Skip to comments.American Church [Who best understands the American experiment - Catholics or Protestants?]
Posted on 05/29/2013 11:28:22 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
With his new book, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America (Ignatius Press), mild-mannered Russell Shaw has become the bull in the china shop of U.S. Catholic history, knocking heroes off pedestals and overturning conventional story-linesall in aid of trying to understand why the Church in America is in precarious position today vis-à-vis the ambient public culture and the government.
Shaws answer: were in deep trouble because of a longstanding U.S. Catholic determination to be more-American-than-thouto disprove ancient charges of Catholicisms incompatibility with American democracy by assimilating so dramatically that theres no discernible difference between Catholics (and their attitudes toward public policy) and an increasingly secularized, mainstream public opinion. Shaw mounts an impressive case that Catholic Lite in these United States has indeed taken its cues from the wider culture, and as that culture has become ever more individualistic and hedonistic, the historic U.S. Catholic passion for assimilation and acceptance has backfired. Moreover, Shaws call to build a culture-reforming Catholic counterculture is not dissimilar to the argument I make about the Church and public life in Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.
But on a second reading of Shaws book, I began to wonder whether hes gotten the question of the moment quite right.
To read the history of the Catholic Church in the United States as a centuries-long struggle for assimilation and acceptance certainly sheds light on one dynamic in the development of the Church in America. Yet too close a focus on the question, Is it possible to be a good Catholic and a good American? is to argue the question of Catholicism-and-America on the other guys turf. Once, the other guy challenging Catholics patriotic credentials was militant Protestantism; now, the other guy is militant secularism. To play on the other guys turf, however, is to concede at the outset that the other guy sets the terms of debate: We (militant Protestants/militant secularists) know what it means to be a good American; you (Catholics) have to prove yourselves to us.
Thats not the game, however. It wasnt really the game from 1776 through the 1960 presidential campaign when militant Protestantism was the aggressor and it isnt the game today. The real game involves different, deeper questions: Who best understands the nature of the American experiment in ordered liberty, and who can best give a persuasive defense of the first liberty, which is religious freedom?
The 19th-century U.S. bishops and intellectuals whose enthusiasm for American democracy Russ Shaw now views skeptically (and, yes, they did go over the top on occasion) did get one crucial point right: the American Founders built better than they knew, i.e., the Founders designed a democratic republic for which they couldnt provide a durable moral and philosophical defense. But the long-despised (and now despised-again) Catholics could: Catholics could (and can) give a robust, compelling account of American democracy and its commitments to ordered liberty.
Mid-20th-century Catholic scholars like historian Theodore Maynard and theologian John Courtney Murray picked up this theme and made it central to their reading of U.S. Catholic history. Murray presciently warned that, if Catholicism didnt fill the cultural vacuum being created by a dying mainline Protestantism, the noble, many-storied mansion mansion of democracy [may] be dismantled, leveled to the dimensions of a flat majoritarianism, which is no mansion but a barn, perhaps even a tool shed in which the weapons of tyranny may be forged.
That is the argument the U.S. bishops have mounted in their challenge to the Obama administrations demolition of civil society through the HHS mandate on contraceptives and abortifacients: What is the nature of American democracy and the fundamental freedoms government is created to protect? Who are the true patriots: the men and women who can give an account of freedoms moral character, an account capable of sustaining a genuine democracy against a rising dictatorship of relativism, in which the tools of tyranny may be forged?
The argument today isnt about assimilation. The argument today is about who gets America.
....To read the history of the Catholic Church in the United States as a centuries-long struggle for assimilation and acceptance certainly sheds light on one dynamic in the development of the Church in America. Yet too close a focus on the question, Is it possible to be a good Catholic and a good American? is to argue the question of Catholicism-and-America on the other guys turf. Once, the other guy challenging Catholics patriotic credentials was militant Protestantism; now, the other guy is militant secularism. To play on the other guys turf, however, is to concede at the outset that the other guy sets the terms of debate: We (militant Protestants/militant secularists) know what it means to be a good American; you (Catholics) have to prove yourselves to us. Thats not the game, however. It wasnt really the game from 1776 through the 1960 presidential campaign when militant Protestantism was the aggressor and it isnt the game today. The real game involves different, deeper questions: Who best understands the nature of the American experiment in ordered liberty, and who can best give a persuasive defense of the first liberty, which is religious freedom?....
....Mid-20th-century Catholic scholars like historian Theodore Maynard and theologian John Courtney Murray picked up this theme and made it central to their reading of U.S. Catholic history. Murray presciently warned that, if Catholicism didnt fill the cultural vacuum being created by a dying mainline Protestantism, the noble, many-storied mansion mansion of democracy [may] be dismantled, leveled to the dimensions of a flat majoritarianism, which is no mansion but a barn, perhaps even a tool shed in which the weapons of tyranny may be forged. That is the argument the U.S. bishops have mounted in their challenge to the Obama administrations demolition of civil society through the HHS mandate on contraceptives and abortifacients: What is the nature of American democracy and the fundamental freedoms government is created to protect? Who are the true patriots: the men and women who can give an account of freedoms moral character, an account capable of sustaining a genuine democracy against a rising dictatorship of relativism, in which the tools of tyranny may be forged?
Weren’t most of the Founders, at least those who professed Christianity, Protestant?
Anyone who wants to know what a Catholic country looks like should take a good look at Venezuela whose population is almost entirely Catholic.
American Catholics who are conservative are not conservative because they are Catholics , they are conservative despite the fact that are Catholics because the country has rubbed off on them . It’s not the other way around .
Now Protestants , that is really where the shame lies because they ONCE knew the truth YET many have turned from the truth and EMBRACED sin .(I’m speaking of mainline churches who once knew the killing of children and homosexuality was sin and now condone it)
Actually, the big divide is between Caucasian and Hispanics. Caucasian Catholics tend to be conservative, Hispanic Catholics tend to be liberal. You cite an example of an uniformly Hispanic nation. Try comparing those politics to the politics of Poland (whose population is also almost entirely Catholic).
I’m Catholic but thankful this country was founded by Anglo-Protestants. The only decently run place with a large Catholic population was/is Northern Italy and Bavaria.
My understanding so far is, Jesus gets America.
My guess is, He doesn't get why His Church is divided.
Divided as it is, it is so weak and diluted it can't fight the evil Satan is free to commit.
The better question is not who "gets" America, but who can unite the three divided branches of His Church?
Does your Catholic Poland support it's SOCIALIZED MEDICINE ? WHY YES IT DOES along with all the other socialized "goodies" . Does Italy (again Catholic ) support all it's socialized "goodies"? WHY YES IT DOES and Italians just like Poles are NOT Hispanics so that doesn't make a Hispanic thing .
All were Christian, four were Catholic and the rest were Protestant.
However, all of them shared the very same moral philosophy which descended from Aquinas and the School of Salamanca.
All of Europe has socialized medicine. The heavily Catholic European counties as a whole tend to be much more conservative than the heavily protestant European countries (especially the Scandinavian countries like Norway/Finland/Sweden/Iceland, etc., all of which are around 90-95% protestant and have leftists in America gush over them because of their "progressive" policies). What's more, even within European countries, the Catholic populations tend to be much more conservative than their protestant counterparts (the UK being a clear example) I suppose an exception might be France, but only 5% of the "Catholics" in that country are practicing, and even there you see huge protests against gay marriage, unlike in the "progressive" protestant countries where gay marriage passes and everyone everyone celebrates.
Sorry the facts don't match your talking points. Feel free to visit Catholic Poland and compare it to Protestant Norway sometime if you don't believe me.
The following European countries are over 80% Catholic:
The following European countries are over 80% Protestant:
Funny, seems to me all the far left-wing countries there are run by protestants.
Did you miss the searing I gave the Protestants in post number 6 about once knowing the truth but embracing sin?
I would respond that the countries you identify as protestant are solvent. The countries you identify as Catholic are insolvent.
You don’t consider Spain or Portugal far-left countries? How socialist does a country have to be before you put it in your personal “far-left” category?
Dude, I was considering your point until you discredited yourself.
If Spain is "far-left", so the United States. The country veers directions all the time. It's had periods of strong leftist rule and periods of strong right-wing rule. For years it was under the iron fist rule of General Franco, who leftists tried unsucessfully to oust. During the early 2000's, Prime Minister José María Aznar López was a staunch Bush ally. He lost to a socialist after a terrorist attack in the country, but the conservatives have since returned to power and the current prime minister (since 2011) is Mariano Rajoy Brey, a Roman Catholic from the People's Party (Ideology: Conservatism, Christian democracy,Spanish nationalism; Economic free-markets, Spanish unionism, Political position: Centre-right to Right-wing) If that's your idea of "far-left" you have a very different idea of far-left than anyone else.
Not sure about Portugal but a quick google search shows the "center-right" party is in power there too, NOT the far-left wing. I'm guessing what passes for "center-right" there is probably more liberal than our "center-right", but hopefully not as bad as "conservatives" like David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy.
In any case, certainly it can't be compared to a genuinely far-left wing like the Scandinavian countries that liberal always gush over as sooooo "progressive" because they have the first gay head of state, legalized euthanasia, legalized drugs, have extreme envirowacko policies, taxpayer funded gender reassignment surgery, etc., etc. THOSE countries are so left they make Obama look moderate and the political parities in Iceland and Norway are unabashed socialist internationalists, ideologically where Bernie Sanders is.
Finally, perhaps you missed my point about Hispanic Catholics behind much more left-wing than their non-hispanic counterparts. I didn't argue any spanish-speaking Catholic country was solidly conservative.
Couldn’t disagree more. The Church, practically by definition, has been Conservative. It’s never called for government to legislate on behalf of the poor or to care for the poor. The Church champions voluntary charities because Catholicism like Christianity in general calls for individual accountability, not shared responsibility. What organization in the country has fought harder against abortion, gay marriage, divorce, promiscuity, Hollywood, academia than the Catholic Church. But of course I’m speaking of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, not the various pretenders to membership in it. The church in early America had very little influence other than its efforts to relieve the poor Catholic immigrants’ lives; even so, it never sought government solution; it sought management recognition of its laborers’ needs which, admittedly led, wrongly perhaps, to the growth of unions which then led to a Catholic/Democrat alliance. Unfortunately, most of the Catholics raised in the solemnity of that alliance became more Democrat than Catholic.
I do agree that American Catholics are not Conservatives because of their Catholicism. To me it’s more a matter of consistency of belief. Individual accountability covers most of the spectrum in American (and other) politics. And while it’s absolutely true that that idea arose in America via the Puritan ethic, it had been true in Catholicism for centuries.
Lastly, though, it may be important to keep in mind that there’s no hierarchy in protestantism, no higher court, so to speak, so we don’t know what the official line or the valid teaching is. There is a hierarchy in Catholicism and that higher court almost always favors the American Conservative view.
Thanks for answering, but I don’t buy your point for a minute. Not in the broad terms you are brushing people with. There simply isn’t the consistiency in your examples to sustain your theory. Sometimes true, sometimes not.
BTW, I am a “Hispanic Catholic” and I can attest to the opposite of your broad brush assertion about us.
I thank you for your post but must say that if this is the direction the author has taken, I’d have to suggest he’s come up for a great way to sell a book and that’s about all. Its an interesting topic, and he’s correct in his observation that Catholicism’s greater enemy today, (other than itself), is radical, militant secular humanism. The reason I dismiss the rest of the book and in particular, the idea that Catholicism in the US can save “America”, is that there are at least 3 versions of Catholicism active in the US today; the “liberal”, (pointless) version; the “Muddlers” who are sleep walking through their faith but pay their dues such that the Church can maintain its physical footprint, and the “Orthodox”.
And frankly, practically no one in the US really “gets” the Orthodox Roman Catholic, not that it really matters. The “Orthodox” make up somewhere between 10% to 25% of the membership. I wouldn’t look to them to save anything, much less “America” simply because they’ve pretty much “checked out”. Most don’t even watch TV and many have dropped their cable subscriptions. Don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderful people, but it would be kind of like looking for help from the Amish. And, they are patriotic, in their own way but....their numbers are too small to be of incidence.
All in all, it’s a great platform and premise for a profitable book sale, other than that, its an exercise in futility.
I’m not exactly sure just what Weigel is talking about, but it looks like he’s really getting off on the wrong foot here. Sounds like he should take a sabbatical or something to clear his head.
At heart, it seems to me that Roman Catholicism monarchist. If it is, why would it be expected to promote, rather than adapt to, a society of individualistic thought and entrepreneurship, which at their base are by definition anti-authoritarian?
The United States isn't catholic or protestant. It is Judeo-Christian.
Attempts to make it other than that almost always go awry, as we are founded on what a man believes is his own business; not his neighbors, and especially not his government's.
Really ? That is why the last Pope hosted Pelosi and Obama to talk about health care ?
You can say what you want to say and the Catholic church can say what it wants to say but I watch what they DO
and they DO support socialism and churn out people who support socialism .
The Pope, unlike other heads of state, refuses NO ONE an audience. (He’s a priest, for goodness sake!) He also met with complaining reps of Islam despite the fact that he’d debated, corrected, and excoriated them in public writings. Both John Paul and Benedict (as JP’s then-chief advisor) supported W’s plan for private religious and other charities’ roles in welfare and healthcare. (I forget the name of W’s initiative.)
The church isn’t churning out these folks. The dems are!
No you are wrong . The United States was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and law . We are no longer a Christian nation , we have tossed God of Abraham Issac and Jacob out of courts , our schools and our lives . We are now a post Christian nation full of degenerates that sacrifice our children to the "idol" of convenience and uphold all sorts of degenerate lifestyles as normal .
It has become fashionable in our society to mock God and his ways . We are now a full blown PAGAN nation with a very small minority of people who are actually Christians (Christians FOLLOW Christ and that means they are OBEDIENT to HIM )
We are a nation full of DEAD churches who preach social justice instead of the Gospel that was given to us and because of that we have lost our way .Our pulpits are full of clergy that do not know right from wrong and are unbelievers .
The nation did not repent and we got 0 sitting in the white house . With as much damage as he did to this country in the his first four years the people still not repent and put their faith in politicians to save them . Well those politicians are not doing anything but being politicians and we are going to be sliding deeper and deeper into the pit .
Americans have refused to repent and turn back to God . Now they are going to get what fills that void .
Pope Calls Health Care An Inalienable Right, Urges World Governments To Provide Universal Coverage
Agree with you. The Harbinger....
You’re absolutely right. But I’m not sure he’s talking about cradle-to-grave coverage or unlimited access to various technologies. Ironically, the US had been providing emergency healthcare long before any call for “universal” access to less (and more!) expensive care arose.
However, I’m not sure that healthcare-as-inalienable-right falls within the purview of popes’ calls. It has absolutely nothing to do with faith and morals. The “dignity” of life, as usually described by the the church hierarchy, involves (again) personal, private charity. I hate to twist this further, but my guess is that Benedict (a life-long Conservative) was talking about government’s ability to facilitate those various charities’ efforts—not taxing in order to provide it on its own. Nevertheless, you totally win on this argument. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see some later document clarifying Benedict’s published position.
Comments like these were made to the press after meeting with both Pelosi and Obama and they were comments about our healthcare.
I live in Florida and I have had to sit and wait hours in the emergency room with my 94 year old WWII veteran grandfather behind lines of illegals who are to cheap to run to CVS and buy cough medicine since they can get it free in the emergency room where no one will turn them down.
No one goes without healthcare in this country except the poor suckers who actually work a real job and can’t afford to take the time off to wait in the horrendous lines.
True again. Shameful. Especially where veterans are concerned. That was one of my first clues about how bad Obamacare would be. It added millions of indigents (and illegals!) to the lines normally reserved for the military. Healthcare was one of the few perks the military had, and in one swell foop, BAM, everybody in the country had that perk! That is, if you waited long enough in line. Sick.
That is nothing .
Wait till you see how fashionable it is going to be for college kids to become muslim so they don’t have to pay for it
Thank goodness financial solvency has nothing to do with salvation, then, huh?
“Thank goodness financial solvency has nothing to do with salvation, then, huh?”
I think the whole differentiation of countries I responded to is silly. Many Catholics will be in heaven because they trusted Christ alone for salvation. Many Protestants will be in heaven for the identical reason.
The country thing is silly, which was my point.
....we should not be surprised to find that the Calvinists took a very important part in American Revolution. Calvin emphasized that the sovereignty of God, when applied to the affairs of government proved to be crucial, because God as the Supreme Ruler had all ultimate authority vested in Him, and all other authority flowed from God, as it pleased Him to bestow it.
The Scriptures, God's special revelation of Himself to mankind, were taken as the final authority for all of life, as containing eternal principles, which were for all ages, and all peoples. Calvin based his views on these very Scriptures. As we read earlier, in Paul's letter to the Romans, God's Word declares the state to be a divinely established institution.
History is eloquent in declaring that the American republican democracy was born of Christianity and that form of Christianity was Calvinism. The great revolutionary conflict which resulted in the founding of this nation was carried out mainly by Calvinists--many of whom had been trained in the rigidly Presbyterian college of Princeton....
....In fact, most of the early American culture was Reformed or tied strongly to it (just read the New England Primer). Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a Roman Catholic intellectual and National Review contributor, asserts: If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather
-- from the thread John Calvin: Religious liberty and Political liberty
John Calvin, Calvinism, and the founding of America
Calvin's 500th Birthday Celebrated: Critics and Supporters Agree He was America's Founding Father
AMERICA AND JOHN CALVIN
America's debt to John Calvin
Lessons to be learned from Reformation
Theocracy: the Origin of American Democracy
American Government and Christianity - America's Christian Roots
The Faith of the Founders, How Christian Were They
John Calvin: Religious liberty and Political liberty
Abraham Kuyper on American Liberty
The Man Who Founded America
The Puritans and the founding of America
Perhaps Puritans weren't all that bad
Who were the Puritans?
Bible Battles: King James vs. the Puritans
The Heirs of Puritanism: That's Us!
The real Puritan legacy
In Praise of a Puritan America
Are new 'Puritans' gaining?
Foundations of Faith [Harvard's "Memorial Church" and the university's Puritan roots]
Bounty of Freedom [Puritans, Yankees, the Constitution, and Libertarianism]
The Pilgrims and the founding of America
Thanking the Puritans on Thanksgiving: Pilgrims' politics and American virtue
New World, New Ideas: What the Pilgrims and Puritans believed, about God and man and giving thanks
Pilgrims in Providence
A time for thanks
Judge reminds: Faith permeated our culture since the Pilgrims
In its 400th year, Jamestown aspires to Plymouth's prominence [huzzah for the Pilgrims!]
Rock of Ages and the rebel pilgrims [understanding the times re Augustus Toplady's famous hymn]
The Protestant Reformation, the "Presbyterian Rebellion", and the Founding of America
Religious Affiliation of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
July 4th -- Happy "Presbyterian Rebellion" Day!
Sources of American Federalism: Founders, Reformers & Ancient Hebrews
Americas Constitutional Foundation of Biblical Covenant
Reformation Faith & Representative Democracy
July 4th -- Happy "Presbyterian Rebellion" Day!
CALVINISM IN AMERICA [Happy "Presbyterian Rebellion" Day, everybody!]
A Moral Vision [Oliver Cromwell, the American Revolution, and Pluralism]
The Presbyterian Rebellion: An analysis of the perception [Happy Presbyterian Rebellion Day!]
The Presbyterian Rebellion [Happy Presbyterian Rebellion Day, everyone!]
I agree. I’m also Catholic but grateful that our country was founded by Anglo-Protestants.
As to decently run places that are Catholic, what do you think of Chile? When they had their big earthquake, it seemed like they operated pretty well.
The election of JFK was the end of America.
The same thing can be said of Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon.
Then you're not reading what I wrote. I didn't say Hispanic Catholics are uniformly liberals and caucasian Catholics are all conservative. What I said I was GENERALLY speaking, non-hispanic Catholics TEND to LEAN conservative, and hispanic-Catholics TEND to LEAN liberal. Their countries of origin and their voting patterns in the United States reflect this. Obviously, there are NUMEROUS exceptions to this general rule. Nobody would claim Ted Kennedy is right-wing or Augusto Pinochet was a socialist, for example.
Not at all, they were not the "end" of America, the election of JFK in 1960 doomed America, the future has no America in it, the name will remain for a long time, but America is gone, never to return.
The death of federalism under Lincoln, when these united States became the United States, and an illegal military action against the states, set into motion the forces that are destroying our country.
It was Nixon who implemented wage and price controls, established the EPA, OSHA, Clean Air Act, minimum tax, normalized relations with China, abandoned POWs and MIAs in Vietnam and was the first president to spent more on welfare than defense.
JFK, who was to the right of both Bush's, was just another milestone on the road.
As long as we were we, we could go back and forth, have ebbs and flows, historical cycles, and change within our own nation and people, but JFK’s election led to the left totally taking over all of the government and the passing of his immigration laws to replace the American people, we will never recover from that, and we already don’t recognize but traces of America even now, already America has been largely permanently erased and put away.
I get it, the issue isn't actually about conservatism, it's about xenophobic anti-Catholicism.
Funny—my New York Irish grandparents, all four of them, were Republicans; but THEIR parents (their fathers, anyway) were Democrats (two involved in Teapot Dome), and I’d agree with your grandfather. But I’m not sure the D-R split came as late as the 60s. Sen. Taft began the separation that defined the conservative-liberal split, and he was early 50s. Then came the split among Republicans—McCarthy/Taft wing vs. the Eisenhower/Rockefeller wing in the mid-fifties which unfortunately resulted in the JFK/LBJ debacle. Because Nixon had creds on both sides of the liberal-conservative Republican split in 1960 (even without Eisenhower’s long-withheld support), he was the GOP’s best hope but still lost, perhaps through fraud. Finally elected in ‘68, he was a better president than any we’d had in the 50 preceding years, the first to understand communism (THE defining Conservative-Liberal discriminator).
What a weird post, of course it is about conservatism, read my posts again if the loss of the United States means anything to you, and you want to learn how it happened.
Protestants of all shades. The old Puritanism had divided into several camps, and the new evangelical movement, led by men like John Wesley, tried to straddle the theological fence between Calvinism and liberalism, or if you like bridge the theological divide by converting the masses to meaningful worship though appeals to piety. The national elite hung onto to the old broad church, lattitudinal solution associated with the Church of England without endorsing any single body. When they did use the term religion, they WERE thinking of Protestantism. However, thecentral government they created was designed not to be like the European monarchies. No king, no titled aristocracy, no state church. But the dual sovereignty they established did allow the state to support a particular body such as the Congregational church in Connecticut. Eventually all the state church disappeared paradoxically as the evangelical movement managed to bring the majority of the people into the several sects, now called denominations. One historian has spoken of protestantism in 1860 as the unofficial established church of the United States.”
Do you mean the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, introduced in Congress by the Jewish Emanuel Celler and signed into law by the Disciples of Christ Protestant Lyndon B. Johnson? You must, because Kennedy never signed any immigration law.
It doesn't completely fit with your usual Catholic-bashing meme, I know. The real world is often more complex than just scapegoating one particular group.
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