After a Difficult Violent Roundtable, Part 2
A second conversation in which sufficient articulation proved difficult on Friday night’s all–Anchor Rising Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show related to Matt’s statement that the Catholic Church is in some respects an anti-American institution. Having such a strong statement catch one off guard doesn’t make measured extemporaneous response an easy accomplishment, but upon reflection, I’d suggest that Matt is backing into a perilous political philosophy.
The Roman Catholic Church — any church, for that matter — should not be an “American” institution. The U.S.A. exists as an entity and as an idea; to the extent that an authentically American church were not redundant, it would be dangerous. A religion with policy conclusions in lock-step with the practice of the American idea would necessarily lend theological import to a quintessentially secular project. It would be a fundamental establishment of religion, marrying Church and State.
There is not only great value in, but essential need for cultural institutions completely separate from the reigning polity — with a source and structure of authority that is distinct from the nation’s governmental strategy. Where members of the hierarchy are wrong in prudential matters, Catholics should discuss (even debate) the issues and argue for the Church’s proper role, but all should realize that the Church’s interests are not the same as the country’s. Sometimes one will be wrong, or the human beings who guide it will step beyond their appropriate boundaries; sometimes the other will be the culprit; but that’s reason to accept them as mutual ballast.
In an objective analysis, Matt’s imputation of anti-Americanism on the part of the Church based on the public policies for which some of its representatives advocate is identical to the impulse of those within the hierarchy who wish overzealously to leverage the government’s powers of taxation. Both sides judge and prescribe as if the two pillars of society ought to be more of a continuous support, in which the visibility of light is indicative of fatal cracks, not expected separation.
Let’s not dilute anti-Americanism. I don’t believe it is Matt’s point of view that the Roman Catholic Church takes as its goal the downfall or diminution of the United States as a secular construct. The institutional Church has watched governments rise and fall throughout its history, and there are multiple bold lines between supporting policies that are arguably detrimental to the civic body and calling for the downfall of a Great Satan. An instructive distinction exists between President Ronald Reagan’s characterization of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and Pope John Paul II’s view of communism as “a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself” that became “a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world.”
Both the United States of America and the Roman Catholic Church are centrally concerned with liberty. For one, it’s liberty from oppression by people; for the other, it’s liberty from oppression by sin and evil. Those concerned with either in particular should pay close attention to the other, but nobody should expect their requirements always to be the same, just as nobody should drive the two apart because one — accurately or erroneously — points in a different direction from time to time.
The project of post-Enlightenment conservatism (as we understand it today) is to layer balances and restraints against human nature, and theologically, the impulse to declare opposition amounts to a Church of Me, in which the individual pushes away a perspective that ought to be given credence. Here, the philosophical thread leads to a final point of contention on Friday night — namely, conservative wariness of populism — which I’ll address after I’ve trimmed some hedges and made my way through the Sunday paper.