Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ross Douthat: What Are Conservative Catholics to Do with Francis?

To be honest, I don't really read Ross Douthat. I can't take the man seriously. 

But since several blogs I routinely scan for news and news commentary have linked in recent days to Douthat's latest statement about the discomfiture of right-wing American Catholics with the new pope, I went to his New York Times blog and read the piece in its entirety. And I have to confess, I've come away from my reading puzzled.

Douthat frames his argument with a throwaway line about "the American church's liberal wing" which he qualifies with the dismissive parenthetical phrase "(what's left of it)." That tired old "liberal wing"--or "(what's left of it)"--is contrasted with the phrase "conservative Catholics in America," who, we learn later in Douthat's essay, choose the Republican party because "American believers" naturally gravitate "right-of-center." It's their belief, you see, that makes them move in that direction. In contrast to the no-belief of the tired old liberal wing of American Catholicism that has fallen apart because, apodictically, it has no belief. 

Do you see the point? "American believers": "right-of-center." "Liberal wing": non-existent, fraying, "(what's left of it)." Because the "liberal wing" of Catholicism of course doesn't believe. It's to be conflated, Douthat informs us at another point in his meanderings, with heterodoxy: it's the antithesis of what Catholicism is really about.

And as I read this tortured analysis (tortured, because it glides blithely over the surface of one fact after another that quite plainly contradicts the analysis), I want to ask Mr. Douthat: Did you even read any analysis of the 2012 election results?! Are you aware of how real-life American Catholics voted in that election? 

Do you really want to inform your readers that real Catholics choose the GOP, when increasing numbers of American Catholics choose the Democratic side in national elections--and inform pollsters that they're doing so because of their faith?

Do you really want to declare American religious women and the nuns on the bus in particular heterodox proponents of a tired old liberal Catholicism that long since had its day in the sun, and is no longer viable? Is no longer having any effect at all on American political life?

For that matter, do you really want to conflate the positions now being taken by the political party you defend with Christianity? With the teaching of Jesus? With orthodoxy? With Catholicism?

In case you've forgotten (or perhaps never heard about) those real positions being taken right now by your "orthodox" "Christian" political party, you might find this summary of them by Professor David Coates from the belly of the beast (aka intensely Christian North Carolina) valuable:

If North Carolina is any guide to our political future, that future is very bleak indeed. In the brief period of legislative activity which has now just ended in Raleigh, the Republicans used their unprecedented control of both the legislature and the governorship to, among other things: reject Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act; remove unemployment benefits from 170,000 long-term unemployed North Carolinians; end the state earned-income tax credit for low-income families; cut funding for public schooling while easing access to charter schools; put in jeopardy 16 of the 17 clinics offering legal abortions in the state; repeal the Racial Justice Act; and pass legislation curbing early voting and creating new and restrictive voter-ID requirements. All that legislative activism, horrendous as it is, would just be our local problem if North Carolinian Republicans were outliers in the modern Republican pantheon, but all the evidence suggests that they are not. Recent polling within the Republican Party shows growing enthusiasm among party activists for Tea Party-inspired programs of the North Carolinian kind, and Republican legislators in Washington are even more Tea-Party minded in this Congress than they were in the last. A new kind of radical conservatism is on the march in America, and not just in the American South.

If all of this is "orthodoxy" or "Christianity" or "traditional Catholicism," I'll eat my hat. With a serving of tired, old Long Loneliness salad followed by Contemplation in a World of Action dessert, all washed down with some tired old "(what's left of it)" Economic Justice for All and Challenge of Peace wine.

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