February 19, 2017
So we saw the origin of the notion that people from a certain place are always of a certain religious bent; it lies in the tendency of the ‘reformers’ to seek protection from Rome under the ‘wings’ of the princes who were seeking to liberate themselves from the Emperor. This expedient led to religious/civil wars in England and gave the Constitutional authors a bad feeling about ‘religious establishment’.
Interestingly, the Pope and Roman Catholics never bought into the idea of regional churches of independent principalities. The reformers were all ‘protestants’ and the independent princes were all ‘rebels’. That may seem harsh and non-pragmatic, but it has allowed the Catholic Church to spread beyond political boundaries so often created in wars and to maintain an identity of its own that is rooted in ‘tradition’, rather than in values that change as culture changes.
Nowhere has the ‘success’ of this ‘stratagem’ been clearer than in the USA. For generations, now, Catholic schools and universities, hospitals and health care systems, social assistance programs and ‘fraternal’ organizations have been the absolute envy of every religious grouping in the country. Moreover, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops speaks with an authority and for a ‘constituency’ that makes even the most cynical politician sit up and take notice. Only a very few people await the pronouncements of the Northeast Quarterly Meeting of Friends; but everyone wants to know what Pope Francis has to say about almost everything.
Since the Catholic Church in this country has never counted on the ‘state’ to protect or finance it, it remains an alternative social structure founded on alternative principles and pursuing an alternative vision of the common good that does not challenge the ‘establishment’, but reminds it that there are other ways, other concerns and other people to consider. Being truly independent of politics and political parties, it serves to keep democracy democratic in a way and to an extent that no other grouping does.
An example: The Church of England in the USA is called the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. Notice the of. The Roman Catholic Church is in the US.
Nativists, know-nothings and the Klan (and, as late as 1959, the assembly of Texas Baptists) feared that a Catholic would be more loyal to Rome than to the constitutional requirements of his elected office. Much the same anxieties are now at play as the Country considers the question of national security in the face of an immense quest for immigration and naturalization on the part of people whose religion is identified with another culture and another part of the world!
A Catholic Bishop in Africa recently overcame a move to have sharia law given legal status in his country by reminding the government that the constitution of their country made it an explicitly secular state. Thus the incorporation of any religious law into the law of the land was unconstitutional. No other clergy person could have done that with the same credibility!
More on religious independence and independent religious life to come.
Really and truly and independently yours,