A review of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s “Strangers in a Strange Land”
by Ashley Grunhovd | Director of Evangelization for Diocese of Fargo
“Hope underlies the Catholic response to the disorders of today. A hope,
founded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – Ashley Grunhovd
This spring Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia released an insightful and intriguing book entitled Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. The title alludes to how “we may have come to a point today where we feel like foreigners in our own country—‘strangers in a strange land’” (Ex 2:22). The latter part of the title includes the jarring phrase “Post-Christian World.” That blunt claim might make some interiorly bristle, but to those people I would suggest read the book and decide whether or not he effectively justifies the claim.
The early sections examine the blend of Christian and Enlightenment ideas that were woven into the founding of the United States. Our nation was built upon the shared values of freedom, justice, and equality. The success of the new form of government relies on the virtue of its people. In Strangers in a Strange Land Archbishop Chaput implicitly poses the question, “What happens when the nation is no longer made up of virtuous people?” People who are no longer self-giving, patient, unconditionally loving, hardworking, or concerned for the poor and vulnerable? What sort of nation will we be?
A quick glance at the news reveals articles on the increasing influence of the transgender agenda, protests against free speech on college campuses, lawsuits against Christian bakers and florists who believe in marriage between a man and woman, and increasingly heated political polarization. The Christian needs only glance through the news to recognize that our country is in a different context than it was 50 or even 10 years ago. In some cases, it’s hardly recognizable.
The first section of the book is sobering and demands further personal reflection. Archbishop Chaput identifies trends and their pervading effects, such as the fracturing of the family, the rise of relativism, and the litany of other “–isms” that undermine the foundational American values.
Nevertheless, Archbishop Chaput is not pessimistic. He states, “candor is not the enemy of love. And real hope begins in honesty.” He thoroughly identifies the symptoms of illness in American society, but then spends the second portion of the book outlining the Christian response. His material is well-researched. His arguments are both charitable yet convicting. He is insightful, yet blunt.
One might ask why a Catholic Archbishop thought it necessary to spend time writing an entire book about the state of American society and culture. One could say it is the fruit of living out his episcopal role. In order for a doctor to diagnose an illness, he examines the symptoms in order to suggest a course of treatment. Similarly, a shepherd knows the land and anything that is endangering the sheep and takes measures to protect the sheep. Archbishop Chaput, as shepherd, wants to inform his flock so they cannot only avoid falling into today’s disorders, but also to equip them to confront the issues and bring the Gospel to the culture.
Hope underlies the Catholic response to the disorders of today, a hope founded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Chaput does not advocate that Christians exit public life or retreat into communities of only Catholic Christians. Instead, he points out that the task of the Christian is and always has been “to be healthy cells in society.”
We should not despair. Quite the contrary, we are called to bring joy into our families, workplaces, and communities. We are called to be the leaven in the world, by bringing authentic joy and purpose. And where does this joy come from? Jesus Christ.
Chaput concludes by outlining a plan for Christians that might sound familiar: living the beatitudes. At first, his suggestion might seem like a stock response because it is definitely not a new suggestion. However, through his explanation, he reveals how they are just as radical of a response in today’s society as they were in the times of the early Christians in the Roman Empire. Christians are called to radical love and forgiveness. In the end, many of his other suggestions for responding to today’s culture can be summarized in three words: “Be a saint.” Sometimes difficult, but necessary. Simple, yet radical.
Ashley Grunhovd is the Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Fargo.