Advise and Dissent
'New Normal' time of moral incoherence
Some sober thoughts after the Supreme Court's marriage decision:
The Supreme Court of the United States [SCOTUS] has rendered a decision that puts the court at odds with the Constitution, with reason and with biblical religion.
SCOTUS has gotten it wrong before. It got it wrong on race in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson (which upheld segregated public facilities). It got it wrong by concocting a constitutional "right" to abortion-on-demand in Roe v. Wade and doubled-down on that mistake by getting it wrong on abortion again in Casey v. Planned Parenthood.
Now SCOTUS has gotten it wrong on marriage. There are remedies to SCOTUS getting it wrong; one of them is a careful re-examination, during the 2016 campaign, of the theory of "judicial supremacy," which holds that the Constitution means whatever a majority of the court says it means.
The marriage battle was lost in the culture long before it was lost in the courts. The foundations of our culture have eroded; now, the New Normal insists that literally everything is plastic, malleable and subject to acts of human will. The result is a moment of profound moral incoherence in which understandings of human nature and human happiness that have stood the test of experience for millennia are being discarded as mere rubbish — and those who resist trashing the moral patrimony of humanity are dismissed as irrational bigots, religious fanatics or both. This New Normal is willfulness-on-steroids, especially when that willfulness involves human sexuality. Nothing, it seems, constitutes aberrant behavior — except the public defense of traditional virtue.
The Catholic Church in the United States bears its share of responsibility for this incoherence. It was clear 60 years ago that the old mainline Protestant cultural hegemony was fading, that an alternative cultural foundation for American democracy was necessary, and that a new cadre of citizen-leaders, capable of articulating the moral truths on which the American democratic experiment rests, had to be raised up — and the prime candidate for doing all that was the Catholic Church. It might have happened. But too much of the Church's clerical and lay leadership lost its nerve after Humanae Vitae; the window of opportunity closed amidst the maelstrom of the '60s and the decadence of the '70s; and the forces of incoherence won the day.
The New Normal will not leave the Catholic Church alone. Like everyone else who contests the New Normal's ideology of Anything Goes, the Catholic Church will be aggressively attacked for daring to oppose that ideology. So the Church must learn, fast, how to play good defense, defending the right of our institutions to be themselves and of our people to be themselves; it will do a service to America in the process.
From the Catholic point of view, the only possible response to the New Normal is a robustly evangelical Catholicism.
And that means a thorough catechesis of the Catholic people of the United States, not least through preaching.
(George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.)
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