Weigel’s keynote presentation at the conference was titled, “John Paul II’s Christian Anthropology.”
A senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, Weigel pointed out a number of great “divides” in the United States, including the health care bill and the debates over same-sex marriage and abortion. While all appear to be unique issues, he noted, most boil down to one particular aspect.
“If we look at the world in the early 21st century, the great divide in the West is not between people of democratic caste of minds, and people with a monarchical caste of minds with a few democratic castes of minds, and despite some of the crazier elements in the city where I live and work, the argument is really not between markets of free economies and state-run economies,” he said about Washington, D.C. “Such arguments were settled in the late 20th century. No, the great arguments today are cultural in character and, of course, at the center of any culture is that culture’s understanding of the human person.”
It’s a cultural war, said Weigel, author of 19 books, and a regular columnist for Newsweek Magazine and several Catholic diocesan newspapers, noting that “our Canadian neighbors” and “our European cousins” are engaged in a similar war.
“This is a battle of the nature and dignity of the human person, and it is defined – that battle – by some rather dramatic questions,” he said, explaining that the biggest question is the understanding of the moral limits of human autonomy.
“All of this has done serious damage to American public life, and to the democratic debate against the life blood of democracy,” he said. “This remarkably bad set of ideas that I’ve just sketched has mostly damaged the witness of the church, and confused the witness of the church, at a time when the great culture mover is the basic division in the civilization of the Western world. And I think that’s not an exaggeration.”
Weigel reminded the crowd of President Obama’s commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame in May 2009. While many presidents have given such speeches during their term, President Obama went one step further, he said.
“Never in our history, amidst all of this ongoing turmoil over what of the boundaries of this or that religious community, never in our history has a president of the United States with exercise of his public office, intervened in one of those disputes in order to secure political advantage,” he explained. “And yet, that is precisely what President Obama did last year by suggesting that good Catholics – the real Catholics, if you will – were those who agree with him and his administration on what they choose to call a common ground approach to life issues, a claim that had been sharply contested in American Catholicism for decades.
“That’s what the president’s address to Notre Dame last May was about. For this president – were it be any president – to insert himself and his office into any Christian communities, or indeed into any religious communities … is, I suggest, a serious breech of the constitution of the proprieties and it generally spreads to everyone’s religious group.”
He added that the Obama administration has reduced religious freedom to the freedom to worship.
Weigel also discussed how issues of human dignity began with the sexual revolution and its effects on society.
“Young people equally wounded by a culture of promiscuity, that tells them simultaneously that they must be sexually active and that sex could kill them, are yearning for the truth about love, thus the remarkable impact of the Theology of the Body on university campuses and in marriage preparation,” added Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II.
“In John Paul II’s Theology of the Body – perhaps the most rated extension of his Christian anthropology – believers and unbelievers alike have a more compelling account of our human body as man – male and female – and the reciprocity and fruitfulness built into that embodiment and differentiation. In theory, human sexuality that reduced sexual differentiation (was) requesting human love to another context,” he said.