Letting in Protestants and Latinos

I want to alert all our readers to a very interesting conversation (which you may have already read) that took place at Vox Nova concerning evangelical converts to Catholicism.  For most of my life, I have viewed these converts as a great asset to the Church.  Much of that also had to do with my rather conservative friends.  Henry Karlson however presents what has more and more become my opinion on the matter: that many of these converts don’t go quite far enough and bring with them many protestant presuppositions that are dangerous to the Church, particularly in the political arena.  I don’t intend to reproduce his thoughts, you can read them and the extensive discussion here. Let me know what you think.  I’m quite genuinely curious.


Following up my latest comments on immigration, I want to briefly explain what the teaching on the Universal Destination of Goods has to do with immigration reform.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains in paragraph 172 (all bold words are my emphasis):

The right to the common use of goods is the “first principle of the whole ethical and social order” (Laborem Exercens) and “the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis).  For this reason the Church feels bound in duty to specify the nature and characteristics of this principle.  It is first of all a natural right, inscribed in human nature and not merely a positive right connected with changing historical circumstances; moreover it is an “inherent” right.  It is innate in individual persons, in every person, and has priority with regard to any human intervention concerning goods, to any legal system concerning the same, to any economic or social system or method: “All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinated to this norm; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application.  It must be considered a serious and urgent social obligation to refer these rights to their original purpose” (Populorum Progressio).

17 Responses to Letting in Protestants and Latinos

  1. Mason Slidell says:

    There is no greater foundational myth among Americans than the intrinsic justice of capitalism. No religious, political or cultural mythology is more powerful than the “American Dream,” which put simply is the position that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will prosper in life, family and society.

    I don’t think there is much dispute that the rise of capitalism as the dominant economic ideology of the West wouldn’t have been possible without the rise of Protestantism. The Protestant project relies on one particular theological necessity: the believer must have an unmediated relationship with God. Historically, that theological necessity resulted in the erosion of Protestant interest in collective social order. The early reformers (Luther, Calvin) sought to shift social concerns away from Pan-European discourse to solely national and parochial discourses. But the radical reformers who followed demanded even greater autonomy and individuality and were completely willing to sacrifice discussion of social concerns at any level.

    This is the environment where the capitalist ideology thrives: the human being is an individual automaton without concern for or expectation of fellow human beings. Our shared familial and tribal history is rooted up and thrown away. We now exist in a “state of nature” in which personal relationship is unnatural. We have intellectually lost cooperation and respect and now only know of power and suspicion. The polis or any sort of organic government becomes is unnatural. We are left with the social contract and uneasy suspicions about our neighbor.

    Capitalism is based on several ridiculous assumptions about human nature, but the one that sticks in my craw the most is that the individual “owns” his labor and is invited into the market to sell his commodity. Human labor is not property or capital. Human labor is integral to personhood. The person does not own his labor as he owns a car. Human labor is an aspect of the person that illustrates his self-gift and reveals the need for human cooperation. This is yet another example of the alienation and subjection of labor from person in capitalism. Yet again, the capitalist seeks to own what he has no moral right to own and reveals himself as a slave-master.

    Of the two major divisions in Christianity, the Catholic who has imbibed the social teaching of the church is at least willing to give this argument is public hearing in any discourse. The evangelical Protestant will likely dismiss it as a Marxist rant and refuse to even engage the argument. In dealing with the issue of Catholic converts and social concerns, this strikes me as the central problem. The intellectual spokesmen for American Catholic converts are largely evangelical Protestants who, from the best of my ability to tell, come into the church for sacramental, ecclesial or Marion reasons. It does not seem to me that issues of social concern play some or any part in the majority of these conversions. Therefore, as they are educated in Catholicism by their former religious comrades who went before them, the assumption is made that there are no differences between Catholicism and Protestantism on social concerns and so Catholic social teaching is left off the table. When they are asked to address issues of social concern, the delicate balance struck by Catholic social teaching to avoid both capitalism/liberalism and communism/forced collectivism is dismissed and a thumb is put on the scale in favor capitalist explanations and justifications.

    It is curious that, on the one hand, the intellectual grouping of American Catholic converts has brought much energy to evangelization and faith formation in the church and, on the another hand, have played the biggest role in dismantling Catholic social teaching in the American political consciousness.

  2. therese says:

    Our study group has been reading “Caritas in Veritate” since last January. IF the ‘social gospel’ Catholics & the ‘prolife’ Catholics could BOTH BEGIN by saying what B16 says in that encyclical (i.e., Humanae Vitae & the social gospel cannot be unlinked) THEN there could be a fruitful, coordinated, truly Catholic response to so many of the problems…including the one cited in this post.

    As it is, prolifers are skeptical any time a social gospel Catholic (this includes most Jesuits) starts talking to them about the principles outlined in Caritas in Veritate. AND social-gospel Catholics generally refuse to listen to prolifers. This is usually done by the “Abortion is one-issue-among-many” approach.

    Neither of these approaches are correct, according to B16, and until this impasse can be breached, we’re not functioning as the Body of Christ should. Never mind what the evangelicals/hispanics etc bring to the mix. They’re just plugging into the gap that was already there in the Catholic Church USA…just like Obama did.

  3. Donato Infante III says:

    Nate, I have also become more concerned that evangelicals are not going far enough. While I know, based on your posts, you and I disagree over some political matters, I think both of us are within the range of acceptable Catholic positions (we both have bishops we agree with), I do notice these Protestant converts sometimes are not in that range. They then attack people within that range. But I want to avoid politics for a moment, as I think there are other signs. I’ve heard Catholics say that particular passages of Scripture have “only one interpretation.” That’s Protestant if I’ve ever heard it. I think others don’t ever understand the Catholic view on faith and reason, while still more are openly hostile to political philosophy and find their political philosophy through Scripture.

    I have come more and more to think some people, emphasis on some, have do not understand what academic freedom means and want to limit it beyond what even Church expects.

    One thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on though, Nate, and anyone else, is over at Vox Nova in the comment thread Arturo Vasquez says that American Church is clericalist. Now, I see this in some ways, but I am somewhat skeptical that it is as true as he claims. As a Latino, he comes from a Church that is short on priests has a different experience of Church because of that. Could that be a factor, or is the American Church really clericalist?

  4. Dante,

    I’m sure Arturo’s experiences are different (not just because of where he is from, but his own ecclesial history as well). Nonetheless, I think I would say Americans, especially of a particular kind, are ultra-montanist. They will only listen to the Pope (for certain things), otherwise they think they can and should tell off the bishops when the bishops are not following their own ideas of what “orthodoxy” is about. A key example of this can be found on the USCCB facebook page, where you have a constant stream of converts talking about how heretical the USCCB is and use sources like RealCatholicTV to do so. Their party affiliations are always GOP. Of course, I know at other times, things can go in reverse and many Democrats will do the same thing. Politics very much influences how people see orthodoxy because politics has become religion in America.

    As for Scripture, we had a large debate with some people who were very ridid, very Protestant-like in their exegetics on VN a couple months ago. It was shocking — the same kind of Protestant hermeneutic sensibility for reading the Bible could be seen (not just the idea of only one interpretation, but how the Bible is simple to read and so the interpretation is simple to figure out). Even when I quoted all kinds of historical precedent to point out Scripture is not to always be taken so simply, I was just dismissed as a heretic. I have no problems with people having different hermeneutics and interpretations, but I have problems when they don’t even see the processes going on.

    The “apologetics” folks tend to me former Protestants, and I think it often shows. They are always on the defense they are unwilling to think beyond the walls they create.

  5. Sorry, that should be Donato…

  6. Donato Infante III says:

    You raise a good point about ultra-montanism pitting bishops against the Pope. I see it all the time. I just spoke with a bishop about it a week or so ago. It seems to me that the phrase “ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia” is generally forgotten.

  7. Jay Hooks says:

    There’s a perception in many countries that American Catholics are more idealistic and/or rigoristic than Catholics in other cultures. With the usual disclaimers that mention the dangers of blanket statements, I think the perception is often correct.

    The idea of recent converts from Protestant groups as a source of this rigorism is interesting. I wonder if the longstanding history of the Church in the States as one tradition among many doesn’t also have an influence. One among many… and an oft-shunned minority at that, not in small part due to its link with migrant cultures – if you were Catholic, you were also German, or Sicilian, or Polish, or French, or Irish, and you lived in those neighborhoods and spoke those languages at home, etc. There was likely a desire to be loyal to the Faith in that it dovetailed with preserving your cultural roots.

    In a general sense, too, there’s a strong social pressure in America to conform to law that simply doesn’t exist in the same measure in many other cultures. I think this stems partly from Protestant influence in general, but maybe more (as Charles Taylor suggests) from the post-Enlightenment project of building a civil society in which all citizens have equal access to governance, and in which law and (as Mason Slidell mentioned) social contract keep the world glued together. I wonder if American Catholics don’t import that into their reading of Church norms and Scripture.

    This reminds me of the old moral conundrum about coming to a red traffic light at 2am and if no one else is around, do you run it or not, etc, etc. Present this scenario to a Roman and they’ll probably get mad at you for wasting their time. Of course you run the light. Heck, why is the light even there? After all, the section of Rome with the highest level of both vehicular and pedestrian traffic (the Piazza Venezia) has ONE traffic light on a side street, which is only there so that buses can get out of the nearby depot. The American sees this, befuddled, and asks, “What are the rules? How do I cross the street safely?” Both questions have the same answer: Don’t get hit.

  8. Qualis Rex says:

    Wow, Nathan. This is actually one of the most intelligent things you have written. Although I find it quite telling (and not at all surprising) that you are concerned with the “dangerous” political presuppositions coming from the Protstant converts, rather than their even more dangerous still ecclesiological and liturgical presuppositions. In fact, I think the irony here is their preference and tendencies towards the protestantized/evangelical liturgy is probably precisely/exactly in tune with your own. It’s just that nasty political conservatism you just can’t stomach.

    O tempora! O mores! Misere Nobis!

  9. Qualis, I believe that I wrote that I am GENUINELY curious. I don’t have a strong opinion on this yet, and my upbringing (as I noted) tends to go in favor of evangelical converts.

    I don’t think you know my views on liturgy.

    Most of my friends call me a conservative.

    Let’s avoid the presuppositions.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Wait, isn’t the whole premise of this post based on presuppositions? Or did I read the opening paragraph wrong? Oh, nope. Says it right there. Odd.

  10. Henry says:


    I believe that you and Henry Karlson are both right. Protestant converts (and actually converts in general, if well catechized) are a great asset to the Church. However, when Protestant converts are not well catechized, it is a disaster because their Protestant presuppositions are never unmasked and addressed. (Perhaps this is what Henry Karlson means when he calls them “half-converts.”) So, I believe the problem lies in faulty catechesis – after all, correct belief leads to correct action.

    Regarding Mr. Hewitt’s implication that the Catholic Church was saved by “Evangelicals,” that’s an exaggeration. I agree that converts and reverts helped revive interest in “apologetics” (something we desperately need after the steady diet of heterodox teaching we’ve been subjected to the last 40 years) and this is good. However, I find that many of the Adults I teach unconsciously believe in “Sola Scriptura” and that’s why I always insist that they read the CCC along with the Scriptures.

    Chris C at VN mentions the RCIA program in his comments, well, many of the converts I speak with who went through RCIA were rarely taught doctrine or dogma, which is the problem. Thanks be to Christ that this seems to be changing now! I firmly believe we would help correct this deficiency if we increased the RCIA program to two or three years instead of a few months, which is the current practice. I studied for three years with a Franciscan priest and it wasn’t a burden at all. After all, I wanted to give my life to the One True Faith, not to a faith that believed that one creed was as good as another. So, a longer RCIA program would give converts the room to understand and assent to the authentic teachings Christ as mediated through His original Church.

    Pax Christi,


  11. Henry,

    I’ve found that you are right about RCIA. Often it is just a weekly reflection on the Sunday readings, rather than teaching and discussion of Church doctrine. I have usually found it terribly inadequate. More time spent on doctrine would bring some of these Calvinist presuppositions to light.

    Also, in this country where politics truly has become religion, some time spent on Catholic Social Teaching would be a great asset.

    • Henry says:

      I absolutely agree! I’ve been studying the COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH these last few months and it is incredible!

      Pax Christi,


  12. The Compendium of Social Doctrine needs to be emphasized like the Catechism was. One of the problems I see is the Catechism is what people know, they think it says everything which must be accepted, and don’t know its limitations or its proper use. They refer to it as many Protestants do a Bible, and think everything else is secondary and questionable. This again shows the Protestant sensibility in question.

    • Donato Infante III says:

      Not to mention that even with the Catechism, while it has no outright errors, it has some things which are so unclear as to be unhelpful and could easily lead one astray.

    • Henry says:


      I am confused. On the one hand, I have the impression that you are engaging in semantic devaluation of those who believe in orthodoxy, but I do not think that’s your intention. On the other hand, I agree that it is important to remember the genre and purpose of the CCC.

      However, what I am especially interested in knowing is: What do you mean when you use the phrase “Protestant sensibility”? I’m not interested in engaging in a debate, I’m just sincerely interested in understanding the reality that you are trying to convey.

      BTW, your book looks interesting, let me know when it’s on Amazon.

      Pax Christi,


      • Henry says:

        What I wrote sounds too pompous so let me try again.

        “On the one hand, one can get the impression that you are disparaging those who believe in orthodoxy, but I do not believe that’s your intention. On the other hand, I agree that it is important to remember the genre and purpose of the CCC (although on a practical level I have found the compendium of the CCC to be more useful primarily because of the Q & A format and its succinctness.)

        Pax Christi,


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