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Posted July 2, 2004

Book: American Catholics, American Culture: Tradition and Resistence: American Catholic in Public Square
Editor: Margaret O’Brien Steinfels
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Lanhan

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

Lying behind all these discrete problems, moreover, is a deeper question for American Catholics today: How are they to be present in an American public life that increasingly runs hot and cold about public religion, now welcoming, now allergic, now tolerant but only within strict limits? And how are they to achieve this presence while the cohesive Catholic subculture of at least a century’s standing transforms itself into some as yet undetermined form?

The church, since Vatican II, has done three things of central importance to this challenge. First, it welcomed an understanding of the church’s role that made striving for justice in the social arena an integral part of Christian witness and not, as had often been suggested, simply a preparation for a more spiritual or other worldly missionizing. Second, it argued that engagement with the public realm is primarily the responsibility of the laity. Third, by calling for a stance toward modern culture marked by dialogue at least as much as by combat or rejection, the church lowered the walls of the Catholic subculture and contributed, intentionally or not, to the assimilation of Catholics into mainstream American culture. . . . There is no question that one of the central challenges facing American Catholicism, clergy and laity, liberal and conservative alike, is how to maintain a specific identity in face of forces, both national and global, both cultural and economic, that seem to be making for a much greater uniformity and far less vigorous and articulated religious participation in public affairs.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Last Catholic Writer

As an independent, the Catholic writer is especially clear on some things. The writer hopes the church will like the work, but doesn’t count on it. The writer knows the old language of service and responsibility is provisional. This writer doesn’t write on behalf of the church. But this writer also knows that the church doesn’t believe on behalf of the writer.

Such a state of being isn’t necessarily desirable. Most Catholic writers would like to be fully vested members of the church. That said, it is the situation. Catholics often make a fetish of the ideal. It seems to me that the most important thing is not to posit a shared system of values or to yearn for a Catholic literary community that doesn’t exist. These things have to be earned, one believer at a time, not simply asserted.

The Catholic writer has to seek a companion in the reader first and foremost. Further companionship isn’t strictly necessary. It might even hinder the work Catholic writers are trying to do.

There has been a run of memoirs of Catholic childhood. I’d give a hundred of them for one great memoir of Catholic adulthood, and I’d bet that such a book would mean more to the life of the church than a hundred polls.

As Catholics, too, we believe that we are bound together in ways that we do not realize, and that this binding is taking place n ways we cannot see. We are bound to one another, bound back to the dead, and bound to the future in hope in ways that are as yet unknown to us. Perhaps in the future we shall be a community of writers — or we will be seen as such. But for the time being, the Catholic writer has to make his or her way independently. The work, and the life of faith, depend upon it.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Against the Grain
Catholics in America: Antipathy and Assimilation
John T. McGrevy

Abortion, Sexuality, and Catholicism’s Public Presence
Luke Timothy Johnson

Connecting Sexuality, Marriage, Family, and Children: A Response
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

The Complexities and Ambiguities of the “Prophetic Dimension”: A Response
Susan A. Ross

The Pro-Life Message and Catholic Social Teaching: Problems of Reception
Richard M. Doerflinger

The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Pro-Life Agenda: A Response
Mary C. Segers

The Abortion Debate: God for the Church and Good for America
Michele Dillion

Killing Yourself: Physcian-Assisted Suicide in Oregon
Brian Doyle

Part 2: Popular Culture and Literature
Catholicism as American Popular Culture
James T. Fisher

“As If in Prayer”: A Response to “Catholicism as American Popular Culture”
Mark Massa

The Last Catholic Writer in America?
Paul Elie

Being a Writer, Being a Catholic: Sometimes the Twain Can Meet
Valerie Sayers

The Press and the Church’s Social Teaching: Friends or Foes?
Kenneth J. Doyle

Assertions Not Reasons: A Response
J. Bottum

Part 3: Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice?
Mark Massa

Anti-Catholicism in the United States: The View from History
John T. McGreevy

An Ugly Little Secret Revisited: A Pretest on Anti-Catholicism in America
Andrew M. Greeley

Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice? Yes
Kenneth L. Woodward

Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice? No
Mark Silk

Voices from the Field: A Panel Discussion
Gail Buckley, Daniel Callahan, William Donohue, Paul Moses, Alan Wolfe