About ‘Catholic America’

I have become convinced that the best way to study religion is to view theology through a materialist prism. If … Continued

I have become convinced that the best way to study religion is to view theology through a materialist prism. If that sounds too academic a premise, the common sense equivalent is simple: Study living religion! In my opinion, we cannot view religion as merely a set of beliefs written down somewhere. The way people put their faith into practice is the more accurate measure of how important those beliefs really are.

To give an example for Catholic America, I would cite the practice of birth control. The Church encourages some forms of birth control and bans others: those are the things written down as doctrine. The actual practice of Catholic couples, however, is the material measure of the value of those pronouncements. How-the faith-is-practiced, in other words, needs to be included in assessing what-the faith-preaches. The mix of the two is lived religion.

This blog will explore the dynamics of lived religion in contemporary Catholic America. The Church will be at the center of my focus, but the institution is greatly affected by cultural expression and sociological changes.

As best I can, I hope to provide context for understanding how Catholicism copes with these vital forces, resisting some and accommodating others. I will not write as an outsider to the Catholic faith, but neither do I feel bound as a clergyman might to uphold some “party line.” Expect to find both praise and criticism of the institutional Church in this blog.

I hope to avoid worrying about faith for faith’s sake and examine religion as an interpersonal and institutionalized dynamic. I will firmly resist the trend to write only about a refined Post-Modernist “spirituality” – which is different for each individual. Instead, I will tackle the difficult and often contradictory meanings of religion in the life of ordinary people brought together by loyalties to God and Church.

My academic background over the past 30 years has pushed me to appreciate religion as an instrument of social forces, which is often far more influential than admitted by politically correct academicians. I studied in a Catholic seminary when Latin and Aquinas were still the norm, obtained my MA from a healthily secular New York University and secured my doctorate from the Jesuit University of Fordham in New York. Although my degree is in Theology, I focused on the (then) fringe specialization in Comparative Religion. With so many different takes on religion in my training, I have concluded that no single perspective is enough.

During all my studies, I was active in Latino movements: I directed a Latino Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of New York; I ran the Latino segment of the Theology of Liberation for the National Council of Churches; I was a key leader in Catholic organizations for Latinos; I conducted highly significant surveys funded by foundations like the Lilly Endowment, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Ford Foundation. I ended my days as Director of the Studies of Religion Program at Brooklyn College, where I taught Puerto Rican Studies for 27 years.

I am relatively certain that readers will not agree with each and every one of my views about Catholic America. I only hope, however, that my perspectives will encourage new thinking about old subjects.

  • Soja John Thaikattil, Sydney, Australia

    Bhuddhist monks have a lot to teach on celibacy. The Vatican efforts at inter-faith dialogue could include learning from Buddhist monks on how they deal with the celibacy issue. If I understand him right, HH the Dalai Lama would be more than happy to share his wisdom and the wisdom acquired by his tradition with anyone who is interested. Catholics could learn from the Hindu monks of the Ramakrishna Mission too.Married Catholic priests could be role models as good husbands and fathers just as parsons, priests and pastors from other Christian denominations try to be.