Sometimes the "Bar" Eats You

Lest readers think Old Life is a lone voice in evaluating how far Called to Communion’s view of Rome is from the rest of the world, here are a few recent takes on the Church in the light of Benedict’s abdication. First, Ross Douthat:

The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.

Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.

This transformation suggests that we may have reached the end of a distinctive “Catholic moment” (to repurpose a phrase from the late Catholic priest-intellectual Richard John Neuhaus) in American politics, one that began in the 1980s after John Paul’s ascension to the papacy and the migration of many Catholic “Reagan Democrats” into the Republican Party.

This was hardly the first era when Catholic ideas shaped American debates. (New Deal-era liberalism, for instance, owed a major debt to Catholic social thought.) But it was the first era when the Catholic vote was both frequently decisive and genuinely up for grabs, and it was an era when Catholic debates and personalities filled the vacuum left by the decline of the Protestant mainline.

Then Rod Dreher (on Douthat):

. . . there never was a possibility for a Catholic moment in America. Not even American Catholics agree on what it means to be Catholic, and what is required of them as Catholics. From the outside, Catholicism looks unitary, but from the inside, Catholicism (in America, at least) is just about as fragmented as Protestantism. This is why you have the spectacle of Garry Wills denying the sacramental priesthood and the Real Presence, but still presenting himself as a Catholic, and being received by many Catholics as Catholic. Catholicism in this country has lost its distinctives, because many, probably most, actual Catholics have no sense that the faith they profess calls them to accept and to live by a set of theological and moral precepts that they may struggle to accept, but must accept because God revealed them authoritatively through His church.

One may say this is a good thing, this Protestantization of Catholicism, or one may decry it as a bad thing. But I don’t see how one can credibly say that it doesn’t exist. Catholicism, understood on its own terms, is radically opposed to American culture, and to the essence of modernity. Catholicism, as understood by most American Catholics, is not. There’s the problem with the Catholic moment, and why it was never going to happen. Of course, the behavior of the bishops in the abuse crisis didn’t help, but ultimately it was beside the point.

Yet, Called to Communion, ever paradigmatic, continues with ‘s’all good, infallible even.

17 thoughts on “Sometimes the "Bar" Eats You

  1. Darryl,

    Yet, Called to Communion, ever paradigmatic, continues with ‘s’all good, infallible even.

    Nothing in the Douthat and Dreher excerpts contradicts anything in the CTC article to which you link. And regarding Dreher’s claim that “Catholicism (in America, at least) is just about as fragmented as Protestantism,” I’ve addressed that claim in “The “Catholic are Divided Too” Objection.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan


  2. Bryan, I know, never a problem over in your neck of the woods. Why don’t you sign off, “in the perfection of Christ”? But the one point you did not make in your post about RC divisions, Protestants derive their unity not just from the word but also the Holy Spirit, a person of the Trinity that Christ promised to protect the church from error, and a point that almost never comes up for your in your quest to go straight from Christ to Peter. BTW, the promise of the Spirit takes up more verses that “upon this rock.” But when has the Bible ever bothered you?


  3. Bryan: This is why the unity of the Catholic faith does not consist in the level of doctrinal agreement among all those who call themselves Catholic. The bond of faith as one of three bonds constituting the visible unity that is the first mark of the Church specified in the Creed is the bond of unity manifested visibly in all those Catholics who profess the one faith taught by the Magisterium. In order to treat dissenting Catholics as evidence against the unified faith of the Church, one would have to assume that the beliefs of the dissenters belong to the faith of the Church. That we recognize them as dissenters shows that we already know that they are at odds with the teaching of the Church. Dissenters, in spite of themselves, by their very dissent testify to the unity of the Church’s faith. Only where there could be no such thing as dissent could there be no unity of faith.

    Erik: If this is true why do Protestants have to be saddled with an alleged “30,000 sects” or whatever the current CTC count is. You can eliminate about 29,975 of those and come up with a group of Christians that agree on most Christian doctrines.

    Your piece begs the question on the need one for visible Christian church. Whether you agree or not it hurts the credibility of that church when they fail to deal with dissent in a visible way – through church discipline and ultimately through excommunication.


  4. One of Bryan’s presuppositions is “the ontological difference between persons and texts” and his conclusion that persons (as in a living, breathing Magisterium) is superior to a written text — i.e. The Bible.

    Did God err when he gave Old Testament Jews a written text but no Magisterium?


  5. Erik, on the matter of the OT and the lack of a magisterium, I do wonder what Rome does with its claims when it comes to the church under the Old Testament. It makes me think that biblical theology is not what makes the church tick.


  6. Guys,

    Stop confusing the CtC guys with the facts. Their heads will just spin and “begging the question” will be the output.


  7. I can just see Moses coming down from the mountain with the written text on the stone tablets. The Jews cry out in unison, “A text! How ontologically unsatisfying!”. They then proceed to tear their clothing.


  8. Damn it!

    I think, I have been conceptualizing Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat as the same writer! It must be the R & D.

    Which one was the convert to Rome?


  9. From Dr. Horton’s WHI blog post today:

    However, Benedict XVI has regularly been impressive on these counts. Living alongside Protestants in Germany, he often engages Reformation views with more sympathy and knowledge than most—especially more than many Protestants who convert to Rome and trade on caricatures of the evangelical faith based on the worst of evangelicalism.


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