Thursday, April 29, 2010

Living in America and Living a Catholic Life

A post about Catholic Anti-Americanism? No, I haven't gone crazy. Well, crazier. (February 25, 2010)

I saw an article called "Catholic Anti-Americanism" yesterday. (Thanks, Matthew Warner and InsideCatholic, on Twitter, for the heads-up.)

"Catholic Anti-Americanism isn't your standard-issue rant about "Catholics and Muslims along with the fake Jews." (April 2, 2009)

I think the author of the article makes some pretty good points.

I'll get to "Catholic Anti-Americanism," right after:

Commie Pinkos, Bleeding Heart Liberals, and Stereotypes

If you've read another blog of mine, Another War-on-Terror Blog, you'll have gathered that I don't think America is perfect, but that I don't see this country as a source of all that is icky, either. I also don't think much of the sort of national and ethnic chauvinism I see expressed by folks I call "red, white and blue-blooded Americans." (Another War-on-Terror Blog, November 6, 2009, January 7, 2010, September 12, 2009, July 3, 2008)

I see that I've touched on that attitude in this blog, too. (April 14, 2010)

A stereotype, "a conventional or formulaic conception or image" (Princeton's WordNet) is a handy way of dealing with some facet of reality. And, in some circles, using stereotypes is a fairly good way of gaining acceptance. You have to be careful about which stereotypes you use with which people, of course.

I doubt that there are many American subcultures where most people 'know' that communist infiltrators are controlling the federal government and that America is behind all the world's unpleasantness. But, you never know.

Besides, the 'red scare' and McCarthyism haven't been current for - a long time. These days, we've got other demographics telling us to be scared of other (allegedly) terrible threats. Some folks have shown - imagination? - in their warnings: like the threat of those shape-shifting, space-alien lizard people.

I'm getting seriously off-topic.

A little more about stereotypes, and I'll get to that "Catholic Anti-Americanism" article. This excerpt is from another blog of mine:

"Stereotypes: Convenient, But Poor Substitutes for Facts

"I've run into quite a number of odd beliefs in my time. At various times, I've heard or read that:
  • Commies are behind all problems
  • American imperialists cause all problems
  • All problems are caused by
    • Blacks
    • Whites
    • Chinese
    • Japanese
    • Jews
    • Catholics
    • Religion
      • Especially Christianity
    • Whatever
  • Poverty causes crime
"I'm a bit skeptical - to put it mildly - about all of the above. If nothing else, those sincerely-held beliefs paint reality in strokes that are 'way too broad.

"Take 'American imperialism,' for example. I'm not happy about the way the Hawaiian Islands were confiscated, and I am happy that the federal government has finally started recognizing treaties it made with the American nations, well over a century ago. But I don't see big, bad Amerika as the imperialist warmonger it's made out to be in some circles.

"After all, we recently elected a Hawaiian president: Is that really the act of imperialist oppressors?..."
(Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 7, 2010))
One of the points I was trying to make was that it isn't always the other guy who's slipped into applying stereotypes as a substitute for observation and thinking.

Finally: What's All This About "Catholic Anti-Americanism?"

Here's how that article started:
"Catholic Anti-Americanism"
Joe Hargrave, (April 28, 2010)

"Inevitably, writing for a blog called 'The American Catholic' will force you to think long and hard about the relationship between Catholic and American ideals. When I began blogging there a year ago, I held to certain prejudices found among Catholic traditionalists and progressives alike -- prejudices that amounted to what I would describe as a romantic anti-Americanism: a belief that America, in conception and realization, is inherently incompatible with the Catholic Church.

"According to this view, America's intellectual roots in Enlightenment thought, Puritan jurisprudence, capitalism, and liberalism are responsible for a number of problems facing American Catholics, making us particularly vulnerable to anti-Catholic tendencies such as political and economic individualism or defiance of authority, including Church authority. As both a liturgical traditionalist and a recovering leftist, the appeal of a contrary, romantic anti-Americanism was strong.

"But a closer look at the Catholic experience in the United States, as seen from the perspective of both American Catholics and the papacy, challenges that world view. As it turns out, this kind of anti-Americanism, whether it comes from "throne and altar" traditionalism or the anti-capitalist Left, has no basis in either. It is a failed hypothesis for many reasons; here I will present three...."
The three points Mr. Hargrave made were, very briefly:
  1. The idea of religious liberty - that First Amendment stuff - is an import
    • British Catholics fleeing persecution encouraged the Marlyland Toleration Act (1649)
  2. The "Americanism" heresy has been "somewhat misunderstood"
    • I'll get back to this
  3. America is a secular state
    • Good thing, too: for the sake of religious faith
That "Americanism" heresy is old news - and doesn't have all that much to do with speaking English with an American accent or having a bicameral legislature. Mr. Hargrave said that the "Americanism" heresy is the notion that:
  1. The Church must engage in theological and liturgical experimentation or opportunism to become amiable to people of other faiths
  2. The natural virtues should be elevated above the spiritual virtues of the saints
    • Because they allow men to act with greater freedom and strength
  3. Religious orders are less worthy of respect, cultivating as they do the spiritual virtues
Actually, Mr. Hargrave is summarizing what Pope Leo XIII wrote, back in 1899. ("TESTEM BENEVOLENTIAE NOSTRAE | Concerning New Opinions, Virtue, Nature And Grace, With Regard To Americanism," Pope Leo XIII (Encyclical promulgated on January 22, 1899), English, via

I recommend reading what Leo XIII had to say, by the way. Be sure to set aside quite a bit of time. As with most encyclicals, Pope Leo XIII didn't write with sound bites in mind. For example:
"...This over-esteem of natural virtue finds a method of expression in assuming to divide all virtues in active and passive, and it is alleged that whereas passive virtues found better place in past times, our age is to be characterized by the active. That such a division and distinction cannot be maintained is patent—for there is not, nor can there be, merely passive virtue. 'Virtue,' says St. Thomas Aquinas, 'designates the perfection of some faculty, but end of such faculty is an act, and an act of virtue is naught else than the good use of free will,' acting, that is to say, under the grace of God if the act be one of supernatural virtue...."
("TESTEM BENEVOLENTIAE NOSTRAE," Pope Leo XIII (January 22, 1899))
I think that a reasonable super-summary would be that saying that spiritual virtues aren't as important as natural virtues is - from a Catholic point of view - wack. And that some of what's in the minds of American people is okay.

Just like some characteristics of other nations are okay.

Bottom Line? America is Okay: So is Akrotiri - and Botswana - and Comoros - You Get the Idea

Developing a balanced view of the country you're in may never have been particularly easy. It's certainly not something that only Americans living in the early 21st century deal with:
"...'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.' No doubt if a decent man's mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

"What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and racous Jingoism is....."
("The Defendant," G. K. Chesterton (1901), page 125ff (Google Books) (text is also online at
Me? on the whole I like living in America. It helps that I worked in an ESL (English as a Second Language) program while living in San Francisco. I got to know people who had come to America: partly to 'get rich;' mostly to enjoy freedom.

Which threatens to draw this post into yet another topic. Time to quit.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:

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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.