Home/Rod Dreher/There Never Was a ‘Catholic Moment’

There Never Was a ‘Catholic Moment’

I don’t know how many of you saw this comment from our reader Roberto in the ‘Catholic Moment’ thread, but it bears repeating here:

There never was a “Catholic moment,” at least not like Father Neuhaus and his fellow Catholic neocons imagined it. They papered over the tensions and incompatibility between Catholicism and Liberalism, by which I mean John Locke and not Nancy Pelosi, in a way that John Courtney Murray never did.

They did this because the “Catholic moment” was a political, not religious, concept. It was a search for an articulation of Christianity that could do battle in the public square on terms that were somehow accessible to non-Christians.

The problem, as Father Neuhaus sometimes acknowledged, is that Liberalism can’t accommodate that kind of public Christianity. Folks like Alasdair MacIntyre, who famously said “The contemporary debates within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals,” and, especially, William Cavanaugh have documented the point so well that it requires a kind of invincible ignorance to insist otherwise.

The Catholic moment would have been chimerical even if the Bishops were saints and Catholics fully embraced NFP. Asking Catholicism to save America from itself misses the point: to be “saved,” at least in the sense that many social conservatives understand that, requires America becoming something other than it is: the exemplar of western liberal individualism.

I encourage you to set aside some time to read this transcript of an absorbing Australian public radio discussion of “political theology.” William Cavanaugh is one of the guests. On the program, Prof. Cavanaugh says:

In a sense I want to argue that all theology is political theology, that it all has implications, but the term itself goes back to Carl Schmitt in the 1920s, it may go back beyond that but if it does I am not aware, but it goes back to Carl Schmitt in the 1920’s who argued that all forms of modern theories of the state are secularised theological concepts. For him political theology just meant that, that what you have in the study of modern political concepts are really kind of theological concepts in disguise.

… All politics are theological I think in the sense that they marshal large transcendent visions of human origins and human destiny.

I just don’t think there are ways ultimately of getting around ultimate questions when you are talking politics. I don’t think you can get around questions of what are human beings really like, where did we come from? Where are we ultimately going?

If I’m reading Roberto (and Cavanaugh) correctly, then Catholicism could not ever fundamentally instruct American life because it is radically (= at its roots) different from the nature of our country, which was founded as the liberal state par excellence. Catholicism could not really change America, but only be changed by America, not because America is hostile to Catholicism (though some Americans were), but because the liberal, capitalist individualism at the heart of what it means to be American cannot be reconciled with the Catholic vision of human origins and destiny. Right? Help me out here.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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