The Two Americas

By the dawn’s early light on Nov. 5, two distinct Americas hove into view. The two Americas are not defined by conventional economic, ethnic or religious categories; it’s not rich America vs. poor America, black America vs. white America, or Catholic America vs. Protestant America. No, what this year’s election cycle clarified decisively is that the great public fissure in these United States is between the culture of life and the culture of death.

In 1995, when Pope John Paul II introduced the phrase “culture of death” in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), more than a few commentators coughed politely and tried to suggest, if gently, that this terminology was a bit over-the-top — too dramatic, too confrontational, incapable of being heard by those it was intended to persuade. Thirteen years later, it is obvious that the critics were wrong and John Paul the Great was right. The Pope saw more clearly into the future, thanks to his insight into the forces at work beneath the surface of the present. Now those forces are plainly in view, and the results are clear for all with eyes to see:

The people of the United States have elected the most radically pro-abortion presidential candidate in American history, and by the largest popular vote percentage garnered by a Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson.

The people of the State of Washington have adopted, in a landslide, an act permitting the euthanizing of the sick, elderly and burdensome under the Orwellian rubrics of “death with dignity” and “physician-assisted suicide.”

The people of California have exercised their sovereign will to prevent the parents of minors from being notified if their daughter intends to have an abortion — although you may be quite certain that said parents would be consulted before said minor’s school nurse administered an aspirin tablet.

And the people of Michigan have decided to authorize a wholesale slaughter of human embryos for research purposes — at precisely the moment that embryonic stem-cell research has lost much of its scientific luster, thanks to developments in the reprogramming of adult stem cells.

Culture of death, indeed.

What is to be done?

The first order of business at the national level is to prevent the new Congress from passing the federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), an explicit attempt to destroy every state-based pro-life legal achievement of the past three decades. If prevention is impossible and FOCA is enacted, then it must be vigorously challenged in the federal courts. The stakes are very, very high: in addition to facilitating a greater slaughter of the innocents, FOCA, by eliminating state conscience-clause protections for pro-life health care professionals, would create a situation in which the Catholic health care system as we know it would cease to exist, within a decade at most.

Then we come to adult catechesis. This year, the pro-abortion candidate carried every state in what Maggie Gallagher calls the “Decadent Catholic Corridor” — the Northeast and the older parts of the Midwest. Too many Catholics there are still voting the way their grandparents did, and because that’s what their grandparents did. This tribal voting has been described by some bishops as immoral; it is certainly stupid, and it must be challenged by adult education. That includes effective use of the pulpit to unsettle settled patterns of mindlessness. This year, a gratifying number of bishops began to accept the responsibilities of their teaching office; so, now, must parish pastors.

We need more persuasive ideas and language in the fight against euthanasia. Yes, the good guys were outspent in Washington State by orders of magnitude — and that should cause serious examinations of conscience among Catholic philanthropies and individuals of means. But, as in the debate over embryo-destructive stem-cell research, the culture of life has yet to develop a language that trumps the invocation of “compassion” when that’s misused by the culture of death.

And we need prayer — lots of it. Some demons require special powers to exorcize. As of Nov. 5, it is clear that certain of them have taken up residence in the United States of America.

George Weigel

By

George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • Catherine

    St. John the Baptist comes to mind whose persuasive idea and language was summed up in two words ‘non licet’, “it is not allowed”, an idea so persuasive and a word so potently effective that it cost him his head, even before he got to the subject of euthanasia. He is a light for us in these times which seem to have everything in common with the era of King Herod. So, I would sort of reverse the order of things and say that in order to exorcise certain demons, first of all much prayer and fasting is needed.

  • yblegen

    I am ready for the fight. But first, prayer and fasting. The land for my children and grandchildren is at stake.

  • dennisofraleigh

    Mr. Weigel writes: “Too many Catholics there are still voting the way their grandparents did, and because that’s what their grandparents did. This tribal voting has been described by some bishops as immoral; it is certainly stupid, and it must be challenged by adult education. That includes effective use of the pulpit to unsettle settled patterns of mindlessness.”
    Weigel’s presupposition is that because they identify themselves as “Catholic” that they a)attend Mass regularly enough to hear Father address the matter of abortion from the pulpit (those few who do), and b)even when those Mass-attending Catholics *do* get the riot act read to them that they respond with doscile consent and obey the Gospel of Life. Cardinal Egan of New York spoke quite forcefully on the subject of abortion prior to the election. I haven’t heard that his desperate admonition on behalf of the unborn had any effect whatever on the voting pattern of New York Catholics, or if it did it was marginal at best.

    I would contend that these masses of New England and Midwest Catholics Weigel has in mind are more in tune with the gospel of CNN and Oprah than any teaching from the Holy See (or their local pastor, unless he, too, is one of those self-styled “progressives”) on matters touching on the defense of the unborn.
    And how long has this debate been going on? Almost 40 years? As if Catholics, even those on the fringe, don’t know what the Church teaches in this regard.

    Just an aside to keep in mind in light of this discussion: Recent reports say Obama has in mind the creation of his own version of Hitler’s “Brown Shirts”—corps of young adults who will be trained to go on the warpath to bully or intimidate any persons or organizations who would dare stand in the way of his “progressive” agenda. Wanna bet a lot of them will be recruited from the ranks of “Catholic” youth?

  • http://catholichawk.com PrairieHawk

    Anyone who wants a fight, whether it’s Obama, the Culture of Death, or the devil himself–you’ve come to the right place. It is time for the Church to turn and face the world. Let us steep ourselves in prayer and holiness so that we are ready when it is our turn.

  • http://www.rosariesforlife.com vicardwm

    If you want to join an army of prayer just as Mr. Weigel suggests, please come to http://www.rosariesforlife.com and pledge your support for a rosary initiative that is starting. 30,000+ rosaries have already been pledged, and we’re just getting started.

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  • MFeeney

    I live in Washington State and The archbishop of Seattle was very vocal about voting against the Initiative 1000. The problem that occurred was that the other side attacked us and said the church was forcing people to live in a certain way and not giving the choice to live or die. I am hopeful in one way, the Washington Medical Association Doctors are refusing to do this procedure so it may be very hard to find a doctor that is willing to let terminally ill choose to die by assisted suicide. We need prayers here in Washington. We have two “Catholic” senators who are pro choice. A “Catholic” governor who is pro-choice. We have this new initiative that passed and most of this state voted for Obama, yes many of them “Catholics”. God help us!

  • madonnaofthestreets

    it is a blessing that Obama’s mother chose life,
    it is a tragedy that Obama chooses death…not only of innocents,
    but soon, of a nation…
    God bless us, everyone !

  • noelfitz

    This is a very thoughtful article.

    Even though the number of abortions in the US is decreasing and legislation does not produce morality, it is important that every Catholic encourages sound catechesis to encourage an appreciation of the worth of human life at every level.

    This includes:

    1. banning the death penalty,
    2. minimizing war,
    3. discouraging drugs,
    4. guaranteeing good health care for all including children and infants,
    5. good education, especially in preserving life,
    6. banning hand guns,
    7. helping the poor and hungry so that their life expectancies may equal that of the rich and well fed.

    It is particularly important for Catholics to reach out with love and respect to foster a love and appreciation of human life.

    God bless,

    NoelFitz.
    _________________________________________________

    In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.
    _________________________________________________

  • goral

    We had the culture of life in this country along side the death penalty and handgun ownership and among others, two world wars. We didn’t have to teach life preservation because common sense and morality convinced our consciences to do as much.
    Yes, social concerns lift up all of us but they don’t convict the soul of perverse ideas that gay marriage is acceptable, that calling someone a name is a hate crime, that it’s better to kill a life that would later be denyed healthcare and opportunity.
    No, JP the Great saw through that because he experienced the same false gods as a boy in Facism and Communism. Looks like we need more convincing and convicting.
    Obama’s red and brown shirts could be more of a reality than a scare ploy.
    His recruitment campaign will fare well in the “decadent catholic corridor”.

  • Warren Jewell

    True, it is morality (however whole or crippled) that produces legislation, not the other way around; but moral action then arises from the causal morality. But, it is dangerously naïve to think that morality – or, enforced limitations to certain brands of ‘morality – plays little part in law.

    For some of us, ‘banning the death penalty’ has a certain odor of not respecting life. There is something to be said for the ancient Mosaic code. And, such as banning handguns is but a first step to banning all guns; and, is sort of a reverse ‘death penalty’: in our nation, the locales with lowest crime have the most and most obvious guns.
    The most dedicated soldier is most gravely ready for minimizing war. He also became military because we never seem to be without enemies who would just as soon start wars. The end of war probably has been a prayer intention since long before David first was given over to Jesse’s flocks. There will be war among us the very moment that Gabriel’s trumpet announces the return of Christ the King.
    On discouraging drugs, I note that just about all of us have our ‘drug’ of convenient choice for worldly escapism. I consider the ‘drug’ of modern entertainment at least as eternally deadly as heroin or cocaine.
    To ‘guarantee’ good health care for any is to assure ever-more-miserable such care for all. The incoming President has already made it plain that many doctors and hospitals – the truly Catholic ones – are likely to be lost to Americans in his foisting the phony ‘right’ to abortion on the institutions and providers of health care.
    ‘Good education’! Our very public education system, and even beyond into colleges, has been large part of what has ensured of an emotional, dumbed-down and thoughtlessly ignorant voting populace. How else could ‘we are our own change’ have been swallowed as if some specific, enlightened program?
    Who has not wanted to ‘help the poor and hungry’ in every way possible? But, do these persons by and large wanted ‘help up’, or help to stay just as they are? In America, the proportion of ‘poverty’ in 1965 was 13%. In 2008, forty-three years and trillions spent in ‘help’ later, that figure is – 13%. Though He failed to mention proportion of population, Christ did note that such material poverty, like lack of spiritual poverty, will always be with us.

    “. . . education . . . especially in preserving life” . . . “. . . it is important that every Catholic encourages sound catechesis to encourage an appreciation of the worth of human life at every level.” . . . “It is particularly important for Catholics to reach out with love and respect to foster a love and appreciation of human life.” I agree; however, such education and outreach just may be a hate crime in a year or two.

  • noelfitz

    Warren

    I do appreciate your detailed letter.

    My motto is “[i]n necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas”, “in necessary things unity, in doubtful things freedom, in all things love/charity”. You show acceptance of this motto. While you disagree with me, with fairness, cogently, robustly and clearly in doubtful things, you equally agree on the necessary thing that abortion is murder and cannot be condoned.

    A belief in the evil of abortion is shared by all, even OB. No one believes abortion is good. However the means to decrease the number of abortions differ. After the election Catholics need to do all they can to stop abortions.

    Mathematicians talk about “necessary and sufficient conditions”. However to be pro-life it is a necessary condition to be anti-abortion, but not a sufficient one. There is more to pro-life than being anti-abortion.

    God bless,

    NoelFitz.
    _________________________________________________

    In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.
    _________________________________________________

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    I really think NoelFitz is on to something, and the election’s focus on economics may be more than mere distraction. I just finished reading The Two-Income Trap (ISBN 0465090907), which identifies the tendency of dual-income families to encounter economic catastrophe at almost twice the rate of single income families because they have made economic decisions that depend on the continuity of both incomes. When even one goes away (an event that occurs at twice the frequency in two-income families as in single-income families), the family economy topples because the fixed costs (e.g. home mortgage, health insurance, food, housing, transportation) are almost always unchangeable in the short term (i.e. it is almost impossible to get out from under a mortgage until you sell the house, and that could take months, etc.).

    The book is argued fairly; to the extent that politicians are criticized, it is fairly level (Hillary Clinton gets rapped even harder than George Bush, in my opinion). There is even a chapter that identifies that childless women are statistically far less likely to incur bankruptcy than women married or not) with children — and the authors (mother and daughter) fairly beg the reader to reject this choice.

    But the bottom line is that millions of families are trapped in debt and that for the vast majority, this debt is decidedly not due to greed. Mostly, the authors conclude that this debt is due to the middle class bidding for houses in good school districts — a process which pushed home prices into the stratosphere particularly in the “Decadent Catholic Corridor” of the U.S. northeast. The housing crash of the past couple of years is nothing if not a correction of this unsustainable bidding for a “good” public school district.

    I think voters in demographically Catholic regions of the country went for Obama because they are afraid of falling out of the middle class. Some are afraid of falling into squalor. Fear is often a pre-cursor to sin, but it also is a mitigating factor in the judgment of sin. Let us not judge too harshly. These folks certainly do not want to hear more Republican crowing about greedy yuppies who spend themselves into decadence because the sources of most of their (our) spending are fixed costs bound by contract: again housing, transportation, food, health insurance, and similar costs. Ironically, the authors demonstrate (rather convincingly) that the least likely dual-income household to fall into bankruptcy is the household that splurges on non-essentials. Such a “greedy” household can easily cut back the non-essentials in case on earner loses his job, thus avoiding financial catastrophe. Because they have spent lots of money on non-essentials, the fixed costs of essentials tend to fall within the budgetary constraints of a single income. In contrast, the family trapped with a too-high mortgage in a “good” public school district lacks such a choice because they are trapped by fixed costs.

    This analysis suggests a few conclusions:

    1) Homeschool the kids and ignore the alleged quality of the neighboring public schools.
    2) Advocate for the Obama administration to provide strong and explicit support for school choice. His campaign was funded in a very decentralized way and unlike many other Democrats, he is not beholden to the public school teachers’ unions.
    3) Skip the donation to the (allegedly) pro-life wing of the Republican party. The party has never really supported us anyway. McCain claimed to support that life begins at conception even as he continued to support embryonic-destructive stem cell research. How he rationalized life-at-conception with killing conceived human beings is beyond me.
    4) If you are able, help a stressed family with a mortgage payment, and give them a pro-life T-shirt along with the aid. Mother Theresa reminds us not to wait for leaders but to start now, person-to-person. The Republican party’s implosion and its own internal attacks on Governor Palin strongly demonstrate that there is no leadership left in it.
    5) Pray for our country.
    6) Pray for the conversion of President-elect Barack Obama.

    I personally voted for McCain, but I think Mark Shea is right on this one: I should have written in my pastor’s name or my best friend’s name or my wife’s name or (even) Governor Palin’s name. At the end of the day, John McCain would not have protected the unborn; he would merely have protected us born folk. But conscience clauses, while laudable, are enablers of fence sitting: a doctor who can point to a conscience clause to avoid participation in an abortion can very easily remain silent as his colleague kills a baby. Take away the conscience clause and that same doctor has a tough decision: align himself with the weakest members of our society… or not.

    Jesus tells us He does not look too fondly on fence-sitters. So let’s allow FOCA and the fight against FOCA to separate the wheat from the chaff — as Our Lord no doubt intends.

  • Mary Kochan

    Here is an interesting critique of the thesis of The Two-Income Trap focusing on tax rates. http://volokh.com/posts/1185883980.shtml

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  • Guest

    Culture of death indeed… I find this article interesting, consider it limits itself to just abortion in America – what about America’s love affair with executions, and now in time when DNA can prove whether someone is really innocent. NAH kill them anyway. A unarmed teenager comes to your home at Halloween, foreign but legal you say Freeze but sadly it is 80 degrees out, can’t be cold and hot, so what do you SHOOT HIM.

    Lets see that 2 counts of culture of death, should we continue oh why not, Castle Defense, Stand Your Ground Defense, when the person is not unarmed - common theme Death.

    Killing the abortion doctors and threatening supporters with bomb and death threats – is considered okay – culture of death, mmmm?

    1274 Hate groups in 2011, that call for death of certain people. That number rises constantly since this article was published 2008 when at merely 149 – why a Black Man in a White House, telling white people what they may do. This is FACT is found at Southern Poverty Law Center.

    During the Presidential debates for GOP a question was asked, if a man dying of cancer needs treatment – free healthcare or let him die – the crowd clapped for DEATH.

    And in the moment when a mother’s life is endangered and an abortion can safe her life, no thanks let the mother die.

    People gay people in camps and drop some food for them every once and a while and let them die too.

    So where is the line for the culture of Death? Just abortionists, I think not. By the way, I am a Knight of Columbus. 

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