Catholicism resists policy and ideology: A response to Sam Rocha

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Speakers at a series of talks about CRT. Photo by Mary Kate Leonard

The term “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) has undoubtedly reached a new place of prominence at the University of Dallas. In the past few weeks, several events were held related to the topic — including one titled “CRT and Catholic Social Teaching” hosted by Sam Rocha, philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia.

Before Rocha’s lecture, I had some familiarity with CRT. I attended the two day seminar “What is Critical Race Theory?” hosted earlier this month by the Dallas Forum on Law, Politics, and Culture (formerly the APPI). 

I had read roughly 100 pages of some of the foundational writers of what became known as the CRT movement, such as Kimberle Crenshaw and Richard Delgado. At the seminar, I heard lectures given by individuals who had varying levels of support and disagreement with the philosophy behind CRT.

With Rocha’s talk being held amidst the growing resurgence of CRT in American academia, I decided it would be best to attend. 

The talk proposed similarities between Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and CRT. Rocha presented himself well and the talk was interesting, but  I think its overall premise is fraught with the error.

Rocha presented 10 similarities to show that CST and CRT could be potentially compatible. These included a shared dedication to exterminating racism, a support of democracy and pluralism, and a strong natural law and civil rights tradition. 

Some of these similarities seem valid, and I am inclined to accept some of them. Yet my main issue is with the goal of this talk: to compartmentalize Catholicism into an established set of political ideas. 

This is not a new phenomenon, and many have attempted to use Christianity as support for their own political agendas, with disastrous results. Perhaps the most egregious example in our own history was American slaveholders who often used the Bible as a way to religiously justify the continued enslavement of Black Americans. 

Spanish conquistadors committed brutal atrocities against indigenous populations in the name of the Catholic faith. Organizations in Germany, such as the “German Christian” — Deutsche Christen — attempted to form a cohesive philosophy integrating Christian and Nazi beliefs. 

Even today this trend continues — An “America” article attempted to argue why Communism is compatible with Catholic teaching, despite it being condemned by every modern Roman Pontiff.

Alternatively, in a Foundation for Economic Education article titled “God is a Libertarian,” Jesus is portrayed as a rebel against the evil, worldly creation that is the state. The now defunct blog “Faith and Heritage” goes even further with the notion that white ethnonationalism and Christianity are compatible and that God intended for the races of mankind to remain separate from one another. 

Although all of these proposals are wildly different, they have one thing in common: they all attempt to take ideologies which are diametrically opposed to Catholicism and attempt to  make them fit within what is acceptable according to CST. 

Similarities between CRT and CST may exist but at the cost of watering down the transcendent and timeless teachings of the Catholic Church so that they conform to a list of preconceived political ideas. 

Faith is not something to be compared and contrasted to a theory. Rather, it is wisdom, embodied in the Logos that transcends space and time. In the American context, Catholicism doesn’t fall neatly into left or right, liberal or conservative. Catholicism doesn’t choose what is the “correct” political party or idea; rather, it goes where Truth is, wherever it is found. 

We should be suspicious of anyone who attempts to explain why this or that philosophy is compatible with Catholic truth. The UD faculty was right to express in a letter last year, as we considered the merit of the Student Leaders for Racial Solidarity club, why it thought that CRT and CST were in fact opposed to one another. 

The dangerous trend of politicizing Catholicism is real, and the recent talk by Rocha demonstrates that this isn’t going away anytime soon. As such, we have to remain vigilant when we let our faith and politics interact. It is easy in our polarized age to let our political opinions take precedent, but we should be better than that. We must not conform Christ to our will, but rather, conform our will to Christ.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I thank Del Pietro for this reply and most of all for attending my talk. I must correct one claim made here: “Rocha presented 10 similarities to show that CST and CRT could be potentially compatible.” Anyone who listens to the talk (posted here: https://youtu.be/KQpdgtk7xCs) will hear me explicitly reject an argument for compatibility, opting instead for a moderate argument for intersection. Perhaps this is also why this reply to me misquoted the talk’s title.

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