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Religion and American culture: Catholicism attempts to balance U.S. global policies with Gospel values


Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston College, has spent time recently analyzing U.S. foreign policy as it impacts our own people as well as people everywhere in the world. He maintains that, especially since the 1960s, the nation's abiding cultural perception has touched on what freedom actually means for different people. At the heart of the Bush administration's political project is an insistence that the United States offer a democratic model of government that other nations - notably those in the Islamic world - should follow.It is quite obvious that many eastern governments do not accept this political project.

Our government has sought honestly, I think, to end discrimination in the world. The problem is that certain elements in our political leadership have focused on dismantling all constraints to personal freedom, which has included matters pertaining to sexuality and self-gratification. Edmund Burke once remarked that "men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains around their appetites." But since World War II, American political leaders have ignored Burke's counsel and have set out to discard most moral restraints. Freedom has increasingly come to imply unfettered self-indulgence.

Liberal agenda is problematic

Certain influential people on the left (liberals) have contributed to this effort by promoting a radical new ethic of human sexuality. By removing traditional restraints, behaviors once viewed as immoral, unnatural or inconsistent with the common good have now become commonplace in American life. The cutting age of our American culture promotes the removal of every impediment to sexual desire. This sexual revolution has become an imperative for many politicians and social activities on the left.

The result is that laws, traditions and social arrangements impeding the fulfillment of this imperative are becoming obsolete. As a consequence, abortion, divorce, out-of-wedlock marriage, same-sex marriage and children raised in one-parent homes - once viewed as problematic in our society - have lost most of their stigma. All forms of pornography - including child pornography - have reached epidemic proportions. So much of our popular music is filled with sexual fantasy and hedonistic narcissism.

Is it any wonder, then, that Islamic governments and Islamic people reject American culture that promotes such immorality? And if this culture is tied to American democracy, then they are wary of our brand of freedom that confuses license with genuine human freedom. The foreign policy implications of this sexual revolution that we are exporting are indeed negative for our nation. The ideals that President Bush hopes to propagate throughout the Islamic world - those contained in our Bill of Rights - come packaged, unfortunately, these days with Western secular and immoral trappings.

Conservative agenda is too materialistic

When we couple the values promoted by American culture with a materialism that is unrestrained - an attitude that all that counts in life is profit and the accumulation of more possessions (more "stuff" Bacevich called it) - then the freedom we offer the world is suspect to say the least. This materialism is the contribution to American culture by many people on the right (conservatives). The forces of corporate capitalism relentlessly promote the idea that liberty is somehow linked with self-aggrandizement - that the key to human fulfillment is focused on conspicuous consumption - acquiring a bigger house, a fancier car, the latest fashions and the niftiest gadgets. Many Americans seem to conclude these days that to consume means to be free.

It seems to too many people in our world that American freedom has come to mean the right to pursue every sexual opportunity available, regardless of the long-term negative consequences on society - and American freedom has come to mean that to consume means to be free. A recent article in the New York Times magazine posed the question, "Is freedom just another word for many things to buy?" I wonder if we are not losing our sense of sharing, our sense of the importance of family life, our sense of sacrifice that is so essential to the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

A recent article by Andrew Bacevich in Commonweal magazine "Twilight of the Republic - Seeds of Decline, Path to Renewal" is indicative of the moral dilemma we are experiencing as a nation and the reason Islamic countries are not buying our form of democracy. Both the political left and right in our country are contributing to this steady decline in America's influence and support with their own selfish agendas.

Balancing national political policies with universal moral principles

As Pope Benedict XVI continues to proclaim to the nations of the world, the basis of morality is belief in God who is the ultimate judge of human life and actions and it is belief in the basic value and dignity of human life. Unless materialistic secularism and moral relativism are countered by religion and universal moral principles that help people live just lives, then there will not be lasting peace and true freedom in our world. The pope is offering everyone who will listen to him a path to peaceful co-existence based on the common good of every society. I hope people will be able to hear him, especially in our own country.

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