The Trouble with the Field House

On Sunday, President Obama delivered his controversial and much-awaited speech at Notre Dame.

I found little surprising about the speech itself. Not that I agreed with it—far from it. What I mean is that the speech was what I and anyone who has followed the President’s political career should have expected. He has repeatedly affirmed the position that a woman’s right to an abortion takes precedence over the unborn child’s right to life.

Nothing he said contradicted this. The closest he came to saying something “new” was his frank acknowledgement that while we should be working together to reduce abortions, at the root level, the pro-life and pro-choice positions are, in his words, “irreconcilable.” True.

While I was neither surprised nor disappointed, some of the president’s Catholic supporters were. Michael Sean Winters of the Jesuit journal America dismantled the president’s comments about doubt and humility. After giving the president an “F” for his “impersonation” of St. Augustine, Winters added that, contra Obama, “it is not doubt that invites humility,” it is faith.

Winters is right. Between his comments and the position Obama took on the sanctity of human life, I can’t help but wonder if the president really understands Christian teaching.

In any case, my issue was not with the speech itself, it was the appalling sight of the field house filled with faculty, students, and parents wildly cheering. Now of course they should be respectful of the President and applaud appropriately. But no applause or chanting was warranted when he took positions that flatly contradict Catholic teaching and the Gospel.

Notre Dame, after all, is the most prominent Catholic university in America. Its mission statement speaks of the “Catholic vision” in Notre Dame’s scholarship, research and service. It speaks of “God’s grace [prompting] human activity to assist the world in creating justice grounded in love.”

As Pope John Paul II and others have made clear, an important part of “creating justice grounded in love” is working to end abortion. Catholics pray for this every Sunday. For Catholics, abortion is an “intrinsic evil” that “must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned . . .” The sanctity of life, in fact, in Catholic teaching, is part of the Gospel itself.

So while the President was being consistent, the wildly cheering crowd was not. Obama never claimed to belong to a church that calls abortion an “intrinsic evil.” But they do.

Now the real problem this creates for all of us is that the average observer will conclude Christians were wildly cheering a pro-abortion President. So we pro-lifers must be the lunatic fringe. The whole church is weakened.

This is why a century ago J. Gresham Machen warned that there is no such thing as liberal Christianity. There is Christianity and then there is liberalism.

What we saw in the auditorium Sunday was, for the most part, a crowd of what Machen would call cheering liberals—that is, people who claim to be Christian but deny the essential teachings. The true Christians were on the outside, protesting. Be sure your friends and family know the difference.

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  • fatherjo

    A commencement is a kind of final exam for a university. Graduates wildly cheering for deadly half-truths and erroneous thinking show that the university should receive an “F” for its failure to communicate the truth in all its wonderful and life-giving fullness and consistency. “If they do these things in the green wood, what will happen in the dry?” (LK 23:31)

  • frau

    This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness.
    And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles.

    self-righteousness? parochial?

    ….the Golden Rule – the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth….
    Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived.

    except, of course, the unborn.
    brief moment on this earth indeed.