I’m afraid I have a very hard time figuring out what Mr. Brooks’s point is. However, to the extent it might depend on showing that today’s Catholics are more skeptical of Church teaching than their parents and grandparents were, it seems an oversight not to at least mention that the Church herself has paid more attention to the role of a well-formed conscience over the same period. You can’t show that two things are diverging if you only pay attention to the movement of one of them.
By the way, who knew that one of the “traditional patterns” defining our “ancestors” was a preference for “low-risk investment portfolios”?
Point taken that Mr. Brook’s is a bit flippant about this generation of Roman Catholics. I’d like to think what he’s getting at though is a description of an individual that is successful and also makes a valuable contribution to their community because of, and not despite, a certain playfulness or self-effacing quality about their own prejudices. Brook’s, I believe, is pointing out that there is virtue in taking religion/faith/ideaology seriously, but there is also virtue in skepticism. That skepticism, so long as it doesn’t become cynicism, can often be the source of creativity, innovation and even unique and heretofore unexpected ways of expressing one’s faith. Hence the point about the creativity and ingenuity of Protestant Victorians and 20th century American Jews.
The point can perhaps be made better by contrasting a “Brooks Catholic” with this portrayal from today’s Washington Post of Monica Goodling, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/24/AR2007052402032.html?hpid=opinionsbox1. These people are frightening precisely because they lack a sense of humor about their own convictions. If I recall my Screwtape Letters correctly, Lewis makes it plain that Uncle Screwtape cannot bear to be mocked, much like his master, and that he never laughs. Lewis is of course (and in the Preface to the Letters I believe he acknoweges) borrowing this idea from Milton. Only the devil is absolutely sure of himself.
About “portfolios,” agree totally Mark. If “low risk” means hiding cash around the house and revealing where it is only when near death then is he describing my “ancestors” investment strategy.
Maybe I misunderstood my teachers, but one lasting idea that I took away from my exposure to the Jesuits was that faith is an ongoing process of which, skepticism is very much a part. Those that are unwilling to examine their beliefs are unwilling because they are afraid of what they might find and in that light, their faith is weak.
I recall one of my Jesuit professors at Georgetown opening the first day of a theology class with: “Forget everything the nuns ever taught you!” I also remember the audible gasp from the class. I won’t attribute it here because I don’t remember for sure which professor. It was one of two and one is dead and the other is still alive and teaching.
On the “portfolios” I’m with David on the definition of low risk! My folks grew up during the depression though and I think that has more bearing on their monetary attitudes than their being Catholic. It’s more a generational thing than a Catholic thing.