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President Obama Doesn’t Understand Catholic Tradition

As the world accelerates ever faster on the Autobahn of the Information Age, rapid change is enveloping the youth of the Western world. This is especially so in countries ravaged by the Great Recession, such as Ireland.

We can confront these technological transformations two different ways: We can abandon our religion for the brave new world of progressive unity, meekly supported by the gods of moral relativism and materialist growth; or we can renew the Christian tradition of protecting the dignity of every human being for the sake of justice and goodness through God. Catholic education promotes the latter.

Yet President Obama chose the former when he told 2,000 young people in Northern Ireland to create a progressive, secular peace devoid of Catholic and Protestant schools and buildings. The president:

If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestant have theirs—if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division.

Fraternity, Liberty and Equality! Boil society down to one nationality under the almighty state! Leave the religion, take the blessings! 

In his first mention of any type of religion in the speech, the president exhorted Northern Irish youth to set an example for those “in scattered corners of the world…living in the grip of conflict—ethnic conflict, religious conflict, tribal conflict…”

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that eliminating religious schooling, especially Catholic education, is one way to sow more division and destruction.

Yes, I realize that the president didn’t mean to say that he wants to see all Catholic churches burned down a la the riots of the Know Nothing Party. But why only mention religion negatively? Even when he speaks of our founding, he omits the Puritanism of the Pilgrims.

Granted, Northern Ireland faces the unique problem of recovering from both recession and a socio-cultural division disguised as a religious conflict. Yet Catholicism and Protestantism are deeply rooted in its society; as such, the churches and schools need to help solve problems, rather than simply disappear.

Vague abstractions of “tolerance,” “diversity,” “knowledge,” “economic growth,” and “progress” will not construct the society that President Obama wishes to see: one where order and stability secure peace through the rule of law.  

Catholic education can help lead to a society of flowering, peaceful individuals cognizant of the dignity of every citizen. It is irresponsible of the president to blame political violence on Christianity itself.

These issues run deeper than just religious systems. They arose centuries ago as a result of political treaties, imperialist invasions, and cross-cultural differences. Does our president want the youth to uproot their centuries-old institutions?

What type of country would that leave? One in which the youth of Northern Ireland battle for political power? Or one in which the state pervades every part of society? Which does he prefer?

Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, explained the essential role of Catholic education in every nation at Glasgow University on June 10th. He acknowledged that the world is quickly changing, and that

[y]oung people are growing up in a world marked by moral relativism, individualism, utilitarianism, and a lack of interest in the fundamental truths of human life. The Church is almost alone, it seems, in being prepared to assert the dignity the human as bearing the image of God…

President Obama offers “progress,” supposedly in the name of peace, as a goal to supplant the division of “Catholics [having] their own schools and buildings, and Protestants [having] theirs…” According to this ideal, if Sinn Fein agrees to invest in nanotechnology and health care, while the Democratic Unionist Party concedes to hugging their fellow man without mentioning Christ, all will be well in Northern Ireland. 

The Good Friday Agreement will finally fulfill its mention, and the annual riots in Belfast will end. That was easy!

Unfortunately, it is never so simple. As my friend Matt Purple said to me, we humans, especially men, always find something to fight over whether it is land, power, or our best friend’s wife. 

The Church teaches us to recognize the inherent value in every person. Perhaps it has failed thus far in Northern Ireland, but that is no reason to wholeheartedly reject its presence in society. It is reason to encourage its prudent ethical participation.

Alas, our president has once again irresponsibly advocated for “leaning forward” in a nation that desperately needs a renewed tradition of revered respect for nation and church. Catholic education provides just that.

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