Catholic cultural influence: shifting from bishops to laity

Catholic cultural influence: shifting from bishops to laity

In the Weekly Standard, Joseph Bottum picks up Pat Buchanan’s recent riff on the US bishops and expands on it to say that while certain aspects of Catholic culture are on the ascendancy in the US, mainly to do with the power of its ideas, it is because of Catholic laypeople and not the bishops.

“Evangelicals supply the political energy, Catholics the intellectual heft,” the New Republic claimed this month as it attempted to explain the Catholic ascendancy on the Supreme Court. That explanation is, as Christianity Today replied, mostly just a condescending update of the Washington Post’s old insistence that evangelicals are “poor, uneducated, and easy to command.” But the New Republic was at least right that the rhetorical resources of Catholicism—its ability to take a moral impulse born from religion and channel it into a more general public vocabulary and philosophical analysis—have come to dominate conservative discussions of everything from natural-law accounts of abortion to just-war theory.

It is men like Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas who do the judicial heavy-lifting; similar Catholic brights lights in academia include Robert George of Princeton and Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard.

An exciting and powerful rhetoric

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
5 comments
  • These posts are very enlightening as to the state of the Church and faithful in 2006.  I can remember the power of the Church here in Chicago when the late Cardinal Stritch in the 1950s was able to have the city remove a billboard advertsing a Jane Russell movie, “The French Line”, that now is probably rated PG.  Those were the days when Mayor Daley I (aka “the Great”) was a daily communicant and a proponent of strict morality within his own office, traits not passed on to his progeny it appears.  Of course, St. Peters in downtown Chicago, where Mayor Daley I attended mass, was quite orthodox then and not the Loop Center for Navel Gazing and Enneagrams of recent decades.

    While Cardinal George has not exactly been thundering at the pulpit, he has made many subtle positive changes, though still woefully insufficient in Church activities in Chicago.  Compared to the late “touchy-feely” Cardinal Bernardin (RIP), he is a breath of fresh air.

    But what comes of all this: the antics of the USCCB, the “Scandal”, the assinity of individual prelates, is quite providential in that it has moved otherwise more passive Catholics like myself off of our collective rumps and not wait for direction from the hierarchy to act, to learn, and to more clsely follow Christ’s narrow, unpopular road.

    I am impressed by a number of things occurring apart from the USCCB—from Mother Angelica and EWTN to new growing orthodox orders, first rate publications that include orthodox Christian beliefs in several ecumenical aspects (e.g., First Things and Touchstone Magazine), advocacy from the more grassroots groups, increased interest and partipation in Latin and Tridentine masses, a stronger pro-life movenebt at a critical time, etc.

    Perhaps it was time for the Church to decline from its pedestal, where so many of us grew up with a touch of hubris in its seeming invulnerability.  And time for the Master of the Harvest to send new laborers to sow those seeds of faith again in a new and frightening world that requires the resumption of that long lost virtue of Fortitude.

    And perhaps we will see the day when more bishops pick up their crosiers and bravely lead us sheep into the fray with the prince of this world.

  • John I pray the same.

    On a side note, this non-writer would love to write a book, or see a book written about growing up Catholic in a Protestant world.  Our nation was built on philosophies that are, again, Protestant, and because of this, I believe, the state of religion-they way we approach how to live together in this nation- in our country is weak.  God love our separated brethren, they have done what they can for our country, but they lack the depth and scope of understanding that the Church has given for over 2000 years.

    In many Protestant schools, philosophy has been suspect but recently we have seen some take another look at Catholic phiolosphers and find themselves in agreement, at least somewhat. I’ve always wondered what our nation would have looked like if our Founding Fathers had been devout Catholics and founded a nation built on the truth of the nature of man, governance and justice.

  • Jen,

    Protestantism is built on truths that are Catholic and fallacies that are from Satan.  The strength of Protestantism is those truths.

    Because Protestants are human, they see the fallacies and try to route around them.  Others see the truths and try to avoid them.  This has led to numerous divisions among Protestants.  So within Protestantism as a whole are many more mistakes than those made by Luther and Calvin, but also some solutions to those original mistakes. 

    One of our Founding Fathers, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was a devout Catholic, trained by the Jesuits at St. Omers and later in civil law at Paris and common law at London.  He was able to ensure that the nation was in fact founded upon natural law traditions. 

    The previous Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, called our federal Constitution “providential”, and the Catechism channels John Adams of all people:

    1904 “It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men.”

    Adams’s Constitution of Massachusetts (1780):

    Article XXX. In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.

  • This moving further down on his blog, but I still appreciate the discussion:

    What I see is that “Christianity” as it is known in this country is not with a Catholic philosophy, it is much more of an Enlightened Protestant philosophy: Christian, but self-determined Christianity. Basic moral values upheld, but because we all agree that they are good, RATHER than courts and legistlators, etc being raised in a soceity that has moral values because society lives by a credo that originates in God.  Yes, we talk about “inalienable rights endowed by our Creator”, but non-Catholics will not agree on what that means.

    Eh, I’m still thinking outloud on this.  Should anyone write a book on it, let me know.

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