Is US society abandoning its Judeo-Christian roots?

Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Singatura, delivered the homily at the Red Mass in Pheonix Tuesday. In his remarks, he said of America, "It is a society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the 'future,' of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that such a society can only produce violence and death and in the end destroy itself." 

I have commented elsewhere on the use of the word "totalitarianism" which is offensive in the extreme, and when placed opposite the word "hope," constitutes a none-too-subtle reference to the President. As such, and given that it came from a Vatican official, it is worthy of a formal protest from the United States government.

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But, let us look at another part of this tortured sentence. Is America really a society that is "abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good?" There are two problems with this claim, one historical and the other contemporary.

The historical difficulty is the easiest with which to dispense. American culture owes as much to the secular impulses of the Enlightenment as it does to any Judeo-Christian roots. And, insofar as American society is rooted in a Judeo-Christian foundation, that foundation is distinctly Protestant in character. Those early Puritans who set much of the groundwork for American culture, after all, banned the celebration of Christmas and considered the Pope the anti-Christ. Most of the founders were Deists or Unitarians, not Christians.

This concern for the loss of our Judeo-Christian roots was a staple of the criticism leveled at President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as was the charge of dictatorial ambitions. The concern also manifested itself during the Eisenhower years when J. Howard Pew started giving large sums of money to the Rev. Billy Graham to "arrest the plunge of our Country towards self-destruction." Eisenhower, of course, was not conservative enough for the tea partiers of his day. So, Burke’s charge lacks historical warrant but it has a historical provenance, and it is not a very pretty provenance.

Is American society "abandoning" its commitment to the common good? Its obedience to God’s law? Yesterday, at the Catholic University of America, students and faculty filled Caldwell Chapel to overflowing. The Mass began a Novena for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. In his homily, Father David O’Connell, C.M., called the congregation to a deeper faith in the face of the tragedy, and to faithful action on behalf of the victims. "Our belief in him, our faith is stronger than death because he is stronger than death, he has overcome death and he shows us the way when he reveals himself," O’Connell said. "Faith’s surpassing power comes from God not from us. Faith sees what the mind does not.  ‘In the day of my distress I sought the Lord’ the psalmist prays and so do we because we believe in the Lord and his surpassing power. ‘I remember the deeds of the Lord, your wonders from of old.’" The outpouring of grief and solidarity on campus yesterday was not evidence of any "abandonment" of Judeo-Christian roots. It did not mock the common good.

Indeed, all across America in the past twenty-four hours, there has been a similar outpouring of grief, concern and solidarity with the suffering people of Haiti. Some of this has been personal, individuals going online to send money to Catholic relief Services or the Red Cross. Some of it – heaven forfend – has come from direct government action, (More evidence of totalitarianism, no doubt!) as the U.S. military and foreign aid groups take the lead in both delivering aid and in managing the delivery. That latter task is made more difficult, of course, because the needs of the Haitian people were ignored for whole stretches of time on ideological grounds. I am not a fan of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but his people should not have suffered because he was pals with Castro. They did suffer and the lack of sustained commitment by the U.S. government to the needs of our neighbors accounts for the lack of basic infrastructure on the ground.

I do not look at America and see the gloom and doom that Archbishop Burke sees. Yes, there is selfishness and materialism and things that revolt me. Yes, the culture of death, which is a richer concept than is admitted by many who employ it, has taken root in certain attitudes and certain laws. Yes, there are problems. But, a pastor does not extinguish the smoldering wick. He encourages. He uplifts. And, most of all, he shows the way of love by being loving himself. I found no love in Burke’s words, only judgmentalism. I saw much love in Caldwell Chapel yesterday. The Catholic faith in America is not on the ropes, it is alive and well and shaping our nation and its culture profoundly. If Burke would love that culture and its children he might better be able to evangelize it.

Michael Sean Winters

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8 years 4 months ago
I wholeheartedly support the statements contained in the homiliy of Archbishop Raymond Burke.
8 years 4 months ago
Mr. Winters; "It is a society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the 'future,' of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that such a society can only produce violence and death and in the end destroy itself."

You left out this paragraph which preceeded the above remarks:

In our culture, “the law more and more dares to force those with the sacred trust of caring for the health of their brothers and sisters to violate the most sacred tenets of their consciences, and to force individuals and institutions to cooperate in egregious violations of the natural moral law,” he said. “In such a society, the administration of justice is no longer a participation in the justice of God, an obedient response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but a façade cloaking our own selfishness and refusal to give our lives for the sake of the good of all our brothers and sisters.”

Jim McCrea
8 years 4 months ago
Dear Abp Burke:
True to your type of Catholicism:
When you can, persuade.
When persuasion doesn't work, compel.
When all else fails:
When in wonder, when in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout.
8 years 4 months ago
Good post.  So many look back at the founding fathers and see what they want to see - Christians instead of Deists.  The idea that a society that isn't religiously based cannot work toward the common good and offer its citizens hope is just wrong.
William Kurtz
8 years 4 months ago
Raymond Burke's political musings deserve all the respect of someone in a St. Louis barroom. No less, and no more.
8 years 4 months ago
Bill: Why do you say this?
William Kurtz
8 years 4 months ago
Maria, I believe that if abortion always outweighs every other issue combined, then there is no limit to how many things an elected official can do wrong, as long as he's "right" about abortion.
(See the Bush 43 administration for proof.)
That isn't single-issue voting. It's blank check voting. I don't give anybody a blank check.
If Burke doesn't understand that, he couldn't pass an introductory political science course.
Furthermore, Burke has shown blatant disrespect for fellow bishops on more than one occasion. I would only add that the tone of his message comes across as Prof. Robert George, rewritten by Pat Robertson or Randall Terry.
8 years 4 months ago
Bill: Thank you. I will have to ponder this. I think you are smarter than I am... How has he shown disrespect to fellow Bishops?
William Kurtz
8 years 4 months ago
Maria, I will repeat a report by MSW from last March:

At a press conference this morning at the Nation Press Club, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry released a video of an interview he had earlier this month with Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. The transcript is available here. The interview took place while Terry and others met with Vatican officials urging them to remove Washington D.C. Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde for their failure to deny Holy Communion to politicians because of their political stands on abortion laws.

Mr. Terry, who was introduced at the press conference as "a great warrior for life," boasted that the Vatican officials were sympathetic to his pleas. He had a copy of the document that was presented to the officials, including Archbishop Burke, which explicitly calls for the removal of Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde. The document is online here. During the press conference, Terry repeatedly called them "treacherous." During the interview, Terry specifically asked Archbishop Burke about "the bishops who stepped up such as in Washington, D.C. Virginia, others…Massachusetts…[and] said that we will serve communion." Burke did not endorse Terry’s call for the bishops’ removal but neither did he say anything in their defense. It was the Vatican equivalent of throwing them under the bus.

I believe I also recall a flap where Archbishop Burke announced plans to offer a Latin Mass in London- but had never received permission from a bishop there, as apparently is necessary.
William Kurtz
8 years 4 months ago
I forgot to add that Archbishop Burke never retracted his statement to Randall Terry, merely voicing "regret" at how the interview was used.
8 years 4 months ago
Bill: Ouch...Nevertheless, it is worth asking the question: what do make of Pope Benedict's memo to McCarick re the Eucharist. Pope Benedict was clear. Yet, his directives are ignored. What are we to make of this?
cris vicquery
8 years 4 months ago
Maria

Since B16 became pope he has never denied communion to Italians politicians pro- choice. Never.
He himself ignores his directives.
cris vicquery
8 years 4 months ago
Maria

Since B16 became pope he has never denied communion to Italians politicians pro- choice. Never.
He himself ignores his directives.

( Above I forgot my last name)
8 years 4 months ago
Bill-

Burke lacks poetry. Is this reason to reject the message? He is chief counsel to the Holy Mother Church, as it were. His post was not assigned on the basis of tepid belief. He cannot be there by accident. Should we assume, in this position, that he acts alone? I have given this some thought. Maybe, given the obdurate defiance of our "Catholic politicians" who insist on the support of abortion, we need a bulldozer, not a masserati, to steer them in the right direction. Wuerhl called for love in speaking the Truth. Is it love to run from the truth, to hide from it? To refrain from taking on those who would defy the Truth?

Morgana: I have no answer.



8 years 4 months ago
Contraception Feeds Social Decline-John Hardon SJ

"Records from the Roman Empire tell us that the people would first try some magical rites or sorcery to avoid conception. If this failed, they would use one of the 17 known contraceptive medical drugs. If a woman still conceived, she would try to abort. And if even this failed, there was always the Roman law which permitted infanticide.

The fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century after Christ is only the best-known example of what happens to every contraceptive culture. It resorts to abortion and infanticide and ends up DESTROYING ITSELF AS A SOCIETY".

Now BURKE-It is a society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the 'future,' of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that SUCH A SOCIETY CAN ONLY PRODUCE VIOLENCE AND DEATH AND IN THE END DESTRY ITSELF.

NOW THIS CONVERSATION BETWEEN HARDON SJ AND A BISHOP-we now not whom-

"I would like to repeat what a bishop told me over the telephone. “John” he told me, “you know what your problem is?” I thought I knew what my problems were.

“Bishop, I don’t know- tell me.”

Said the Bishop, “You have a fixation on dogma.”

So I thanked him. Your excellency what ever you think you said you have given me one of the highest complements I could ever get. Thank you. And I should add His excellency hung up the telephone. "

Isn't this intersting?????? Curiously, I just happened to be reading a lot of Hardon's stuff which is how I happened on this connection. I don't know what the conncetion was w/ Hardon and Burke. But from the looks of it they certainly seemed simpatico. I cannot recommend him with sufficient praise. Where are these men? He is cool water in the desert. He calls those priests who would lead you into doubt about your faith: "murderers of the faith". No confusion with Hardon. No sir.



Jeff Bagnell
8 years 4 months ago
Burke is right I think.  And he is free to speak his mind, as an American.  For our president to lead under the banners of "hope" and "change" while supporting legal protection of not just abortion on demand, but infanticide, makes his observations well within the fair confines of debate.
8 years 4 months ago
JSB: Well said.
Jeff Bagnell
8 years 4 months ago
I have to observe also that of all the young catholics I went to grammar, high school and college with for years, few I know go to mass anymore.  Not only do they not go, they do not seem to even think about going.  It just isn't an issue anymore.  And it isn't spoken of.  Few attend any other sacrament other than the ocassional marriage.  The sense of the supernatural, of the need for grace, the sacraments, the uncertainty of salvation, just isn't perceptibly there anymore. 
Now this is not their fault, and is understandable in many ways given the materialistic, this-worldly emphasis of so many post Vatican II clergy, academics and theologians (e.g., "we find God in the world...").  And I suppose it is reversible.  And there are surely pockets out there where this isn't the case, and many who believe without belonging.  But we should call a spade a spade, as Cardinal Ratzinger did in 1985, i.e., the period since Vatican II has been "decidedly negative" for the Church.  There is always room for optimism, but I think that we have a long way to go.  The vertical dimension of the cross needs to much more heavily emphasized now than the horizontal, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly for about 45 years. 
 
8 years 4 months ago
JSB: "Read the 14th Chapter of St. Matthew where our Lord tells the parable of the sower sowing seeds. Seeds fell on four kinds of ground. The first three kinds were unfruitful. As Jesus said, birds came along and picked up the seed, and nothing grew. The disciples asked Jesus for the meaning. The Lord explained that the seeds falling on the wayside are those persons who have received the Word of God into their hearts and fail to understand it, and therefore the evil one comes along and steals it from their hearts.

That is why America now has millions of ex-Catholics. They have never understood their faith...Many Catholics, before they finish college, discard their faith as a remnant of childhood. They don't understand. I myself had 16 years of Jesuit education, and 15 more years before I started teaching. There are oceanic depths to our faith, and you must learn as much as you can, so that God will use you as an effective channel of grace so you can communicate your faith...-John Hardon SJ

Instead of teaching the Faith, insteading of protecting the Doctrine of the Faith, many priests, Hardon SJ would argue, are "murdering the Faith". It is now up to us, I think, to assume responsibility for ensuring our Catechesis. Read Hardon. He will set you on fire.

Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 4 months ago
MSW - what have you got against Aristide?  He is still the #1 choice for the majority of Haitians (the poor ones).  Aristide has been misunderstood and deliberately misinterpreted by the mainstream press.  For an accurate understanding of the Aristide, read Dr. Paul Farmer, who has lived and worked in Haiti these last couple of decades.
 
That being said, I'm not sure that fitting Haiti into the American capitalist scheme is the answer for them. 
 
Aristide's book, EYES OF THE HEART; SEEKING A PATH FOR THE POOR IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION shows an understanding of the economic and political plight of Haiti, and maps out a way of recovery.  It's better than any other plan that I see on the table now.

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