June 24, 2010

Portsmouth Institute Conference on Newman: Edward Short

Justin Katz

The Saturday session of the Portsmouth Institute conference on Cardinal John Henry Newman began with a speech concerning Newman's view of American religion.

(The remainder of Mr. Short's speech is available in the extended entry of this post.)

As one finds with a great many authors of the past few centuries, Newman treated the United States as an analog and a metaphor — typically in a positive light. A theme that arises specifically with religion, though, is the effect of economic mobility.and opportunity.

As Short puts it, self-made men and women have made their own success, tackled their own trials, exerted their own effort, and in the process of gaining status have had no time to develop intellectual habits. They are religious, therefore: "not for love and fear, but for good sense."

During the question and answer period at the end of the lecture, the audience proved more interested in current trends and controversies in the United States than in Newman's view of our ancestors — his contemporaries. Indeed, a bit of a debate broke out about the appropriate reaction of Catholics to the spirit of the day.

For his part, I'd say that Short was perhaps the most optimistic commentator on American Catholicism's prospects that I've yet heard.