By Daniel S. Mulhall
“Common Sense Catholicism: How to Resolve Our Cultural Crisis” by Bill Donohue. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2019). 291 pp., $18.95.
“Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics and Romance Became Our New Religion — and What to Do About It” by David Zahl. Fortress Press (Minneapolis, 2019). 211 pp., $26.99.
In “Common Sense Catholicism,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, looks at many of the major moral issues of the day and offers insights into how they could be resolved by taking guidance from Catholic moral and social teaching.
Donohue, who describes himself as “an outspoken defender of the Catholic Church and traditional moral virtues,” is indeed outspoken in the six chapters of this book, in which he takes up significant issues under the headings of freedom, moral harm, sex inequality, income inequality, tradition and religion.
He argues that many of the problems we have in the United States are caused by a falling away from common sense and a failure to accept Catholic teachings, and that a return to both will resolve these issues for the better. His presentation of Catholic teaching is persuasive, although simplistic, which is appropriate for a book of this type and length.
Donohue is at his best when he lays out the issues and presents his arguments. He falters when he names the causes for these problematic issues, which he blames on “stupid” intellectuals and academicians, most of whom remain unnamed. Those who are named are usually on the radical fringe of thinkers. While their thoughts might sound ridiculous to many, this does not necessarily make them as influential as Donohue suggests.
David Zahl, founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries and a staff member of an Episcopal church, suggests that while all formal religions (religion with a capital “R”) are losing members, people today are no less religious (religion with a lower-case “r”) than before. Instead of looking for God in church, people now look for God in their careers, in being super-duper parents, in technology such as social media and the Internet, and in politics. Zahl calls this new religion “seculosity,” as opposed to our previous religiosity.
Zahl explores these topics with significant humor and a great deal of insight. He points out that we are all affected by sin, and that we are all “in bondage to forces outside our control.” For Zahl, we spend so much of our time and effort seeking to prove ourselves as outstanding (whether as parents, employees, students or spouses) that we forget that God has already saved us through freely given grace. Instead of trying to earn our own salvation we need to let go and let God be God. As he writes, “We can scarcely conceive of ourselves anymore apart from our doing.”
Both of these books are a worthy read for anyone interested in what religion has to say to the timely issues of today.
Mulhall lives in Louisville, Kentucky.