If the United States Were a Fully Catholic Country
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)