An Illiberal Catholic Assault on Hobby Lobby

Note: once again, this is a guest post by Stephen Herreid, not Bonchamps.

“Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.” – President Barack Obama

“…America was never well-founded, so either needs to be differently re-founded or at least endured, even survived.” – Patrick Deneen

Faced with the historic government overreach that is the HHS mandate, it ought to be easier than ever for Christians to know who their enemies are. One would hope that in this desperate time conservatives and Christians would unite against the enemies of the Church, and defend the religious liberty that has already been half-robbed from us. Unlike in many other countries, where Christians are already third class citizens and some are killed and violated by the thousands, America is the home of a long-standing Constitutional Republic, a Rule of Law tradition that explicitly protects and honors our religious liberty. The army of the Left is united in its effort to topple that grand tradition and the Church that it protects. Appallingly, the army of the Right is not so united in their defense.

Last February, Patrick Deneen came out as an “illiberal Catholic” when he wrote “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching.” He argued that, while some may wrongly think their country and their Church can coexist, true Catholics must reject “the basic principles of the American founding.” Even in the midst of a federal attack on the economic liberty of Christian employers, Catholics must come to understand that the coercive government of the Left is less to be feared than the free-market principles of the American Founding, which are “leading inexorably to civilizational catastrophe.”

I responded with my own article, “Illiberal Catholicism: A Sharp Critique,” in which I addressed myself not to Deneen but to conservative Catholics in general. I observed that the illiberal Catholic position that Deneen takes is “anti-American and anti-liberty first, Christian and pro-life second.”

I also outed several of the allies whom Deneen cites in his original piece: One is a proud Catholic Obama-voter, another suggests that the pro-abortion Democratic Party is more worthy of Catholic support than the pro-market Republican Party, others altogether reject the duty to vote, and another denies the legitimacy of all states, claiming that Catholicism is inherently oriented toward the “overthrow” of any government under which she happens to find herself.

Finally I noted that these wildly divergent positions have only one objective in common: As Deneen put it, to “re-found” our country, destroying the American political order—an objective to be accomplished by any means, even by cooperation with the Left as it “fundamentally transforms” America into a socialist regime. “They see that the coercive, all-pervasive state is on the rise in America,” I wrote, “and they have decided to cast in their lot with it. They have decided to collaborate.”

Less than a month after my prediction that illiberal Catholics would “collaborate” with the state rather than defend the Church, Deneen came out with an article entitled “Even if Hobby Lobby Wins, We Lose.” Written for publication on the very day the Supreme Court would hear oral arguments for the case, this attack on Hobby Lobby could not have been more aligned with the Left’s attack on religious liberty had it been commissioned by Barack Obama himself.

Indeed, Mike Fragoso has already made my point (far more cleverly and subtly than I could) at Catholicvote.org. He gave a list of nine hostile statements about the Hobby Lobby case, challenging his readers to distinguish between quotations from Patrick Deneen and Sandra Fluke. At the bottom of the list, Fragoso simply wrote, “It isn’t easy.”

Deneen’s article begins with an officious nod to Hobby Lobby (he “hope[s] their case prevails”). But then he launches into a 1500-word invective aimed at everything that Hobby Lobby stands for. “Hobby Lobby is a significant player in a global economy that has separated markets from morality,” he complains. “[T]he economy in which Hobby Lobby successfully and eagerly engages” is “no longer ‘religious’ or even ‘moral.’” Lest we be deceived into thinking that Hobby Lobby is unlike other, secularist corporations, Deneen makes use of not-so-subtle rhetoric to undercut its credibility. Hobby Lobby, he explains, is just as corrosive to civil society as “every chain store of its kind.” “They have contributed to the displacing of smaller, local businesses…” he continues, arguing that the government-subsidized infrastructure that favors national chains over mom-and-pop stores is a major threat to civilization.

Now one could argue that Deneen is simply attacking the cronyism that many other thoughtful conservatives oppose. But we can’t ignore what’s unique about Deneen’s attack: That before critiquing cronyism, he makes a point of pinning it on the one company that happens to be standing for religious liberty in the Supreme Court. Also significant is the fact that he does not address the governmental actions that currently threaten the Church, actions designed by an administration that not only hates Christianity, but hates small businesses just as fervently as do the large corporations with whom it engages in crony capitalism. If Deneen just wanted to critique the social ills that come with crony capitalism, he wouldn’t need to touch Hobby Lobby.

Let’s face it. Side-stepping the defense of the Church, Deneen has decided to join the Left’s attack on the economic freedom of Christian employers. Talk about kicking them when they’re down. This decision calls for a damned good explanation, but instead Deneen continues to blithely offer us diatribes against the free market, largely not concerning himself with the well-being of the Church. Of Hobby Lobby he has this to say: “Purchases in these chain stores result in a net outflow of money from these communities into the coffers of distant and absentee owners” like the Green family. Of the disadvantaged Church he says … nothing.

If he persists in writing this way, why should Deneen still be published in conservative and Catholic journals? Do conservatives have more loyalty to Deneen than to the country that he hates and would like to see “re-founded?” Are Catholics more devoted to Deneen than to the Church whose defenders he disdains? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We cannot include Deneen’s anti-American agenda among us while maintaining the moral objectives of the Church in America.

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