115 of 120 people found the following review helpful
One of the most unfortunate consequences of both the US tradition of church/state separation and the evangelical protestant insistence that religion is primarily what goes on between the individual and God is the privatization of faith. The good Christian, so this perspective has it, compartmentalizes his or her faith, keeping it a personal, private affair. Issues of public policy and morality are best left to the secular powers and principalities.*
In his excellent Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Charles Chaput invites Christian readers (and especially Roman Catholic ones) to rethink this position. The heart of Chaput's thesis is nicely expressed toward the end of the book. Drawing upon the long tradition of Catholic social teachings, Chaput argues that the Church as an institution and the individual Christian as a follower of Christ have the obligation to speak truth to power. This doesn't mean that he endorses either a theocracy or a government controlled by Christians. It does mean that the Church and her members live up to their prophetic calling as ambassadors of the Prince of Peace. As Chaput writes toward the end of his book,
"The Church claims no right to dominate the secular realm. But she has every right - in fact an obligation - to engage secular authority and to challenge those wielding it to live the demands of justice. In this sense, the Catholic Church cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay 'out of politics.' Politics involves the exercise of power. The use of power has moral content and human consequences. And the well-being and destiny of the human person is very much the concern, and the special competence, of the Christian community" (pp. 217-18).
In order to maintain its prophetic edge, however, the Church must walk a tightrope, resisting isolating itself from mainstream culture in the search for "purity" on the one hand, and allowing itself to be absorbed by mainstream culture in the search for "relevance" on the other. Perhaps the most interesting sections of Chaput's book are his discussions of how to navigate through these two possibilities.
An exciting, reasonably argued, and prophetic book. Highly recommended.
* Obviously evangelical Protestants since the inception of the Moral Majority have gotten involved in politics, thus stretching their traditional "private relationship with Jesus" position. But their manner of bringing religion to politics tends not to follow in the liberal tradition of Catholic social teachings from Leo XIII to the documents of Vatican II.
120 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2008
I read this overnight and couldn't put it down. Chaput has an easy, engaging writing style, but don't let that fool you. He has a deep grasp of history and a forceful message about the role of Catholic faith in shaping and humanizing the public square. He deals with all the tough issues, but this is not primarily a book about abortion or Communion wars or which political party is good or bad. It's much richer and more challenging than than that. This is simply the best book I've read about the American Catholic political vocation. If you want to know what the words "American and Catholic" really mean, read this book.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Matters of faith and politics have often been decried as separate with many politicians seeking to gain power either cultivating men and women of faith or disparaging them as "fanatics", whose convictions should be relegated to the Sunday pew and not lived in everyday life and society in general. As political parties and candidates pander to voter interests, they seem compelled to tell persons of faith that their way is the best way and the only way -- just vote for them and you will have more services, lower taxes, greater freedom, more regulation, abundant entitlements, and a bright shining future. They encourage people to vote their conscience (on matters upon which they agree) and to keep their opinions to themselves (when their beliefs differ from the political elite or that blessed sacred cow -- the secular media). With respect to religion, Christians and Catholics in particular are often told to separate their beliefs and their faith from politics, as if our beliefs can somehow be compartmentalized and restricted to an hour each Saturday or Sunday. To advance their particular agenda, it is as if religion has no place in American society. Thus, for many in this country, a national religion has already been established -- POLITICS.
Charles J. Chaput, OFM Capuchin, is the Archbishop of Denver. Of Canadian and Native American ancestry, he is noted as a conservative and a fierce defender of the Catholic Faith. In RENDER UNTO CAESAR, he reminds American Catholics that they cannot be individuals who remain isolated in their faith. Faithful Citizenship demands that they form their consciences in accordance with the truth in order to make sound moral choices in public life as well as private worship. He does so while emphasizing the American principles of freedom of religion, and a respect for each person to freely exercise their beliefs in all matters of daily life.
Archbishop Chaput writes clearly and expressively. He reminds us that character is formed from faith and belief in God as well as from the principles upon which this nation was founded. To people of faith, he reminds them that they have an obligation to speak out and participate in the marketplace of ideas and opinions.
He is a strident voice for not just Catholics (for which this book has been written), but rather for all Americans. To live with character and integrity, all Catholics (and all men and women of good will) are obliged to speak out based upon the principles of properly formed conscience and integrity.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2008
One of the more outspoken - and sensible - Bishops in the U.S. today is Charles Chaput, the Capuchin Francisican Archbishop of Denver. As a New Yorker, I can only hope that when Cardinal Egan retires from the Archdiocese, the Pope will move Chaput to New York.
In any event Archbishop Chaput has a timely and excellent book, with the sub-title "Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political life".
It's timely, of course, because we are now in the political season, and the controversy continues about the role of religious belief and practice in the public arena.
And it is excellent, as Chaput lays out an approach for religious people in general and Catholics in particular, to weigh in on the great issues of the day. The book is a quick read, at 235 pages and 12 chapters. Each chapter is peppered with historic examples and backed up by biblical quotes and church teachings.
Here are some examples: chapter three titled "Why We're Here" starts with a brief analysis of Victor Frankl's classic book "Man's Search for Meaning" and then discusses the role of the Church and Catholic laity in bringing Catholic values into the arena of public ideas.
Chapter seven is entitled "What Went Wrong" and offers 21 pages about the reforms and problems which arose from Vatican II, with Chaput feeling that some reforms did not go far enough and others were hijacked by people with their own agenda.
Chapter nine is entitled "A Man for All Seasons" as Chaput discusses the jurist and advisor to Henry the VIIIth, St. Thomas More. in 19 pages he discusses More, brings in President Kennedy, and then analyzes two relatively contemporary Catholic governors, Mario Cuomo and Robert Casey (I will leave it to your imagination as to who Chaput thinks come closest to emulating More...).
So anyone interested in the confluence of religion, politics, and contemporary issues will profit from this book. And it will be very useful for anyone in a variety of lay ministerial positions, and clergy, both Catholic and non-Catholic, as a source for homiletic material.
A brief but comprehensive work.
38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2008
An excellent resource for faithful Catholic voters during this election year and for others who want to truly understand them.
Great summary of Vatican II and its aftermath, especially in relation to the American political scene and the beliefs of American Catholics. Great discussion of the differences between toleration, pluralism and religious conviction! Loaded with useful references for further reading in sociology, theology and political theory.
I've bookmarked at least 30 paragraphs and quotations for further reading and preaching.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2008
What role do Catholics have to play in the public arena? Do we have to leave our faith at home when we enter public life or talk at the water cooler? Must we "impose" all of our views on fellow Americans in order to be loyal Catholics? Are you a "bobo", a "Catholic Taliban"? Does it matter morally for whom I vote? Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Capuchin Franciscan and Archbishop of Denver, tackles these questions and many more in a wonderful, readable volume entitled "Render unto Caesar" (Doubleday, NY, © 2008). Chaput, never partisan and never acrid, writes as a pastor, inspired, in part, by a friend who failed to unseat an incumbent for the Colorado Assembly, a friend who felt the lukewarmness of his own party toward his candidacy because he stood by his Catholic values in spite of the bewilderment of his colleagues.
As our country wrestles with tremendous societal changes, rampant egoism and materialism, and the growing shadow of a culture of death, Archbishop Chaput wants to rally Catholics "to find again the courage to be Catholic Christians first." Catholics have the eerie sense that in many ways we are no different in many ways than our neighbors. We have made it financially, socially and politically! But has this come with too much accommodation to the ways of a secularly dominated culture. Are we rendering to Caesar what is God's? We have powerful members of major political parties but it seems that they are ineffective in bringing a Catholic view to our world or worse, outright oppose the teachings of our Faith as they assume positions of leadership.
Amid all this confusion, Chaput gently leads the reader through the history of the Church's relationship to the state and society in general. He examines the role and growth of Catholics in the United States of America, highlighting the innate Catholicity of the American experiment and America's inherent wariness of Catholicism. Deftly, the author sheds light on the history of the Second Vatican Council, clarifying myths about the Council and its initiator Pope John XXIII and explaining the importance of the American Catholic experience in formulating key doctrines on religious freedom and the value and place of other Christian denominations and other faiths. He briefly sketches the great theological journeys of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
After explaining to us how we arrived at where we are, Chaput challenges us that if we really love our country and our faith we need to bring our faith into the public square "without excuses or apologies." While respecting the good will of all he explains how the promises President Kennedy made in the 1960 election campaign seemed prudent, but in the end began a paralysis of American Catholic political thought that lead to and lives on in the "personally opposed but ..." mentality of today. Recounting the positions of St. Thomas More, and Governor Robert Casey Sr. he shows there is a way to be loyal to one's country and be thoroughly Catholic. Never one to evade the hard questions, Chaput personally answers why defending the right-to-life, particularly for the unborn, is the paramount issue of our day and how Cardinal Joseph Bernardin warned against misuse of the "seamless garment" to nullify the priority of the sanctity of human life. The Archbishop offers his candid thoughts on receiving Holy Communion and how he handles the difficulty of public figures who present themselves for Communion while public defying the Church's teachings.
A must read before you go to the polls in November but will have lasting value as we go about renewing ourselves and "Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life."
Rev. Peter Calabrese
Our Lady of Fatima Shrine
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2008
The sons of Issachar were men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do -1Ch12
To this concise book by Bishop Chaput, this non-Catholic Christian says: A true tour d'force! This is a continuous flow of historical, cultural, moral, and spiritual insight and perspective. At times the text flows almost non-stop with memorable quotes, representing an enormous amount of research, imparting a deep well of understanding and wisdom.
I liked the way Chaput didn't gloss over the church's difficulties in implementing the Vatican II changes, and indeed, her drastic need for those changes in the first place. This was a very honest and perceptive presentation of the challenges facing not only Catholics, though the book was explicitly geared to them, but all Christians, and indeed all fellow travelers who understand the unfortunate goings-on in our culture.
The game has shifted, and aggressive secularists and politically correct religionists are at the throats of all who would live by - and especially those who would dare proclaim - the Christian standard of love as measured by objective morality. The basic theme of this book is one which every believer would do well to consider or consider again: we are in a very real battle, the stakes are high, and we cannot legitimately excuse ourselves. If we fail to rise to the dire challenge before us, then we omit one of the Gospel's most crucial expressions for this moment in history, as apathy wins out over love. Then one day we will be face to face with the ones we allowed this culture to victimize.
Highly recommended. Bravo, Bishop Chaput.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2008
Most Rev. Charles Chaput's "Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life" (Doubleday, 2008) is for any Catholic who might be confused by the swirl of election issues and how it is possible to uphold the tenets of our faith and vote for one of two less-than-ideal candidates at the same time, this book by the Denver Archbishop is both clarifying and convicting.
The book features a digestible interplay of American Catholic history, input from Scripture and Tradition complete with some very pointed quotes from Jesus himself, Church Fathers and modern pontiffs, along with His Excellency's most helpful commentary and pastoral guidance.
The Archbishop well demonstrates that one well-loved Kennedy paved the way to the separation between the faith and political lives of Catholic politicians (and this has become a sweeping phenomenon stretching across faith boundaries). Protestants' anti-Catholic fears put JFK into this unenviable position in the first place. But now this is an all-too-familiar theme at the hands of the secularists. (Ironically, now Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have to answer this question, too! Just ask Mike Huckabee.)
Again and again we hear politicians tepidly whimper about not legislating their own beliefs. First of all, the questions with which religious people take issue are not religious ones - abortion, immigration, war, embryonic stem-cell research - they are issues of human dignity, the Archbishop points out, questions more of anthropology, not necessarily theology.
But deep down, fears that Christian politicians living their faith will inevitably lead to fundamentalist theocracy resembling that of the Middle East is not only dishonest, Chaput points out, but it's "bad history" (p. 214). Further, it is the compartmentalizing of faith that has put voters in such a precarious spot.
He also touches on the hotly debated issue of worthy reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. Clearly, Catholics who deliberately work "to advance permissive abortion or any other violation of human dignity ... should never present themselves for Holy Communion" (pp. 228-229). Further, His Excellency said he would withhold Communion from a legislator in his own diocese if that legislator persisted in obstinate pro-abortion policies, but would leave the decision on other politicians in other dioceses to the pastoral judgment of the bishops of those dioceses.
Can you vote for a pro-abortion politician? Well, for these and more answers to the more difficult questions, I recommend Render Unto Caesar. But please, read it soon. Our future hangs in the balance.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2008
Excellent content, well expressed. I read Render unto Caesar in one day. Assertive almost to the point of being aggressive. The Archbishop's point is that every Catholic, every Christian, but especially lay folks, have not only a right, but an obligation to bring the teachings of Christ, which are the teachings of the Church, into the public realm, that a merely vertical, 'me and my Jesus' religion is not enough. Particularly good chapter on St. Thomas More as role model for all Catholics in public life. Buy it for yourself, or give it as a gift to a college age son, daughter, neice, nephew, grandchild, especially for law students and other future Catholic leaders.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2008
The Archbishop's argues that Catholics owe something to Caesar - namely, an authentic engagement in the political conversation of our Country. His well-written book has a very accessible straightforward style, and persuasively argues through compelleing facts and analysis that that Catholics have a specific responsibility to promote moral values in the public forum.
The Archbishop is concerned that Catholic involvement in politics has not been very Catholic. Drawing from David Brookes, the Archbishop describes a developing class of Catholic "bobos" or "bourgeois bohemiams" who are motivated by both a nostalgic piety and a mostly unrecognized greed -- politcal or material or both. These Catholic live the dream but, it seems, not the faith. Always pragmitists, they instead use their faith for political ends. But who determines this end? The Archbishop offers examples of figures who refer to the common good, but actually mean some sort of unquestioned narrative put forward by the mainstream media. The Archbishop sees such Catholics as vulnerable to this narrative -- especially when it involves the most vulnerable of society.
The book contrasts such "bobos" with the first Christians who put their lives on the line for the values of their faith. This contrast is key to the argument of the book. Because the first Christians put their faith first, Roman culture progressed out of pagan brutality and towards a culture of life, a community where humanity could flourish. The implication is that Catholics have an opportunity to do this again -- if they will only free themselves from what seems convenient and pragmatic, and embrace with courage the inconvenience of moral truth.
For anyone wanting a good political guide for Catholics and people of faith, this book questions the narrative that most people are blindly following today. I reread this book in the midst of an economic crisis brought on, by among other things, bad policy and greed. For Catholic not satisfied with being bobos, the Archbishop offers powerful facts and analysis which show how building a civilization of love remains the great challenge of our time.