Editor's Space

Changes in America’s Values Have Shaken Society’s Soul

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, left, was the guest speaker at a forum on the presence of faith in contemporary society. Panelists included Rusty Reno, editor of First Things; Crux Editor John Allen; and Msgr. Kieran Harrington, president of DeSales Media Group. Held at the Sheen Center in Greenwich Village, the event was co-sponsored by DeSales Media. (Photo: Ed Wilkinson)

The Sheen Center is fast becoming the place where Catholic thought has a chance to disseminate itself into the wider culture.

Named for the famous bishop-preacher of the 1950s, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the center in Greenwich Village presents a full slate of films, art exhibits and talks that have Christian values at their core.

Last Monday evening, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput came to town to promote his new book, “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.”

The archbishop addressed a panel of prominent Catholics involved in the media, including DeSales Media’s president Msgr. Kieran Harrington. Others were noted Crux columnist John Allen, and Rusty Reno, editor of First Things. An audience of close to 300 people was present.

The archbishop’s basic premise is that we no longer live in a culture that is dominated by Judeo-Christian values. The abrupt shift to a secular world has caused “a deep dislocation in the American sense of stability, security, purpose and self.”

He pointed out that only seven years ago, 16 percent of the American population identified as atheist. Today, it’s 23 percent. That has deep political and legal consequences, he pointed out, because fundamental rights such as religious freedom “can’t be a major concern for people who have no religious faith.”

He felt that the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 represented more than just an administrative change. “A generational and cultural shift came to maturity in a very self-confident White House,” he said, as he pointed to the refusal to support the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court decision that struck down that same law, and the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” They all represented a drastic shift at how Americans view themselves and a culture that is so fractured that the pieces no longer fit together.

Americans are fixers, said the archbishop, who is the first Native American to be ordained a Catholic bishop. What is lacking, he said, is a weakness of faith and a lack of imagination. So what’s the remedy?

“The heart of the matter in every life, in every age, never changes,” he maintained. “It’s whether we’re willing to unplug from the world’s addictions and distractions, and actually live the Beatitudes, or at least try, instead of just revering them as beautiful ideals. We need to live what we claim to believe.”

In the discussion that followed, the panel talked about the current immigration crisis in the United States. Archbishop Chaput explained that the U.S. bishops have been asking for immigration reform for years, but they have failed to move the public and politicians. While acknowledging a nation’s right to protect itself, the country should also recognize that people have a right to migrate and that families need to be kept together, he said.

Rusty Reno added that he did not think it was inconsistent for a nation to welcome newcomers and at the same time regulate it according to law.

And so the exchange of ideas continued for a little over an hour. Catholics sharing viewpoints based on a faith perspective – just why The Sheen Center was established.

If you want to join the conversation, pick up the archbishop’s book and let us know what you think.

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