Clear and Present Dangers - Introduction

To most Americans, "Clear and Present Danger" is known to them as the name of a movie. Some, however, know that "clear and present danger" is a doctrine adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States to determine under what circumstances limits can be placed on First Amendments freedoms of speech, press, or assembly.

At the level of the Supreme Court, a clear and present danger test was established during a case concerning the ability of the government to regulate speech against the draft during World War I. The legal concern was to protect the nation from substantive evils that could be expected as a result of the use of inflammatory words in volatile circumstances, evils that the United States Congress has a right and duty to prevent. The Court said: "It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right." Since then, the clear and present danger test has been refined and is now the standard applied by the Court to free speech issues related to advocacy of violence. It takes into consideration those factors which are deemed to be relevant, and relates their significances.

When it comes to harm of any kind, however, Catholics should be concerned with all that is evil - especially when, due to its proximity and degree, it constitute a clear and present danger. Definitions of evil vary, but, generally, what is considered evil is that which is opposite or opposed to good. While the term evil can be applied to events and conditions of Nature, our concern is with the evil that presumes an evil doer or doers - i.e., the evil intended, attempted, or done by human beings (men or women) or spiritual beings (demons or devils). The evil of our concern here is that which is associated with conscious and deliberate wrong doing, discrimination designed to harm, humiliation designed to diminish, destructiveness of life or private property, deliberate acts intended to cause pain or suffering, and acts of unnecessary or indiscriminate violence.

As Catholics, we understand that we are to avoid evil AND do good, and that it is this double-sided orientation that constitutes Christian Morality. We need to understand also, however, that there is a philosophical debate as to whether morality is absolute or relative. This question of whether morality is absolute or relative leads to questions about the nature of evil, with views falling into one of four opposed camps: moral absolutism, amoralism, moral relativism, and moral universalism.

Setting streams of philosophical thought aside for the moment (we will deal with them in other documents), and going to the well of wisdom, so to speak, i.e., the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find the following clear and concise instruction. "A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together. (Section 1760)" "There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (Section 1761)"

For a Catholic, where there is moral evil there is sin - a failure to love authentically, unselfishly. Depending on the gravity of the matter, degrees of understanding, freedom, and consent of the will, sin may be mortal, i.e., lead to the death of the soul or the second death. In all cases, however, sin works to destroy charity. As charity weakens, sin works to destroy hope. As charity and hope weaken, sin works to destroy faith. And without the God-given (Theological) Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, man is no better than an animal - in fact he is worse, man alone plots evil. As cancerous cells work to destroy the body, sin works to destroy the mind, heart, and soul - and as the mind, heart and soul suffer, the body screams! Sin, Sickness and Death are related.

Out of authentic love for self, for God, and for one another, we must avoid all evil and work to prevent it or overcome it in all its forms - manifesting in one's self, in others, and where it is systematized in the society (e.g., unjust laws). Indeed, one who loves rightly and justly, will come to the aid of the weak, voiceless, and defenseless.

In our day and time, there are many clear and present dangers to mind, body, and soul - the worst of which lead to the death of the soul, or the second death. Below are links to documents in which we highlight specific clear and present dangers at the societal level. Guidance will also be provided as to what can be done to cooperate with God in bringing out of evil a greater good, and, ultimately, defeating all evil.

Culture of Death




Evil of Subversion

Errors, Lies and Deceptions


Deacon Joseph B. Gorini, August 14, 2012

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