Thursday, February 06, 2014

"A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching"

[Wow, no posts in Jan. 2014. Blogging is really slow.]

This is a fascinating and thought-provoking piece at The American Conservative, on the real (intellectual) debate within Catholicism in the U.S. -- which isn't between the "liberals" and the "conservatives" but between Catholics, both of which are orthodox* who think the American experiment and the foundations of classical liberalism are a good thing, and those who are suspicious of liberalism wholesale.

The piece provides a decent and helpful sketch of the outlines and main thinkers of both camps -- Richard Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Novak (going back to John Courtney Murray, but also the great Americanists of the 19th century, John Ireland, James Gibbons, and before that, Isaac Hecker and Orestes Brownson - though the latter two had a falling out eventually) on the "classical liberalism side," with First Things as their intellectual center, and Alasdair MacIntyre and David Schindler on the "radical anti-liberal" side, with Communio as the periodical best exemplifying their views.

And for me, there's an interesting overlap with my own biography, and intellectual development. I was shepherded into the Church (despite, and sometimes directly against, their intentions) by liberation theology laced Indian Jesuits. The first parish bible study I went to involved the ripping apart of Scripture using the methods of the Jesus Seminar. As a catechumen, my catechism was Richard McBrien's notorious "Catholcism" (yes, believe it or not), along with the Dutch Catechism of 1966. I spent my early years as a Catholic in the US in the liberal (i.e. heterodox/progressive/dissenting) waters of late 1990s US campus ministry Catholicism. I  came (intellectually) to orthodoxy thanks, in part, to First Things, Neuhaus, John Paul II (especially Theology of the Body), but really the writings of Joseph Ratzinger (what a glorious day was April 19, 2005!)**, and to a lesser extent John Henry Newman. Luke Johnson was influential against the corrosive depredations of the historical-critical method (the subject, in part, of my Masters thesis). Since then, I've been moving in the Schindler/Communio direction. I suspect I straddle both these camps, still tending to neoliberalism (economically speaking) rather than distributism/agrarianism. And though aging and greying, progressive Catholicism is still powerful and entrenched -- in Universities (can one say Notre Dame? Georgetown?) as well as in middle-level diocesan bureaucracies in the US (and sometimes higher), and for whatever reason, seems emboldened (wrongly so, IMO), by the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the See of St. Peter.

So, in a sense, I seem to have run the gamut of these three intellectual currents -- progressive Catholicism (reflecting my largely intellectually secular-humanist upbringing), orthodoxy (by the grace of God), and then floating through the "neo-con" and "radical" camps.

The future? I'm not a prophet in any sense (colloquial or Thomistic). The wing identified as "evangelical Catholic" (popularized by John Allen, and more recently by George Weigel, but really going back to Dr. William Poitiers in the early 2000s, methinks - yep, a 2004 article in Communio I reference here, which is available online - PDF) is going to shape Church leadership big time (it already is). But clearly, the influence of Spanish-speaking Catholics will be a big factor -- they're largely outside this binary classification, I'd say.

Go read the piece.

MacIntyre's After Virtue is a must read for cultural critics of whatever stripe.

And Russell Shaw's recent American Church is worth it.

*I.e. no bus-riding nuns who want women priests, or priests who think the Pope is evil. Yes, I've heard priests say that to me about Bl. John Paul II.  
** I really am a "Pope Benedict Priest." That is probably a separate blog there. 


K-Mo said...

The Poitiers article is online!
It's easily the most important article I've read in the last decade. Everyone who's ever blamed anyone or anything for the Church's apparent decline in the USA should read it.

Fr. Gaurav Shroff said...

Thanks Fr. K-Mo! :-) That's helpful. I'll add that link to the blog post.