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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIV, No. 1
Eastertide 2009

Women for Faith & Family
Celebrating 25 years of service to the Church

How Shall We Live Now?

by Mary Jo Anderson

After the 2008 presidential election, a reader sent me a set of lyrics that included these lines:

We have no preacher to marry our son
Our daughters have no faith in a Christian home
How shall we live now that God is gone?
just pullin meat right off the bone.

Ain’ I asked myself, how did it get this way
But when I ask myself, I ain’ got much to say
I’m just a’cookin chicken and eatin crow
And pullin meat right off the bone.
I’m pullin meat right off the bone.

I have no idea what the author of the lyrics meant, but my correspondent saw in those lines two points: The question “how shall we live now” — where “now” is the definitively secular culture that elected the most anti-life candidate in our history, and “how did it get this way?”

The “how it got this way” rubs raw when one admits that in the immediate foreground it got this way because a majority of America’s professed Christians are politically indistinguishable from secularists. Or, equally, that the majority of America’s Christians desired “change” and were willing to pay for it with increased numbers of abortions and anti-family policies.

But if the latter is true, the question is not “how did it get that way?”, but how did we Christians get this way? If America still believes in God, it is clear that we no longer subscribe to His moral order or concern ourselves with divine judgment.

The lyrics reminded me of a book. Ten years ago Chuck Colson, a prominent evangelical, wrote a top-selling book, How Now Shall We Live? Colson drew his title from the lament of the Jewish people in exile, living amidst unbelievers and constrained in the practice of their faith. The cry of woe is found in Ezekiel 33:10: “And thou, son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thus ye speak, saying, Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can we live?”

Colson addressed what was a pressing realization at the time: Christians must find the means to navigate in a world that sneers at the Christian worldview. In the post-modernism reality Christians painfully recognize that their worldview has no public (legal or educational) credibility. To live faithfully is to live against the prevailing cultural norm. In short, we are exiles in our own nation.

Exiles in Our Own Land
If ten years ago Colson’s question was alarming enough to sell more than a million copies of his book, its proposed remedy has not had a measurable effect at the polls. With less mass-publishing success, various Catholic voices made similar points and met the same failure, as measured at the polls.

What is the reason for this? And how have Catholics contributed to it? Roughly one quarter of the Congress is Catholic. How different would the Culture War be today had these representatives consistently represented Catholic moral teaching?

The lurking suspicion behind our spectacular failure to restrain the culture of death — much less convert it — is that we American Christians are unwilling to defend the fundamental moral teaching of our faith if it might make us uncomfortable. And we are entirely too willing to accept direct affronts to the entire spectrum of Christian teaching, from the most basic moral law — the intrinsic value of every human life, for example — to ordinary practices of Christian culture, such as having Christmas trees in public places. We have become so used this unfair discrimination that we hardly notice it, far less do we consider doing anything about it.

Would we have the courage to support our parish priest if he were confronted after Mass by an angry parishioner objecting to his forthright pro-life homily? Or would we simply raise our eyebrows and head for the parking lot? If we cannot find the courage to maintain our principles in our own houses, how then shall we convince the culture of the seriousness of our commitment?

Another example: What is our response — and our responsibility — as Catholics, if a Catholic city attorney imposes harsh fines against a group of quietly praying pro-life demonstrators who step across a sidewalk of an abortion facility’s property — but vulgar displays and violent threats from a homosexual group demonstrating in front of a Catholic organization incur no legal penalties? Even if we no longer expect equal treatment from secular authorities, why the silence on our part?  Where are the Catholic radio hosts? The Catholic editors? The Catholic citizens? When we are too intimidated to respond to obvious unfair discrimination, we have allowed ourselves to become exiles in our own land.

Ain’ I asked myself, how did it get this way
But when I ask myself, I ain’ got much to say

The week that I penned this reflection, our local parishes featured homilies on the dangerous threat of the Freedom of Choice Act, or FOCA. This is the proposed legislation that during his presidential campaign Barack Obama promised to sign if Congress passed it. In one of these homilies a deacon addressed the congregation:

While some of us hoped for hope, new day of civility and change, did we consider how our lives as Catholic parents and Catholic doctors would change under FOCA? Our doctors and nurses cannot appeal to a conscience clause to refuse to perform abortions as it would be “discriminatory”.

Our 15-year-old daughters will not need our permission to have an abortion, states will not be permitted to require that only medical doctors perform abortion, there will be no informed consent or waiting periods … and partial-birth abortion will be legal everywhere, overturning any state law that prohibits the barbaric practice. In short, all the meager, hard-fought pro-life gains of the past 30 years will be swept away with a stroke of the president’s pen.

After hearing this homily, many were confused: “How can any law require that a doctor perform an abortion?” Here’s how this can happen. The law requires hospitals not “discriminate” and thus hospitals must perform the procedure. In turn the hospital can require all staff doctors to do the procedure. Those who refuse can be legally dismissed. And this perhaps is what needs to come next — that Catholics and other Christians refuse to participate in unjust laws. When Catholic professionals refuse to arrest, prosecute, teach, advertise, do business with or in any means cooperate with the evil of anti-life, anti-family laws and policies then we point the way ahead for the next generation.

From the Bible we learn that the Jewish people in exile took a hard look at themselves. They confessed their transgressions. Isn’t that where we must begin? Our personal conversion reestablishes our faith as the primary model of our personal and public lives. Collectively, American Catholics, lay and clerical, have sinfully accommodated a progressively pernicious culture. Our erroneous idea might have been that we were sufficiently good citizens and good Christians if we did not cause a stir, if we politely went along with public policy while keeping a devout private life.

Or we may have thought that as long as we ourselves were not directly involved, we had no compelling reason to censor others. Yet, to tolerate a systemic (as opposed to occasional) evil is itself evil. The Gospel sends us forth to convert all nations, to be the “salt of the earth”. (“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men”. Mt 5:13 RSV)

Good citizenship means seeking the best for the nation — and that can never be pro-death policies. Anything short of this personal conversion and we should not be surprised to find ourselves “trodden underfoot” like worthless salt.

One Small Step
We cannot expect the conversion of the culture to come from the courts or the voting booth, as options in the current political climate are few. “How shall we live now?” must begin far ahead of the voting booth — in one small step: clear speech. A rueful observation was made by a young priest: “Our people are on the road to perdition because the signs along that road all say ‘Paradise five miles ahead!’” As Christians we must refuse to participate in verbal obfuscation that destroys the truth of things.

Universal access to abortion up to and including partial birth abortion is precisely what the Freedom of Choice Act really is. Let’s say so. When the term “freedom of choice” is used, ask “what choice is that?”

Every time this question is posed people are taken aback. “Well, you know, it’s — well, a termination”, is a common reply.

“Who is terminated? My spouse who has become infirm or merely inconvenient? Is it termination of my elderly parents?”

Recently a friend gave me Josef Pieper’s marvelous pamphlet, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power (Ignatius Press, 1992). Pieper cautions that to engage in falsified language with another person is to “prevent his participation in reality”. Such false language is a “corruption of the relationship to reality”, and constitutes not dialogue, but a monologue meant to manipulate the other. This type of speech is nihilistic since its aim is to destroy reality.

Then, citing Plato, Pieper writes of falsified speech, “It could be perfectly worded, brilliantly formulated; strikingly written, performed, staged or put on screen — and at the same time, in its entire thrust and essence, be false; and not only false, but outright bad, inferior, contemptible, shameful, destructive, wretched — and still marvelously put together”. How utterly accurate this description is as regards the anti-life rhetoric we are bombarded with unceasingly.

The reason that the abortion industry does not refer to FOCA as the “universal abortion access law” is precisely to confuse and veil the real substance of the “choice”, that is, the reality that babies die with no choice for life.

At the United Nations a perennial anti-life falsity is this cheery-sounding phrase: “right to health and reproductive services”. One might assume this phrase is aimed at China’s draconian one-child policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The phrase actually means overturning local and cultural morals that favor life with the imposition by the UN of a globalized abortion-on-demand policy. These verbal acrobatics affirm what the late moral theologian Monsignor William Smith noted often: “social engineering begins with verbal engineering”.

When Christians use plain words to describe what these sophist phrases actually mean, it signals that we decline to participate in a fiction about “choice”. Anti-life forces may hold the legal ground at the moment, but no law forces us to facilitate their fiction. We need only say, “Every abortion kills an innocent human life. That is the choice, life or death.” We need not turn the comment into a religious argument, for the current culture is unimpressed by religious reasoning. A simple statement of reality can be ignored, but it cannot be argued away.

There is another reason to insist on clear speech in all debates about public policy. We are already familiar with obfuscating terms such as “death with dignity” and “assisted suicide” as euphemisms for killing people. Now, new and dangerous false terminology is seeping into the marketplace of ideas. After the uproar over a Danish cartoon that portrayed Muhammad in an unflattering light, we began to hear political leaders speak of “managed freedom”.

That sly term was used something like this: “Managed freedom of expression” is part of life in an open society; and, “managed political freedom” is necessary for the fair participation of all. The “managed freedom” terminology is also found in some universal healthcare proposals. “Managed freedom” is code-speak for socialism. In each case the freedom is not merely managed. It is limited and controlled by — and for the benefit of — the controlling power. But somehow “we will control your freedom for you” does not sell well to the masses — yet. A companion term is “administered freedom”, outlined in James Kalb’s new volume The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality By Command (ISI Books, 2008).

Again Josef Pieper takes us to the heart of the matter: “sophisticated language, disconnected from the roots of truth in fact pursues some ulterior motives … it invariably turns into an instrument of power….”

Ain’ I asked myself, how did it get this way
But when I ask myself, I ain’ got much to say

Catholics have much to say, and say it we must. But we miss the mark unless we first name things for what they really are and reconnect the concrete reality to the matters at hand.

Mary Jo Anderson, a member of the Voices editorial board, writes on the United Nations and family issues for WorldNet Daily and other publications. Her commentaries have appeared on radio and television, including Vatican Radio. She has addressed members of the Czech Parliament on women and family issues in emerging democracies. Mary Jo is co-author with Dr. Robin Bernhoft of Male and Female He Created Them: Some Questions and Answers on Marriage and Same-sex Unions, published by Catholic Answers, San Diego. Visit her blog, Properly scared, at

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