The ‘Catholic Moment’ is Ending

This was The New York TimesRoss Douthat, yesterday, commenting on the “end of a Catholic moment”:

Goodbye and good riddance

The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.

Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.

But the reason for this shift — a wonderful shift, in my opinion — has less to do with, as Douthat suggests, the fall of Catholic leaders and the weakening of “institutional Christianity” than it does the rising power of the Internet and the war against bullshit.

It’s very hard to claim the Pope deserves respect, and a wafer is really Jesus, and the Church is a force for good when all the evidence around us — quickly spread to others via Twitter and Facebook — says the exact opposite. When the truth is staring at you right out of your computer screen, it’s hard to believe anything a clergyman says.

The White House isn’t “picking fights over abortion and contraception” — they’re fighting for liberty against Catholics who want to push their silly religious beliefs onto the rest of society (because it’s not enough that they abstain from those things). It’s a fight that we’re going to win because the Church has no secular argument to make against condoms and birth control and a woman’s right over her own body.

Sure, the sex scandals and lazy theology and religion-merging-with-politics helps our cause — but atheists and liberals and those who have fought back against the intellectually/morally corrupt nature of the Church deserve a good deal of the credit, too.

The Catholic Moment is indeed ending in America.

You’re welcome.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • observer

    How the mighty have fallen.

  • ortcutt

    When The Church made opposing legal equality for gay people and denying contraception from health insurance its cornerstone issues, it really condemned itself to irrelevance.

  • Willy Occam

    Not soon enough… but I’m not holding my breath. I just hope I live long enough to see the end of it.

  • Robert Klauka

    very powerful piece, congrat Hemant!

  • Octoberfurst

    The Catholic church is an archaic, corrupt organization run by old men who still cling to medieval thinking. It is well on its way to total irrelevancy. How intelligent people can still take things like–the wafer is the actual body of Christ when it is put in your mouth, that contraceptives are evil, etc— seriously is beyond me. Is it any wonder that people are leaving the Catholic church in droves? Plus their obsession with stopping abortion and gay marriage doesn’t help either,

    But even though it is weakened the Catholic church is still super wealthy and has a billion adherents. It is still pretty powerful. But time is not on it’s side.

  • Gus Snarp

    Douche Hat lives in such a bubble that somehow he’s managed to miss that the Left has always disagreed with the Church on abortion and the Right has always disagreed with the Church on economics. There’s nothing new there. What’s new is that the Church under Ratzinger has chosen to focus more on abortion and keeping gay people from marrying than on economic justice and peace, while the majority of people are moving to understanding that gay people really should have the same rights as anyone else. The Church has made a decision to craft its policies toward it’s most fanatical, conservative members, thereby abandoning any chance they might have had at remaining relevant. Of course, they’ve been losing members for years as well. So if the Catholic Church is in decline then I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

  • pete084

    The Catholic influence in Ireland is not so much collapsing as imploding, but Catholic wrongdoings in Ireland eclipse anything they have done wrong elsewhere, although only time will tell in that respect!

    Now that the Catholic church has been exposed as corrupt and manipulative we can only hope that governments will have the balls to tackle their corruption head on, the blatant commercialism and tax avoidance MUST be addressed and their financial power diminished.

  • Baby_Raptor

    “Cynical” decision? Standing up for peoples’ rights to make their own decisions is cynical?

    …Well, I guess to a christian fascist, it would be.

  • Guest


  • pete084

    The Catholic Church knows it has been weakened by modern communications, such as social media, and has focused it’s attentions on the developing world. As fast as they lose faithful in the developed world they are gathering converts in places like Africa, even the Christian Fundies of America are finding African nations rich feeding grounds, as witnessed with the Ugandan “Kill the gays” controversy.

    Funnily enough the recent Opening of a Twitter account by the pontiff has proved detrimental to the church, rather than show it as progressive as they’d hoped, I wonder if that had any influence in the recent resignation, I’d like to hope so!

  • Lance Finney

    Yeah, the line about taking a position as required by law and logic being “cynical” really pissed me off.

  • Cylon

    “professional Democrats are more secular than their party’s rank-and-file”
    Bullshit. The nonreligious made up about 25% of Democratic voters in the last election. Compared to the 1 elected official in Congress who openly claims no religion, it seems professional Democrats have quite a ways to go in order to catch up to their secular base.

  • Wilson

    And after we get rid of the Catholics, can we finally get rid of the JEWS?

  • Wilson

    And then we can go after that JEWISH LOBBY that Dawkins talks about!

  • Pattrsn

    Didn’t the Catholics already try that?

  • C Peterson

    I agree. But not because they are Jewish. It is political lobbies that need to be regulated, or perhaps completely eliminated.

  • C Peterson

    Catholics are not under attack, their church leadership is. People retain the right to entertain any beliefs they wish.

    There is no “Jewish church”. If there were, and if they were as crazy and corrupt as the Catholic church, you can bet we’d be going after them as well.

  • Sue Blue

    Good riddance to more than a thousand years of perfidy, graft, corruption, murder, rape, and genocide in the name of a ridiculous fairy tale. That’s one ship that should be set on fire as it sinks.
    Oh, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, Ratzy.

  • pagansister

    However many of those that are leaving are being replaced by the Latino and Hispanic populations —-so is it possible that their influence–the Church is really out of the running politically?

  • Claude

    A typical piece of centrist hackery from Douthat. I don’t know what mid-2000s Douthat lived in, but my recollection is of a sinister era dominated by the Iraq debacle. Of course it’s easy for “compassionate conservatism” nostalgia to trump Abu Ghraib when your history of the past decade apparently derives from press releases.

    the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception…

    Bullshit! The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spurred by their meddling masters in Rome, picked that fight! The Democrats simply ran with it.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure how much to credit the internet for the Vatican’s plummeting reputation. Traditional news organizations like The Boston Globe, The New York Times , The National Catholic Reporter and The Los Angeles Times deserve laurels for investigating and reporting the clerical sex abuse (and other Vatican) scandals. Of course, their dogged efforts have been widely circulated thanks to the internet.

  • Witchgawd

    Men practicing celibacy, wearing long flowing gowns and funny hats, magical incense, water and incantations, eating and drinking crackers and wine and calling it the flesh and blood of Jesus, raping young children, talking to imaginary beings and claiming to know what these beings desire of everyone. Witch doctor, shaman, or priest? The fact that anyone EVER believed any of this crap is amazing.

  • Blacksheep

    We have at least three Catholic families joining our church every year – it’s definitely a trend that I have observed.

  • Buckley

    The Catholic moment ended a long time ago. I worked for 2 Catholic high schools in the Chicago area, loved teaching the kids and loved what I did. But, if you want to see the true decline of the Catholic Church, examine any city 30 years ago and today and look at the number of catholic schools that have closed. It’s not just that they don’t have the religious people to teach in the schools at a fraction of what they have to pay lay people, it’s that there isn’t as many fervent Catholics anymore that insist on sending their kids to religious schools. We teachers every year would play the “Catholic School Roulette” and try and guess which schools would close.

  • Claude

    This trend tracks with the rise of movement conservatism and the religious right. Coincidence? I wonder.

  • Richard Wade

    Careful, you’ll get hay fever playing with straw men like that.

  • rwlawoffice

    “The White House isn’t “picking fights over abortion and contraception” —
    they’re fighting for liberty against Catholics who want to push their
    silly religious beliefs onto the rest of society (because it’s not
    enough that they abstain from those things).”

    This is flat out wrong. Forcing Catholic institutions to pay for and provide contraception is an attack on their religious liberties. It is not the Catholic institutions trying to force their beliefs on others.

  • Mario Strada

    No one is asking them to provide contraception to their clergy. When they act as employers and hire civilians to perform jobs for them you better believe those civilians should have every right that everyone working for any employer should have.

  • RobertoTheChi

    Keep telling yourself that…

  • Allogenes

    Lookit, freedom of conscience is all well and good, but if you are an
    employer and you owe your employees health benefits, it’s their
    conscience and not yours that should control what they can do with it.
    You can’t just not pay something because you disapprove morally of what
    the party you owe it to will do with it.

  • CottonBlimp

    They don’t pay for or provide contraception. The insurance pays for those things and the employee pays for the insurance.

    For fuck’s sake, rights do not belong to institutions, they belong to INDIVIDUALS. The Catholic church has ZERO business saying it’s sticking up for religious freedom when it fires its employees for being pro gay marriage.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Ignorance is bliss!

  • chicago dyke

    i’m going to mildly disagree with you here and say that internet reporters and writers were much more serious and detailed about RCC evil, as they broke, in recent years. the MSM has been sadly gentle in its treatment of the RCC and its scandals, relative to what i have read on the interwebs.

    When the truth is staring at you right out of your computer screen,

    this is kind of funny and ironic. “i saw it on the internet! it must be true!” is a lot like “i read it in the buybull! it must be true!”

    just being snarky with you, Friend.

  • Claude

    Ha! I appreciate hearing from you!

  • Tor

    Using the “logic” of the church, how far down the path is it to an employer who will not allow its insurance to cover HIV drugs?

  • Tor

    The fact that any of this has survived into the 21st century is amazing!

  • Tor

    You are treading on very thin ice with your snark, Mr. Wilson. I congratulate you for it.

  • Tor

    Obituary: The Pope died of embarrassment.

  • Pattrsn

    Has the religious right gained that much in Chicago?

  • Carmelita Spats

    Crucified-Christ-On-A-Cracker…So you weep, rant and cuss because Muslim and Jewish institutions are “forced” to violate their “conscience” by subsidizing the pork industry? Jehovah’s paying for blood transfusions? Scientologists paying for psychiatric meds? Where does your insanity end? Superstition is superstition. It does NOT belong in public policy and should NEVER impede the right of a patient to determine what is BEST for herself. Catholic institutions should concern themselves with cleaning up their overabundance of ACTIVE MALICE towards the rule of law in matters of pedophilia.

  • Carmelita Spats

    A few leads and you must do your own research…SEE ALSO: Spain, 1492. Other words that might help…”marranos”, “judaizantes”, “pureza de sangre”…The Catholic Church had interesting “tests” to see if someone was Jewish…You could also investigate pogroms in Poland.

  • Miss_Beara

    It would have if our governor lost the election. Granted he isn’t the best governor, but Illinois would be looking like Mississippi if he lost in terms of personhood and no marriage equality. So… phew.

  • allein

    My former roommate teaches at a Catholic school. There were 4 in the area that were closed and all rolled into one a couple years ago. She was lucky enough to keep her job.

  • baal

    I’m sure Dawkins misspoke or is unaware of the problem with those words (if he said them) and would rather have use ‘Israel lobby’. That lobby is right wing christian and not jewish in its membership. That lobby is also seeking the end times in a religious sense.

  • baal

    Actually, until the most recent dust up, the Catholic institutions were largely happily paying for it. Until the republicans created a talking point and the churches went to go re-read their policies for compliance with the republican talking point it wasn’t an issue.

    So much for it being an attack – the Catholics cared not one whit before hand.

  • Monk

    Sorry fellas, the catholic church will never end, ever, that’s a promise, and not just any promise, but a divine one, Ave Maria.

  • Derrik Pates

    I don’t care who your employer is – they should not get to decide how you use your health insurance any more than they get to decide how you spend your paycheck. Whether the employee uses it on contraception or not is immaterial. Religious freedom does not extend to deciding how one’s employees use the windfall of their employment.

  • roberthughmclean

    I’ve read that the RCC is having a hard time attracting young men to the priesthood. Here in Australia, they’re importing them from faraway places to make up the numbers. Mind you, it would be a surprise that there is a need for more priests given the fact that the number of Aussies going to church continues to diminish. The last census (2011) revealed that less than 7% of this country attends a religious service once a month or more. That means about 94% of the population don’t. I’m proud of that!