This “problematic fusion” has manifested itself in recent years with the “Manichean” rhetoric of politics “that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil,” the authors said, drawing examples of this from the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
This rhetoric is rooted in the evangelical-fundamentalist movement beginning in the early-20th century, which continued through other problematic interpretations of Christianity like belief in the “prosperity gospel” and in the dominion of man over creation, beliefs “that have been gradually radicalized,” the authors said.
Furthermore, this Christianity feeds off of conflict where “enemies” are “demonized,” which would today include Muslims and migrants who are not welcomed into the U.S., the authors wrote.
Pope Francis, by contrast, has advocated for “inclusion” and “encounter,” and has been opposed to “any kind of 'war of religion,’” they wrote.
Thus, for Catholics, religion and politics should not “confused” lest Christians promote a fundamentalist theocracy which is being pushed in this case, the authors said.
However, religious experts have pointed out inaccuracies, exaggerations, and false summaries of Church teaching within the article.
Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that although the authors alleged that many American Christians have a “Manichean” outlook on politics, of good versus evil, “the authors themselves sound quite Manichaean in their absolute opposition to their caricature of Christian conservatives in America.”
“The authors make a great number of errors, both historically, descriptively, and in their diagnosis of what ails America, and Christian conservatives more specifically,” he continued.
A chief flaw of the piece is its suggestion that religion and politics should be separated, Bruenig added. While distinctions should be made between the eternal, spiritual realm and the temporal one, the piece is “ahistorical and very un-Catholic” in how it approaches the relationship between religion and politics, she said.
Fr. Spadaro and Figueroa wrote that “the religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other.”
The article also says that “[Pope] Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women.”
This compartmentalization of faith and politics is part of flawed Enlightenment thinking, Bruenig said.
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“The notion that politics and religion should basically function in separate domains is one of the original liberal Enlightenment positions on politics, and there’s a reason that most of the leading thinkers of the liberal Enlightenment were severely anti-Catholic,” she stated.
“There’s nothing special about the realm of governance that would cut it off from moral considerations, or give it its own special brand of irreligious moral consideration,” she continued, saying that politicians “are still beholden to the same moral precepts that they are in every other decision they make in their lives.”
Such a claim flies in the face of centuries of Church teaching, Bruenig continued.
P.J. Smith, who writes at the website Semiduplex.com, agreed that the article contradicted Church teaching on the relationship between faith and politics which was put forth by Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Ven. Pius XII, who wrote that the Church has the authority to speak on matters of economics and politics.
“More to the point, Spadaro and Figueroa set themselves against Pope Francis himself when they articulate a bizarre liberal atomization of man,” he wrote. “According to Spadaro and Figueroa, in church, man is a believer; in the council hall, he is a politician, at the movie theater, he is a critic; and he is apparently supposed to keep all of these roles separate.”
Smith cited Pope Francis who, at an April conference on Bl. Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, said that no system, whether it be the family, economy, or work, “can be an absolute, and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development which, in other words, takes into account that human life is like an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.”