November 04-11, 2001 Issue | Posted 11/4/01 at 1:00 PM
For all the new openness to prayer, the aftermath of Sept. 11 has not been a straightforward triumph for religion. Many, in fact, argue that Sept. 11 shows that religion is a dangerous force.
The situation puts America at a crossroads where it can either embrace a secular or a religious worldview.
It is as if we went to bed Sept. 10 in Jimmy Buffet's Margueritaville and woke up in bin Laden's Kabul. Americans were content, well-fed, with few cares. Few sought God, because few felt a need to.
Sept. 11 reminded many Americans of the importance of evil and religion, both at once. It reminded them that there are people in the world who believe God is for real, and that these people are affronted by our country. To popular commentators like Bill Maher and many others, these dangerous religious men included both the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Rev. Jerry Falwell and ordinary Christians here at home. At pop concerts and on rock stations, “Imagine” by John Lennon became a post-Sept. 11 anthem, with its fond wish that religion would go away.
Uncomfortable as it might make us, it is obvious that some Americans support Operation Enduring Freedom because it defends the freedom to choose (by which they mean abortion), freedom of speech (in which they include pornography), and freedom of conscience (on such matters as homosexual “marriage”). It's as if the words of the ‘80s hit have become literally true for these new patriots: “You gotta fight for your right to party.”
It seems as if America itself is in danger of being hijacked by a radically secular understanding of what our country means. At the same time, many religious people seem ready to give up on America. Its sins are so clear to them that they find it unloveable. Some readers have disagreed with our contention that Catholics should be patriotic. But we believe that, with our nation at a defining moment, patriotism by Catholics isn't just allowable—it's vitally necessary. Herewith, a full explanation.
Alas, America from the beginning has been a nation of sinners which has always had its sinful laws. At its very founding, it was a nation that harbored slavery: American families forced other human beings to do their bidding, with the blessing of the courts.
Yet two of its founding principles were that all are created equal, and that all have a right to liberty. These two principles inexorably led to the defeat of slavery. It was the work of George Washington, a great man and a slave-holder, that made Abraham Lincoln possible. And it was the work of Abraham Lincoln, a great man and an anti-abolitionist, that made the work of Martin Luther King Jr. possible.
Today, we have abortion laws. Our de facto “right to kill” is at war with the right to life. Abortion and the right to life can't coexist any more than the right to liberty and the institution of slavery could. Abortion will have to go.
But we will only be able to get rid of abortion in America in an “American” way—by using the democratic system that America pioneered to apply the human rights that America codified. It is precisely because this is America that we have the world's best chance to defeat abortion.
As Pope John Paul II pointed out in his 1996 trip to Baltimore, “the democratic system itself” is “shaken in its foundations” when it is twisted to promote immorality.
But America, he said, “possesses a safeguard, a great bulwark, against this happening. I speak of your founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These documents are grounded in and embody unchanging principles of the natural law whose permanent truth and validity can be known by reason, for it is the law written by God in human hearts.”
If Christians stop loving America, who will be left to defend—and vigorously promote—the truths that are at the heart of America's greatness?
Catholics should be at the vanguard not of America's detractors, but of her faithful children who want to reform and renew her.
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