The most recent research we’ve seen claims that Catholics in America are divided rather evenly between our two parties. And, sadly, they -- we -- are caught up in the same politicized view of the Church.
America seems to be in the summer of our discontent. This is certainly the case in the political realm. Adversarial politics is traditionally considered both the life blood and the glory of a vibrant democracy. However, the U.S. is taking "adversarial" to new and dangerous heights.
The result has been legislative gridlock and a sinking public confidence in our governmental structure. We have huge problems at home and aboard, and people don't believe the current political class is up to the job of solving them.
Recent surveys bear out the fact that individual citizens' political party identification is increasing and hardening. More and more people are identifying with one of our two parties and with greater intensity. There are more Americans self-identifying as Democrats and their views are moving more to the left. The same is true for Republicans -- there are more of them and they are more to the right.
Pundits, who by and large feed on this heated condition, claim this uberpolitics-all-the-time is the result of cable news, talk radio, the Internet, social media and a host of other factors. Whatever it is, it is having a cooling effect on the communal trust that is the basis of the nation's civic life. Increasingly, we view one another through an ideological lens. "He's a liberal, so we can't talk about same-sex marriage." "She's a conservative, so we know where she stands on ObamaCare."
The issues, however, are real ones and have both immediate and long range implications. On the domestic front, what is the better economics theory to bring prosperity to ourselves and our children -- Keynesian or supply-side? Are we better served by a large, centralized government or a lean, decentralize one? Should markets be free or tightly controlled by government? What social legislation, such as legitimizing same-sex marriage and abortion-on-demand, should be supported? And so it goes, on and on.
We are divided, too, on foreign affairs. As clearly the most powerful force on the planet, just what should the role of America be in international affairs? Should we project our power to be the just and moral policeman of the world, or stay home and build a just and moral society in a Fortress America? We are war-weary and deeply disappointed by our efforts to bring peace and a greater degree of democracy around the world. Since the time of the Vietnam War, and certainly after two unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our prestige around the world has shrunk.
Where once we were seen as a force for good in the world, we are now looked on increasingly as a nation projecting its power out of raw self-interest. Not long ago, our cultural products -- movies, TV, music -- were welcomed around the world. They projected an image of life in America that made people around the globe want to be Americans. Now, our movies and popular entertainment with its violence and unfettered sexuality are projecting a vision of Americans that is repugnant to billions of decent people overseas.
While the country is deeply divided on these matters, so is the one-fifth of our citizens who self-identify as Catholics. The most recent research we've seen claims that Catholics in America are divided rather evenly between our two parties. And, sadly, they -- we -- are caught up in the same politicized view of the Church. Is the pope a conservative or liberal? Is he pro-capitalism or anti-capitalism? Should Communion be denied to politicians who support pro-abortion legislation? Should bishops suggest to the laity how and for whom they should vote?
And, more serious, what does it mean to be a Catholic. Should we be supporting legislation for tighter gun control, more open borders, the total elimination of the death penalty and making it easier for more people to vote? And on Church matters, should we support priests marrying, the ordination of women, more relaxed rules on divorce and matters sexual? Should lay Catholics be demanding more transparency and a greater share of Church decision making, or should we leave these matters to the clergy and trained theologians?
Or should Catholics be advocating for more personal freedom and liberty, in matters such as what we own and how we use our personal property? Should we demand tighter borders and an orderly path to citizenship? Should we hold out for capital punishment for those rare and most heinous crimes? Should we be asking from Church authorities for a clearer definition of what it means to be a Catholic?
All this said, though, shouldn't Catholics -- left, right and center -- come together on a social agenda that will advance the nation and strengthen the Church in America? Cannot our Church leadership come up with a "five-point plan" or perhaps an Action Agenda for the New Evangelization that the great majority of us can support? A few candidates:
First, a clear legislative program to break the immigration logjam, one that secures the borders, and has a reasonable path to citizenship. How good it would be if Hispanics saw the Church as the spearhead of a long-term solution to this situation?
Second, a strong stand against the sewer that our entertainment industry has become. If the American Catholic Church took a tough and public stance against the dehumanizing violence and escalating sexuality of our television, movies and popular culture, those who run the industry would respond, and the nation's parents would be in the Church's debt.
Third, marijuana. Just as the scientific research is making clear how detrimental marijuana is to the brain development of teenagers, one state after another is caving to the marijuana lobby, making the drug as available as gin. We may not be able to immediately solve our drug problem, but we can save a generation of American youth from drugstore-available marijuana.
While these are just a suggestion of potential agenda items, the larger issue is the need for Catholics to put aside what divides us and unite in common cause on a few issues that will bring us together in greater unity and fellowship. In addition to saving our own souls, isn't that what we're called to do?
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.