A Book for Me and All Protestants to Read

The archbishop offers not just critique, but also positive proposals

“There is much more to this book. It is both profound and provocative. And, while unabashedly Roman Catholic, it is, to adapt a phrase from Henry VIII, a book for me and all Protestants to read.”

 

I recently had the privilege of recording an hour-long conversation with Archbishop Charles Chaput, reflecting on the current condition of America. It was a friendly Catholic-Protestant dialogue on matters as diverse as the theology of the body, pornography, and personhood. The touchstone for our discussion was the archbishop’s new book, Strangers in a Strange Land.

I am sure his book will enjoy a wide readership among orthodox Roman Catholics. I am just as confident that its unabashed Catholic orthodoxy will merit the usual criticism from those Catholic progressives who somehow manage to combine liberal Protestantism’s distaste for dogma with a newly-minted ultramontanism that would even make Cardinal Manning turn in his grave. But I believe it is a book that Protestants should read as well.

Archbishop Chaput is a key figure at this moment. He is a senior churchman who is resolute in his practical application of his Catholic faith. That resoluteness is vital for all who love freedom of religion—which depends in America on the Roman Catholic Church holding the line on key ethical positions. If Rome crumbles, we will all suffer the political consequences. We need to support those leading churchmen who are prepared to take the hard stands. (Though as the archbishop once said to me, it is never difficult to do the right thing, merely very exhausting.)

But Archbishop Chaput is also an engaged thinker and writer, with a gift for bringing his learning lightly to the page so that important and complicated topics are made clear and accessible. In this book, he offers both an analysis of how we have come to the cultural and political situation in which we now find ourselves, and hope for the future. Not hope of the naïve variety, which overestimates the outward strength of Christianity—but hope that sees in the Christian tradition the means for regrouping and rebuilding in the wake of the moral devastation we are witnessing.

There are too many strands to his argument to give a full account here, but it is clear that the archbishop sees the sexual revolution as central to our current situation. He is surely correct in this, and his identification of Wilhelm Reich as the key ideologue is important, as is his use of Augusto Del Noce, perhaps the most important modern philosopher whom Protestants have never heard of. Way back in 1970, before anyone was even talking about it, Del Noce predicted gay marriage as the point upon which religious freedom would founder. The archbishop also draws constructively on Alasdair Macintyre, emphasizing that our culture has lost any coherent basis upon which to debate and adjudicate matters of public policy.

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