by Kathryn Jean Lopez
“The Constitution is a great achievement in ordered liberty,” Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes in a new e-book, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America. “But,” he continues, “it’s just another elegant scrap of paper unless people keep it alive with their convictions and lived witness.”
Good stewardship of both our republic and souls demands a reading of A Heart on Fire, which goes on to warn, “Nothing guarantees that America’s experiment in religious freedom, as we traditionally know it, will survive here in the United States, let alone serve as a model for other countries in the future.”
Archbishop Chaput paints an alarming portrait of a present and future very different from the America that Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville once famously saw as a country whose “founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival” – the “indispensible supports” that President Washington spoke of in his Farewell Address.
“For John Jay, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Carroll, John Adams, George Washington, and most of the other founders – including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin – religion created virtuous citizens,” the archbishop recalls. “And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as carefully balanced in its institutions, moral instincts, and laws as the United States.”
But we’ve lost something since then, despite the occasional, political use of religious rhetoric on the campaign trail and a standard “God bless America” at the end of a speech. Some of it’s but a cynical play to nostalgia when it’s the self-identified Christians in elected office who drive some of the most radical affronts to human dignity and freedom.
“Christians once felt peculiarly at home in America, a land first settled by Christians and predominantly built by them over three centuries,” Archbishop Chaput writes. But increasingly, God “has been less and less welcome at the center of common life.” He predicts that the fruits of this new academic, cultural and political experiment is a future where Christians will find themselves “arguing from the margins.”
This description should sound familiar to anyone who has been paying attention lately. The debate over the Department of Health and Services contraception/sterilization/abortion mandate is a most unprecedented attempt by the federal government to institutionalize this secularist worldview.
“The America emerging in the next several decades is likely to be much less friendly to Christian faith than anything in our country’s past. … It’s not a question of when or if it might happen. It’s happening today,” Archbishop Chaput grimly warns. And, make no mistake, every single one of us who calls himself Christian must look in the mirror: “it’s happening despite the large numbers of self-identified Catholics and other Christians in America.”