Ross Douthat, conservative and Catholic columnist for the New York Times, labeled his Sunday
piece this week: “The Pope and the Right.” Now before you go off, read it, and come back either elated or steaming mad, let’s remember one important thing: columnists get paid to make people read them. The more novel, inflamatory, aggressive, or shocking something is – often the better.1
Douthat though isn’t being too much of anything, instead he is simply stating the obvious. He is addressing the elephant in the room, or in some cases, the uncomfortable conversation that many Catholics are having.2 The topic he addresses is one that strikes close to home – how do conservatives (either politically or theological ones, if that is possible) reconcile the pontificate – so far – of Pope Francis?
His most interesting points though, in my opinion, are made when he attempts to give three arguments for why a seemingly “liberal” Pope can actually be reconciled with American conservative principles. His three premises are (in my own summarized form):
- Capitalism, or free market ideals, has a better track record than socialist societies at lifting the poor and marginalized out of poverty and maintaining free society.
- Solidarity and Subsidiarity are key components to Catholic social teaching – a la the philosophical pillars of such teaching.
- Welfare states (i.e. socialist and liberal states) have produced rather toxic social and cultural policies that fly in the face of Catholic doctrine and social teaching. (e.g. low birth rates, charitable roadblocks, and religious persecution.)
The money paragraph though isn’t one where Douthat doubles-down on American conservative principles, or attempts to contort the Pope’s actions and most recent Exhortation to fit the GOP platform. Instead he challenges “conservative” Catholics, such as myself, to reexamine how we interact with the world – socially and politically – and find a way to fit our politics to our faith, and not the other way around.
As Douthat puts it:
This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.
And this is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope. But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since “compassionate conservatism” collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more — often much more — of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues.
Now, I dont want to spend a lot of time in this post on it, but the link talking about ‘compassionate conservatism’ is interesting and ultimately goes to the larger issue I plan to discuss. Yet, I intend to set that discussion up with this post. So for now, I will leave it at this: Douthat seems to say that what is important for Catholics -specifically American conservative Catholics, in light of Pope Francis, is that we find a way to push for policies that cling to Catholic teaching, but hold fast to conservative principles. The latter not for their own sake, but because our faith animates those principles in our culture.
We should not spend the time of Pope Francis hidden away in Mass3 praying for patience and that God’s will be done. While we want those things, of course, it is that there is so much more we can do – and should do.
While many liberal Catholics4 made plenty of fuss during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI about the direction of the Church, the cry for conservatives to “do what they did” or “follow our own advice” is a false premise. Douthat calls this the “Loyal Opposition” argument. He rejects it, and so do I. It is instead our time to continue with vigilance and fortitude. We spent formative years solidifying our faith, now it is time to solidify the world around us – to animate the social teachings and political policies with our hearts grounded in the teachings of the Church.
- Case in point, a recent NYT shocking front picture. [↩]
- Some of these conversations are private and dare not reach the narthexes and church basements of our parishes. [↩]
- in the usus antiquior of course… [↩]
- For the record, I am not a fan of using political terminology to explain theological philosophy, it makes sense in this post. [↩]