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Friday, August 4, 2017

Francis's Church and Trump's State #1

The essay in La Civilta Cattolica by two of Pope Francis's confidantes has drawn a line among American Catholics. Once considered to be settled through the deliberative process of the Second Vatican Council, the breech between the religion of traditionalist American Catholics allied to fundamentalist evangelical religions that support Bannon-Trump and the solution brokered by Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray at Vatican II has been exposed. (See for instance Ross Douthat's column and comments in the NYT.) 

The essay representing Francis's thinking and negative commentators representing Trump-Bannon thinking not only help American Catholics understand their choices, but also all Americans of every religion or of none at all. 

1) We can choose a "melting pot" or assimilation policy approach which assumes a right culture and religion and, I would add, economy. Or 2) we can choose a "stone soup" or "rainbow" pluralism policy approach. 

1) The assimilation metaphor shapes Trump's latest plan to restrict immigration to those who speak good English, have wealth and education, and can fit into American society. It is also the dominating image for the white supremacist language of many of Trump's followers. It is the choice of those like Attorney General Sessions who fight against affirmative action which they call "reverse discrimination." It is also the choice of those evangelical fundamentalists who preach that the USA is a Christian country with the Judeo-Christian God at its head and the revealed word of God in the Bible as the ultimate arbiter for law and morality and even scientific truth. It is also the choice of constitutional literalists like Mitt Romney who believes that the words of the constitution were inspired by God and of many jurists who do not understand the metaphoric nature of speech at all. 

It is also the metaphor of traditionalist Catholics (like Douthat, Ryan, and Bannon) who are nationalists, who promulgate the America First rhetoric, who place America's exceptionalism in its past or present achievements, rather than its aspirations for the future, and those who focus their attention on opposition to abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism which they consider to be cultural perversions and religious depravities caused by a permissive society and liberal education.

2) The pluralistic metaphor is traced back to Thomas Jefferson who, desiring to avoid the religious wars that ravaged Europe, made a clear distinction between the private sphere of culture, including religious behavior and expression, and the public sphere of politics. Jefferson promoted what became known in the 1950's as the "civil religion" which stood apart from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other confessional religions that people professed in their churches, temples, and holy books. 

In the 1950s, sociologist Will Herberg wrote that one could be an American by being Catholic, Protestant, or Jew because these religions had accepted the American social contract in their own professions. In describing the status quo, he spoke of a triple American "melting pot," thus legitimating becoming American by participating in one of these three religious ways. This conventional wisdom underlined President Eisenhower's council that America is founded on a deeply-felt religious Judeo-Christian faith "and I don't care what it is." 

This is not exactly the pluralism of Jefferson who, while attracted to the morality of the Jesus in the gospels purged of their supernatural superstitions, also accepted Muslims, non-religious Deists, agnostics, and even atheists as Americans. Many of the founders of the USA were not Christian but Deists (George Washington) or Unitarians (John Adams), who did not profess the divinity of Christ and other Christian doctrines and indeed dismissed all religious doctrines. The right of religious freedom that was inserted into the Constitution meant that a good citizens could practice any religion they wanted or none at all.

And since that "golden age" of post WWII, which contemporary reactionaries nostalgically reconstruct, a lot has happened. The US has become global in all spheres; the cold war against Soviet and Maoist communism has ended with a new one against Russian and Chinese expansionism beginning;  Mormonism, Buddhism, Indigenous Spirituality, and especially Islam are on the American scene; the women's, the civil rights, and the LGBT rights movements have achieved general acceptance in American society.  All of which have had tectonic effects on American culture and even the economy. Including the reaction of the Trump-Bannon base.

Whether we choose melting-pot assimilation or rainbow pluralism will make a tremendous difference for the future of the nation and the world. Thinking through that choice requires some distinctions: one being between public and private related to politics and culture; another is principle as literal and principle as intentional.

But I will deal with that in my next blog

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