Strangers in a Strange Land

by Charles J Chaput, Henry Holt, £20

Archbishop Charles Chaput has been one of the bright stars of the American hierarchy, defending traditional Catholic teaching. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI named him Archbishop of Philadelphia – one of the nation’s oldest and largest Catholic sees. He has not yet received the cardinal’s red hat, traditional for the Archbishop of Philadelphia, in part, some think, because of his “conservative” stances. For example, Chaput caused controversy with his guidance for implementing Amoris Laetitia, which some accused of being “retrograde” in its rejection of a reading that would extend Communion, for example, to divorced and remarried couples.

Chaput, a Native American, is also an accomplished Catholic intellectual. His new book builds on two earlier works, Living the Catholic Faith and Render unto Caesar, to craft a specifically public role for Catholics in social and political life.

Chaput takes aim at “the premise that who we are, how we are made, and with whom we mate are purely matters of personal choice and social contract. Biology is raw material. Gender is fluid. Both are free of any larger truth that might limit our actions.” Quoting Benedict, Chaput places the family, and our understanding of it, at the centre of our social order.

Strangers in a Strange Land is a tour de force of Catholic, and larger Western, intellectual history. Chaput weaves Scripture in with philosophy, Church teaching and current events to present a clear picture of our predicament. The West has decoupled itself from its formative tradition of Western philosophy, which seeks the real, and from Christianity, which seeks God. Instead, we are seeing the end of the Enlightenment, where our dominant intellectual modes are either postmodern triumph of the will or a kind of scientific determinism that removes free will. The faith in progress that animated the last two centuries risks turning to despair.

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