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‘Warning From The Future’ Experiment

ABC News live report from Pope John Paul II’s first appearance



What a great experiment. I’ll bite. I’m going to have to write from a more or less Catholic point of view, though I haven’t been Catholic since 2006. I have no idea what Orthodox Christians did back then. I invite each of you readers, in the comments section, to advise your own tradition’s forebears of the 1970s and 1980s, regarding politics, theology, and ecclesiology.

I don’t want you to comment from outside of a tradition you haven’t been a part of. I say this because I don’t want to read secular liberals wagging their fingers at Catholics and Evangelicals telling them what they ought to have done. Make this about self-critique. If you are an atheist or agnostic of either the left or the right, then please address what, if anything, atheists and agnostics should have done differently regarding politics and religion in the 1970s and 1980s.

I’m struggling with a recurrence of illness right now, so I won’t be able to give this the elaborated thought I normally would. Here are a few suggestions, though:

  1. Do not for one second allow yourself to believe that political engagement is a sufficient response to the crisis. The idea that the US is basically morally sound, but is ruled by corrupt elites, is self-flattering and false.
  2. America is actually post-Christian, though this won’t become generally clear until around 2015. Act as if you are living on borrowed time, because you are. Prepare for the post-Christian future by building strong countercultural institutions of catechesis and formation.
  3. Don’t trust your priests or your bishops to always do the right thing — and never leave your son alone with the priest. You can’t be too careful. No, seriously, you can’t. Fight clericalism in all places, especially within yourself.
  4. Don’t trust Catholic institutions — in particular, the parish and Catholic schools — to transmit the faith. They have been corrupted by the Zeitgeist. You have to be directly involved yourself. You cannot outsource the formation of your children.
  5. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into American foreign policy crusades.
  6. Be a lot more skeptical of the free market than most conservatives. The Church has real countercultural wisdom to offer here. Take it seriously.
  7. Beware of tribalism and triumphalism. The line between good and evil does not run between left and right, either in politics or in the church.

That’s all I have at the moment. I would add “Don’t invade Iraq!” and “Avoid Anthony Kennedy!”, but that kind of seems like cheating.

What do you advise to the generation of people from within your own church tradition (or atheist/agnostic tradition), speaking back to them in the 1970s and 1980s? Be thoughtful; I’m not going to post trolling.

Here’s our collective problem, as diagnosed by Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

UPDATE: Listen, be serious here. Don’t just be random and say things like, “Buy Apple stock.” What I’m trying to suss out here is particular lessons learned from the particular things we did, and left undone. It would help if you would start by identifying the tradition from which, and into which, you speak.

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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