The folks at Called to Communion generally avoid the culture wars and that is to their credit, though their apolitical posture is hardly characteristic of Roman Catholics in the United States these days. Two of the significant GOP presidential hopefuls were Roman Catholics — Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. And now another is on the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan for vice president (though whether Ryan is a “good catholic” depends on how your understand the church’s social teaching).
Other bloggers are not so circumspect about the United States and its increasing barbarism. Fr. C. John McCloskey III, writes at the Catholic Thing. He recently argued that if the United States is going to be a Christian nation it needs Roman Catholicism because Protestantism has run out of gas:
With the passage of time, homegrown American Protestant sects sprang up so profusely that they now can be counted in the thousands. Despite this variety, almost all shared a biblical moral philosophy not far removed from Catholics. The loosening of divorce laws and the propagation of the birth control pill in the Sixties, however, precipitated further retreat mere decades later by mainstream and traditional Protestant denominations on other moral fronts, including abortion, homosexual activity, and most recently same-sex marriage.
The primary reason is the lack of dogmatic authority in Protestantism and the reliance on the principle of private judgment. Leaving people to rely on only their opinions or feelings as moral guide is not enough to sustain a country that was once Christian and now is increasingly pagan.
What is the solution? Can American become Christian again? In my judgment, mainstream Protestantism is in an irreversible freefall. Don’t count on any great religious revivals. America needs witness, not enthusiasm. The United States will either become predominantly Catholic in numbers, faith, and morals or perish under the weight of its unbridled hedonism and corruption.
Notice the theme of Protestant diversity and subjectivity versus Roman Catholic unity and objectivity that Called to Communion paradigmatists also stress.
Protestants certainly deserve their share of blame for what has happened to moral conventions in the United States. The mainline churches have been particularly negligent on sexual ethics and marriage, not to mention the atonement.
But the analysis here which reflects a common trait of conservative intellectuals — to attribute rotten cultural fruit to bad religious seed — misses the elephant in the room, namely, government. Churches may promote or tolerate all sorts of moral goofiness but the state can still pass and enforce laws that proscribe conduct. The abolition of plural marriage in Utah is one example. At the same time, churches do not have the power and never have had it to enforce temporally or civilly their teachings or codes of conduct.
In the sixteenth century when Roman Catholics wanted to rid the Low Countries of Protestantism they depended on Phillip II and the Duke of Alba (Margaret of Parma wasn’t too shabby either) to implement the church’s ban on heretics. In fact, Rome’s mechanisms of inquisition generally relied up civil authorities to enforce the temporal penalties for heresy.
So if Fr. McCloskey wants a Christian United States he is going to need more than Roman Catholic priests, religious orders, and parishioners. He is also going to need a strong state. Nowhere has Christianity (or Islam for that matter) become the cohesive glue of a society or country without a government that enforces religious teaching and practice.
In which case, the real problem with the United States is the freedom granted in the Constitution. We cannot have religious uniformity and have the political framework established in the nation’s system of government.
Meanwhile, if national order requires an iron fist, would not the same go for ecclesiastical order? I have made the point before, but it may bear repeating. If the structures of Roman Catholicism yield the kind of uniformity and solidarity that Protestantism does not, then why is liberalism a problem for Roman Catholics in the United States? Churches may depend on the state to enforce their norms in the general society, but churches do have the power to enforce their teachings and rules within the household of faith.
Again, Rome suffers from this problem no more than Protestants do. Without a civil pope to call the shots, churches have to make do with the spiritual powers they have, limited though they are. And yet, if Christians — Roman Catholic and Protestant — are longing for the political equivalent of the papacy to restore decency in the United States, do they still qualify as political conservatives who — think Constitution — are supposed to be wary of the centralization of power in one person?
Last I checked, it is still 2012, some 236 years after the Declaration of Independence. The American Revolution has many faults, and one of them may very well be no provisions to check dangerous religious and philosophical views. At the same time, the order that the revolutionaries established granted freedoms that protect Protestants and Roman Catholics to worship, teach, and blog. Those freedoms were not readily available in places like the Netherlands at the end of the sixteenth century. It may just be (all about) me, but I think I’d rather live now under Obama than then under Phillip II.