06 July 2010

Brooks on Politics; Me on the Church

In today's Times, David Brooks tackles the economy and the country. 

The crux of the matter:
These Demand Siders have very high I.Q.’s, but they seem to be strangers to doubt and modesty. They have total faith in their models. But all schools of economic thought have taken their lumps over the past few years. Are you really willing to risk national insolvency on the basis of a model?
And the rub:

The Demand Siders are brilliant, but they write as if changing fiscal policy were as easy as adjusting the knob on your stove. In fact, it’s very hard to get money out the door and impossible to do it quickly. It’s hard to find worthwhile programs to pour money into. Once programs exist, it’s nearly impossible to kill them. Spending now creates debt forever and ever.

Moreover, public spending seems to have odd knock-off effects. Professors Lauren Cohen, Joshua Coval and Christopher Malloy of Harvard surveyed 42 years of government spending increases in certain Congressional districts. They found that federal spending increases dampened corporate hiring and investment in those districts. You wish somebody could explain that one to you before you pass on more debt burdens to your grandchildren.
First of all, I think I side with Brooks on his overall opinion on the matter of jump starting the economy.  You can read the entire article here and decide for yourself whether or not you think he's heading in the right direction. 

Yet, there's a different reason I'm bringing all this up.  From where I sit, it appears as if the American Catholic Church is as equally afflicted with a haughty cadre of "Demand Siders" (of all theological bents) as is the country.  In other words, there is a troubling and prevailing aversion towards nuanced theological position held by many who believe the answers to the American Church's financial troubles, attendance declines, priest shortages, apparently out of touch bishops, lazy religious education directors, poor bake sale goods and flat cantors are monopolized by their own intellects and partisans.

The truth is that radical readjustment of doctrines, dogmas, policies, personnel and liturgical texts is not the solution.  In fact, the first part of the solution is to realize that there are no easy ones.  Ordaining married men, putting female religious back into their habits, rearranging Catholic Social Teaching or changing the language of the liturgy to Latin are not panaceas.  Certainly, critics from both the right and left might propose some of these measures as a plank in a platform to revitalize Catholicism in America.  And their solutions may have merit.  Or they may not. 

My point is this, a simple model of reform, a liberal or conservative program to move the church forward, move it backwards, move it towards an open posture or a closed posture, or to move it towards a different reading of Vatican II texts would not dramatically change the future of the church.  It might move our large Catholic tent above another demographic at the expense of another, but the long-term effects would be negligible at best.

There is the old joke about someone being "often wrong, but never in doubt."  Sadly, it seems as if such a cliche can often be an all too-present reality in the Catholic Church in America, as well as in the Christian confession at large.


Brittany Elise said...

All of these things have an explanation except for one : a poor baked good sale. There's just no excuse for that.

Chris said...

The beautiful thing about the church is that it isn't "top down", and isn't under the control/direction of "the Demand Siders" of the time (even though they like to think they're in control). If each of us makes a sincere attempt to follow Christ in living our daily life, we are going to be ok (at least in the great sweep of eternity)--and it will be surprising who will be an "elite" at the throne of God. I also suspect the brownies will be excellent, and the heavenly choir in tune.