ANDREW SULLIVAN LOVES JESUS, NOT THE CHURCH
Just in time for Easter – or, more Correctly, the Day of the Spring Egg Hunt – Andrew Sullivan has a piece on The Daily Beast site.
I’d like to comment on that article here. (The Post I promised on Theodore Lowi’s 1967 article on ‘interest group liberalism’ will follow shortly.)
Sullivan goes for the Thomas-Jefferson gambit: take the New Testament, snip out all the “supernatural” stuff, and then what you have left over will be a handy ‘moral guide’ for the Enlightenment mind.
There are at least two problems with that approach.
First, Jefferson lived in a time when Western culture still lived off the ‘interest’ from the investment of Christendom’s integral and coherent and well-Grounded moral and spiritual heritage bequeathed (and achieved) by the Medieval Synthesis of Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas took the best of Plato and Aristotle and the Stoics, combined them with the Fathers of the Patristic Age and placed the whole under the guidance of the Judeo-Christian revelation … and thus effected the planet’s most comprehensive and integral and well-Grounded moral synthesis, which yielded what might be characterized as an Owners Manual for human life and for human be-ing.
The Enlightenment, teetering on the edge of oncoming night – if I may – could still carry on as if it were daylight, because the late 18th century was the first moment of dusk, after ‘sunset’, when there was still more than enough light to play around with carefree abandon.
Thus Jefferson’s confidence.*
Second, the Jefferson approach is actually a variant of a strategy most vividly deployed by Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”: it presumes that there is no deep and integral and visceral interconnection between the various elements of a living organism; thus – in Shylock’s grossly inadequate analysis – you could chop out a pound of flesh with no thought as to consequences to the other vitally interconnected and interacting systems within the living organism. (And many thanks to Portia for belling that witless though potentially lethal cat.)
A culture, based in a comprehensive belief system, is not something that can be chopped up without dire consequence. Nor can the belief system itself, if it is complexly and integrally constructed (like, say, a modern large aircraft or spacecraft). And Aquinas accomplished as much conceptually – more, I would submit – than Leonardo did with his sketching of flying machines.
So then when Sullivan wants to introduce his affinity with Jefferson’s principle of the Separation of Church and State, he is not quite anchoring himself on the mark. The key Question in all of this is the Relation of Religion and Culture, and not the Separation of Church and State.
Perhaps Sullivan is deflected and confused by the very visible efforts of the government to expunge religion from culture that We have seen going on for the past 40 Biblical years around here. But even if so, this is a vital and lethal confusion.
But this confusion – presuming it is not a carefully worked-out strategy – works toward his general purpose: to combine ‘religion’ with “power and politics”. This opens up the vast poppy fields of claims that the Catholic Church (which he takes under direct fire in the piece) is nothing more than merely another power-politics organization and establishment that seeks to impose its will, justified on the putative basis of some ‘supernatural’ warrant.
And which, he immediately continues, has given rise to nothing more than “war, pogroms, reformations and counter-reformations”. That the Church had played a constitutive role in the development of Western Culture after the Fall of the Roman Empire, seeking to establish and maintain some basic level of coherent decency in the face of warring chieftains and barons and lords, nascent and then rampant monarchies, and all this on top of the perennial deformations and derangements generated by humanity’s innate tendency to betray its own best possibilities … none of this apparently counts for much in Sullivan’s assessment.
Nor does it give him pause that the foundations of Western Culture laid down by the Church in the age of Christendom constituted – not to put too fine a point on it – a well-grounded foundation. And you don’t need an engineering degree from MIT to realize that once you have a rather large structure, chock full of human souls toiling and living, you don’t want to simply go screwing around with the foundations with gay abandon. What homeowner can’t figure that out?
Sullivan will save his situation by focusing on “Jesus”, for Whom he evinces a large admiration.
After all, Jesus came up with all those neatly “radical” ideas (can you hear a certain drumroll starting up here?).
He’s especially enamored of Jesus’ insistence that His followers had to “give up power over others” because power inevitably requires “the threat of violence” and “violence is incompatible with the total acceptance and love of all other human beings that is at the sacred heart of Jesus’ teaching”.
Supporting his statement, Sullivan notes that Jesus “never defended his innocence at trial”. Just how defending one’s innocence in a trial is a form of violence, I can’t grasp. Surely – if Sullivan is going to be reducing his advice to Us to his conclusions about Jesus and violence – then this is rum advice indeed. Especially nowadays, when folks faced with an engorged and rampant government have few defenses left except defending themselves in trials – to the extent even that right is still operative.
But it does sound eerily and ominously familiar: defending yourself in a trial simply ‘proves’ you’re guilty. We’ve seen this poisonous serpentine ‘reasoning’ deployed against all sorts of designated-targets of the Left as well as the Right in the past few decades.
It was the Church that worked out the careful reasoning that in the light of Original Sinfulness and the violence that inevitably flows from it, there are legitimate grounds for self-defense in certain carefully determined circumstances. Humans must not only live with the human capacity for love, but the human capacity for violence (unless Sullivan – channeling Rousseau – wants to assert that only ‘institutions’ and ‘organizations’ create violence and humans, left to themselves, will simply live in love and mutual respect until the Second Coming).
But Sullivan is not going to let you think that he is some secular type of guy. He fully believes in Jesus’ “divinity and resurrection”.
But that’s not going to mean for him that there was anything to all that “supernatural” stuff. Nope, Jefferson was right about all that mumbo-jumbo. (I can’t help thinking of Francois Mitterand’s marvelously sly bit from 1965: “I was born a Christian and shall doubtless die in that condition. But meanwhile …”)
Rather, the “divinity” of Jesus simply goes to ‘prove’ what Sullivan sees as the take-away of His entire ministry: “What’s the use of preaching doctrines if you don’t live as these doctrines demand?”
This – if it sounds somewhat familiar – is the Question the Church has been posing to humanity for two millennia . Nor has the Church ever proclaimed itself or its agents divine, rather than being participants in humanity, constructed of the same crooked timber, although blessed with the guidance of the Holy Spirit that – or rather Who – is an integral part of Jesus’ “divinity”.
But that’s not where Sullivan is going with it.
“What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?”
I don’t know how this fits in with the Framing Vision or that “deliberative democratic politics” that is the lynchpin of that Vision. I don’t know if Sullivan knows either – or cares.
Surely he doesn’t see Identity Politics as perpetrating – as a matter of Plan – ‘violence’ upon the body politic and the common-weal through its rejection of “deliberative democratic politics” and the manipulation of public law and policy through assorted agitprop tactics and strategies of manipulation and misinformation and the sidestepping of “deliberative democratic politics” through – as Obama noted in ‘The Audacity of Hope’ – an “overreliance” on courts, where – as Catharine MacKinnon acutely observed – the vanguard elites can avoid “messy” democratic political process neatly and effectively.
What, for that matter, is human life except an ongoing temptation to sidestep the dignity and rights of others in order to have it your way? That’s why there is a Constitution and – I submit – why there is a Church.
Which brings me to my next point: the Church evolved – and Jesus rather forthrightly intended to build it (at least if you take the Gospel text literally; if not then read on) or the generations succeeding Him realized that they somehow needed to preserve His teachings and structure their lives around those teachings.
You can go up, down, and all around as to whether Jesus imagined that with the Fall of Rome and the imperial government the Bishop of Rome would find himself and his Church in the unenviable position of being the only source of order left in the West.
But to propose that the Church as she is represents nothing more than an evil contraption constructed with malice aforethought for the purposes of a violent conspiracy of – to use the familiar recipe – “dominance, hegemony, marginalization and oppression”? Sullivan, actually, uses the same thinking that gave Us ‘patriarchy’: that other phantasm of a deliberate conspiracy-to-oppress that somehow was put together a day or two after the beginning of recorded history and has been chewing away gaily ever since with the agreement of both the (putative) oppressors and oppressees.
Jesus, Sullivan insists, wants everybody to live as He said to live and as He Himself lived.
But what does that mean? If Sullivan has a decent house and a nice steady job and took the time to get an education, if indeed he is tapping away on a computer instead of wandering the streets of towns and cities and living under the stars … is he living that life?
What does it mean to live as Jesus lived when it becomes clear that He is not coming back right away? This is the Question that Christians faced from a moment not very long after the Ascension. Sullivan’s own well-established and well-furnished life is his answer and that’s fair enough.
But does he really think that the Church is not an answer to that Question? Does he think he can reasonably demonstrate why that should be so?
Jefferson – says Sullivan – had a vision of a “purer, simpler, apolitical Christianity”. That’s nice.
It was also a Ground-less vision, one that relied merely upon the Afterglow of Christendom illuminating the lives of Western Culture, but without any solid support structure underneath it. And as the Afterglow wears off, or wore off, or was ‘deconstructed’ – then there’s nothing to hold it all together.
Unless you want to rely on ‘the government’, that will replace the Church with whatever laws and regulations it feels it would like to impose. I see this option as neither progress nor conformable to the Framing Vision, nor conducive to the continuance of the Republic.
He then – conveniently – blames the Republicans and the Right for creating “a polity now saturated in religion”. Neat.
But if one changes the axial term from ‘religion’ to ‘ideology’ then who is responsible for American society and politics having become ‘saturated’ in ideology? I’d say you can make an excellent case for that being the handiwork of the Dems, who embraced radical-feminism’s Marxist-Leninist-Gramsican analysis (with ‘women’ substituted neatly for ‘proletariat’ and ‘the masses’ and ‘the marginalized’ wherever those terms appear in the original texts).
And for all practical purposes regarding Sullivan’s plaint, ‘religion’ and ‘ideology’ are the same: a pre-existing matrix of assumptions, presumptions, and beliefs about the validity of which their adherents entertain no doubt.
But that’s not where he wants to go with all this.
“Organized religion” is “in decline” he crows. His prime example in regard to Catholicism is the clerical abuse crisis, although that mania-stampede is now starting, finally, to run down as it is exposed for the hyper-inflated and oh-so-selective hatchet job it has always been.
The Protestant polities, he observes, have been declining ever more steeply in the past 50 years (thus since about the time post-1965 ‘liberalism’ got rolling) because they sought to embrace “religious moderation” (meaning: because they tried to appease the tide of secularism by abandoning their insistence that their faith and belief were Grounded in any Beyond and then gave themselves over to providing benefit-of-clergy to secularism and its demands and its agendas and all its pomps and all its works – seeking to ride the back of the tiger, they have wound up as a hot lunch for a beast that should have been recognized at the outset as being viscerally committed to consuming them). In the old tale of the scorpion and the horse – where the scorpion asked the horse for a lift across the raging river, then stung the horse halfway across, and when the dying horse asked Why since now they would both drown, the scorpion merely replied “I’m a scorpion and it’s what I do” – radical-feminism with its repellent Marxist-Leninist roots should have been recognized all along by the Beltway elites as being the scorpion it truly is.
The politicized saturation of religion “would also, one imagines, baffle Jesus of Nazareth”. After all, “the issues that Christianity obsesses over today” – homosexuality, abortion, marriage – were not matters that occupied Jesus’ attention. And in regard to adultery, he merely preached “forgiveness” (although that ‘forgiveness’ presumes it is indeed something sinful that needs to be forgiven – a breach of trust and commitment, one would think … though those virtues are not high on the liberal and secularist agenda these days).
But Jesus didn’t “obsess” over nuclear weapons either – so where do Sullivan’s exegetical games really lead Us? For that matter, Jesus did not ‘obsess’ over most of the issues currently defined as social-justice. That does not at all mean that ‘social justice issues’ cannot be derived legitimately from the principles Jesus enunciated. But clearly you have to derive your practical conclusions from His principles, and thus the necessity of the Church. Jesus was primarily concerned with the individual human heart and soul, whose Stance under Grace would lead to actions more in conformity with the responsibilities of being created in God’s Image. But He was not primarily concerned with ‘reforming’ (or deconstructing) the political and cultural institutions of that time and that place in which He found Himself. First things first.
But Sullivan presses on. “The family? [Jesus] disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him.”
Here you see the gaping error in his entire approach. How distinguish between what Jesus as the man situated in his mission in life in that time and that place recommended to those who would join his little peripatetic missionary band … from what core principles Jesus was propounding for any and all human beings who would in present and future times follow Him?
Or are We to presume that Jesus never wanted anybody to live in (or start up, or remain faithful to) a family ever again?
These are precisely the type of Questions for which later generations of Christians needed to find guidance. And from that need – obvious as hell even to the Christians of the earliest era – the Church’s role as focal matrix for careful and prayerful deliberation on the genuine import of Jesus’ sayings developed. And how else to carry on?
Ditto as Sullivan notes that Jesus “was a celibate” and that Jesus and his “followers” actually “anticipated an imminent End of the World where reproduction was completely irrelevant”.
Well, then, so … if on top of the practicalities of having his immediate band of disciples leave their families so they could live on the road with Him, Jesus really didn’t imagine in His human capacity that the world as they knew it was going to be around much longer … then what the frak to do when later generations of Christians quickly realized that somehow that ‘End of the World’ didn’t mean exactly what it seemed to mean? How then to figure out what He did mean?
Hence, again, the need for the Church. Much later, the Protestant solution was to let every believer work out whatever the hell Jesus meant for him/herself. But that was simply to let each player in the orchestra play whatever s/he thought would be a nice melody – and who would pay to sit through a symphony like that?
But if I infer correctly, Sullivan wants Our take-away to be simply (and simplistically) that Jesus didn’t worry about questions of family and sex so why should anybody claim to oppose recent cultural agendas from the Left on merely religious grounds? Verrrrry eeeenterestink … but unfortunately, incoherent. (With attributional nod to Arte Johnson’s German soldier on ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In’ show.)
Sullivan uses the example of Francis of Assisi, who embraced poverty and eschewed violence and the conventionality of the 13th century Italian world around him. But then even Sullivan notes that before long Francis found himself in an organizational quandary: so many wanted to follow him that he had to – not to put too fine a point on it – organize his followers so that they would keep to his vision and principles and not simply go off into all sorts of stuff claiming to be following his path.
Precisely the problem that gave rise to the answer called the Church in the earliest Christian times.
But this is not where Sullivan wants to go, or wants Us to go, with it.
It appears that – humans being humans – even a good idea about getting beyond conventionality and organization requires that you somehow preserve said good idea by organizing some normative (and in a sense conventional) praxis in order to sustain the genuine idea. Who knew?
If you have a great piece of rich and complex music, then you need an orchestra to play it. But you also need a score, and you also need some sort of Conductor to keep everybody at the same place on the same sheet of your music. Surely Alinsky saw the same thing when he insisted that folks had to Organize.
Otherwise you will surely wind up lamenting in the accents of the Songstress**: ‘What have they done to my song, Ma?’
Jesus left behind a ‘rich and complex and textured’ heritage of sayings, and it would take and still takes a whole lotta careful and informed and prayerful work to figure out a) just what the core content of His principles and guidance actually is and b) how to apply that in one’s contemporary world and one’s own life. You can simply leave all that up to the occasional illuminations and excitements of this or that individual, or perhaps leave it up to a government that insists nothing can stand outside of it, nor against it, nor above it … but you can’t intelligently expect that if you just toss the sayings out there you are going to sustain a coherent conceptual grasp of the heart of the matter.
Jesus “was without politics”. Phooey. Phooey and baloney. His timing, His confrontation with the authorities, His shrewd rhetorical but ironclad logical one-liners always delivered in front of a useful audience … this guy was shrewd to the very max. Even His death was expertly crafted for maximum impact on public opinion (though, unlike so many, He most surely put His money where His mouth was and backed up His teachings with His own blood, and did so with an iron intensity of purpose and careful arranging that must seem ‘obsessive’ to the modern and postmodern, secular mind).
After what can only charitably be construed as some gay (he is most publicly and avowedly ‘out’) Irish sentimentalism about his dear granny, Sullivan insists that he is not advocating some sort of Irish-granny type of “privatization of faith, or its relegation to a subordinate sphere”. Because “there are times when great injustices – slavery, imperialism, totalitarianism, segregation – require spiritual mobilization and public witness”.
Ummm – and not ‘sin’? But of course, ‘sin’ is something that is taboo in secularist and – alas – post-1972 ‘liberal’ circles nowadays. You won’t stay on many A-lists by talking about (let alone preaching – or ‘obsessing’ – about) ‘sin’.
But Sullivan reduces here the entire content of Christian spirituality and religion to – by remarkable coincidence – the assorted agendas of his favorite politics. Which is the gambit that so utterly deranged the mainstream Protestant polities in this country and seduced them to self-deconstruction.
Is there no venue for exercising ‘spirituality’ except in some form of social action (but not if you are acting against ‘sin’, of course)?
And then he asserts that King and Gandhi did indeed “renounce power”. Well yes, but really no.
Both Gandhi and King were immensely shrewd in developing the power (and political power, at that) of non-violence. Neither of them simply quietly lived out his life in a private renunciation of ‘violence’; they both wielded the power they craftily evoked and managed in order to realize their agendas. (And in King’s case, certainly, We are the better for it – although he was kicked to the curb in 1966 by black-power proponents, almost immediately after his greatest achievements – yet even then he kept fighting for his vision.)
Sullivan wants to support “mystery”, but apparently not the profound and lethal mystery of ‘sin’. And he assumes blithely that every believer can be sent forth to sail him/herself across the Seas of Mystery with no compass and no charts and no navigational skills and that somehow it will all work out nicely enough, precisely as Jefferson could blithely assume that folks could just make up their minds to ‘be moral’ and everything else would work out well enough.
They both want to have their cake and eat it too: they can presume the sublimely effected Shaping afforded by Christianity, while simultaneously pooh-poohing it formally and playing to the peanut-gallery, urging everybody to just ‘getcha’sef free’ (a nod to Simon and Garfunkel, of course).
This can only end in a spring egg-hunt that will never discover the eggs.***
*Let me say right here that I strongly support the constitutional principle of Separation of Church and State. But what has been happening around here most recently is not really an instance of that particular matter but rather something else: the government-abetted imposition of a secularist culture that acknowledges no Beyond (and thus, alas, no sufficient Ground for any morality and any wide and deep cultural consensus).
John Rawls gave this gambit the ‘benefit of philosophy’ by coming up with the neat claim that ‘comprehensive meaning systems’ cannot be admitted into public discourse and deliberation. This neatly eliminated ‘religion’ or religious belief as a legitimate obstruction to the various elements of the secularist agenda that required cultural, conceptual, and moral ‘space’ that the Christian moral tradition (as comprehensively formulated by Aquinas) would not permit.
Neatly, his own matrix of post-1972 ‘liberal’ presumptions, assumptions, and beliefs were not – he insisted blithely – to be considered as a ‘comprehensive meaning system’ but rather constituted merely a collection of insights and illuminations that ‘any reasonable person’ would come up with on his/her own.
**Melanie Safka, if memory serves from 40 Biblical years ago.
***One thinks too of a recent book by Alain de Botton (‘Religion for Everyone’), urging that Yes, we secularists can develop sufficient substitutes for such fuddy-duddy old stuff as ‘sacraments’: so, he urges for example, when you sit down to eat, stop for a minute and think of those who have gone before and whom we love. This, apparently, will cover Correctly and sufficiently all of the bases covered by the Catholic Eucharist, the Mass.
We can “create shared meaning” all by ourselves. No need for any Beyond nor for any external supports to sustaining genuine belief. We can just sort of ‘will’ ourselves to do it, whenever we feel like it or whenever we remember to do so and have the time.
This is the brave new world that the secularists figure will more than adequately replace – will indeed hugely surpass – the world Shaped by sustained communal belief in Christ (or anybody/thing else). A vacuum constructed over an abyssal void. Oy.
Cue the Bhagwan. And prepare to be adrift.
What would the Framing Vision – and hence America itself – have looked like if there had been no Afterglow of Christendom that Shaped the culture and spirit of the Citizenry even before the country itself was formally established?
How could Slavery have seemed repugnant? For that matter, how could Lincoln have formulated his opposition to it in the debates with Douglas, counting upon the moral sentiments of the Citizenry? Plato and Aristotle both accepted it; St. Paul himself – focused so intently on the primacy of the individual Christian’s spiritual Stance toward life in Christ – didn’t devote much ink to the worldly station of believers. How could Abolitionists – those among them who gave thought to the theological – anchored their concerns morally?
And among the Framers themselves, that ‘universality’ of Jefferson’s in the Declaration of Independence – that all human beings are created equal (a theological concept before it was a political concept) – is derived from the universality that derives from God’s creation of each human soul.
As Jefferson tried to have Jesus without the supernatual, Sullivan wants to have Jesus without the Church. Just what will precipitate out of such alchemical distilling is food for serious thought.
My concern is not so much for the ‘religious’ mindset as for the 'ideological' and 'authoritarian' mindset, because it is a more basic and dangerous problem. It is one that is shared by both Left and Right, but we can't ignore it just because it doesn't conform to conventional political framing.
Related mindsets are the 'fundamentalist' (although you can be a of fundamentalist secularist mindset as easily as you can be of a fundamentalist religious mindset) and the ‘primitive’ mindset (stereotyping, either-or thinking, self-servingly selective, refusal to accept contradictory facts). They all share basic dynamics and they all degrade the competence and effectiveness of public discourse.
There is a thus revealed a clear authoritarian streak on the current Left as well as on the Right. After all, if most of the citizens 'just don't get it' (however you define that 'it'), then the danger is instantly created that you will want to sidestep deliberative democratic politics because it's not worth the time or effort to debate or deliberate with so many people who 'don't get it'. Down that road - think of MacKinnon and Chantal Mouffe, among others - lies authoritarianism just as surely as down the corporatist and neocon Rightist road that seeks to make everybody cannon-fodder. The touted Knowledge and Service Economy (as dark a cartoon phantasm as any Night On Bald Mountain) will reduce the country to Correct college-educated elites or coffee-pouring, leaf-blowing helots, bereft of status as both Citizens and as Images of God and existing simply as creatures of the State.
Mussolini's assertion "Nothing outside the state, nothing against the state, nothing above the state" can - ironically - support the demands of an ideologically-controlled government of the Left as well as of the Right. Funny how the conceptual night moves.
The issue is not so much 'Separation of Church and State' (a constitutional principle I fully support) as it is the Relationship of Religion and Culture. The Framers and especially Jefferson could erect the Separation Principle because they lived at a moment in Western History where the burning sun of a culture controlled by a single authority had set, but there was still enough daylight in the early dusk.
Thus the Framers lived in the Afterglow of the comprehensive cultural and social shaping of the old Medieval Christendom: they could quietly presume that common structuring and shaping of society that had already been achieved, while formally erecting the Separation between Church and State in the new American order.
The universal equality of all human beings that Jefferson pronounces in the Declaration of Independence is taken over from Judeo-Christian theology as synthesized by Aquinas - that idea is grounded solidly and immovably in the rock-solid belief that all human beings are created in the Image of God; the idea of some Higher Law that judges and boundaries the actions of the government and forbids it from creating laws that interfere with the genuine fulfillment of those human beings is also derived from that theological synthesis; the idea that since people are so marvelously created in the Image of God that they deserve and must be given some voice in their own government is also derived from that theological synthesis.
In fact, the Question might well be asked, as I have asked it before: what would the American Framing Vision have looked like without that heritage from the Medieval Synthesis?
Lastly, and coming around to current political eventsthat Sulllivan mentions: the Tea Party is in some ways a counter-burst of ideology generated by the sustained ideological suppression by Political Correctness from the Left. But both Tea Party and the Left-Correct agendas and justifications are instances of ideological and authoritarian thinking and it is that type of thinking - beneath the conventional framing of 'religious-or-secular', conservative-or-liberal, that is the great and lethal danger.
In fact, I would go so far as to propose that what should be an unwritten principle of the American Vision is: the Separation of Ideology and State ... because an ideologically-driven government, by the very dynamics of its presumptions, is going to have no use for deliberative democratic politics. And that will be true whether it is a government of the Left or of the Right.
Hence, the reality that now confounds the conventionally framed national political narrative: Bush 2 is continued and intensified by Obama who should - in the conventional and Correct framing - be the marquis paragon of all that post-1972 'liberalism' has been trying to do.
And, I would conclude, perhaps he is.
I recall also the Italian Maoist radical students’ slogan of the late 1960s: “Only violence helps where violence reigns”.
This sentiment quickly, I would say, found its way into radical-feminism here: since the ‘patriarchy’ is based on sexual violence, then any violence done (to truth, reality, objectivity, and to the patriarchally dominant, oppressive, hegemonic and marginalizing American Culture and Tradition and Framing Vision and Polity and Common-weal is all to the Good and is also Necessary.
Again, you wonder how any government could swallow this and take it on board in a democratic polity based on deliberative democratic politics.
Labels: Andrew Sullivan, Catholicism, modern American culture, modern American religion, modern American secularism, nature of religious faith