There is No Ghetto Between the Shire and the City

Ghetto Catholicism, that is. You see, we Catholics aren’t like the Amish, or other religious sects that hole up and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

We don’t just hunker down in our own enclaves and let the rest of the world go to hell in a hand basket. That isn’t what we’ve been called to do. And I argue, the day after Divine Mercy Sunday, that sticking to our religious knitting as Catholics isn’t in keeping with our mission of mercy to the world.

Which is why I started writing about politics here in the first place. I came to the realization that since the Church wants me in all my dimensions, then to excise politics is to amputate a big part of the work of humanity here on planet Earth. So I tip-toed into the waters back in December of last year. Remember Calvin and Hobbes and John Courtney Murray? Then I dove into the political dimension, and have been swimming ever sense.

Robert Royal over at The Catholic Thing shares a timely reminder on this truth in a post called The Shire and the City.

Some Catholics have recently suggested that the Church is starting to turn into something like a political action committee and that we would do better to return to more purely “religious” activity. That may be possible for some Christian bodies and even certain Catholic individuals, but it cannot be the stance of the Catholic Church as a whole.

The Catholic Church believes that it has been called on by God to evangelize the whole world, and part of that mission is to be engaged in every dimension of society – as is appropriate for a universal Church. Politics, properly understood, deals with how we are to live together, and that means ethical questions and, therefore, religion cannot be left out of any well ordered state.

Some secular observers argue that the Church should mind its own business until it gets its own house in order. This is simply a false proposition. To put it in individual terms, imagine forbidding people from speaking out until they’re perfect themselves. That simply means conscientious, but imperfect people – which is to say, everyone of good will – would never speak or act at all. The “snakes and dogs,” scamps and scalawags, and worse, are quite ready to fill the vacuum so produced.

A real Catholic has no choice but to step into the midst of all these complexities, which is what The Catholic Thing will be doing over the rest of this election year. We will keep the “pure” religious vision very much in the forefront of our thought because it’s the most powerful way in which we offer an alternative to a culture rushing headlong into it knows not what.

The late Catholic novelist Walker Percy wrote that our whole culture is like Wile E. Coyote in the old “Roadrunner” cartoons: he goes flying off a cliff in heedless pursuit and his legs continue to pump frantically, not knowing that there is nothing solid underneath him anymore.

As the American bishops have had to point out lately, Catholics need to be engaged in the public realm, for the freedom and good of the Church, to be sure, now that immediate threats to religious liberty face us. But we must also be active for the good of the public square itself, which lurches from one failed nostrum to another without the kind of stability and wisdom that might bring it order and peace.

Read the rest. The Shire didn’t look like this at night, see? Nor will it anytime soon.


  • Elmtree

    Quakers hardly hole up and don’t look at the world- they are very very involved in t he world, all around the world. I think you might be mistaking the guy on the Oats Box for a member of the religious society of Friends (aka “quaker” ). My husband was raised Quaker, and I know confusing them with Amish or the guy on the Oats Box was a point of irritation. <– American Friends Service Committee link.

    You might disagree with them on a number of issues, but to say they are in a "ghetto" or holed up away from the world would be very much in error.

    • Frank Weathers

      Got it on the Quakers. Mea culpa.

  • dymphna

    The Amish do not pretend the world doesn’t exist. They engage with us “English” every day. Most of the ones’ I’ve met seemed to find us amusing. They do not wish to live the way we do but they don’t fear or hate us. I’ve never met an Amish woman who whined about her kids in public or thought laziness and selfishness was impowerment. I’ve never met an Amish man who struck me as being too brittle and maladjusted to be of any earthly use. I have, sadly come across many young male Catholics, (trad, conservative, liberal, Catholic-in-name-only, the whole spectrum) who struck me with horror for the sake of any girl who eventually marries them.

  • dymphna

    Oh one more about the Amish. The last time I was in Pennsylvania I came across a charity quilt sale in a field. Hundreds of Amish people had gathered to sell and buy quilts to raise money for a Haitian charity. None of those Amish ladies who spent thousands of hours stitching will ever go to Haiti but they showed more concern for the wellbeing of poor black women and children than I’ve seen in many a suburban parish.

  • Joanne K McPortland

    I don’t think it helps to define ourselves by who we are not, especially when it comes to other religious traditions—that just leads us into judgment best left to God. There are many ways in which Catholics are far more ghettoized (one might even say living in bunkers, having taken to the mattresses, heading for the catacombs, whatever) than are the Amish, who simply live what they believe and let their actions bear witness. The forgiveness shown by the families of those killed by the Amish school shooter was the most memorably Christ-like public witness I’ve seen from any religious community in decades. Not exalting them and trashing Catholics, but we all have stuff to learn from one another.

    • Frank Weathers

      Yes. Their forgiveness gives life to Shakespeare’s lines, “The quality of mercy is not strained…”