Thursday, March 22


Bottum and "Beyondism"

I was a bit troubled by today's On the Square Piece, in which he critiques what he calls, citing David Brooks, "Beyondism," that is, the desire to get beyond distinctions of left and right, etc., especially in politics. He notes in particular Jim Wallis and Ronald Rolheiser, whom he sees to be essentially cloaking a leftist agenda in "Beyondist" terms.

Bottum's key point seems to be this:

There’s beyondism’s invariable bait and switch. In religious circles, Fr. Rolheiser is by no means the most egregious (that would be Tony Campolo or Jim Wallis), but he ends where all beyondists end: selling one side in the name of overcoming sides. The left needs to see that the right has all the best techniques for extending and maintaining a position, while the right needs to see that the left has all the best positions. Now can’t we all get beyond our pesky divisions?

The problem with this post is that I'm not sure exactly what Bottum is trying to prove. He seems to leave us with what I take to be a nihilistic conclusion, that is - everyone has an a classifiable agenda, so deal with it. Since I don't take Mr. Bottum to be a nihilist, I don't think he's trying to say this, but I do have to object to the apparent conclusion. This is especially true since I've been trying to carry out a discussion about getting beyond traditionalism qua "ism," and generally getting beyond liberal and conservative in the Church. By Bottum's standards, this would seem to be a hopeless project, since presumably, by this argument, I would be trying to import some kind of agenda into the project.

But ultimately, within the Church, ideological categories fall apart, because the truth is beyond ideology. Interestingly, Bottum quotes Rolheiser citing Cardinal George on liberal Catholicism, and Cardinal George has precisely been a champion of getting beyond these divisions in the Church. Now, certainly, in attempting to get beyond false distinctions, we have to be very honest about how these distinctions have been formed, and in so doing we must strive precisely to be fair to both sides while trying to remain apart from their ideological commitments. Yet I think this is ultimately possible, at least within the Church and while keeping the discourse on a theological level. Ideological infiltration may be inevitable in political discourse, but I think theological discourse, if carried out properly, has a chance of avoiding it.

Thus, I think getting beyond distinctions is precisely getting beyond "ism," so "Beyondism" is a word that I don't think has much necessary use. But I do think it is increasingly necessary, both in Church and secular politics, to find truthful and courageous ways of getting beyond distinctions and asserting that there is another way.

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