There seems to be some dispute as to whether the original Trotskyite—that would be, um, Leon Trotsky—ever said, “You may not be interested in the dialectic but the dialectic is interested in you.” One quotation-archaeologist, digging deeply, claims to have found the origins of Trotsky’s alleged bon mot in that unforgettable treatise, “Petty-Bourgeois Moralists and the Proletarian Party”; but, while this is Lent, excavating such rocky soil any farther would transform penance into masochism. So let’s just assume that Trotsky, as a good dialectical materialist, believed that there was no escape from history as it was being driven by “the dialectic.”
Or, to put it less dialectically-materialistically, you can’t duck some fights, try as you may.
Like, for example, the intensification of the culture war that will follow the Supreme Court’s anticipated discovery that the 39th Congress, passing the 14th amendment to the Constitution in 1866, included within the amendment’s guarantees a “right” to so-called “same-sex marriage.” Pressures flowing from that judicial fantasy will make it clear, save to the willfully blind, that while you might not be interested in the culture war, the culture war is interested in you—and it isn’t going to leave you in peace until you surrender, or until America regains its senses and rejects what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger dubbed the “dictatorship of relativism.”
This has been the issue in the U.S. bishops’ contest with the Obama administration over the HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate in Obamacare: Will Catholic institutions and Catholic employers be able to conduct their affairs according to the Church’s settled convictions, protected by the robust definition of religious freedom contained in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Or will the government attempt to coerce those institutions and businesses into becoming de facto extensions of the state insofar as the delivery of certain “reproductive health services” is concerned? That question of identity, or integrity-in-mission, will be the issue in other culture-war assaults on Catholic life; one of the next lines of battle involves employment practices in Catholic schools. Will the Church be allowed to staff its schools with teachers who teach and live what the Catholic Church believes and teaches, hiring those who meet those criteria and declining to employ those who don’t? Or will the state try to coerce Catholic schools to employ teaching staff according to other criteria?
This is going to be a nasty fight, given that “tolerance” has become the all-purpose bludgeon with which the sexual revolution, in all its manifestations, beats its adversaries into submission or drives them into catacombs. All the more reason, then, to be grateful for the courageous leadership shown by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, whose San Francisco archdiocese is arguably ground zero of the culture war that cannot be avoided—and that must be fought if Catholic institutions are to remain free to be themselves.
You can read Archbishop Cordileone’s extraordinary address to a convocation of Catholic high schools teachers on February 6th by going to the San Francisco archdiocesan website and navigating from the home page to the archbishop’s speeches via the “archbishop” tab. There, in Archbishop Cordileone’s convocation remarks, you will find a magnificent explanation of what Catholic schools do—and why what Catholic schools do is important for the young people they serve and for society. The address is a basic lesson in virtue ethics, a moving testimony to growth in virtue as the true index of human accomplishment, and a powerful compliment to teachers as animators of virtue.
Animating virtue is tough work and it requires everyone staying on-mission. Thus Archbishop Cordileone is asking that those who teach in the archdiocesan high schools not speak against settled teachings of the Catholic Church in their classrooms, and not act publicly in ways that contradict the Church’s settled convictions.
Such a requirement would have been thought unexceptionable in the past. Stating it today puts Archbishop Cordileone squarely in the crosshairs of the increasingly intolerant Tolerance Police. More power to him for understanding that, like it or not, the culture war is interested in you—and responding is an evangelical imperative.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver.