John L Allen Jr Weekly Column
Reporters who have served on assignment in another part of the world have a rule of thumb that after six months you want to write a book about the place, but after six years you're afraid even to write a sentence. By that point, you know all too well the dangers of generalization.
I'm in Texas this week researching a piece for a future edition of NCR about Catholicism in the Lone Star State, picking up on the fact that Texas now has a cardinal for the first time, and it hasn't taken me six years to grasp that generalizations here are usually exercises in futility. Sociologically, I've discovered, there really is no such thing as "Catholicism" in Texas -- instead, there are multiple "Catholicisms." Experiences vary enormously depending upon one's region, ethnicity, socio-economic background, political and theological outlook, and so on. For example, what it means to be Catholic in the diocese of Tyler in northeastern Texas, where Catholics represent a tiny 4.4 percent of the population surrounded by a vast Baptist majority, is worlds apart from Brownsville, where Catholics are a whopping 85 percent and overwhelmingly Latino. It's also very different for a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant in a tightly-knit ethnic parish such as Our Lady of Lavang in Houston, versus an Anglo Catholic in a place like Johnson City, LBJ's hometown in rural central Texas.