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If the United States Were a Fully Catholic Country

March 14, 2012

Taylor Marshall favorably envisions the idea and lists its particular features, from the religious signs and observances that would be incorporated into the country’s political life to the criminalization of sins that are contrary to the natural law. Marshall’s theocratic plan obviously conflicts with the idea most American Catholics, not to mention most Americans, have concerning the proper relationship between Church and State; nevertheless, his utopian dream seems to follow from a certain reading of scripture and Catholic tradition. Marshall believes that Catholicism is true and provides the only true path to re-establishing all things in Christ: as grace perfects nature, the Church should perfect the State, and so American Catholics, “by patience, penance, and kindness,” are called by God to refashion America into a fully Catholic country.

Marshall insists that this work should not be done by force, but this insistence is absurd. The State acts by force. Everything Marshall would like to see as part of his fully Catholic country would require force to establish and force to maintain. It’s easiest to see the necessity of force in the sort of laws Marshall would see passed. He can’t make “abortion, contraception, sodomy, euthanasia, and divorce” illegal without the force of law. He can’t forbid blasphemous language in film without sanction. However, we don’t need to look as far as legal prohibitions to see the necessity of force for what Marshall has in mind: mandating that courtrooms feature the Ten Commandments and a crucifix or that Holy Days of Obligation are recognized as federal holidays would also necessitate force. All these things wouldn’t just naturally happen if the majority of the populace became practicing Catholics in full communion with the Church. It’s naïve of Marshall to think otherwise.

His vision suffers from other problems. I’ll note a few. First, the standard he sets for criminalizing sins—“as contrary to the natural law”—would seem to cover a much more expansive range of human acts than he lists. And some of the sins he mentions are considered charitable acts by other religions, religions he claims would be tolerated. Marshall’s prohibitions would curtail freedom, religious and otherwise.

Second, his desired society seems to lack internal consistency. He says the “State is a natural institution for the natural well-being of human society,” and yet he would delegate the corporal works of mercy to the Church, and not to the State, as in the State should have no responsibility for the material needs of its residents, needs that would seem to fall under the “natural well-being of human society.”

Third, Marshall writes as if the separation of Church and State were tantamount to a separation of grace and nature, but this would mean that grace can perfect the nature of the State only if the Church has actual power over the State’s operations. Secularism promotes the separation of Church and State not as a means of separating grace from nature, but in order to separate clerical power from political power. Secularism is about the separation of powers, not the separation of the natural and the supernatural.

(H/T: Cathleen Kaveny)

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  1. Greg permalink
    March 14, 2012 11:51 am

    If the untied States was a fully Catholic Country then none of would cheer for Notre dame, or any other Jesuit team, instead we would all cheer for “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”

    • March 15, 2012 5:38 am

      To defend the honor of my graduate school alma mater, and with all due respect the the Society of Jesus, I feel compelled to point out that Our Lady’s University is most definitely not a Jesuit university! It was founded, and is still governed (in its president) and supported by the Congregation of Holy Cross.

  2. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    March 14, 2012 12:09 pm


    Thank you for bringing this hilarious piece of delusion to everybody’s attention. What a shame if it had languished unnoticed on the internet. It made me chuckle in a very quiet way, the way one suddenly is moved to quietness by another’s flatulence in the middle of a conversation. I think you must have a certain mischief in mind in presenting this lunatic for public scrutiny. Or is there a darker purpose Kyle, namely, to make people like Robert George look utterly moderate! Cheers.

    ps. The picture of the Shrine makes me think of Gingrich’s comment on EWTN that it is “so beautiful”. As beautiful as he is. Viva Il Duce!!

    • Rodak permalink
      March 14, 2012 1:02 pm

      @ PPF — As a representative of the (majority) Protestant race, I must say that I took the piece completely seriously. So much so, in fact, that I am currently engaged in trying to borrow against the equity on the Rodak manse in order to invest heavily in boxcar futures.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      March 14, 2012 2:27 pm


      The last thing they really want to to ACTUALLY run things. In that case all their vaunted ideas would be put in the blender of current events and shown quickly to be completely inapplicable to the running of a modern society. Don’t forget, the main ambition of those who have gotten used to thinking idealistically crazy ideas (and yes I do mean in a clinical sense here) is not to prove them, but to merely be able to keep on thinking them and thus preserve the fragile ego-state. Religion can of course be so much more than that for people. But it is often just that alone for many. They are smart enough to know this — well maybe the guy that Canterbury blog is not. Yet another Ph D. in Thomistic Lego! These people busy themselves like children coming up with golden castles in the air. AS I said it is all a vast right wing conspiracy to make the crowd at the Mirror of Justice look reasonable. They are no doubt cooking up some scheme to use neurolinguistics to make Michael Moore call Hadley Arkes a slut. Don’t fall for their clever designs!

      • Rodak permalink
        March 15, 2012 7:15 am

        Just try to imagine Jesus talking to a crowd of humble Jewish peasants in the manner of the Scholastics. They would’ve stoned his ass, long before the Romans got at him. If you can’t say a thing in straight-forward, plain language–it’s a lie. It is deliberate obfuscation, meant to make yourself sufficiently unintelligible to be able to pass yourself off as an “authority.” All academic jargon and cant functions in this manner.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        March 15, 2012 11:30 am


        I have to quibble with your point, on which I mostly agree, especially emotionally. But the RC Church deserves real credit, and even Scholasticism, with developing the conceptual amplitude to allow discussion of vastly differing subjects in one academic language. Now there is a lot that can said against it. For it had a lot of nadirs as well, and one of them is nowadays in my view, e.g., Thomistic Lego. But what cannot be taken from the RC Church is that it nurtured an environment in which a burgeoning human conceptual ability was advanced in significant ways.

        Academic jargon may be tedious in many ways, but it can at least be a bridge it unite diverse modes of life, that otherwise would only remain each have their own “jargon” or “argot”, in the true sense of those words as limited idiomatic expressions of a smaller group. In addition it can also make possible a realm in which one can think more logically or more coherently than one would in everyday life, or in polemics. This is of great value in itself, even if the expression remains beholden to academic stylings. And it seems that only only the greatest — which it must evident from my habitual prose I do not belong amongst — can live without the comfort of those stylings.

      • grega permalink
        March 15, 2012 11:33 am

        “The last thing they really want to to ACTUALLY run things.”
        I am not so sure about that one – “they” would have plenty in the ranks who actually would have no problem to take a crack at running things. They would have no problem running it in key areas according to their main points. Catholic social teaching not being in the picture at all.
        Reminds me of a piece in todays paper regarding the relative moderate outcry regarding the recent murder of 16 men, women chidren compared to the burning of the Koran. Folks are not all that relaxed about religion – as somebody who is very relaxed I have to remind myself of this fact.
        Some here in the US are far from relaxed either and given the chance would work very hard to ensure that gays do not display any public affection and that not a single sperm goes to waste.
        ” From todays NYT today:
        KABUL, Afghanistan — The mullah was astounded and a little angered to be asked why the accidental burning of Korans last month could provoke violence nationwide, while an intentional mass murder that included nine children last Sunday did not.“How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with the martyrdom of innocent civilians?” said an incredulous Mullah Khaliq Dad, a member of the council of religious leaders who investigated the Koran burnings. “The whole goal of our life is religion.”

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        March 15, 2012 1:02 pm


        As someone who loves to compare our home-grown reactionaries to those in Afghanistan, don’t let me stop you. I agree in that polemical sense indeed. Santorum even has that distant and crazed look that you see in those people shouting in the streets in Kabul, and come to think of it, he would look good in that head gear.

        But there is one problem with all this polemical fun, and that is the grind of bureaucracy. People make fun of bureaucracy but it could, and in fact has many times, functioned as a giant check on the those with tyrannical thoughts on their minds. Maybe Rick himself is too out in la-la land believing Our Lady of Steubenville has anointed him to be leader, but I assure you that the rest of the Republican Party’s leaders do not forget those realities.

        Obama’s own problems have shown that it is hard to put even quite tolerant and pragmatic ideals into effect. That example is a clarion call for all those considering a Thomistic dreamland of Natural Law democracy. They know that in short order all the ideas they have cooked up in their books would be shown to be completely inapplicable entirely. Their Center for Natural Law studies, which I have not heard much about since Mr. Garnett announced it, would be about credible as the followers of that hilariously eponymous “Natural Law” centers founded by the guru of Transcendental Meditation. And their very movement would be as incomprehensible as something people have heard about in American History but have no idea what is meant, something like Locofocoism.

        Lastly, I want to again assert that what is pushing all this in these weird and self-destructive directions is a strange leader, Cardinal Dolan. I happen to have known someone who spent a few years in seminary with the guy. Apparently this Dolan did nothing but express long term ambition for higher office in the Church. So it is hilarious to hear now the propaganda campaign that he is this unassuming fellow. A big problem with the RC Church’s legacy for the West comes in the form of this servum servorum Dei idea, which is of course flouted everywhere by real people in the organization. A smart organization understands and accepts the male drive for distinction, and puts checks on it, and channels it realistically. The RC Church has bequeathed a really false and unrealistic notion to the West in this regard, that produces exactly the toxic results we are seeing now. In tragic irony, it seems to have little to do with the genius of the Beatitudes themselves, and vastly more to do with servant-of-the-state tropes in “pagan” Rome. Gibbon is enlightening on all these matters, as always, and almost prophetic.

    • March 14, 2012 5:47 pm

      I keep my dark designs close to my chest.

  3. Kurt permalink
    March 14, 2012 1:22 pm

    Taylor Marshall’s ideas are not without merit. I would support, for example, making holydays of obligation federal holidays (further, compulsary days of paid leave for private sector employers. Taylor is a bit lukewarm on this),

    I’m currently reading about Massimo d’Azeglio, the Prime Minister of Sardina-Piedmont in the mid-19th century. Like many liberals, he was a fan of Pius IX at first, but when Pio Nono turned reactionary, d’Azeglio adopted policies denounced by the Church as rabidly anti-Catholic and anti-religion.

    The partiuclar anti-clerical policies that were the HHS rule of the time? 1. Taking away the right of the Church to censor all writings and plays in the Kingdom; 2. Making clerics (including laymen put in minor orders for this sole purpose) subject to the civil courts for criminal acts; 3) allowing for a civil and parental role in education; 4) allowing Protestants freedom of worship.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      March 14, 2012 4:56 pm

      Oh, where is Benito Juarez when you need him?!

      • Rodak permalink
        March 15, 2012 12:11 pm

        @ PPF —
        What jargon and cant do is the same thing the rules of a game do–they limit the kind of moves a player can make, by simplifying, or limiting, the “board.” Jargon and cant also exclude “outsiders” from placing their token on the board. If one wants to “play,” one first needs to cross the palms of the players with silver. Then they will teach you the rules that allow you to participate. That accomplished you will be able to join in on the endless quibbles, which haven’t been settled in 1500 years of quibbling, for the simple reason that one can always set up a fresh board and play another game of chess. None of it has any meaning, other than to “win” by manipulating a specialized language until your opponent runs out of “moves” and lays down his queen in disgust–not enlightenment, but disgust. It’s all crap. If it weren’t, St. Paul would have used it in Athens. He preferred to be laughed at. He was dead right.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        March 15, 2012 5:19 pm


        I won’t deny that your analysis fits many, many moments of history. But there are many that it does not fit as well. Or a better way of putting it, is that it fits them in another way. If one takes it to mean that one should speak simply and without one affect, then there are infinite examples just in watching “Christian” TV which show that the people who believe they are in possession of the “plain-spoken truth” are themselves beholden to a special and often incredibly self-serving jargon. To wit, just the other day I heard some preacher say…..all those trick theologians use fancy words to make it seem like God doesn’t want us to be rich……yadda yadda yadda.

        That the world is one long series of lesser and greater meanings and interpretations does not preclude us in the end from finding what is simple and meaningful for us. When we express it, it will always sound like our own jargon. that’s life.

    • March 14, 2012 5:50 pm

      I liked Marshall’s idea of a “Catholic” approach to the problem of war, but I wouldn’t jump on a theocracy to get there.

      • March 15, 2012 7:53 pm

        @ PPF —

        There is a major difference between using plain talk to spew bullshit, and using a specialized language to play word games that circle endlessly around themselves, never coming in contact with the truth.
        In point of fact, the more complicated a thing is, the further it is from the truth. In point of fact, the old saying “the devil is in the details” is a much more dire truth than people want to recognize.

  4. Mark Gordon permalink
    March 14, 2012 1:43 pm

    The challenge isn’t to make government more fully Catholic. It is to make Catholics more fully Catholic. Further entanglement in the administration of the State would only seem to frustrate that goal. After all, accommodating herself to worldly power is how the Church got in this mess in the first place.

  5. March 14, 2012 2:08 pm

    “It’s not even Ultramontanism, it’s arch-Ultramontanism!”

    • Liam permalink
      March 14, 2012 3:32 pm

      No, it’s the Society for Creative Anachronism-Pseudo Ultramontane edition.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        March 15, 2012 9:00 am

        SCAPU….I agree with the “poo” part.

  6. Brian Martin permalink
    March 14, 2012 2:20 pm

    Totalitarian regimes are not good. There is no such thing as a benevolent dictator.
    I would have no more trust in the Church’s Bureaucracy to act in a just manner in running the state than I would in the state running the Church.
    That being said, I cherry picked some things i could agree with:
    “The sin of usury in form of credit cards, school loans, and other disadvantaging lending policies would be criminalized ”
    “American foreign policy would conform to Catholic teaching regarding just war and prohibiting global policing and so-called “preventive wars.”
    “The clergy (but especially our archbishops and bishops) would not live like royalty in mansions as in previous years but would live penitent and poor lives like great bishops of old such as St Martin of Tours, St Francis de Sales, St Augustine, and St Bonaventure. ”
    (What, no mercedes or bmw?)

  7. March 14, 2012 2:23 pm

    And hasn’t force been used to make the U.S. an officially secular country, and to enforce secular values on Catholics and others who object to them?

    • March 14, 2012 5:55 pm

      It has.

    • Kurt permalink
      March 14, 2012 6:01 pm

      And hasn’t force been used to make the U.S. an officially secular country…

      No. We are a democracy and one of the most successful democracies in the history of the world. With all due respect to the America Haters (which is their constitutional right in a free society and a right they would not find many places elsewhere), I will trust a free people governing themselves before any totalitarian form of government, be it fascistic, communistic, or theocratic. And for those who say that under Obama we are no longer a democratic nation, that is just people demeaning democracy in order to justify a beer hall putsch, which they would do if they could.

      and to enforce secular values on Catholics and others who object to them?

      Values? No. As Martin Luther King said about Christians whose sincere religious beliefs caused them to believe in the inferiority of African – Americans, “the law cannot make a man love me.” Values, be they ones I find virtuous or unvirtuous, cannot be forced on anyone.

    • Rodak permalink
      March 15, 2012 7:18 am

      “And hasn’t force been used to make the U.S. an officially secular country, and to enforce secular values on Catholics and others who object to them?”

      That’s why there’s an exit, right next to the entrance, Jack.

  8. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    March 14, 2012 2:29 pm

    I think this fantasy has been appealing since the time of Constantine, but every time we have attempted to reify “Christendom” the results have been a failure. Sometimes quickly, sometimes over time, the world corrupted the Church more than the Church sanctified the world. One only need look at Franco’s Spain to see the disastrous consequences for the Church of attempting to implement this vision.

    • Kurt permalink
      March 14, 2012 2:45 pm

      OK, Daivd, good point. But can’t we give a little on the holydays?

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        March 15, 2012 8:59 am

        I’ve been to countries where they are state holidays; the churches are empty and the beaches are full.

    • Ryan permalink
      March 14, 2012 4:38 pm

      I would agree with most of his points. This is better than what usually passes in American Catholicism, namely the Constitution is a Catholic document, the Founders were not hostile to Catholicism Ron Paul’s social vision is Catholic.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      March 14, 2012 7:51 pm

      Before Constantine there were the Sons of Thunder.

  9. brettsalkeld permalink*
    March 14, 2012 7:58 pm

    Mary on the currency!?! Someone stop this man and spare our Blessed Mother the indignity.

  10. dominic1955 permalink
    March 15, 2012 10:25 am

    It can be done well, I always thought that Bavarian thalers from the 18th Century looked rather nice (if in good shape and w/o destracting weight adjustment marks).

    That said, this guy’s vision looks like the schmaltzy neo-con ultramontanist outlook on Catholic culture. No thanks.

  11. March 15, 2012 9:12 pm

    I was quite perplexed by Dr. Marshall’s utopian fantasy, especially since it is a sort of Puritanical inversion of what he thinks a Catholic society would look like in the American context. It’s basically a Bible belt kingdom with scapulars and rosaries, extremely detached from the actual poetry and symbolism of the not-so-romanticized realities of Catholic life. I am also vaguely reminded of that episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses where that bourgeois gentilhomme Mr. Bloom utters his absentminded appreciation of the Italian language and how romantic it is when he encounters two expatriate Italians gesticulating in the streets of Dublin.

    “They’re arguing about money,” states Stephen Dedalus wryly.

    All of that pageantry of a Spanish Holy Week procession? All of the guys moving those floats about are drunk as skunks. In many places in Latin America, Holy Week is all about going to the beach, akin to American spring break. Heck, I drove by a sign for a seafood restaurant here in New Orleans promising a “succu’Lent” meal. Absent from Marshall’s vision of a Francoist vision of an intergrist America (more Jean Ousset than de Tocqueville) is the Catholicism that the people actually practice and appreciate in the historically Catholic world, not the Catholicism that the clergy thinks they want. People like religion when it is an excuse to party or be comforted in times of distress. They can go without it when it becomes as a form of social control or propaganda of bourgeois propriety as in a Garcia Lorca play. As in Franco’s Spain, such Catholicism is by its very nature politicized. When this happens, people use religion to resist; they turn instruments of oppression into instruments of liberation. Liberation theology comes to mind of course.

    Again, we must ask, “Whose Catholicism is it?” The cult of the saints, for example, is for hierarchical Catholicism a teaching moment, and the teaching often benefits the rich and powerful. For the populace in general, the salt of the earth, so to speak, it can be a form of resistance. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a perfect example. On the one hand, she is a meek virgin mother, hands folded with eyes downcast: a propagandistic symbol to crush indigenous belief and impose the European way of doing things on the conquered populace. Centuries later, the dissident priest Miguel Hidalgo lifted up the banner of the Virgen Morena to an assembled mass of Indians proclaiming, “Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!”, to which the people cried, “Death to the Spaniards!”, beginning a mass rebellion that almost won Mexican independence outright in 1810 (it was finally gained in a much less popular form ten years later). I would argue that all Catholic symbols, rosaries, scapulars, feast days, etc. all have a dual meaning that is constantly being negotiated. It is the only reason that religion cannot be condemned outright as reactionary or backwards.

    When Catholicism becomes a way of life and not just a lifestyle choice (even if chosen en masse as in Marshall’s fantasy), it too absorbs the contradictions inherent in capitalist society, and becomes a locus of (gasp, horror of horrors) class struggle. This is the case with the “popular canonizations” of folk bandits like Gauchito Gil in Argentina (not to mention Santa Evita) and left-religious/political figures such as Oscar Romero, Pancho Villa, Simón Bolivar in Venezuela, and Che Guevara (who has a bizarre cultus in Bolivia where he was “martyred”). There, the Catholicism of the poor, which I would argue is the real Catholicism anyway, will have a real voice, whereas here in the imperialist belly of the beast, it has no real presence.

  12. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    March 16, 2012 9:30 am

    I agree with Gandalph and would rather drop the One Ring into the cracks of Mount Doom rather than, like Boromir, try to use the Ring, even for good.

    “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien

  13. Kerberos permalink
    March 17, 2012 7:47 pm

    Another alarming article by Taylor Marshall (I thought it was anyway):

    The first two paragraphs:

    “Saint Joseph is the Patron of the Universal Church. According to Catholic theologians, Saint Joseph’s ministry is above all other human and angelic ministries. The reason for this is that Saint Joseph belongs to the Order of the Hypostatic Union predestined by God for the Incarnation of Christ. In Greek, the word for the divine Person of of Christ is hypostasis, and the Order of the Hypostatic Union refers to the way in which the divine Person of the Word assumed human nature.

    The Order of the Hypostatic Union refers to those three person who belong to this ineffable mystery: the Incarnate Christ, Mary the Immaculate Conception, and Saint Joseph the Husband of Mary and Guardian of Christ. The Holy Family is the Order of the Hypostatic Union.”

    This is the kind of thing that terrifies me Sorry, but no. No, no, no…….no. How can the Hypostatic Union be predicated of creatures, no matter how grace-filled, without making them into God ? And why should non-Catholics whpo read this article believe Catholics who insist that St. Joseph is not being given Divine honours & mistaken for God Almighty ? How is this not polytheism in fact, no matter what words are used to try to persuade people it is not ? And what am I missing here, that makes this stuff inoffensive & Christian & not blasphemous at all ?

  14. March 19, 2012 6:00 pm

    “Beginning with the flesh of Jesus and its presence in the church, theology alone can give due order to other social formations—family, market, and state. The goodness of God is discovered not in abstract speculation, but in a life oriented toward God that creates particular practices that require the privileging of certain social institutions above others. The goodness of God can be discovered only when the church is the social institution rendering intelligible our lives… For a Christian account of this good, the church is the social formation that orders all others. If the church is not the church, the state, the family, and the market will not know their own true nature.”

    –D. Stephen Long

    “A nonconfessional state is not logically possible, in the one real order of history. The state cannot finally avoid affirming, in the matter of religion, a priority of either “freedom from” or “freedom for”—both of these priorities implying a theology.” –David Schindler

    Leo XIII: “[C]ivil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges.”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      March 19, 2012 9:10 pm

      A confessional state will, in the end, treat Holy Mother Church as badly as the worst of atheistic regimes. The only difference is that a confessional state will continue to profess her love for the Church, even as it is destroying the Church.

  15. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    March 19, 2012 10:21 pm

    Kozinski is back with this precious quote:

    “Beginning with the flesh of Jesus and its presence in the church, theology alone can give due order to other social formations—family, market, [!!!} and state. ”

    Better inform the Wharton School Kozinski has delivered himself of a big nut!


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