Nyah, nyah! Your Catholics are as bad as ours!

A columnist in The Wall Street Journal (“Social Justice and Ryan the Heretic“) this morning took on liberal Catholics’ criticisms of Paul Ryan. For a moment, my heart leapt at the prospect of a discussion of the meaning of “subsidiarity” (hey, some people get excited that football season is coming; go figure) but it was not to be. This piece existed on a more modest intellectual plane. It was more in the line of, “Oh, yeah! Well, so’s yer mother!”

That is to say, the writer was accusing the left of adopting such a position.

Here’s how the piece concluded:

Unfortunately, suggesting that Mr. Ryan is a bad Catholic is the entire case. Stuck with the fact of Mr. Biden, who has long since made his peace with the party’s absolutism on abortion, progressive Catholics know that it would be laughable to try to present Mr. Biden as faithful to church teaching. They know too that clarity about church teaching does not work to their advantage. The only way to take on Mr. Ryan is to tear him down.

In the past, the liberal Catholic vision sought to inspire. Today, in the pages of the venerable lay Catholic magazine Commonweal, a blogger tries to diminish Paul Ryan by saying, “like the rest of us, he is a Cafeteria Catholic.” Surely it says something about a movement when its most powerful argument against an opponent is this: You are just as lousy as we are.

Think about that. In another age, Catholic progressives would have laughed at the suggestion that people were corrupted by reading certain works; now they believe Paul Ryan’s soul is in peril for his having read Ayn Rand. Before, they would not have feared science; now they insist that a program such as food stamps ought to continue ad infinitum without consideration of its effects. And while they believe that the pope and bishops have nothing of value to offer about the sanctity of marriage or the duty of protecting unborn life, when it comes to federal spending, suddenly a miter means infallibility.

But while columnist McGurn accurately pegs the liberals, he comes up with little substantive defense of Mr. Ryan’s rather odd interpretation of Catholic social teaching, beyond quoting a column by Ryan’s own bishop saying that unlike on abortion, Catholics might legitimately disagree “on issues such as how best to create jobs or help the poor.” I think the bishop has a point. But I’d still like to see a serious discussion of how well Mr. Ryan applies Catholic principles.

Lacking such a ringing endorsement, we are left to conclude, if this is all the evidence we go by, that there is no “good Catholic” to be found on either ticket.

But let’s be optimistic. Let’s say that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden reflect different sides of the faith. Put them together, and pare away their objectionable positions, and you have one pretty good Catholic.

14 thoughts on “Nyah, nyah! Your Catholics are as bad as ours!

  1. bud

    Not sure that a discussion about good vs bad Catholics has much value to a non-Catholic. In fact what real value does that kind of discussion have even to Catholics. Given that 98% of all Catholics use birth control does it really matter who adheres more faithfully to so-called Catholic principals?

  2. Doug Ross

    “I’d still like to see a serious discussion of how well Mr. Ryan applies Catholic principles”

    you left off the end of that sentence – “using taxes and legislation as the tool”.

    Does Catholicism really teach that the best way to achieve the objectives of the Church is through the legislative process? Is Ryan’s desire to replace Medicare with a more effective market based approach rather than price controls set by the government really against Catholic teachings?

  3. Mark Stewart

    I think you are articulating our progress into a post-religious age.

    This is all so dreary…

  4. Brad

    Speaking of “one pretty good Catholic,” I was intrigued by this statement in the column: “So here we are in 2012, when all but one of the active senators and representatives who are members of the official Catholics for Obama campaign team enjoy a 100% approval rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.”

    I wondered who the one was. Probably Bob Casey, I thought, given the long-standing animus between him and that organization. But no, apparently they rated him, too, at 100 percent in 2011. Although, wait… they rated him at 25 percent in 2009.

    So was he the one? If not, who was it? I’ve tried to find the list this refers to, but without success. Has anyone seen such a list?

  5. bud

    Brad, how do you square your ultra radical super duper pro-military interventionist attitude with Catholic doctrine which decries the use of military “solutions” in cases where we are not directly threatened? It seems like a gigantic contradiction.

  6. Mark Stewart

    It feels like descent, true. I’m only referring to the corrosion within the established mainline religions (and then, too, the rapidness with which the new right has indulged in a different flavor of the same sort of dogma).

    They all seem to have a difficult time adjusting to an information-based social order. And a difficult time finding the way to value a coherent, growable religious framework over specific political points.

    Maybe being a Cafeteria Catholic (not to pick on Catholicism as this is more a “conservative” issue) is simply a reaction against the accretion of narrow and rigid dogma – especially when it begins to loose it’s internal logic? Maybe people really need and want a structure that gives hope and guidence – a universal, expansive view of what could be?

    Maybe people really can tell the difference between thought leadership and social control? Maybe they just have a harder time stepping back from ideology once it hardens into contentiousness? One can hope thata broader clarity is achievable.

  7. Brad

    Bud, in setting up your contrast, you’re mischaracterizing both my position and that of the Church. I do not have an “ultra radical super duper pro-military interventionist attitude.” I just don’t. As I’ve tried to explain here before…

    Our nation, as a liberal democracy, doesn’t come to the brink of military action unless there is a preponderance of reasons to do so. We are different in that regard from the last global power, the British Empire. Being an empire, and being rather unapologetic about it, Britannia routinely engaged in military actions all over the world with relatively little hand-wringing.

    In this country, the bar is higher. We are just as enmeshed in world affairs as the Brits were, but the nature of the relationships is different. Consequently, by the time we get to the point of having a debate about intervening somewhere, the arguments for doing so are pretty strong.

    When we get to that point, when we are about to make such a decision, I generally end up on the “aye” side — because in this country, we wouldn’t be having the debate if the preponderance of evidence didn’t point that way.

    Put another way… Let’s say there is a finite number of potential situations to which we might apply military force. We get to the point of seriously considering doing so in a small portion of such situations. There’s no way really to quantify it (how would you construct reliably the entire universe of potential situations?), but just to allow me to make my point, let’s say the United States seriously considers engaging militarily in FIVE percent of those situations…

    Well, my own proclitivies, given my view of America’s role in the world, would probably commit us to 7 or 8 percent of those situations. Well, that hardly constitutes a bloody-minded “ultra radical super duper pro-military interventionist attitude.” But it does pretty much almost guarantee that if it’s under serious consideration in this country — if it’s within that five percent — it’s going to be within my 7 or 8 percent.

    So, to someone who would only be for acting in ONE percent of the situations, I can see how my position might look like an “ultra radical super duper pro-military interventionist attitude.” But it’s not.

    Now, as to the other side of the equation… I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize the Church’s position as “decries the use of military ‘solutions’ in cases where we are not directly threatened.”

    The Catholic tradition is more firmly wedded to Just War Doctrine, which allows considerable more leeway than waiting until the enemy lands in force on the Grand Strand.

    The question then becomes whether one believes that the criteria of a Just War have been met. And there we have all kinds of room for disagreement.

    All of that said, I think I understand the roots of your question. As I recall, back in the early part of the past decade, Pope John Paul II (or John Paul the Great, as Peggy Noonan styles him) was opposed to military actions by this country that I favored.

    I was not happy to be at odds with that Pope. Yet the conclusions I reached were the conclusions I reached, however much I examined my conscience in light of that disagreement.

    And I don’t believe there was a serious gap between us on fundamental principles. I just saw those principles applying to that situation differently from the way Rome did.

  8. bud

    Does this mean I’m a member of the 1%? Who would have thunk it. Actually it would probably be more like 1/10 of 1% but I won’t quible. Just call me Mr. Isolationist. And proudly so.

  9. bud

    If Iraq was a part of the 8% I can only imagine what crazy military scheme would be down around 90%. Perhaps an invasion of Antarctica?

  10. Steven Davis II

    I don’t even bother reading these “Catholics are so superior” articles. Are converts the red headed step-child to those born Catholic? As Kathryn would say, “I’m not impressed”. Martin Luther was right…

  11. Brad

    Hmm. I don’t recall writing a “Catholics are so superior” piece.

    As for the Reformation — well, it just all seems so regrettable. And I say that as a former Protestant.

    One of the books I’m reading at the moment is “Wolf Hall.” Wolsey has just died, and Cromwell is taking names as he notes bitterly which courtiers seem to take most delight in the cardinal’s downfall. Of course, the author doesn’t much like More, either. (That seems fashionable these days; I’m told that’s also a feature of the soft-porn TV show, “The Tudors.”) But on the whole, I don’t think I’m ever going to feel good about how the Church of England came into being…

    I’ve probably mentioned this before, I’m sure, but I’ll say it again… two of my favorite courses in college were “U.S. Social and Intellectual History,” before and after 1865. The one that dealt with the period before The Recent Unpleasantness was almost all theology. I read how all the dissenting Protestant sects developed in tandem with American notions of democracy, and how we just kept on engendering new sects to move farther and farther away from the Roman church and its cousin in England. There was a certain trajectory that some in New England followed. It went, if I recall correctly, Congregationalist-Unitarian-Transcendentalist. But what stuck in my mind — although I don’t recall names — were a couple of transcendentalists who had gone as far as you could go in rebelling against down-from-below authoritarian High Church, and just had nowhere else to go. So they went full circle and became Catholic.

    I agreed with them. I explored all sorts of available options. And in the end, I saw no reason to belong to anything but the original church.

  12. J

    Brad, I found this article in the NYT today very interesting. Having read a couple of books by Bart Erhman, I was surprised by the pastor of a former mainline church I attended, explain in front of the congregation, that they should pray for the daughter of a MD of whose family I count as friends. She was attending UNC-Chapel Hill and she needed prayer because she was going to take a class this coming semester under Bart Erhman whose path through faith and beyond I’ve followed closely. I no longer attend that church due to their outright political advocacy and the commentary of a certain anti-abortion doctor who is given the pulpit regularly and for their lack of accepting all individuals as we’re admonished that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one…

    Having personal knowledge of many violent rape situations of others and their families and count as friends many who are shunned by this type of perverse homophobic theology, I wonder about the religious motivation (whether this Pres or VP candidate or other political candidates) which in many cases is exceeded by organizational dedication rather than loving your neighbor as yourself. You don’t have to be in a particular church nor be an adherent to observe that many use their religion to advance their own personal and political advancement.


  13. Steven Davis II

    “Hmm. I don’t recall writing a “Catholics are so superior” piece.”

    You don’t need to, it’s implied in every “I’m Catholic” article you write.

    “There was a certain trajectory that some in New England followed. It went, if I recall correctly, Congregationalist-Unitarian-Transcendentalist.”

    What??? You’re to “ist” what Jesse Jackson is to “tion”.

    Why don’t you do what everyone else does, go to church one day a week and don’t dwell on the sermon all week. There are Catholic monks who don’t think about religion as much as you do.

    Why didn’t you become Jewish? I believe they may have been more “original” than Catholics.

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