Render Unto Caesar:
David Scott has written a companion and study guide to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s bestselling, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation By Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (Doubleday, 2008).
The study guide follows the book’s 12 chapters, summarizing for each the main points and offering a prayer, Scriptures, Catholic teaching, and background on the key people and works cited. Published by the Archdiocese of Denver, the study guide will be used in high schools and colleges of the Archdiocese.
Below is a news story on the study guide, followed by an excerpt.
To read or download the Study Guide, click here.
By Roxanne King
Archbishop Charles Chaput’s bestselling book of 2008, “Render Unto Caesar,” which explored the intersection of faith and politics, is now available in paperback. It was released as a paperback Aug. 4.
The archbishop is a Capuchin Franciscan and has led the Denver Archdiocese since 1997. He is a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“I’d like to see Catholics around the country buying copies of this new paperback edition and mailing them to their elected officials with a note encouraging them to read it and to discuss it with their colleagues and constituents,” he said.
The following is an excerpt from Render Unto Caesar: A Companion and Study Guide, by David Scott
The title of this chapter is a signal. “Men Without Chests” was the introductory lecture in a series that the literary critic and Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, published in 1943 under the title, The Abolition of Man.
It was a serious work for serious times and, as Archbishop Chaput will make clear, the issues that Lewis raised are even more pressing today. In fact, it might be helpful to read Render Unto Caesar as almost a sequel to The Abolition of Man.
Lewis’ little book was a meditation on human nature, religion, and values; the purpose of government and education; and the role of science and technology in shaping human relationships with the natural world and with God. Render Unto Caesar is urgently concerned with all of these issues and more, as the Archbishop reflects on a radically secularized America where human dignity and liberty, the identity and practice of the Christian faith, and even the ideals of our democracy now stand in jeopardy.
Back then, Lewis was warning of the rise of a scientific-materialist worldview that would stop at nothing short of changing human nature itself. In the name of reason and logic, this worldview rejected everything that could not be discovered or proven scientifically. Thus it rejected one of the core beliefs of Western civilization, found not only in the Christian tradition but also in Greek and Roman philosophy and other ancient philosophical traditions—the idea that there is a “natural law,” that every man and woman is born with certain innate understandings about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood, justice and duty.
Lewis noted that already in English schools of the 1940s children were being taught that there were no such things as moral absolutes (behaviors that one “ought” or “ought not” to do) or transcendent values such as freedom, beauty, truth, and the good. Children were being told that statements about supposedly universal values (“This is beautiful.” “That is wrong.”) actually express only personal feelings—our irrational emotional response to the “world of facts.”
That is what Lewis meant by “men without chests,” the chest being the metaphorical seat of the heart, the source of values. As Lewis saw it, the new worldview was producing men and women who were all head and no heart. They were able to reason but unable to know the truth or to make judgments about what is right and what is just, or about what one ought to do. They were hence incapable of the very virtues necessary to sustain civilization.
He projected a frightful future in which this worldview would be pressed into the service of “an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique,” resulting in the slavery of the many by the few. As he put it: “The power of man to make himself what he pleases means … the power of some men to make other men what they please.”
That future is even closer today, as Archbishop Chaput will show us in Render Unto Caesar. The profoundly anti-humanistic worldview that Lewis identified has come to insinuate itself in American life, pushed by an antireligious elite and abetted by a mass media system with powers for manipulation and disinformation that Lewis could scarcely have imagined. All of this, as the Archbishop knows, threatens the future of the historic American experiment in democracy.
It is always a dicey proposition to try to define the “American spirit,” or what makes this country unique. Archbishop Chaput, however, does not hesitate. America, he argues, is founded on an ideal—a belief in the singular importance of the human person, in every man and woman’s “innate dignity and potential for greatness.”
Rooted in the Christian and natural law heritage of the nation’s founders, this belief has led to the creation of a society and government committed to promoting individual freedom and opportunity. This belief, in turn, has been the source of America’s proudest achievements—extending civil and religious liberties and social mobility to a great percentage of our people; our extraordinary advances in science, technology, industry, and the rule of law; our humanitarian spirit and our willingness to sacrifice and to use our wealth and power to defend freedom and human rights throughout the world.
Yet in the bright light of all that America has accomplished, the Archbishop sees growing shadows. Staggering increases in depression and other mental health problems; soaring individual debt levels; increasing ignorance of history and current events; the growing vulgarity and callousness of public discourse; widespread cynicism about civic responsibilities and public service; a peculiar contempt for life and a growing disregard for the dignity of the person.
All of these are signs that we are devolving “from the land of opportunity to the land of private appetites,” he writes. Reading this chapter in light of the economic meltdown that became manifest in late 2008, the Archbishop’s analysis sounds prophetic—in identifying not only the seeds of the crisis but also the reasons for our inability to deal with it.
The prospects for American renewal, unfortunately, are made uncertain by the same forces that Lewis identified—a hollowing-out of our nation’s Christian “soul,” under the influence of a new “knowledge oligarchy” and an elite committed to an aggressive agenda of de-Christianization.
Lewis warned that “the practical result” of educating people to be men without chests “must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.” Archbishop Chaput knows too that the stakes are high.
Father in heaven,
Lord, you look down from heaven,
Turn our hearts from our idols, the works of our hands,
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
(Compare Romans 1:18–25; 1 Corinthians 1:20–25; Psalms 8:4–6; 14:1–3; Colossians 1:15)
Every human person is created by God, in his image and likeness, and is his “offspring.”
– Genesis 1:26
In Jesus Christ, the firstborn of many brethren, we know God as our Father, and we know all men and women as brothers and sisters, for whom Christ in his love has died, and with whom he has united himself in a personal way.
– Romans 8:29
In his love, God has destined each person, from before the foundation of the world, to be his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ and to play a part in his divine plan.
– Ephesians 1:3–10
Men and women were made to live, not alone or in solitude, but in society; the model of that society is the Church.
– Genesis 2:20, 23
God has made every nation on the face of the earth, for the purpose that every man and woman should seek God and find that he is not far from them.
– Acts 17:26–27
Human authority is from God and should serve the purposes of God.
– John 19:11
Catechism, Magisterium, and Catholic Social Teaching
Human societies and governments exist to serve the authentic good of the human person—both the person’s material and spiritual well-being.
– Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nos. 384, 386
God, as the author of human society, entrusts the government of society to political authorities who must see themselves as servants of the moral order and as ministers of divine providence.
– Compendium, nos. 396–398
Authentic democracy is possibly only when it is based on a true conception of the human person, including the persons fundamental right to religious liberty.
– Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 46
Historical Foundations and Background
Key Catholic figures and works:
Christopher Dawson (1889–1970): One of the most important historians of the 20th century, Dawson advanced a Christ-centered vision of history as the working out of God’s divine plan of salvation. He saw religion as the root of every culture and wrote extensively on the Judeo-Christian foundations of Europe and Western culture, warning of what he saw as the progressive “de-Christianization” of the West. In an unpublished manuscript from 1928, he wrote “Every culture is like a plant. It must have its roots in the earth, and for sunlight it needs to be open to the spiritual. At the present moment we are busy cutting its roots and shutting out all light from above.” Among his books, the most important for the purposes of Archbishop Chaput’s discussion are: Progress and Religion: An Historical Enquiry (1929); Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950); The Dynamics of World History (1956).
Other important figures and works:
C. S. Lewis
1. Archbishop Chaput opens this chapter by discussing the current religious and political situation in France, and especially the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Why do you think he does that in a book that he is writing about America? What similarities or dissimilarities do you see between America and France, as the Archbishop describes them?
2. The Archbishop says that modern atheism comes in two basic styles, “hard” and “soft.” Discuss what he means by each of these characterizations. Now consider again the “hard” style of modern atheism that Archbishop Chaput describes. These atheists seem motivated by an antireligious agenda and have undertaken a deliberate strategy to eradicate religion from the areas of education, science, the media, and law. What can you and your fellow believers do to “push back” against this aggressive form of modern atheism, as the Archbishop suggests we must?
3. Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical letter, Pacem in terris (Peace on Earth, no. 36), offers this beautiful statement of the Catholic vision for human society:
Discuss this statement, which is also quoted in the Catechism (no. 1886). To what extent does American society today encourage and promote its citizens’ search for spiritual values and beauty? In what ways might America do a better job in promoting authentic values in our arts and other cultural expressions, as well as in our laws and our economic and social institutions?
4. Read again the quotation from religious pollster George Barna that comes near the end of this chapter. Do you agree with his assessment? Is it true about you or the people you know? What can you do to make a more “tangible commitment to knowing and loving God, and to allowing him to change [your] character and lifestyle”? Why is this kind of “conversion” important to the renewal of America?
5. Archbishop Chaput quotes the historian Paul Johnson’s distinction—that America is “a moral and ethical society without a state religion.” Discuss what this means in light of what the Archbishop calls “Christianity’s formative role in American life.”
6. C. S. Lewis concludes his lecture, “Men Without Chests,” with these words: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
7. In his book, The Republic, Religions and Hope (2005), French President Nicolas Sarkozy writes: “I am of Catholic culture, Catholic tradition, Catholic faith. Even if my religious practice is episodic, I acknowledge myself as a member of the Catholic Church.”
Based on the Archbishop’s argument in this chapter, explain why President Sarkozy’s brand of Catholicism is insufficient for meeting the challenges that believers face in America today.