On Polarization

Following up on my notes yesterday regarding the use of out outmoded “liberal” and “conservative” labels within Catholic circles:

Providence College’s Holly Taylor Coolman took to America magazine earlier this week to make an argument rather similar to mine. She argues that viewing disputes within the Church in terms of political polarities renders static and seemingly natural what are otherwise dynamic. Thus:

Concern for the unborn is conservative; concern for the undocumented is liberal. A family rosary is conservative; a ministry among the homeless is liberal. As a constellation of elements becomes fixed at each pole, commitment to the Catholic faith simply becomes commitment to that pole for those who call it home.

It’s worth considering how we got here, and I’ll be thinking this through in coming days. It’s important to understand the appeal of this polarizing framework. I think Coolman’s emphasis on apparent stability – illusory stability but desirable stability, nonetheless – is an important element. As I’ve documented in my work, Catholic identities often become retreats from the disruptions of globalizing modernity. I’m beginning to think these polarizing labels – liberal, conservative, progressive, traditionalist, etc. – serve a similar function for smaller groups whose concerns are far from the frontiers of lived religious experience

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