Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Learning the Hard Way

Cardinal James Francis Stafford gave a lecture in the fall of 2008 at the Catholic University of America, making reference to then president-elect Barak Obama, he said, “On November 4, 2008, America suffered a cultural earthquake.” “For the next few years," he continued, "Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden.” Cardinal Stafford then went on to criticize Mr. Obama for being “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic.” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer immediately criticized the Cardinal's comments as "scathing rant" and a "diatribe." Almost two years later, however, it would seem that most Americans have come to believe that the words of Cardinal Stafford are more than just a rant.

To be sure, President Obama's policies have not been realized enough to make us feel the full effects of the Garden of Gethsemane. Nevertheless, people are troubled enough about the direction of our country that they are willing to give Cardinal Stafford the benefit of the doubt. The emergence of the Tea Party, the low poll number for the President Obama, and the recent primaries are just a few indications that Wolf was wrong and Stafford was right.

With these new developments, Conservatives are optimistic over the prospects that America is now turning to conservative principles and traditional values. In eager anticipation for November's elections, there is a lot of rejoicing going on in conservative circles; albeit the excitement is tempered. Indeed, there is momentum building in favor of Tea Party values, no doubt. But success is never long sustained if the reasons behind that success are poorly understood. For any nation to advance, right ideas need to traced to their source and wrong ideas need to be followed to their logical conclusions.

Although most Americans would tend to side with Cardinal Stafford's assessment that President Obama is a liability to our nation, what troubles me is that the majority of voters had to learn this through experience. Learning by experience can be costly; especially when local, State and Federal governments were already growing in size and meddling in the private sector long before November of 2008.

Truth be told, a good Christian and civics education would have alerted the voter that with President Obama, and many Congressmen like him, free enterprise and civic liberties would be further compromised. The public should have anticipated the unfavorable developments that are now taking place in Washington D.C.

This is the problem at hand: In America, lessons are learned and quickly forgotten. American voters do not vote for something definite as much as they react to that which is disagreeable. Catholic theology and morality, on the other hand, is always oriented towards the purpose of things; that is, towards something definite. Marriage, for instance, has two definite goals: procreation and love. Similarly, the government exists for specific reasons; among them are to protect the citizenry from foreign threats and to establish public order for the common good. A solid Christian and civics education inspires this purpose oriented/principled based frame of mind. But the majority of Americans do not benefit from such an education. As such, democracy, the free market and religious liberty remains brittle. Indeed, people simply do not know the principles on which they rest nor do they understand their value.

Until the monopoly of the State on education is broken up and is then returned to local communities, Americans will continue to learn tough and costly lessons over and over again. State-run education, by and large, is prejudicial towards faith and patriotism. These two virtues, more than anything else, unites citizens under a common purpose. Without them, a nation will perish.

Cardinal Stafford's warning to America has been vindicated by recent political events. The Tea Party is on the rise. But in two, four, or six years, will voters remember why? Or will we have to learn the hard way again?


Epilogue: The following excerpt is from a book called Religion and the Modern State, written 75 years ago (1935). As a Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson understood political, cultural and religious trends. Because Dawson took all three of these social forces into account, he could anticipate what the "new State" would come to mean for the individual citizen. Indeed, what he details in the passage below are the very challenges America faces in 2010.

"The new State will be universal and omnipotent. It will mould the mind and guide the life of its citizens from the cradle to the grave. It will not tolerate any interference with its educational functions by any sectarian organization, even though the latter is based on religious convictions. And this is the more serious, since the introduction of psychology into education has made the schoolmaster a spiritual guide as well as the trainer of the mind. In fact it seems as though the school of the future must increasingly usurp the functions that the Church exercised in the past, and that the teaching profession will take the place of the clergy as the spiritual power of the future.

Nor will the State confine its educational activities to the training of the young. It will more and more tend to control public opinion in general by its organs of instruction and propaganda. We have already gone a long way towards the nationalization and public control broadcasting, and I believe the time is not far distant when similar methods will be applied to the control of the Press, and the Cinema. It is obvious that a Totalitarian State, whether of the Fascist or the democratic type, cannot afford to leave so great a power of influencing public opinion in private hands, and the fact that the control of the popular Press and of the film industry is often in unworthy hands gives the State a legitimate excuse to intervene. The whole tendency of modern civilization is, in fact, to concentrate the control of opinion in a few hands…

As our civilization becomes more completely mechanized it becomes easier to control, and the organs of control become more centralized. It is true that these things are not usually regarded as having much relevance to the religious issue. But we may ask ourselves- do people go to the cinema or to church? Does not the cinema take the place that was formerly occupied by church and chapel? Has not Hollywood got a distinct ethic of its own which influences the minds of its audiences?"