Lonergan and Lincoln: a priest and a president offer wisdom on overcoming division

Here are four findings about social media users’ views on political conversations.

There is one truth we all hold to be self-evident today: Our Republic is deeply, distressingly, dangerously and destructively divided. Is there any hope? Can we see our way out of the predicament into which we have fallen?

Jesuit priest Bernard Lonergan was one of the great philosophers of the 20th century. He offered an analysis of communal disintegration, rehabilitation, recovery and reintegration.


What do we lose in the miasma emitted from Washington, D.C., and the cacophony of TV’s talking heads trumpeting competing ideologies? We lose the benefits of cumulative progress that follow the construction of common meaning and community. Decline follows the trashing of truth, the rejection of responsibility and the death grip of gross greed. We need to rediscover the promise of progress. The alternative is to continue our descent into the abyss.

Lonergan wrote, “Finally, the divided community, their conflicting actions, and the messy situation are headed for disaster. For the messy situation is diagnosed differently by the divided community; action is ever more at cross purposes; and the situation becomes still messier to provoke still sharper differences in diagnosis and policy, more radical criticism of one another’s actions, and an ever deeper crisis in the situation.”

The solution, according to Lonergan, is authentic self-transcendence in knowing rightly, choosing responsibly, and living in true and loving freedom. Lonergan’s work provides an owner’s manual for the human person. His analysis reveals how our minds and hearts actually work. He demonstrates how our living can be intelligently charted, and vastly improved, by choosing to adhere to the inherent norms of our hearts and minds: Be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable and be responsible. This is a method, a way of being human, on personal and communal levels.

Following Lonergan’s method will form communities that make for progress:

“The ideal basis of society is community. Without a large measure of community, human society and sovereign states cannot function. ... There are needed, then, individuals and groups and, in the modern world, organizations that labor to persuade people to intellectual, moral and religious conversion.”

We need to change the way we are doing things politically, socially and economically. We need to get back to creating and maintaining common meanings. Lonergan noted, “As common meaning constitutes community, so divergent meaning divides it.”

Realizing how our minds, hearts and souls operate, charts the currents to transcend the conservative-liberal logjam. The more we are faithful to the demands of truth, goodness and love, the more we are “winners.” The more we truncate truth with lies, undermine good with evil and violate love with selfishness and sin, we are “losers.”

The way forward lies not in dictating dogmas or decimating opponents with sound bites and terrifying tweets. Reinstating progress lies in the loving call to be our deepest, truest selves: personally, communally, globally. Institutions must respond. For example, “Religion ... in an era of crisis has to think less of issuing commands and decrees and more of fostering the self-sacrificing love that alone is capable of providing the solution to the evil of decline…”

Great leaders know how to foster progress and desire to do so. Abraham Lincoln prophetically proclaimed, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will swell … when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Listen to Lonergan and Lincoln: Repair, restore and reinvigorate our Republic.

Richard G. Malloy ( is a Jesuit priest and director of Mission and Ministry at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore.