How can a Christian live in culture?

Father Julián Carrón, Communion and Liberation leader, to discuss his new book

Therese Bussen

Following the release of his book Disarming Beauty in May, Father Julián Carrón, international leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, will be speaking in Denver next month on Oct. 10 at the Denver Press Club at 7 p.m. to discuss the themes and ideas he proposes in his book.

Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students), and Michael Huemer, philosophy professor at CU Boulder, will join him in the discussion, who will each speak for 20 minutes on their perspectives of the book and then ask Father Carrón questions.

Rather than doing a book tour, Father Carrón decided to have a dialogue about the ideas and themes in Disarming Beauty with local leaders, encouraging them to offer their perspective whether they’re Christian or not, and to examine the main point of his book: How does a Christian live in a culture that’s changed so much today?

“When I decided to publish this book, I tried to verify whether Christian faith could offer a contribution to the challenges we all are facing today,” Father Carrón told Denver Catholic. “I’m interested in meeting different people in order to enter in dialogue with them, to receive suggestions or criticism that allow me, and I hope others, to understand our time better and what the challenges are that the Christian faith has to face today.”

Following other recently-released books like The Benedict Option and Strangers in a Strange Land, which have also grappled with this same question, Father Carrón’s Disarming Beauty offers unique and provoking ideas.

“Our time is somehow unique. Many of the past certainties are collapsing before us. Many of us are bewildered without knowing how to deal with this situation,” Father Carrón said. “We are less presumptuous than in the past. We are more open to enter in dialogue with other’s experience. I’m convinced that this is a historical moment to show what Christianity is about.

“In a context of freedom, we can testify the beauty of the Christian faith without support other than its beauty,” Father Carrón continued. “I remain surprised by the reactions of different people before this way of living the Christian faith. They are so shocked that they discover a new interest for something that they considered definitively closed.”

Ultimately, Father Carrón responds to the question of the book by offering the idea that Christians need not fear culture or where it’s headed — we have Christ, and the time we are placed in for good reason is an opportunity for us to give a new kind of witness.

“Fear is a symptom of weakness of faith. Christianity doesn’t have panic facing today’s challenges,” Father Carrón  said. “Christianity was born in a context in which there were different versions of living Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, ect.) and spread in a multicultural world, as the Roman Empire, soon after. Ancient Christians could communicate the newness of Christian faith without having been blocked by this multicultural environment. Why can’t Christians today do the same and look to our historical circumstances as an opportunity instead of an obstacle?”

The event, which is open to the public, is free. Following the discussion, books will be on sale and there will be an opportunity to meet Father Carrón at a no-host cocktail (self-paid drinks).

Holly Peterson, a member of the Communion and Liberation community who has helped organize the event, echoed Father Carrón’s sentiments in the book.

“I’m really excited about his desire, and the desire of other people, to dialogue about what he’s saying in Disarming Beauty, which is that there is this new cultural context [as Christians] that we shouldn’t be afraid of,” Peterson said. “Father Carrón is someone who is not afraid to dive into that context…[and say], ‘I’m disarmed because I am so full with Christ.’ I’m really excited for his perspective…we’re so afraid of different, politically, or with religions, but we shouldn’t be afraid.”

COMING UP: Relativism: An obstacle to the pursuit of truth

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When I was a kid, my favorite television show was The Partridge Family. Mostly because I was completely enamored of the late David Cassidy, whom I was convinced I would marry some day. But also because the show featured just the kind of mildly corny humor a seven year old is inclined to enjoy.

I remember one joke in particular. Keith (David Cassidy) is trying to give big brotherly advice to Danny (Danny Bonaduce). He says “If you just believe, you can be anything you want to be.”

Danny responds, “Great! I want to be a black woman.” Laugh track ensues. Because everybody knows that a pale white, red-headed, freckle-faced kid cannot grow up to be a black woman.

I was thinking about that scene as I was listening to Bishop Robert Barron Feb. 6, giving a riveting talk on relativism to a packed house here in Denver. As he spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of relativistic thinking, I realized that joke couldn’t be told today. Because, as a society, we don’t seem to agree that race, gender, or just about anything else, are based in any kind of objective truth.

Bishop Barron spoke of a video you may have seen. A rather short male interviewer asks college students what they would think if he told them he identifies as a woman. Then an Asian woman. Then a 6’4” Asian woman. They hesitate at times, but all ultimately agree that if that is his “truth,” then he is indeed entitled to be a tall Asian woman.

That is the ultimate expression of relativism.

Relativism, boiled down, is essentially the belief that there is no “objective” truth that is true for all. Rather, we as individuals, each establish our own subjective “truths,” and we live “authentically” to the extent that we honor these individual “truths.”

The speed with which we have descended down this path is breathtaking. When I was in my 20’s (which was not long ago at all — right???), I used to debate abortion at Berkeley. Not exactly a friendly audience — I remember mentally noting exits, including windows, that I could utilize if things got out of hand. But they showed up, and they listened, because there was still some understanding in society that there was such a thing as truth, and hence an openness to listen to others to see if together we could arrive at that truth. Or, at the very least, that I could employ the truth as I see it to convince you that your understanding of the truth is flawed.

Not so today. Open discussion of controversial issues is almost nonexistent on most college campuses. Of course. If I have my truth and you have your truth, what would be the point? We are just supposed to respect each others’ truths and move on.

But the problem is that we all have to play together in the same sandbox. Somebody’s truth has to rule our social interaction. If we can’t come to an agreement about whose truth is truer, then the only option left is force. And so, instead of listening to what you have to say, I attempt to forcibly shut you down. I smash windows. I disrupt your talk. Or, alternatively, I call on the authority of the university to do that dirty work for me while I hide in a safe space with my crayons and puppy videos.

Pope Benedict XVI called relativism a “dictatorship.” And, ironically, it is. The philosophy that purports to allow everyone to believe as he wishes, actually allows no one to believe in anything but relativism. And because there need be no rhyme nor reason behind any individual belief, enforcement through persuasion becomes impossible. Hence, the inevitable clash of ideologies. And it will be the stronger, not the most persuasive, who will prevail.

Parents, please — teach your children that there is such a thing as truth. That yes, we may disagree with others about what that truth is. That we respect people — all people — regardless of their beliefs. (Another objective truth.) But beneath the disagreement, there is a truth. There is a God or there isn’t. Jesus Christ is divine or He isn’t. Sexual expression has an inherent meaning or it doesn’t. Gender is fixed or it isn’t.

[And parents, if you want help with this, get your hands on Chris Stefanik’s book Absolute Relativism, and check out his YouTube videos on the same subject.]

In any disagreement about objective truths, someone is right and someone is wrong. Or perhaps both are partially wrong and neither grasps the full truth. But the truth is there.

In the old days, our goal was to find it.