Having come into the Church as a convert on Easter Sunday, 1986, I am what’s called a JP II Catholic. I remain one, although I would have to explain that adjective differently today, thirty years later.
Before Saint John Paul the Great came to prominence, I had already made a summer visit to see up close his country’s great cultural adversary, the U.S.S.R. Given my political views in those days, my travels made it clear to me: we were winning the Cold War, Reaganism was the right way to fight it, and Reaganomics was surely the operating manual of all future societies.
A sign of the times in the 1980s was the tendency to hold up Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II as making a common front, culturally speaking, in the great Western effort. This trio now looks more like a mixed bag, especially given the late pope’s statements in his last decade criticizing neoliberalism and its legacy, both in his homeland of Poland and elsewhere, not to mention his refusals to endorse America’s ill-fated projects in the Middle East. (For an entertaining and insightful bit of revisionist history here, Artur Rosman’s “Catholiclandia” series can’t be beat.)
The trouble with becoming a Catholic is that you may quickly discover that things you tried to keep in separate compartments of your life turn out to be closely attached. Your libertarian delight in dismissing moral questions, you realize with shock, will have to be supplanted by notions of solidarity and human dignity. (Expect puzzled looks from your old frat house friends.)
Merely referring to the common good will earn you ipso facto the label of naïve left-winger. In fact, five bucks says you can’t google up a single “conservative” website on which the phrase common good appears. (OK never mind: I found one.)
And your imperial American pride will need to suffer correction by a new sense of global subsidiarity. (Now you’ve got a really big problem: friends will notice your growing “unAmericanism.”)
These changes of heart and mind are often accompanied by a rending sound and the breaking of glass, psychologically speaking. What if you come to conclude that the pro-life/pro-family movement’s captivity by various political players has so deformed its moral sense that its actions now effectively raise money—however inadvertently—for groups like NARAL and the same-sex marriage proponents. Not a happy realization.
Part of becoming educated, I would argue, is developing the ability to jettison stupid ideas you once held. Even if you learned them from wonderful teachers whom you still admire. Shake the dust from your feet and move on.