"Render therefore unto Cæsar that things that are Cæsar's."
During my teenage years there were two highly significant events that, in many senses, may be said to define the last half of the twentieth century. One, Vatican II, had a profound impact on religion and morality -- the other has faded a bit more from our memories - -- but the Viet Nam war was the defining political event of roughly the same period in time. I spoke of them as one being political and the other religious, but of course world shaking events always have to have some effect on each other. Both events pointed up some very serious divisions in Western culture. Unfortunately the 1960s and 70s left our society with a "Us versus Them" mentality, with people developing a visceral distrust of each other, right in our own country.
Please understand, that in the political arena, it is normal for people to disagree about policy. Informed and reasonable people can and will have differences of opinion as to how our government should deal with the myriad of issues that face it in so many areas. That is the purpose of our Republic -- to enable all interested parties to have a say in shaping the domestic and foreign policies of our nation through our elected representatives.
A problem with the Viet Nam era was that many of those who dissented from the government's policies felt that they had no voice and would not be heard unless they adopted the tactics and rhetoric of the people with whom we were at war. And, perhaps even worse, a good number adopted an attitude that was against civilization in any form. It was not a question of Republican versus Democrat, or Liberal versus Conservative, or Libertarian, or American Independent, or whatever. The period in question produced numbers of Americans who viewed themselves either as Communists or as complete drop-outs from society, or perhaps a combination of both. And since it was also the period of religious upheaval of Vatican II, church people were often involved, who cloaked their Nihilism in the garments of religion.
All of us who lived through the period have our own favorite stories of the resulting insanity, but the one that comes to my mind most clearly in this context has to do with aberration of "Liberation Theology" -- a foolishness of the period, largely Catholic, that saw the great mission of Christianity as starting revolutions in South America to redistribute the land and establish a Marxist "Peoples' Paradise," right here on earth. Justice, we were to believe, came from the barrel of a gun -- but the ultimate mission was to reducce all of civilization to little "ecologically correct" villages, where mankind could somehow "return to nature" and government vould just "wither away."
Religion (and especially Catholicism) was sometimes portrayed as the villain, responsible for every manner of war and persecution. But all too often in the 60s, religion was exploited to serve the tearing down of civilization. It was relatively common among these people to compare Jesus Christ with one or the other figure of Communist revolution. Fairly often one would see a picture of Our Lord side by side with Mao Tse Tung, or Che Guevera, or someone like them -- and in parallel columns underneath it would be "explained" that Jesus came to challenge the status quo, to resist the Romans, to correct the errors of the religion of the Temple, to usher in a new era of pacifism without organized government or religion.
That such a great lie had any success at all can be attributed to people knowing nothing of our Lord's life, or to simply not thinking -- being too lazy to compare what they knew to what they were being told. Today's Gospel serves to illustrate the point -- how can anyone read it and think that Jesus was organizing a revolution against the Romans, or was training the Jews in civil disobedience? And today's Gospel doesn't have to stand alone. If you go over the passages you have heard at Mass over the past few years, you will recall that, for the most part, our Lord dealt amicably with soldiers and officials -- there simply is no suggestion in the Gospels that our Lord was out to overthrown anything except sin!
I mention this topic this morning because it is likely that we will be going through difficult times in the months and maybe even years ahead. Some of us will approve of how the government handles the situation in the Middle East and in our own Nation -- some of us will not; sometimes we will agree and other times we will disagree -- certainly war or even the threat of war should make no one happy. As citizens, it is our duty to be concerned, and to express our opinion where that will do some good.
But I would like to ask you to avoid the foolishness of the 60s. Don't try -- and don't let those around you try -- to create a false image of our Lord taking sides in human politics. Certainly, He expects Christian morality of us, even in wartime. But God is not a Republican, a Democrat, an Arab, or an American -- and God is not a Nihilist who wants to do away with the human society that He created.
I am going to read something to you now, recently written. It is completely false. I read it only so that you will know that the old foolishness is still around, and so that you can reject it. Please consider how each sentence, while containing a bit of truth, represents a powerful distortion:
Understand please -- the people who run our government, who run the large corporation, and even those who run the Church do not always do everything as they should. They are human just as we are; subject to the same weaknesses and temptations. And we should not hesitate to let them know when they are seriously wrong.
But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to this world to teach us the ways of His Father, and to redeem us from the fallen nature of Adam and Eve. He expects us to follow the moral law. In the coming months and years, please do not allow anyone to go unchallenged when he speaks of Jesus Christ as though He were Mao Tse Tung, or Fidel Castro, or whoever the current darling of the Marxist revolution may be.