Tuesday, February 14, 2012

John Courtney Murray on the United States - Talk by Archbishop Chaput

John Courtney Murray is most often remembered for his work at Vatican II on the issue of religious liberty, and for his great defense of American democracy in his book, We Hold These Truths.  Murray believed deeply in the ideas and moral principles of the American experiment.  He saw in the roots of the American Revolution the unique conditions for a mature people to exercise their freedom through intelligent public discourse, mutual cooperation and laws inspired by right moral character.  He argued that — at its best — American democracy is not only compatible with the Catholic faith, but congenial to it.
But he had a caveat.  It’s the caveat that George Washington implied in his Farewell Address, and that Charles Carroll – the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence — mentions in his own writings.  In order to work, America depends as a nation on a moral people shaped by their religious faith, and in a particular way, by the Christian faith.  Without that living faith, animating its people and informing its public life, America becomes something alien and hostile to the very ideals it was founded on.
This is why the same Father Murray who revered the best ideals of the American experiment could also write that “Our American culture, as it exists, is actually the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world.  It would seem to be erected on the triple denial that has corrupted Western culture at its roots: the denial of metaphysical reality, of the primacy of the spiritual over the material, [and] of the social over the individual . . . Its most striking characteristic is its profound materialism . . . It has given citizens everything to live for and nothing to die for.  And its achievement may be summed up thus:  It has gained a continent and lost its own soul.”(5)
Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in – not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now – is somehow friendly to our faith.  What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air-conditioning and digital TV.  And it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral.

(5) Murray, “The Construction of a Christian Culture,” 1940;http://woodstock.

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