VATICAN CITY — "We are passing through a revolution of sorts
in America," says Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
Following such upheavals in the nation's moral life as the
"normalization of pornography, premarital sex, divorce (and)
transgenderism," the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex
marriage was "a symbolic overthrow of traditional Catholic sexual morality,"
It was to help Catholics understand such changes, the archbishop
says, that he wrote his new book, Strangers in A Strange
Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World.
"I was thinking about the confusion that exists in the lives
of so many people, even ordinary, everyday Catholics who love the church and
who love our country here in the United States, but at the same time have a
sense that something is wrong and they really don't know what it's about,"
he said during a recent phone interview.
For example, he said, "expressing concern about the change
in the meaning of marriage is considered to be old-fashioned or retrogressive
or bigoted and that leads people to be afraid to even talk about it."
Archbishop Chaput, 72, draws a contrast between contemporary
society and the simpler America he knew in his childhood during the 1940s and
"In today's world, we treat people with disabilities much
better than they did when I was a young man. Society is very conscious about
their rights and we even rearrange the structures of our buildings to help
people with physical disabilities."
On the other hand, "we have a technology that has kept most
people with Down syndrome from being born, because the disability is detected
early, and technology has done that, and we decide to eliminate those
people" through abortion, he said.
"It's a symbol of how we've at the same time progressed and
at the same time regressed," the archbishop said.
Archbishop Chaput identifies the contraceptive pill and the
transistor as key inventions of the last century that led to many of the
cultural changes he outlines in his book.
The pill "was very tiny but led to huge changes in our
perception of the meaning of human sexuality, which affects the way we think
about family," and the transistor, found in most electronic devices, led
to all kinds of new technologies that challenge Christian living in various
ways, he said.
"The disruption of family life" through new
communications technologies, for instance, has led to a situation where "parents
don't know how to influence their kids, or are so busy they don't have time for
each other," he said.
The archbishop attributes America's emphasis on the supreme
importance of the individual as a contributing factor to the collapse of a
Christian moral consensus in the country.
Individualism is "one of the weaknesses of American culture.
We don't focus enough on history or on community, and that gets in the way of
us being serious about those who've thought before us."
For example, "I don't see a whole lot of generosity on the
part of the new leadership class in the United States," he said.
Millennials seem "focused on making money and having great success and
being elite, and I don't see a lot of focus on the common good."
The appropriate Catholic response to the cultural situation in
the United States, "where the basic assumptions of Christianity and
Catholicism are questioned by everyone," is to "live the Gospel in a
radical kind of way," Archbishop Chaput said.
Writing toward the end of the book, the archbishop calls for
Christians to engage in political debates in the public square, but also to
"build the communities, the friendships, and the places in which we
joyfully live out our faith."
Rather than a naive and emotion-based optimism, "the driving
force in terms of facing the future for Christians is always the virtue of
hope," Archbishop Chaput said.
"Hope is energy built on conviction that the future is in
God's hands and God wants us to be very much a part of creating that future —
we are kind of the instruments for the future."