Politics & Policy

Women in the Headlines

Mary Eberstadt
Mary Eberstadt surveys the sexual battlegrounds in the culture wars.

A woman has been elevated and will be celebrated.

No, sorry, I don’t mean Hillary Clinton, having finally clinched the Democratic nomination and won the endorsement of the president she served as secretary of state.

I mean Mary Magdalene.

On Friday, a week after the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has signed a decree raising July 22 to a feast day for her.

A Vatican official said: “The Holy Father Francis took this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to signify the importance of this woman who showed a great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ.” He added that the occasion of this new feast affords an opportunity for Christians to “reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy.”

Mary Magdalene, we know from the Bible, was a sinner who came to be friends with Jesus. She sought the Lord, even after His death, and because of her deep love came to be the first to see Him at the empty tomb after His Resurrection. She was the “apostle of the apostles,” the first to go and do what all Christians are mandated by His Word to do: Tell what you have seen, share the good news.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton. Upon making things official after the California primary, she declared that “we all want a society that is tolerant, inclusive, and fair.”

Great sentiments. Unfortunately there’s some reason for skepticism. Mrs. Clinton has also said that, especially in the context of “reproductive health care,” “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

There’s a third woman who is trying today to bridge the gap between Mary Magdalene and Hillary Clinton. Or, perhaps, to create a multi-lane highway — someplace where two religions can coexist. Mary Eberstadt, in her new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (which will be published later this month by Harper), describes “secularist progressivism today” as “less a political movement than a church.”

She explains:

The so-called culture war, in other words, has not been conducted by people of religious faith on one side, and people of no faith on the other. It is instead a contest of competing faiths: one in the Good Book, and the other in the more newly written figurative book of secularist orthodoxy about the sexual revolution. All of this exegesis is necessary to depict the combat.

The sexual revolution is one big thing that changed many other things.

The sexual revolution is one big thing that changed many other things. It proclaims that religion is nothing but prohibitions and condemnations — when, in fact, religion is a fuller view of human happiness and even freedom. If human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and if marriage is a complete giving of oneself to another — with eternity in view as a final destination, and an even more glorious wedding feast — then things like contraception and abortion start making sense as impediments to trust and love and total self-giving to God and one’s spouse. But we rarely get that far into the conversation before “War on Women” banners are raised and defensiveness sets in.

Eberstadt continues:

The sexual revolution, as we have already seen, is the centerpiece of a new orthodoxy and new morality that elevates pleasure and self-will to first principles. This has become, in effect, a rival religion. That is what explains the outsize hostility toward believers who have been minding their own business, or trying to educate their children, or expressing their faith in public forums — or otherwise behaving in ways that once invited no penalties, and now do. Ubiquitously. Because we are talking about competing religions replete with the passionate conviction that attends first principles, what’s going on out there can look a lot like Salem — including the fact that it can take very little to find oneself accused and cast out these days.

Salem? Witch trials? Isn’t this going a little too far?

Well, consider Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, for one example of someone who was quickly punished for his transgressions. You see how people who do not believe that anything goes when it comes to gender and marriage are having a theocracy imposed upon them. Just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Sisters serve the elderly poor who might otherwise be cast aside. Meanwhile, they are fighting a years-long court battle against this tyrannical impulse from progressives in power. In her book, Eberstadt says that “from a public relations perspective, taking on the Little Sisters should have been the political equivalent of slapping babies.” The irony is, of course, that this is exactly what more traditional-minded people — including many religious leaders, especially the ecumenical coalition that has come together to defend religious liberty — have been accused of.

In the midst of nuns in court and raging bathroom wars, It’s Dangerous to Believe is an opportunity for everyone to take a deep breath, sit down, and consider what’s been going on, why, and what can be done about it. Some of Eberstadt’s most compelling evidence details the damage being done to charities by liberal secularists’ imposing their faith, as it were, on other kinds of believers.

Eberstadt’s plea is to “spur all people of goodwill” to see that things have gotten out of hand. She hopes that “tolerant and open-minded people, especially . . . secular and progressive fellow citizens,” will work to find a better way.

Mary Magdalene wasn’t born a saint, but she encountered truth and ran with it. We can still do this today — elevating our debate and allowing faith (even differing, competing faiths) to flourish.

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