Exactly 70 years ago, in 1940, Rev. John Courtney Murray gave a series of three college talks. For his theme, he chose the "concept of a Christian culture." After his death, his Jesuit brothers fused the talks into a single essay called "The Construction of a Christian Culture." It's a modest word change. But that title -- the construction of a Christian culture -- is a good place to begin our thoughts.Life in the Late Republic: The Catholic Role in America After Virtue, by Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Inside Catholic.com September 27 2010.
Most people know Father Murray for his work on Vatican II's Decree on Religious Liberty. In his 1960 book We Hold These Truths -- which has never gone out of print -- Father Murray argued the classic Catholic case for America. Like any important thinker, his work has friends and critics. The critics respect Father Murray's character and intellect. But they also tend to see him as a victim of his own optimism and a voice of American boosterism. I understand why. Over the years, too many people have used Father Murray to justify too many strange versions of personal conscience and the roles of Church and state.
But for me, Father Murray's real genius is tucked inside his words from 1940. They're worth hearing again. Father Murray said that "a profound religious truth is at the basis of democratic theory and practice, namely the intrinsic dignity of human nature; the spiritual freedom of the human soul; its equality as a soul with others of its kind; and its superiority to all that does not share its spirituality."
He said that "the task of constructing a culture is essentially spiritual, for culture has its home in the soul." As a result, "All man's cultural effort is at bottom an effort at submission to the truth and the beauty and the good that is outside him, existing in an ordered harmony, whose pattern he must produce within his soul by conformity with it."
These are beautiful thoughts. They're also true. The trouble is, they bear little likeness to our real culture in 2010. ...