While the Tea Party folk are drowning moderate Republicans in the King’s Harbor and Democrats want to send Blue Dog Democrats to the pound for being too Republican, and even President Obama is putting away his Harvard-educated cool and handing out pitchforks to storm Wall Street, voices that call for anything other than angry ideological purity seem pusillanimous at best.
Americans, like all people, really, are receptive to these appeals during hard times. There is a lot of pain, and it is understandable that pain often leads to anger.
But it may be easier than ever to convince people how heinous their opponents are because so many people are already living in self-imposed thought ghettoes. Journalist Bill Bishop calls it “The Big Sort,” and he has chronicled how even American neighborhoods are sorting themselves out by ideology and political persuasion. His science is backed up by anecdotal evidence: If you exercise at a gym in Nashville, Tenn., every other television is tuned to Fox News. If you exercise at a gym in Austin, Texas, CNN dominates.
I’ve been noticing a similar trend in parishes. Folks gravitate to certain parishes depending on their predilections. The home-schoolers might lean toward one parish, while the social justice folks migrate to another. Since many dioceses no longer require that a Catholic attend the parish in his geographic location, it is easier than ever to parish shop. If your tastes run to cassocks and rosaries, you will find a home. If you want to share communion with folks who are helping undocumented workers and AIDS babies, you’ll find a home, too.
Just not the same home.
There are many dangers to this, I believe. One is that we don’t encounter people who share our faith but think differently from us. And it makes us really irritated when we do encounter such people. I think that is why the rhetorical abuse that pastors and teachers and even editors get is so much more extreme these days. Since we don’t normally encounter other points of view except as parodied by Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh — that is, by people we already agree with — we are uncomfortable when such an encounter takes place.
All of which came to mind when I heard the second reading a few weeks ago. It was 1 Corinthians 12, about the People of God being one body but many parts. As I listened to it, I thought about our Church and how, to borrow St. Paul’s analogy, we are increasingly dividing up. All the feet go to one parish, and all the hands go to the other. One parish has all the hearing, and another parish has all the smelling. We seem intent on becoming the mystical body parts of Christ.
And I think this makes us a poorer Church. The social justice crowd needs Forty Hours devotion and Eucharistic Adoration. The friends of Latin need to visit that inner-city neighborhood and work on a Habitat for Humanity house.
The pro-life movement has always had potential for bringing people together. It originally attracted both Catholic conservatives and liberals, folks who see it as a moral issue, and folks who see it as a social justice issue. But even that common ground has been threatened by secular political agendas.
I think our best parishes are St. Paul parishes: one body, many parts. And my wish would be that we as Catholics spend a little less time deciding who are the sheep and who are the goats, and a little more time embodying the “concern for one another” that St. Paul calls us to: “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
There is legitimate Catholic diversity, and we need to see how deeply Catholic it truly is.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.