Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knights of the Knights of Columbus, is author of a new book called, A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World. He took questions this weekend from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez from World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is a “Civilization of Love”?
Anderson: A “civilization of love” is the society that we have been called upon to build both by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In such a society, it is love — of God and neighbor — that motivates action. People are not simply objectified as a means of our own advancement, but instead are loved for the dignity and value inherent in each person. Love, not greed, utility or ego becomes the primary motivation of such a society.
Lopez: Do we live in it?
Anderson: We each need to answer that question “do we live in a civilization of love” individually, before we answer for society as a whole. Certainly when we see the damage greed has done to our economy, or the violence in politically unstable areas of the world, or we watch the nightly news, we might be inclined to say, “No, we don’t live in a civilization of love.”
But when we ask the question of ourselves, we begin the process of building such a civilization. We will never create this society if we don’t first take responsibility for creating this society in our own lives. If each of us, individually, were motivated by love, we would be millions, and millions would be a civilization.
Lopez: How can I built/protect/defend it?
Anderson: Love is a human experience that is universally attractive. In movies, literature, poetry, and popular culture, love is one of the most discussed themes. If we provide a witness to love in our own lives, if we make love our primary motivation, that witness will be a powerful one. Start with your own family, your own workplace, your own circle of friends and acquaintances, and then by your own example and witness, let that influence an ever widening circle. My book is full of concrete examples of people who are building or have built the foundation for this society, and we can all learn valuable lessons from them.
Lopez: Is the “civilization of love” an ecumenical pursuit?
Anderson: Certainly most people would agree that love is a far higher motivation than most others. From the “golden rule,” to the words of St. Paul that “love is patient, love is kind,” Christians of every denomination — and those of other faiths — can agree that love is positive motivation. Even those who profess no faith at all can be expected to see the value of love. As a result, love as a driving force in our lives is something that we, as people of faith, can offer as a starting point for dialogue with our broader secular culture and with each other.
Lopez: Is it a job for politicians?
Anderson: This is a job for everyone, and that includes politicians. Love of neighbor should be as important to a lawmaker in Washington, D.C., as it is to someone in a rural town. But building such a civilization of love requires all of us to rethink our way of looking at issues. We need to look at our politics biblically, rather than looking at our bibles politically. In our own lives and in politics, people need to be valued as persons, and as — in the words of the Declaration of Independence — “created equal.” We — and our elected officials — sometimes have a tendency in this country to reduce people to groups — whether those groups are special interest groups, political parties, ethnicities, or religions, and then we simply put a label on someone. Whatever group people happen to be in, we must remember that they are people, and that they are entitled to the respect and dignity that all individuals are entitled to.
Lopez: I don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to serve a vocation of love? But who’s calling me to the vocation if it’s not Christ?
Anderson: Certainly Christians see the call to love as a call from God, and we should also understand it is also something that God has made fundamental to human nature. We all desire to give and receive love, and love has a place of honor in both the Old and New Testaments, but as a universal human desire, those who follow a non-Judeo-Christian tradition can also respect that as human beings, we are all are called to love, and can then act accordingly.
Lopez: Have Catholic leaders been doing their part? I think of Boston and so many other places?
Anderson: Certainly at the highest levels, I think of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic leaders have been doing their part to raise awareness about the dignity and rights of individuals throughout their lives from conception to natural death. That is the good news. Many prominent Catholics — hierarchy and laymen alike — have been providing excellent examples of people unafraid to speak out for the truth. Remember that John Paul was constantly seeking a universal standard of human rights, something echoed by Pope Benedict at his visit to the UN this year. Ideas have consequences, and the ideas presented by John Paul II and Benedict in the areas of fundamental human rights, the dignity of each person, and the importance of the family are ideas, which, if acted upon, would really transform the world. This is why I wrote A Civilization of Love, to bring these ideas forward for greater discussion.
The less than good news is that not every Catholic leader has stood up for his or her faith. We hear from time to time, for instance, of Catholic politicians taking stands or voting in ways that are contrary to Church teaching and contrary to natural law. Conscience is certainly important, but having a well formed conscience is also their responsibility.
Anderson: Have Catholic schools been doing their jobs?
Anderson: There are more than 2.3 million students in Catholic schools, and hundreds of thousands of them are underprivileged and wouldn’t have the opportunity for a comparable education within the inner-city public school system. This is a great testament to Catholic education. On a personal note, I spent time here in Australia with a number of students and faculty from Chaminade High School on Long Island, and what I saw showed the very best in Catholic education and those receiving a Catholic education. It was evident that these young people, and their teachers, were truly motivated by love for Christ, and truly represented the wonderful work that Catholic education does.
Could we do more in some schools in various areas, for instance in the area of catechesis — of course, but it is no exaggeration to say that overall “a Catholic education is an advantage for life.”
Lopez: Are the roles of men and women radically different in the Civilization of Love?
Anderson: The role of both men and women in a civilization of love is to continue to promote action motivated by love. This is the key. Whatever role each individual man or woman plays within such a society, if his or her actions are motivated by love, rather than by utility or greed, then each will continue to have a positive influence on that civilization and will be able to help leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
Lopez: What does Sydney look like where you’re sitting right now?
Anderson: I just got back from the Circular Quay at Sydney harbor where we watched Pope Benedict come by in a “boat-a-cade;” and earlier from the “Love and Life” site sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the John Paul II Institute for studies on Marriage and Family, and the Sisters of Life. It was really a wonderful experience.
Lopez: How do you bring up the topic of building/preserving a “Civilization of Love” to young people without turning them off? Can it be “cool,” not the corny?
Anderson: I have spoken at several universities on this topic, including at Harvard and Georgetown, as well as at World Youth Day. What I have found is that young people gravitate toward this message. They understand, rightly, that they are the future, and they have a great sense of wanting to create a better world.
Lopez: You write that “ultimately the power of Catholics to transform America into a culture of life and a civilization of love will lie in the power of their example more than in the power of the ballot box, even though the ballot box is important.” Does that mean it’s okay to vote for Obama?
Anderson: Catholics need to lead first and foremost by example. It was that example which brought a hostile and pagan Rome to Christianity and it is that example that can lead our secular culture in the same direction. A Catholic who is living out his faith, and working to build a civilization of love must ask himself, on each race from state legislature to president, whether or not that candidate will move us closer to or further from a civilization of love. Does such a person share our view of a culture of life? In other words, is my voting consistent with my beliefs and my example? I don’t see how we can hope to build a culture of life and a civilization of love if we continue to vote for pro-abortion politicians.
Lopez: Do you see signs that we are radically transforming the culture for the best?
Anderson: Here at World Youth Day we can see hundreds of thousands of young people actively working to transform society. That is heartening. I spoke recently with Captain Al Fuentes — a member of the Knights of Columbus who was badly injured when he was trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center on 9-11. He said, of what he saw that day: “I saw the worst of humanity and the best of humanity that day, and for a while after 9/11, we came together as a country and began to have a civilization of love; we need to get that back.” I think he is right. We have seen the country come together motivated by care and concern, and we need to see more of that, but we know that is possible. I am also heartened when I think of the members of the Knights of Columbus, who contributed more than 68 million hours and nearly $145 million to charity last year. There are certainly bright spots.