Recently Campion Hall was pleased to host the editor of America Magazine Matt Malone, SJ, for a lecture on the ongoing American presidential race. America is one of the United States' most widely circulated Catholic periodicals and thus Fr Malone occupies a special perch at the intersection of faith and public life in one of the world's most vibrant democracies.
However, Fr Malone didn't spend his time discussing the contentious horse-race that this year's presidential election has become. Rather, he took the chance to ask more fundamental questions about the nature of the Catholic citizen's engagement in American politics. Expressing his concern that national politics in the States are in "profound crisis," Fr Malone traced the rise of an increasingly partisan and ideological discourse, which he says prevents true deliberation among voters. Fr Malone picked out three factors in particular: 1) The growth of secularism to such an extent that politics becomes a sort of stand-in national liturgy--an obsessive and all-encompassing discussion in which the stakes couldn't be higher. As long as politics occupies this "sacred" space in the national imagination, it is bound to whip up the most acrimonious passions. 2) The rise in popularity of social media platforms, which serve mainly to reinforce existing opinion and amplify prior biases. And 3) the related success of 24-hour cable news media, which only bother pitching their content to small and ideologically homogenous customers. These three factors (and doubtless others) combine to create a climate of political discussion in which volume and severity are rewarded, while nuance and charity are punished.
Fr Malone then observed that Catholics in the States tend to bring this same attitude into the Church, through the discussions they have with and about each other. American Catholics reach too quickly for political labels, and are too eager to divide up the Church into a "right wing" and a "left wing," with all the dichotomous antagonisms such a schema implies. Catholics must realize that their community within the Church is different than their community with their fellow citizens.
The community of the Church is built upon a shared faith in Jesus Christ. As Christ is a person, and faith in him means relationship with him, the Church is capable of existing beyond the partisan differences that divide the political community. Relationship with Christ is not primarily propositional--it does not depend on affirming a certain list of principles or policy positions, as membership in a political party does. Rather, it is relational, and grounded at all times in reciprocal charity and love. As Christ is the very form of love, and also truth, Christians who claim faith in him cannot speak the truth unless they do so in a spirit of love. Such a perspective allows for a level of goodwill deeper than that which is currently on offer via the prevailing political debates.
The assembled crowd found Fr Malone's talk interesting and challenging, and engaged with him on various points of detail during the question-and-answer portion of the talk. Many were keen to hear an American perspective, especially after the contentious and divisive campaign over Brexit in this country.
America Magazine, which has been publishing continuously since 1909, prides itself on being the United States' "leading provider of editorial content for thinking Catholics and those who want to know what Catholics are thinking." You can browse their latest content at their website here.