The Next Great Awakening
Calling Catholics to fuller participation in civic life

Carl Anderson, author of Proclaim Liberty


LOPEZ: How can we be both compassionate and responsible as a matter of security and fairness on the issue of immigration?

ANDERSON: You know, too often our political debates and the media make it sound like the only two positions possible on immigration are “amnesty” or “Arizona.” Again, it’s not true. Eight in ten Americans think laws can protect our borders and protect the rights of immigrants. Moreover, the American people have a common sense — a bipartisan solution — to immigration that seems to have eluded our elected officials. Almost three in four Americans — 74 percent — would allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States if they learned English, paid a fine, and got a job that paid taxes. It may not be a perfect solution, but I think we might get much further in our attempts at solution with this starting point than with the extremes of “amnesty or Arizona.”


LOPEZ: We hear a lot about the “war on women” that Catholic bishops and others are supposedly waging. As the leader of the Knights, a lay Catholic, male organization, what can you bring to the conversation?

ANDERSON: The supposed war on women by those who support the right to life is a phony war. It totally misses the point of Catholic teaching as it relates to human sexuality — something I have written about extensively in my book, Called to Love.

The support and promotion of abortion on demand is a real war on women. After all, we know that in many cases women who have an abortion feel incredible grief. What’s more, we also know that in many parts of the world sex-selective abortions mean that a girl is more likely to be aborted than a boy. If we want to talk about a true war on women, that’s it. And as a result of that war, many women die before they can even be born.

: What does Martin Luther King Jr. have to do with natural law, and why does that matter?

ANDERSON: Reverend King — a Protestant minister — in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” cites St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. He points out that “an unjust law is no law at all.” This matters precisely because it is consistent with our Declaration of Independence and our history as a country. We have always understood that rights come from God — not from the state. We have always understood that it is precisely because our rights come from God that they cannot be compromised. This is why Reverend King’s point is so fundamentally important. He embraced the best of the American tradition, and with it, made America even better.

LOPEZ: Why does the memorial to Reverend King in Washington, D.C., bug you so much?

ANDERSON: It is nothing short of remarkable that the builders of that monument could take a minister — a man whose entire movement was informed by faith — and strip it of any reference to God or faith. It does a great injustice to our national memory of Reverend King. Alexander Solzhenitsyn called such revisionist history the “amputation of the national memory.” When this happens, Solzhenitsyn said, the effect was that the country was “deprived of its spiritual unity.”

: You describe a “new hostility to the role of religious institutions in American life.” How did we get here?

ANDERSON: We got here because we have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten what made our country great. Last year on President’s Day, the Knights ran a commercial nationally that featured a series of quotes on the importance of religion and God to the United States by presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan. Many people reacted positively. But some people — as a result of the amputation of memory — actually accused us of taking these famous quotes out of context. They simply couldn’t believe that such a link with God and religious principles ran throughout the history of our country. A small, intolerant group of secularists and atheists has succeeded in driving God out of our schools, out of much of the media, out of public life. They have done this despite the fact that our polling shows that Americans overwhelmingly believe in God and see traditional values — more than anything else, including the outcome of the next election — as the key to the future of this country.

LOPEZ: How do we “constructively engage secularism”? Particularly when it’s so hostile to religion! “We are in a war,” you quote HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius as explaining. And then you write: “I sincerely hope we can put away such partisan rhetoric.” How can religion, then, not be at war with secularism?

ANDERSON: The Church is often described as a “sign of contradiction.” It will always be in opposition to secularism, but that does not mean that it is at war with secularists. It must always be our hope that one day they will join us — if not here, then in heaven.

It is not our place as people of faith to declare a political war. Others may declare war on us; indeed, they have done so, but that doesn’t mean we must respond with equally overheated rhetoric. In fact, we must show the better way. We can disagree — but politely. We can vigorously defend our freedom, but we must never succumb to hatred, or anything less than love of those who oppose us politically. We need to be the ones who lead by example.

LOPEZ: What gives you confidence that we are on the verge of a “Great Awakening”?

ANDERSON: It is clear that Americans have a certain unity that is often overlooked. It is also clear that Americans consider themselves people of faith. Consider this: A couple of years ago, we asked people what the best hope for our country’s future was. Forty-five percent said “traditional values.” That was more than twice as many as the 18 percent who chose the next-closest answer “a better business environment.” Only 11 percent said the next election.

LOPEZ: What can defenders of religious liberty learn from the civil-rights movement?

ANDERSON: The civil-rights movement was successful because it was in the right, and it was based on the Judeo-Christian principles that informed the history of this country and the lives of most Americans. The Judeo-Christian arguments so powerful then — for instance that all are created equal by their creator — are equally powerful in defense of religious liberty. We are no less American because we are people of faith. If anything, we are far closer to the great values that have shaped this country than secularists are. Americans are both a religious people and a people committed to the First Amendment. We should remember that. And we should, like those in the civil-rights movement, never be afraid to stand up for the truth, and to declare that faithful Americans are entitled to rights and protections guaranteed us not only by our Constitution, but, even more important, by God.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.