“He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” I Timothy 6:4-7
There are a lot of things that you can draw from this, but let me take a shot at a couple.
First some background.
The controversy is that the invitation was from Notre Dame – a private Catholic institution. So, the thought goes, the University should pick commencement speakers that reflect the position of the Catholic church. Because President Obama does not support the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and stem cell research, many including South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy have said that they won’t attend.
The curious thing is that President Obama is not the first pro-choice commencement speaker at Notre Dame. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Pierre Trudeau are just a few who have been invited to speak to Notre Dame graduating classes. I wonder if Bishop D’Arcy skipped those too.
It’s also interesting that 54% of Catholics across the country voted for Obama in the most recent election going against the advise of many of their Bishops. The Democrat Obama carried Indiana for the first time in forty years. He also carried St Joseph’s county were Notre Dame is located.
So what’s going on?
One thing for certain is that Catholics as a group appear to have a larger political agenda than just abortion. They may be influenced by the president’s commitment to extending health insurance to children, rectifying imbalances in a tax code neglectful of the working man, and persuading Congress to allocate abundant resources for educational reform. These all coincide strongly with church teaching. The president and the Catholic Church are also both on the same side in their early opposition to the Iraq war, exploitation of immigrants, and global warming.
What else may be going on?
Notre Dame has roots in the Catholic Church, but it is a private institution in the greatest traditions of any University in the country. That means that they embrace diversity and encourage dialog. It was not an accident that they invited Obama or an accident that he accepted. They knew it would cause the controversy that it has, and they welcome it. That’s because it sends the message that issues like abortion SHOULD be discussed if we ever hope to resolve them.
Finally, I think that we are starting to see the seeds of the end of the culture wars. Some have gone as far as to predict the impending collapse of the evangelical movement. The reason is that that people are tired of the politics of division and demonization. They are moving to the center and increasingly rejecting the strident rhetoric of both sides.
If this comes to pass, the polarized positions and the groups that support them will be increasingly regarded as damaging the larger common good. Radicalism will give way to conformity. The old battle lines will disappear and just like the fifties, public policy will reflect our new shared vision of social order rather than an attempt to impose a particular morality. Our kids will resolve the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate and wonder why we all wasted so much time and effort on it and ignored so many other more important topics.