29 July 2021

Archbishop Sheen: A 1960s Prophet for Today

I am no fan of either Jefferson or the American Revolution, but the Venerable Archbishop Sheen still has a valid point.

From Catholic Stand

By Tom Collingwood

On Independence Day, a friend of mine recently sent me an old YouTube video of an Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen televised show in the late 60s. His topic was patriotism and the civil unrest of that time period. What he discussed back then appeared very prophetic for our day and time.

Archbishop Sheen on his Times

He outlined patriotism as having three elements. First was a reverence and respect for God, then for neighbor and then for country. If any of those three elements were not in place then all three would suffer. Archbishop Sheen drew parallels between two men who had different views of what was involved in maintaining a righteous country and subsequent patriotism. The two men were Jefferson and St Just (an 18th century Frenchman who was one of the founders of the Reign of Terror of the French revolution).

Jefferson wrote of the dignity of the human person and that our rights are inalienable, given to us by the Creator as governing principles of the American Revolution. St. Just wrote of an atheistic rule of terror and force as the governing principles for the French Revolution. As history notes that approach bred a brutal division as the ultimate outcome. The parallels were highlighted for the turmoil of the 60s with radical groups attempting to overturn traditions to invoke a modern revolution through force and criminal and civil unrest. Forced division was a key aim. True patriotism was grounded in applying the principles of the American Revolution not in undermining them. Needless to say, Archbishop’s Sheen’s conclusions provide some food for thought for our situation today.

Current Revolution

The so called “woke” view of our country’s history and foundations that is being promulgated in the media, academia, and among some politicians, along with the associated riots and civil disturbances, has similarities to the situation Archbishop Sheen was responding to in the 1960s.

While we are not dealing with a “reign of terror”, we are dealing with an increased intolerance for our nation’s heritage, traditions and philosophical foundations in a distorted attempt to deal with racism. In looking at the underlying principles of the BLM organization and groups such as Antifa, the ultimate aim really isn’t to deal with racism but to gain power by undermining the family, capitalism, religion, and distorting the truth. As in the 1960s, division itself is the functional goal.

Historical Truth

The Presidents Advisory 1776 Commission highlighted how American history has not been adequately taught so that we have a generation of citizens who are ignorant of our founding principles. The result is that many cannot make accurate and reasoned judgments about our nation’s failures and successes with a well-formed framework. It explains why many buy into the false narratives in the Critical Race Theory and rhetoric voiced by BLM and many progressive advocates for a radical understanding of our history and what is needed.   It’s similar to making moral judgments without a well-formed conscience.

The Commission Report recognized that America has not always lived up to its stated principles. However, it reiterated how important those basic beliefs were as the foundation for the needed changes that have been made in our history and that are needed now. Those same founding principles as stated by Archbishop Sheen and elaborated upon in the 1776 Commission Report are a necessity for dealing with current issues such as racism. Disregarding and attacking those principles and traditions surrounding them do nothing but create further division.

A Final Perspective from Archbishop Sheen

Archbishop Sheen, in his telecast, concluded that a major cause of the radical unrest in the French Revolution and the 1960s’ radical movements was a turning anyway from God. The “woke” claim that Christianity is a white supremacist religion, the destroying of religious statues, and the vandalism of churches highlight the significance of his conclusion.  Likewise, his solution is to turn back to God. If the focus is on God as the foundation, he maintained, then appropriate actions can be defined and applied.

All the recent religious surveys note a drop in church affiliation and belief in God among Americans. There is an associated decline in accepting the tenants of Christian morality. The resultant turmoil we are experiencing should not be a surprise in that it is reflective of those surveys’ results.  I think that G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote provides a concise grasp on our situation today.

When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.

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