Well, I admire the man for his honesty. He says what he believes. I’m talking here about Inside Catholic’s Deal Hudson, who has asked for a Catholic tea party movement. This is part of a larger trend, as the Catholics aligned with a certain ideological tendency in the United States – that tendency associated with the Republican party and the broader movement that incorrectly dubs itself conservative – are more and more willing to ape the tactics and strategies of that broader movement, and to bring this kind of discourse into Church discussions. I’ve been here before.
Let me be blunt. This movement has increasingly turned into a noisy, nihilistic, know-nothing distraction. It eschews sober debate and cares little about the social order or how policy affects the common good. It’s positions are contradictory, inconsistent, and not predicated on facts and circumstances. Indeed, it proudly rejects reason and seems motivated only by will. It is all about scoring symbolic victories and belittling your opponent. It presents a stark us-versus-them mentality. It is cultural Calvinism on steroids. It is anti-intellectualism on stilts.
And what does it actually stand for? It claims to be pro-life, but is more inclined to use the unborn as cover for its deeper agenda, an undistilled (and yet inconsistent) laissez-faire liberalism and a muscular nationalism that seeks to solve problems with force and were macho bluster takes the place of sobriety. It is suffused by the remnants of a southern white culture, and its tone is anger and bitterness. This bitterness is directed not only against a black president but also against an official Washington that (for the first time in a very long time) is not dominated by southern white men, against the perils of non-white immigration, and against an amorphous elite with nefarious intent. Its religion is evangelicalism, its theology fundamentalist, its mindset dualist, its worldview apocalyptic.
There is nothing Catholic about this movement, this movement that has most recently taken shape as the tea party movement. Most non-American Catholics would scratch their head in utter confusion. What is it all about? Until relatively recently, so would most American Catholics, who enjoyed their own Catholic culture.
But times have changed. More and more Catholics are adopting strategies in line with this movement. We’ve seen this over the past decade, but developments since the election of Obama have taken an exponential turn. There was the faux-FOCA furore. There was the Notre Dame tempest. And then came healthcare, where it became clear that Catholics in this movement were willing more than ever before to use the unborn to kill a healthcare bill they opposed on ideological grounds. Ultimately, they objected to forcing people to purchase health insurance, and especially to forcing the healthy to subsidize the sick, either directly through community rating, or indirectly through budgetary subsidies. It was the cult of individualism, pure and simple. And this group salivated over the election of a pro-abortion pro-torture senator, simply because he might be able to kill healthcare reform once and for all. That was a very telling moment for me.
But how many sharks can this group jump? They seem to have some more lined up. They are now taking on the USCCB, attacking people like John Carr and causes like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). In the past (in other words, up until a few minutes ago), this was all uncontroversial. The CCHD was intended to empower people in local communities, to foster social change at the grass roots. It was a perfect twinning of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholic social teaching in action. But with the election of Obama, “community organizing” suddenly entered the realm of the enemy, the other, to be opposed and destroyed. It was socialism, and it was linked with those who supported abortion (there they go with exploiting the unborn again).
But as I said at the beginning of this post, at least Hudson is honest. When he complains about the USCCB, here’s what he says:
“Criticism of the USCCB among lay Catholics, as well as many priests and bishops, has been a constant since its march to the political left in the years after its creation in 1966. Pastoral letters, including the ones on the economy (1986) and war and peace (1983), created a clear line of demarcation between the liberal politics of the conference (aligned with the Democratic Party) and the Catholics, both lay and religious, who interpreted the Church’s social teaching differently (in a way inclining them toward conservatism and the GOP.)”
Think about this. Hudson is seeking to do precisely what Pope Benedict XVI has said on numerous occasions (most recently in Veritatis in Caritate) should not be done – splitting up Catholic social teaching into parts that can be embraced and parts that can be discarded. Notice how this is framed – the “liberal” bishops conference is wrong and the “conservative” Catholics are right. It’s not a matter of “interpreting social teaching differently”, it’s a matter of ignoring what you don’t like, of putting ideology over Church teaching.
Of course, it’s not that Hudson rejects the USCCB out of hand, he just wants them to support his point of view. He tells a tale of archbishop Burke being shouted down when he objected to the Faithful Citizenship document, a document that succinctly laid out the moral issues in voting, and a document voted on by the bishops themselves. Is it not more likely, more reasonable, that the other 99 percent of bishops were actually right? After all, a small but significant minority opposed the major documents of the Second Vatican Council – does that cast doubt upon their content?
The Catholic Church has always stressed unity – unity of the human race, unity of God and humanity, unity of a single sacred deposit of God’s Word – but Hudson and his friends want disunity. They want to rip the garments of Catholic social teaching asunder and salvage what they can from the wreckage. They want to take a faith based on reason and the intellectual order and align it with a movement based on emotion and sentiment. They want to replace a legitimate respect for authority, a pinnacle of true conservatism, with a “pick and choose” individualist mentality. Hudson knows this well, for he admits that “the very notion of a tea party goes against the grain for Catholics, with their inbred sense of deference to authority”.
There is plenty of room for legitimate disagreement in Catholicism, but we must resist the temptation to shift the debate from the foundations built up over 2000 years, on the shoulders of giants, to an unmoored alien landscape. I think this is one shark too many.