Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Church Confronts Modernity

Cover image for The church confronts modernity : Catholic intellectuals and the progressive era / Thomas E. Woods, Jr.The Progressive Era - a period defined, for the purposes of this book, as roughly between 1880 and 1916 - was a time in American history when Pragmatic philosophy (represented by men like John Dewey and William James), with its contempt for metaphysics and Kantian reduction of religion to ethics, reigned supreme.  At the same time, it was an era when the Catholic Church reaffirmed her belief in objective truth and pointed to Scholastic philosophy, especially the work of St Thomas Aquinas, as the best route to that truth.  These viewpoints inevitably clashed.
What Woods reveals is that Catholic confidence in the period was such that, rather than retreating into a closed "fundamentalism", American Catholic scholars sought to adapt what they found good in progressive approaches while using the filter of Catholicism to avoid the bad.  The obvious example is the Catholic adaptation of techniques developed by sociologists to aid the poor, but insisting on a level of personal charity not present in the philanthropic model, and thereby avoiding the logic of eugenics.  Other struggles were harder, especially those involving issues of public education, the question of assimilation, and the trend towards religious syncretism.  The final chapter relates how, as the Church became demoralized in the 1960s and 70s, the loss of confidence led to the disintegration of the Catholic position.

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