What is the Whole Life Movement?

At its core, the whole life movement is dedicated to protecting the life and dignity of all people. It is rooted in a belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Each human being is a person with innate and equal value, and human life is sacred. From these premises comes the belief that it is never permissible to intentionally and directly take an innocent life. But the wanton disregard for life present in unjust social structures and the dehumanization of others in ways short of direct killing are also incompatible with the whole life commitment to human life and dignity. Indirect threats to life, such as the absence of access to healthcare or food, are also fundamentally incompatible with the vision of government and society the whole life movement aims to achieve: the common good. Protecting the life of all people is intimately connected to creating conditions that reflect the dignity of every single person, conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential.

The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life. Read More

A Radical Catholic Reviews Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis

The 2016 US Presidential campaign has included a semantic battle over the proper terminology to use when discussing members of ISIS and other violent extremists who share their totalitarian aspirations. Some Republican candidates believe the best term is “Radical Islam.” This terminology is problematic for a variety of reasons, but particularly because of its lack of clarity and the incorrect insinuation that being radical requires violence and brutality. It does not. The recent book Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis demonstrates this perfectly.

This aversion to the term ‘radical’ among candidates like Ted Cruz is not surprising. Many of these candidates embrace a watered-down, bourgeois form of Christianity that pales in comparison to authentic devotion to the way of Christ. Christianity calls for a countercultural presence. Those who are immersed in (and inseparable from) the mainstream culture are unlikely to embrace the radicalism of Christianity. And this may explain why they view radicalism so negatively.

Radically Catholic in the Age of Francis features essays from Catholics on both the left and the right. The diagnosis of problems facing contemporary American culture is the strongest feature of the book. Those who believe in Catholic social teaching cannot help but be disturbed by the flaws in our economic system, the dysfunction in American politics, and the poisonous discourse that makes achieving the common good even more difficult. And serious Catholics are also aware that the Catholic vision is not entirely compatible with the American project (or, more specifically, the classical liberalism that many see as the philosophy that shapes American values).

The ideas about how we might build stronger communities and live more fulfilling, joyful personal lives are also very valuable. And some of the authors are correct to note that the politicization of everything can act as an obstacle to such betterment and that genuine reform must begin on the personal level. A number of the essays provide avenues for living counterculturally without embracing a culture war mindset. Read More

Millennials of the Year 2015: The White Helmets of Syria

The brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad has gassed, starved, tortured, and slaughtered the Syrian people. And the international community’s response has been shamefully inadequate. But there are some people who have displayed courage and character in the face of these mass atrocities. Our 2015 Millennials of the Year are the millennial volunteers of the Syrian Civil Defense, the White Helmets.

Not all of the White Helmets are millennials, but a large number are young people who risk life and limb to pull people from the rubble of their homes, marketplaces, schools, and more. If Assad, ISIS, and other vicious mass murderers show the depths of the human capacity for evil, the White Helmets show the human person’s extraordinary capacity for good.

In a place where dictators fan the flames of sectarianism to keep their grip on power and terrorists kill in the name of a vile sectarian agenda, the White Helmets reject sectarianism entirely and pledge to save the lives of everyone they encounter, regardless of their background or creed. In a climate where the degradation and dehumanization of the person is constant, they show the power of solidarity and a commitment to the dignity of each person.

They have saved over 40,000 lives. The impact reverberates far beyond these lives, however. The mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends, and colleagues of those who have been saved will be eternally grateful for their heroism. The loss of each of these lives would have ripped irreparable holes in the lives of these families and communities. Far too many Syrians have already experienced this loss and devastation. But the White Helmets have saved many from heartbreak.

They are teachers, students, carpenters, construction workers, bakers, and more. They are men and women. They are volunteers. They are rescuers. They are heroes. For their devotion to human dignity and the common good, they are our 2015 Millennials of the Year.


Pope Francis’ War on Christmas

Christmas is a charade? These aren’t exactly words you would expect from a Christian during the holiday season, much less the pope. But that’s exactly what the troublemaker Pope Francis said recently:

“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, lighted Christmas trees and manger scenes… it’s all a charade.”

Why is the leader of the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics shaming Christmas?

“The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path. There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” Francis said. “We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it.”

“God weeps; Jesus weeps.”

These are strong words from the Bishop of Rome. Is it perhaps Francis—and not Starbucks—who is launching a war on Christmas this holiday season? If this is the Norman Rockwell Christmas, a bourgeois celebration that’s accented by turkey, gifts, and comfort, the answer is a resounding yes.

The message is clear: a Christmas that idolizes prosperity and ignores suffering is no Christmas at all. Francis believes that Christmas is less about preaching tidings of comfort and enjoyment, and more about encountering and walking with those who are afflicted by discomfort and pain. For Francis, war-torn Mosul, impoverished Bangui, and struggling Juarez are the cultural centers of Christmas much more than New York, London, or even Rome. Read More

The Francis Effect: John Gehring on a Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church

The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church is an outstanding new book by John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. The book provides an excellent overview of the key moments, debates, and consequences of Francis’ papacy, rooted in Gehring’s strong analysis and unfolding in an interesting and persuasive narrative. I highly recommend the book for everyone from those who read Francis’ daily homilies or Millennial every day to your favorite Catholic CEOs who head to the pews twice a year (Christmas and Easter Only) to non-Catholics who are fascinated by Pope Francis and interested in learning more about his papacy. It is rich in detail, but tightly written, which allows it provide great clarity and accessibility without oversimplifying. It serves as a great introduction for those who have not followed his papacy closely and a valuable resource for those who have.

The following is an interview with John Gehring on the book and Pope Francis’ papacy:

What makes Pope Francis radical?

John Gehring (JG): A journalist asked Pope Francis once if he was a “revolutionary.” The word, of course, carries a lot of baggage and elicits strong reactions so it would have been easy for him to dance around it. The pope didn’t shy away from it but said the true revolutionary is one who goes to the “roots.” The word radical comes from radix, which means the root. Francis is a radical in the same spirit as Jesus was a radical. He wants the Church to be rooted in the countercultural message of the Gospel, which is good news for the poor. Francis thinks the Church grows unhealthy and irrelevant when it becomes more about institutional maintenance and clerical privilege. He wants the Church to regain the capacity to convey what he calls the “freshness and fragrance” of the Gospel. This is the radicalism of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. He also wants to change the root causes of inequality and poverty, which includes a critique of the ways unjust structures shape an economy of exclusion and a globalization of indifference. Read More

An Advent Antidote for the Holiday Rush

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, which means two things: First, Christians around the world have entered into a month of waiting in joyful expectation for the coming of Christ. Second, people everywhere (including Christians) will soon find themselves especially pressed for time in the midst of the flurry of holiday activity and therefore less inclined than ever to wait patiently for anything.

Whether you are the sort of person who starts playing Christmas music the day after Halloween or the sort who insists that Christmas celebrations be strictly contained to the month of December, this is the part of the holiday season that nobody likes—longer lines at stores, more traffic on the roads, extra items on the to-do list. With so much to do and a limited time to do it, this season can seem like one big race against the clock before Christmas Day all-too-quickly arrives.

Although people tend to complain about this part of the holidays in particular, the truth is that the holiday rush merely accentuates what seems to be the case for most of us year round—there is just never enough time. Besides the regular demands of work and chores, we have yoga classes and volunteer commitments, family visits and planning committees, fundraisers and the kids’ practice schedule. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. If only we could add a few more. Read More

Millennial Catholics and the Fight against Extremism

Young, motivated believers find themselves in a precarious position, balancing between the extreme tendencies of any faith and the secular millennial world of material idolization, substance abuse, and mutual sexual objectification. Examining how different people and groups become radicalized provides a lens into this special position, how orthodox Catholicism in particular, but any faithful traditionally-rooted religious tradition, can testify to a more loving, more peaceful, and more fulfilling life. In other words, although our religions are different, millennial Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, and other traditionally-rooted religious groups are in a unique position to simultaneously combat the excesses of Western secular life and the violent religious and ideological radicalization rising across the West and Middle East.

Secular depictions of radicalization are often confused and find the roots of violent discontent solely in racism, sexism, or xenophobia. These issues are undoubtedly factors, but are not the complete picture. If we want to combat radicalism and propose healthy alternatives to contemporary cultural discontent, we must understand why people turn to violence. A recent New York Times piece addresses the xenophobia supposedly experienced by three British teenagers who fled to join ISIS: “A lot of young Muslims…feel that Islamophobia is a very prevalent thing…And then a group comes to them and says, like, ‘This is where you come,’ this is where they will be complete. ‘It’s a home for you.’ That appeals to them.” Feelings of alienation cut across religious, political, and racial lines, so that some ex-neo-Nazis report feeling their culture under attack. As another Times article notes of Swedish ex-radical Robert Orell, “The immigrants who had bullied him at his school were now, in his view, bullying his culture as liberal politicians stood by.” Clearly, a feeling of persecution or “otherness” motivates a retreat into religious or ideological seclusion, often culminating in a desire to do violence to one’s persecutors. Read More