Archbishop Fulton Sheen was America’s public face and voice of Catholicism during the maelstrom of the Second World War and into the early decades of the Cold War. A tall, imposing, and charismatic Irish-Catholic bishop, Sheen was an academic turned cultural commentator through the advent of radio, television, and mass media. In a new edited anthology of his radio lectures and writings during World War II, aptly titled “War and Peace,” Sheen’s remarks on the cultural, political, and spiritual crises of America are extremely prescient and could easily be read as commentaries on the current struggles of the 21st century.
Over the past decade, an increasing worry about the proliferation of cancel culture and relativism within American education has come to the fore. This, however, is nothing new. Likewise, lamentations on the spiritual decline of Americans have garnered attention from faithful and unbelievers alike. This also is nothing new. Moreover, the malaise of democracy and the fear of growing despotism and dictatorship has become a great concern for American political life. This, too, is nothing new.
All the crises we are currently living through were apparent to Fulton Sheen in the 1930s and 1940s as America struggled against communism, fascism, educational and moral relativism, social upheaval, and concern about the future of democracy and liberty.
In 1941, Sheen wrote, “secular college and university education teaches in one form or another that there is no such thing as evil or guilt, that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong, that right and wrong depend entirely upon one’s point of view.” While such a statement may sound like an indictment against today’s flailing and failing university system, reading Sheen’s insights into the crisis of moral education allow one to recognize the inherent contradictions of the revolutionary spirit. Sheen goes on to say, “On the other hand, the very products of this unmoral education are now, in the domain of politics, pointing fingers at Hitler and Mussolini — not at Stalin, of course — and saying: ‘They are wicked; they are wrong; they are evil.’”
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