PRESCRIPT: The following is a response I sent to a dear friend who knows how to relate to loved ones who don’t agree with him. He is a professional conversationalist and a battle hardened progressive. I am an amateur at both of those, but a battle weary, yet heartened, conservative. .
My friend found a reference to Catholic homelessness in an article and it pinged his “Hey, John!” button. The article does not reflect my friend’s position on things, though I do presume to find he and I are probably in agreement regarding the author’s heady insights. Not necessarily my insights, to be clear.
Please bear with my first three paragraphs, for they identify the personality and position of a large portion of the citizenry which desires to be in conversation with their own friends and family. If you find hearing about Trump as a viper a poisonous notion (whether you are a progressive or a conservative) please consider the author and move on to the subject of “citizenry” that I then talk about. I considered dropping my initial comments, but they end up speaking about the importance for us to hear each other out rather than to run screaming from the room; or to fling back demonizing comments in order to tone down demonizing with more demonizing.
The issue at hand in my mind is that religion and citizenry are interwined, necessarily, and to place religion in a progressive/conservative or left/right context fails to help.
The response, below, was written in regard to an OP-ED column in the New York Times, The Vatican’s America Problem, by Ross Douthat. Douthat does a fine job challenging two Vatican authors and their misunderstanding of the citizenry and religious folks of the United States. Here is an excerpt from Douthat about the Vatican essay, with a hyperlink to see what he’s talking about. Following this excerpt is my comment back to my dear friend whom I am not going to embarrass about him being my friend. I have edited my original response to him.
So, first Douthat’s exerpt, and then my response.
“Meanwhile Rome, and specifically the men around Pope Francis, seem to both misunderstand and fear this new ferment. Both reactions, fear and ignorance, inform a recent essay in the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, written by two papal confidantes, the Jesuit Rev. Antonio Spadaro and the Protestant journalist Marcelo Figueroa, which has generated thousands of words of intra-Catholic argument in the last few weeks..
Their essay is bad but important. It seems to intend, reasonably enough, to warn against Catholic support for the darker tendencies in Trumpism — the xenophobia and identity politics, the “stigmatization of enemies,” the crude view of Islam and a wider “panorama of threats,” the prosperity-gospel inflected worship of success.”
I have been avoiding hand-wringing over the incessant media bashing of 1/2 of the population of this country. And yet, here I go. Trump is not an accident or an aberration, but a willing assassin, a viper sent into a pit of bureaucratic vipers. Every sheep sent into this venomous crowd is immediately bitten and destroyed. Trump is not a sheep, but a viper more dangerous to bureaucratic systems than most of us can remember.
The actual disturbance to our country is not him, but the failed bureaucracy. Trump provides the counter-venom to the structure which has corrupted the advances of progress that liberals should be heralding as healthy and the principles that conservatives yearn to re-establish. The destruction of wealth, education, and order (to name just three principle issues) by the structure has been possible through an intentional and systematic annihilation of Conservation’s truths and Progressive’s morals.
The truths that have been stamped out are: that wealth is a created economic reward that must be reinvested (not a hoarded vault of gold stolen by thieves); that education is centered on knowledge, skills and achievement (not testing, buildings, and penalties); and that order requires constitutions, laws, and respect (not privilege, edicts, and force). The morals that have been crushed are that life and liberty are the rights of everyone, and that religions deserve freedom of expression and that holiness trumps vitriol.
The left and right in play through the extremes do not properly describe the incredible variations and diversity among our people. Right wing skinheads and left wing fascists are nonsensical stereotypes of true conservatives and progressives.
Hopefully, Trump brings both a symbolic and actual sledgehammer to the pit that is stalling every effort of sane folks – the pits and power of a fanatical press, a compromised Congress, and a self-centered bureaucracy.
Citizenry supersedes government. Citizens are the people, just like the people of God are the Church. Representatives in both situations are, in fact, servants of the citizen and the people of God. Separating God from citizenry seems prudent, but the very same citizen is also a child of God.
While the left feels stunted from its takeover of government, the right has responded in kind. Their attempts to establish order do not look to restore a balance. Religion does not need to be eliminated to fix this.
Assigning a certain religious flavor to either left or right does not match all of us up properly. Every religion’s set of voters is equally split along left and right. So, it cannot be a religious concentration that is at the core of the citizenry problem. Rather, it is the oppression and/or suppression of the general membership of citizens that has created the rifts among good folks. Neither the elites or the power-hungry own the electoral pen. That belongs to the citizenry of both progress and conservation. They are the ones who keep a proper balance in place.
The religious element certainly supplies a significant portion of this country’s conservative agenda, but Spadaro and Figueroa fail to identify what Douthat points out, albeit a bit back-handedly. A ying and yang of progressive and conservative interrelationships mark healthy society and government. Whether we fall into one camp or the other, our roles require complementary consideration from everyone else. This does not mean we should cater to extremism, but we should form justifiable alliances that honor decision-making. There is a necessary collection of progressive thought that assists conservatives to clarify their positions, and a necessary preservation of conservative thought that encourages the development of progressives.
Most importantly, all conservatives and progressives are not the same. The full range and variation of conservative and progressive thinking lives in every citizen. Ignoring this fact is the failed premise of identity politics. Black, white, brown, etc. mean nothing in the social framework, other than the striking ranges of beauty in humans. Sexual proclivities are going to clash within every society when they leave the bedroom and the bathroom, but they do not have anything to do with citizenry.
While religion isn’t the government, it is religious expressions that support order, wealth and education, and all other principles of a nation, due to religion’s sense of absolutes. Race and gender are canards in citizenry’s essentials. Religions, though, require government care in order to live freely among each other. Religions, whether the Vatican understands it or not (because they do not own this issue – nations do), represent our transcendent aspirations and our divine relationships. These cannot be ignored in governing societies, and will eventually be the downfall of every atheistic and pagan formula for running a nation.
So, while we must have ying and yang of progressive and conservative, the balance extends far beyond a rainbow of variations along the paths of just progress and conservation. We have a most complicated matrix of intelligence quotients, financial arrangements, emotional sensibilities, aging, physical abilities against physical limitations, and so on. We must have them all together to grasp the importance of both sacrifice and grace in a broken world. Such is the stuff of citizenry. Sacrifice on our part, and grace on the part of God.
Every citizen of every nation must operate within their instrument of geography, resources, etc. Both size and population vary among nations in an unbelievably broad conglomeration. Nations, just like villages, have their local responsibilities and weighty worries. Religions often reflect the particulars of a national makeup by preaching toward a citizenry of sacrifice and mercy. Courageous militaries, compassionate healthcare workers, and fair business folks find their premise in both sacrifice and mercy.
Cries of foul toward nationalism are similar to the cries of greed toward prosperity. They are lies. The good of a thing fuels us. A nation that loves itself will reach out to assist other nations. A nation that assures the health and safety of its people will be on hand to protect the oppressed elsewhere. The same is true for religions. The good of religions gathers us and beckons believers toward sacrifice and mercy, recognizing the brokenness of a decaying world. While “apocalyptic” Scripture may seem to be foolish to some, the world still cycles through death. Apocalyptic and mystical teaching and visions from the divine provide the hope of eternal life for all people, with a timeline and a prophetic expectation that moves as time passes. Those who belittle the prophetic mystics, the necessary people who play the proper role in feeding the believers with reasons to hope for eternity, are the same folks who tell the young that they will amount to nothing and imagine that the killing of unborn Downs Syndrome children makes perfect sense. Respect for holiness and all life describe a sane citizen.
The church still has a long way to go, but revelation and holiness are mostly taking place from the individual citizens who live in their nation of villages with an eye toward the ultimate prize of eternal life with the Creator. For Christians, this is a tremendous reality to build upon our faith, because the God of our fathers saw fit to join humanity as one of us.
No one element of a left or right stash of citizens can accomplish the goals of a nation. It takes everyone.
And, so that’s what I think, dear friend.