On Wednesday, in an acceptance speech for the Saint John Paul II New Evangelization Award, Robert George said that there is no longer any need to pretend about liberal neutrality. Liberals have always smuggled in substantive commitments through procedural pretenses of viewpoint neutrality, but now they feel this is no longer needed given their triumph in the culture war.
Obergefell not only brought the age of liberal neutrality to an end, but it gave birth to a party which now seeks to punish. As Harvard’s Mark Tushnet put it, “you lost and we won.” There is no point in being nice about it. Dissent will not be permitted. Beto O’Rourke has only been the most outspoken in insisting that those who do not acquiesce will be punished. Now proceduralism will be used not for viewpoint neutrality but to punish the vanquished with the whips of a new kind of religious fervor. Professor George called it a new paganism.
Attorney General William Barr made the same point last week at Notre Dame. He said that “the problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.”
Yet what will be most insidious is the fact that many Christians will voluntarily acquiesce to this pressure. This acquiescence has long been observable in mainline protestant churches, and while there has been no official acquiescence by the Catholic Church, plenty of Catholic laymen and clerics alike will succumb to the pressure. Some, it appears, are already preparing for the Church to submit.
Just this past week a Jesuit priest feted by the scions of the new paganism gave a kind of tacit approval to the rejection of the biblical condemnation of same-sex sexual activity. He found “interesting” the issue of “whether the biblical judgment is correct”. The clear implication was that the Church can and should reverse its teaching at the appropriate time.
It’s a reminder that many Catholics simply will not stand up to the pressure, whether it comes from Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren or someone else. When new pagans tell the Catholic Church to acquiesce on sexual morality or suffer the consequences, there simply will be weak laymen and priests finding such acquiescence very “interesting.”
As Professor George noted, just as in previous times, many will maintain the visible forms of Christian faith but yield the substance. The line to become useful idiots of progressive religion could be long. He said that Christians were now back in the position they were in Roman pagan times.
As Professor George showed, during those first few centuries there was no such thing as a religious-secular distinction. And indeed, we have returned to the clarity which comes from recognizing that everyone is religious, and everyone is making public claims about substantive commitments. The Rawlsian veil has been torn.
During the Decian persecution of the third century, Christians were issued certificates called libelli if they conformed to the Emperor’s demand for the required sacrifices. Some Christians willingly apostatized, others actually seem to have had their libelli forged so as to give the appearance of having acquiesced without actually having done so. And others still were martyred as witnesses to Christ’s true sacrifice — those who stand fast in the truth are the hope of generations.
While one can understand the weakness of those Christians who seek the approval of the new pagans, Catholics should constantly pray for the grace of wisdom and fortitude — the wisdom to avoid persecution and the fortitude to endure it. Professor George is right to say “Onward Christian Soldiers.” There can be no retreat from this. We must “take up our cross and follow Jesus,” whatever the cost. The reward is eternal, and has already been won.
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