PUP author E.J. Dionne Jr. is mentioned as a noteworthy intellectual of liberal Catholicism in a New York Times op-ed

In last weekend’s NY Times, Molly Worthen laments the caricatured, politically right-wing version of Catholicism portrayed in the U.S. Presidential campaign, and argues for increased attention to an all-too-often ignored and ill-understood social justice orientation of liberal Catholicism. The tradition of liberal Catholicism, which is incompatible with the Ayn Randian visions of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, remains alive and well, and is discussed and defended with eloquence in a recent Princeton University Press book by EJ Dionne Jr. policy making:

If the Democratic Party is not listening to liberal Catholics, it is partly because they are not in a position to speak very loudly. They are dodging the sights of a Roman hierarchy more preoccupied with smoking out left-leaning nuns than nurturing critical thinking.

“Is liberal Catholicism dead?” Time wondered a few years back. The answer is no: in some regards, liberal Catholic intellectuals are flourishing. They are writing and teaching, running social justice initiatives at the church’s great universities, ensconced in professorships around the Ivy League. Yet a cozy academic subculture can be as isolating as it is empowering.

The handful of nationally known Catholic political thinkers who might be called progressive, or at least compassionate and cosmopolitan — like the journalist-scholars Garry Wills and E. J. Dionne Jr., blogmeister Andrew Sullivan, or the feminist nun and blogger Sister Joan Chittister — are far outnumbered by the ranks of prominent Catholic conservatives in the trenches of activism and policy making.

Read more over at the NY Times op-ed pages.


Souled Out:
Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right
E. J. Dionne Jr.



Check your References — Religion and Politics since 1945

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

Patrick Allitt covers a lot of ground in this article on religion and politics since 1945 including the impact of the Cold War, civil rights, the Vietnam War, the 1967 Six- Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, abortion politics, the growth of the new Christian Right and Left, and Catholic child abuse scandals. Here’s a short intro:

The United States in the second half of the twentieth century was, paradoxically, both very secular and very religious. Like most other industrialized democracies, it conducted its daily business in a pragmatic and down- to- earth way. At the same time, however, most of its citizens believed that an omnipotent God was watching over them. While the church membership rate in Western Europe had dwindled to just 4 or 5 percent, in the United States it was still over 50 percent. American religion and politics, meanwhile, were linked in complex ways, even though the First Amendment to the Constitution specified their separation.

No aspirant to high political office could be indifferent to religious questions, and every school board in the country had to wrestle with the problem of what religious symbols and activities they should allow on their campuses without displeasing the Supreme Court. The evangelist Billy Graham befriended every president between Harry Truman and George W. Bush, and all of them valued his goodwill. As recently as 2007, the governor of Georgia held a meeting on the steps of his state capitol, during a drought, to beseech God for rain.

European sociologists early in the twentieth century predicted a continuous process of secularization for industrial societies, and the experience of most nations vindicated them. Why was the United States such an exception?


Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Religion-and-Politics.pdf


The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit http://press.princeton.edu. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

SOULED OUT Revisited: Rick Santorum and the Future of the Religious Right

A few years back, the award-winning journalist and commentator, E.J. Dionne, Jr published Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, detailing why he thought the era of the Religious Right — and the exploitation of faith for political advantage — was drawing to a close. Recently he reflected on the 2012 election season, how religious conservatism has evolved, the role of Rick Santorum, and to what extent he thinks the religious right’s rise to power has been a generational phenomenon. Read his post after the jump:



Souled Out Revisited: Rick Santorum and the Future of the Religious Right

E.J. Dionne, Jr.


Writing four years ago in Souled Out, I offered this rather bold thought: “The era of the religious right is over. Its collapse is part of a larger decline of a style of ideological conservatism that reached high points in 1980 and 1994 but suffered a series of decisive — and I believe fatal — setbacks during George W. Bush’s second term.”

As if in reply to me, and to many others who wrote along these lines during and after the 2008 election, David Gibson, the thoughtful writer on religious matters, put this headline on his  March 14, 2012 Religious News Service article: “Santorum shows the Religious Right isn’t dead yet.” Gibson went on to write:

      If [Rick] Santorum finds a way to beat [Mitt] Romney — not to mention beat Obama in November — it would be an unprecedented boost for the Religious Right.

     Outcomes, however, are almost as irrelevant as they are unpredictable. Even if Santorum finishes second to Romney, his successes so far have made his point, and ensured that Christian conservatives cannot be ignored — and their leaders have to be heeded.

So which is it: Is the Religious Right dead or alive?

First, I’ll begin by acknowledging that religious conservatism is electorally stronger than I expected it to be four years after Barack Obama’s victory. My operating assumption has been that just as the Great Depression put an end to the dominance of our politics in the 1920s by cultural and religious concerns (e.g., Prohibition and Al Smith’s Catholicism), so would the Great Recession usher in a period in which more secular and practical concerns would dominate the public debate.

In the longer run, I still believe this to be true. As I’ll be arguing in a moment, the fact that religious conservatism remains an important force inside the Republican Party does not mean its strength is growing outside Republican ranks. In fact (and here I am holding on to my prediction), religious conservatism continues to grow weaker everywhere except inside the G.O.P., in significant part because the Millennial generation, whose influence in politics is destined to grow, holds views quite at odds with those of the religious right. A telling example: if religious conservatives were truly still in the ascendency, the gay rights movement would not have made the progress it enjoyed over the last four years.

And the Republican presidential contest itself presents something of a mixed picture. That Mitt Romney maintains a big delegate lead and is the most likely of the four remaining candidates to win the nomination speaks to the limits of the power of the Religious Right. Romney, who would become the first Mormon president in our history were he elected, has been held back from talking about his own faith by a desire not to stir up anti-Mormon feeling. But if Romney does win the nomination, it suggests that the religious conservatives do not enjoy a veto power over the identity of the nominee (something John McCain’s nomination in 2008 had already shown).

That said, Santorum’s strength shows that the religious conservatives were neither wiped out by the 2008 election nor displaced as a Republican force by the Tea Party. It’s significant that Santorum’s ability to win a primary or caucus rested largely on the share of the vote cast in any given contest by white evangelicals. Of the 16 states that have had exit or entrance polls, Santorum has carried five. In those five states, the share of the electorate that described itself as evangelical or “born again” averaged 69 percent. Romney carried nine of those states — and in the Romney states, the evangelical share averaged only 33 percent. (Newt Gingrich carried two states, South Carolina and Georgia both with an evangelical share of 64 percent.) There is a clear religious divide in the G.O.P.

And the failure of the Tea Party to displace the Religious Right owes to the fact that many members of the Tea Party are also religious conservatives. A survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute before the 2010 elections found that 47 percent of those who considered themselves part of the Tea Party movement also identified as part of the Religious Right or the Christian Conservative movement. The attitudes of Tea Party members were even more closely in line with those of religious conservatives; for example, two-thirds of Tea Party members said that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. The Tea Party, in short, never became a full-blown alternative to the religious conservative movement. For many conservatives, it was simply an additional vehicle for political action.

So in one sense, David Gibson’s observation is quite correct: the Religious Right did not suddenly disintegrate and it remains an important force in the Republican Party. But in the long run, I remain persuaded that its power peaked during the Bush years and will recede over time. That’s because the Religious Right is a generational phenomenon – its supporters are older Americans, even as younger Americans strongly resist its approach both to religious matters and to public concerns. And its power in the GOP primaries reflects the fact that Republican voters are substantially older than the nation as a whole, and older also than the general electorate.

Writing in National Journal, Ron Brownstein noted that in “12 of the 16 states where exit polls have been conducted, voters over 50 cast at least 60 percent of the GOP primary votes; in the other four, they represented at least 55 percent of the vote.”  Religious conservatism is more likely to be yesterday’s movement than tomorrow’s.

There are other arguments in Souled Out that bear on our current politics, notably the battle inside the Catholic Church between liberals and an increasingly powerful conservative wing. (Rather than make an already long blog longer, I’d note that I have written about these issues in recent Washington Post columns — click here and here for examples.)  The controversy over the contraception mandate suggests that religious concerns are never far from the surface of American politics. And that’s why I continue to insist on the larger argument I made four years ago: Religion will continue to flow in and around American politics as long as we remain a free society in which a large number of our citizens remain people of faith. Conservatives need to be more open to the idea that faith will lead many Americans in liberal and progressive directions. Liberals need to be more open to the idea that religion will inevitably play a large role in our politics — and that this is not something to be feared.

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, a regular political analyst on National Public Radio, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University. His books include the best-selling Why Americans Hate Politics (Simon & Schuster), which won the Los Angeles Times book prize and was nominated for the National Book Award.