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Good Catholics, good citizens face assault by militant secularism

placeholder May 9, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Good Catholics, good citizens face assault
by militant secularism

George Weigel

The Catholic love affair with the United States of America is heading into rough and uncharted waters — and not only in this 2016 election cycle, but for the foreseeable future.

U.S. Catholics have, in a sense, been there and done that, given that the history of the Church in this country includes fending off anti-Catholic bigots like the 18th-century Know Nothing Party (about which 99 percent of Catholics today know nothing) and the late-19th century American Protective Association (another puzzler, these days, in Catholic Jeopardy). But there's something different about today's turbulence.

Identifying that difference, understanding it, and knowing how to respond to it are all imperative if we're to navigate these troubled waters in such a way as to advance the New Evangelization and give our country a new birth of freedom, rightly understood.

The difference today is that the assault on the Church by militant secularism and its allies in the federal government is a struggle over first principles. That wasn't so much the case in the past. The Know Nothings and the American Protective Association claimed to honor the Constitution; so did U.S. Catholics. The Know Nothings and the APA said we were lying, because we owed our first allegiance to a foreign potentate (they meant the pope, not the Lord Jesus Christ); we proved that Catholicism and American patriotism weren't antinomies.

Still, everyone in these battles affirmed the first principles inscribed in the Constitution and the self-evident moral truths, articulated in the Declaration of Independence, that the Constitution was crafted to embody. Today, it is precisely those truths and those principles that are being sharply contested.

That's the unprecedented situation, perilous and yet full of possibility, that a new book by my colleague Stephen White, "Red, White, Blue, and Catholic" (Liguori), intends to clarify and address. In this brief but incisive look at the issues of the day — and of the likely future — Steve White makes several important points:

1. Our politics is often reduced to a tug of war between crude caricatures: the party of government and the party of the individual. When this happens, a humane accounting of the realities of social life becomes impossible and the fundamental purpose of politics—living well, together—gets overlooked. Most of our lives happen in the variegated social spaces between the individual and the government.

We call this "civil society." It is there—in the family, the parish, the school, the business, the local community and so on—that the vast majority of our lives happen. It's in these spaces, and not just in the voting booth, that most of the work of citizenship happens.

2. The family, the cradle of new life and the font of civil society, is in jeopardy in unprecedented ways, as our society increasingly disregards basic facts of human existence and tried to alter them by technologically empowered acts of willfulness.

Each of us comes from a mother and father. Each of us begins life in a state of utter dependence. Each of us needs to be educated, formed and civilized.

The defense of human life is intimately bound to the defense of marriage and family. These are not the only social issues of concern to Catholics, but they are priorities in the literal sense of the word. Without the begetting and rearing of new generations, and the defense of human life, there simply is no society, let alone a stable, flourishing, and free society. "As the family goes," said Pope John Paul II, "so goes the nation." Pope Francis would certainly agree.

3. Given the current state of affairs in the United States, it is important to remember that religious freedom is not something bestowed on individuals by a tolerant, benevolent state. No, the religious freedom of individuals and the liberty of the Church are necessary preconditions for a flourishing society.

Religion is emphatically a public good, and one indispensable to limited government, as the Founders were constantly pointing out. The Church ought to be free to be herself for her sake, for the sake of the faithful, and for the sake of the common good.

Do read "Red, White, Blue and Catholic." Then get copies for your Catholic neighbors.

(George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.)

Catholic vote not monolithic as it once was,
but important

WASHINGTON — Is there a Catholic vote?

Well, yes. Kind of.

Voting patterns show Catholics vote much like the rest of America, with minor swings one way or the other, depending on the candidate and the state.

Nevertheless, the Catholic vote still is important, as syndicated columnist, political commentator and Georgetown University professor E.J. Dionne likes to say.

Any way it's examined, analysts say the Catholic vote is not as monolithic as it once was.

That is, except for Latinos, who now comprise about 35 percent of U.S. Catholics: More than 65 percent regularly vote for Democrats, and about 20 percent vote Republican, leaving few to be swayed by the candidates' political positions.

"Even though people use the shorthand of 'the Catholic vote,' 'the vote of Catholics' is probably the better way to describe it because there is that diversity now," said Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Gray suggested that the elections of 1960 and 1964 were the last where Catholics could be considered a uniform voting bloc. In 1960, they were moved to support Democrat John F. Kennedy, the country's first and only Catholic president, and that wave carried into the election four years later.

But since then, Gray said, Catholics "have not been really in one camp or the other," and that they hold values similar to the rest of the voting populace, an indication that church teaching holds little sway in the election at the polls.

"(Catholics) look for teachings of the church that are consistent with the party affiliation that they have," Gray said.

Monika L. McDermott, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, who has analyzed exit poll data for national news organizations, echoed Gray, saying the diversity among Catholics means they vote the way they want no matter what the Catholic Church teaches.

"They go their own way. They pick and choose what they want and what they want to follow," she said.

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