Revised and originally posted in 2010:
I fear that Conservatism is having less to say about divorce, homosexuality, cohabitation, and abortion because more and more conservatives are buying into them.
I like Rush Limbaugh as a conservative commentator but even he has drifted away from the talk of social values such as chastity, abortion and homosexuality. For instance, he used to say with regard to chastity, "It works every time you try it." However, he no longer uses this phrase when discussing chastity, rather, he uses it when talking about taxes. In the early 1990's when Magic Johnson went public after he contracted the AIDS virus, that day or the next, Rush gave a great monologue on chastity. Due to the number of requests to replay, he did just that the following day. And who can forget the abortion calls when a caller would call in and a suction sound would come over the airwaves only to terminate his connection with the caller? It was a bold but useful illustration of the evils of abortion.
With some exceptions, Rush has narrowed his conservatism to fiscal policies and national security. Indeed, he is a great defender of the free market, limited government and a robust national security. But like other conservatives, his traditional views on social values have taken a back seat to the issues mentioned above.
I fear this will be a trend within the conservative movement. As many high profile conservatives take a passive role with the issues of divorce, the homosexual lifestyle, abortion, and increasing dangers of demographic collapse (i.e. too few youth and workers to support the elderly population), the contribution conservatism will have in preserving democracy and freedom will be limited.
It must be remembered that a decline in religion and morality always proceeds an oppressive, overreaching government. The Founding Fathers understood well that religion and morality are indispensable supports for political and social structures. But it's not just any religion which gave birth to free institutions and the recognition of human dignity. It was Christianity! Religions are no more equal than political regimes and economic systems. This is something that many high-profile conservatives seemed to have forgotten. If we give lip service to the equality of all religions and do not acclaim Christianity's superiority, we do so at our own peril.
Freedom is a strict discipline and for that reason it has been the exception in world history. It has not fared well outside of Christian civilization. Wherever the Gospel was preached, souls were saved. But we would be mistaken if that were the only thing that was saved. The salvation of the soul translated into civil liberty, political justice, free enterprise, charity, ingenuity and progress.
To this effect, Pope Leo XIII said: "The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life. And, indeed, wherever the Church has set her foot she has straightway changed the face of things, and has tempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization and with virtues before unknown."
Secular-liberalism is not an option for America but it must be remembered that conservatism is not enough. Right ideas alone will not save our country. Education is insufficient if character and virtue are left unattended. It is one thing to know the truth; it is quite another to live according to that truth. A good society and even a good economy are every bit as much dependent on the good will of individuals as it is on their intelligence.
St. Paul warned the Greeks, who prided themselves on their intellectual heritage, that "my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power." The preaching of the Gospel, the Sacraments and the Mass were the very means that brought Christian civilization to life. It is only by returning to these means that the restoration of American can be secured.
Again, Pope Leo XIII gives the reason why conservatism is not enough to save society: "When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang; for the purpose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it is formed, and its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being. Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery."
Recovery, therefore, involves something more than conservatism. Democracy, liberty, free enterprise and progress did not originate with the Founding Fathers of America but rather with the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church and the great movement known as monasticism (i.e. the movement of monks & monasteries). Their preaching led to the prospering of our earthly life which we now know to be the greatest civilization that ever existed.
To answer the question: Is Conservatism equal to its mission- the mission of saving America? No, it is not. It will have to draw upon something outside of itself, namely "that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God."
Given the priestly scandals, the mismanagement of dioceses by some Catholic bishops and the sins of Catholics that have marred the appearance of the Church, we certainly seem to be in no position to save America. Nevertheless, we need to be reminded of something Christopher Dawson, a Catholic historian, wrote decades ago: The City of Man is always weaker than it appears. And as for the City of God? It always is stronger than it appears.
For that reason, there is hope that the Catholic Church will once again be that "city set on a hill" to which Americans will come for the knowledge of the Lord. The closer the United States of America moves towards this city, the greater the chances she will have in being born anew.
1. "Democracy, liberty, free enterprise, and progress did not originate with the Founding Fathers of America but rather with the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church and the great movement known as monasticism (i.e. the movement of monks & monasteries)." The illustration of this truth requires yet another series of posts. Suffice it to say these blessings of Western Civilization can be traced back Catholic medieval culture. Recommended reading: "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization," by Thomas Woods; "The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success," by Rodney Starks; and "Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion," by Harold J. Berman.
2. Perhaps it is a design of Divine Providence that our country was named after the Catholic explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. In some small way this may have foretold the Catholic Church's role in restoring the great nation of America.
3. Cardinal James Gibbons quoting Pope Benedict XV in 1919, shortly after World War I, with regard to the importance of America's role in the world and the role of Catholics in America:
"The world awaits our fulfillment. Pope Benedict himself has declared that our people, 'retaining a most firm hold on the principles of reasonable liberty and of Christian civilization, are destined to have the chief role in the restoration of peace and order on the basis of those same principles, when the violence of these tempestuous days shall have passed.' (Letter to the Hierarchy, April 10, 1919).
Elsewhere in the Pastoral Letter Cardinal Gibbons adds this: "In his name [Pope Benedict XV], and in our own, we greet you, dear brethren, as children of the Holy Catholic Church and as citizens of the Republic on whose preservation the future of humanity so largely depends."
If it be true that America will continue to have a chief role in restoring peace and order in the world, as well as preserving the future of humanity, then it is incumbent on her to draw strength from that immortal institution known as Catholic Church. Only the Catholic Church has outlived every institution, every nation and every civilization that has come into existence over the last two thousand years.