Last night, I was part of a panel sponsored by the Boisi Center here at Boston College to discuss the Catholic vote in the 2008 election. Our host was Alan Wolfe who is America’s leading non-Catholic expert on Catholicism. My co-panelist was Amy Sullivan (read her latest column in Time magazine here) who has been writing intelligently about the intersection of politics and religion for years. Not sure how I got on the stage but I was delighted to do so.
But, the stars of the night were the students. Undergraduates always ask the best questions, the most honest questions and the most important questions. They wanted to know about the history of Catholic involvement in the New Deal. They wondered how a party that has made militarism the centerpiece of its foreign policy can so blithely invoke the "culture of life" about which Pope John Paul II spoke so powerfully but also so comprehensively, not limiting the phrase to abortion but condemning as well the de-humanizing aspects of contemporary capitalism. They wondered if the Democrats will live up to their promise to reduce the abortion rate.
No one asked any questions that suggested they were buying the slimy gutter politics of character assassination being peddled by the McCain camp. No one confused an Obama victory with the eschaton either: the Senator from Illinois may be a breathe of fresh air and if he wins his election will mark a happy end to an ugly chapter in America’s race relations, but it will not bring an end to injustice. The students wondered how the political generation of their parents had so long worshipped at the pagan altar of the free market.
The only really ridiculous question came from an older woman who wanted us to comment on how Obama "stole" the nomination from Hillary Clinton. I had heard that there were former Hillary supporters who just could not bring themselves to accept her loss, but I had never met one. It was a bit of a thrill, like going to the zoo and seeing the Giant Pandas. Alan and Amy jumped in to answer the question, making sure my Irish temper did not get the better of me.
The most important impression I had was the readiness of this young generation of scholars to take active roles in the direction of both their country and their Church. They want to get involved. They want their Catholicism to be alive and enlivening. They clearly see the Church as a protagonist in the culture, a source of enlightenment and intellectual ballast in a sometimes stormy intellectual climate. They see what a mess the country is in, from the crashing Dow to the on-going fiasco in Iraq, but they have not given up hope that our politics can do better and that startinbg November 5, it will.