Is the ghetto all we have left? Thoughts on the showdown in Arizona


I’ll be honest: It was difficult to watch the goings-on in the state of Arizona this past week. On second thought, “difficult” probably isn’t the right word for it. In fact, I know it isn’t. There really isn’t a single term that can describe how disgusted I felt when I learned that corporate interests, the mainstream media and anti-Christian zealots bullied Republican Governor Jan Brewer into vetoing a bill that would have upheld one of the most basic freedoms afforded to American citizens under the U.S. Constitution: religious liberty.

Matt Lewis, writing for the Daily Caller, described the situation as follows: “We have reached a point in the gay rights debate where all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. We are now entering into the zero-sum game phase of the debate, where gay rights and religious liberty must collide.”


Lewis is absolutely right. And like him, I don’t see things ending well for religious Americans.

The intellectual elite are doing everything they can in order to convince the general population that religion, Christianity in particular, is the enemy of a civilized society. Toleration for these views in the public square is no longer acceptable, they argue. We must march onward. Religious freedom be damned.

In an essay for USA Today, left-leaning columnist Kirsten Powers, arguing against the Arizona measure, exhibited this dangerous worldview when she told her readers that “Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.”

Similar hyperbolic, intellectually dishonest claims were regurgitated ad nauseam on networks like MSNBC.

CNN and The New York Times also relied on partisan, emotionally-charged language. “Arizona lawmakers pass controversial anti-gay bill” read one headline. “Religious Right Cheers a Bill Allowing Refusal to Serve Gays,” read another.

Anti-gay? Refusal to serve?

What a repugnant way to report the news, given the fact that there wasn’t a shred of evidence suggesting Arizona business owners were chomping at the bit to indiscriminately refuse service to customers based on their sexual orientation.

On the other hand, there was and continues to be, in Arizona and across the country, undeniable evidence that individuals are being coerced into acting against their deeply held religious beliefs, that the free exercise of religion is being infringed upon, and that stronger, sensible protections for religious liberty are needed.

Thankfully, there have been more than a few writers who responded to Powers’ and the press’ claims. Among them include Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, who has done a fantastic job refuting many of Powers’ arguments directly. I suggest you read what he has to say. Pat Buchanan recently published a column titled “How Freedom Dies” that is worth your time as well.

Be that as it may, I think Catholics in general have taken a rather myopic view towards the entire situation. To accurately understand what happened in Arizona we need to put it in context, not only in context of the past several years but of the past several decades. Even centuries. Then, and only then, will we get a better understanding as to what really happened.

It’s often argued that we must engage the modern world by reasoning with our intellectual opponents and having at it in the battle of ideas. Doing so is the only option we have in our pluralistic age. Anything else – calling for the Social Kingship of Christ, for instance – is a sort of retreat into a religious bunker that will alienate non-Catholic Christians and various other sects. We must seek out religious Americans, regardless of creed, and encourage them to work within the system if any of us want to survive.

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Friends or Foes?

As well intentioned this course of action is, it fails to account for a few things. One, it assumes that our enemies are going to be true to their word and rely on reason and honest discourse. Anyone who’s anyone knows this isn’t taking place. Second, there are more Catholics fighting for their faith in the public arena now more than any other time in history, yet, America, as well as most first world nations, are more anti-Catholic than ever before. Finally, it fails to consider the possibility that the modern world and the Catholic faith are inherently at odds with one another and that our efforts within such a system, no matter how noble, were doomed from the start.

Those who marshal these sorts of arguments are often referred to as inward looking, insular rigorists who want to drag us back to the “Catholic ghetto.” This is false. The ghetto has been forced upon us by the modern world. While we were out engaging in corporal works of mercy and dialoguing with other believers in God over the past fifty years, the status quo boxed us into a corner. And what went down in Arizona this past week is just the latest evidence in a long line of evidence of this being the case.

Consider the following.

CV blogger Steve Skojec recently reported that federal health regulators are thinking about allowing human life to be created from the DNA of three people. It hasn’t been approved yet, but who can doubt that this won’t soon be permitted, and that other countries will do the same in the near future? States like California already allow kids to have more than two legal parents. In-vitro fertilization and surrogacy are also practices we see taking place every day. The likelihood that these will be curtailed over the long run is slim to none.

Speaking of California, have you heard about their new transgender law? I don’t have the time to go into it, just like I don’t have the time to discuss everything included in Massachusetts’ or Colorado’s transgender laws, but suffice it to say that no matter how many God-fearing lawmakers Catholics help elect in these places, the likelihood that these states will suddenly embrace the notion that “God created them male and female” is as likely as Kim Jong-un promoting free speech in North Korea.

Furthermore, marriage laws are being knocked down across the country like dominoes. Any honest person knows that there is no coming back from this. The next logical step after this, of course, is polygamy. Websites like Slate are already clamoring for this. I would venture to say that within my life time such unions will be recognized as marriages. Although I don’t think I’ll live to see incestuous and pedophilia marriages take place, these are undoubtedly on the radar of a number of academicians, who, as of late, are seemingly doing a great job of indoctrinating their students, especially the ones who attend Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, with their intolerant ways of thinking.


In a recent visit to Swarthmore, Princeton Professors Robert P. George and Dr. Cornell West held a sort of town hall meeting apparently aimed at engaging in “dialogue” with the student body. The students, however, were having none of it. In fact, in response to the event, one undergraduate said the following: “What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.” “I don’t think we should be tolerating George’s conservative views because that dominant culture embeds these deep inequalities in our society.” Another student wrote, “When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.” So, did you catch that? Instead of academic freedom, young people are being taught that the views other persons hold don’t even deserve to be heard. They are on their face unworthy of civil conversation. How can a Catholic hope to thrive, let alone survive, in such an inhospitable environment?

I could go on and list thousands more examples of just how the modern world has embraced principles antithetical to the Catholic faith and how little we’ve evangelized the culture, but I don’t want to depress you too much. The point is that we are living in times when the Church’s teachings are viewed as anachronistic and upside down, to put it kindly We are told that we need to get out into the streets and fight for our religion. I don’t disagree that we must fight for the Catholic faith, the one true faith. But if we take an honest look at how things have unfolded lo these past several decades, neigh, centuries, one notices that fighting with our enemies on their terms isn’t working. Indeed, it seems we are putting too much trust in the ways of man and too little trust in the ways of God. We are, I fear, in the midst of a much larger battle than we know, and it won’t be resolved by getting the right politician elected to the House of Representatives or by encouraging more people to get involved in the political process. It’s high time Catholics took a long, hard look at themselves and acknowledged that whether we want it or not, the “Catholic ghetto” is here, and that there’s very little we can do about it. Our enemies have grown far too strong and the methods we’ve relied upon over the past several decades simply aren’t working.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Stephen Kokx is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of political science living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has previously worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Peace and Justice. His writing on religion, politics and Catholic social teaching has appeared in a number of outlets, including Crisis Magazine, The American Thinker and his hometown paper The Grand Rapids Press. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, and is a graduate of Aquinas College and Loyola University Chicago. Follow Stephen on twitter @StephenKokx

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