Not long after March 20, when the University of Notre Dame announced that President Barack Obama would be the speaker and an honorary degree recipient at its May commencement ceremony, the blogs started bubbling. America’s group blog featured entries by Michael Sean Winters, which received a spray of largely civil but contentious responses. Other sites were not quite so temperate.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a self-appointed watchdog over the orthodoxy of Catholic universities, set up a special site about Notre Dame. Accompanying a sidebar account of Obama’s dismal “anti-life” record is a call to join over 20,000 signers (gathered in three days) in a protest letter to Notre Dame’s president, John Jenkins, C.S.C. Calling the invitation to Obama “an outrage and a scandal” and a “travesty,” the letter, presuming to know the motives of Father Jenkins, asserts that the university has chosen “prestige over principles, popularity over morality.”
In response to criticism, Father Jenkins affirmed that Notre Dame is honoring a president, not a policy or political party, making it quite clear that it is following the American bishops’ statement Catholics in Political Life by fully disassociating itself with Obama’s stands on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Hoping that this might be a first step to engage the president over policies that, unless changed, would cause a precipitous loss in Catholic support, Jenkins wrote, “You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade.” Other voices, however, seem bent not on challenging Obama but on demonizing him.
On Randall Terry’s Web site www.stopobamanotredame.com, the president is portrayed as a worse murderer than Herod, who apparently slaughtered only 30 little boys: “Obama wants open-ended child killing.” Terry proposes that we “raze [sic] hell” at the university (“our tramp”) if Obama is allowed to speak—the “cultural rape of true Catholicity.”
The indefatigable Amy Welborn raised the issue on her blog “Via Media,” on the Web site www.beliefnet.com. Hers, as always, was a thoughtful question to her readers—wondering whether President Obama should be honored at Notre Dame. But some responses are questionable in the moral quality of their outrage.
On March 22 a writer using the name James pronounced that “Notre Dame is now fully collusional with a vicious form of Satanic evil—and worse, is seeking to entwine students in that evil.” Noting that he has a son at the university whose president has chosen evil over God, he is sure that President Obama is “infected with Satanic evil.”
James is no doubt not alone in his outrage. But we Catholics, we Christians, are in danger of becoming known not by how we love but by how we hate. We will be known as the group that can be outraged only by abortion and stem cell research— not torture, nor the yearly death of 15 million children under 5, nor the reckless launching of wars, nor other deadly sins. We will also present ourselves as oblivious to our fundamental Catholic teachings on the nature of conscience, the judgment of others’ interior lives, and the sin of slander. There is little or nothing of Christ in the rhetoric of hatred. But ample justification is claimed for the ugliest of acts, especially if it is against “Herod” or evil itself. Most puzzling in the James comment was its ending: “As Ayn Rand said, ‘When you compromise with evil, evil wins.’”
Ayn Rand. There we have it: Ayn Rand’s ramblings as a proof text. Not Benedict, not John Paul II, not the fathers of the church or the Gospels themselves, but Ayn Rand, anti-theist and pro-abortionist. (In the Objectivist of October 1968 she declared: “An embryo has no rights. Abortion is a moral right.”) Among her articulated principles are that money is the only scale of success, pride the only virtue and “I” the one word indicating the only God.
I would like to ask “James” (as well as a number of conservative commentators who have recently been recommending the writings of Ayn Rand as an antidote to Obama’s view of the world) this question: If Ayn Rand were still alive and invited to give a commencement talk at Notre Dame, would you mount a protest and remove your son from such a Satan’s nest?