Sunday, November 29, 2015

On the Question of Church and State

A fifteen-year-old essay by Avery Cdl. Dulles remains pertinent today, not only addressing the 'church/state' question--which is becoming more germane as SCOTUS delivers the modern agenda--but as to the internal issue of e.g. liturgical praxis.

In the decade after Vatican II inculturation became a buzzword. Although popes have used the word only with caution, they have said on journeys to Asia and Africa that the Catholic Church in those continents ought not to be a slavish copy of the European church. As a consequence American Catholics began to conclude that Catholicism in this country should develop its own distinctive traits....

Dulles gives a brief analysis of the "American" culture which is bracingly clear, covering the Puritans, the Founders (Enlightenmentarians, so to speak), the Lockeans, and the current overlaying of technologism/consumerism on the above strains.

As to the Catholic response:

...In the Catholic literature on American culture published in the past 20 years or so, it is possible to detect four major strategies. For short they may be called traditionalism, neo-conservatism, liberalism and prophetic radicalism....

...Traditionalism is the posture of those Catholics who are highly critical of what they find in the dominant American culture, and who wish to restore the more centralized and authoritarian Catholicism of the years before World War II...The neo-conservative strategy rejects as unrealistic the restorationism of the paleoconservatives....Catholic liberals are primarily intent on showing how Americanism can help to modernize the church. They propose to reform Catholicism along the lines of participatory democracy.... While calling for the total conversion of church and society, radical Catholics seek to legitimate their positions by invoking historical precedents, both religious and civil....

That summary is as clear, concise, and accurate as any I have seen.

Dulles then compares the strengths and weaknesses of each group's position in several grafs which YOU SHOULD READ.

...The most fundamental question raised by the preceding discussion is whether the church in this country should become more countercultural, as the traditionalists and radicals would wish, or more accommodationist, as the liberals and some neo-conservatives propose. The tide since the Second Vatican Council has been running heavily toward accommodationism. Middle-aged adults constitute the last generation of Catholics raised with a strong sense of Catholic identity. Most younger Catholics look upon themselves first of all as Americans and only secondarily as Catholics. Their culture has been predominantly formed by the secular press, films, television and rock music. Catholicism is filtered to them through these screens. Catholic schools are becoming less numerous and less distinctively Catholic. Catholic colleges and universities, while in some cases expanding, have lost much of their religious character. A certain vague religiosity perdures among the young, but it is that of “communal Catholics” not strongly committed to the doctrines and structures of their church.

Under these circumstances parents and teachers, fearful of being rejected as old-fashioned, are understandably reluctant to confront the young with the challenge of official church teaching, especially in the area of sexuality. Religious educators often feel powerless in the face of the sexual revolution and the passion for affluence that possesses their students. Bishops and pastors find it increasingly difficult to shape the convictions and attitudes of the faithful. Apart from the issue of abortion, on which they are willing to risk a measure of unpopularity, the bishops increasingly shift their attention to social issues, adopting agendas that in many ways resemble those of the liberal intelligentsia, notably in their teaching on peace and on the economy. They seek to appeal to a broad public that includes non-Catholics, non-Christians, non-believers...

Dulles ends by proposing that all four of those factions work together in evangelization, not becoming hardened in their positions, but definitely not giving ground on doctrine.

Easier said than done, of course.

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