We need a Crusade to Save the Soul of America
WE NEED A CRUSADE TO SAVE THE SOUL OF AMERICA
by Patrick J. Buchanan
(Republican presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan on May 13th delivered the commencement address for Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. Buchanan told the graduates that "the inculcation of values, the shaping of conscience, the development of character, the formation of souls" are the purposes of education.)
Thank you for that gracious reception. I confess it is not the kind I am accustomed to on most college campuses. But it is truly an honor to be here, at Christendom. Both to congratulate the graduating seniors, and to pay tribute to this college for standing as a beacon of faith, truth, and light-amid the encircling gloom of our troubled civilization.
A few years ago, in Houston, I gave a speech at the Republican
National Convention. As luck would have it, I spoke just after the
irrepressible Alan Keyes, and just before my old boss, the Great
Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan. Sandwiched between two such
speakers, I naturally wondered whether the world would little note or
long remember what a once-and-future
But near the end of my speech, I made a simple observation. "There is," I said, "a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America . . . a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.... This war," I said, is "about who we are . . . what we believe . . . [and] what we stand for as Americans."
That first night, commentators from David Brinkley to John Chancellor were complimentary. They said Buchanan had given an excellent speech, an outstanding speech. Sander Vanocur went so far as to say my speech "was the most skillful attempt to remind the party faithful of the role that ideas have played in American politics since Eugene McCarthy nominated Adlai Stevenson at the 1960 Democratic convention." High praise indeed from a commentator who was a friend and admirer of John F. Kennedy.
That night in the overnight tracking polls, George Bush soared-ten points-his best night of 1992. By the time Bush rose to speak, three nights later, he had closed the gap with Bill Clinton. A deeply disconsolate New York Times was in mourning; the presidential race had suddenly become a dead heat.
Then, I began to hear what the poet described as "dim drums throbbing in the hills half heard." The Washington Establishment was marching as to war-and they were coming after me. The counterattack began then, and it continues-to this day. Why? Because what we said in Houston went right down the smokestacks of America's cultural elite. As the old saw runs: It is only the truth that hurts.
My antagonists fought back with customary high-minded and reasoned
arguments. "Buchanan Declares . . . Domestic Jihad," read one
headline. "What If Ayatollah Buchanan Had His Way?," said another. A
But it was my future colleague, Bob Beckel, who cut to the heart of the matter: "That was the most reactionary speech ever given in a televised convention," Beckel said, "and I believe the devil wrote it." We're making progress. Bob Beckel believes in the Devil.
You know there is not one nasty political name that has ever been invented-that I have not been called. Lately, one of my rivals for the Republican nomination again charged me with calling for a Holy War. Now, because this is a nonpolitical event, that opponent shall remain nameless. But let me respond to Arlen this way-by telling a story about a genuine Holy War-long ago.
A thousand years ago, following one of those rare upheavals in the Mideast, the Holy City of Jerusalem was closed to Christian pilgrims. The Vicar of Christ, Urban 11, traveled out from Rome through Christendom, until he came to the French town of Clermont. There he held a council with his bishops. At the council's end, he gave a great sermon to a vast crowd of pilgrims.
The Holy Father called on men of faith and courage to unite in the cause of opening the road to Jerusalem. All who joined this Crusade, the Pope said, must take an oath never to turn back, until they had reached Jerusalem. The Crusaders' oath was signified by a sign of the cross sewn into the shoulders of their tunics.
The first great noblemen to take up the cross were Raymond, count of Toulouse, followed by Bohemond-a Norman prince of Italy. Together, Raymond and Bohemond marched across the Balkans to Byzantium where their armies rendezvoused under the nervous eye of the Emperor Alexius of Constantinople. There, Alexius asked the Crusaders to take a second oath.
The Pope's oath had been to God. But the oath of Alexius was to Caesar: All Crusaders must pledge allegiance to him, Alexius said. Bohemond took this oath. All the other crusading knights did the same, except Raymond of Toulouse. Raymond hesitated because he wanted to make clear that his first allegiance was to the Crusade-to the oath he had made to God. He told the emperor he would be his subordinate if the emperor led the Crusaders in battle-but he would not be the Emperor's vassal.
So, the Crusaders marched to the borders of Syria, laying siege to, and recapturing, the ancient city of Antioch. Here Bohemond broke his pledge to both emperor and Pope. He laid claim to Antioch, to establish his own tiny kingdom; then stayed with his army, as Raymond led the Crusade on to Jerusalem.
Raymond captured the Holy City from the Turks. There, his knight Crusaders offered him the great title: king of Jerusalem. But the count of Toulouse refused: He did not wish to be a crowned king in the city where Christ had worn a crown of thorns.
Now, modern historians will tell you, in loving detail, of atrocities the crusaders committed; and there were atrocities. And they ought not to be defended. For among the first things a Catholic learns is that man is fallen, and human nature is unchangeable.
But there is a theme in the story of Raymond and Bohemond that illustrates a fundamental lesson. Each of us faces this choice in life: We can choose the city, or we can choose the crusade. And it is a far better thing to choose the crusade. That is what we are taught in our Catholic schools-to choose the crusade. Each of us, to take up the cross.
Now, I can see the headline when they get wind of this at
Let me tell you what I believe: In every city in America there are Catholic parishes, Catholic schools, and communities of Catholic families that form around those parishes and schools. When it works the way it ought to, family, church, and school pursue a single, common goal: raising up each generation to embrace the faith, and to accept the moral code that allows children to lead good lives, to become strong adults, to merit salvation. To go all the way to Jerusalem.
That is the goal of a Catholic education: the inculcation of values, the shaping of conscience, the development of character, the formation of souls. Whether a child is outstanding in math, a whiz at computers, or a great athlete, these are secondary.
We have a crisis in American education because educators have lost sight of their goal. They have lost sight of their first purpose: to produce moral men and women whose lives will be an example to their community, and country, no matter how successful they are in their secular vocations.
And how can we ever again succeed in educating children to become moral men and women if, in America's public schools, we consciously deny them all religious instruction, and deny them access to that primary source of morality, God's own word. The Bible is the one book from which they are expressly not allowed to be taught.
One of the greatest of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, once wrote: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." What Adams was saying was that religion and morality are the taproot of the Republic. Cut the taproot, and the Republic dies. Our struggle, then, is against those who have been slashing away at that taproot for decades. For if they prevail, our beloved country will perish. And the struggle must continue, for the rest of our lives.
In a healthy society, the institutions of culture reinforce the
values of family, church, school. The history of the West, the
greatest civilization in human history, is the story of centuries of
architecture and art, literature and music, that lift up the hearts
of men and women-and point them toward the Truth. That is what the
Cathedral of Chartres does; that is what Michelangelo's Sistine
Chapel does; that is what Shakespeare's
But that is not what
When the book,
Moms are the front-line troops in the cultural war. She is the one who snaps off the TV set when the filthy show comes on. She is the one down at the school board when outcome-based education, or condom distribution, or some absurd new federal mandate on how to teach America's children is being introduced.
And if there is any institution that has always been a trusted friend and partner of conscientious mothers and the families they nurture and hold together, it is the traditional Catholic school. I know this is so-because it was true in my own family. My grandmother put her trust in Holy Trinity, a parochial school in Georgetown-after her husband left her with two young sons to raise. My father grew up in what social engineers call a "broken home"-but he did not grow up in a broken community. His was a Catholic community founded on a faith that could not be broken.
When my father was 13, and graduated from Holy Trinity, he was to be sent to McKinley Tech, a public high. But one day that summer, two Jesuits arrived at my grandmother's house. "Mrs. Buchanan," they asked, "Why is young Bill not going to Gonzaga?" "Because," my grandmother replied, "we don't have the money." The Jesuits answered back: "Mrs. Buchanan, we don't want your money, we want your son."
My father would repay that loyalty all his life. Indeed, one day very late in my father's life, I went into a Catholic bookstore in Bethesda, to find a copy of the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible, that might somehow have escaped the clutches of the thought police. You know the type: the religious rewrite men, with the big egos and the tin ears, who are going to improve on the most magnificent prose ever written. When I came to the counter, the lady recognized me.
"Oh, Mr. Buchanan," she said, "your father was in here just two weeks ago, and he said the most wonderful thing. I said to him, 'Isn't it terrible what has happened to our Church today, Mr. Buchanan?' And he replied, 'No. Do not be afraid. We have it on the authority of Christ Himself: the Rock will not break'."
My father's religious beliefs, inculcated in Catholic schools, permeated everything. In my father's household, whatever Mother Church taught, that was it; there was no more debate. When I was a boy, my father's favorite expression was, "Offer it up!" It was an all-purpose phrase that meant, "Stop whining and offer up your pain for the suffering souls in Purgatory." Whenever we were hurt, injured, or cried, we would hear a loud, impatient, "Offer it up!" It was my father's way of saying: Choose the crusade.
Incidentally, "offering it up" was advice I could have used one night when still in my crib back at our house in Georgetown. My brothers, sisters, and I were all instructed on how to pray as soon as we could talk. Even in the crib, I caught on quickly. When my older brothers were still toddlers, on their knees stumbling through the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be-from my playpen would come an impatient, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen!"
My parents were elated with these early signs of precocity. They would show off to neighbors the indolent little boy they called "Paddy Joe" who, as they said, "could talk before he could walk." My older brothers, however, were not amused by all this cleverness.
The four of us in those years slept in separate cribs, which were on stilts and rollers and could be maneuvered around the otherwise empty room. To start the crib rolling, all we had to do was stand, hold firmly onto one of the horizontal bars, and rock back and forth in the direction we wanted to go. One night, after the older brothers had their prayers interrupted and corrected, yet again, from the playpen, my father heard horrible screams from our room.
Rushing in, he found milk and blood all over my forehead, and glass strewn all over the crib. The perpetrator was at hand. One of my brothers had maneuvered his crib over next to mine, reached in, jerked the milk bottle out of my mouth, and smashed it over my head. He was telling me, in his own persuasive way, to shut up. Unfortunately, the lesson never took. Ask Michael Kinsley.
A few years ago I wrote that story, and many others, in a book titled, Right From the Beginning. My purpose was to show that the conservatism I embraced was not some abstract philosophical credo. It was not the sort of thing one settles upon-after late- night bull sessions with self-absorbed graduate students at Ivy League schools. My conservatism was rooted in habits and dispositions ingrained in me from childhood ,, and engraved on the hearts of millions like me, and, I suspect, like many of you-by parents, schools, and church.
Aquinas tells us that the virtues are not ideas, they are habits-and the greatest of the virtues are not habits of the mind, they are habits of the heart. The other day Clinton implicitly conceded this point-in his heated speech contending that conservatives and talk radio are somehow responsible for that horrific atrocity in Oklahoma City.
Yes, Mr. President, in one way, you are right: The images that abound in our popular culture-what we say on the airwaves, what we depict on our television screens, in our movie houses - can help habituate America to violence and can corrupt the soul of our nation. That is what we have been saying, since Houston, and before.
But, no, it is not the conservative or traditionalist vision that
leads to acts of violence. No one is going to go out and stalk the
dark streets of the city after watching
No, the slow-motion suicide of American society is traceable to a philosophy of self- indulgence, to a New Age gospel that declares: There are no absolute values in the universe, there are no fixed and objective standards of right and wrong. There is no God. There is no salvation. It all begins here, and it all ends here. Every man lives by his own moral code. So, do your own thing.
And doing their own thing, our countrymen are creating, in our great
cities, a society straight out of Dante's
So, how do we win this struggle for the soul of America? In our Catholic tradition, we have many heroes who can serve as our models. In our history, we have many great souls who have spoken the truth to power. We have seen in our own lifetime humble men and women bring down evil empires by giving witness to the truth.
A thousand years after Pope Urban 11 preached the First Crusade, his
Successor, Pope John Paul 11, brought another crusade to the East.
Forty years after Stalin mockingly asked how many divisions does the
Pope have, the first Polish Pope came to an altar set up in a field
outside Krakow. There, he gave the answer for the Holy See. And when,
from deep inside the Soviet Empire, Pope John Paul II stood in front
of hundreds of thousands who had kept the faith, and said,
They had kept the faith. More than any bomb or missile, that is why the walls came tumbling down, why the Evil Empire collapsed. In the climactic battle of the greatest war ever fought in the history of Western civilization, not a single shot was fired by the armies of the winning side. Truth, crushed to earth, rose again-as we were told it would rise again.
For my generation, that 70-year Cold War between Western civilization and Marxist materialism was our defining crisis and struggle. For your generation, the great crisis is within Western civilization. As we sacrificed and saved, and some of our friends fought and died, to win our war to preserve the body of Western civilization, it is up to you to save her soul. For the great struggle today is between the modernist materialism all around us, and the culture and civilization rooted in the permanent truths of our faith.
To ensure victory in this struggle, you must emulate the good people of Poland. Never back down from the truths you learned from your parents, the truths you have taken in throughout your life, the truths you have brought to a fine understanding here at Christendom.
Never back down in the biggest things you do; and never back down in the simplest things you do. Remember that courage, like cowardice, is a habit of the heart. And when the choice comes down to between the city and the crusade, take up the cross and lead.
This article was taken from the June 8, 1995 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.
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