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Carl Anderson on Civilization

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 11, 2008

I just finished reading Carl Anderson’s A Civilization of Love, his new book on “what every Catholic can do to transform the world.” Anderson is the head of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization with nearly two million members, so he has had to think a good deal about these questions in recent years. Before that, he gained very valuable experience in politics, always working at it from a Catholic perspective. He is also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Councils for the Laity, Justice and Peace, and the Family. For all of these reasons, his insights merit special consideration.

Anderson’s book combines a clear description of the Catholic worldview with pointed questions at the end of each chapter, questions which serve as exercises to help the reader discern whether his own values and perceptions are shaped sufficiently by the Faith. The 5% of the book devoted to these exercises seems a little high-schoolish, and my guess is that anyone interested in reading the book will already be blessed with enough self-knowledge to make them unnecessary. But nothing is lost: If they are helpful, fine; if not, they are easy to skip.

The main text of the book is ideally suited to intelligent adults, without requiring any sort of advanced knowledge or special background. It draws upon Anderson’s own experiences, his work with the Knights of Columbus, and his deep reflection on Catholic social teaching to clearly express an authentic Catholic vision of the nature of man, his destiny, the sacredness of life, the importance of the family, the dignity of human work, the need for ethics in the marketplace, global solidarity and the transforming power of Christ.

Anderson is at his best, in my opinion, when he links the dignity of human work, the ethics of the marketplace and the need for Christian solidarity among citizens of rich and poor countries. It is important to recognize at the outset that the book's purpose is not really to list concrete steps we can take to change the world (the subtitle is a bit misleading); rather it describes the values and attitudes we must adopt before any change is possible. But the author does give some broad hints about where and how these new attitudes might bear the most fruit in terms of significant global improvement.

If you’re relatively new to Catholic social teaching or you want to see it explained outside the classroom, with specific reference to our own contemporary concerns, A Civilization of Love is worth your attention. As we face the same old questions in yet another presidential election year, we ought to begin to suspect our culture is in a bit of a mental cage. Anderson is a gifted and influential man whose insights into how we got where we are—and where we ought to go from here—may help us begin to think outside that box.

[Carl Anderson, A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World, Harper One, New York, 2008. 203 pp. hard-cover. $19.95. Purchase here at discount to allow Trinity Communications to earn a percentage of the sale.]

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