Is this America’s ‘Catholic moment’?
The editors at Religion & Politics wanted to know, and I answered “yes,” though my affirmation was not based on the obvious metrics — Catholics filling two-thirds of the Supreme Court slots, a Catholic incumbent Vice-President and VP candidate, a Catholic Speaker of the House etc. It’s not about Catholics as the new WASPs.
Rather, it is the substance of Catholicism that is having its day, thanks mainly to the election’s focus on the economy, the attendant debate about the balance between the American common good and the American ideal of individualism, and how to translate this balance into actual tax and spend policies. From the social justice tours of the “Nuns on the Bus” to fights over Paul Ryan’s budget plans, classic concepts from Catholic social teaching are now invoked with a regularity that must astound Catholic theologians. Instead of talking to glassy-eyed undergrads in college lecture halls, Catholic scholars and politicians are debating the finer details of papal encyclicals—concepts such as “subsidiarity and solidarity” and “prudential judgment”—on national cable news shows.
Those topics are also of course familiar to Commonweal readers. But also familiar to everyone here is the paradox of this moment:
Just as the nation debates a vision of the common good that is Catholic at its core, and just as our politics demands Catholic concepts to translate that communitarian ethos into policy, Catholic leaders and Catholic voters can’t agree on what they think these Catholic teachings actually mean. Nor can they agree on how, or whether, those teachings might apply to the public square.
My concern is that by overlooking or redefining Catholic social and moral teaching at this crucial juncture, Catholics themselves are missing out on “the Catholic moment.” What’s more, a nation that is in dire need of this Catholic wisdom may well miss out on it.
The piece is called “Is 2012 America’s ‘Catholic Moment’?” and you can read it all here. Feedback welcome, natch.
PS: And yes, I know the academics here never leave their undergrads glassy-eyed.