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A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching
February 11, 2014 5:43 AM   Subscribe

The deep philosophical differences between the two main conservative factions of the Catholic Church, pitting adherents of John Courtney Murray against the followers of Alasdair MacIntyre is the root cause of the mixed messages being put out by the Church on public policy matters. It is the fight worth watching.
posted by reenum (108 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
hmm, I am not now nor have I ever been catholic, but I am fascinated by the idea that the "conservative" catholic movement is split between those who believe they can exist in america, and those who believe they must overcome america.

That said, this article read to me like a minute, 7-fractals-down dispute between people who believe basically the same thing. The author identifies with one side of the argument and even publishes about it (and the article suffers because of their non-neutrality), and gives us their word that "it is a fight worth watching."

But the author doesn't back it up. Journal articles are being written! Who cares? The fact that an argument is being carried out in journals supports my belief that this is yet another example of the fractal nature of all belief-oriented groups; that is, no matter how cohesive a group (or sub-group) appears from the outside, members within will form sub-groups. This even extends past the minimum number of members for a group - as the old joke goes, "Ask two (insert religious person here) a question and you'll get three opinions."

So No, I don't think it's a fight worth watching, and no, I don't think that liberal catholics are going to be disappearing as the author says. While I agree with their argument that the offspring of liberal catholics *could* hew to either liberalism or catholicism, eschewing the other, I don't think that necessary - especially with how liberal the international catholic church seems to be.
posted by rebent at 6:03 AM on February 11 [12 favorites]


No offense, but that article seemed like a lot of wishful thinking on the author's part. This may be a very significant showdown to the tiny minority of people who follow very highbrow Catholic intellectual arguments, but on the ground this is not a serious debate. There isn't a significant faction of American lay Catholics who reject liberal democracy and want the US to be refashioned as a theocracy. That isn't just because the idea lacks a popularizer who can write readable prose. It's because the idea is completely out of step with mainstream American Catholic culture. This debate may be rocking his personal world, but I don't think it's any more relevant to most of us than, say, academic debates between orthodox Marxists and Gramscians.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:04 AM on February 11 [23 favorites]


Liberal Catholicism has no future—like liberal Protestantism, it is fated to become liberalism simpliciter within a generation
Charming!

Also worth noticing is that he avoids ever mentioning Francis again after dubbing him an honorary Democrat. After all, he's only Pope, it's not like he has anything to do with the direction and future of the church.

Apparently his reaction to a progressive pope is to stick his fingers in his ears and go LA-LA-LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU SO YOU'RE NOT HERE.
posted by edheil at 6:14 AM on February 11 [19 favorites]


liberalism appears to be daily more hostile to Catholicism, not merely disagreeing with its stances, but demanding that they be changed in conformity to liberal views on self-sovereignty (especially relating to human sexuality and marriage) or, failing that, that the Church be defined out of the bounds of decent liberal society, an institution no more respectable than the Ku Klux Klan.

No more respectable than the Ku Klux Klan would be a vast improvement over the usual utter contempt, but the point is certainly valid.

especially with how liberal the international catholic church seems to be.

Abortion is murder. Marriage is forever. Homosexuality is immoral, as is fornication, adultery, etc. The Pope could pull fish and loaves and excellent wine out of his ass and feed every poor person on the planet and liberals will still revile him which is why liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.

So yeah, any debate in the Catholic church is going to be a debate on one side and the result likely to be the same unyielding compromise that motivated liberal Catholics to leave in the first place.

It's all dogmatic purity these days.
posted by three blind mice at 6:17 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I stopped reading when he dismissed liberal Protestantism in one sentence. Did I miss anything?
posted by Inkoate at 6:19 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


which is why liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.

1 out of 2
then?
posted by ersatz at 6:28 AM on February 11 [19 favorites]


Well you missed the charming-ass comment section? Going to find some bleach for my mind now.
posted by selfnoise at 6:28 AM on February 11


which is why liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.

1 out of 2 then?
posted by ersatz at 6:28 AM on February 11
[+] [!]


Those aren't true Catholics. Duh.
posted by graphnerd at 6:31 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The deep philosophical differences between the two main conservative factions of the Catholic Church

In America? Or worldwide?
posted by pracowity at 6:36 AM on February 11


So is this a thing where we conflate the 70 million Catholics in the USA with the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and muddle it all up with Republican blathering? Yeah, I think I can safely ignore it. 95% of Catholics live somewhere other than the USA. Any "deep political divide" there is relatively meaningless on a world scale.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:36 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Because of these positions, the “radical” position—while similarly committed to the pro-life, pro-marriage teachings of the Church—is deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, is deeply suspicious of America’s imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government.

These radicals might be sinister, antidemocratic theocrats who hold all of American society in contempt and want to destroy the country to then remake it in their own philosophical image, but at least they agree with us 100% on what matters--abortion and gay marriage.

(I should have stopped reading at "liberalism simpliciter")
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:38 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Wow, that site requires a trigger warning.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:42 AM on February 11


I do think that the persistence of the "only the TRUE adherants will remain!" concept is really weird. I mean, how old is this religion? Has that ever happened?
posted by selfnoise at 6:42 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Maybe it's because I was just reading the Daily Caller comments on the story about the Obama dogs sitting at the dining table, but this comment section seems downright respectable.
posted by radicalawyer at 6:43 AM on February 11


That said, this article read to me like a minute, 7-fractals-down dispute between people who believe basically the same thing.

Yeah, at least the Emo Phillips version was funny.

choice of link intended
posted by Naberius at 6:45 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I stopped reading when he dismissed liberal Protestantism in one sentence. Did I miss anything?

Probably the fact that liberal Protestantism exerts almost exactly zero influence in Christian culture. It has quite a bit of play in secular culture, but it's entirely marginal within Christendom, to the extent that such a thing can be said to still exist. Liberalism is a minority trend within Christianity at large, and the view of the majority towards it can be largely summed up as "Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out."
posted by valkyryn at 6:46 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure that this is "a fight worth watching" so much as it's "inside baseball".

Although, this kind of inside-baseball can be worth watching if you want to gain a better understanding of the kinds of internal struggles an organization is going through, which can themselves in turn affect the group's cohesion and the way it presents itself externally.

So maybe if you go into this thinking that this is the big pivotal struggle upon which the entire fate of the Catholic establishment is resting, maybe not so much; but if you go into it wondering exactly what the conservative side of Catholicism is freaking out about Francis for, and why, this is a good place to start.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Probably the fact that liberal Protestantism exerts almost exactly zero influence in Christian culture.

I think you're playing the same game the author does of conveniently excluding groups from the whole. What exactly is 'Christian culture' and who gets to be a part of it?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:55 AM on February 11 [15 favorites]


"It's all dogmatic purity these days"

Can you point to a time when it was ever any different?
posted by The Blue Olly at 7:00 AM on February 11


So I'm not Catholic, and I'm vaguely interested in American Catholic intellectual history, but I don't want to overstate my investment or knowledge about this. But I have read John McGreevy's remarkable Catholicism and American Freedom (which I recommend to anyone: it's a great book), so I guess that makes me an expert!

I think there's a kernel of truth in the idea that Catholicism has always had some strains that were at odds with liberal individualism. I don't think you can reduce that to liberalism or conservatism: sometimes those anti-individualist strains seem reactionary (as in the Catholic defense of slavery) and sometimes they seem progressive (as in early 20th century Catholic economic thought, which stressed the obligation of employers to provide their employees with a living wage.) I actually think that the current Pope's emphasis on obligations to the poor is very much in keeping with the more progressive side of Catholic anti-individualism. (I'm using progressive in the modern sense, not the early 20th c. sense. I haven't had any coffee: I can't think of a better word!)

But I think it's fundamentally naive to think that religion shapes people's worldview to such an extent that it can overcome all the other economic and social forces that contribute to people's belief systems, and in contemporary America, those forces all pull in the direction of liberal individualism. It's possible that Catholic social thought can temper individualism, but I don't think that religion is going to convince American Catholics to completely reject American culture. The only way I could see that happening is if American culture rejects big groups of Catholics first, and I don't think that's the way the wind is blowing. The best "hope" for that, and it's a depressing hope, would be that Latinos would find themselves totally thwarted in their attempts to gain a foothold in mainstream America, and I don't think that's likely to happen.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:01 AM on February 11 [12 favorites]


which is why liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats

Um, the so-called red states are where you also find Catholics and Obama makes Nixon's domestic agenda look like socialism.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:08 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


...which is why liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Weird. Of the people of faith in my circle of friends and family, the Catholics are pretty dependably the most liberal of the bunch. That's been my experience throughout my life.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:08 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Probably the fact that liberal Protestantism exerts almost exactly zero influence in Christian culture. It has quite a bit of play in secular culture, but it's entirely marginal within Christendom, to the extent that such a thing can be said to still exist. Liberalism is a minority trend within Christianity at large, and the view of the majority towards it can be largely summed up as "Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out."

It is true that evangelicals run the Christian radio stations, TV networks, and bookstores, and that liberal denominations have been struggling numerically for decades. On the other hand, conservative churches are losing the younger generation at a far faster pace than mainline liberals are, and if evangelicals aren't careful, we'll be all tied up before you know it. Check out these stats: Among 18-29 year olds, 10% are evangelical, 9% are mainline Protestant. We liberals aren't exactly "winning" here, but we are losing at a slower rate.

There isn't a significant faction of American lay Catholics who reject liberal democracy and want the US to be refashioned as a theocracy.

No, but that isn't what is really at issue here. I don't think the author stated it well, but the basic divide is between those who think genuine Catholics can be comfortable fully participating in the American government and culture and those who believe they need to disengage from the culture and develop a vivid counter-culture. I'm not Catholic, but I have been significantly influenced by MacIntyre, (via Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who should have gotten a shout-out somewhere in the article, but was skipped over because he isn't Catholic, I assume). I've been arguing for years that most of American Protestantism is in an untenable alliance with American government that distorts both institutions in healthy ways. At the end of After Virtue, MacIntyre explicitly says we need something like a modern St. Benedict (founder of the Benedictine order of monks) to lay out a path for average believer to exist within society without identifying too strongly with it. That's really the question: can a faithful Catholic fully participate in American society without tension, or does faithfulness require detachment from secular institutions and power structures?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:13 AM on February 11 [13 favorites]


Weird. Of the people of faith in my circle of friends and family, the Catholics are pretty dependably the most liberal of the bunch. That's been my experience throughout my life.

I truly believe that if a person really takes religion into their heart, they can't end up anything but liberal (by today's understanding of the term). Faith, charity, hope, love. Anybody using religion critically or as a cudgel is fundamentally missing the point. But, what do I know?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:20 AM on February 11 [15 favorites]


That's really the question: can a faithful Catholic fully participate in American society without tension, or does faithfulness require detachment from secular institutions and power structures?

Framed more generally, this is a question that has been up for debate since the dawn of humanity. Jesus himself had quite a bit to say on this topic. I don't think Deenan makes a convincing argument that we should care what his opinion on the matter is (as his thesis seems to be, "No one is reading meeee!")
posted by muddgirl at 7:29 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Others have already pointed out that this dispute is all about American Catholicism, and implicitly ignores the rest of the world. It's worse than that. This is a dispute internal to the shrinking domain of conservative Anglo-American Catholicism. This article conveniently ignores the third of American Catholics who are Hispanic. If you want to see where American Catholicism is headed, look at places like California and Texas and Arizona.

As these sad idiots find their relevance evaporating, they feel the need to explicitly dismiss liberal American Catholics and the Pope to give their little argument significance, but I doubt anyone would waste any time translating it into Spanish.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:29 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I'm not so sure that this is "a fight worth watching" so much as it's "inside baseball".

In a sense, it is. But it's not all that inside. I'm a conservative Protestant, and even before I spent three years at Notre Dame, I was aware of the broad outlines of this debate, as something very similar is playing itself out in Protestant circles as well.

Simply put, American Christianity is basically done with liberal theology. In terms of the viability of liberal Christianity as an enduring tradition, it's all over but the shouting. In Protestantism, membership in liberal churches has fallen dramatically over the last few decades. ECUSA is down around 1.6 million members, about 45%, since 1966. The PCUSA is down about 1.2 million members, some 39%, since 1983. ELCA is down 1.2 million members, about 23%, since 1987. Even the Methodists, who are kind of on the fence regarding liberalism, have seen their numbers decline fairly significantly over the last two decades.

By contrast, conservative denominations, particularly on the charismatic/Pentecostal end of things, have seen double-digit percentage growth during that same period. The Assemblies of God are up 70% since 1980. Many smaller conservative denominations went from barely existing--or being newly formed--in the mid-to-late twentieth century to between 250k-500k members. My own conservative Presbyterian denomination is one of them and is itself up almost 30% in the last ten years. The largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist convention, has seen its membership fall off a few points in the last two or three years, but many observers simply think that this is due to Baptist congregations--an inherently fractious and independent bunch I tell you what--shifting their membership to other, smaller Baptist coalitions, many of which are growing as a result. And you can hardly chuck a rock without hitting a new "nondenominational" church, some of them quite large, almost all of which are entirely theologically conservative. All of this during a time period when church membership and attendance is falling across the board! The liberal churches are shrinking in both absolute and relative terms, i.e., they're not only decreasing in total numbers, but their share of the portion of American church goers is falling even faster.

Make no mistake, it's still largely the mainline liberal denominations that get all the media attention. They're the ones making steps towards normalizing gay marriage. They're the ones whose clergy do spots on national TB and radio shows. The fights within the Anglican tradition still make headlines. They're the ones whose books top bestseller lists. But their numbers are shrinking in both absolute and relative terms, and as far as the segments of the American church that are growing are concerned, they may as well not exist except as a fairly regular source of new members and even sometimes entire congregations.

When you hear on the news that American church attendance is holding basically steady around 40-45%, it's mostly not in liberal churches. It's in conservative ones. That's where almost all of the growth is to be found. And as other MeFites can tell you, and has been occasionally hinted at in more threads on MeFi over the years than I can be arsed to search for right now, theologically conservative Christianity has its own culture which runs almost parallel with but is almost entirely separate from mainstream secular culture.* Liberal Christianity is, in many ways, almost indistinguishable from mainstream secular culture, but conservative Christianity remains very distinct. There are even parallel media offerings. The Dove Awards are the Christian version of the Grammy's. There are several fairly major Christian publishing houses--Zondervan, IVP, Thomas Nelson, etc., some of which are subsidiaries of major houses, some of which aren't--and their sales aren't always tracked very well by Nielson.

So yes. Debates between conservative Christians can seem a little "inside baseball" if one is not already a conservative Christian. And I fully grant that a significant majority of conservative Christians are only vaguely aware of these debates. But they are at least somewhat influenced by them, as the leadership is increasingly starting to have these conversations, even if they aren't directly engaging with the leading scholars. But almost none of them have any interaction whatsoever, significant or otherwise, with any form of liberal Christianity. Indeed, for the majority of the American church, liberal Christianity may as well not exist.

I was about to end, but this observation deserves comment:

On the other hand, conservative churches are losing the younger generation at a far faster pace than mainline liberals are

This is true in a certain sense. Large "E" Evangelical churches are doing very, very badly at retaining their youth. The church in which I grew up had almost 3,000 regular attendees in the late 1990s. It's now down to about half that, significantly because a majority of kids that grow up in the church leave not only that congregation, but the church entirely. Most of those that do remain Christians find somewhere else to go to church. The Evangelicalism of the boomers is not long for this world, and the sooner it dies the better for everyone. But a lot of these kids--myself included--find themselves at home in more theologically organized traditions. There is a noticeable trend of young people moving from bland Evangelical churches into the Reformed tradition, Catholicism, and even Orthodoxy. These traditions are sometimes nonplussed by this influx, as it can smack a lot of theological tourism, and there's an argument to be made that phenomena like "New Calvinism" are just as problematic as old-fashioned Evangelicalism, if in different ways. But an increasingly large number of younger Christians are leaving the empty fluff that is Evangelicalism for more historic forms of conservative Christianity. I think that's one of the main reasons why my own denomination, an offshoot of the PCUSA, has seen such growth in the past twenty years.

In short, some conservative churches are losing members, especially the young, but many of those people are simply going to more theologically sophisticated conservative churches, many of which have been reporting near-record growth for the better part of a decade. It's also why movements like The Gospel Coalition and Acts 29--theologically and ecclesiologically problematic as both of those groups may be--are doing so well numerically.

*Granted, many of these media offerings objectively suck, but that doesn't stop them from being very, very popular despite receiving very little attention from the MSM.
posted by valkyryn at 7:31 AM on February 11 [15 favorites]


The author's throwaway line that liberal kids of Catholics will abandon holy water and incense is odd. Those elements are the parts of Catholicism i have the fondest memories of, something I share with my other Irish lapsed Catholic friends; the berating and rigid commands about morality from a church that was hiding child abusers Andean deeply corrupt, not so much. Is that really a thing in the US?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:34 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I've been arguing for years that most of American Protestantism is in an untenable alliance with American government that distorts both institutions in healthy ways.

This, I think, is absolutely the case. I've talked about it before. In short, the current--increasingly delicate--alignment of conservative Christianity with the Republican party is an anomaly. In the early twentieth century, conservative Christians viewed the Republican party as a bunch of plutocratic bankers. There's a reason William Jennings Bryan was a Democrat. But the growth of an atheistic international communism forged an alliance between conservative Christians and the Republican Party, as each had their own reasons to oppose communism, while the Democratic Party was uncomfortably sympathetic with the Reds. Now that communism isn't a live political issue, that alliance has been unraveling. A lot of theologically conservative Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with the political priorities of the GOP. Your standard boomer-esque Evangelicalism is still entirely in lock-step, but that's just another reason those churches are losing their latest generations.
posted by valkyryn at 7:37 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Valkyryn, do you count "mainstream" Catholics as conservative or liberal? They certainly are supposed to be conservative, but most of the Catholics I know from the North East ignore the conservative bits of their faith and highlight only the charitable and social justice aspects of Catholicism, while voting democrat and participating in normal society stuff. They claim to speak for the majority of US Catholics as well. Are they actually just the minority and I am believing their bias?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:38 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


So the battle is between the Libertarian Bootstraps Glenn Beck Catholics and the Want to Establish an Honest to God Feudal Theocracy Catholics?

Whichever one "wins" America clearly loses. Here's rooting for countervailing forces.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:38 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


And as one last main comment, I can say from personal experience that the debates being described in the linked article are very much huge topics of conversation at Christian colleges, both Catholic and Protestant, and they have been since I went to one in the early 2000s. Names were different--though MacIntyire was important even then--but ideas were the same. Precisely this conversation was playing itself out when I was at Notre Dame a few years ago, and it's still going on at every Christian college with which I happen to have sufficient contact to know such things (at least three). It's not a conversation that those outside the conservative branch of American Christianity hear a lot about, but it's very much a part of most Christian collegiate experiences right now and has been for quite some time.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on February 11


Liberal Christianity is, in many ways, almost indistinguishable from mainstream secular culture, but conservative Christianity remains very distinct.

But almost none of them have any interaction whatsoever, significant or otherwise, with any form of liberal Christianity. Indeed, for the majority of the American church, liberal Christianity may as well not exist.

Except for all that mainstream secular culture they're separating themselves from and protesting against. The one that's almost indistinguishable from, and has been hugely influenced by, liberal Christianity, from the separation of church and state to the legalization of gay marriage.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:46 AM on February 11


All I have to say about this is that it annoyed me more than it should have that the author has no idea what "Ordinary Time" means.
posted by koeselitz at 7:50 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Valkyryn, do you count "mainstream" Catholics as conservative or liberal?

Part of what's going on here is that there is a necessary equivocation on the terms "conservative" and "liberal," in that they have valences for both theological and political views, and the latter even admits at least two axes of conservatism/liberalism.

In every comment I've made in this thread so far, the terms "conservative" and "liberal" refer to theological conservatism/liberalism. This means slightly different things for Protestants and Catholics, but in both contexts the term "conservative" suggests someone who basically believes the main teachings of historic Christianity, including the supernatural bits, believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, believes that there is no means of salvation apart from Christ, believes that the man Jesus was born of a virgin, suffered, died, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, and will return in glory to judge the quick and the dead. He also probably attends church at least as often as he doesn't and likely holds with socially conservative views of ethics, particularly sexual ethics (though whether he actually behaves ethically on his own terms is anybody's guess).

As one gets more "liberal," one moves away from those things, though not necessarily at an even rate. Belief in miracles tends to be less. One's handling of Scripture changes dramatically. Jesus starts to be seen more as a moral example than a sacrifice for sins, and sin itself gets de-emphasized as a concept. Sexual ethics moves away from limiting sex within monogamous heterosexual marriage. Etc.

But as Catholics demonstrate, being theologically "conservative" does not necessarily translate into being politically conservative. A lot of Catholics are social conservatives but economic liberals. That doesn't necessarily give them a natural home in either party, but many theologically conservative Catholics have voted Democratic for quite some time. And there are an increasing number of theological conservatives who are trying to find their way towards progressivism while maintaining their theological bona fides, with varying degrees of success.
posted by valkyryn at 7:50 AM on February 11 [9 favorites]


Except for all that mainstream secular culture they're separating themselves from and protesting against.

Nope. Really, for many theologically conservative Christians there is very little consciousness that liberal Christianity exists. I kid you not. If awareness exists at all, it's frequently limited to "Oh yeah, there are those churches over there who do crazy stuff," but it won't usually be coupled with any knowledge of which churches those are, how many of them there are, or how many people attend them. They're just sort of lumped in with secular culture at large and not really given any thought.

You may argue that the effect is an argument against theological liberalism, and that may even be true, but the perception is that there's theologically conservative Christianity and there's secularism. Liberal Christians would count as the latter under that way of thinking.

Not saying this is good or right, just that it's how most theologically conservative Christians and churches actually think and operate.
posted by valkyryn at 7:53 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


You may argue that the effect is an argument against theological liberalism, and that may even be true, but the perception is that there's theologically conservative Christianity and there's secularism. Liberal Christians would count as the latter under that way of thinking.

But that's what I'm getting at. That perception is horribly biased, and when you say that American Christianity is "done" with liberal theology, you're doing the same thing the author of the article does by saying big-L liberal Catholicism has "no future". What makes you the arbiter of what is and isn't Christianity?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:07 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Also worth noticing is that he avoids ever mentioning Francis again after dubbing him an honorary Democrat.

There's something hilarious about taking the leader of a worldwide church and making him an "honorary member" -- if only rhetorically -- of a provincial political party.
posted by Slothrup at 8:15 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


That perception is horribly biased, and when you say that American Christianity is "done" with liberal theology, you're doing the same thing the author of the article does by saying big-L liberal Catholicism has "no future". What makes you the arbiter of what is and isn't Christianity?

Who said I was? I did one better than the author though by providing some actual numbers. If nothing else, those numbers would seem to conclusively establish that the liberal theological tradition is a shrinking minority within the totality of American Christianity. Theological conservatism prevails in a majority of American congregations, and the theologically conservative traditions are where almost all of the numerical growth is located.

More than that though, I've tried to explain that liberal Christianity has almost zero influence upon, and indeed is almost entirely unknown in, most theologically conservative churches. You're accusing me of being biased when I'm explicitly trying to trace the outlines of said bias.

I mean, seriously, what the hell do you want from me?
posted by valkyryn at 8:18 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


When the talk is of demographics and social influence I know I'm hearing the children of Paul, not the children of Jesus.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:24 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Like others I stopped reading and swapped to skimming when I hit

Liberal Catholicism, while well-represented in elite circles of the Democratic Party, qua Catholicism is finished.

I always like hearing from my former classmates who picked up a smattering of Latin while ignoring the logic classes. Beyond his begging the question (sorry, petitio principii), it's strange to see someone argue that his sphere of contacts represents the Catholic Church in US as a whole and, by extension, the rest of the world once it catches up with these trailblazers (a Faulty Generalization), I have to question how much he knows about modern American Catholic thinking when there doesn't seem to be a single reference to a woman in the entire piece. F- and let me know why the People's Judean Front gets everything wrong.

I wish my mother were alive so I could troll her with this and get back a single line saying, "Another Irishman who never had his horns knocked off."
posted by yerfatma at 8:27 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


What makes you the arbiter of what is and isn't Christianity?

I don't think Valkyryn is saying that at all; Valkyryn's saying that "conservative" American Christianity has largely consigned "liberal" American Christianity to the dustbin of history; having run in the former circles in my past, I would agree with Valkyryn. Whether "liberal" American Christianity ACTUALLY is irrelevant/dead is a separate argument for those of us who aren't/are no longer part of "conservative" American Christianity; the conservatives have chosen to dismiss the question.

My own observation is that this article seems to indicate that the political conservative wing of American Catholicism has drawn itself up into a circular firing squad. Expect even more ridiculous Highlander shit to be spilling out in the pages of First Things & Communio while the editors of of Commonweal & America will struggle to retain a modicum of sadness and concern at the implosion of a competing vision of Cathoicism in America.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:32 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


So it's not so much fighting over "how do we do what Jesus commanded" as it is "who gets to be the official and sole interpreter of what Jesus commanded"...

'Twas ever thus.
posted by delfin at 8:35 AM on February 11 [10 favorites]


Make no mistake, it's still largely the mainline liberal denominations that get all the media attention.

Actually, I'd say that evangelical protestants get significantly more press than socially liberal denominations. The most visible protestant figures I can think of are folks like Jerry Falwell (when he was kicking), the patriarch of the Westboro Baptist Church, James Dobson, Ken Ham, and other folks who should rightly be thought of as the fringe.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:43 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


The Pope could pull fish and loaves and excellent wine out of his ass and feed every poor person on the planet and liberals will still revile him which is why liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.
I don't know what liberals you hang around with, but I don't hear a lot of "reviling" of Francis on the whole. Yeah, here and there there's an "hey, he's still head of the Catholic Church which sucks" from some more extreme folks. But on the whole the "liberals" i know are pretty amazed and happy about him.

But liberal Catholics are actually pretty damned common. Just not among the hierarchy.

Remember, according to actual doctrine, masturbation is just as forbidden as homosexuality and premarital sex. Now, count anybody who doesn't believe that as a "liberal Catholic" (because they are, they're rejecting Church teaching on sexual matters as surely as -- in fact, even more surely than* -- if they are pro-gay-marriage) -- and see how many liberal Catholics there are.

* more surely because prohibition on masturbation is many centuries old, and specifically and unequivocally taught, whereas being against the recognition of gay marriage by the state is a new idea and requires you to take particular positions on how and why the church ought to influence politics.
posted by edheil at 8:43 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


I do think that the persistence of the "only the TRUE adherants will remain!" concept is really weird. I mean, how old is this religion? Has that ever happened?

I'm not sure if the conservative brain is hardwired to a binary conform or reject outlook, or if that's what they expect from liberals who they see as having no "true" value system.

I have a conservative friend who's taken with saying things like "American liberalism can't survive its internal contradictions". I've gotten to the point where I've given up on arguing because his gulf in understanding how liberals think is an uncrossable chasm (not an accusation I'd make about all conservatives).
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:49 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


It is already evident for anyone with eyes to see that elites in America are returning to their customary hostility toward Catholicism, albeit now eschewing crude prejudice in favor of Mandates and legal filings....

Yes, we passed the Affordable Care Act because of our deep anti-Catholicism.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:49 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


on the whole the "liberals" i know are pretty amazed and happy about him.

That's definitely been my experience as well. As someone living in the least religious state, almost everyone I know has a pretty pragmatic approach to Francis more along the lines of "If we're going to have a pope, then I'd like one who isn't anti-gay, anti-sex and gives a shit about the poor...." and he's the closest we've had to that in my lifetime. Sure there are people who want a world with no popes at all and I have sometimes been known to (sometimes) want a world with no advertising or no pro football, but realistically in a world where we allow people their diverse viewpoints this pope is better than most.
posted by jessamyn at 8:50 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: "liberal Catholics are about as common as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats."

My step-dad and most of his rather large family are liberal Catholics. At least from the Catholics I knew growing up, the conservative Catholics were harder to find.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:56 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I am part of a large, very Catholic family who range from deeply conservative to wildly liberal - both politically and theologically - and we have had many loving but spirited disputes at family gatherings about what part of your conscience you should follow when you vote. This goes back at least two generations - one great-aunt voted consistently pro-life, while her sister-in-law was a nun focused entirely on anti-poverty actions, and they frequently and very loudly let the other know how wrong she was - even though they were both solidly pro-life and anti-poverty. The author is absolutely right that American Catholics - even those who are theologically very conservative - do not fit neatly into Republican or Democrat boxes. It's rarely about views on issues - and more often about priorities and methods.

I see a different split in the more theologically conservative branches of my family. There are those who view liberalism as an enemy to be conquered, and those who are retreating from the secular world and the more liberal parts of the Church into their own islands of Latin (Tridentine) Masses, home-schooling, etc. I suppose it's the same split the author is describing - one group who wants to change America to fit their theology and one group who just isolates themselves from American culture because it doesn't fit their theology, but I see it coming more from a stylistic difference than a disagreement about liberal democracy. The America-changers are just fighters and the withdrawers are not. I'm sure that the rift he's describing is there - but I suspect it is purely academic. Boots on the ground Conservative Catholics certainly feel under attack by American liberal policies on moral issues, but I've never heard the idea that American-style government is inherently incompatible with Catholicism.

It's not that they are unaware of the more liberal parts of the Church, it is more that, as valkyryn said, they believe that liberal Catholicism is mostly indistinguishable from Secularism. Liberal Catholics have gotten so messed up in their theology, they aren't really Catholic any more. That's most likely where this guy is coming from.

What was most interesting to me in this article was the idea that hostility toward Catholicism is a natural condition for Americans. I have plenty of family members who are unhappy about gay marriage and the contraception parts of the ACA, but I don't think any of them seriously believe that anti-Catholicism is the reason for any of it. That just seems nutso to me.
posted by Dojie at 9:11 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I do think that the persistence of the "only the TRUE adherants will remain!" concept is really weird. I mean, how old is this religion? Has that ever happened?

It happens about every 500 years. The last time was about 500 years ago.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:28 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


For background, Alasdair MacIntyre has a following in secular philosophical circles. In philosophy, he's best known for his work on virtues and values that are associated with specific institutions. His classic example is bribing a child with candy to play chess; the extrinsic reward might get the kid to play a few times, but it's only going to become a lifelong hobby when the kid starts to like the game for its own sake and starts to value playing it well. Institutions fall apart when there are few people left who have the "internal virtues" that once defined it; think how few "real police" are left in The Wire and you get the idea. It's good stuff.

The political MacIntyre we see in this article seems to me to be the MacIntyre of the early 1980s. In After Virtue he claimed that both Marxism and "advanced capitalism" are bankrupt as justifications for the sort of internal virtues necessary to sustain a society at large, with nothing to replace them. That's what this talk of St. Benedict is about: he explicitly analogizes our culture with the falling Roman Empire and says we should metaphorically head for the hills to form quasi-monastic communities to keep alive (if only locally) an authentic intellectual and moral life through the coming Dark Ages. I'm not hyperbolizing - that's close to direct quotation (p262). It's an awesomely crazy conclusion.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:38 AM on February 11 [15 favorites]


What was most interesting to me in this article was the idea that hostility toward Catholicism is a natural condition for Americans.

Bigotry against Catholics has declined quite a lot, but it really was bad in the US, in earlier times. Talk to any older Catholic who grew up in the South: they almost all have stories about their schoolfriends wanting to know why they "worship statues" or "aren't saved". In 1960, Kennedy had to go out of his way to allay fears that he would be merely a tool of the Vatican.
posted by thelonius at 9:55 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


The sentiments are out there, particularly among those of a more fundamentalist bent. Jack Chick's site, for example, is full of entertaining anti-Catholic tracts.

My in-laws' hometown paper gets letters to the editor at intervals from a card-carrying sedevacantist. Now THAT's conservative Catholicism.
posted by delfin at 10:00 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Tribalism is such an interesting (and destructive in the modern world) thing. People constantly group themselves into smaller and smaller tribes within larger tribes, and argue most viciously and hold the strongest views about those tribes closest to them.

In terms of this article (and undoubtedly this is totally wrong, I write this as a completely non-religious person who knows very little at the workings of any christian group), a "tribal map" of a person directly involved in the debate being discussed might look like this:
( religious 
 ( theists 
  ( monotheists 
   ( christians 
    ( catholics 
     ( catholic church 
      ( latin 
       ( "conservative" 
        ( american 
         ( Murrayite ) or ( MacIntyrian ) 
        )
       ) 
      ) 
     ) 
    ) 
   ) 
  ) 
 ) 
)
Such a person will defend all of the tribes in their tree--but the most vicious battles are fought at "Murrayite" level, which can lead to a complete restructuring of their tree, depending on how the battle goes. Ironically, this often achieves the goal of a competing tribe further up the tree than that group could ever have achieved.

The tree will be shallower or deeper depending on the person. One person may "love baseball" and watch any game with equal enthusiasm; another may be a passionate Cubs fan and only show interest in Cubs games, but will defend baseball as a sport even if they have no interest in the Mets.

All people do this, in all areas of their lives, and it's such a destructive force it's breathtaking, even while it informs our passions and identities.
posted by maxwelton at 10:01 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


I feel like this framework of 'theological conservatism' vs 'theological liberalism' that valkyryn is advancing is fundamentally about Protestantism. In this framework, Catholicism is going to be conservative by definition, given that the definition practically quoted the Nicene Creed. That's all well and good, but doesn't tell us anything about the state of Catholicism.

Bigotry against Catholics has declined quite a lot, but it really was bad in the US, in earlier times. Talk to any older Catholic who grew up in the South: they almost all have stories about their schoolfriends wanting to know why they "worship statues" or "aren't saved". In 1960, Kennedy had to go out of his way to allay fears that he would be merely a tool of the Vatican.

I went to school in the Chicago suburbs and we learned about anti-Catholicism in school and I genuinely assumed it was a thing of the past. After all, I'd never really been exposed to it--there were too many Catholics around to make being an asshole to them appealing. Then I went to college and am suddenly meeting people who need to impress upon me that Catholics aren't 'real' Christians and that they 'didn't have a relationship with God' (I don't think statue worship ever came up, but it may have been). The really overt stuff aside, I think you see the remnants of American anti-Catholicism play out when people make Catholics into sort of pantomime villain conservatives or when they make weird backhanded compliments about Francis's speeches.
posted by hoyland at 10:11 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


All people do this, in all areas of their lives

I would say some do this in some areas, but without any actual data we're both talking out our rears.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:14 AM on February 11


Oh - I'm definitely aware of anti-Catholicism. I grew up in the Bible Belt. I've been told more than once, and not all that long ago that Catholics aren't Christians and questioned about my Mary-worshiping ways by people determined to save my Papist soul. It's definitely still out there, but I've always lumped it in with other forms of bigotry that are fading away with time.

It never occurred to me to think that asking Catholic employers to include contraception coverage with their insurance, for example, was motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment rather than just applying the law regardless of Catholicism. The idea that policy is being set specifically to suppress Catholics is what's so weird to me. Particularly when there are plenty of non-Catholics who are in the same disgruntled boat. But then, there are plenty of people who think Christianity is under attack because people wish them a Happy Holiday, so I guess there's no end to the determination of people to validate their worldviews by framing them in terms of the enemies who are out to get them.
posted by Dojie at 10:25 AM on February 11 [7 favorites]


I can argue most passionately about the things I am most passionate about. They are usually whatever relatively esoteric aspects of whatever common pastimes many people enjoy.

It's easier to do -- the field of debate narrows to manageable bounds and the number of people interested in the same segment of esoterica have the same vocabulary I do, which makes it easier to dive right into arguing over the most interesting details without a long time spent on introducing each to the other's side.

So, for example, I can argue the advantage of low-tread 35mm tires when riding long excursions on fixed-gear bicycles. Odds are pretty good that if you have an opinion about that, we probably have spent time participating in the same online forums, ride similar bicycles, and have acquaintances in common.

But hell if I do that everywhere for everything. Nobody can be that passionate and sensitive about everything, especially once they're past puberty.
posted by ardgedee at 10:26 AM on February 11


Tribalism is biological, isn't it?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:27 AM on February 11


All people do this, in all areas of their lives

...and all people are capable of dropping back to the root of the tree, which is missing from your chart: human. I for one identify as human more strongly than I identify as religious, and I think that's true of many religious people. When I see my tribe wage war on my neighbors I side with my neighbors.

Tribalism is biological, isn't it?

All of your brain is "biological." Brains are incredibly calorically expensive. The reason evolution has kept them around is that they allow us to pursue an extremely wide range of novel response options. Unlike the other great apes we have evolved the ability to avoid tribalism, if we so choose. We can even override our bias in favor of our own species, if we so choose.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:38 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


When I'm disinterested in the discourse, I just dismiss it as tribalism.
posted by klarck at 10:44 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I feel like this framework of 'theological conservatism' vs 'theological liberalism' that valkyryn is advancing is fundamentally about Protestantism.

Significantly, but not exclusively. When I say "theological liberalism," I really am talking about a well-recognized thing. I'm not just making the distinction up.

But you're right in that this particular divide seems to be more active and noticeable in Protestantism than Catholicism. The reason is that the Catholic hierarchy has generally wanted no truck with theological liberalism, and has the institutional and logistical means of keeping it largely at bay. Protestant denominations almost universally lack those things, which is why liberal theology in leadership is mostly a Protestant phenomenon. The Vatican has been pretty consistent about weeding out theologically liberal members of the clergy who get too vocal. You can't go full-on Schleiermacher and hope to remain ordained in the Catholic church for more than about fifteen minutes. Spong would have been defrocked decades ago if he had been Catholic, but he did just fine as an Episcopalian for decades.

That being said, there are theological liberals in the Catholic church, particularly among the laity, over whom the Vatican has very little direct control. American culture is pretty deeply steeped in theological liberalism, and Roman Catholics have been no more immune to influence by osmosis than Protestants have. As has been observed, the idea of a disconnect between official Catholic teaching and the actual views of the laity is hardly controversial. Heck, it's been a matter of significant concern for well over a thousand years.

So yes, there are some differences in the way the conservative/liberal divide plays itself out between Protestantism and Catholicism, in that one simply cannot be a member of the Catholic clergy in good standing while being a theological liberal. But that doesn't mean that theological liberalism hasn't infiltrated the Catholic Church to a surprising degree.
posted by valkyryn at 10:54 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I read the f-ing article and I would have to say that the author doesn't seem to know his history very well. This country was founded on the basis of freedom of religion, or so I was taught. There has never been a "marriage" between the Catholic church and the U.S., it's more like they co-exist in a time frame and here, in our country's earlier years, Catholics were barely tolerated, (PAPISTS! INQUISITION! BURN!) as was common in many countries from whence our founders came. Old enough to remember the Kennedy presidential campaign, I remember the PAPISTS! whispers resurfacing when a Catholic dared to run for president. Kind of puts me in mind of when another scary minority representative, this time, a black man, dared to run for President. They both won and here we are.
posted by Lynsey at 10:59 AM on February 11


As has been observed, the idea of a disconnect between official Catholic teaching and the actual views of the laity is hardly controversial. Heck, it's been a matter of significant concern for well over a thousand years.

Heck, I would argue that there has never been a completely orthodox Christian church of any size (probably no orthodox religion at all, but I am most familiar with Christianity). By the time Christianity became respectable, there was enough variation at the local level that all the synods in the world could not bring uniformity. Virtually all the Catholics I know pick and choose, to some degree, what elements of the faith they are willing to accept. Culture and family belonging probably do more to hold a church together than theology.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:07 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


The MacIntyre book that is relevant here is not "After Virtue" but rather "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" It's more or less a sequel to AV wherein he develops his arguments contra Enlightment Liberalism which is very distinct from modern usage of the term. His notion of the "empty self" is an attack on Liberalism's philosophical preoccupation with with the self-sufficient "Individual." Think Hume, Locke, and the philosophical Scots in general.

He argues that a proper relation to society must, by necessity, be bound by more than the individual's inner self and that it is fatuous (my word and not necessarily his) for this form of Liberalism to presume it is somehow unbounded by tradition. It seems to me that the essence of his argument is that it is impossible for a person to be purely rational independent of the circumstances of one's life and society.

If what MacIntyre claims have some truth, then this question is pretty important: Is it possible to be both rational and just in a culture which elevates individual preferences as absolutes (e.g. Utilitarianism.) In other words, if individual preferences are more than mere motives for our actions, instead being the bedrock by which we order our society/culture/polis, then what do we make of concepts like the common welfare? Just how potent a factor is the common good in our deliberations about how to shape and mold our world?

It has been many years since I have read MacIntyre so I may not be summarizing his ideas with precision. His argument that Liberalism itself is a tradition and not a purely rational philosophy independent of tradition is at the core of WJ?WR? Hence his comparison of Liberalism to other traditions (Aristotlean, Augustinian, Thomist.)

For myself, when I consider the modern "it's your thing, do what you want to do" world we live in, wherein reason becomes rationalization, where justice is not served in so many different ways, where sophism is the predominant feature of our political, economic and cultural landscape, then I am glad that there is at least some pushback from folks like MacIntyre, even if all he has to offer as a prescription is to build enclaves of rationality which might be determined by other traditions rather than our current Liberal Western tradition. The Renaissance wasn't entirely bad, you know?

Reading and thinking about this article serves as sort of a synecdoche for a more secular view. I'd like to thank reenum for bringing it to light. I'm reminded why I'm still a quasi-pinko, even at the grumpy old man age of 56. Oh, and fuck the neocon laissez-faire-ists of the world no matter what their faith might be.
posted by CincyBlues at 11:09 AM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Honestly, if we wanted to frame this division in purely political terms, the difference is between mainstream conservatism of the Reaganite mode, vs. Christian democracy. The absence of the latter party in American politics is rather regrettable.

Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification. The MacIntyre faction doesn't appear to be in the same grouping as Jacques Maritain, but instead resemble Distributists, who were against industrial capitalism and are fans of Catholic monarchy. But not in an insane way. Though I would say that ideally, Christian democracy would resemble MacIntyre more than it does Murray, but unfortunately the trajectory of parties such as Germany's CDU seem to follow a more conventional neoliberal configuration, pretty much mainstream conservatism.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:19 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


even if all he has to offer as a prescription is to build enclaves of rationality which might be determined by other traditions rather than our current Liberal Western tradition. The Renaissance wasn't entirely bad, you know?

Yeah, I really like MacIntyre's critique, but I'm not entirely on board with is solution. He basically wants to say that everything after Aristotle was a mistake and that the only way of having anything like a just society that is conducive to human flourishing is one under the loving auspices of a Vatican whose cultural authority has been restored.

Umm. . . no.

The dichotomy he sets up is explicitly a choice between Aristotle and Nietzsche. He thinks that Aristotle is the only and obvious right choice. I, a Protestant, actually go with Nietzsche. Everything is a power play. Of course it is. And you'd be very surprised what the introduction of an omnipotent God does to such an analysis.

Explaining my thoughts there would totally be a derail, so anyone interested can just MeMail me. But suffice it to say that there are lots of people out there who agree with MacIntyre about the nature of "advanced capitalism" and the liberal project in general who don't at all think that monasticism is our only option.
posted by valkyryn at 11:50 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I read the f-ing article and I would have to say that the author doesn't seem to know his history very well.

Then I would have to say that you don't understand his argument very well.
posted by valkyryn at 11:51 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


It would make some sense if it the Catholic Church Corporation wasn't such a Gender Apartheid. There's no women's voice in this discussion of leadership within the Vatican. The Vatican, a 1700 year old men's club, which falsely claims jurisdiction over women's lives is now and always has neither been conservative or liberal. Rather, they act in their own interest and without any regard for others. Regardless of what is happening amongst red carpet corporate Catholics, nothing can dim the light shed on recent legal proceedings. Records released regarding the Vatican's modus operandi in regards to Pedohile Priests & Criminal Clergy in Chicago & Missouri just add to the global discussion the Vatican has decided to engage in with the UN.
posted by Israel Tucker at 12:00 PM on February 11


The dichotomy he sets up is explicitly a choice between Aristotle and Nietzsche

I see De Selby as a legitimate third option.
posted by yerfatma at 12:10 PM on February 11


"When the talk is of demographics and social influence I know I'm hearing the children of Paul, not the children of Jesus."

Paul gave precious few shits either.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:26 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Explaining my thoughts there would totally be a derail

No! Analyzing what MacIntyre is doing is on topic when the article that started the thread is in part about how MacIntyre's work plays a role in the debate over the future of Catholicism. More about your argument against MacIntyre would be a really interesting contribution to the conversation we're having together.

...what do we make of concepts like the common welfare? Just how potent a factor is the common good in our deliberations about how to shape and mold our world?

Possible example: the rainbow coalition (QUILTBAG people + allies). It's based on the recognition that sexual orientation is not a matter of individual choice. It promotes values and standards of justice that are intended to be universal across society, not a matter of individual endorsement or something group specific.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:38 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


QUILTBAG

That is the greatest acronym ever, thank you.

Also it sounds like a CIA project
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:04 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


More about your argument against MacIntyre would be a really interesting contribution to the conversation we're having together.

Seconded.
posted by yerfatma at 1:06 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


More about your argument against MacIntyre would be a really interesting contribution to the conversation we're having together.

Okay.

As I understand it, MacIntyre sets up a dichotomy of meta-ethical systems, which he categorizes as being fundamentally Aristotielian on one hand and Niezscheian on the other. The former is essentially classical (in every sense of that word) Catholic thought, i.e., virtue ethics. The title, After Virtue, sets us up for where he's going. He argues that if you're not going to do some kind of virtue ethics, all you're left with is Nietzsche, i.e., fiat ethics, which he views as fundamentally incompatible with both civil society and human flourishing.

But recognizing that we are now "after virtue," i.e., the collapse of the Vatican as the dominating social, epistemic, and cultural force in Western culture, he concedes that the prevailing culture is now what he would characterize as fundamentally Niezschean. To give you an idea about what he thinks that means, a few years ago he was asked his opinion on "the current political situation". His response, to paraphrase, is that there is no "political situation." Rather, what we now see in "politics" is actually a series of second-order responses to the fact that true politics, i.e., a group of citizens dedicated to the advancement of the polis conceived around a shared concept of the common good, has ceased to exist.

Thus far, I happen to think he's mostly correct, at least in his analysis of the situation. There is no longer any real shared concept of the common good, and that makes civil society incredibly problematic at best if not downright impossible. "Politics," as he would say, is basically just civil war by other means. There's no possibility of working together, because the sides (and there are more than two) have such different and contradictory notions as to what constitutes "the good life" that there is insufficient common ground to permit any political cooperation.

So far, so good.

But I think that his conclusion, i.e., that all we can really do is form essentially monastic communities in an attempt to re-create a culture which is predicated on virtue ethics and a shared concept of the common good, misses the point. Going the Aristotelian route (as defined by MacIntyre) also involves accepting some pretty big assumptions about the functioning of human rationality, assumptions which the Catholic Church wholeheartedly subscribes to but which almost no one else does. Specifically, one must believe (1) that true rationality does lead itself to a single conclusion* and (2) that humans are more-or-less capable of reasoning their way to that conclusion, i.e., that humanity's rational faculties are more or less uniform and functional.

I don't believe either of those things. Rather, I'm significantly persuaded by Martin Luther's observation: "Reason is a whore."

What MacIntyre finds to terrifying about the rational/ethical systems that are not Aristotelian/Thomistic is that there exists the possibility that the Good, Right, and True wind up being dependent upon notions of will rather than a deep truth about the nature of the universe, leading necessarily to the moral relativism which MacIntyre views as fundamentally incompatible with human politics.

I happen to think that the Good, Right, and True are dependent upon notions of will, but that this does not necessarily need to moral relativism. Specifically, I go with a non-legalistic variant of divine command theory, i.e., that actions derive their ethical value not from some rational truth about the way God made the universe, but upon whether a particular action interferes with our relationship with God. I say "non-legalistic" because I'm a lot less interested in divine law as law than most such theorists. Whereas most divine command guys tend to spend a lot of time trying to closely parse whether or not God has specifically commanded/prohibited a particular act, I find that misses the point.** I think Nietzsche's idea about "good" and "bad" as being based upon the will of the sovereign is pretty much on point. It's just that God being God, his will goes. God's "commands" are thus not really what gives actions their ethical value, they are merely indications from God wherein he expresses his opinion about said values, and it's that underlying opinion, not the commands as such, from which ethical valence derives.

I think that lets me thread the needle MacIntyre poses. He sees the world moving away from Catholic Aristotelianism and towards moral relativism--which it is!--and thinks that this is a necessary consequence of abandoning Aristotelianism in the first place. I disagree. I think you can wind up with a Christian ethical system which preserves most of the same ethical values for various actions as are present in Catholic Aristotelianism*** using an entirely different meta-ethical framework, one which is not vulnerable to the well-founded epistemic challenges posed by the decline of the Vatican and rise of modernity.

*He explores this in Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, in which he issues a full-throated defense of Catholic Aristotelianism, to one's great surprise..

**I also think it tends to miss the most important aspects of New Testament ethics. My take on Jesus's and the apostle's take on the Law is that yes, okay, there's a lot of good stuff in there, and we can't ignore any of it, but the Law as the Law was never the point. Paul uses the example of a tutor. When you're in high school, if you don't do your algebra homework, your teacher can give you detention or flunk you. Once you graduate, your teacher loses any ability to impose negative consequences. But the algebra is the same whether or not you've graduated, and the whole point was to learn that, not solve any particular homework problem.

***One does have to punt on some of the more eccentric Catholic ethical claims though, as they are based on a very tight linkage between the rational (or at least the Vatican's opinion about the rational) and the ethical. What is rational must be ethical and vice versa. If you don't buy the Vatican's take on rationality, any ethical conclusions based upon that line of reasoning either go entirely out the window or at the very least require different argumentation.
posted by valkyryn at 1:16 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


Yeah I should have probably said, this has been a fascinating thread to read and I haven't even RTFA yet.

I was raised Anglican in a very hippy-dippy church; first Anglican church in Canada (if not the world, can't remember) to march in a Pride parade, everyone in the congregation learned sign language when two members found out their adopted daughter was deaf, bread for Communion was baked each week by a member of the congregation, significant work helping homeless/underhoused people, etc. Extremely liberal, in both the secular and theological meanings, is what I'm saying here.

Then for some reason, my pro-choice, has-a-gay-stepbrother (and later gay son), decided to become Catholic when I was 12. Once I was a teenager, we'd frequently have her parish priest over for dinner. Boy howdy was he liberal. Got my mother hooked on Liberation Theology, which was interesting to watch.

Anyway, my point being, Father Brian was very much a Liberal Catholic, again in both the theological and secular meanings. (I'm also 99% certain he was gay, which may have accounted for a lot of his QUILTBAG support). And, naturally, he was relegated to a small parish out in the country populated mainly by bluehairs, and he was absolutely certain the Church would never, ever move him anywhere else. Too dangerous to the status quo.

So reading this stuff is a glimpse into a Catholicism that I knew existed, but had never seen taken apart up close. So please, valkyryn, add my voice to the chorus of 'share your thoughts please.'

and on preview I see that you have, hurrah!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:18 PM on February 11


valkyryn, what I hear you saying is that Catholic/Aristotelian teaching says that a 'right ordering of society' is possible because God has ordained the laws of the universe in a particular and knowable way, and Nietszche says that any system making this claim is basically just a cover for the extension of the sovereign's will -- and we can reconcile the two by identifying God's will with God's decrees, and specifically by asserting that God has a particular underlying motive for designing the universe in the way God has, namely to have a relationship with humans.

Basically, what I think you're saying is that virtuous human actions are actions that conform to or further God's desire that human beings be in a state of reconciliation with God.

Which, fine. But how does that top-level imperative get translated into concrete principles for ordering the polis -- and who gets to do the translating? How does someone who doesn't share these first principles get to participate?
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:15 PM on February 11


i.e., the collapse of the Vatican as the dominating social, epistemic, and cultural force in Western culture

Didn't that happen back in the 14th century?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:17 PM on February 11


(or: the Church may have been very powerful and influential in the old days, but its power and influence had their limits; churchmen may fantasize about "Christendom", but it was always more of a rhetorical device than a reality)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:26 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Didn't that happen back in the 14th century?

Well. . . the factors that lead to the ultimate collapse were certainly in play then, but I'd only date it with the Reformation in the 16th century. It's not that the Reformation was the cause, but until that point a unified, adaptive Catholic Church was still a possibility. Until the Reformers demonstrated--willingly or no--that it was actually possible to have a church that wasn't under the Vatican,* the possibility remained that the differences that lead to the break could have been resolved internally. But for a series of complex, inter-related reasons, the Vatican lacked the institutional flexibility to accommodate those changes quickly enough. If it had kept the Reformers in the fold, European history, intellectual, political, and cultural, would have been very, very different.

*As if the existence of Orthodoxy didn't do that already, but whatever.
posted by valkyryn at 3:35 PM on February 11


Basically, what I think you're saying is that virtuous human actions are actions that conform to or further God's desire that human beings be in a state of reconciliation with God.

More or less. I'd use different words, but that's the basic idea.

But how does that top-level imperative get translated into concrete principles for ordering the polis

Through whatever political process we happen to come up with. I'm a thoroughgoing agnostic as to competing political systems. I think that's something God has left up to us to figure out, a delegation of authority. Part of our duties as God's vicegerents.

who gets to do the translating?

I mean, who ever can, basically. Whoever happens to have political power has an obligation to do their best to use it wisely. But the point here isn't a Christian state. The state is not the church, the church is not the state, and the state will do what the state will do. That may or may not be consistent with God's desires for the world, but such consistency isn't necessarily the point. Or, to the extent that it is, it's a secondary one.

How does someone who doesn't share these first principles get to participate?

Inherent in my thesis is the idea that there are necessarily going to be differences of opinion about what God wants for the world. A major feature of Catholic Aristotelianism is that the Vatican--or at least the Magisterium generally--gets to be the final arbiter of rationality. I, like all Protestants, think that's horseshit.

But I don't think MacIntyre is necessarily wrong in his conclusion that in the absence of such an arbiter that true political cooperation is impossible. In fact, I think he's probably right. I just also happen to think that such an arbiter cannot exist. Which is one of the main reasons I've always been a political pessimist. If the state can manage to maintain a certain level of law and order, that may be about as much as we can expect of it. More than that requires society to come together in a shared concept of what constitutes the common good. That may happen from time to time, but it's far from the normal state of affairs. Most of the time you have the dominant political force, whatever that happens to be, basically enforcing its will on the rest of us. The less force used the more peaceful things are likely to be, but the less force used the less ambitious our political dreams can be. Again: strongly pessimistic about the ability of the state to do much more than restrain evil.

I mean, agree with me or not, but I'd like to think I have to be given credit for consistency if nothing else.
posted by valkyryn at 3:51 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


The conservative / traditionalist message empties the pews. We had 4 decades of observational data. The Catholic church in the US chose a much more conservative message than its liberal protestant counterparts. Attendance is down for almost all of them, but the biggest declines are in the Catholic Church. 4 decades ago 54% of Catholics went to mass every week. Today 24% do. The number of people identifying as "strong catholics" is at a 4 decade low. Mainline protestants who choose a more moderate /liberal path saw a drop from 38% to 34% of believers. The numbers of mainline protestant worshipers have tended to follow more closely with demographic trends (fewer kids, fewer congregants).
posted by humanfont at 4:42 PM on February 11


I think I agree with you and disagree with MacIntyre; for me, Western Europe never was a Polis. The powerful may have had a common religion, but they were much more concerned with their Bellatores job than with anything the Oratores had to oratore on about. And with some notable exceptions, they knew how to tell the talkers where to put their oratio.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:56 PM on February 11


The conservative / traditionalist message empties the pews. We had 4 decades of observational data.

I think you're wrong there. Dead wrong. As I discussed above, mainline liberal Protestantism is in serious numeric trouble. Theologically conservative Protestantism is actually going gangbusters, particularly in the Pentecostal/charismatic and nondenominational traditions. Catholicism has seen a decline in attendance, to be sure, but there are other things going on here than just the liberal/conservative issue. If anything, Catholicism is seeing its attendance numbers drop to match Protestant attendance numbers across the theological spectrum.
posted by valkyryn at 5:14 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


According to the Pew survey the fastest growing religion in America is no affiliation. The Protestant churches saw some big declines, but seem to have stabilized in the last decade. It is true that megachurches like Saddleback have grown significantly in the last decade going from 1.5% to 4.5% but that has been marked by declines in other conservative congregations. The number of self described aetheists has grown at a faster rate from 0.6% to almost 2% iirc. 1 out of 4 people in the prime church picking 18-29 year old demo have no religious affiliation.
posted by humanfont at 6:05 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Pater Aletheias: "m not Catholic, but I have been significantly influenced by MacIntyre, (via Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who should have gotten a shout-out somewhere in the article, but was skipped over because he isn't Catholic, I assume). "

For reals; MacIntyre without Hauerwas is a much less important theologian. Hauerwas, while technically Methodist, is totally functionally Catholic.

Hauerwas was my ethics professor for my masters' degree, and, amusingly, my final paper for him was basically "How can I be a good American AND a good Catholic?" after he and I got in a VERY NOISY ARGUMENT about that very question in class (and I was always up in his face about him deciding what was Catholic and what wasn't when HE WAS NOT CATHOLIC and I was). He gave me an A on the paper and wrote that it was "a beautiful cri de coeur" and something to the effect of, "I have no good answer to your question but when you find one you should let me know."

That was about 10 years ago now. Hauerwas and I are Xmas card buddies. He thinks I am doing okay at answering the question, so far. I still ask periodically. He is generous as a correspondent.

(Valkyryn's done a really nice job with answers in this thread, to the point that I feel redundant.)

Two side notes, I know more than half the people mentioned in this article and, as humans, several of them seem bent on proving the old saw that religious ethicists become ethicists because they are the worst people -- lots of them are super-mean in person! And second, in the first couple years of Hauerwas's career, my mother had him as HER (Catholic) college ethics professor at one of his first postings. Thirty-four years later, I had him as my ethics professor during my masters' degree. When I told him this he laughed until he cried. AND he remembered my mother. He told me he'd never felt old before, but now he felt old.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:43 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


Two side notes, I know more than half the people mentioned in this article and, as humans

Awesome. I've interacted with MacIntyre in person, but that's about it.

posted by valkyryn at 1:57 AM on February 12


According to the Pew survey the fastest growing religion in America is no affiliation.

None of those alleged facts actually support your original argument. I'm done with you.
posted by valkyryn at 1:57 AM on February 12


Consider that the mainline Protestant churches are facing a significant demographic headwind. Middle class white's have a low birth rate. Current immigration trends are not favorable. I doubt we will see a bunch of Lutherans immigrating from Germany and Scandinavia any time soon. Meanwhile the RC Church has has a favorable demographic trend in the US. This trend has been consistent for the last 40 years.

Yet while the liberal Protestant churches have held it even with regard to weekly attendance when adjusted for the demographics, the RC church is quite the opposite. The numbers are down in absolute terms, if we adjust for the demographic trend it an even more stark decline. The main difference is that the RC Church took a sharp right turn in the late 1970s. This emptied the pews.
posted by humanfont at 7:57 AM on February 12


So yes, there are some differences in the way the conservative/liberal divide plays itself out between Protestantism and Catholicism, in that one simply cannot be a member of the Catholic clergy in good standing while being a theological liberal. But that doesn't mean that theological liberalism hasn't infiltrated the Catholic Church to a surprising degree.


My limited experience tends to agree with this assessment. My stint with RC seminary in the 80s exposed me to a range of prospective candidates for the priesthood that ranged from very modestly theologically liberal to whackjob conservative. Guess which end of that spectrum had the tendency to abandon the process before taking vows?

The Church starts out with a baseline of minions that's fundamentally conservative. A sticking point with Catholic clergymen is the fundamentally authoritarian level of contempt they harbor for actual Catholics they might see in the pews, that seems to be inherent in the vocation. But you have to go with the congregation you have, not the one you wish you had. Some priests have the kind of sensitivity and flexibility to successfully administer to their flocks when they have that "across 110th street" situations. While some priests simply cannot abide that kind of moral ambiguity, by the time the Church's hand hits the ground, there's a chance that it has been tempered by the reality of actual human needs and complications.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:24 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


The conservative / traditionalist message empties the pews. We had 4 decades of observational data. The Catholic church in the US chose a much more conservative message than its liberal protestant counterparts. Attendance is down for almost all of them, but the biggest declines are in the Catholic Church. 4 decades ago 54% of Catholics went to mass every week. Today 24% do. The number of people identifying as "strong catholics" is at a 4 decade low. Mainline protestants who choose a more moderate /liberal path saw a drop from 38% to 34% of believers. The numbers of mainline protestant worshipers have tended to follow more closely with demographic trends (fewer kids, fewer congregants).

That's a good theory, but I've seen at least one response that contradicts it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:05 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


The main difference is that the RC Church took a sharp right turn in the late 1970s. This emptied the pews.

Depends. "Traditionalist" dioceses & religious orders seem to be doing rather well compared the rest of American Catholic Church. FWIW, I don't think there was EVER a sharp right turn. For all the" OMG! It's dawning of a new age of progressive Cathlocism!" in the wake of Vatican II, nothing at Vatican II really changed Church doctrine. The big reforms of Vatican II were in the realm of the laity's relationship with and involvement in local church affairs. I don't think the Church hierarchy in America were prepared for that change. BrotherCaine's link is rather instructive, as is 2N2222's anecdote. The American Church hierarchy struggles to move on from the days of "Pray, pay and obey," which seems to have created a spiritual leadership vacuum for the laity

I think Valkyryn's larger point still stands. Just because attendance is declining overall, doesn't mean that growth isn't occurring in some ares of the American Catholic church, and its those areas that you are seeing the debate the FPP highlights taking place and I would think that it is precisely because of the overall decline in American Catholic church attendance that this debate is taking place. What I find interesting is how little the Church hierarchy in America seem to be involved in it.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:26 AM on February 12


In almost every sect you one can point to successful churches and congregations that are growing. I know a number of liberal congregations in the metro DC area that are full on Sunday. The Unitarian church near me just added more worship space.

Thomas Reese's response cited above begins in noting that 1/3 of Catholic have left and then proceeds to look at the same Pew data I've seen. Where I would disagree with him, is in how he begins immediately categorizing those who have left the church. Note the completely arbitrary way he starts slicing through the population of ex-catholics and how it misapplies a percentage taken across the whole sample to a subsample. He winnows things down through terrible math to what is an unknown sample size. He creates a kind of no true lapsed Catholic whom will only be drawn back into the church by the remedies he proposes and then chides liberals for their simple views.

The anecdotal reports of successful congregations at the local level have not translated into anything repeatable at the macro scale. 40 years of hardliners pushing the church right hasn't delivered on the expected results.

If theologically conservative protestantism is actually "going gangbusters", why is its political and cultural influence waining? In the last two elections the leadership of the conservative protestants have made a major effort to stop the presumptive republican nominee (John McCain and then Mitt Romney), yet they have failed. Consider how powerful Billy Graham once was and how none of the new wave of evangelicals can command anywhere near his audience.
posted by humanfont at 10:11 AM on February 12


If theologically conservative protestantism is actually "going gangbusters", why is its political and cultural influence waining?

Because the church is not and never has been mostly about obtaining and exercising political or cultural influence. Theological conservatives mostly don't give a fig about either. "My kingdom is not of this world" after all. As I said upthread, most theologically conservative churches and traditions really don't get much in the way of media attention, and most of them are totally fine with that.

Your observations about McCain and Romney are also dealt with upthread, i.e., the growing rift--or rather restoration of said rift--between the GOP and theological conservatives who were thrown into a rather unnatural alliance in their joint opposition to international communism. As that motivation no longer exists, theological conservatives are increasingly feeling no particular allegiance to the GOP, though that does not necessarily translate into any enthusiasm for the DNC mind you.

What I think is that you have an active antipathy for Christianity and want to use any data you can get your hands on to draw the conclusion that Christianity is on its way out. Well people have been doing that for centuries, and we're still here. I suggest you get used to it.
posted by valkyryn at 10:15 AM on February 12


Traditionalist (Confessional) Lutheranism, for example, has always been big about the separation of the church and state . It doesn't mean they're friendly to liberal/progressive political developments, but they usually aren't activist about it. Theological and Political conservatism are two different things and pursued by different denominations, though they may overlap in terms of social/cultural conservatism.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:27 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


What I think is that you have an active antipathy for Christianity

If you persist in spewing such scurrilous slander your tongue will split like a serpent from the venom.

You may find your arguments more convincing if they are supported with facts rather than assumptions and personal attacks.
posted by humanfont at 11:35 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Sauce for the goose, etc.
posted by valkyryn at 11:41 AM on February 12


Uh, valkyryn, you may wanna take a walk or something and chill out a little.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:42 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


GOP and theological conservatives who were thrown into a rather unnatural alliance in their joint opposition to international communism

This is an odd contention that seems contrary to the facts of history. Theological conservatives were not strongly affiliated with either political party until the 1980 election. They broke with the Democratic Party over Roe vs Wade, Prayer in School, the ERA and other social issues. The thesis also seems to reinforce the far right fantasy that Democrats are secretly commies. Anti-communism was a bipartisan issue.
posted by humanfont at 3:34 PM on February 12


Theological conservatives were not strongly affiliated with either political party until the 1980 election.

That's not true either.

Look, I have no idea what your deal is here, but I should have stuck to my guns when I said I was done with you before. Now I really am.
posted by valkyryn at 7:25 PM on February 12


Seriously, cool your jets. There's a lot of confusion about conservatism, particularly on places on MeFi where there's less representation of such adherents. Misconceptions are to be debunked, not dismissed outright.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:17 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


In 1976 Jimmy Carter won 50% of the evangelical vote and the endorsement of Pat Robertson. Truman and LBJ also did well with those voters getting majorities of those voters. The election of 1980 saw these voters break strongly to the GOP and they've been a key block in the GOP ever since.
posted by humanfont at 1:55 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Ironically enough, what's going on here between me and humanfont is exactly what MacIntyre is talking about. He and I do not appear to live in the same factual universe. There are insufficient shared assumptions about the way the world actually exists, and what that means, for meaningful conversation to be possible. I knew that from the outset, but foolishly kept at it. I shouldn't have, and I regret it.
posted by valkyryn at 3:25 AM on February 13


It's possible for you both to be right. Let's say that people in theologically conservative denominations really did move to the Republicans because they were worried about international communism. That can happen even though the idea that Kennedy or Johnson or Truman were anything other than rigidly anti-communist is laughably wrong; people hold and act on obviously mistaken beliefs all the time.

It's also possible that to whatever extent sincerely religious motivations pushed theological conservatives towards the Republicans, those motivations really were dominated by concern about communism... but sincerely religious motivations can't be but a small minority of the explanation for why theological conservatives moved towards the Republican party. The biggest, most important reason why people who happened to be theological conservatives moved towards the Republicans had nothing to do with their religion. Theologically conservative denominations are, among whites, concentrated in the south, and the biggest, most important reasons why white southerners became mostly Republican are race and Goldwater's candidacy presenting a socially-defensible way to be segregationist.

THIS DOESN'T MEAN THEOLOGICAL CONSERVATIVES ARE INHERENTLY RACIST, OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

It only means that the demographic groups that happened to disproportionately belong to theologically conservative denominations also happened, because of region and history, to be more segregationist. It means that your mistake, such as it is, is attributing a primarily religious motivation to a political change that was predominantly about something else. If you look in the south, you will almost certainly find that white Catholics became more Republican since the early 60s, and that white Episcopalians and Lutherans or other theologically liberal denominations became more Republican too. Because white people in the south were becoming more Republican on account of their whiteness and southernness, not because of their religion. Likewise, if you track the partisan distribution of denominations among black people, you'd see strong movement towards becoming a near-monolithically Democratic voting bloc among all historically black denominations.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:34 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


It's also possible for someone to be theologically conservative and politically liberal. My friend The Erstwhile Seminarian (I should really start calling him "TES", I refer to him quite often in these discussions) once had a conversation about abortion; where he told me that he strongly believed that abortion was in and of itself a sin, but he EQUALLY as strongly was pro-choice, because "we're all supposed to leave the judgement of a person's sins to God anyway". He draws a very strong bright line between his religious/ethical beliefs and his political beliefs.

I did ask him about that "sin" thing, too - he believes that yeah, abortion is murder and murder is a sin. But he also believes that it is NOT his place to deal with another's choices, and that that is strictly between the woman and God - so he trusts that she and God will work it out between them eventually and his job is just to offer emotional support and advice if and only if he is asked for it. When I asked what he thought about abortion in the case of rape or incest, he just shrugged and said, "well, there are venial sins...."

So a person's religious beliefs do not always coincide with their political beliefs.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on February 13


I also know a fair number of people who believe that abortion is a sin and is murder and should be illegal but also that the death penalty is a sin and murder and should be illegal and war is a sin and murder and should be illegal and people dying because they can't afford food or medical care is a sin and murder and should be illegal. A lot of people have ethical systems that don't fit neatly into the American left-right divide.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:55 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


He and I do not appear to live in the same factual universe.

Just because I'm an extra-dimensional being doesn't make my assessment of your Earth history any less valid. If there was some alliance between the theological conservatives and the GOP, why were all those ballots cast by theological conservatives for democratic presidential candidates right up until 1980? Isn't it more likely that Reagan's embrace of the pro-life and moral majority movements was the definitive factor in creating a partisan selection bias among religious conservatives? What about Karl Rove's strategy to motivate that block of voters with constitutional amendments against gay marriage in 2004?
posted by humanfont at 5:39 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


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