The National Catholic Review

Last night, I was part of a panel sponsored by the Boisi Center here at Boston College to discuss the Catholic vote in the 2008 election. Our host was Alan Wolfe who is America’s leading non-Catholic expert on Catholicism. My co-panelist was Amy Sullivan (read her latest column in Time magazine here) who has been writing intelligently about the intersection of politics and religion for years. Not sure how I got on the stage but I was delighted to do so.

But, the stars of the night were the students. Undergraduates always ask the best questions, the most honest questions and the most important questions. They wanted to know about the history of Catholic involvement in the New Deal. They wondered how a party that has made militarism the centerpiece of its foreign policy can so blithely invoke the "culture of life" about which Pope John Paul II spoke so powerfully but also so comprehensively, not limiting the phrase to abortion but condemning as well the de-humanizing aspects of contemporary capitalism. They wondered if the Democrats will live up to their promise to reduce the abortion rate.

No one asked any questions that suggested they were buying the slimy gutter politics of character assassination being peddled by the McCain camp. No one confused an Obama victory with the eschaton either: the Senator from Illinois may be a breathe of fresh air and if he wins his election will mark a happy end to an ugly chapter in America’s race relations, but it will not bring an end to injustice. The students wondered how the political generation of their parents had so long worshipped at the pagan altar of the free market.

The only really ridiculous question came from an older woman who wanted us to comment on how Obama "stole" the nomination from Hillary Clinton. I had heard that there were former Hillary supporters who just could not bring themselves to accept her loss, but I had never met one. It was a bit of a thrill, like going to the zoo and seeing the Giant Pandas. Alan and Amy jumped in to answer the question, making sure my Irish temper did not get the better of me.

The most important impression I had was the readiness of this young generation of scholars to take active roles in the direction of both their country and their Church. They want to get involved. They want their Catholicism to be alive and enlivening. They clearly see the Church as a protagonist in the culture, a source of enlightenment and intellectual ballast in a sometimes stormy intellectual climate. They see what a mess the country is in, from the crashing Dow to the on-going fiasco in Iraq, but they have not given up hope that our politics can do better and that startinbg November 5, it will.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 10/10/2008 - 2:08pm
Yes! It was a great presentation. Some in the audience were my students from my mostly first year core Theology course 'Exploring Catholicism' (one even asked a question) - I was proud of them too! However, I am glad they didn't hear your 'put down' of the disappointed Hillary reporter (which was not only sexist, but ageist too). I was never a Hillary fan (an Obama supporter from the get-go), but I do agree that there was a lot of sexist reporting in the media, and judging from comments such as yours, there still is!
Anonymous | 10/16/2008 - 12:23am
Concerning the comment above, I don't believe that Winters comment was sexist or ageist. He merely pointed out the ridiculous idea that some former Hillary supporters still hold. I really fail to see where he made a negative comment about women or the elderly. That kind of flippant use of those terms, really lessen their meaning. Other then that, I'm happy to see that the 18-25 demographic is finally getting involced in national politics. With such a close election this year it is important for all Americans, not just the 50% that normally vote, to take part. The youth vote could push either candidate over the top
Anonymous | 10/10/2008 - 10:39pm
The panel sounds wonderful. I am sorry I missed it. I must ditto the remark about the Hillary supporter. What courage it must have taken her to stand up and speak her unpopular truth in a crowd that looked at her as a Giant Panda...kind of like Christ. Wasn't he a spectacle when he articulated 'ridiculous' questions and truths? God bless Obama, but we are aware that many Republicans voted for him in the primaries (where they could vote) because they knew Hillary would beat McCain. They saw Obama as the weaker candidate. If we are going to mock mockery itself, let us not perpetuate its power.
Anonymous | 10/11/2008 - 1:12pm
The democrats will reduce abortion. Do not bank on this. I am going to throw a ridiculous Panda-like question at you Mr. "Catholic-expert" guy. Why specifically do you think Mr. Obama obstinately opposed legislation that provides for life-sustaining measures for a child "accidentally" born alive during an abortion procedure? Am I wrong, in your ever-so-wise opinion, to have more than a little pause in imagining such a man as President? Mr. Obama promises to to make abortion-on-demand as available as any standard medical procedure. He promises to generously send our money overseas to provide for abortion services where "needed."(via Mexico City Policy repeal) Moreover he ignores the disproportionately high abortion rate among African-Americans, and the genocide right in his own country. And on a not entirley unrelated note --- Just as it is morally wrong to worship at the idol of the "free-market" it can be wrong to worship at the idol of Socialism with its false promises of peace and justice for all. The answer lies in Christ, not Obama, not democrats, not republicans, not socialism and not Michael Sean Winters. Ridiculously Yours, Ken Niec