Sunday, March 30, 2008

Religious Verbiage

With Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States just over two weeks away, and the Pennsylvania primary not much further behind, Catholicism seems to be much in the news. While we can expect that the foolishness is just beginning, it's hard to imagine anything that will top this essay in today's Washington Post for sheer erroneous brazenness. The essay claims that Americans won't understand today's Vatican unless they realize that the Holy See is just another outpost in the grand European experiment. The Vatican, we are told, is pacifist, eager to display multicultural sensitivity, not as pro-Israel as would appear (apparently because European elites are oftentimes anti-Semites), and is indistinguishable from secular programs of poverty relief. In short, the Vatican is a kind of foreign blue-state, a Lefty outpost for bleeding heart liberals with robes and funny hats. As the article concludes, "if you're trying to understand how the Pope sees the world, to get past the religious verbiage and the political kernel within, try not to think of Rome. Think of Brussels."

I'll admit, this is a first: normally, the mainstream media disparages the "religious verbiage" in the name of blue state enlightenment. This fellow, Michael Sean Winters, tells us that any such verbiage is epiphenomenal to the deeper political liberalism that results, he suggests, from the fact that the leadership at the Vatican is drawn from the same institutions and schools as the rest of Europe (his evidence - a murdered Italian intelligence officer's brother is an official in the Vatican. Case closed, I guess. I suppose that all that training in seminary is just a kind of veneer, finishing school polish). The basis of the author's argument seems to be, in any way that the Vatican would seem to be critical of policies of the United States, it must therefore be in complete sympathy with the positions of Europe. So, we're to assume that the Vatican is pro-statism, pro-euthanasia, pro-abortion, pro-childlessness and pro-capitulation to Islamic shari'a. QED.

Really, this essay would be laughable for its fanciful and inventive - if poorly argued - thesis, if not for the fact that so many American Catholic elites hold something of this view, or a version of it. Such elites - notably, presidents and officials at Catholic Universities, as well as many Catholic journalists, opinion makers and, of course, politicians - hold the view that Catholicism justifies every aspect of liberalism - particularly those aspects that broadly fall under the umbrella of "social justice" - and only the Vatican hasn't seemed to discover this fact quite yet. Mr. Winters seeks to offer to these elites (many of whom read the Washington Post) the illusion that their Left understanding of Catholicism is, in fact, shared by the Vatican! Happy Days!!

I wonder, though, what many of these elites - particularly those working in Catholic institutions like Georgetown - will make of the Pope's anticipated upbraiding that will take place at a lecture on Catholic education to take place at Catholic University. It's doubtful that many will be able to spin the message as a license to define Catholicism in any way one pleases - much less to dismiss "religious verbiage" as a way to discern the "political kernel within." Stay tuned - but in the meantime, I'd probably avoid pre-ordering Mr. Winter's forthcoming book, "Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats," since, according to the "analysis" of this article, there's really no distinguishing between the two.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's hard to take this blog post seriously when it has to invoke the increasingly creaky blue state meme to make its point. A political theorist like Deneen should take a look at some of the empirical data that exposes the whole blue state-red state dichotomy as a cheap elitist fiction (see Fiorina's book).

Rather than dealing with caricatures it would be much more useful if Deneen honestly and clearly examined what is wrong with liberal pluralism.

mdavid said...

Like OPEC, it's foolish to pay attention to what the Vatican gives lip service to. Rather, pay attention to what they do. Observe the the kind of bishops who get appointed to Europe and America. Could make a man, well, blue!

I suppose that all that training in seminary is just a kind of veneer, finishing school polish

Pretty much. If you are a traditionalist in moral values, the odds are you won't make it through a seminary in Europe or America. They will run you out.

If you look at actual Catholicism on the ground in Europe, it's so blue-state it really defies definition.

Also, the Catholic Church in America leans left. Hard. Any traditional culture of American Catholicism is an outpost in hostile territory.

Yes indeed, for all the talk and bluster, when the rubber meets the road, the Vatican is Blue. And the worldwide flock exemplifies this fact.