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William E. May Offers a Review of Carl Anderson’s latest book, “A Civilization of Love…”

anderson_book.jpgContemporary Western societies such as ours are marked by what Professor Robert George has called the “Clash of Orthodoxies.” The dominant view among the elites of those societies can be, I believe, summed up in the slogan, rooted in the culture of death, that “No unwanted person ought ever to be born.” Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, offers Catholics (and in my judgment others of good will and open mind) a real challenge: to transform the world in which they live so that it is dedicated to the truth, central to the culture of life and civilization of love, that “no person, whether born or unborn, weak or strong, is to be unwanted, i.e., unloved.”

Anderson begins by cogently presenting the power of Christ to transform culture through love or the gift of self to others. He does so primarily by neatly recapitulating the magnificent teaching of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on this subject and by showing how their inspiring thought is rooted in Vatican II’s great insight in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World Today (Gaudium et Spes) that “only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (no. 22). Anderson then contrasts this gift of self-giving love whose prototype and model is found in Christ’s redemptive death, with the “culture of suspicion” spawned by Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx. He goes on to show how this has led to the contemporary dualism that sharply separates “persons,” i.e., those human beings who enjoy autonomy, from “non-persons,” i.e., those human beings who, like the unborn and the demented, lack such autonomy.

I think Anderson illustrates this contrast, which he describes in the book’s first three chapters (pp. 1-47), most poignantly in his the second-to-last chapter on “A People of Life and For Life” (pp. 123-141). There he contrasts the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v . Wade, which refused even to consider relevant scientific evidence regarding the beginning of human life, with the 1972 case Byrn v. New York City Health or Hospital Corporation. What was remarkable about that case is that the NY Court frankly acknowledged that scientific evidence shows that the human fetus is indeed a living human being but went on to claim that legal personhood is another matter and ended by denying such personhood to the unborn. The Court’s ruling, as a dissenting judge made clear, was based on the same kind of reasoning used by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to murder millions (see p.129 f). Later in that chapter Anderson calls attention to John Paul II’s perceptive teaching in Evangelium Vitae that genuine democracy, which respects the dignity of all human beings, is imperiled by the claim that transforms abortion, euthanasia, and similar deeds from “crimes” to “legitimate expressions of individual freedom…and protected as actual rights” (see p. 134). There he also rightly excoriates those Catholic legislators who claim to be “personally opposed” to abortion but consistently do all they can to “protect” a woman’s “right” to one.

In the intervening chapters Anderson does a splendid job of presenting in a persuasive and readable way the teaching of the Church on a host of issues. Thus in the chapter entitled “A Dignity That Brings Demands” (pp. 49-69) he sets forth the indispensable role and obligation of lay people to bear witness to their faith in the secular world in which they live by shaping their lives and actions in accordance with the truth that is Christ and proclaimed by the Church. In the chapter on “The Domestic Church” (pp. 69-83), he not only accurately summarizes the rich and mind-opening thought of Pope John Paul II on the Christian family and its role in the Church and in the world but also offers excellent syntheses of the way contemporary theologians such as Angelo Cardinal Scola of Venice and Marc Cardinal Ouellet of Montreal have developed further John Paul’s magnificent analogy between the marriage of man and woman and the nuptial mystery of the Triune God himself.

Anderson likewise presents excellent chapters dealing with “Globalization and the Gospel of Work” (pp. 85-107) and “Ethics in the Marketplace” (pp. 109-121). In the first of these he shows, with John Paul II, the dignity of all human work, whose subject is the human person who works out his own sanctification and sanctifies others in and through the honest work that he does every day. In the second of these he draws on the rich teaching of Pope Leo XIII, Pius XI, and others both to defend the right to private property and to insist on the obligations of owners and corporations to act in accord with justice not only to their workers but also to the common good of the entire human community.

In his final chapter, “A Continent of Baptized Persons” (pp.143-160) Anderson reflects deeply on the 1997 Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops. He points out that the majority of Christians in the coming years of this century will live in the southern hemisphere. He notes that the numbers of Catholics in the United States is growing today primarily because of the immigration, legal and illegal, of Catholics from Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. “Our goal, he writes, “should be to create a vibrant (North, Central, and South) American Catholic community in which our shared faith and values become a light to the entire world” (p. 151). He then takes up the difficulties we must overcome to do so and suggests meaningful ways for coping with them.

His “Conclusion” (pp. 161-173) is in essence “a call to active hope.”

Each chapter concludes with thought-provoking “Suggestions for Contemplation and Action,” and an excellent bibliography brings the text to an end.

In my judgment this is an exceptionally excellent book. It is well written and filled with excellent and at times moving examples of Catholics who have responded to Jesus’ call to love as he loves us. Anderson not only challenges his readers to become living stones in building a global civilization of love but also offers them sound guidance for becoming so.