The world has reached a point where the Bible and churches are only props, and only leftists can use them. No, this is not a variation on Shakespeare’s line that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” but rather the official position taken by prominent Catholic leaders.
In a statement concerning President Donald Trump’s visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., to announce his executive order that would promote religious freedom around the world, Archbishop Wilton Gregory fumed, “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree.” To support this, Gregory repeated the fake news narrative that Trump had used “tear gas” on “innocent protesters” to take vanity photos at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Father James Martin, the editor of America Magazine and popular leftist advocate, couldn’t help but join in the fray, criticizing Trump’s visit to the shrine and St. John’s with a Bible in hand: “Let me be clear. This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. And God is not a plaything.” Martin is apparently blind to the fact that he has continually used his priestly vocation to advance political causes greatly at odds with church teachings.
The Left’s Double Standard
It’s difficult to see this opposition as anything but a shameless projection of leftist intolerance. Bishops, priests, and charity directors label Trump and his supporters hypocrites and Pharisees, while they themselves use their considerable influence and authority to block people with whom they disagree politically, assuming the moral and spiritual high ground as they do so.
As Trump visits the St John Paul II National Shrine today, I hope someone proclaims today's Gospel (Mark 12:13-17) where Herodians and Pharisees are called out for their hypocrisy.
— Bishop John Stowe (@BpStowe) June 2, 2020
Furthermore, these critics betray an obvious double-standard when they permit corrupt pro-choice politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden to attend Mass, receive Communion, and scandalize the faithful without any word of reproach. Nor do they say anything about President Barack Obama delivering a commencement address and receiving an honorary degree at Notre Dame University while vigorously expanding abortion access and taking the Little Sisters of the Poor to court. Nor do they raise an objection when Pope Francis yucks it up with socialist dictators in Bolivia or cuts deals with the anti-human totalitarian regime in China.
Rather, progressives in the Catholic Church mostly celebrate these intrusions of leftist politics into spiritual life. This change, which most people date back to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), has effectively elevated leftist radicals of all stripes while minimizing conservatives and traditionalists. This has resulted in a dilution of church teachings, a decline in religious practice, and an ongoing crisis in leadership. For orthodox Catholics clinging to the faith of their fathers, it has been demoralizing, to say the least.
An Exchange of Doctrine for Leftist Dogma
Besides harming the Catholic Church, and other Christian denominations by extension, the leftward turn of Catholic leaders has damaged the culture at large by making religion synonymous with politics. Put simply, the world has become less Catholic, both in its values and appearance, and this has serious implications for all people living in the West.
In terms of values, the church has traded away a religious and moral system for a secular one. Faith, hope, and charity have been replaced by self-esteem, conformity, and tolerance. Fighting evil has morphed into having a dialogue with it. Goodness has turned into niceness, truth into leftist ideology, and beauty into what’s useful. Sure enough, these values have embedded themselves into the modern society, propping up secular politicians while denigrating honest citizens such as Jack Phillips.
In terms of appearance, the church, once a great patron of the arts, has become invisible. People all over the world, even in places filled with Catholic monuments, are losing this Catholic societal context. As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book “Tipping Point” 20 years ago, such context is critical to achieving a certain kind of behavior.
Gladwell explains this by discussing New York City’s urban blight and petty crime in the ’70s and ’80s and how this contributed to the city’s notoriously high crime rate. Once police and politicians addressed this blight in the early ’90s under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, cleaning up graffiti and broken windows and addressing minor crimes, they started seeing a collective change in behavior and rapid drop in crime.
The church today is the spiritual equivalent of crime-ridden New York in the ’70s and ’80s. It is ugly and teeming with thugs. Those pursuing holiness are marginalized and silenced while those peddling sin as gospel have taken control. This situation has led to a majority of Catholics abandoning key church teachings about marriage, birth control, and the Blessed Sacrament. It is even affecting those Catholics who grew up in Catholic families and attended Catholic schools.
As Gladwell’s analysis suggests, this is because people’s behavior is more influenced by their context than their core values: “The convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions than the immediate context of your behavior.”
A Plea for Restoration
In response to this problem, church leaders have only doubled down on their commitment to this abysmal status quo, sniping at conservatives, echoing leftist activists, neglecting the victims of religious persecution, and ignoring the emptying pews.
The priests and laity who try to resist this decline and make reforms are quickly reported, censured, and pushed out, so no one bothers anymore. Faithful Catholics have to do what they can at home or flee to various traditional Catholic enclaves in the countryside. For those outside the church, few will ever hear the gospel since, as even Pope Benedict XVI noted, most missionary zeal has long since died in the developed world.
Ironically, the one public figure who wants to revive the Christian context and restore traditional values is thrice-married, nominally Christian Trump. He seems to recognize the secular blight infecting American culture, if not the Catholic Church, which is why he heavily pushes symbols: the American flag, the Bible, St. John’s Church, and the John Paul II Shrine. Leftist Catholics see this as appropriation, but it’s really a restoration.
Faithful Americans should take heart in this, not offense, and help the president by doing the same in their own communities. They may face criticism, but they also may finally succeed in saving souls again and finding meaning in religion. The world needs healing, and only a culture-wide spiritual renewal can make this happen.