What do you think of the Catholic movement called integralism?



You won’t like this, because if you frame the question that way, I can’t answer it.

Integralism is supposed to be an opinion concerning the proper role of the Church vis-à-vis the state.  But it is also said to mean the rejection of certain other isms, the embrace of something called the “throne and altar” view, and lots of other things, and the various definitions are not consistent.

The most important thing I can say to people on all sides of these debates is that we need to argue more carefully.  It is extraordinarily difficult to state precisely either what either integralists are for, or what their opponents are against, because crucial distinctions are so often overlooked – almost always by non-Christian scholars, but often by Christian scholars too, both Protestant and Catholic.

For example, concerning the status of the Church in the modern state, it is one thing to ask whether it would be good for the state, while protecting religious liberty, to recognize in some sense the divine mission of the Church (yes), but quite another to ask whether under all circumstances the Church must seek such recognition (no).

Concerning the use of law, it is one thing to ask whether the law may be used to force persons into the faith (no), but quite another to ask whether the law may be an instrument of friendly cooperation with it (yes).

For that matter, the very phrase “recognition of the divine mission of the Church” may mean different things.  Are we speaking of declaring Christmas a national holiday, inventing a new national holiday called Thanksgiving, inscribing a cross on the coinage, requiring that the Decalogue be taught in public schools, requiring that its divine origin be taught along with it, forbidding blasphemy, or what?  These are very different kinds of things.

The same goes for terms such as “coercion.”  All law coerces, but not in the same way.  Are we thinking of making people do something, forbidding them from doing something, telling them that if they do it then they must do it in a certain way, commanding public officials not to forbid people from doing it, or something else?

We sometimes try to cut these knots by saying “I just believe in separation of Church and state,” but people mean different things by separation too.  Does it mean that citizens should not consider their faith when they vote?  (Bad.)  That the state should not subject candidates for public office to a religious test?  (Good.)  That firemen may not put out fires in churches?  (Bad.)  That the state may not tell the Church what to teach?  (Good.)  That the Church may not condemn evil and unjust laws?  (Bad.)  That priests are not magistrates?  (Good.)  That magistrates are not priests?  (Good.)

Sometimes the use of “ism” words is unavoidable – I use them myself -- but in a case like this one, I try to avoid them.  Instead of expressing an opinion about integralism – a term which means too many different things -- I prefer to say “Here is what I think about the proposition that ....”