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From ontology to sociology

To descend from the sublime to the not-so-sublime, it’s worth noting that a recent Barna Group study finds that Catholics have become mainstream America. There don’t seem to be discernible differences between Catholics and other Americans, except that Catholics take religion and the more austere demands of morality less seriously. They’re more into pornography, for example. They do, however, recycle more diligently and try harder to avoid detraction.

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Thanks for the article.

Some of his measures were biased towards Evangelicalism. Look at his definition of religiosity: “read the Bible” figures most prominently. But lectio divina includes far more than the Bible. His definition of intrinsic immorality includes gambling, and buying lottery tickets. If Catholics do not see these things as intrinsicly immoral it seems they might be more likely to do them than Evangelicals who do.

This said, I think his conclusions are spot-on.

Why do Catholics act more like secular hedonists than non-Catholics? Some possibilities:

  1. A non-Catholic suggested it’s because Catholics believe in externals and maybe not so much in anything else. That seems like a bad explanation, if only because the results would likely have been very different before the Vatican II “renewal” decreased the role of specific disciplines and the like.
  2. Another possibility is that Catholics, like Europeans, and unlike Protestant Americans, believe in authority. That’s often been a cultural advantage, but it depends on who as a practical matter has the authority. In the wake of Vatican II, and in the EU, doing what the higher-ups tell you has been a disaster. Folklore and popular obstinacy are a civilizing force by comparison. On the other hand, it means the popes can hold the line, so maybe in the long run it will work out best.
  3. Still another possibility is that immigrant communities lose touch with their accustomed authorities and try to get with the local program. When they do so they’ll probably take the official local program (in America today, secularism and liberalism) more literally than the locals do.
  4. Yet another is that immigrants typically believe that the local network of informal social ties isn’t going to help them, so they favor doing away with it.
  5. And finally, Catholics tend to live in blue states and so act blue statishly.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

“Why do Catholics act more like secular hedonists than non-Catholics? Some possibilities …”

I suspect there is another dynamic going on here (though I hope to be mistaken). Men as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn have observed that when Catholics abandon their faith, or “go bad”, they do it in a very big way. Religion for Catholics is an “all or nothing” proposition. Note that Catholic leaders throughout history have tended to be either saints or devils.

By contrast, when Protestants abandon the practice of their religion, they tend merely to switch to an easier form of Protestantism. Hence they do not forsake all authority (at least not in their own minds) and still have some external restraints acting upon them.

Who was it that said “Catholicism is a religion of saints and sinners. If it’s respectability you want, join the Episcopalians.”?

Another observation: It seems that both communism and secularism have more seriously and directly afflicted the Catholic nations in our time. The Protestant nations went a different route. To my knowledge none of the historically Protestant nations went all the way with communism. And the lowest birthrates in Europe are in formerly uber-Catholic Italy and Spain.

On the other hand, at present PC seems a bit stronger and populist movements weaker in the Protestant nations. So the Catholics seem somewhat less inclined to the current form of secular utopianism. And in the mid-20th c. they didn’t take extreme nationalism, another form of secular utopianism, as far as the Germans did (I think the Nazis were stronger in Protestant than Catholic parts of Germany).

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

“On the other hand, at present PC seems a bit stronger and populist movements weaker in the Protestant nations. So the Catholics seem somewhat less inclined to the current form of secular utopianism.”

That could very well be: I’ll take your word for it.

“And in the mid-20th c. they didn’t take extreme nationalism, another form of secular utopianism, as far as the Germans did (I think the Nazis were stronger in Protestant than Catholic parts of Germany).”

This is true. But in Bavaria/Southern Germany, the Catholic Faith was still robust. Italy was anti-clerical and went fascist, but the Faith was alive in Spain and - thanks to Franco - averted both extreme nationalism and communism at once.

Interesting, this dynamic of Catholic culture. A survey of online newspapers throughout the world reveals that the most virulent anti-Catholicism is found in places like Ireland and the Philippines where Catholicism is comparatively strong (moreso in the latter country than the former). So it seems that in the post-reformation era, Catholic societies tend either toward Christian order or anti-Christian anarchy. They know nothing of degrees. The cultural genius (if a Catholic may speak thus) of Protestantism - quite paradoxically - is that it has tended to uphold a facsimile of Christian order and to soften anti-Catholicism in the long run.

But “the long run” of Protestantism has yet to be consummated. As you point out, this facsimile of Christian order that was born of Protestantism is morphing into PC totalitarianism.