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Hints of Transcendence

by Ross Douthat

American Catholic culture after Vatican II, the culture that prevails in suburban parishes and big Catholic high schools and everywhere that the old ethnic Catholic groups live their mostly assimilated lives, has not received nearly so much artistic attention as the culture that preceded it.

There is a lively debate about whether the Catholic artist as a species has declined since its mid-20th-century prominence or whether the secular culture simply pays Catholic artists less attention. But either way it seems indisputable that everyday Catholic life itself is a less popular subject than in the days of Going My Way and J. F. Powers, and that when writers or filmmakers are drawn to Catholic subjects they tend to reach backward (as in Doubt, the recent Brooklyn, novel and film, and the works of Alice McDermott) to the lost world that Vatican II and suburbanization together unmade, rather than trying to limn the Catholic America that’s replaced it.

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