As a non-Catholic, I have a (very long) question about the depiction of American Catholicism in Richard Hofstadter's book
I’ve been reading Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
(which I ended up purchasing because of a post in this thread
: thanks to spock for mentioning the book). I’m about 150 pages in, and Hofstadter seems to be making a fairly complex argument that links the rise of a certain "anti-intellectualist" attitude in American culture of the 1950s and 1960s to tendencies of thought in Protestant fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Hofstadter is very careful to distinguish between evangelicalism and other strains of Christianity that place a greater value on theology and Biblical scholarship; he is also very careful to distinguish between fundamentalism
. His opinions are generally objective, though he leans toward liberalism.
At the end of the section of the book that is most concerned with religion, there is “A Note on American Catholicism.” It’s a pretty damning indictment, especially considering what I perceive to be the fairly even-handed tone of the rest of the book. Some quotes follow, but you should not consider these quotes to be sufficiently representative of the entire text. The best answers to this question are likely to come from those who look at the primary text, on pages 136-141 of the book. These pages can be viewed online
with Amazon’s Search Inside the Book feature
. The phrase “Catholicism was, moreover, the religion of the immigrant” will bring up pages 136-140, and the phrase “to me one Bishop, Archbishop, or Cardinal” will bring up pages 137-141.
Here are two sample quotes.
“In these pages I have been mainly concerned with the relationship between Protestant evangelicalism and American anti-intellectualism simply because America has been a Protestant country, molded by Protestant institutions. It would be a mistake, however, to fail to note the distinctive ethos of American Catholicism, which has contributed in a forceful and decisive way to our anti-intellectualism. [...] One might have expected Catholicism to add a distinctive leaven to the intellectual dialogue in America, bringing as it did a different sense of the past and of the world, a different awareness of the human condition and of the imperatives of institutions. In fact, it has done nothing of the kind, for it has failed to develop an intellectual tradition in America or to produce its own class of intellectuals capable either of exercising authority among Catholics or of mediating between the Catholic mind and the secular or Protestant mind."
“Indeed, one of the most striking developments of our time has been the emergence of a kind of union, or at least a capacity for cooperation, between Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists, who share a common puritanism and a common mindless militancy on what they imagine to be political issues, which unite them in opposition to what they repetitively call Godless Communism. [...] After more than a century of persecution, it must feel luxurious for Catholics to find their Americanism at last unquestioned, and to be able to join with their former persecutors in common pursuit of a new international, conspiratorial, un-American enemy with a basically foreign allegiance--this time not in Rome but in Moscow. The pursuit is itself so gratifying that it does not much matter that the menacing domestic Communist has become a phantom. These Catholics will not thank anyone, not even thinkers of their own faith, for interrupting them with such irrelevances at a time when they feel as though they have Cromwell’s men themselves on the run.”
I’m not a Catholic (though I know enough about Catholicism to be able to read James Joyce or Flannery O'Connor). So I have the following questions. All of these responses will necessarily be subjective, and you may not be able to answer all of them. Personal anecdotes are welcome. General condemnations of Catholic doctrine are unlikely to answer my question.
1. In your opinion, is the intellectual tradition in the American Catholic Church as it is represented here--that is, is it represented by an insufficiently vocal minority?
2. In your opinion, has there been a change in the character of the intellectual tradition of the American Catholic Church between 1963 (the publication date of Hofstadter’s book) and the present day?
3. Are there passages in Hofstadter’s description of American Catholicism that strike you as surprisingly accurate, or surprisingly inaccurate? If so, why?