US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What kind of Catholic are you? (Part I)

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

There was an interesting commentary on Commonweal’s blog yesterday about types of American Catholics today. Joseph Komonchak writes that it was during a discussion on how Commonweal could attract young Catholics that Peter Steinfels offered his 4-pronged model:

“I think there are basically four categories of Catholics middle-aged and younger. One consists of fundamentalist Catholics who want something, whether it’s the pope or particular texts or certain forms of ritual, that can be relied upon to provide their identity. For them, these things are not to be challenged; they’re to be taken literally. It may not be Scripture; it may be papal documents or other things. Then there is a neoconservative group that is much more questioning and intellectually adventurous, but whose identity is very much defined over against the secular liberal culture. And then there is a very large liberal group that has a Christian and Catholic commitment, but they are not willing to isolate themselves. They think that the secular liberal world-partly because of its Christian roots-has got a lot of good things in it. They want to be engaged with the culture and in conversation with it, not just in battle with it. They are not going to form their Catholic identity over against the secular culture. The fourth group is a more radical and political group that forms an identity largely around very personal, radical social-justice commitments.”

While I agree with Komonchak that it’s refreshing to see something other than a two-poled description of American Catholics, I question if these four categories really break down the binary model or just expand on it. The first two groups still seem to make up the “right” or “conservative” side with the second two expanding on the “left” or “liberal” side.

I also wondered, like Komonchak, about crossover. Why does one category get to be the “intellectually curious” group, while another gets the monopoly on a “Christian and Catholic commitment. Wouldn’t all of these categories have a commitment to Christian faith? I’d be willing to identify myself as "intellectually curious," but hardly as a “neo-conservative.”

I realize that this commentary was just part of a conversation rather than a presentation, but I can't help but wonder if categories like this helpful, or do they exacerbate divisions within the Church. And, because I do think that categories are inevitable, is there a way to get beyond the basic "right" and "left" approach to demographics in the Church?