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Cardinal George is Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago and is a native Chicagoan.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Chicago Values, Revisited: it’s not about chicken!

Responses to my reflections last week on “Chicago values” fell into two camps.  There were almost universal plaudits for recognizing that the government should be concerned about actions and not about thoughts and values.  The media, of course, are in this camp, because they are concerned about the free speech that is at the heart of their profession.

More complicated, on the other hand, was the reaction to the “value” that was the case in point: same-sex “marriage.”  Some who are comfortably in the first camp deserted the field of argument on gay marriage.  An argument is always made in a context that determines what can be considered sensible, and it seems to me that some of us are arguing out of different contexts. 

There are three contexts for discussing “gay marriage”: 1) the arena of individual rights and their protection in civil law, 2) the field of activities defined by nature and its laws, and 3) the realm of faith as a response to God’s self-revelation in history.  Unfortunately, when the only permissible context for discussing public values is that of individual rights protected by civil law, then it is the government alone that determines how it is acceptable to act.  Every public actor (including faith communities) then becomes the government’s agent.  This is a formula for tyranny.

We can see how appeals to pluralism and toleration gradually become tyrannical in the development of how we are now expected to regard the killing of unborn children.  When the individual civil right to abort a living child was discovered in the Constitution, its justification began as a “necessary evil” for the sake of a woman’s health; it was then applauded in nobler terms as a positive symbol of a woman’s freedom; it is now part of the value system of our society and everyone must be involved in paying for it, either through taxes or insurance.  It is mainstream medicine and settled social policy.  Its opponents are relegated to a quirky fringe, outside of the American consensus not only on what it is legal to do but also on what it is good to support.  When the government, the media and the entertainment industries agree to agree on how to use words and shape the argument, society itself is deliberately transformed in ways that bring academics, judges, legislators, lawyers, law enforcement officers, newspaper editors, actors, psychiatrists, doctors and every other public professional into public agreement, all portraying themselves as original thinkers.  Anyone opposed to the new consensus, no matter the reason, is dismissed as a throwback to an earlier age, to be tolerated, perhaps, but removed from public life and, eventually, punished.  It’s a very old story.

Getting people to think outside the context of “civil rights” is difficult.  It’s as if Americans were forbidden to think beyond politics.  What is singularly peculiar about the “gay marriage” argument is the way its proponents dismiss the field of nature itself as in any way normative for human actions.  We would think it odd if the government, in order to please those who desire to fly without an airplane, were to repeal the law of gravity.  If nature gets in the way of a new civil right to “gay marriage,” however, that’s too bad for nature.  This strikes me as bizarre. 

Entering into the context of faith, the believer looks to how God has intervened in history through the calling of the Jewish people to a particular vocation, through inspiring the Hebrew prophets, by the incarnation of the eternal Son of God in Jesus of Nazareth, and the founding of the Church that speaks in Jesus’ name until he returns in glory.  The God who created order in nature also reveals his plan for us in history; and the religious teaching on the nature of marriage is eminently clear.  Those who dismiss any religiously based argument as simply private and therefore not publicly normative are at least consistent with the secularism that makes protection of individual “civil rights” entirely determinative of public life. 

What is puzzling is the case of those who, while claiming to be believers, ignore the history of salvation and reduce God to a cosmic wimp who smiles and blesses whatever comes down the track, as if God were without intelligence or the ability to discern right from wrong.  Jesus is certainly “inclusive” as the savior of the whole world who invites all to follow him.  But Jesus calls us to convert to his ways, which are not ours.  Among the sayings of Jesus, there are about as many that start “Woe to you…” as there are those that begin “Blessed are they…”  A Jesus reduced to our wishful thinking is useless.

What remains a Gospel imperative, of course, is a respectful and loving concern for those who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, including them in the community of faith and accompanying them in their quest for holiness of life.  The Archdiocese attempts this response, in part, through AGLO and Courage groups. 

Thanks to all who responded to last week’s blog; apologies to anyone who feels unfairly judged.  I’ve tried to keep it at the level of ideas and social trends that seem to me to be dangerous to us all, Chicagoans or others.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago

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Saturday, August 18, 2012 8:52 PM

His Eminence Rocks!
Thank-you Cardinal George for your lucid rejection of the Chicago City Council's actions against Dan Cathy.

Katherine M.

Thursday, August 16, 2012 5:15 PM

Thank you, your Eminence. Both your articles on "Chicago values" are excellent and worthy of the widest distribution.

(And also thank you for a hearty laugh :))

Jan K.

Monday, August 13, 2012 5:32 PM

I believe in the universal catholic church ..its teachings and the love to committ as a follower of Christ. It has never been easy to adapt to the changes in faith and morals but my prayers and strong practices have helped me to survive and believe in the messages that the princes of the church proclaim to the faithful..

John A.

Friday, August 10, 2012 9:58 PM

Beautiful and well said. There is such thing as truth and natural law. Marriage will always be between one man and one woman. Maybe its true what you said some years ago, I may die in my bed but the one who comes after me may die in prison. Manne Nobiscum Domine, because without you, we are lost.

Jerry C.

Thursday, August 09, 2012 9:30 PM

Hey Tom, I really appreciate your post. It is honest. You obviuosly aren't ashamed to admit that it can sometimes be a struggle to negotiate "popular values and idealogy" with the values and stances the church takes. Makes me proud to hear this from another believer and it is assuring as I believe with all the information out there that it can be tricky to wade through it all and still find yourself being true to your convictions and the teachings of whatever faith background you may belong.
Like you, I am also grateful that certain bishops are willing to stand up and lead us by presenting the views we hold in common as believers. Two bishops stand out for me: Cardinal George of Chicago and Cardinal Dolan of New York. So extremely grateful to them and praying for them that they may continue in their Ministry.

timothy c.

Thursday, August 09, 2012 3:21 PM

Excellent! Thank you for speaking out the truth.

Judy M.

Thursday, August 09, 2012 9:01 AM

Thank you Cardinal, for bringing clarity of thought to a catholic who struggles to negotiate the opposing value systems of popular US culture vs. traditional christian teaching. Very often, society makes me feel like I'm some kind of an ogre because I make the decision to align my value system with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Having strong leadership to stand up for us and eloquently present our position to the masses brings me a great deal of comfort and reassurance that we are on the right path.

Tom k.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012 4:28 PM

Outgoing, lucid, collegial, statement by our Cardinal. Well, Prof Dennis H, there may be many ways of looking at marriage, but only one can be correct, and I'll put my money on the two millennia old Church established by Christ Himself "whilst he lived and was personally present here on earth,"--courtesy of St Thomas More--, rather than the relativistic rantings of a local prof. Thank you, Cardinal George, for once again reminding us of the intellectual underpinnings of our faith, of the intrinsic complementarity of faith and reason, as spelled out so beautifully by St.Dominic and St Thomas Aquinas. When all is said and done, being a faithful Catholic is about as reasonable an act in which a human person can engage.

James M.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012 2:29 PM

Always welcome the person; not necessarily the person's behavior.
As St. Paul said: "For all have sinned and fallen short...". I have a place in that line. So does everyone else.

karen e.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012 10:44 AM

Nice to see. I'll pass this on to believers and non-believers alike.

Daena H.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012 10:20 AM

Father George, you are an eloquent leader, a great teacher, and very appreciated.

Richard M.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 3:22 PM

Your Eminence, thank you for this edifying article! I'm sharing with many.

Tessa K.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 3:14 PM

Your Eminence, thank you for this edifying article! I'm sharing with many.

Tessa K.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 2:34 PM

Your Eminence,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts in a 'kind' manner. As a minister and teacher myself, I appreciate that you choose 'building up words' instead of 'words that tear down'. It is a call to heal and a call to challenge ourselves and our beliefs, before judging someone else. However, how do we overcome the media and individualize ourselves again? It is if the media suggests that we are all one in it rather than one in the Lord. I believe through education, faith, prayer and unity in and of our faith, we can become able to think and feel for ourselves.

Jennifer S.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 1:16 PM

Your Eminence:

Thank you again for more clarity.

It seems that opponents to your words are more interested in denying a grounds for argument than meeting it where it stands.

This speaks for itself, I think.

Keeping them, and you, in my prayers.

God Bless!

Vanessa L.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 11:15 AM

Very well put. Jesus is not to be reduced. Thank you for words, Your Eminence. I am a Chicago resident for over 45 years now and the values as you described are those in the same that I hold.

Jerry O.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 11:03 AM

If people realized that God loves each of us enough that He wants to divinize us - to transform our hearts and minds to manifest His mercy - they might listen to the Church which Christ founded for that purpose.

David N.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 10:29 AM

I appreciate you taking a stand Cardinal! I am thrilled.

God Bless,
Julie Puhr

julie p.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 10:12 AM

Concise position, brilliant and reassuring. Thanks, Cardinal George!

Mark M.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012 1:14 AM

Well Put !

Michael K.

Monday, August 06, 2012 10:41 PM

Cardinal Father George,
Just got done reading your "chicago values:revisited" update. I'm going to kinda react to parts of it and also maybe elaborate some with my own ideas.
"The govnt should be concerned about actions of people and not the thoughts and values." I tend to agree with this. I think it is already apparent to any educated reader what the inherent dangers are when a gov't starts to veer to far into the realm of dictating, influencing, or controlling the thoughts and values of a given populace. Hitler germany comes to mind here but most gov'ts are guilty of doing this same thing to any native or aboriginal population that existed long prior to the establisment of current gov't. The manifest destiny comes to mind here also.
At this point Father George, you note how there are those that agree to the above premise that gov't should be concerned with actions and not thoughts and values. Many who back this premise generally seem to desert this when it comes to gay marriage. With gay marriage, its supporters would see the gov't impose and get involved with the thoughts and values of the people. This can be seen most clearly with the response of mayors of boston and chicago and 1st ward alderman here in chicago as they are presumably speaking from a position of elected gov't official espousing what the ideas and values of the people are.
Father George's piece then moves to distinguish 3 contexts for discussing gay marriage. Seems he noticed something on the previous blog that perhaps people were making their points to each other but from different contexts therefore making useful dialogue possible. The 3 contexts are: 1) individual rights and civil law 2) nature and its laws. 3) realm of faith. I think the Cardinal's main point here is that when the conversation relies almost soley on individual rights and civil law then the result of this is that gov't becomes the sole determiner. In a brilliant way the next paragraph the cardinal uses abortion and kinda chronicles how abortion rights played out. The other two contexts 1)nature and its laws and 2) the realm of faith get left out of the process and gov't, media, and entertainment becomes the administrators of thoughts and values for the people. "What is singularly peculiar about "gay marriage" arguments is the way its proponents dismiss nature itself as in any way normative for human action. Great point Cardinal.
"Among the sayings of Jesus there are about as many that start "woe to you..." as there are those that begin Blessed are they". Love the fact that you included this insight Father as I often here people do that with Jesus. I have come to find through the gospels and prayer that Jesus was an instructor...a teacher. He was here such a short time and his public ministry even shorter that he didn't walk around from village to village town to town to just accept everybody as is and love them and leave it at that. No even as he was here there were doubters and Jesus time and time again can be found in the gospels admonishing, correcting, or teaching his apostles, disciples, jew or gentile. And this still applies! We as people are still every bit as fickle as people were then. 1 minute for and with him. The next against and serving ultimately nobody but ourselves. Nothing more tragic than a missed opportuinity for a faith filled moment than finding a "Jesus reduced to wishful thinking." And I can think of no quicker way to get to this point than by putting all the emphasis in the civil rights and civil law context while completely ignoring nature and its laws and the realm of faith.

timothy c.

Monday, August 06, 2012 7:44 PM

Cardinal George:
I agree with you that God is not a "cosmic wimp" having no ability to discern right from wrong. But in a human society like the USA, wherein there is a constitutionally-defined separation of church and state, isn't it a bit presumptuous of you, or any other person, to claim to be able to KNOW what God thinks? Please, Catholicism is not the only religion here in the USA.
Lots of this nonsense about Chick-Fil-A
is just that, i.e, nonsense, particularly when viewed from the standpoint of this nation's Bill of Rights. So we agree again. I would invite you to recall, however, the words engraved on the wall of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC regarding "the regimen of their barbarous ancestors". (Google the
quote if you don't know it.) Marriage does not mean the same thing to all people - in all settings, in all cultures, in all age ranges, in all religions. This is a fact of life.... well worth pondering quite apart from any 'fitting of parts' issues.

Prof. Dennis H.

Monday, August 06, 2012 5:03 PM

Thanks for your leadership on this issue.

Jack B.

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