THE VOICE OF REASON
Notre Dame

  IS IT EVER RIGHTEOUS TO SAY "NO" TO DIALOGUE?

If you have spent much time among the American elites, I will bet that you have heard them promoting the cause of "dialogue between those of diverse persuasions." "Dialogue" has become a shibboleth for academicians, clerics, and who knows who else. There is no doubt about it – it can be an invigorating and robust activity, and fun besides. But is it always wise and noble?

To answer this question, we must ask what is entailed in dialogical engagement. "Dialogue presupposes an open mind," its proponents argue, "for how can one enter into genuine conversation with another without being open to the other's point-of-view?" "Openness," they add, "implies the possibility of compromise and change. Therefore, all matters about which we dialogue must be tentatively held." This reasoning could well have been advanced by the greatest liberal, John Stuart Mill himself.  It has a privileged place in the credo of liberalism.

Significant corollaries follow from this line of reasoning. First, "absolute truth" becomes indefensible. All truth is relative. Second, individual autonomy (as opposed to accountability to any external authority) becomes the hallmark of genuine freedom. Third, tolerance finds a place as the cornerstone of virtue.  To describe the liberal's worldview another way, everyone is free to do his own thing and, why not, because truth varies from one person to the next.  One's sole responsibility is to tolerate perspectives different from one's own, providing them the same respect as you hope their adherents will provide to yours.

What hogwash! Yet this liberal nonsense still continues to infect, as the insidious virus it is, every institution in American life today. You may be wondering how an institution founds its life on a particular principle and then holds that very principle open for negotiation? Think about this for a moment, and I am sure the idiocy of the idea will begin to overwhelm you.

Let me throw out an example. Barack H. Obama, who supports the Freedom of Choice Act, and while a member of the Illinois Senate strongly opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, was invited to the University of Notre Dame, pictured above, as a commencement speaker. On this occasion he was also awarded an honorary doctorate of laws degree. The university, as we know, is a flagship Catholic institution, named after the Virgin Mary and dedicated, in part, to upholding the sanctity of innocent human life.  Does the university's invitation to Obama make any sense at all in light of the university's reasons for being?  Honoring Obama there on Graduation Day strikes me as appropriate as the Holocaust Memorial Museum bestowing posthumous honors upon Dr. Josef Mengele and inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to give a keynote address.  Contemplating this contradiction is staggeringly shocking!

Liberals do not understand that Notre Dame's gesture of amicability toward Obama cannot be described as simply the facilitation of dialogue between conflicting parties when the university is, or appears to be, holding open for negotiation one of its foundational purposes and reasons for being. Honoring Barack Obama constitutes an act that is quintessentially opposed to what it means to be the University of Notre Dame.

If I am correct in my thesis, then the university administration has made a dreadful mistake and should admit it.  But if I am mistaken, then the university, at the very least, is no longer entitled to describe itself as Roman Catholic and should refrain from doing so.

As a Protestant, I am painfully aware that large numbers of  colleges and universities with Protestant origins have traveled the road to secularism. My book, America Unraveling, chronicles this sad development.  Roman Catholic colleges and universities are now, it seems to me, following the same road to perdition.  Unless major directional changes are initiated, the University of Notre Dame will become a casualty to secularism.  In no time at all, the Catholic faithful will hardly recognize it. I hope that they will act now to take back their school!

I do not think that this courage is still available to the Protestant.  Right now, he has one of two typical choices.  He can become an evangelical or cast his lot with the mainliners.  In many evangelical congregations, one may worship for years and hear precious little about matters of culture.  The only question in such congregations is, "Have you been saved, Brother (or Sister)?"  However salvation is defined, being spared a "cultural hell" seems not to be part of the reward.  It is apparently too this-worldy.

In mainline Protestant communions, on the other hand, there is an almost complete congruence of the church with popular culture. Wherever you happen to be on the journey of life, you are welcome to participate in the life of a mainline church. It welcomes everyone, because it holds to nothing in particular. If you warm a seat in the pew long enough, you may even be asked to be an elder or a deacon.  All without changing in the least who you are!  An easy bargain.

Protestantism is an unholy embarrassment. It has no critical theology of culture. Either preachers condemn culture to hell while waiting for the Rapture, or they embrace the fruits of liberalism as if they were heaven itself.

What we need throughout Christendom is to think deeply about what faith is.  We need a notion of faith in Christ that is inseparable from the issues of culture.  Furthermore, we must find the courage to make clear to the world that our positions on pivotal issues, such as the sanctity of human life and the definition of marriage, are non-negotiable. They are not subject to dialogue and are worth fighting about.  Those who differ with us must go their own way, without us.  No other position is reasonable or makes sense.

September 2, 2009