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28Historically Speaking September/October 2004 and a paranoid style. Although the vocabulary has changed, many contemporary multiculturalists share an analogous vision of a society without cultural conflict. And even pundits and politicians devoid of serious ideas believe that no one should say, "My religion is better than your religion." Although admirable in many ways, this tolerant vision has several defects, not the least of which is that it fails to intersect with reality. Even during the relatively placid 1950s, as John Courtney Murray emphasized at the time, ProtestantCatholic conflict was endemic beneath a thin veneer of politeness. One of McGreevy's foremost accomplishments is to rediscover that conflict and explore its nuances. In the post-1960s world in which both individual self-expression and cultural diversity are increasingly cherished, conflicts related to religion are more open and visible—and not just between Catholics and Protestants or secularists. Is Mel Gibson's conservative Catholic portrayal of the crucifixion anti-Semitic (mildly so, in my view)? Does anti-Zionism differ from anti-Semitism (yes in theory, but the line is often crossed)? Is a Muslim now considered as American as Will Herberg's prototypical "Protestant-Catholic-Jew" (yes in theory, but usually not in fact)? Such questions are painful and not always easy to answer. Yet they need to be addressed with civility in Murray's special sense ofthe term—as serious questions worthy of serious argument. This means (as Hofstadter, Bell, and Lipset might warn) that such questions probably should not be asked ofor answered by presidential candidates. The second important issue implicit on every page of McGreevy's book is the extent to which Catholics have differed from most other Americans. As I have already suggested, McGreevy seems to overstate the differences, at least for the period before Vatican II and the 1960s. This is partly because he pays excessive attention to words. On the one hand, the Protestant-dominated culture was never as individualist as the prevailing rhetoric implied. Even John Dewey favored the construction of a "common faith" and thought the right educational system could help to construct it. Americans gathered often in their lodges, VFW halls, or Ku Klux Klan chapters. On the other hand, Catholic denunciations of "excessive selfishness " (the bishops in 1919) or "perverse individualism" (Father Ryan in A Living Wage) need to be examined more critically. Too often their calls for "solidarity" lacked real intellectual content, let alone effective policy prescriptions. Anyone to the left of Ayn Rand could join in a repudiation of "excessive selfishness" or "perverse individualism ." The differences between native-born Catholics and Protestants have certainly diminished during the past half-century. To recall comedian Lenny Bruce's phrase, Catholics are now less likely to claim that their church is the "only the Church." However good this trend is for Catholics as individuals or for American society in general , it is a mixed blessing for the Church as an institution. After all, if nostalgia rather than supernatural belief binds cosmopolitan Catholics to a Church with which they disagree on major issues, why not just walk down the street to join the high mass led by an Episcopal priest who accepts gay rights, birth control, and abortion? Leo P. Ribuffo is Society ofthe Cincinnati George Washington DistinguishedProfessor ofHistory at George Washington University. He is the authoro/Right, Center, Left: Essays in American History (Rutgers University Press, 1992) and is working on a book titledThe Limits ofModeration:Jimmy Carter and the Ironies ofAmerican Liberalism . Remarks on John McGreevy's Catholicism and American Freedom Eugene McCarraher In his conclusion to What I Saw in America G. K. Chesterton reflected with a splendid and rueful uncertainty about the future of American democracy. Having already dubbed America the "nation with the soul of a church," Chesterton wondered if that soul—baptized, he knew, in the font of Protestantism—would be able to withstand the corrupting influences ofmodern science and capitalism. Indeed, the growing cultural authority of business and science alerted Chesterton to the need to root democracy in religious not secular ground. AgainstJohn Dewey, H. L. Mencken, and other acolytes ofa post-Christian order, Chesterton argued that the most insidious enemy ofdemocracy was not religion but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 28-31
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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