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A Conversation with David Scott

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David Scott is an author and Catholic scholar who writes frequently about the Catholic Church and matters of faith. His latest book, The Catholic Passion: Rediscovering the Power and Beauty of the Faith, discusses the lives and accomplishments of Catholics ranging from saints and martyrs to artists and social reformers. He lives in McCandless ... and yes, he attends Mass every day.

 

Were you an altar boy growing up?

I grew up in an ordinary Catholic house. We went to Mass on Sunday, but it wasn't like we were doing family rosaries or anything. Going to college in the 1970s I got into a lot of left-wing literary theory, and felt my eyes were being opened to a lot of greater truths. And I sort of drifted away from the church. I got a fellowship working on Capitol Hill for awhile -- I was like this closet Marxist -- and then I become a business reporter. That was my day job; by night, I'd be talking all these Marxist ideas. It was good stuff.

 

But then I picked up a copy of this encyclical [a statement of doctrine] by the Pope, titled "The Redeemer of Man." I thought it was such a pretentious title. That's the way I was at the time: My wife always reminds me that I used to see the Pope on TV and say, "Sell your hat, and you can feed the Third World." Anyway, I never thought the Pope had anything to say about anything, and here's this letter talking about the arms race, and the failing of capitalism and communism. It just blew me away.

 

So what compelled you to write the book?

It's a reaction against a presentation of the faith that just presents the rules and the dogmas. Those are important, but there's a beauty of this faith that often gets left on the cutting-room floor. And I think the best way to think about, say, original sin, is to look at how it was painted in Renaissance Italy.

 

Somebody counted, and there are 150 Catholics quoted in this book. Someone was actually giving me grief that there are too many saints quoted in it. But we've cut off all these guys, and the book is about recovering them. Does anybody think about the fact that Andy Warhol was a Byzantine Catholic? He wasn't a church-going Catholic, obviously. But Catholicism shows a whole different side of Warhol -- the idea that the supernatural comes through the ordinary. There are some Catholics who are seriously into jazz: Dave Brubeck did a jazz Mass. I'm always blown away by the depth of this stuff: You've got 2,000 years of Catholic history to choose from.

 

What was the hardest part about finishing the book?

Getting the tone right. I didn't want it to be triumphalist. There's a way of presenting these things like, "We're better than you." It's not that I don't think this stuff is true. But we're not going to know everything until the end of time. And as long as everyone is groping toward the truth in the meantime, I'm pretty happy. If anyone cares what I think.

 

In fact, your book touches on issues including abortion and sex outside of marriage, and on a lot of that stuff, you probably agree with a guy like Senator Rick Santorum. So why didn't I want to hurl your book across the room, the way I did his?

If I can say this without criticizing Santorum's book -- which I haven't read -- he's a politician. I'm not. There's only a couple lines on abortion or same-sex marriage in there. What's frustrating about being a Christian in this culture -- and we do it to ourselves -- is we present these things as just this one issue. But those positions come out of this whole way of looking at the world. In this culture, we don't really talk about big ideas: Everything gets reduced to a series of positions, and it's just not that easy. The church that defends the unborn is the same church that defends the poor. If you go to the Vatican's Web site, there's not a department of "same-sex issues." Most of what's there is about global poverty. Look at who helped write the New Deal: It was John Ryan, a Catholic priest. He looked at his faith and said, "You can't be a Catholic and not believe in things like a just wage." 

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