Did you place a bet on the presidential election? I hope not, since that is illegal. However, I am willing to bet that no matter who wins this election, we are in for more of the same old gridlock in Congress. Judging from the muckraking attack ads that have been paid for by the PACs and secretive sponsors, there will be no compromising or collaboration in the next couple of years. The polarization is just too sharp.
I think the polarization is just as serious within the Catholic Church. Some of the neo-atheists claim that religion is the root of all violence and hatred. Well, if that is the case we should be seeing a lot more violence in the Church than what we have today.
In the time of St. Augustine there was a tremendous division in North Africa. Christians attacked Christians over the validity of Sacraments administered by Christians who had denied their faith in time of persecution and later repented. That was the view held by a bishop named Donatus after the persecution of Diocletian ended.
Augustine reports the sad case of a bishop who was almost beaten to death by followers of Donatus, or Donatists. They beat the bishop and then threw him into the town dump. Fortunately, the bishop escaped with his life and recovered from his injuries. I haven’t heard of that happening in recent years over a Church dispute, but I suppose polarization could grow worse.
There were harsh clashes between Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics over such things as icons and whether or not we should be using leavened or unleavened bread in the Eucharist. The Reformation of the 16th century also brought harsh clashes between Christians. Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics—all in the name of Christ. Surely, it was partly a political thing, but there was great bloodshed in Europe until the Peace of Westphalia began to take hold in the later part of the seventeenth century. The Westphalia compromise included the principle that a ruler or prince determines and enforces his favorite brand of Christianity—Protestant or Catholic.
Somehow U.S. political disagreements are so pointed today that more and more people are disgusted with the political parties of our nation. Perhaps the most important event of the campaign season has been the Al Smith Dinner. There members of both parties poked some good-natured insults at each other in the context of a fundraiser to support charitable organizations.
Maybe we need something like that for the Church’s bishops and theologians. At least we might all be able to have a good laugh. That might lead us to the point where something approaching charity might develop between the ideological views found in the Church. What are the odds that something positive might result?