Today, I am pleased to offer my recent email interview with Sheila Liaugminas, author of the newly released book Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture. I hope you enjoy our conversation and that you’ll check out this new release from Ignatius Press. LMH
Ever since early childhood, I knew I wanted to be a journalist, making my own newspapers while following daily news reporting in the newspaper and network television. I’m a cradle Catholic raised in an environment imbued with the sense of transcendent truth, and the Social Gospel of caring for ‘the least of these’, which informed everything I did as a professional journalist. While reporting for Time Magazine, I married and had two sons, rededicated myself to the faith for their sake, and committed to family and work, in that order. Raising my sons was a wonderful blessing and loads of fun, with lots of family travel that brought us in touch with other cultures and global realities. My firstborn son discerned a call to the priesthood and was ordained in 2010. He’s studying in Rome for his doctorate, and is scheduled to teach on faculty at Mundelein Seminary in a few years. He’s an amazing priest and scholar. My younger son is a gifted writer with a postgraduate degree, struggling as most writers do to find his place while doing unrelated work that feeds his imagination for future fiction pieces. My husband is a physician who loves his family, travel and the always-trying Chicago sports teams.
Q: Please describe Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture.
It’s an effort to draw people in the culture into engagement of ‘what we can’t not know’ about first principles, the natural law and moral order, a just society and the centrality of human dignity in everything. So it starts with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, gets into the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s great Civil Rights Movement, John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, writings and teachings of Pope John II and Benedict XVI and Francis and other Vatican documents, to show that the ethic of life is consistent and pre-eminent among other rights. And human dignity must drive social policy. It pre-exists the State.
The book started as a response to a long perceived need of such a reference, since the bishops issued ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ and yet so many Catholics don’t access it. We need an accessible book in hand that distills Church teaching, provides specific points and links, and helps us to ‘be prepared to give an explanation for what you believe’ (a liturgical reading just before Pentecost). Writing it was finally precipitated by a parish Respect Life group’s need for a resource that states clearly what the Church teaches on the top issues of the day, and why. But early on, I prayerfully discerned that the book needed to cast a wider net and drew from the nation’s founding documents, universal human rights declarations and civil rights struggles as well as Church teaching. My intent was to show that these aren’t truths because the Catholic Church teaches them. The Catholic Church teaches them because they’re true.
Q: You cover some critical issues that are complex yet timely in today’s society. Which portions of the book were most challenging to write?
Given the social, cultural and political climate today, fostered by frequent media distortions, the chapter on marriage was probably a tougher one to navigate. I always seek what I call ‘clarity with charity,’ and there’s not much charity in that debate today. With the focus on human dignity of all persons, and the reason for laws and their social ramifications, I wanted to keenly clarify Church teaching and long standing social policy, while upholding dignity for everyone concerned in the debate, which is all of us at this moment in our history. But then, the chapters on when life begins, the euthanasia movement, and religious liberty dealing with the government mandate that violates conscience rights, all presented their challenges.
Q: Why is it important to you that Non-Negotiable ends in a sense with “marching orders” that compel the reader to action?
Just as I try to end my radio program with hope and positive action ideas, it was important to make the end of the book the beginning of engaged Christian action to do something to carry out the Social Gospel in a confused, hurting world. As Pope Francis so often reminds us, the Church should be a ‘field hospital’ for the embattled. But we don’t just wait for people to come in to us for healing, we must go out ‘to the existential peripheries’ and ‘create a culture of encounter,’ as Pope Francis urges us. Complacency is not an option. The rubber meets the road here and now. Every one of us has something to do every day, right in front of us, to change the world.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comment you would like to share with our readers?
As Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict warned us so often, and Pope Francis has repeated, ‘modern man lives as if God does not exist.’ Powerful cultural forces are pulling people away from the transcendent, and even the awareness that truth exists apart from ‘consensus.’ Ideas have consequences, but they have been so distorted by language distortion that people are often unable to even apply critical thinking skills and carry ideas through to their logical conclusions. Being true to teaching, tradition, revelation and natural law require us to be counter-cultural and stand for immutable truths in the midst of what Pope Francis calls ‘the globalization of indifference.’ It will take prayer, information, courage and action. My hope is that we all faithfully pray for the grace to persistently carry out the actions daily that can change the culture and the world.
Copyright 2014 Lisa Hendey