Philadelphia Archbishop examines religion’s role in politics
Meghan Sullivan | Friday, September 16, 2016
The Tocqueville Program is a relatively new organization at Notre Dame — founded only in 2009 — that seeks to promote the study of religion and politics. The program organizes conferences, symposia and research on religious liberty.
The Program hosted its inaugural lecture on religious liberty Thursday. Rev. Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, gave a lecture titled “Sex, Family and the Liberty of the Church: Authentic Freedom in Our Emancipated Age.”
Chaput began his lecture by emphasizing Catholic beliefs about life and the goal of getting into Heaven.
“Life is a gift — not an accident — and the point of a life is to become the kind of fully human person who knows and loves God above everything else and reflects that love to others,” Chaput said.
Chaput used this view of life to express concern over the 2016 presidential election.
“Only God knows the human heart,” he said. “I presume that both major candidates for the White House this year intend well and have a reasonable level of personal decency behind their public images, but I also believe that each candidate is very bad news for our country.”
“One candidate, in the view of lots of people, is a belligerent demagogue with an impulse-control problem, and the other — also in the view of a lot of people — is a criminal liar, uniquely rich in stale ideas and bad priorities,” Chaput said.
According to Chaput, Christians cannot view politics with cynicism. He said there are many honest politicians who do work for the public good and if Christians were to leave the political arena, others with worse intentions would remain.
“The political vocation matters because, done well, it can ennoble the society it serves,” Chaput said.
He said Christians need to become increasingly active in politics by focusing on the kind of people that they are.
“Changing the country first means changing ourselves,” Chaput said.
According to Chaput, his experiences hearing confessions shaped his view on family life.
“When you spend several thousand hours of your life … hearing the failures and hurts in peoples’ lives — men who beat their wives, women who cheat on their husbands, the addicts to porn, or alcohol, or drug, thieves, the hopeless, the self-satisfied and the self-hating — you get a pretty good picture of the world as it really is and its effect on the human soul,” Chaput said.
He expressed concern over the effect of a dramatic increase in the number of people confessing to sexual promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence and sexual confusion.
“Sex is a basic appetite and human instinct,” he said. “Sexuality is tied intimately to who we are, how we search for love and happiness, how we defeat the pervasive loneliness in life and, for most people, how we claim some little bit of permanence in a world and a story by having children.
“The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography, by tens of millions of persons over five decades, destroys lives. Then, compound it with the media nonsense about the innocence of casual sex and the happy children of friendly divorces — what you get is what we now have a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitment.”
Chaput said this incapability of commitment has severe political consequences. In his view, people that are too weak to rule themselves and their passions will become ruled by other people, compromising their freedom.
“Sooner or later, they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own form of social control,” he said.
According to Chaput, millennials’ reluctance to have children is troubling for the future. He said sexually selfish and weak people create broken families that contribute to a dysfunctional cycle.
“Only a mother and a father can offer the unique kind of human love rooted in flesh and blood, the kind that comes from mutual submission and self-giving, the kind that comes from complementarity of sexual difference,” Chaput said.
This type of relationship is necessary to instill good values in children, according to Chaput. He said society’s values and problems — crime, bad schools and unemployment — make it difficulty to raise children, which has political consequences played out in the government.
“In Catholic thought, government has a role to play is easing [crime, education and unemployment] problems, but not if a government works from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is and what a family is, and not if a government deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well — the family and the Church,” he said.