Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The church and America: tension, assimilation and mutual benefit

This won’t be a God-damn-America post in the LRC Laurence Vance tradition, but suffice it to say Stephen Decatur wasn’t a Catholic theologian.





Sacred Heart, Clifton Heights, Pa.: you can tell it used to be Polish.


Introibo ad altare Dei. Good-hearted ethnic parish. They did what they were told in the ’70s and nothing more. All they have to do is push the high altar back and build a new rail... if they don’t close.

Ever since the Calverts (Lord Baltimore) started Maryland (I know the Spanish were here first but America starts with the British*) the Catholic story in America’s been paradoxical, puzzling both to European churchmen such as the Popes and to American Catholics. Protestants turned agnostics founded this country, which happened to be a haven for Catholics thanks to liberty while the church, rightly fearing indifferentism and the founding fathers’ heresy and apostasy, until recently condemned religious liberty. (Americans had to choose between godless republicans or an anointed Christian king, not the monster American history makes him out to be... but he was Protestant and, in the motherland, persecuted the church; the colonies were free to do what they wanted with religion.) That and ecumenism are the basis of the SSPX split from the official church; It’s Not About Latin™. As E. Michael Jones once wrote regarding the SSPX’s faults, the split among trads is between European fascists** and monarchists on one hand, the men who run the society, and American patriots on the other.


Like beisbol, America’s been ‘bery, bery good’ to us and vice versa. (Fun fact: Italians were the No. 1 ethnic group in America’s armed forces in WWII.) Grateful and still wanting to prove themselves, the immigrants and second generation became super-patriots, good in itself (a natural love of one’s country) but a problem if taken too far, turning subtly into what Harold Bloom wrote about, ‘the American religion’ (Robert Schuller’s former ministry seemed an example of it, like the prosperity gospel). There was Pope Leo XIII’s fear of an Americanist heresy, which the SSPX still has, and the curious case of Joseph Witkoffski, a priest whom Dr Tighe explained to me took Americanism ‘200%’ and in the ’40s left the church when he found out it didn’t see things that way. (He became an Episcopalian when they were still sort of conservative, liking their then all-American Rotarian approach to things.) The WWII vets, the Knights of Columbus waving flags, the good-hearted Reagan Democrats. For what it’s worth I like them.

By 1960 we were assimilated and accepted (Hollywood made unironic pro-Catholic movies because they sold well and reflected the feelings of the whole country) without selling out. Then Vatican II ruined everything.

Although he doesn’t like my politics much better, Daniel Nichols has pointed out the problem of identifying too much with the mainstream American right (neocons), which is pro-war. Backing Rick Santorum for example (Santorum wouldn’t get my vote but gets a thumbs-up from me for calling the mainline what it is) or a charismatic (remember them? ... orthodox but low-church) Catholic college inviting a former government official who greenlighted torture to be the graduation speaker.

Then there’s the temptation of the left, more understandable than it might seem considering the church’s distrust of individualism and American liberty (likewise, American Protestants were afraid of the church). I forget where I first read it but churchmen’s political and social teaching has always resembled the international left more than the American right, old (what I like) or new. Or put another way, the international left is a ripoff of the church’s teachings superseding individual and nation, on the brotherhood of man. Something everybody from Bishop Williamson (he doesn’t like capitalism) to the ’70s liberation theologians has in common. (Romantic arts-and-crafts third-way distributists: mass-produce a good product at a good price and we’ll talk. Fair trade: sentimentality/SWPL showing off.) Throw in the immigrant-worker/union experience and as far as I know most American Catholics are still Democrats.

Catholic Social Teaching, the European churchmen’s idea of social justice: sanctified welfare state, not necessarily with a state church (anymore), thought of as a social democracy now but it could be a king or dictator, as long as it promotes family values and peace.

They’ll concede to us Americans now that the church can and maybe should operate in a free country, chosen not forced so it’s real belief. (I hate Vatican II but John Courtney Murray was right.)

So ideally we’re not hippies or Occupiers sassing the establishment for its own sake but the American establishment doesn’t own us either, as I hope President Obama’s government will find out with this HHS war on the church. (It lost its Protestant churchiness/Christian semi-orthodoxy and went granola but Know-Nothingism is perennial in America.) The reason other totalitarians have hated us; Soviet Russia for example. We weren’t nationalist so they couldn’t own us.

*Of course there are the Irish. Interesting. Not all southern Irish hate the British, the Irish enthusiastically built the British Empire serving in the army etc., the church rightly has been skeptical of the Irish cause (over here Cardinal Spellman had no time for it), many of the Irish cause’s early leaders were Protestants and the IRA were/are Communists more than Catholics. So again America begins with the British.

**I don’t believe in it but it’s not a dirty word like ‘Nazi’. A valid Catholic option just like a kingdom or a republic. Franco and Sálazar were great in their respective countries.

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