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Is President Bush Catholic?

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The fact that Michael Novak has served as adviser to the George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Steve Forbes campaigns demonstrates his transition from a Dorothy Day-style Catholic liberalism to a Richard John Neuhaus-style Catholic conservatism. Novak attributes his shift to a growing integration between his Catholicism and his political ideology.

In a current essay for National Review, Novak argues that the Bush Administration reflects a distinctively Catholic vision of political philosophy. Novak’s argument is interesting–though less than fully persuasive.  But he does make the point forcefully that the Bush Administration seems to actually have a coherent political philosophy–one rooted in a commitment to the Permanent Things. Novak thereby applies Bush’s
underlying philosophy as the root of the conflict of visions between the Administration and the diplomatic powers of post-Christian Europe.  It too is rooted in a particular theology–a paradoxical secular devotion both to the “Nanny state” in economic matters and to the autonomous individual in social matters.

The underlying political philosophy of the Administration is also consonant in many ways with a Kuyperian vision of “sphere sovereignty” in which the peculiar callings of the family, the local community, the congregation, and the state are respected and limited to their respective spheres of responsibility. While evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics will not agree with everything the Bush Administration does, we can be grateful for an Administration in which ideas do matter.  With a framework of guiding principles, the Administration is able to do more than simply react to events in an ad hoc fashion. Instead, it can actually cast a positive vision for the kind of American future it hopes to build. Of course, this vision will be contested vigorously in the months leading to next year’s presidential election.  But such an ongoing debate is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can be a hopeful moment in American history.  If the Democratic Party nominates a clear ideological opposite (as it appears that they will), the campaign could offer the American populace the potential of a clear contest of ideas, rather than simply a blur of packaged images from a consultant’s focus-group sessions.

We live in a fearful and cowardly time. The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage.

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About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project.

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