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  #1  
Old Mar 20, '09, 1:33 pm
Gerard Webster Gerard Webster is offline
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Default Should Politics Play a Role in Catholic Fiction?

Politics and religion are two taboo subjects that ought never be mixed--at least per conventional politically correct wisdom. So the proposition of whether politics should play a role in Catholic fiction seems to beg the question. Those who object would probably cite the Separation of Church and State clause. However, that clause appears nowhere in the Constitution; rather, it was lifted from a personal letter written by Thomas Jefferson. The First Amendment actually reads: "Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

So, prior to answering the original proposition, two other issues should be addressed. The first is whether politics, and the resulting laws, have a moral dimension to them. The answer is a resounding "yes!" This does not imply that all laws are moral. In fact, some are downright immoral. Prior to the Civil War, the law in the Southern States allowed slavery. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1857), upheld those laws. In addition, Chief Judge Taney effectively stated in his majority opinion that: 1.) slaves had no claim to freedom, 2.) they were property and not citizens, and 3.) they could not bring suit in federal court. Thankfully, this unjust and immoral ruling was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments--which abolished slavery and extended the rights of full citizenship to all, regardless of race.

Similar morally troubling issues arise in many of our laws and Supreme Court rulings today--to name just a couple: Roe vs. Wade, which made abortion legal throughout all stages of pregnancy, and Kelo vs. City of New London, which ruled that local governments have the right to seize private property for use by developers to increase the tax base. So questions of morality--of right and wrong--are intricately woven into the fabric of law and politics.

The second issue, then, is whether Catholic fiction should dabble in political issues. Again, I say, "Yes!" First of all, since laws have a moral dimension, all persons of conscience should have a voice. Neither Catholics--nor persons of any other faith--should be excluded simply because their convictions have roots in faith. To separate morality from the law is almost a sure guarantee of having immoral laws. The "Separation of Church and State" does not mean that people of faith should not have a voice in governing the nation. Nor should an individual toss out his moral convictions when considering political issues.

I am amazed that some politicians can glibly state that they are "personally opposed to abortion" and at the same time vote in favor of it. If they're really for abortion, wouldn't it be more honest to just state that up front? If, on the other hand, they're "personally opposed" to it, where--I ask--does that opposition come from? If it derives from their belief that the child in the womb is a human being, and they vote for abortion anyway, they are--in effect--openly and publicly going against their own moral convictions. At least those who openly favor abortion--without any qualifying comments--are honest about it. They, by contrast, make the ambivalent ones look like moral wimps. Even Christ had more respect for the honest sinner than He did for the hypocritical Pharisee.

Conscience may be formed by faith--but it can also be influenced by culture. And fiction is just one way to influence culture. In fact, it can't help but do so. You only have to look at the violence on TV and in the movies, and then see it mirrored on our streets to know this. In this sense, life seems to be imitating art. So, if the arts can influence culture negatively, why can't they do so positively as well? The problems facting our nation are certainly ripe with moral dilemmas in dealing with everything from abortion, to health care, property rights, the war on terror, bailouts, and the definition of marriage. Catholic fiction has not only the right--it has the obligation to face these issues head-on.

By "head-on" I don't mean that it necessarily be "preachy." In fact, overtly labeling a novel "Catholic" may have the effect of limiting its reach to "the choir." That's why I listed my novel, IN-SIGHT, as general fiction. John Grisham is an example of an author who is Christian, but who reaches "the masses" by not being preachy. In THE FIRM, for example, Mitch McDeere is confronted with moral dilemmas galore. And the decisions he makes in trying to resolve them has consequences--not always good ones. But, at core, Mitch is a good man; and his struggle to "do the right thing" is a consistent thread throughout the book.

Michael O'Brien, on the other hand, is more openly Catholic in his novels. In THE PLAGUE JOURNAL, for example, he does not at all shy away from confronting the increasingly liberal trends of the Canadian government and where it might all lead.

But whether overtly Catholic or not, there are sufficient moral conundrums in our society to give the Catholic novelist more than enough material and conflict for an intriguing story-line and an edifying conclusion.
  #2  
Old Apr 24, '09, 3:01 pm
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Prof K Prof K is offline
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Default Re: Should Politics Play a Role in Catholic Fiction?

Gerald,
I think your question is a good one, and agree wholeheartedly with your answer. Catholic values can, and should influence the implicit political messages in the fiction of Catholic writers. In some genres, it has been impossible to avoid political commentary. There are also political implications when characters in novels react to social issues of their day. I think historically many authors, both Catholic and non-Catholic have used fiction as an indirect, and less openly combative way of commenting on the politics of their times. Swift's Gulliver's travels, which is sometimes mistaken for a children's story, but was really quite hard hitting commentary is a great example.

Today, however, Catholic writers often seem to have a sense that they need to write for a small niche, or to become "more secular" to have a broader appeal. This is largely a result of the more liberal book reviewers and doesn't reflect reality. By analogy, Christian music has already paved out a very sizable niche, and Catholic artists (Tom Booth, Bob Rice, and others are not far behind. Moreover, many Christian and Catholic artists (e.g. the Fray, Bob Dylan, etc) have frequently crossed genre lines and still maintained considerable success. As with the movie industry, I often seen a major disconnect between the views of the "professional reviewers" and the bestsellers list.

God Bless
Prof K
 

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