George Weigel is, in my opinion, the best Catholic theologian in America right now, but in this latest column for First Things—excellent and important—he acknowledges the deficiency of the vocabulary so often used at one point, laments ever seeing it fixed at another, and throughout, uses a vocabulary geared strictly to the academy and Catholic intellectuals; when such easy solutions are available.

This is one of the strengths of the Holy Father, he sticks to common language—which gets him into trouble often—but it is really preferable to the too precise language of the academy and Catholic intellectuals when evangelization among the overhwelming majority of people is the goal.

An excerpt from his article.

For some time now, the cultural crisis besetting the United States has been taking ominous political and legal forms that threaten the exercise of religious freedom and that otherwise call into question the character of American democracy, as that character is expressed in law and public policy. These are dangers that I, among others, have been warning about for more than twenty years, not least in explicating John Paul II’s social magisterium from Centesimus Annus (1991) through Ecclesia in Europa (2003). If word of that critique of contemporary American society and culture has not reached some quarters, well, given the gravity of our situation and Michael Hanby’s welcome admonition to keep our eye on the ball rather than conducting food fights in the bleachers, I suggest, with Hanby, that it’s time to move on.

The question is, how?

Answering the question about the Church’s relationship to the civil order, at any moment in history, requires us to begin with ecclesiology and to remember that the Church’s first obligation is to be the Church: the communio that witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, here and now. Those who witness to these truths “see” the world differently than others. In the image that C. Kavin Rowe uses for the title of his brilliant explication of Acts, the public confession of the lordship of the risen Christ creates what the world thinks of as a “world upside down,” but what Christians understand to be the world seen truly. By constantly reminding the world that salvation history is the interior, if you will, of world history, and that salvation history tells the world’s story in its full depth and against its most ample horizon, the Church does the best service it can do for the world, including that part of the world we call “public life.”

The Church, in other words, puts everything into proper perspective through its witness to the truth about the human person, human community, human origins, and human destiny. That truth, as the Fathers of Vatican II taught in Gaudium et Spes, is revealed in “Christ the Lord . . . Christ the new Adam, [who] in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, reveals man to himself and brings light to his most high calling.” It is a vocation that includes the construction of an earthly polis reflective of the truth about man. And in offering that true perspective, the Church does good service to the civic community, for by witnessing to the essential truths about man (the anthropological truths, in Hanby’s vocabulary), the Church is also witnessing to the truths that make solidarity and the noble human aspiration to freedom possible.

I doubt that there is much disagreement on these basic points within the First Things family. But since Richard John Neuhaus launched the journal by reminding its first readers that the first thing to be said about public life is that public life is not the “first thing,” things have changed—and for the worse. We can describe that “worse” in any number of ways. I’d like to suggest that, inter alia, it comes down to Ockham’s Triumph: the de facto “establishment” in American public life of the notion that freedom is willfulness, and that willfulness can attach itself to any object, “so long as no one gets hurt” (which “no one” obviously does not include the aborted unborn and the euthanized, simply underscoring the confusions of the age). Ockham’s Triumph has intersected with another aspect of the “worse”: The metaphysical vacuum ably limned by Hanby has been filled by a new Gnosticism (chiefly but not exclusively embodied in the sexual revolution) that teaches that everything in the human condition is plastic and malleable and therefore subject to change by acts of will (like transgendering surgery). The intersection of these two Very Bad Ideas—Freedom-as-Willfulness and the New Gnosticism—produces what Joseph Ratzinger aptly described on April 18, 2005, as the “dictatorship of relativism.” And that dictatorship is the end of democracy, and indeed of any decent civic order.

With all of that in mind, permit me to make four suggestions in answer to the question “What now?” (or perhaps better, “Now what?”).

First, as I argued at some length in Evangelical Catholicism, the Church must discipline its public witness by resisting the temptation to comment on virtually every contested issue of public policy and by focusing primary attention on two key issues: the life issues and religious freedom. These are the points of maximum confrontation with the dictatorship of relativism; vigorously and doggedly contesting for life and for religious freedom in full can reopen the necessary public conversation about the moral and cultural bases of democratic order. And in that conversation, America could be reminded that it takes a certain kind of people, living certain habits of the mind and heart, to make the machinery of democracy work so that the net result is human flourishing, not human degradation. Advances on those fronts just might, as well, reopen the public conversation about the nature of freedom, offering opportunities to challenge the debasement of freedom into willfulness (license) and reconnecting freedom to the true and the good.

Retrieved January 18, 2015 from