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LOPEZ: Who are we? — America is at a crossroads
Kathryn Lopez
Kathryn Lopez

This is an opinion piece.

"Who are we? Where are we going?”

These are fundamental questions that Monsignor James P. Shea, president of the University of Mary in North Dakota, asked repeatedly while speaking at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s recent annual dinner. 

We witness slaughters of children in school, of people in a grocery store. From where I sit, the state of New York is eager to become an abortion travel destination. On a recent day in the Empire State, the twin topics of legislative focus were gun control and increasing the availability of abortion. When might we unite in wanting to protect all the innocents, born and unborn? 

One of the big Supreme Court cases last summer involved Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia. The city no longer wanted to work with the Church, because of traditional beliefs about marriage. But that’s not pluralism, and that’s certainly not respect for religious liberty. The United States isn’t so much about prohibiting, but about protecting. Or is it? We protect the right to life, the right to religious liberty. And yet, who we are and where we are going suggests something else. The unborn all too often are being relegated to a woman’s health care choice. But it’s death, just as much as the barbaric deaths in a classroom. Every child — in the classroom and in the womb — deserves our love and protection. Every incentive in our culture should support exactly that. 

The pain of a parent who loses a child is inconsolable. When so many die, as in the school in Uvalde, we are rightly horrified. When a child dies suddenly, we know this is not the way things should be. And yet, there are certain deaths — miscarriages for example — that we all too often treat as routine. But the pain of a parent is still real. The human loss is true. With abortion, we insist it’s not a loss so much as an exercise of empowerment. That’s a very harmful lie. 

I don’t know enough — or want to know enough — about guns to know what the best policies are, but clearly violent, angry young people should have some obstacles to getting their hands on guns. But there’s something much more than legislation that needs to happen in the United States today. When we treat one life as if it is not worthy of protection because it is inconvenient, we open deadly doors. 

So many of us want to protect the innocent. For many different reasons, we disagree about the humanity of some of them. Let’s talk about that. Let’s work together where we agree. Don’t let the loudest voices with the most money drown out reason and civility. 

As Shea put it: “Religious freedom is a value we all share, but it’s not enough. We don’t aspire to a civilization of religious liberty, we aspire to a civilization of love. Religious liberty is not the end game, it just gives us the elbow room to reach into our hearts and then stretch our arms out widely to a world in need. The Constitution and Bill of Rights do not create but rather acknowledge and make space for the human capacity to serve from transcendent motivation.” 

He added: “When we are clear about who we are and where we are going, we can foster that civilization of love.” 

But to know who we are and where we are going, we are going to have to do more listening and less caricaturing. Don’t let those who profit from the most destructive, divisive forces win. We are better than that, and our fellow citizens deserve better than that.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at