Friday, May 22, 2009

Newt Gingrich Converts to Catholic Church: Predictable Responses; Interesting Insight

Newt Gingrich is not perfect. His current wife, Callista, isn't the first woman he married. He converted to Catholicism. And, of course, he's called a hypocrite.

I've noticed that when celebrities say they've stopped doing drugs and enrolled in a posh rehab program, they're called brave.

I have no problem with someone deciding to kick a substance abuse habit. It's a good idea. Particularly when physical addiction is involved, getting 'dried out' can be a hard process. My hat's off to anyone who seriously tries to make a major change like that.

It's different, of course, when someone who isn't one of the glitterati or a sports figure changes. Particularly, I think, when they change in a counter-cultural way.

Predictable news and views on Newt: The Catholic Church doesn't expect people to be perfect. We use the sacrament of penance (my family still often calls it confession, but that's a colloquial term) over and over again.

The Church does take the "go and sin no more" injunction seriously: but also recognizes that we're human beings. I can live with that. (The "go and sin no more" incident is in John 8, 1-11.)

The Faces of Catholicism

Some people see the Catholic Church as a satanic cult. Others say that Catholicism is backward and medieval, or an "ally of the colonizers". A few write dire warnings about the black pope and his Jesuit assassins.

The satanic cult/Jesuit assassin views aren't, I think, taken all that seriously by America's dominant culture. The idea that the Catholic Church is a backward, medieval, ally of colonial oppressors, though, does seem to be accepted. In the 'better' circles, at least.

My parents weren't anti-Catholic. We went to a mainstream Protestant church, which again wasn't anti-Catholic. The area, though, was a distinctly anti-Catholic part of the country. I couldn't help hearing and reading about the 'whore of Babylon,' and was impressed at descriptions of the Catholic Church's ignorance and depravity. I wondered how such a maladaptive institution could have lasted decades. Make that centuries. Make that pushing two millennia.

So, I started doing a little research into the Catholic Church and its history.

Back to Newt Gingrich, Catholic

A 'faith, politics, and culture' U.S. News & World Report feature gives a look at what Newt Gingrich found, when he started getting to know the Catholic Church, up close and personal.

The article includes some extensive statements that Gingrich made, including this excerpt:

"...'...The moment that finally convinced me [to convert] was when Benedict XVI came here [to the United States] and Callista in the church choir sang for him at the vespers service and all the bishops in the country were there. As a spouse, I got to sit in the upper church and I very briefly saw [Benedict] and I was just struck with how happy he was and how fundamentally different he was from the news media's portrait of him. This guy's not a Rottweiler. He's a very loving, engaged, happy person....'..." (U.S. News & World Report)

I've met engaging Catholics, along with some who were anything but. I can say the same about people who very sincerely, even passionately, aren't Catholics.

Thomas Nast's Catholic Church, the Local Parish, and the Universal Church

Anti-Catholicism has a long and hallowed history in North America. From Thomas Nast and Maria Monk, up to the likes of Tony Alamo, people have identified Catholics and the Catholic Church as, well, not American.

There's something to the charge. The Catholic Church isn't tied to one nation or one ethnic group. It is, literally, a universal church. It's "free from provincial prejudices or attachments," one of the definitions for "catholic" given by Princeton's WordNet.

But, as a Catholic, I'm required to be a good citizen. ("Elections and Citizenship, Catholic Style" (September 24, 2008))

So, Catholicism isn't "American," but it's not "anti-American" either.

And the Catholic Church isn't the local parish, or the priests in one diocese or one country. They're part of the Catholic Church, but just that: a part. Unlike many denominations, Catholic parishes don't hire priests. They're assigned from headquarters. Sometimes we like who we get, sometimes not. Again, I can live with that.

I often refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (authorized English translation) because that's what the Church teaches. My experiences with individual Catholics are important to me, personally. But I follow Jesus and His Church.

Whaddaya Mean, the Pope's 'Happy?!'

I'm not surprised that Gingrich called Pope Benedict XVI "happy." I learned, decades ago, that what America's dominant culture believes about Catholicism - and religion in general - isn't necessarily true. There are people who are sour, repressed, angry, and authoritarian among any group. But I don't think any group has a monopoly on that sort of personality.

Actually, there's some odd research that identifies old, Republican, men as the happiest Americans. But that's another topic, in another blog.

I Don't Disparage Gingrich, I'm Catholic: I Must Be Conservative?

Quite a few people assume that I'm a conservative. I can see why.

My views are not consistent with the culturally-normative liberal stance. Since quite a few people assume that anyone who isn't a liberal is either "moderate" or conservative, and since I'm not "moderate" either, I must - by those standards - be conservative.

That misses the point, though.

I'm Catholic.

At this moment in American history, my views are a bit less unlike your typical American conservative's, than the standard American liberal.

My views on life issues identify me as 'obviously' liberal (for capital punishment) and equally obviously conservative (for abortion and euthanasia). The same goes with some social issues. ("Conservative? Liberal? Democrat? Republican? No, I'm Catholic" (November 3, 2008))

Catholics are Human Beings: Deal With it

Newt Gingrich hasn't led a perfect life. I'll be surprised if he doesn't, now that he's Catholic, do something else that's imperfect. Catholics are human beings. We make mistakes. Sometimes we do wrong things deliberately. We shouldn't: but we do.

Catholics - and Christians in general - aren't automatons, shuffling along pre-programmed paths. We're flesh-and-blood human beings, with all the messed-up nature that comes with it. It might be nice, if joining a particular church made a person do all the right things for all the right reasons at the right time.

But real life doesn't work that way.

Vaguely related posts: News and views: Background:

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.