The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn

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.


  • Christian

    “the Protestant Evangelical movement keeps re-inventing itself…the big box prosperity gospel churches have had their day…some other hip hop, trendy Evangelical movement is waiting in the wings to … inherit the mantle of the mega pastors.” Yes, but the trend within this dynamic becomes less defined by Christian norms and being a sign of contradiction, and more defined by each individual seeker’s preferences, and fitting into the wider secular culture . I haven’t read the book, but agree with the author that the movement continues to wind down.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It continues to wind down, but due to Protestantism’s fissiparous nature it is increasingly diffuse and individualistic. Before long it will be nothing but ‘me and Jeezus.’

      • Christian

        You know, I almost used the term fissiparous myself.

  • Justin MD

    It’s always nice to see something upbeat. I have tried to make myself the optimist in my Catholic circles, and I must say, although I have little hope these days for the country as a whole, I see lots of reasons to be upbeat in terms of the Church. I’m of the opinion that we have another ~35 years before the Church starts to really gain it’s strength back (~40 years of internal rot from around P St Piux X to V2, ~40 years of desert from V2 to P BXVI (nothing against P Bl JP2, BTW, he worked with what he had), ~40 years since the election of P BXVI to something reasonably strong, and then probably another ~40 years to “full power”, if you will). I feel bad for the older faithful Catholics who had to live though this nonsense and didn’t/won’t get to see the restoration (well, hopefully they’ll see it from heaven), but I have high hopes that I’ll see a good part of it (I’m 36). I must admit that I don’t know much about “evangelical” Catholicism, as I’m, I suppose, a “Traditionalist” (I belong to an FSSP parish), but through my own rose-colored glasses I, not surprisingly, see the restoration as mostly coming from the more “Traditional” circles. :-)

  • Julie C.

    Father, I am glad I have a dictionary app on the same iPhone on which I read your blog! You keep me busy!

  • http://PortaCaeli Patricius

    ” fissiparous”
    I love it!
    Could that be as in The Fissiparous Church of the Latter Day Narcissists, I wonder.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      yes, that’s the one

  • Frank Hartge

    I read Mr. Hartline’s first book and had the same editorial concerns. Generally a sloppily edited and padded piece of work, but full of optimism. I was reluctant, for those reasons, to pursue the new one, but I could use a bit of a lift now, so I think I’ll get it posthaste.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Being Catholic means, in my book, being optimistic. One need only see the horrendous “downs” and then the Spirit engineered turn arounds and dramatic “ups” in Church History to be optimistic about the future and what comes next.

  • Will

    “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. ”

    How about the comfortable, slightly right wing, materialistic Catholics?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The definition of left wing goes with ‘dissent’.

      • Will

        That is your definition.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          One can be left wing without dissenting, but the left wingers I’m talking about are also dissenters.

          • Will

            I have seen and heard from many right leaning cafeteria Catholics. I have also seen and heard from many in love with material things.

  • Augustine

    Well, I believe that the problem with America is that its religion is the civic religion. Go to any poor third-world Latin American country and the central plaza of the city is not the city hall, but the church; their homes may be humble and even with dirt floors, but the church is lavished with gold and marble, worthy of the King of Kings Who Lives in it. So, the more the American Leviathan state crumbles and eats its own children the better, for there’s nothing like the death of an idol to make room for the Living God.

    • Will

      The USA was founded on the principles that there is no state religion. Historically, many European countries emphasized civic as well as religious principles. Hence city hall was important as cities developed.

      Many Latin American countries do not have a history of government continuity or democratic government.

  • Ben

    David Hartline’s books exactly coorelate with Notre Dame’s football prowess. ND was a symbol of the revitalized Church in his first book, then ND went on a several year run in which the football team couldn’t tie it’s shoes and the President threw pro-lifers in jail while loving up Barack Obama.

    Now ND is national champ runner ups and suddenly another David Hartline book comes out. In a way, it makes me worried about ND’s immediate future. I was under the understanding they’d recently hired a couple of profs for the Theology department that believe in God, to balance out those that don’t. But maybe the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet. Maybe that gay student club will start hosting gay marriages at the chapel?

  • Recusant

    A plant is a natural thing, and as such when it is rooted in good soil, watered, and fertilized, it grows rapidly and bears fruit. If it is transplanted into poor soil, suffers drought, and poisoned, it withers and dies.

    But suppose you had a supernatural plant. How would it behave? Well, being a paradox, it would necessarily behave paradoxically. It would by sheer necessity decay in good conditions and thrive in bad. Indeed, were it withered so badly that it was surely dead, transplanted into a gravel pit, doused with gasoline and immolated, only then could it be so vital as to bear fruit, and it would bear in abundance.

    So, what comes to mind?