Friday, March 23, 2007

Liberalism, Conservatism, and the Long-Forgotten Primacy of Truth

There was an article by Fr. Thomas J. Euteneur blasting Sean Hannity for legalistic rhetoric about Lenten abstinence from meat and for imprudence in declaring his views on contraception. (The article is available at:

Let me begin with saying that I agree with Fr. Euteneur in his reflection on the situation. Mr. Hannity has done exactly what so many other Catholics do in profusely apologizing for eating a chicken sandwich but disagreeing with major Church teachings. On one hand, people would like to live with a peppering of religiosity in their lives but seem to desire to live in their own relative moral spheres. The issue here, however, is not with Sean Hannity so much as it is with the primacy of Truth and how that should inform one’s worldview.

The primary motivator in our actions must be our worldview on the Truth and the necessities which are concomitant with that view. However, day-to-day life often weighs us down, making us limit ourselves to the “strictly practical matters.” In the world of community action, this means that our political affiliations often become our formative element. Without realizing it, we often slip into the boxes of “Liberal,” “Conservative,” “Moderate,” “Libertarian,” etc. Our worldview is therefore informed by our surroundings in the box into which we place ourselves. In many ways, such a lens onto the world can be great. However, these “ideologies” suffer from two major flaws. First and foremost, the definition of “liberal,” “conservative,” etc are constantly shifting and are truly relative terms, only making sense in comparison to each other and not on their own. More importantly, since none of these “ideologies” are full participants in the Truth, Truth transcends them. Indeed, that’s the true crux of the problem: Truth transcends all boundaries. For the Catholic, Truth requires both progress (the progress of salvation history…) and conservatism (the eternal love of God, the past events by which salvation progresses…). It is impossible to view the world through anything other than the dual lenses of Truth and Love, for they are a priori to all else; it is from them that all ideologies flow and is to them that all must proceed.

As for the argument from Fr. Euteneur to Sean Hannity, I must say that I am lukewarm. Sean’s problem is that he has allowed Reagan Conservatism, with all of its goods, become the formative principle of his show and many of his ideas. By using such a limited lens, he limits the scope of his vision and is therefore out of line with the Church. However, I think that those (including me) who object to Sean’s views should not open a lambaste against him but should use such a time a teaching opportunity. This is quite a superb time to teach on what it means to publicly call yourself a Catholic, what communion with the Church entails, and even talk about the contentious topics of chicken and contraception.

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