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Talking Tough To Cardinal Dolan

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan told NBC’s David Gregory that on same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church has been “outmarketed” by pro-SSM folks.

Marketing? He thinks this is merely a question of marketing? As if all our side needed was a Don Draper and things might have gone differently? What a spectacularly shallow analysis. Gerard Nadal, a physician scientist and conservative Catholic, politely but firmly lets Cardinal Dolan have it. The fact is, he says, the other side believes in its message and works hard to proclaim it. The Catholic side? Not so much. Excerpt:

Today we see the fruits of that chaos from the 60′s and 70′s, even the 80′s. We see the fruits of nonevangelization on our part and the fruits of the other side’s evangelization.

They have a positive view of themselves, of their lifestyle, and of their contribution to society. They preach that vision in season and out of season with a singularity of focus that resembles the singularity and tenacity of St. Paul the Apostle. They push and push and push. Then they push some more. They go into the schools, and businesses, and the public square. They preach in churches and synagogues, and in civic associations. They boldly challenge any who stand in their way, and took singular aim at Cardinal O’Connor, even going so far as desecrating the Eucharist in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Perhaps we could learn a lesson in evangelization from the other side, clergy and laity alike.

We weren’t outmarketed.

We were outevangelized.

That’s our great failure and our great shame.

This was written by a Catholic speaking to other Catholics, but it applies to the rest of us traditional Christians too.

UPDATE: An exchange in the comboxes between Damon Linker and me:

[Damon Linker:] As any sophisticated marketer will tell you, one sells a product by promising to satisfy pre-existing desires in consumers, and by generating new desires that the product being sold will satisfy.

Viewed from this standpoint, both Dolan and Nadal are saying roughly the same thing: the Church was out-marketed by proponents of gay marriage. Those proponents spoke to premises and assumptions embedded in our common culture and built on those premises and assumptions to generate new ones — all of which pointed toward to the acceptance of gay marriage as the most natural thing in the world.

And anyway, Rod: Do you really believe that things would have turned out differently for defenders of traditional marriage if only they’d “pushed” more? I don’t believe you do — both because you’re smarter than that, and because you’ve said the opposite many times on the blog.

Dolan and his fellow bishops could have pushed and pushed and pushed some more, just like St. Paul, and the result would have been the same, because the Church’s position makes no sense on the basis of the premises and assumptions that rule our public life. Want to change those premises and assumptions? The only hope for that is genuine “re-evangelization.” I’m not convinced the version being attempted by the Church at the moment will work, but at least it’s the right idea. Convert large numbers of people away from secularism, and you might have a shot. Short of that, sexual traditionalism will be out-marketed every time.

<i>[Note From Rod: You’re right, of course, but I would clarify by drawing a distinction. “Outmarketed” is a term that implies a superior ad campaign by the winning side. There is no doubt that the pro-SSM side has enjoyed that, and has had the news and entertainment media on its side for some time now. But as you say, and as I have said in this space for some time, the conditions for the success of the SSM movement have been in place for decades; the SSM movement only had to persuade Americans that SSM was simply the logical result of what they (Americans) already believed. Because it is. There may have been no way to have stopped this idea, whose time has come. But it would have been nice to have seen the Church — I mean all churches — mount a more vigorous and intelligent response to cultural change over these past few decades. I have no experience of Protestant and Orthodox churches in this regard, because I didn’t start taking Christianity seriously until I converted to Catholicism in my mid-twenties. Broadly speaking, the Catholic Church didn’t even show up to fight. I was routinely amazed by the depth of the Church’s wisdom with regard to a number of challenges in our time — amazed in large part because this knowledge was no longer part of the life of the Church. Again, I generalize, but I learned after a couple of years of Catholic life that the Church on the ground was not particularly countercultural. John Paul II was, but he was a general without much of an army on those fronts. This is what I take Nadal to mean by “outevangelized”: the Church has had five decades of failing to adequately articulate, explain, and convince others of its teaching. Mind you, it convinced me back in 1992, but I had to work a lot harder to find out what the Church taught about sexuality, and why she taught it, than I really ought to have had to do. If I hadn’t been a reader of First Things and Touchstone, and if I hadn’t been an avid follower of Pope John Paul II and his teaching, I wonder if I would have found it at all. — RD]</i>

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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