Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a great British writer, thinker, philosopher, and literary critic. He is also known as a great Catholic theologian. Chesterton was often asked about his allegiance. Was he a conservative, or was he a liberal? The answer he gave is classic Chesterton. He answered the question without directly answering the question.
“The problem with conservatives,” Chesterton said, “is that they want to keep making the same old mistakes. The problem with liberals, is they want to make all new mistakes.”
That just about sums up the position every Catholic should hold. I am often asked if I am, or American Catholic Solidarity is, conservative or liberal. There are those, of course, who know of our organization’s, and my personal, adherence to Catholic Teaching; and they simply assume we are conservative.
To all of you liberals out there, let me assure you that American Catholic Solidarity is not conservative. Let me assure you conservatives out there that American Catholic Solidarity is not liberal. Simply put, we are Catholic. We may appear to have a conservative lean, as Catholicism does, but we are neither conservative, nor liberal. We are Catholic.
The problem is that neither conservatives, nor liberals, have all the answers. Both have their areas where they are right, but both conservative and liberal ideologies are flawed. They must be flawed, precisely because they are ideologies. They are man-made, if you will. Neither conservatism, nor liberalism, was given authority from Jesus Christ. Neither one was guaranteed to be free from error. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, was granted both.
Catholicism is not flawed for the same reason conservatism and liberalism are flawed. As I said above, both are flawed because they are ideologies. Catholicism is flawless because it is not an ideology.
Ideologies take one or a few ideas, and they absolutize them. (Hence, the tendency for Protestants to identify themselves as one or the other. Protestantism is ideological.) There are many different forms of conservatism and liberalism. There are many different ideas absolutized by each. I will give only a small example of the ideas absolutized by both conservatives and liberals in the United States.
Liberals in the United States tend to absolutize big government and social issues. Even liberals who call themselves Christian tend to focus on social issues, as opposed to moral issues. They tend to believe we need more government interference (which they don’t recognize as interference). They want everything to be sort of neutral. Religion and politics should be completely separate. All references to a deity should be kept out of the public sector. Morals and truth are seen as relative, so they play no part in government or law.
Conservatives also come in many different stripes. You have people like Bill O’Reilly and others who are more neoconservatives. They are mostly conservative, but they pander a bit to liberals on issues where public opinion goes in the opposite direction of conservatism.
Most conservatives believe our country was founded on Christian principles, and these ought to be returned to our society. They are generally against big government, and believe that any element of socialism or any other form of government is bad.
Conservatives are torn on the issues of immigration reform, same-sex marriage, and whether or not we should be trying to force democracy on other countries. Conservatives tend to be at least somewhat against these three. Neoconservatives tend to be for them.
Catholicism, on the other hand, focuses on one thing…truth. We Catholics are concerned about spreading the truth and saving souls. That might seem a bit ideological, but it is just the opposite!
God created all things. He is the Truth. He gave authority to the Catholic Church. It is She Who is entrusted with preaching, disseminating, and defending the truth. Since all truth comes from God, and God Himself in the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ, established the Church, it is the Catholic Church alone that can not err. It She Who has the responsibility to stand for the truth when no one else will.
Hence, we can see that Catholicism is not an ideology. Conservatism and liberalism both take certain ideas as essential, and they revolve everything else around these “central issues”. These issues tend to be social in nature, although they may also be spiritual.
What Catholicism does is it simply determines what God’s will is. Guided by God the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church turns to both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that have both been handed down through the centuries from the Apostles, untouched by error. The Church looks to these to determine what is true, and what is false. What is essential and, therefore, unchangeable; and what may be altered. Because both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition come from God and contain His Revelation to us, both are protected from error by the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church is the tool God uses to protect and disseminate His Truth.
So, whenever I am asked if I, or American Catholic Solidarity, are conservative or liberal, I always say, “We are Catholic.”
It is my prayer that all Catholics everywhere may say the same. We are not liberal. We are not conservative. We are Catholic!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity