Navigating the troubled waters of relativism

A review of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's new book

David Uebbing serves as the Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver.

American society is experiencing profound cultural shifts, creating times of great uncertainty, especially for Christians and Catholics. In “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput offers a road map for understanding our nation’s roots, the cultural forces that have shaped it into what it is today, and reflections on living with hope in an Post-Christian society.

The intellectual scope of Archbishop Chaput’s book is impressive. Over the course of 12 chapters he leads the reader in an examination of the philosophical and moral underpinnings of our nation, analyzes the warped anthropology caused by the cultural revolution of the ‘60s, explains the impact of these seismic shifts on our modern culture, and then offers his well-known brand of unflinchingly honest advice to Christians for living their faith in a hostile environment.

“Strangers in a Strange Land” is a tour de force of scholarly thought on the development of Western society. Readers encounter a tapestry of insights woven together from intellects as diverse as Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political theorist Pierre Manent, St. Augustine, Benedict XVI, Alasdair MacIntyre, Saul Alinsky and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Suffice it to say, Chaput’s latest book is not a light read, but it is a necessary read for all who are striving to understand the challenges Christians face and will face in the coming years.

Archbishop Chaput begins his insights on America’s founding by stating, “Americans hate thinking about the past. Unfortunately, we need to.” This is the case, he says, because “We can’t understand the present or plan for the future without knowing the past through the eyes of those who made it. For the American founding, there’s no way to scrub either Christianity or its skeptics out of the nation’s genetic code.”

And yet, he notes, these faith-filled beginnings are “infinitely fragile.” Archbishop Chaput proves this by recounting how technological advances, the introduction of the birth control pill, the Vietnam War and the efforts of radical feminists quickly unraveled family ties and social cohesion.

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In Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s new book, the former bishop of Denver explores how to navigate through a relativistic culture as a Catholic in the modern world.

For those that think it’s possible to return to Mayberry, the Philadelphia archbishop tells it plainly, “America can’t be the way it once was. … changes in the country’s sexual, religious, technological, demographic and economic fabric make that impossible.” The appetites and behaviors of the United States have been fundamentally altered by these changes, he argues.

For those of us in the Archdiocese of Denver who have had the blessing of knowing Archbishop Chaput, it comes as no surprise that his candidly honest assessment of the state of our culture is accompanied by a reflection on Christian hope.

He asks his readers, “How can we live in joy, and serve the common good as leaven, in a culture that no longer shares what we believe?” This question carries a special gravity because the secular culture has detached what it means to be a man from God and is aimlessly seeking answers.

Quoting Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Archbishop Chaput answers his question by saying that believing Catholics and Christians must be a “conscious minority” that adds to the common good. We must fight a culture of lies by consciously living the truth instead of merely talking about it.

In the end, Archbishop Chaput’s guidance for our Post-Christian culture is fittingly humble. “We’re here to bear one another’s burdens, to sacrifice ourselves for the needs of others, and to live a witness of Christian love … Every such life is the seed of dozens of others and begins a renewal of the world,” he writes.

For those concerned about the present and future of American society, “Strangers in a Strange Land” is a must-read that will leave you thinking and praying long after you’ve finished it.

Click here to see purchasing options for “Strangers in a Strange Land.”

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.