David Hartline’s first book, The Catholic Tide is Turning chronicled much of the good news about the Catholic Church in the United States. This sequel continues the author’s campaign to tell the full story of the American Catholic Church.
He begins by reporting on the triumphant visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the US and rattles through twenty solid chapters recounting the number and quality of converts, the influence of the church on the media, the growing Catholic orthodoxy at the college level, the increasing number of religious vocations and the rising number of seminarians. He discusses the threats to traditional marriage, the pro life victories and the growth of Catholic efforts in the new media. He paints a picture of a young and enthusiastic form of ‘evangelical Catholicism’ that is growing in influence and numbers.
The book makes for encouraging reading, and for one who may be stuck in the narrow concerns of parish life and everyday existence as a Catholic, Hartline’s book gives the big picture. Every battle may seem small, but it is a battle within a greater war, and this book helps us see how the Spirit is moving across the United States within the Catholic Church. This book is also a useful antidote to the steady stream of slanted bad news about the Church from the mainstream media. Within the mainstream media every chance to knock the church is taken. Every chance to mock the church is taken. Every chance to ignore and marginalize Catholics is taken. David Hartline trumpets the success of the Catholic Church and reminds all of us that the church is young and the church is alive and the church is positive.
The book builds enthusiasm and I recommend it to all to remind you of the good news about our church. In the midst of books which bemoan the problems, analyze the difficulties and are gloomy about the future, David’s book is a cheerful tonic. With a question and answer introduction to the Catholic faith, a complete index and copious references the book is also a good source for research and facts for those who want to dig deeper and learn more.
The Catholic Tide is Still Turning shows good reporting skills and optimistic comment, but I couldn’t help feeling that at places it was just a bit too triumphalist. David certainly shows the positive and energetic spirit which is out there, but I think the numbers and strength of this upbeat, evangelical Catholicism is less than he indicates. In my experience the form of “intentional discipleship” or “committed Catholicism” he praises is still heavily outweighed by “complacent Catholicism” and “intentional yawning.” While there is a good spirit of loyal, aspirational Catholicism there is also far too much of what I term “suburban dissent”–comfortable, slightly left wing, materialistic Catholics. The election of 2012 revealed that half the Catholic voters probably fall into this category.
If this is the case, then the upbeat, young and optimistic Catholics are a minority. They’re a terrific minority and they are a pointer to the future, but that future is likely to be one of a Catholic church that is smaller, leaner and more committed. Hartline’s joyful Catholic army may be more of an elite strike force than a massive infantry. Furthermore, that elite strike force may find the worst enemy is the enemy within–the dozing hoardes of complacent, poorly catechized and worldly Catholics. Hartline doesn’t mention them much, but we should not be under any illusions: scratch their smiling, folksy and liberal exterior and you’ll find genuine hatred of Hartline’s breed of Catholic enthusiast. The book may have had more complexity and depth if he had also highlighted more this shadow side of American Catholicism.
I also think he may overstate his case for the coming collapse of Protestant mega churches. From what I can discern the Protestant Evangelical movement keeps re-inventing itself, and if he is right that the big box prosperity gospel churches have had their day I think it is pretty certain that some other hip hop, trendy Evangelical movement is waiting in the wings to take center stage and inherit the mantle of the mega pastors. Evangelicalism has a strong inner dynamism and a seemingly endless capability to adapt and morph into another socially viable and relevant version.
I have another quibble: there were a number of typos in the text, and at times the author strays from the topic of his chosen chapter. Sometimes there is repetition and it feels like there is some “filling in.” Probably a sharp proof reader and careful editor would have streamlined the book and made it that much more effective.
That being said, I highly recommend The Catholic Tide is Still Turning. If you were feeling blue after the last election, feeling distressed at the direction America is headed, feeling worried about the attacks on the church and feeling frustrated at the state of the Catholic Church this book will cheer you up. Hartline is a natural optimist and it’s refreshing to read a book that focusses on the good news in an upbeat and stimulating way.