Beware Modern Enthusiasms – an essay in America Magazine

Beware Modern Enthusiasms – an essay in America Magazine March 23, 2022

Beware Modern Enthusiasms” is the title of an essay I just published in the April 2022 issue of America Magazine, the premier periodical of the Jesuit Order in the United States. (For the online version, the essay is entitled “What happens when social movements are at odds with Catholic teaching?“).  Here’s how the essay begins:

One of the great difficulties for any thoughtful Catholic is to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in assessing secular social movements and causes, particularly those whose leaders often make accurate observations about the moral failings of our society. You may find, as I have on occasion, your natural inclination for justice stirred—while at the same time recognizing, or not wanting to recognize, flaws in the way in which those who champion these causes frame their advocacy (or issues attendant to that advocacy).

It is not easy being a conscientious Catholic in an age of political tribalism. I confess that I sometimes find myself drawn to views and positions simply because it seems that the “wrong people” hold the opposite ones, and I suspect that I am not alone in harboring that secret shame.

A couple of months ago I was telling a progressive colleague that if Donald Trump had come out in April 2020 as supporting mask mandates, she would have likely called the policy fascist, especially if right-wing entrepreneurs had begun manufacturing and hawking masks with images of American flags and guns on them and implying that detractors were unpatriotic. We both laughed. For we both realized how easy it is for anyone to uncritically succumb to the pieties of their political tribe.

But what is a conscientious person to do when one’s natural inclination to see justice done is offset by serious concerns about the moral or logical underpinnings of any particular advocacy for a secular cause? I have two examples in mind. In the case of the #MeToo movement, a righteous cause that does not go far enough in examining root causes; as for the more complicated case of critical race theory, a concept that offers an explanation of continued social injustice nevertheless clashes with other long-held values of Catholic social teaching.

You can read the whole print version here (as a pdf) or the online browser version here. Content is the same; just the titles are different.


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