The Presidential Election of 2016 unveiled the growing divide of American culture. We are the most divided we have been since the Civil War. Lincoln saw the problem then and gave his famous House Divided Speech in 1858: “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.” Lincoln knew that the Union could not continue to be half slave and half free, because the two sides no longer shared a common vision for the good of the nation and could no longer work together. “In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.” Lincoln was right. War ensued.

Frédéric le Play, a 19th century French sociologist, noted that the formation of diametrically opposed groups leads to disintegration of society: “Formidable vice that heralds the fall of empires is the antagonism that divides our society into different enemy camps. . . . This antagonism rages both in private and public life. It has developed to the point where persons attached to the same enterprises in industry and commerce believe themselves to have diametrically opposed interests, while others, who might be in a position to devote themselves to the common good, refuse to cooperate, even unofficially, with a government that lacks their sympathy (“Social Reform in France,” in Christopher Blum, Critics of the Enlightenment, 198-99). With such an ideological divide, people see other countrymen and their own government as an enemy.

A perfect example of what Le Play describes can be found in the Spanish Civil War. The Republicans embraced a socialist vision of society with no room for Catholicism, leading (even before the War) to the destruction of churches and countless martyrdoms. Neither side could countenance rule by the other. After Republican rule in the early 1930s, the conservative CEDA coalition came to power in the mid 1930s with a violent reaction in many parts of the country, followed by a return to Republican rule in 1936. So devastating was this election to conservatives that they staged a military coup, with limited success, but which led to three years of gruesome conflict. The conservative Nationalists under Franco won only by resorting to inhumane violence and the purging of opponents.

Politics must avoid these stark divisions at all costs.

St. Thomas Aquinas, writing on kingship, argued that governments are “directed towards securing . . . welfare.” He then defines this welfare and security as the “preservation of its unity, which is called peace” (De Regno, 17). Although he writes that one ruler can bring about unity better that many, we can at least affirm today that there must be a common principle of unity drawing people together. Where there is no unity within the ruling group, cities are torn apart by dissension. A good king causes a city to “enjoy peace, flourish in justice, and delight in prosperity.” Aristotle agrees on the necessity of unity, stating that “the best community is as unified as possible (Politics II chapter 3, 1262a1).

Aquinas describes the need for agreement further:

Furthermore, it is evident that several persons could by no means preserve the stability of the community if they totally disagreed. For union is necessary among them if they are to rule at all: several men, for instance, could not pull a ship in one direction unless joined together in some fashion. Now several are said to be united according as they come closer to being one (De Regno, 18).

Although America was not founded on religious unity, but precisely as a way of preserving unity for those divided by religious confession, it nonetheless could draw upon a common Christian and moral vision to preserve cooperation and peace. The necessity of this religious and moral foundation for society was advocated by Washington and Adams, among others. It is clear now that we have lost such a foundation and are falling into ideological camps.

Peter Beinart rightly, I believe, pointed out that the rapid secularization of America (with the rise of the nones) has not helped, but exacerbated the divide of our country. In an article, Breaking Faith, he points out:

 

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

The Alt-right and Black Lives Matters are examples of secular extremism on both sides.
Christopher Dawson recognizes that the deepest unity for society comes from a common religious vision and therefore says we must do everything we can to instill a spiritual vision into society to overcome the dominance of the technological control of the Mass State (see Understanding Europe, 244). We have our work cut off for us, but it is necessary that we reevangelize society to preserve its life and unity. Dawson quotes Proverbs 29:18: “Without a vision, the people perish.” If we don’t supply this vision, who will? It is not a vision of one side that must triumph over the other, but a vision of God’s love, which is good for all. It is a vision that requires sacrifice and service for the good of all, including our enemies. If we don’t spread this vision, our house will grow more divided until it can no longer stand.

04 03 2017
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  • DougP1

    I don't know Dawson, but I do know of the many religious wars of history. It's clear that EACH of those combatants was sure its own vision of the matter was "unified". But after the Thirty Years War e.g. Europe was devastated, and still divided into Catholic and Protestant kingdoms.
    Jesus had an idea about government that hasn't been tried since Eden: Mt 6:9,10. When that prayer is answered, what other governments will be "unified" with his, do you think?

    • Justin Wahl

      You should research the Catholic idea of Just War Theory. In a war there is always at least one side which is fighting unjustly, but in almost every example of a war that we have in history, both sides are at least somewhat unjustified in the war, either in having entered the war in the first place, or sometimes (as in the case of WWII), in the manner with which they conduct the war once they have entered it.

      • DougP1

        I did research it: "But after the Thirty Years War e.g. Europe was devastated, and still divided into Catholic and Protestant kingdoms." It would have been worth your life to say to either Gustavus Adolphus or Richelieu that they lacked God's approval, even though the motives throughout were political.
        In our day military chaplains on both sides of the Wars exhorted their charges to kill the "enemy" - their coreligionists.
        I cited eight scriptures on the subject in a reply to Elijah, elsewhere. If the Bible truly is 'the book we Catholics gave the world' then they should be "the Catholic idea" as well.
        BTW your reply has bad things to say about war, without citing any "just" ones. I have one for you: Rev 16:16.

      • Justin Wahl

        I think there is a danger of understanding war from the perspective of Sola Scriptura, which is sometimes at risk of being Catholic Tradition. Many of the Popes of the 20th Century have professed the idea that war should generally be avoided if at all possible.

        According to Just War Theory, a war can be waged if it meets Jus ad Bellum conditions, including that it is for a just cause, it is called by a competent authority, it is a last resort (meaning all attempts at peaceful negotiation are exhausted), and there is a probability of success. The war becomes unjust if it does not meet conditions Jus in Bello, which include: the complete avoidance of killing civilians or non-combatants, that all damage done is proportional and does not exceed the evil being fought, and that no strategies which are universally evil (biological weapons, unfair treatment of prisoners) are employed. I mentioned earlier World War II. According to this Theory, it was a Just War at its inception, because it met the Jus ad Bellum conditions, however the Allies killed many civilians using bombs, both across Europe, and obviously in Japan. Also, soldiers can assume rational judgment by their superiors for all conditions except that they must not kill innocent lives.

        I'm not familiar with the Thirty Years War,but "Giving your life to prove they lacked God's approval", especially if you were the attacker, might not imply that it is a just war.

      • DougP1

        Justin, I'll reply to the part of your posts that are to the point, which is that wars kill people.
        We were created by the Creator, God. IF there is anything to be said to Christians about un-creating (killing) us, he should say it. If we're godly people, we should listen. Some of what he has to say is in another post here, as I said. Please look it up. I'll be interested in what you feel about it.
        My rule, which I recommend to you, is don't let anyone tell you about religion unless you check them against the Bible.

      • Justin Wahl

        Sorry, I meant to say Sola Scriptura is at risk of being opposed to Catholic Tradition. Sola Scriptura is predominantly a Protestant view of biblical interpretation.

    • Elijah

      I don't know that it was your intent, but this sounds like relativism. Both sides of the religious wars had individuals who were convinced of the rightness of their cause. Both sides had individuals who cared not for right nor wrong. But there is a such thing as the truth. In other words, one side contained individuals who were sincerely wrong.

      • DougP1

        I would make one modification to your last sentence: "AT LEAST one side ... who were wrong".
        We've had two "world wars" in the last hundred years. Both involved almost all the nations of Christendom. Both had, therefore, Catholics killing Catholics, Lutherans killing Lutherans, Jews killing Jews, and on and on. Can any reasonable person think that either side in either war was "right"?
        Scripture gives us insight into God's thinking. Isa 53 shows how Jesus responded to death threats. His "new commandment" to his followers is at John 13:34,35 - 'to love others as I have loved you', at which he went out and died for them (us). He did not go out and kill for them. Paul, who got his Christian training later, said, "Never pay back evil with evil ... master evil with good." Rom 12:17-21
        Finally, let's remember that we did not create ourselves, Yahweh did. Gen 1; Ps 100:3; Rev 4:11. Only he has the right to declare war, and he has done that - to be carried out in his own good time, with finality and without "collateral damage". Rev 16:16; Mt 24:40,41
        In the meantime, not 'at least one side', but NO side in any other war will be right.

      • Justin Wahl

        Also, I'd be surprised if many Jews were fighting for the Nazis...

  • Pikematrick

    Dr. Staudt, I believe you have rightly described the current state of affairs in our nation . As disorder begets disorder slavery was the focal disorder during Lincoln's time. Today abortion has taken the mantel as the BIG disorder. From the discarding of frozen human embryos to the use of contraception to the heinous dismemberment of in utero babies this disorder begets the division in our country. As long as it is lawful to murder the most innocent we will slide to ruin. This disordered belief that tears our country in half will eventually destroy us as a nation. We cannot stand!! I sometimes imagined a great conference on the dividing issues of our country where debate and open dialog is broadcast so everyone could see the truth expressed. Dream on right?

    • DougP1

      Pikematrick, we know from both scripture and science that an embryo is a complete human, even though its completeness isn't visible to the naked eye. But my own research has shown me that a sperm cell or an egg cell is not, on its own, capable of humanity, so I'm puzzled by your inclusion of contraception in the 'abortion question'.
      Do you have scriptural or scientific evidence to offer to the contrary?

      • Pikematrick

        DougP1, Disorder begets disorder as contraception leads to abortion.Human beings who have the contraceptive mentality mostly have the abortion mentality. Why? Because if my contraception fails or i fail to use it i know abortion is the next contraceptive act. Additionally, when society believes it can abuse Gods creative power that society historically is doomed. Case in point look to all the western European counties whose birth rate has mathematically positioned those cultures to extinction. So I included contraception for its role in developing the abortion mentality not to mention the abortifacient effect.

      • Justin Wahl

        Contraception is not considered evil because it leads to abortion. It is considered evil even if committed by someone who would never have an abortion. For a full understanding of why this is, one would need a comprehensive understanding of the Theology of the Body. But essentially, sex is considered sacred for us because the giving of selves to each other is a direct representation and analogy for the Love of God, and contraception undermines this.

      • DougP1

        Your point that failed contraception leads to abortion is held by some, but not others. It's a conjecture, not a fact. Many of those whose research has taught them that the one is not the other will use the one but never consider the other. Science and scripture are in line with this thinking, as I noted. I assumed you had found harder evidence for conflating the two.
        To me, "abortifacient" means making or doing an abortion. Some forms of contraception, notably the IUD, do abort a fertilized egg, i.e. a fetus. Therefore such methods would be avoided by a Christian. This doesn't explain the Church's long and ardent opposition to condoms and diaphragms. It's not scientific or scriptural.
        I agree that "society believes it can abuse Gods creative power" as evidenced by the continued existence of war. Do you see what the Our Father prayer might have to do with that, and the OP?

      • Pikematrick

        The use of contraception and for that matter abortion have been condemned by the church since the beginning. Each marital act should be open to life to fulfill our obligation as cooperators with God in the continual act of creation.Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition have plenty to say about our call to be fruitful and multiply. However most nominal Christians believe that following and trusting God on this matter is too hard. I guess it all depends on how much you know, love and want to serve God. if you only read contemporary English translations of the bible you are not learning the fullness of truth. One needs to look into the Catechism of the Catholic Church to get a better understanding. Questions about contraception, homosexuality, fornication as well as many other secular goodies can be answered to any reasonable persons satisfaction.

      • DougP1

        "Each marital act should be open to life to fulfill our obligation as cooperators with God in the continual act of creation." There's no doubt that we humans reproduce sexually, and that is part of how God made us. The Church has carried that to unscriptural extremes.
        It fosters "celibate marriage", a direct contravention of Yahweh's origination of the marriage state. (See Francis' recent proposal to allow married men to take orders.) Your Jerome, in "Against Helvidius", "maintains ... three propositions: ... 3d. That virginity is better [holier] than the married state." (CathEn). As you yourself noted, "sacred scripture" addresses our duty to multiply our kind - Yahweh's command is at Gen 1:28. Jerome and Francis ignored it.
        And we learned recently that the Irish Church has had its own idea of what to do with the results of "open to life" copulation when done out of wedlock.
        Your Church's words might have more force if backed by deeds.

      • Elijah

        'Your Church's words might have more force if backed by deeds.'
        The sins of some are irrelevant to the question of whether or not the teaching is true.
        Contraception frustrates one of the two purposes for which God designed the marital embrace.

      • Pikematrick

        Celibate marriage? If you mean we don't believe in bigamy you would be right. And yes giving yourself to religious life is a higher calling from a self-sacrificing stand point. This however does not mean that the sacrament of Holy Matrimony is not revered as a vocation. Francis is not calling for a universal change but an exception in remote precincts. The Blessed Virgin Mary understood the great gift of virginity and offered hers to God. If you don't understand "die to oneself" you should catch up on Jesus' words concerning such. Finally, there is no such thing as the Irish church. The catholic church in Ireland is expected to obey the Magisterium and defined dogma of the church. If you believe that there are people inside and outside the church that have tried to destroy it you would be correct. Notice however that no one has succeeded in 2000 years! Why? Because she is a divine institution albeit run by fallen human beings. Your johnny-come-lately outfit (guessing Jehovah Witness) has lost its way. Come home to Rome! Remember, the Truth will set you free,

      • DougP1

        Your view of the Irish Church is contrary to facts. There have been many articles recently about its handling of unwed mothers and the abominable but profitable workhouses provided for them. "Irish"; at least the Pope is disclaiming knowledge of them.
        Francis is addressing the worldwide shortage of priests, as evidenced by an article in The Irish Catholic newspaper of April 6th. The same article recounts the Papal Legate's problems with the Irish government AND the local hierarchy.
        Optional celibacy is treated by, among others, Paul at 1 Cor 7. The celibate priesthood of the RCC is borrowed from pagan religions and is not a Bible teaching. Celibate MARRIAGE is not scriptural or sensible, yet it has been part of church teachings over the centuries.
        You'll find confirmation of these things in the very interesting CathEn article on Pope St Gregory VII. One of his reforms dealt with "married clergy", who 'appealed to 1 Cor 7:2,9; 1 Tim 3:2 and Mt 19:11.' Married, not cohabiting; CathEn writers knew the difference. To thr Church, Pope trumps scripture, as Magisterium always does. Myself, I prefer to consult the master, not the servant. CCC#86.

  • Elijah

    Aquinas's point that one ruler can bring unity better than many deserves more than an aside. Modern democracies arose in Europe directly because of the lack of a unified religious vision. The cherished values in their constitutions reflect that disunity and perpetuate it.