Readers may recall the post last week that referred to Fr. McCloskey’s hope for a Christian America through Roman Catholicism. Two-kingdom proponents would likely want to advise McCloskey to tread cautiously with this idea of a Christian nation since Christianity itself admits of no Christian nation (except Old Testament Israel) and the record of Christian politics is not so Christian.
A fairly recent story adds reasons for further caution. It contrasts the two vice-presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, both of whom are Roman Catholics and are at odds with their church’s teaching. If he holds to the planks of the Democratic Party’s platform on abortion rights, he is obviously in opposition to Roman Catholic morality. And Ryan’s budget plan has generated lots of criticism for being antithetical to Rome’s social teaching. The report observes how Biden and Ryan represent different generations and segments of Roman Catholicism in the United States.
Catholicism is complicated, says Deal Hudson, a Catholic strategist for the Republican Party. It can’t be pigeonholed as conservative or liberal. He says that, increasingly, the divisions within the Catholic faithful are sharpening — and this race reflects that.
“These two vice presidential candidates represent the old and the new in the Catholic church in the United States,” Hudson says.
Biden comes from a more traditional generation of Catholics, says Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at Catholic University of America.
“This is the Catholicism of our old ethnic neighborhoods, and our union halls, and St. Christopher medals on the dashboard sort of thing,” Stephen says.
It is a working-class Catholicism, he says, where the Mass and the rosary are part of the warp and woof of daily life in places such as Scranton, Pa., Biden’s boyhood town. As Biden said when he visited Scranton in 2008, “This is where my family values and my faith melded.”
Those values — of the cop, the fireman, the union leader — placed Catholics solidly in the Democratic camp for decades. Schneck, who co-chairs Catholics for Obama, says these Catholics tend to have a positive attitude toward government.
“Think about John Kennedy’s famous ‘ask not’ lines here,” Schneck says. “For that generation of Catholics, it’s a recognition that government and civil society have a profoundly positive role to play.”
But that generation now has moved on, says Robert George, a conservative Catholic and professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.
“We have a younger generation of Catholics who are more conservative, especially on moral and cultural issues,” he says.
George says these younger Catholics — who are sometimes called “intentional Catholics” — tend to be more committed to conservative parts of Catholic doctrine. Many, like Ryan, 42, came of age during the papacy of John Paul II. They see themselves in Ryan, who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion except when the mother’s life is in danger. In fact, Ryan sponsored a “personhood bill” that would define a fertilized egg as a human being.
At the very least, this kind of diversity within the church in the United States should undermine the notion that Roman Catholicism is going to save the country. It is proof once again of the wide spectrum of believers in fellowship with an infallible bishop. It may also recommend two-kingdom theology to Roman Catholics (who should already know it if they read Augustine). Salvation only comes from the Lord. A decent and orderly society comes from basic notions of right and wrong, hard choices by civil authorities, and honest and hard-working citizens. It’s not rocket science. Nor is it the new heavens and new earth.