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At a recent lecture, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago noted the importance of culture to Catholicism: that when our great religion has an ingrained place in local, regional, and national culture, customs, and ethnicity, it survives despite the efforts of governments to suppress or even extinguish it. He pointed out the example of Poland -- where Catholic ways remained vibrant no matter what the Communists tried to do. One could also cite Mexico and the image of Guadalupe. Culture, the cardinal told a group of us, is influenced on one side by faith (religions, moral teaching, spirituality) and on the other by secular society by way, among a number of means, of the laws it entrains (legalism). Once laws are passed, they influence how a culture views morality and soon religion. Here we see the danger of legislation that allows such things as abortion, prostitution, drug use, and homosexual marriage. They change the culture in a way that is frighteningly negative. It's important for Catholicism to adjust to cultures ("acculturate") at the same time that it does not compromise its teachings ("acculturate" also means to affect: we must adjust to cultures but also affect them). It wasn't exactly clear, at Cardinal George's lecture, how this can be done -- though the cardinal mentioned the role of a freedom in the Spirit that bequeaths to us the power to evangelize. He mentioned Pope Francis.

The solution, we deduce, must be supernatural.

It must be based in faith.

It's an urgent issue because in places like Canada and the United States, we are losing ground in the war of acculturation. There is the Utah judge who strikes down bans on homosexual wedlock. There is the Canadian legislation that basically legalizes prostitution.  There's same-sex marriage in New Mexico. There's the secularization of our Christian children at school and in front of the television and computer; in the public square, there is the removal of Christmas symbols. One can get no more religio-cultural than Christmas.

These things matter in the framework of "culture." If Christianity does not have a strong, noticeable cultural presence, it is in danger (Cardinal George noted) of suppression.

Thus the nervousness over homosexual "rights." We have arrived at the incredible cultural point, if we may expand upon some of the cardinal's points, where something that for centuries (actually, millennia) has been considered a grave sin against nature, was even illegal in the United States until a few short decades ago, is now nearly illegal to criticize. Everything, including our language, has been turned upside-down. There is the term "homophobia," which makes no more sense than the word "gay." Right is wrong and wrong is right. Sinners have become "victims." Few are afraid of homosexuals (phobic). They are afraid of the societal fruit. It is wrong to hate anyone. But words are being turned against those who follow Jesus. Suddenly, the righteous have become oppressors. Citing the Bible verges on a "hate crime."

This is a very sobering point: quoting the Bible could be deemed as illegal, or at least culturally reprehensible, even if the large majority of the public agrees with a biblical point of view. As Cardinal George pointed out, only two to eight percent of the public has had a homosexual or bisexual experience, yet, if we may again expand on his remarks, adopting the tactics of the (legitimate) Civil Rights Movement, they have cowed governments, corporations, and the "opinion-makers." Recently, the controversy over a reality show star, Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty, has shown how swiftly the current secular zeitgeist will sweep away or attempt to sweep away even an overwhelmingly popular television personality who dares oppose homosexual behavior. We are yet to see how this will turn out; there certainly has been a backlash; will it finally be a last "straw" that causes us to awaken? Or is it another nail in the cultural coffin?

It is not to defend everything this gentleman said, but phenomenal is this thought: If the angels who saved Lot at Sodom were around today, they too would be ostracized for what they said. We are nearly to the point where, culturally, we'd "arrest" angels! Fantastically, homosexual activists are pushing for the total right to donate blood, even though their conduct has spread the often fatal virus called HIV (along with hepatitis). Even without outright persecution, there are the results already. To see how secular society affects the faith takes only a glance at a recent Harris survey: belief in God fell from 82 percent in 2009 to 74 percent in 2012 (if the polling is accurate); the belief in miracles fell from 70 percent to 65 percent; belief in an afterlife fell from 69 percent to 64 percent; while belief in Darwin's theory of evolution rose from 42 percent to 47 percent. Nearly a quarter of Americans (23 percent) identify themselves as "not at all" religious.

What caused this sudden drop (the figures for belief had held steady from 2005 to 2009) is not clear; the "not-religious" White House surely has some effect, as do the tremendous pushes for things like gay marriage and the unpopularity, during that period, for various reasons, of Rome and mainstream Protestant denominations. Our Church has been intellectualized to such a point that it lost its ability to communicate with the masses. Evangelicals also are now missing some of their flavor. Are the young, who have taken to Pope Francis, showing indications that they will return? If so, what can we do to further that culturally?

One underused and potent tool: contacting the advertisers of shows that are anti-Catholic (see especially "comedian" Bill Maher), "heterophobic," or culturally oppressive. Another: communicating clearly to the pews, without theological circumlocution (straight talk, a bit like that "Duck" fellow). It is a war that -- urgently, at this juncture -- must be won. Cardinal George made famous remarks some years back on how, if current trends continue, a Cardinal in Chicago may be arrested in the not-so-distant future. A remark made rhetorically or prophetically, we're not sure. I will die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die as a martyr in the public square," the cardinal told a group of priests. "His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.

-- Michael H. Brown

[Note also: Michael Brown retreats: Florida]

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