Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Can you hear me now?

John L Allen Jr. of National Catholic Reporter writes is his February 27 column, All Things Catholic, about the Social Ministry Gathering, which brings together more than 500 Catholic leaders for a week of issue seminars and knocking on doors on Capitol Hill. Here is an interesting portion:
In that regard, here’s a reading recommendation: Journalist Bill Bishop’s recent book The Big Sort offers hard empirical data to illustrate what he sees as a thirty-year trend in American life towards “homophilia” -- which in this case has nothing to do with sex, but rather love of one’s own kind. Bishop shows that over the last three decades, Americans have retreated into ideologically-defined ghettoes -- both physical and virtual -- in which we have systematically walled ourselves off from people with whom we disagree.

A few factoids from the book:

* In 1976, less than one-quarter of the American population lived in “landslide counties,” meaning counties in which the spread in the presidential vote was more than 20 percent one way or the other. By 2004, it was more than fifty percent, meaning that Americans are increasingly clustering near people who think like them.

* In 1975, moderates made up forty percent of the House of Representatives; by 2005, that number had fallen to eight percent.

* A 12-nation survey supervised by Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania found that Americans finish dead last in terms of the percentage of people who say they regularly talk politics with those who hold different views. Only 23 percent of Americans reported having such exchanges on a regular basis.

As Bishop observes, when people spend most of their time in like-minded company, a “law of group polarization” takes over. Positions become more extreme in the direction of the group consensus, and that’s exactly what we see in American politics. Alan Abramowitz of Emory University has found that over the last three decades, the percentage of Democrats who self-identify as “liberal” has gone up while the percentage of “moderates” has declined, and an equal-and-opposite phenomenon holds true among Republicans. In 2006, Abramowitz found that 86 percent of Democrats now call themselves “liberal,” and 80 percent of Republicans say they’re “conservative,” suggesting that the moderate middle has all but vanished.

All this concerns the world of secular politics, but in many ways American Catholics have reproduced this trajectory within the church. Mutz’s research offers confirmation of the point; in surveys in the late 1990s, she found that the overwhelming majority of regular church-goers, including Catholics, say the people they meet at church are “like them” politically. Applied to Catholics, this means that pro-lifers and those whose concerns skew towards anti-poverty efforts or immigration reform rarely rub shoulders. More often, they’re socialized to see one another as members of different tribes, with alien customs and worldviews.

Purely in terms of Realpolitik, this laceration within the church means that Catholics speak with a divided voice. Theologically, the problem cuts even deeper. The church is supposed to be the sacrament of the unity of the human family, which is difficult to pull off when we’re clustered into competing factions.
Here is the link to the whole article: