Spirituality Magazine

Early Review: Who Are You? What is Your Faith? America’s 21st Century Alt-Right and Catholic Social Doctrine

By Mba @mbartoloabela

Bartolo-Abela challenges American Christians, particularly American Catholics, to ask themselves whether the Gospel of Trump is compatible with the Gospel of Christ. Beginning with President Trump's contested Executive Order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, this book considers the complex and questionable attitudes to non-Whites and non-Western religions that have swirled in American society since its inception. There is a whistle-stop tour of American race relations throughout history, encompassing mistreatment of Native Americans, African American slavery, Japanese American internment during World War Two and a great deal else as well. It is right to remind readers that America is a land formed partly by violent conquest and racial exploitation, and that theological rationalization for this has not been lacking from the Puritan settlers onward.

Bartolo-Abela is a trained social scientist who uses her expertise to good effect in showing the persistent social structures and psychological layers, some more subtle than others, of racism and its effects. The reader is not starved of statistics or academic studies. There is a focus on the increasing tendency, in the light of the 9/11 attacks and the "Islamic State" insurgency, to form sweeping judgments against Muslim Americans (or those who to White Americans might racially look Muslim). The widespread conspiracy theories concerning President Obama, not least that he was a secret Muslim, are held up as evidence of continuing racial resentment. Given the nature of many well-documented reactions (e.g., "Assassinate the N***** Ape!" quoted on p. 98), it is doubtful that he would have generated quite so much loathing among certain right-wingers if he had been White, or for that matter did not have Hussein as a middle name.

The rise of Donald Trump and the alt-right, with its widely documented racial antipathies, is viewed with grave discontent, especially given the weighty support it enjoys among White Christians. That racial tensions played a part in the 2016 Presidential election is unquestionable and it is clear that the legacy of the civil rights era is only a partial success. Bartolo-Abela cites the teachings of Catholic Social Doctrine as voiced by recent Popes and Sacred Scripture as flatly forbidding the contemptuous treatment of immigrants and stressing the need for hospitality to those different from oneself. Extreme nationalism that dismisses the basic human rights and dignity of people of differing racial or religious heritage is profoundly sinful, however much glossed with claims to protect national security or making America great again. God alone can take away the sins of the world and only if America turns to Him, not demagogues who distort His teachings, can it be saved.

Bartolo-Abela argues her case with panache, even if one might wish that she had written in more detail of what an acceptable political alternative to the alt-right should look like (is the only alternative to Trump, Hilary Clinton?). This is a passionate book unafraid of controversy. Not everyone will completely agree with it, but no one with a brain and a pulse shall be bored by it -  Christopher Villiers, Catholic theologian, author of Sonnets From the Spirit and Petals of Vision.

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