Après Gorsuch le deluge

George Weigel

Did you find the Gorsuch hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee a depressing exercise in political theater? Are you tired of the members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” playing “Gotcha!” games that would embarrass a well-trained high school debate team? Have you had it with a mainstream media that doesn’t hold senators accountable for gross ignorance and bias and a social media universe that’s constantly in hysterics?

If so, I’ve got some bad news for you: the melodrama over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court was just the warm-up. Things will be immeasurably worse the next time. Why? Because Gorsuch was a trade-across that maintained the Court’s philosophical balance after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Assuming the next justice to retire or die is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who’s 84), Justice Anthony Kennedy (who will be 81 in July), or Justice Stephen Breyer (who will be 79 in August), the nominee to follow will be replacing a justice fully committed to the abortion license defined by Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and reaffirmed by Casey vs. Planned Parenthood in 1992.

Which means, in a word, Armageddon: a battle of apocalyptic passions, unhinged from reason.

Disturbing as that forecast may be, Armageddon seems virtually inevitable after the Gorsuch hearings and the Senate floor debate on his nomination. For beneath the “Gotcha!” games played by the Senate minority, an implacable determination to preserve the abortion license, at all costs and in its present form, was obvious to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. And perhaps the most chilling formulation of that grim resolve came from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

The Senate today is not replete with genius; it’s somewhat disconcerting to contrast today’s solons with a Senate that included, in 1850, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward, Lewis Cass, Salmon P. Chase, and Stephen A. Douglas – men who, irrespective of their positions on issues, argued with keen intelligence anchored by deep learning. There are few such senators today; but Dianne Feinstein enjoys a reputation for seriousness and thoughtfulness that is, in my experience, deserved.

Until the subject turns to abortion. Then we get the following:

“Judge Gorsuch has not had occasion to rule directly on a case involving Roe. However, his writings do raise questions. Specifically, he wrote that he believes there are no exceptions to the principle that ‘the intentional taking of a human life by private persons is always wrong.’” And that principle, Senator Feinstein concluded, raised the specter of a situation where a woman’s “decisions about her health care will be determined by politicians and the government.”

It would be interesting know if there are situations other than the termination of an unwanted pregnancy in which Senator Feinstein would recognize a liberty right to the “intentional taking of a human life by private persons.” It would be even more interesting to know if, in formulating her fear as she did, Senator Feinstein was conceding that the unborn child is a “human life” – a life that for a variety of reasons, does not deserve the protection of the laws? Which would then get the discussion down to what seems to be the bottom line: the senator’s claim that Roe vs. Wade gave a “woman…control over her own body.”

And there we arrive at the Armageddon-like character of what’s-coming-after-Neil-Gorsuch.

The day after the presidential inauguration, Washington saw a display of rage, vulgarity, and violence by over half a million demonstrators, the overwhelming majority of whom, I’m willing to bet, consider the empowerment of women inextricably linked to the abortion license defined by Roe. The false (and indeed bizarre) linkage between the abortion license and the dignity of women has served the interests and convenience of irresponsible and predatory men. It has led to a tragedy of breathtaking proportions – the deaths of 58 million innocents. It has warped our politics for two generations. Yet that linkage is what leads an otherwise intelligent senator like Dianne Feinstein to take issue with “the principle that ‘the intentional taking of a human life by private persons is always wrong.’”

Reason is another victim of Roe vs. Wade. The Gorsuch hearings underscored that. Which does not bode well for the future.

COMING UP: Remembering John Paul the Great: Three new books

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When teaching college students a few years ago, I was shocked when I asked my students to tell me what they knew about Pope St. John Paul II. It wasn’t much. We went on to read George Weigel’s definitive biography of John Paul, Witness to Hope (Harper Perennial, 2004), and the students were blown away by the greatness and compelling life of the Pope. The class made me realize how quickly the memory of even monumental figures can fade away if we do not work deliberately to continue their legacy.

The first place to begin “getting to know” John Paul better would be Weigel’s biography, mentioned above, along with the sequel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (Random House, 2010). In addition, I would recommend John Paul’s interview book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Knopf, 1995) and his trilogy of greatest encyclicals: Fides et Ratio, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor. The great Pope left us an enormous legacy of writings to explore, but especially relevant now are his “Letter to Families,” Familiaris Consortio (an exhortation on the family), and the Theology of the Body.

For those looking go deeper in their knowledge of John Paul, three new books can help us to remember and continue his great work for the renewal of Church and society.

George Weigel, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II (Basic Books, 2017)

The final volume of a tryptic of the Pope, Weigel provides a memoir of his interactions with John Paul and an account of how he became his biographer. For those who love Witness to Hope, Weigel provides a fascinating account of how the book came about, tracing his work within the Vatican, Poland, and across the world. It narrates his own story as seminarian, lay theology student, writer, and his activity in politics, including writing speeches for a leader of the pro-life movement in Congress. His work caught John Paul’s attention, especially his book chronicling the Church’s role in the fall of Communism, The Final Revolution. Weigel gives testimony to the providence that prepared him to write John Paul’s biography and the friendship they developed in their common witness to the hope that comes from Christ.

Paul Kengor, The Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century (ISI, 2017)

This book traces not only the remarkable working friendship of Regan and John Paul, but narrates the entire story of the struggle between European Communism and the Church. Surprisingly, the book’s common thread comes from Our Lady of Fatima, predicting Russia’s errors and uniting the faithful in prayer, as well as guiding not only John Paul but also Reagan. The two men recognized their providential role in what Reagan called the Divine Plan to end Communism in Europe. Portraits of many other key characters (on both sides) emerge: Stalin, Pope Pius XII, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Gorbachev. Kengor presents extraordinary connections between the two figures: both were actors, deep men of prayer, survived assassination attempts only months apart, and played key leadership roles in the world. The book presents ground breaking research to make a compelling and undeniable case that the two great men worked together closely and succeeded in bringing freedom to Eastern Europe.

Pope St. John Paul II/Karol Wojtyła, In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries 1962-2003 (Harper One, 2017)

This book gives us inside access to John Paul’s prayer life by presenting notes of his regular retreats from his time as a bishop through most of his papacy. It’s somewhat misnamed, as the book consists in his notebooks responding to the retreat material, not a normal diary. It reinforces what we know about the Pope: his strong focus on the Eucharist, his Marian spirituality of uniting our intentions to her fiat, and his concern as a bishop for the evangelization of his people. There are many gems, such as the following: “The most appropriate effects of the redemption in the human being are deeds that stem from it – deeds that through Mary are rooted in Christ, through one’s belong it Her, and that are simultaneously in accordance with Christ’s law, with His gospel” (10). The book will not disappoint those looking to enter more deeply into the spirituality of John Paul.