At the UK’s best Catholic weekly, there are not one but two … two critiques of Jesuit Fr. Antonio “2+2=5” Spadaro’s attack on Americans in Inciviltà cattolica.
They are useful because they are not in an American source.
Sadly, that seems to be the recipe for most of the piece: present a parade of horribles in a way that suggests to the reader that they’re related even if they’re not, drop in a gratuitous jab at George W. Bush for zest, sprinkle Donald Trump’s name generously, add one dash of Steve Bannon, and then contrast the whole thing to Pope Francis and voilà!
The Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica has just published an essay on US religious politics that beggars belief. I cannot comment on the theology, but I know my American history – and this article is full of so many errors that it’s impossible to keep silent about it. It matters because one of the authors, Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, the magazine’s editor, is said to be a confidant of the Pope. [Spadaro is also so interested in the life and works of Pier Vittorio Tondelli that he created his own website about him (HERE).]
My biggest gripe with the article is its lack of clarity. It makes sweeping generalisations that are untrue. Not all evangelicals are fundamentalists, for instance, and not all evangelical fundamentalists are Right-wing activists.
The essay makes a number of statements about American Protestantism that are inaccurate.
The essay betrays a European’s take on America, forcing the template by which we might read European history on to the United States. It doesn’t fit. For instance, far from being a 99 per cent white movement, as the essay suggests, some of the most outspoken religious conservatives in America are black. Fundamentalists in the Twenties often denounced Darwinism because they linked it to eugenics. Until the Seventies, fundamentalists withdrew entirely from politics on the grounds that saving souls was all that mattered; many opposed prayer in schools. And yet, in a fine example of reductio ad absurdum, this essay goes so far as to equate George W Bush with Osama bin Laden, because both were influenced by philosophies that divide the world between good and evil:
“At heart, the narrative of terror shapes the world-views of jihadists and the new crusaders and is imbibed from wells that are not too far apart. We must not forget that the theopolitics spread by Isis is based on the same cult of an apocalypse that needs to be brought about as soon as possible. So, it is not just accidental that George W Bush was seen as a ‘great crusader’ by Osama bin Laden.”
This is offensive. I suspect I know what’s behind it. If the essayists are allowed to engage in corny psychoanalysis, then permit me to do the same. Many Europeans and Latin Americans, ashamed of their countries’ dalliance with fascism, often try to implicate America in the same historical forces. But it’s more a more complex job than they think. There is such a thing as American fascism: slavery and segregation are its most obvious outward signs, and Catholics engaged in both alongside Protestants. But in the Thirties, democracy held out in the US in the way that it didn’t in Europe. And part of the reason for that was a history of resistance to state power and corporatism that is part of the DNA of America’s vibrant, violent, sometimes quite insane religious culture. American history is complicated. It defies lazy caricatures.