The Church and politics, or Kennedy vs Santorum

For those of us from a liberal-left background, who are also drawn to Catholic faith, the increasingly close association between Catholicism and political conservatism, especially in the United States, is a cause for concern and even bewilderment. I’m a great fan of Michael Sean Winters, and enjoyed his book Left at the Altar, which charts the great falling-out between the Church and the Democratic Party who, Winters believes, should be natural allies – and were so in the past, for example at the time of the New Deal.

But just because you’re disillusioned with some aspects of Democratic policy, doesn’t mean you have automatically to embrace the political and cultural conservatism of the religious Right. More and more, Catholic political commentators and pundits seem indistinguishable from their rabidly fundamentalist Evangelical counterparts. For those who remember how the Evangelicals feared Kennedy’s election (see Shaun Casey’s book The Making of a Catholic President), it’s astonishing to see their modern successors anoint the Catholic Rick Santorum as their preferred presidential candidate.

Howard Schweber wrote an interesting piece for Huffington Post last week, in which he discussed what he calls ‘the Catholicisation of the American Right’. Some of us, however, are more worried by the ‘conservatisation’ of American Catholicism: the identification of the institutional Church, and a vast swathe of militant Catholic commentators, with the Republican Party. The Catholic blogosphere, particularly in America, is seething with red-hot culture warriors, with very few dissenting voices to be heard.

Andrew Sullivan, famously Catholic, gay, formerly pro-Republican but now pro-Obama, also posted an article this week – at The Daily Beast – commenting on Santorum’s recent vilification of JFK, and contrasting the very different Catholicisms represented by the two politicians. Now Kennedy was no paragon of Catholic virtue, though surely the civil rights reforms he set in train were one of the great moral victories of our age, but I think Sullivan is spot-on here:

Kennedy was a Catholic of another era, unafraid of modernity, interested in other paths to God, publicly humble and cheerful, privately devout and deeply connected to others of all faiths and none. Santorum is of a different kind: authoritarian, deeply suspicious of freedom when it leads to disobedience of the Papacy’s diktats, and publicly embracing a religious identity as his core political one.

Given the politically-conservative tenor of the Catholic blogosphere, I anticipate that not many people who find their way to this blog will agree with this view. But take it from me, the reactionary ‘Christianism’ (as Sullivan calls it) represented by Santorum et al is a huge turn-off for those of us who seek a way of reconciling Catholicism with modernity, and our deep yearning for faith with our belief in an open, plural and tolerant society.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “The Church and politics, or Kennedy vs Santorum

  1. Interesting piece. I’ve been thinking about this question a bit recently. I’m not myself a liberal/leftist, but I have learned a great deal from the leftist critique of capitalism, and find the American Catholic right’s glorification of the system rather tragic. My grandfather was personally acquainted with Dorothy Day, who I think united much of what is best in modern “progressive” politics with a deep Catholic faith (there are still some people carrying on her legacy in an inspiring way).

    But the reason why I have been thinking about this question is rather that I have been doing some research on David Foster Wallace (I’m trying to work him into my dissertation — mostly because he’s one of my favorite novelists). Wallace was attracted by the Catholic faith — and even started preparation for Baptism a couple of times — but it seems they were obstacles to his embracing the faith fully. I have been trying to understand what those obstacles were, and I think the political one you describe may have been one of them.

    • Thank you so much for the comment. I’m an admirer of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement too, though from what I see of their current work, they seem to have drifted (at least in their campaigning) into a rather stereotypical anti-US anti-western position that apes the worst of the secular left…but that doesn’t take away from their excellent work among migrants, etc.

      I don’t know much about David Foster Wallace, and I certainly didn’t know he’d tried (and ‘failed’ – I sympathise with that…) to become a Catholic. Maybe I should take time to read him.

      It was wonderful to discover your blog and I shall add it to my blogroll. I feel privileged to have a comment on my blog from a Cistercian. When I was trying to become a Catholic first time round, my parish priest used to send me to stay at Mt Saint Bernard here in England, and I loved it. If things had worked out differently, I might even have tried to stay…When all else fails, and my faith is at its weakest, I recall the stillness of the abbey church in the early hours of the morning, the hospitality of the monks, their earthy wisdom…

      Alban

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s