Skip to comments.What Catholic culture?
Posted on 05/14/2009 10:21:52 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
I've been reading Jody Bottum's well-written, impassioned essays about Barack Obama, Notre Dame, abortion and Catholic culture -- see here and then here -- and I've found myself wanting to agree with him, but they've struck me as having a major flaw: this Catholic culture Jody thinks that Notre Dame and others have departed from really doesn't exist. Would that it did! In fact, as the data show, Catholics are every bit as mainstream American as anybody in their habits and opinions. I agree with Jody that it's offensive that a Catholic university should award an honorary law degree to a lawmaker, even the US president, who favors abortion. But come on, most Catholics voted for Obama. The president of Notre Dame, and other Catholic schools, ought to fear God and anguish over whether or not they're departing from authoritative Catholic teaching, and by so doing leading the faithful away from the truth. But they shouldn't fear that they are out of step with American Catholic culture as it actually exists. They very well know what they're doing.
But don't take it from me. Patrick Deneen, an actual orthodox Catholic who teaches at Georgetown, has written a magnificently bleak but truthful analysis of this situation. He too wishes Jody were correct. But the facts say otherwise. Excerpts:
I admire and agree with much of what Jody writes, but I fear I have to disagree with him over this analysis. In my view, the singular focus upon abortion as THE issue over which conservative Catholics will brook no divergence and around which we are called to rally reveals, to my mind, not evidence of robust Catholic culture as much as its absence. It seems to me that - along with the opposition to gay marriage - this issue represents the last stand, the inner-most wall barely keeping the hordes from overrunning the sanctum. The ferocity over this issue - and this issue almost to the exclusion of nearly every other issue that might be part of a rich fabric of Catholic culture - suggests to me that Catholic culture, where it existed, has been largely routed. And, in fact, it suggests further that it is precisely for this reason that this issue has become largely defined politically - and not culturally - with an emphasis on the way that the battle over abortion must be won or lost at the ballot box (and, by extension, Supreme Court appointments).If our culture were truly Catholic (or, one might say, traditionally Christian), Deneen says it would look something like this:
Most Catholics have long ago ceased to live in a Catholic culture, per se. I would go so far as to surmise that many of the most vociferous opponents of abortion - ones lined up in this particular battle - do not by and large live in particularly Catholic cultures, so much as occasionally gather with like-minded Catholics at various locations (Church, a conference, a retreat) and otherwise live suffused in a decidedly non-Catholic culture. Most of us - Catholic or non-Catholic - live by default in THIS culture, whatever we would call it - liberal, modern, American, global, polyglot, anti-culture. THIS culture is decisively a "culture of choice." Even those who would seek to inhabit a Catholic culture do so as a matter of individual choice - a lifestyle option. But this is not a Catholic culture as we might historically and traditionally understand such a culture - where that culture (as with any culture) shapes and forms your worldview, largely unbeknownst to you and without prior consent or choice on your part.
A Catholic culture would inculcate a certain kind of character: one of respect, self-restraint, responsibility, humility, thrift, moderation, self-sacrifice. Courtship and marriage would be encouraged among the young. Divorce would be well-nigh non-existent. Such a culture would not valorize materialism, but understand that things of this world is not to be wholly embraced. At the heart of our culture would not be - as Jody suggests - opposition to abortion - which is, after all, negative - but rather the things that abortion is not: family, Church, community, memory, tradition, continuity of past, present and future. Culture is affirmation, not simply denial.Culture is affirmation, not simply denial. Discuss.
On one point, I would slightly dissent from Prof. Deneen. Read past the jump if you're interested.
A culture - Catholic or otherwise - that regarded abortion as well-nigh unthinkable would be profoundly different than the one we inhabit. First, such a culture would foster a strong sense of place. This is one of the central features of Catholicism, in strong distinction to Protestantism: we are members of parishes, which are located where one lives, and not according to the choice of minister or music or fellow churchgoers.I wonder if that's really true. Typically, the most engaged orthodox Catholics I knew when I was one of them picked and chose parishes based on whether or not the teaching there was solid. They (we) wanted our children brought up in the Catholic faith, and we knew that you couldn't trust priests today, or lay authorities in the parish, to teach Catholicism. (Incidentally, many engaged liberal Catholics also parish-shop). I would defend this parish-hopping from an orthodox RC perspective because preserving the faith is more important than being faithful to one's geographical parish (I knew I was headed into choppy waters when my firstborn became old enough to understand what the priest was saying during mass, and I would have to explain to him that what Father said is not what the Church teaches; it bothered me that I was having to teach him suspicion of Church authority before he'd even learned to trust it). My point here is simply that the decay in the fidelity to magisterial Catholicism on the part of the institutional Catholic Church in America has contributed to the breakup of Catholic culture by putting orthodox Catholics, who no doubt would prefer to go to their geographical parish, as is the norm, in the position of having to parish-shop to obtain what is their right: the Catholic faith, faithfully proclaimed and lived.
And from Jody Bottum's article:
Unfortunately - and perhaps as an "irony of history" - conservative Catholics have and continue to participate in the dismantling of its own culture. Rightfully joining in the opposition to the Communism, Catholics at first reconciled themselves to (e.g., Buckley), and eventually became active proponents and cheerleaders of free market capitalism (e.g., Novak). In doing this, they encouraged the expansion of a materialist, hedonist, and culture-destroying economic system in order to combat a materialist, impoverished, and culture-destroying enemy. The enemy was worse, because its ideology posited the prospect of changing human nature in accordance with the expected progressive course of history, but the ferocity demanded in the opposition to Communism fostered acquiescence to, and eventually wholehearted support of, an economic system that has proven destructive to what was a strong Catholic culture. The Catholic economic thought of Pope Leo XIII, Chesterbelloc, Schumacher and Roepke has been displaced among many Catholics by an embrace of Hayek and Friedman, along with their materialist and individualist anthropology. The whole cloth of Catholic thought - encompassing politics, economics, religion and culture - has been unraveled, thread by thread. Lacking the solidity of that cloth across the spheres, its porousness led to its eventual disintegration. The current battle over Obama's appearance at Notre Dame takes place amid this backdrop: one can still focus on abortion as the single remaining issue that defines us, but to arrive at this point, much else that would have supported a culture of life has long been discarded.
Bottum's hostility to capitalism is ill-chosen. American capitalism was far more free and energetic when Catholic culture was at its highest. Vatican II led to the decline of Catholic culture, not capitalism.
I too saw the softening of the culture first hand, in the sixties and seventies. By the time I exited Catholic high school, it was adrift with nuns who yearned to be hippies and the new young priests were clearly mincing, not to say homosexual.
The rise of cafeteria catholicism ensued, and I haven’t heard a good solid sermon in years. Hand holding and pop music replaced worship, and you’re right: capitalism had no part in the problem. Rather it was PC group think, and liberal catholics who desperately wanted inclusion in the cool cliques.
Face it, Catholic isn’t cool. What’s more, it should make NO ATTEMPT to be cool.
Perhaps, then again Capitalists never claimed a moral element or even a moral argument, one could be made but it never is.
Capitalism gave rise to socialism.
… 75% of the politicians in DC would have never been elected to office, including Ø, stretch, "Harry the Body", billary, etc. And this Notre Shame issue would have never have been considered in the first place.
Beginning in the early 1940s, Schumpeter argued that the success of capitalism was leading to corporatism and hostility to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. This would subvert the basis for entrepreneurship and lead to socialism in various forms.
In Schumpeter's analysis, by engendering a sense of wealth and material abundance as inevitable and natural, the success of capitalism leads many to believe that capitalism can be reformed or dispensed with so as to alleviate the real or perceived defects of capitalism. Thus, capitalism was being destroyed by its own success.
You are on the mark. By the way, did you notice that the priests most eager to be ‘with it’ later seemed prominent among those in sex abuses scandals?
That argument is also undercut by the wealth that has flowed into China, from slave labor to organ harvesting to door to door abortions under “1 child” policies, making a moral argument while empowering brutes is a non starter.
I always thought Catholicism is a RELIGION....not a CULTURE! We don’t all have the same FOODS....some holidays are important to some Catholics and some are more important to others.
And surprisingly, when I read about all these people who attended “hippie like Catholic schools in the 60s and 70s” I think back to my own Catholic schooling in the 70s and 80s. It was far from “hippyish” and it was incredibly strict.
“We dont all have the same FOODS....some holidays are important to some Catholics and some are more important to others.”
We sure don’t. But I think because Catholics tend to be part of “ethnic” cultures, people assume all follow the same things. For example, we do 7 fishes dinner on Christmas Eve. My mom and her family always did it and I continue to do it. My dad’s side didn’t do it (Irish) but loved coming for Christmas Eve for 7 Fishes Dinner. St. Patty’s Day has its own foods too. St. Joseph’s Day also has the food thing (St. Joseph’s cakes).
The Church doesn’t encourage these things but appreciates that some cultures have traditions that don’t harm anyone.
China is assuredly NOT a capitalist society in that it is a corrupt one party state without the rule of law and the security of property and persons. Hence the evils that you describe.
I grant that your confusion on this point is understandable. China has embraced free markets and entrepreneurship and thus enjoys capitalism’s benefits of material progress and a reduction of poverty.
I can still recall my class praying together out loud in Catholic elementary school for the health of an ill classmate, the safety of astronauts in orbit, for delivery from Godless Communism, and for the repose of the soul of John F. Kennedy and that his family be consoled in their loss.