Calming the Catholic Caricatures

Three excellent pieces, today, all making the very excellent and true argument that Catholics cannot really be labeled and pigeonholed into political and ideological caricatures, no matter how desperately the media (and too often Catholics themselves, of each other) try to do it.

First up, Father Robert Barron looks at Paul Ryan and says, he’s neither the social menace or the knight in shining armor that partisans want you to believe:

In its social teaching, this same sort of “bi-polar extremism” is on display. Solidarity? The Church is all for it. Subsidiarity? The Church couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it. Not one or the other, nor some bland compromise between the two, but both, advocated with equal vigor. I think it would be wise for everyone to keep this peculiarly Catholic balance in mind as the debate over Paul Ryan’s policies unfolds.

Right behind him comes Joanne McPortland who picks up Barron’s thread and then strangles NPR with it:

…it was the arrogance of pundits determining “what kind of Catholicism is really the appropriate one for American life” that riled me. Excuse me, Professor, but even if there were different kinds of Catholicism (red Catholics and blue Catholics, identified at parish registration?), determining which one is “most appropriate for American life” is not up for a vote. FirstAmendment FirstAmendment FirstAmendment. (Not that anybody pays much attention to that old chestnut.)

The more I stewed in my rile, though, the more I recognized what really made me angry is the ease by which we Catholics have allowed ourselves to be reduced to this kind of stereotyping—and then played against one another as a consequence. “Social justice Catholic” (“the side of Catholicism that says take care of the poor and the oppressed”). “Family values Catholic” (“the side of Catholicism that says no to abortion”). These are not just handy MSM memes. They are, increasingly and frighteningly, the labels we ourselves pick up and apply to our lapels, our bumper stickers, and our minds.

I read the piece cheering, and wishing I’d have written it, and you’ll want to read it all.

Then came this Sarah Babbs:

I do try to represent the truth of all Church social teachings in my writing. I am equally opposed to abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war (both nuclear and otherwise), human trafficking, and unjust conditions for workers and immigrants. I know that some issues are more important than others, but none are unimportant or can justly be ignored.

What seems shocking to me is just how few Catholics I’ve encountered who share this view. What seems shocking to me is that anyone wouldn’t want to be a “Dorothy Day Catholic”. This servant of God devoted her life to prayer, attending Mass daily, saying the rosary daily, and frequently spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. She devoted her life to doing the works of mercy, the very things which Our Lord himself says will determine if we are sheep or goats before Him. Who among us would not want to imitate her example?

There was a time in my life when people would ask me my political affiliation, and I said, “Democrat.” Then, later, they asked, and I said, “Republican.” Next time they asked, I said, “I’m not registered with either party. Now, when they ask, I say, “Catholic.” I don’t live up to it as well as I’d like to, but I do notice that each year, I feel more and more compelled away from the partisan stuff, and finding it more repellent. Considering my extremely liberal beginnings and my conservative overcorrection, clearly my pendulum is still settling down.

I like this from Sarah:

God led me though. From a contraception using, Planned Parenthood supporting, “progressive” Catholic, to an NFP practicing, Crisis Pregnancy Center supporting, “Dorothy Day” Catholic. The Holy Spirit blew my heart wide open, because I was humble enough to admit that maybe, just possibly, I did not know more than 2,000 years of consistent teaching from the Church. All it took was that small concession, and a grudging acceptance that perhaps I should be more familiar with what it was I was rejecting, which the Spirit used to show me that even though there are things I can disagree with the Church about, I trust Her enough to not want to.

Maybe if we all trusted the church a little more, we’d trust each other a bit more, too.

UPDATE: Hmmm, this does seem to be the topic of the day. Read William McGurn in the WSJ

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat The Crescat

    The root of all this is abortion. So yes, one issue does trump the others. They are all important but not equally so. You cannot end war, euthanasia, aid the poor etc etc without respect for the most innocent and helpless of life.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Caricature indeed.
    Paul is trying to balance the budget to stop bankruptcy of the country. IF the country goes bankrupt, we will have more than limits on our medicare spending: We will have poverty unknown in the US since the 1930′s.

    The “social activist” Catholics think that Catholicism is about implementing socialism, ignoring that you are spending other people’s hard earned money to do so.

    But they ignore that if the church actually preached repentance, there would be a lot fewerr social problems, which usually stem from the idea of “Me first”: divorce, drugs, and seeing sex as recreation.

    Believe me, it is a lot easier to support the correct political party than to actually live a christian life. Sort of the 20th century equivalent of picking the mote out of your brother’s eye…

  • http://theraineyview.wordpress.com Serena

    The issues are inseparable. When the culture of license became the dominant culture, someone had to pay the bills for that party, and the socialism-lite that is the welfare state was then necessary. Once that happened, the vicious circle was spinning away, dependency and entitlement increasing, people needing more and having less ability. The eventual takeover of all of society by a centralized government is the inevitable outcome. Once that is done happening, which looks like it might be by the election at this rate, human life and the family will lose their last teetering legal standing by becoming “unaffordable luxuries” in a broke, centralized utilitarian megastate. Therefore, we have to get out of the vicious circle.
    Circles have no corners. It’s no good waiting for a weak point to roll around. You get off a merry-go-round by jumping off wherever you are.
    Therefore, ending the welfare state (or at least making it accountable) is absolutely necessary in order to restore the value of life under law and all the rest of our values.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I read all four (don’t forget McGurn’s; it was the best of the group) and liked them all.

    Here’s a pet beef I have that I was reminded when I read Fr. Baron’s piece. Where in any economics book can you find the notion of “distributism” and under which economist was it concieved? You can’t and it wasn’t conceptualized by any economist. Let’s let economists determine what the best economic policies should be and let Popes establish the goals and morals of a just society. Prosperity helps all people and making up pseudo economic formulations doesn’t lead to propserity. It would be no different than a Pope telling Galileo that the sun is not the center of the solar system.

  • joannemcportland

    Manny, my friend, no pope found “distributism” in an economics textbook, because they read it in the economy of salvation. John the Baptist: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” (Luke 3) That’s a 50% tithe. Jesus: “Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10) That’s a 100% tithe! Luke: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts 2) St Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not just to the rich.” St Basil the Great: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.” And so on. Popes ARE establishing the goals and morals of a just society.

  • DaveJ

    joanne… Seems to me there is a difference between charity, which we are called to in justice, and a “distributism” forced by a government, which often amounts to charity by force- which is not charity at all, since it has nothing to do with love. The Church is called to the one, but it seems like some folks think that the government version is the same. It isn’t.

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    @Joann
    Yes, I agree Popes, saints, Catholics in general should establish the moral codes you list. But to formulate a pseudo economic system and claim it will do certain things is to not understand economics. One doesn’t establish an economic system. An economic system is the outcome of commerce and how commerce is regulated. The “-ism” is really what bothers me in the word. I’m not against the principles of distributism. For the most part it is capitalism. But it’s not a “third way” economic system as I’ve heard. And yes I agree with DaveJ above that the goals are best done freely and not through government coersion. But a safety net through government organization seems to be a need in modern, complex life. I’m not a libertarian.

  • Brian English

    “The Church is called to the one, but it seems like some folks think that the government version is the same. It isn’t.”

    It is amazing how many Catholics are no longer able to make this distinction.

  • Brian English

    “But a safety net through government organization seems to be a need in modern, complex life. I’m not a libertarian.”

    Agreed, but should the government dominate the provision of that safety net? Look at what the Church did for the Irish in New York in the mid-19th Century. Does the modern Welfare State have any comparable success stories?

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    Good points Brian. I’m not a Libertarian, but I am a Conservative. We ought to manage the results, not dictate the process. I know we can do better than the current situation.

  • c matt

    To a small extent, the US has a very watered down form of distributism through anti-trust laws. Not that it has been very effective in preventing enormous concentrations of capital, but at least in principle it has some presence.


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