National Review editor speaks on modern media, faith, and public life

Opinion journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez is former editor and current editor-at-large of the popular conservative webzine NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE.  Her work has been featured widely in national and international media like the WALL STREET JOURNAL, the NEW YORK TIMES, and CNN as well as in FIRST THINGS and a number of Catholic publications.  At her recent visit to Notre Dame, she took the time to speak with THE ROVER on topics ranging from the media to the pro-life movement.

You’re at Notre Dame to speak at the Edith Stein Project, and your talk was titled “Media and Vulnerability: The Next Sexual Revolution.”  What do you think are some of the most interesting aspects of modern media and what are the unique challenges that confront us today?

There are so many different opportunities, obviously – that’s not breaking news.  The challenge going into the conference, the real challenge for someone one who goes to the University of Notre Dame and who believes in its mission and the Catholic faith, is how to use the media for the new evangelization, and how to live out your faith in that context without being preachy, and making sure we make the most prudent use of different media.  So we see everyone from the Vatican to students at Notre Dame to teachers and professors making use of the internet through tweeting and blogging, and I think they all have their place when done well with a sense of balance and focus.

I think that the biggest challenges are some of what I talked about yesterday: the media, especially official venues – primetime TV shows, the movies – still have a big impact on people.  Yesterday I mentioned “Sex and the City,” and people are still familiar with Carrie Bradshaw, and that has a tremendous cultural impact.  It was story-telling – that was part of it; people are attracted to friendship; there were stories that people were interested in one way or another.  And I think it captured some of the angst or even misery of modern dating/courtship, and so people were attracted to that.  But of course there was nothing particularly uplifting, so it was just sort of miserable.

What always struck me – and which people watching reruns on late at night still see – is that she [Carrie Bradshaw] always had a question.  Her sex columns always had a question at the end she just didn’t know where to find the answers.  To go back to the Edith Stein conference, you guys have some sense of the answers.  You know the source of the answers.

So I think it’s our duty, whatever your particular role or call is of course, to make sure that we’re telling the stories that we know.  There’s a whole culture and world out there that’s seeking the answers that we have some sense of, some connection to.  Ultimately, that source is the Eucharist.  And even in these random moments I hear someone sort of say that; sometimes you even catch a glimpse of that in the media from someone says on Morning Joe on MSNBC – the last thing I expected – or Newt Gingrich – whatever you think of him – on the campaign trail.

Personally, how do you balance using modern technology – constant internet access, tweeting, blogging, and so forth – with the need to find the silence necessary to following Christ?

Not always well.  Ultimately, I quoted Edith Stein yesterday about the importance of finding that spot everyday to spend some time in prayer, ideally before the Blessed Sacrament, though of course that can’t always be due to distance or whatever.  But just making sure you’re really actually praying and that you’re really doing his will and not your will – and that you actually just stop the tweeting – is so important.

When you think about the things that you do in the course of a day, we do a lot of important things, but what could be more important than that?  Just going back to that source.  That’s certainly what Edith Stein said was a key to success, and I certainly find in my own daily life, that however busy things get, doing that makes a big difference – just an hour.  Ideally daily Mass and a holy hour – sometimes you may adjust that a bit – but if you can at least make that your goal, I know it makes a tremendous difference.  And it helps you think better….You’re just going to be better and more receptive to people and more present, I think, if you have a discipline like that.

Let me shift gears and ask your thoughts about the upcoming election.  What do you think of the upcoming GOP primary, and is there anything you’ve found particularly interesting about this election?

For those of us who get paid to watch debates, there’s been a certain sense of fatigue at certain moments, because there have been a lot of them.  And some of them – I dare say, the majority – have not been particularly productive.  However, that said, if you take the body of the debates over time, practice does make perfect, I guess, and you have a stronger set of candidates than you would if you hit rewind and went back to the first debate.

Before the Obama administration doubled down with the HHS mandate, which is such a tyrannical violation of conscience, the Republican debates did bring them out a little bit.  And it was heartening to me that there were so many candidates who seemed well acquainted with what was going on.  Gingrich has been eloquent on that.  Rick Perry was defending the Catholic Church.  I think people going into the debates assumed that maybe only Rick Santorum would care or not even him.  And then Mitt Romney, who has written about this too, has some experience as governor trying to defend the rights of religious liberty in his state, and he’s a friend to the Catholic Church in Massachusetts.  So all this is a long way of saying there are candidates who seem to get it there on the GOP side.

One thing – not to be naive – but I was grateful to see that apparently Joe Biden and Bill Dailey and Leon Panetta in the Obama administration told the White House that this was not going to fly.  And apparently one or another of them as a matter of policy, not just the politics, was opposed.  It’s not like any of them have walked away in protest, although some have guessed maybe this contributed to Dailey leaving but until we know that I’m not going to jump to any assumptions.  I think the mandate issue will be such a part of this election, and I think you’re seeing that this has had such a unifying effect on the Catholic Church.

And again, I don’t want to overestimate this because it’s not like Joe Biden has left the ticket – and now he’s defending it, so I don’t really give him any credit – but at least they get that there’s something off about that.  Maybe this is an educational opportunity for priests to preach more on all the facets of the faith, and laypeople to step up to the plate in both being open to Church teaching and receptive to it and even live it and be able to evangelize in a whole new way because they’re authentically Catholic.  In many cases, I think the culture has really seen us not being authentically Catholic, and it’s true as much at Notre Dame as anywhere.

Speaking of Notre Dame, you’ve written extensively on the university, from the controversial Obama commencement to a column this summer on the new Vita Institute initiative.  Where do you see Notre Dame within the context of American Catholic life and in the public square in general?

I so want Notre Dame to be a leader in the Catholic Church, and a true leader.  I don’t want it to go away.  You have this great cultural heritage and you have our faith tradition, and Mary’s university should not surrender to the culture.  I think there have been moments where it has a little bit – that’s no secret.  I know there are a lot of vehemently anti-Notre Dame people at the moment after President Obama being given that honorary degree, and I know there are people who goes so far as to blame Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame for what’s happened with the mandate and Obama’s healthcare plan in general.  I think it’s true that Fr. Jenkins lent the president the credibility of this institution, and that’s unfortunate.  But I also know that just about the first person I heard from when this bogus compromise came down on Friday is Carter Snead from the law school, who’s put together this strong letter…There are both great signs of hope and true leaders here.  I just hope that they’re heard in the coming days and months and years, and I also hope that the decisions that are made at Notre Dame don’t suppress that beacon here of some of your professors who have toiled here and given their hearts and labors to this place because they love Notre Dame and they love the Church.

You’ve written on a lot of pro-life issues.  What do you think should be the areas of focus for people who want to build a culture of life in the United States?

Well, first of all, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been going to the March for Life for years – I’m not even sure how long, for about 20 years.  I started going as a senior at the Catholic University of America – it was right in my backyard.  I’ve never seen so many people there as I did this year (and I ran into some Notre Dame people).  So that’s a great sign for the pro-life movement, and for the Church, because you couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing Our Lady of Guadalupe or St. Michael.  There were so many Catholics there, but also evangelicals and Jews and people of all faiths, and people of no faith, which is great of course.

It’s a very dark thing that we’re approaching 4 decades of legal abortion in the United States, and a lot of politicians talk about how this is really a time for choosing, sort of a tipping point in American culture, and really at the heart of that is that we still allow this to be.  Granted, a student studying at Notre Dame has not endorsed this reality, but are we doing enough?  Doing enough means being engaged civically and voting for the right people.  It’s just unacceptable in almost all circumstances to be voting for someone who is indifferent or a proponent of legal abortion.  And I think part of what has to be a priority for us beyond civic engagement is that everyone has places in their community, like the Women’s Care Center in South Bend, that they should be supporting.

I think we have to talk carefully about these things and be sensitive to the wounds around us.  I think 55 million abortions in the United States is our current number.  A lot of women have had abortions, and we want to reach out to them, and to the men who are affected.  I think the short answer is in addition to making sure that abortion ceases being legal, we have to make sure that we approach this topic in just the most loving way.  And that’s exactly what the people at the Women’s Care Center are doing.

And I think it’s incumbent on us for people to know that they have other options.  So many women have abortions because they don’t feel that they have any other option, which is of course the irony of the “choice” talk.  If a woman goes into Planned Parenthood, she feels like her only option is abortion.  When they go there, they aren’t being talked to about other options.

And you can “give your child up for adoption” but what sounds like such a burden to people can actually be such a great gift.  I think we have to find a better way to talk about adoption…it’s a beautiful gift because you’re saving life.  We talk about it in such a sacrificial way, and it is a great sacrifice, but it’s also saving a woman from a lifetime of regret at having ended her child’s life.

So I think as Catholics we need to end abortion and we need to lovingly address all the players and all the quandaries that people find themselves in so that can really end abortionWe want women to know that there are life affirming choices and that we will help them as individuals, as a church.  I know that in New York, where I’m from, the Cardinal-Designate [Timothy] Dolan now has renewed the promise that Cardinal O’Connor was famous for, which is that any woman can call up the archdiocese, and we [the Church] will walk you through this.

Claire Gillen is a senior history major who never eats muffins in an agitated manner.  Contact her at