I've wanted to write something about Jody Bottum's interesting, if thoroughly unremarkable essay (The Protestant mainline churches are in decline? Who knew!) from the most recent First Things for a few days now.
This passage in particular has been on my mind:
Apart from a few fringe fundamentalist elements, anti-Catholicism in the United States today belongs entirely to the political left, as its members rage about insidious Roman influence on the nation: the five Catholic justices on the Supreme Court plotting to undo the abortion license, and the Catholic racists of the old rust-belt states turning their backs on Barack Obama to vote for Hillary Clinton. Why is it no surprise that one of the last places in American Christianity to find good, old-fashioned anti-Catholicism is among the administrators of the dying Mainline—Bishop Schori and all the rest? They must be anti-Catholics precisely to the extent that they are also political leftists.
I'm not sure what the operational definition of "anti-Catholicism" is here. If it means not agreeing with the Romanist position on abortion, and opposing the pro-life movement politically, I'm not sure this is anti-Catholicism at work or simply a principled (or even not so principled) disagreement. Not agreeing with Jody Bottum, Fr. Neuhaus, the Magisterium, and the Pope does not mean you are an anti-Catholic bigot. Having serious theological, philosophical, and political differences need not be the result of ill-will, malice, or prejudice.
But relatedly, and even more interestingly, notice how Bottum equates political leftism with anti-Catholicism. To be a "good Episcopalian" (for example) means to have a unified theologico-political vision, one in which your political leftism is of a piece with your theological liberalism. To be a "good Roman Catholic," for Bottum, is to have a similarly unified vision of religion and politics, where political conservatism is connected to theological orthodoxy. What Bottum never admits, and apparently does not see, is that he, in fact, is the mirror image of Bishop Schori. They think in almost identical terms, but with different valences. Thus political disagreements turn into theological disputes; disagreeing with Bottum, or the Roman Church more generally, means being "anti-Catholic." Politics and religion are inextricably connected -- not indirectly, as they almost unavoidably are, but directly -- in this mode of thought and thus disputes immediately take on a seriousness, and even personal quality, that ratchets up the stakes of any argument.
In short, purveyors of the Social Gospel and Roman Catholic (and other) social conservatives commit the same mistake. They move too quickly from from one realm to another, from the City of God to the City of Man. There is no dialectical tension between one sphere and the other for Bottum and Schori. Politics, then, becomes the collision of Unified Theories of Existence. The political genius of confessional Protestantism is that, perhaps in theory more than practice (but note I am criticizing Bottum and Schori at the level of theory!), this tended to not be the case. Luther's dialectical thinking, Calvin's differentiation of spheres, the Puritan delineation of different covenants pertaining to different forms and levels of human relationships -- these were theoretical, theological, and philosophical reasons to conceive of politics in a more narrow way, as something of its own realm. Put differently -- and this may need to become part of something I spell out more clearly in the future -- Protestantism at its best gives us cultural foundationalism but political non-foundationalism. That is what we've lost with the death of responsible, serious Protestantism. And I lament it.