There is an article on Eureka Street today from Paul Collins attacking the late Bob Santamaria (and by association Tony Abbott) for what he calls 'undemocratic Catholicism', by which he apparently means a catholicism that encompasses all aspects of our lives.
I won't get into the pros and cons of Mr Santamaria's legacy, I haven't studied that period of recent Australian history sufficiently. But while I'm normally inclined to ignore Mr Collins' diatribes, he has, I think, identified a crucial, crunch issue on which committed catholics need to stand up and be counted.
Culture vs secularism
From the 1960s onwards a strain of thought has promoted the idea that culture and daily life can be detached from catholicism. That we can be committed catholics without it impacting on all aspects of our lives, be catholics while essentially subscribing to the secular culture in which we live.
It is a view that saw the destruction of the catholic infrastructure that supported a high degree of catholic practice amongst believers, and a great deal of evangelization effort, leaving behind the barren wasteland of parishes as we see them today.
The Pope - and many others - has been arguing for the importance of a catholic culture, and the need to rediscover a love of our patrimony.
The problem though is that one can never really recreate the past - any such attempt inevitably creates something new, however grounded in tradition it is. And there are lessons we should be learning from the past in order to address the critiques put forward by Collins and others.
So what is the problem with integralism?
According to Mr Collins, "...Santamaria embraced a form of theological integralism which sees everything in the world as tainted unless it is 'integrated' or brought into the orbit of Catholicism. Integralism assumes that the Church has an unchallengeable, complete and accessible body of doctrine that gives guidance in every possible eventuality — social, political, strategic, economic, familial and personal....Catholic action involves influencing and if possible controlling state policy. Thus Catholics are obliged to do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with church doctrine."
Collins of course exaggerates - but the essential idea he articulates, that legislation should be in keeping with church doctrine, and that Christianity encompasses the social, economic and more, is surely actually catholic doctrine?
Conservatism, fundamentalism and integralism
The only real problem with what Collins describes as 'integralism', and the underlying reason for his (and other liberal' attack), comes, I think, when one tries to claim that only one particular economic, strategic or social solution is compatible with Church doctrine.
US-style conservatives (including many Australians such as Cardinal Pell) are particularly prone to this kind of narrow thinking.
It represents a fundamental failure of the imagination in my view.
Catholic policy failure
Take the case of global warming. The extreme Green lobby has successfully managed to define the problem as one of too high a population - despite the fact that on a per capita basis it is Qatar (population 1.7m), followed by an assortment of Arab and affluent Western nations that have the highest emissions on a per capita basis. Instead of redefining that problem as one of the design of economic systems based around materialism and greed, and looking for policy approaches that support continued population growth, the conservative response has been to deny global warming altogether.
The unease in the electorate that has led to both parties back pedalling on action in this area in Australia in recent times I think represents the realization that while something needs to be done, the solutions put forward by the extremists so far are unacceptable, running counter to our most basic instincts.
In New South Wales for example, we have had tv ads urging us to voluntarily sit watching our tvs while shivering under an extra layer of rugs rather than turning on the heater in order to save money and the environment; others want to tax us so as to induce the same effect. I think people would respond much more positively to encouragement to put a solar panel on the roof, or take some other more positive action!
But the loss of support for Rudd (and Gillard) also reflects the fact that most people are not prepared to take the risk that the scientists are altogether wrong, and simply put their heads in the sand on global warming.
The bottom line though is that in general the Church's social doctrines articulate broad principles. It doesn't claim to do science. And it doesn't encompass (beyond principles) an assessment of the particular means of realising those principles.
A lot of the pro-life how to vote rhetoric put forward by catholics in this election fails this same basic test. What most advances the pro-life cause for example: (arguably empty) rhetorical statements or the absence thereof, or actual policies that are favourable to families? And which policies actually matter most and will be most effective in encouraging people to have children? There is scope for debate on this, not one right answer!
We need a new, real catholic culture, but one that accepts that there is room for debate on many social and strategic issues.
And we need to reject Collins' notion that our catholicism is something that only happens when we go to Church or yabber on about social justice, that is somehow separate from our daily lives.