Preachers and Politics
July-August 1988By Robert Coles
When I was a boy I remember my mother reading The Catholic Worker, paying much attention to the message Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin offered an everyday kind of Christianity meant to be lived in the secular world, and a Christianity with decidedly political concerns: to lobby, picket, protest, to stir up others in support of this, against that. I also remember my father listening on Sunday afternoon to the speeches of a Catholic priest from some place called Royal Oak, Michigan: Father Charles Coughlin. My mother disliked him, called him a rabble-rouser. My father disliked him, called him dangerous yet listened to him every week, and, I could tell, was somewhat fascinated by his passionate oratory.
I was six or seven, but I sure recall my father telling my mother that Father Coughlin was saying things a lot of people think, but dont dare express. I recall, too, asking my father himself to say things to spell out what he had just somewhat cryptically mentioned. But he wouldnt, nor did my mother want him to. Children, of course, often suspect there is more to say, so to speak, than gets said and are often disappointed after their push for candor.
Years later, in college, I encountered Father Coughlin again now in a history course taught by a young assistant professor who was much interested in populism: the yearnings and fears and resentments of ordinary, so-called working-class people. We read C. Vann Woodwards Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel. We read Millhands and Preachers and All the Kings Men. We read William Carlos Williamss Paterson his fiery blasts at the university world, with all its proud gentility and, not rarely, pietistic egoism. We also read about Father Coughlin and others who criticized the New Deal or corporate America from one or another angle of vision, whether of the right or the left.
You have two options:
- Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
- Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.
If you're already a subscriber log-in here.