receive the utmost respect as a culture in the University setting:

    

Multiculturalism, which is so constantly and passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own heritage.  However, multiculturalism cannot survive without common foundations, without the sense of direction offered by our own values.  It definitely cannot survive without respect for the sacred.  Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can only do this if we, ourselves, are not estranged from the sacred, from God.  We can and must learn from that which is sacred to others.  With regard to others, it is our duty to cultivate within ourselves respect for the sacred and to show the face of the revealed God. . . .

     

J. Ratzinger and M. Pera, Without Roots:  The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, p. 79 (Basic Books 2006) (Click here for a preview of "Without Roots").   As Christians, we should insist upon the same understanding and respect for the study of Christianity that is given in our colleges and universities to the study of the world’s other religions.  

            

            Scholar Dinesh D’Souza recognizes that “[w]e live in a world that has been decisively shaped by Western Civilization.”  D. D’Souza, What’s So Great About America?, p. 37 (Regnery 2002).   The history of Christianity and America are inextricably intertwined with the history of Western Civilization and, more particularly, the history of Europe.  No student can claim to honestly study the history of Western Civilization without studying and understanding Christianity itself.  One popular textbook on European politics candidly and succinctly recognized this much:

   

“The great religions of the world offer coherent value systems and standards of behavior.  Before the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church provided much of the cultural unity for the fragmented politics of Christian Europe.  Its magnificent cathedrals and splendid artworks inspire us even today.”

     

G. Almond, R. Dalton, G.B. Powell & L. Strom, European Politics Today, p. 14 (4th ed.)(2009).  In his book of the same title, Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s declared that the Church “did not merely contribute to Western Civilization – the Church built that civilization.”  T. Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, pp. 219, 221 (Regnery 2005)(“All of these areas: economic thought, international law, science, university life, charity, religious ideas, art, morality – these are the very foundations of a civilization, and in the West every single one of them emerged from the heart of the Catholic Church.”). 

      

            Pope John Paul II in his 2003 Encyclical Ecclesia in Europa detailed the matter eloquently:

             

24. Europe has been widely and profoundly permeated by Christianity. “There can be no doubt that, in Europe's complex history, Christianity has been a central and defining element, established on the firm foundation of the classical heritage and the multiple contributions of the various ethnic and cultural steams which have succeeded one another down the centuries. The Christian faith has shaped the culture of the Continent and is inextricably bound up with its history, to the extent that Europe's history would be incomprehensible without reference to the events which marked first the great period of evangelization and then the long centuries when Christianity, despite the painful division between East and West, came to be the religion of the European peoples. Even in modern and contemporary times, when religious unity progressively disintegrated as a result both of further divisions between Christians and the gradual detachment of cultures from the horizon of faith, the role played by faith has continued to be significant.

          

25. The Church's concern for Europe is born of her very nature and mission. Down the centuries the Church has been closely linked to our continent, so that Europe's spiritual face gradually took shape thanks to the efforts of great missionaries, the witness of saints and martyrs, and the tireless efforts of monks and nuns, men and women religious and pastors. From the biblical conception of man Europe drew the best of its humanistic culture, found inspiration for its artistic and intellectual creations, created systems of law and, not least, advanced the dignity of the person as a subject of inalienable rights.  The Church, as the bearer of the Gospel, thus helped to spread and consolidate those values which have made European culture universal.

           

Put simply, an understanding of European nations without Christianity, even after the Protestant Reformation, is a virtual impossibility.  (See: G. Almond, et al., European Politics Today, p. 14).   Human history without Christ is a history lacking shape or real direction:

    

Christ belongs to the history of all humanity, and he gives shape to that history.  He brings it to life as only he can, like the yeast in the Gospel.  From all eternity, God’s plan has been to accomplish in Christ the divinization of man and of the world.  And this process is continually unfolding – even in our own day.

     

John Paul II, Memory and Identity, p. 117.   Consequently, neither the European Union nor our great Universities and Colleges can honestly whitewash history or trivialize the contributions of Christianity to European history without demonstrating or adhering to an anti-Christian, relativistic or a secular humanist bias.  

       

            Christianity renewed and transformed the Roman Empire and modern Europe was “born from the rise of the Carolingian Empire and the shift of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, which directed its mission towards the Slavic peoples.”  J. Ratzinger, Without Roots, pg. 58.  From the Great Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan through the Dark and Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, the Protestant Reformation, the Glorious Revolutions and the Ages of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, and from the American Revolutionary period and Peter the Great to Rev. Martin Luther King and the rise and fall of the Soviet Empire, the Catholic Christian faith and its traditions have been a guide for positive change and transformation throughout entire continents.  After the Fall of the Roman Empire, Christianity brought enlightened notions of chivalry, charity and civility to a Europe made barren by barbaric and pagan practices.  European art, music and literature have deep roots in Christian expressions of faith.  Many of the great European Universities have roots in Scholasticism and Christian thought.  Natural Law theory from St. Thomas Aquinas to its underpinnings in the thought of British empiricist John Locke and the founding of our American Republic must be taught, understood and appreciated, yet they are far too often neglected by students and faculty alike.  (Try this gem on Locke from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).  The earnest study of Byzantium, Orthodox Christianity, American and European history are inspiring, enlightening and well worth the effort.   

               

  

   

   

             

> Key Concept 4

Recognize the Dynamic Nature of Culture and History and the Prominent Role of the Catholic Christian Faith Therein

             Recognizing what Pope Benedict XVI termed the “advent dimension” of culture is essential to a proper understanding of culture and multiculturalism.  See Truth and Tolerance:  Christian Belief and World Religions (Ignatius Press 2004).  (Click here to preview "Truth and Tolerance").  Cultures are rooted in values and history; they hold faith and religion central in their hearts; they change over time, are by nature inclusive and share common universal realities that pertain both to mankind and a transcendant reality:

. . . their historical nature, their movement with time and in time, includes an openness.  Each particular culture not only lives out its own experience of God, the world, and man, but on its path it necessarily encounters other cultural agencies and has to react to their quite different experiences.  This results, depending always on the degree to which the cultural agent may be closed or open, inwardly narrow or broad in outlook, in that culture’s own perceptions and values being deepened and purified.  That may lead to a profound reshaping of that culture’s previous form, . . .

      

Truth and Tolerance, p. 63.  This deepening, purification and reshaping process is made possible by the “potentially universal nature of all cultures” and “can in fact lead to a breaking open of the silent alienation of man from the truth and from himself that exists within that culture.”  Ibid.  The inevitable and continuing “meeting of cultures and the gradual growing together of the separate geographical areas of history into one common history of mankind” bear witness to their potential and “are grounded in the nature of man himself.”  Ibid at pp. 75-6.  This meeting of cultures is possible precisely because:

      

man, in all the variety of his history and of his social structures and customs, is a single being, one and the same. . . .  touched and affected in the very depth of his existence by truth itself.  The fundamental openness of all men to others, and the agreement in essentials to be found even between those cultures farthest removed from each other, can only be explained by the hidden way our souls have been touched by truth. . . .  Only in the interrelating of all great works of culture can man approach the unity and wholeness of his true nature.

Ibid at 64-5.  

      

            Thus, it becomes evident through the advent nature of culture that “[t]he height of development of a culture is shown in its openness, in its capacity to give and to receive, in its power to develop further, to let itself be purified and thus to become better adapted to the truth and to man.”  Ibid. at pp. 60, 196-97.  This, in a nutshell, is the advent dimension of culture that underscores “an essential concept for a history leading toward cultural unions.”  Ibid. at 64.  The Exodus and the history of Israel’s faith was an all-embracing struggle from within, with others such as Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman cultures and with God, that “were assumed and transformed in a passionate endeavor to provide an ever more pure vessel for the new cultural element, the revelation of the one God; yet it was in this very process that those cultures found their lasting fulfilment.  They would otherwise all have sunk into the distant past had they not remained present as purified uplifted in the faith of the Bible.”  Ibid. at p. 70.   Christianity too “carries within itself the fruit of a whole history of cultural development, a history of acceptance and rejection, of encounter and of change.”  Ibid.  Writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that:

       

[a]nyone entering the Church has to be aware that he is entering a separate, active, cultural entity with her own many-layered intercultural character that has grown up in the course of history.  Without a certain exodus, a breaking off with one’s life in all its aspects, one cannot become a Christian.  Faith is no private path to God; it leads into the people of God and into its history.  God has linked himself to a history, which is now also his history and which we cannot simply erase. . . .  Christ remains the same, even according to his body.  But he is drawing us to him.  That means that because the people of God is, not just a single cultural entity, but is gathered together from all peoples, therefore the first cultural entity, rising again from the break that was made, has its place therein; and not only that, but it is needed in order to allow the Incarnation of Christ, of the Word, to attain its whole fullness.  This is the real inner dynamic of history, and of course it stands always beneath the sign of the Cross; . . .

Ibid. at 71. 

     

            Yes, it is Jesus Christ and his redeeming Cross that stands at the crossroads of history, philosophy, cultures and the Humanities in general!  Christ “is not a ‘manifestation’ of the divine, but is God.  In him, God has shown his face.”  Ibid. at 104.  Thus, it is “genuinely a matter of the ‘is’ – that is the real dividing line in the history of religions, and for that very reason it is the effective force for uniting them.”  Ibid. 

     

At this point, what is special about the self-understanding of Christian faith can be seen.  It knows very well, if it is aware and uncorrupted, that there is a great deal that needs purifying and opening up.  But it is also certain that it is at heart the self-revelation of truth itself and, therefore, redemption.  For the real problem of mankind is the darkening of truth.  This distorts our action and sets us against one another, because we bear our own evil within ourselves, are alienated from ourselves, cut off from the ground of our being, from God.  If truth is offered, this means a leading out of alienation and thus out of the state of division; it means the vision of a common standard that does no violence to any culture but that guides each one to its own heart, because each exists ultimately as an expectation of truth.  That does not mean reduction to uniformity; quite the opposite only when this happens can things in opposition become complimentary, because they can all, each in its own way, unfold and be fruitful in relation to that central standard.

            That is the high claim with which the Christian faith entered the world.  From this claim there follows the inner obligation to send all peoples to the school of Jesus, because he is the truth in person and, thereby, the way to be human. 

     

Ibid. at 66-7.   Revelation and truth are “not something alien” to cultures, but rather, revelation “corresponds to an inner expectation in the cultures themselves.”  Ibid. at 195.  It is a genuine interaction with Christianity that appeals to the transcendent nature of all cultures and that permits their authentic purification and transformation rendering human progress possible, meaningful, purposeful and good.  Huston Smith, renowned author of World’s Great Religions, recognized that “Jesus’ mission had been to crack the shell of Judaism in which revelation was encased and release that revelation to a ready and waiting world.”  World’s Greatest Religions, p. 323.   Pope John Paul II put it this way:

     

It is necessary for humanity to achieve unity through plurality, to learn to come together in the one Church, even while presenting a plurality of ways of thinking and acting, of cultures and civilizations.

     

John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. (Knopf Doubleday 1994); see also John Paul II, Memory and Identity:  Conversations at the Dawn of A Millenium, pp. 92-3 (Rizzoli 2005)(“Europe continued to live by the unity of its founding values, amid the pluralism of national cultures”).  Similarly, Cardinal Ratzinger teaches that the:

      

word of God reveals itself gradually in a process of encounters, in the course of man’s search for answers to his ultimate questions.  It did not simply fall directly down from heaven, but it is a real synthesis of cultures. . . . ever at odds with the natural temptation these people have simply to be themselves, to make themselves at home in their own culture.  Faith in God and an assent to God’s will are forever being wrung from these people against their own wishes and their own ideas.

      

Truth and Tolerance, p. 198.   Indeed, the very faith of Israel “signifies a continual transcending of the limits of its own culture into the wide-open space of truth that is common to all.”  Ibid. at 199.  Author Natan Sharansky explained his struggle as a Jew in the Soviet Union in remarkably similar terms:

       

In discovering my Jewish identity, I discovered the strength a person draws from being part of a unique history and community. . . .  I found that by deepening my own identity I became connected to others in a more profound way.  Instead of dividing me from those in other communities, my identity enabled me to join them in a common struggle.

       

N. Sharansky, Defending Identity:  Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, pp. 26-7 (Public Affairs 2008).  Rabbi Daniel Lapin points out that this is precisely why Judaism survived “without a land” for 2,000 years and why Americans “will likewise be indestructible” provided they continue to “share a godly idea rather than simply coexisting on a plot of earth.”  D. Lapin, America’s Real War, p. 123 (Multnomah 1999).    

      

            In a similar spirit, Jesus Christ, thus, commands us to go “and make disciples of all nations.”  Saint Francis urges us to be an “instrument” of His peace.  Pope John Paul II ushered in a “new evangelization.”  And we are implored constantly to fulfill our Gospel mission and to meditate upon the Cross and the “Passion” of Christ, so that we may know God the Father and ourselves.  In and through Christ, faith in the God of Abraham is universalized:

       

All peoples are now invited to participate in this process of transcending their own heritage that first began in Israel; they are invited to turn to the God who, for his part, transcended his own limits in Jesus Christ, who has broken down ‘the dividing wall of hostility’ between us (Eph 2:14) and in the self-deprivation of the Cross has led us toward one another.  Faith in Jesus Christ is, therefore, of its nature, a continual opening of oneself, God’s action of breaking into the human world and in response to this man’s breaking out toward God, which at the same time leads men toward one another.

      

Truth and Tolerance, pp. 199-200.   In their meetings with Christianity, Catholicism and Christ’s Cross, other cultures are called to encounter Christ and struggle with the eternal Word of God.  As Rabbi Lapin writes, “great leaps are made with the fervor of genuine faith. . . .  Nothing arouses passions and conviction like the Almighty does.”  D. Lapin, America’s Real War, p. 82.  More directly, “Jesus Christ in history cannot be contained by any individual culture or even by the entirety of human society.”  C. Anderson, The Civilization of Love:  What Every Catholic Can Do To Transform the World, p. 167 (Harper One 2008). 

     

            The universal truths and virtues are not all deep, profound mysteries that are genuinely open to significant interpretation.  The basic, common standards of humanity are found in the Ten Commandments and the two distilled Commandments to love God with all one’s mind, heart, strength and being and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.  As Huston Smith put it:

       

Everything that came from his [Jesus’] lips formed the surface of a burning glass to focus human awareness on the two most important facts about life:  God’s overwhelming love of humanity, and the need for people to accept that love and let it flow through them to others. . . .  Time after time, as in his story of the shepherd who risked ninety-nine sheep to go after the one that had strayed, Jesus tried to convey God’s absolute love for every single human being.  To perceive this love and to let it penetrate one’s very marrow was to respond in the only way that was possible – in profound and total gratitude for the wonders of God’s grace.

       

H. Smith, The World’s Religions, pp. 326-27; see also:  R. Santorum, It Takes A Family, pp. 391-92 (ISI Books 2005)(the natural law provides "a fairly complete picture of the purpose of human life; morality "derives from the objective reality that lies at the very heart of being human.").     The Church’s fundamental teachings on charity and agape, an ordered and rational natural law, the sacredness of life and man’s stewardship and  an inherent dignity that arises out of our status as God’s children, have been constant, compelling and written in the hearts of all men throughout the ages.  They are accessible to us by reason and illuminated by sincere faith, though not all seek to combine reason with faith as post-modern notions of humanism and the Enlightenment philosophes illustrate.  Earnestly and openly doing so deepens and enriches cultures, while simultaneously purifying and transforming them in and through the light of Truth.  Christian and classical culture are fused in the Renaissance period of history in a way that could not be accomplished through the Reformation and “Luther’s doctrine of every man his own priest.”  H.W. Crocker III, Triumph:  The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church, p. 330 (Three Rivers Press 2001).  Crocker holds it “a matter of undeniable history that there was only one legitimate Church,” (Triumph, p. 365), and succinctly describes the fullness of Catholicism’s truths:

      

Catholics had the Bible, yes, but they also had doctrine, dogma, history, seventeen hundred years of religious practice, the inheritance of Rome and the classical world, and a deep philosophical heritage – in fact, from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance to the Reformation they were the philosophers of Europe.

       

Ibid. at 326-27.  History abounds with examples of the advent dimension of cultures, including the Enlightenment, the founding of America and the ongoing interreligious dialogues and post-9/11 international and interreligious dialogues with Islam.  “We became united in America, and we absorbed immigrants from so many backgrounds and cultures, only because we used to passionately believe that humans are primarily spiritual beings endowed by their Creator.”  D. Lapin, America’s Real War at p. 124;  cf. S. Huntington, Who Are We? at p. 20. 

     

            At this point, you may be tempted to think in many different directions about the numerous vehicles by which pious, reverent, devout, atheistic and humanistic thought have developed and been transmitted throughout the centuries.  If this is the case, that is good.  Study them until you know each of the “isms” at their core.  Read what Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Frederic Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Richard Dawkins has to say but also read C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Sts. Augustine & Thomas Aquinas, Pope Leo XIII, Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Robert George, and the many others whom give faith, reason and God their due in the great conversation that occurs from age to age. 

    

            The 2005 work of Pope John Paul II entitled Memory and Identity:  Conversations at the Dawn of a Millenium is insightful and instructive:

      

If I have wanted to underline the limit imposed upon evil in European history, I must conclude that the limit is constituted by good – the divine good and the human good that have been revealed in that history, over the course of the last century and of entire millennia.  Yet it is hard to forget the evil that has been personally experienced:  one can only forgive.  And what does it mean to forgive, if not to appeal to a good that is greater than any evil?  This good, after all, has its foundation in God alone.  Only God is this good.  The limit imposed upon evil by divine good has entered human history, especially the history of Europe, through the work of Christ.  So it is impossible to separate Christ from human history. . . .  Only in him, in fact, can all nations and all humanity “cross the threshold of hope”!

         

Memory and Identity, p.15.   God is the essence of goodness, peace, justice and of love; the satisfaction of our deepest yearnings of the human heart, of our families, cultures, nations and civilizations.  “If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. . . . justice is inseparable from charity and intrinsic to it.  Justice is the primary way of charity, . . .”  Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth:  Caritas in Veritate, p. 13 (Ignatius 2009).   True peace is “the work of justice.”  (See Pope John Paul II’s 2002 Message for the World Day of Peace  Address).

      

            “The message and event of Jesus Christ cannot be limited simply to an affirmation – or for that matter, a repudiation – of existing cultural norms . . . .  the Catholic tradition as a whole regards Christ as above culture – as one who is always present to transform culture.”  Anderson, A Civilization of Love, p. 168.  It is His Gospel of Life, written for all mankind, which calls man “to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.”  Evangelium Vitae, Par. 2.    The Roman Catholic Church tirelessly proclaims this “Good News” and obediently embarks anew with each succeeding generation upon its catechetical and evangelical mission challenging all cultures to come to Christ:

         

The Church knows that this Gospel of Life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person – believer and non-believer alike – because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them.  Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom. 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until his end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree.  Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.

       

Evangelium Vitae, Par. 2.  Carrying His Cross, we come to realize with a mature faith in the solitude of our hearts that God takes the very worst that mankind has to offer, i.e., blasphemy, hatred, public rejection, humiliation and ridicule, crucifixion, our own sins and indifference, hedonism, atheism, materialism, utilitarianism, communism, Nazism, fundamentalism, etc. and offers the more potent power of His love to forgive, save and redeem us and to conquer death itself.  It is a universal message of peace and hope for everyone, everywhere.  “If redemption marks the divine limit placed upon evil, it is for this reason only:  because thereby evil is radically overcome by good, hate by love, death by resurrection.”  John Paul II, Memory and Identity, p. 21. 

      

            Boston College Professor of Philosophy Peter Kreeft tells it this way in his superb 1986 book entitled Making Sense Out of Suffering:

        

It is the story within a story in Dostoyevski’s Brothers Karamazov, titled “The Grand Inquisitor.”  Jesus returns to earth again in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition.  Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, confronts him and tells him he will burn him at the stake tomorrow and the people will love him for it, just as they wanted him crucified the first time he came.  Jesus, who has the reputation for kindness, is really cruel, says the Inquisitor, because he expects of everyone what only the strong can endure:  freedom of conscience, naked before God, freely choosing between good and evil.  The Grand Inquisitor, on the other hand, the man who has the reputation for being cruel, is really kind, because he takes from the people the intolerable burden of freedom that Christ gave them.  Christ suffers, and so do his followers, because of this gift of freedom (i.e., free choice, free will).  The Inquisitor forbids free choice and free thought by burning heretics, and in doing so he relieves the people of the greatest cause of their suffering, freedom.

            Such a program, says the Inquisitor, was the worldly wisdom of the Devil’s three temptations in the wilderness, and Jesus was a fool to say no to the use of force to compel belief by miracle, mystery, and authority, thus making mankind one happy, harmonious, uniform ant-heap.  The Inquisitor’s argument is surprisingly strong because he speaks not only from the pages of a fantasy or from the pages of history, but from some of the corners of our own hearts.  Jesus answers him not a word, as God answered Job with not a straight word, not a reason.  Instead, he kisses the Inquisitor, and the Inquisitor shudders at that kiss.

            Christ’s love makes us shudder.  It shatters us with tenderness.  Love somehow goes with suffering.  Freedom goes with suffering.  Truth, wisdom, knowledge of reality, go with suffering.  It seems that everything that has intrinsic value, everything that cannot be bought or negotiated or compromised or relativized or reduced, goes with suffering.

        

P. Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering, pp. 100-01 (Servant Press 1986); see also www.peterkreeft.com.    As Christians, and particularly Catholic Christians, we strive to see Christ in all we meet, to live the divine, theological virtues and to recall the insightful, urgent words of Pope John Paul II:  “[a]gainst the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul.   John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Knopf Doubleday 1994).

       

So, we need a commitment to what the “new evangelization” really is: a communion and mission of the whole Church, ordained, religious, and lay, each respecting the other, each supporting the other, all serving the Lord by bringing the Good News to the world, and the world to the Good News.  That’s the true equality of the faithful:  each unique; each complementing and completing the other; all together in service; and on fire with Jesus Christ.  When we finally choose to live out the consequences of our Baptism, God creates a kind of holy restlessness in our midst, and shakes us out of our complacency.  Complacency is the enemy of mission; the enemy of the Gospel; the enemy of the Christian life.

        

C. J. Chaput, Living the Catholic Faith:  Rediscovering the Basics, p. 22 (Servant Press 200).  In the words of Archbishop Chaput, “[a]ll of this should lead us back to our knees in prayer - . . . .  The ‘new evangelization’ echoes with Christ’s words to St. Francis to ‘repair my house.’  God will use us – all of us – to renew His house.”  Living the Catholic Faith, p. 22.  This is our task, our faith-filled belief and from this faith springs our true hope for mankind’s peace and unity:

      

Christian hope projects itself beyond the limit of time.  The Kingdom of God is grafted onto human history, and there it grows, but its goal is the life to come.  Humanity is called to advance beyond death, even beyond time, toward the definitive onset of eternity alongside the glorious Christ in the communion of the Trinity.  “Their hope is full of immortality.” (Wis 3:4).

       

John Paul II, Memory and Identity, p. 156.   In the present day, "it is a matter of the greatest urgency to show a Christian model of life that offers a livable alternative to the increasingly vacuous entertainments of leisure-time society. . . ."  J. Ratzinger & M. Pera, Without Roots, pp. 125-26. 

 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.