Guest Column: Can one be both a Catholic and an American?
Love of God and love of country are often difficult to reconcile. In leading French Catholics against English Catholics, Joan of Arc thought she was serving both God and country, and she paid with her life. Five hundred years later, the same church that had burned her as a heretic proclaimed her a saint. Clearly, politics was involved at both ends.
As an American Catholic, I have had no cause to feel particularly “conflicted” over my “dual citizenship.” Until now, perhaps.
I am certainly not bothered by past expressions of 19th-century Protestant America’s fear of “papists,” who, if elevated to positions of political power, might be taking their marching orders from the Vatican rather than from the U.S. Constitution. After all, the American miracle was predominantly the work of deists and Protestants for whom papal authority was as anathema as the authority of King George III. Nor am I put off by the notion that God was shedding a particularly abundant grace upon the (Protestant) American experiment, as “heretical” as that might be to the Church of Rome.
This is because I grew up in a 1950s America that was on the threshold of electing its first Catholic president, when the only vestige of anti-Catholic bias that I was aware of lay in Kennedy’s having to make some assurances of his independence from Rome en route to his election victory. (It helped, of course, that his family had been strong supporters of Joseph McCarthy, who had demonstrated that not all Catholics were subversive “pinkos” despite their long and bitter struggle for economic opportunity and equality.)
Because of the times in which I lived, I was set free to love both a robust America and a robust church, which seemed to fit together like hand and glove. So what’s my problem now?
When post-modern America started lurching to the left in recent decades, I grew to love the church all the more because, under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, it was holding the line better than any other Western institution against the erosion of both Christian orthodoxy and traditional Western and American values.
And then along came Francis.
As a Catholic, I embrace him; he is the vicar of Christ who guides and informs my faith. Indeed, I find what the press refers to as his obsession with the devil — his almost daily reminders of the presence and power of Satan in the world — to be refreshingly orthodox, as is his steadfast defense of life in the womb.
As an American, however, I am troubled by the nexus he draws between the devil and free-market capitalism and by his suggestion that communists have done a better job than Christians at some of the things Christians ought to be doing and “have stolen our flag” — the kind of remark that, to my knowledge, no pope in the past 150 years has even breathed. And then there is Laudato Si, his global-warming encyclical.
My initial response to this document runs along the lines of Martin Luther’s opinion of the Revelation to John: “Christ is neither taught nor found in it.” Luther is deemed to have been mistaken, of course, but I give him credit for recognizing that Revelation, with its tendency to inflame the imaginations of apocalyptic crazies, is the most troublesome text in the New Testament canon. And this approximates the reservation I have about Laudato Si, the content of which disturbs me less than the political uses to which it will be put and which it seems designed to elicit or confirm.
On the subject of apocalyptic crazies — those politicians who resemble street-corner prophets of doom — it is not my intent here to dispute the tenets of the global-warming argument. The principal question I have concerns the appropriateness of the church’s involvement in such a matter.
Jesus said quite plainly to Pilate that his kingdom “is not of this world.” So what business does Francis have in appearing to lend the moral authority of the church to worldly powers that seek to create radically new social, political and economic systems for the purpose of controlling human populations in order thereby to “save” the planet? These people have no regard for either the sovereignty of the U.S. or the church unless, of course, they can be found useful.
Meanwhile, for its part America is becoming a mildly fascist state — repeatedly prosecuting the Little Sisters of the Poor and vindictively fining people $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake. Government at all levels will increasingly have the church in its crosshairs, and we may well be entering an era of widespread civil disobedience if neither the courts nor the voters provide a remedy.
I’d feel a lot better these days if the Vatican were schooling U.S. bishops to think about emulating Thomas More and getting ready to go to prison if necessary instead of further encouraging our leftward drift toward a New World Order.
Chad Klinger lives in Basalt. He welcomes comments via Facebook on The Aspen Times site.