Beyond Conservative and Liberal- Simplicity to transform the World

New Book and the author Cardinal George is around NYC this week for talks. He deals with some of the same issues that traditional Jews deal with. How can we get beyond the culture wars of conservative and liberal? How both sides speak of power and decisions from the top, not of character or changing the world. How everything went legalistic in the last few years.  How can we go back to an idea of a simple broad spectrum believer without drowning in nostalgia?

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, new book The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion and Culture (Crossroad) In essence, George argues that liberals too often function as “chaplains of the status quo,” taking their cues from the prevailing secular mindset, while conservatives often end up in a sectarian dead-end, clinging to a narrow and triumphalistic version of Catholic identity sealed off from the surrounding culture. Chicago’s George says both liberals and conservatives focus too much on bishops.

In fact, George argues that while liberals and conservatives may think of themselves as having little in common, in truth they’re two peas in the same intellectual pod. Both liberals and conservatives, George says, focus far too much on the bishops – how much power they have…George argues for what he calls “simply Catholicism,” meaning a clear  sense of Catholic identity that’s nevertheless open to the world.

On that subject, you write that for modern American culture, everything is tolerated but nothing is forgiven, while for Christianity it’s exactly the reverse – many things aren’t tolerated, but everything can be forgiven. Would you see the explosion of legalism as the index of a culture that doesn’t know how to forgive?

That makes us very legalistic, as I say in the book. Today, you need a lawyer to accompany you at every step of your life, practically. Nothing is done without a lawyer, so we have lawyers in courts, lawyers in the legislature, lawyers in private practice, in corporations, and so on. If you’re not a lawyer, you’re hardly part of public life anymore. That’s right. Punishment has to be legal, and it has to be permanent.

Yet you’re not nostalgic for the pre-conciliar church? Well, no! Not at all.  Life goes on.

I think I’m going to write something about that at some point, about restoring a Catholic way of life that would be marked by certain practices that would instill attitudes. They would not keep us above the fray, because we’re still in it, but it would be a center within [the fray] that would permit people to keep their balance and be neither liberal nor conservative. [The 1950’s]  was very sure of its own identity, it formed us in that, and then it prepared us to go out and transform the world. We forgot that it was supposed to be church/world, that those were the terms that were supposed to be used, not liberal and conservative inside the church.

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