Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Michele Dillon's "Postsecular Catholicism"

Michele Dillon is Class of 1944 Professor of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Postsecular Catholicism: Relevance and Renewal, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Postsecular Catholicism happens to pinpoint the book’s central argument: the necessity – and the tensions - in Catholicism between maintaining continuity with its doctrinal tradition and simultaneously being open to embracing new directions so that it can maintain relevance amid societal change. Page 99 is from chapter 5 where, focusing on the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom campaign, I argue that the bishops’ turn to contraception and religious freedom “is interesting from a postsecular perspective because it illuminates both the secular openness of the Church and the limits to that openness.” What I mean by this is that prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraception mandate, church officials largely ignored Catholics’ use of artificial contraception despite its prohibition by church teaching. Their relative silence showed tacit acceptance of the fact that Catholics incorporate their (secular) lived experiences and expectations into their Catholicism, something further evident in Catholics’ engagement in and/or support for gay marriage, and for divorce and remarriage without an annulment. This epitomizes the postsecular reality: the mutual relevance and intermeshing of both religious belief and secular experience in individual lives and in civil society. Recognition of their entanglement is well captured by Pope Francis. He frequently emphasizes that doctrinal ideas should be in ongoing conversation with secular realities. Yet the U.S. bishops (and others) remain leery of secularism. And they strategically used the ACA mandate as a political and legal opportunity to push back not against contraception per se, but against secularism and more specifically, the growing acceptance by Catholics and others of same-sex marriage, a turn which they see as severely undermining church teachings on marriage (and on sexual difference). The bishops’ campaign highlights the limits both in the secular understanding of religion and in the church’s ability to negotiate secular expectations especially in the realm of sex and gender. Yet, as the recent Synod on the Family showed, it is possible to use existing church doctrine to forge a new understanding that is more inclusive of diverse and increasingly secularized sexual relationships and families.
Learn more about Postsecular Catholicism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue