Fun exercise

Instrumentum Laboris, the guide to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod, is
a real doozy. I’ll have lots more to say about it later. For now, here’s
a quick exercise that will tell you where our bishops’ interests are. Go
to the document and do a search for any of the following:


Just try it.

What do the Kasperites really believe?

Consider this a Grand Inquisitor-style thought experiment.  Most baptized Catholics are to one degree or another Kasperite heretics, and I’m quite sure that I’ve often spotted this spirit just beneath their surface.  Whoever is running the American annulment factory is much more guilty of this type of thinking than Kasper himself.  The arguments that Catholic practice should depart from Catholic doctrine always seem phony.  What do they really believe?

Life is just a jumble of one thing after another, and none of it really means anything because it all ends in oblivion anyway.  Each of us will die, and yet we will each die alone, because my personal extinction is an incommunicable catastrophe.  There is no God, and the universe doesn’t care how you spend the time between now and your final destination.  And yet to make the swift years of life bearable, we must imagine that what we do matters in some ultimate sense.  We must feel as if we are really connected to other people by unbreakable bonds.  Otherwise, the fear and loneliness and despair would be too much.  So we need our vows, our promises of fidelity unto death, those grand gestures of throwing away our lives for love like Jesus did.

And yet, this is playing with fire.  “For better or for worse” means the possibility of having to accept great suffering and loneliness, the very things that vow was supposed to prevent.  What shall we do?  Is not the play-acting of children healthy, perhaps even necessary?  And yet, when the rules of a game or a dare lead to actual danger, is that not the time to remember that the game is in fact a game, and that they would be better off playing a different one?  Again, what shall we do?  Shall we devise new marriage vows with explicit exception clauses, new rules that keep things from ever getting really out of hand?  Heavens no!  This would defeat the point of the game, which must be played as if it were serious to have its effect.  The point of marriage is to feel that you are indissolubly bound to another person, that she/he is totally yours, and you are totally hers/his, even though it’s not true.  People in love always promise “forever”; it would be as cruel to keep them from promising this as it would be to actually hold them to it.

No, the game must continue to be played, because outside of it is darkness and despair.  We must play with fire.  But it must be play.  What is needed is a class of discreet and wise “grown-ups” to keep things from getting out of hand.  The point of marriage is the comfort of personal companionship.  The point of the Eucharist is the comfort of community affirmation.  We must see to it that these sacraments are really offering these things to everyone.  And yet, for them to work. they must maintain the illusion of transcendent purpose and absolute validity.  We must affirm the rules, and we must break them.

Eventually, we will not be satisfied with communion for the remarried.  We will insist that the Church recognize second unions.  We will not criticize indissolubility–oh no!  Let a woman enjoy the comforting glow of vowed-fidelity-unto-death with her husband.  And if that doesn’t work out, let her then enjoy it with her second husband.  And then with her third.  It doesn’t matter if these feelings don’t make sense in some absolute sense if the comfort is real.   Many of the Church’s other moral teachings will have to be practically neutered as well.  However, this is not something the Church is ready to hear yet.

The reasons we give for our policies are, of course, illogical.  They must be, because we can’t give our true reasons without breaking illusions we wish to see maintained.  The integralists say we are a new crop of modernists, but this is not quite right.  The original modernists were interested in theology.  They wanted  to reinterpret Catholic dogma in an immanentist sense, as “expressions of religious consciousness” or suchlike.  We have no interest in such speculative matters.  It is all the same to us if the laity believe in Apostolic Succession or Transubstantiation or other such nonsense.  We are only interested in the practical functioning of the psychological-sacramental system.  We only ask to be allowed to interrupt the game here and there so that most people can go on playing without trouble.  If we must blather on about being “merciful” and “pastoral” based on no principle to be consistently applied, we are certainly willing to do so to achieve our goal.

Some would accuse us of undermining the faith, but if the laity had any faith to undermine they would spurn us.  Instead we are immensely popular.  The people want what we’re giving.  Deep down, they know that marriage and religion are just play-acting.  They just want the play to be kept pleasant.  They do not share that barbarous obsession of the fundamentalists, the integralists, and the new atheists over issues of truth.  Are you surprised that I group these three things together?  You shouldn’t be.  What separates us from the atheists is their residual sense of reverence, their impression that the ideas of God, sacrament, and marriage are too holy to be trifled with even if they don’t correspond to anything real.  Most of us, though, are civilized enough to take a more practical view.

Who wouldn’t want religion as we sell it, all comfort and no judgement?  We take away pitiless rules and troubling truths.  We take away the Cross.

Repost from the Orthosphere: a plea for mercy

We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried.  Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage.  However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces.  Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church.  I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.

Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress.  Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship.  We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love.  Not to condemn them!  To walk with them!  And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.

What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church?  Do we not presume to judge them?  Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort?  Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy?  Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister.  But this is cruelly unrealistic!  A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress.  Illegitimate children might be involved.  Plus, she might be totally hot.

Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful.  Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?

What should the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses.  The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers.  It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion.  But if one, why not the other?  Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament.  The question that is posed in response is:  is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others?  Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?

Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful.  However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars.  Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance.  We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love!  Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people.  So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.

Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior.  Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman.  That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.

Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone:  the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.

What “anti-monarchical lesson”?–cross-post

In the Leftist theological journal Concilium, Belgian professor Johan Verstraeten accuses Pope Benedict XVI of selling out to the capitalists.  Basically, the Vestraeten accuses His Holiness of concentrating too much on personal morality and individual charity instead of focusing on “unjust institutions”, for maintaining a generally positive view of business competition, and for stressing subsidiarity and refusing to equate Catholic social teaching with European social democracy.  Cheisa has here reprinted a defense of the pope by Italian professor and senator Stefano Ceccanti (H/T  The Pittsford Perennialist).  Ceccanti accuses Verstraeten of distorting Catholic social teaching by taking the few parts of the tradition that he likes and discarding the rest.  So far, so good.


Really, not much needs to be said of the Concilium critique.  We’ve heard this all many times before.  The accusation that the Church is holding back the Workers’ Revolution by preaching personal morality is actually a bit charming in its quaintness.  It’s like having a new movie come out where a black-hatted villain ties the hero’s girlfriend to railroad tracks.  A criticism of the Church that doesn’t involve condoms or sexual perversion?  How refreshing!  All we need to do is dust off the old reply.  What Leftists mean when they say “just institutions” is not what morally sane people would mean by that expression.  What Leftists mean is communism, which any believing Catholic regards as a grossly unjust institution.  By being an anti-communist, the pope is challenging unjust social structures in a significant way.

Ceccanti eventually gets to this response, but he puts it in a very weird way:

To tell the truth, however, the positions of Verstraeten and of others like him appear to be characterized theologically by a “leftist conservatism,” which has not yet taken into account the collapse of the Berlin Wall and its anti-monarchical lesson, against the overweening power of the state and of politics.

These currents criticize the magisterium precisely because it has instead taken that lesson into account. But by doing so, they reproduce in the social sphere the traditionalist rejection of religious freedom: a rejection that is also rigorously statist, motivated in defense of “iustitia in veritate” against the free choice of the erroneous conscience in good faith.

In short, Verstraeten and… Lefebvre have more elements in common theologically than one would believe by thinking solely along the political axis of right and left.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight:  communism and monarchism are basically the same?  The fall of the Berlin Wall was a defeat for monarchy?!  A traditionalist commitment to the social kingship of Christ is no different from a totalitarian atheist commitment to extirpating the Sacred?   Do these classical liberals realize how stupid they sound?  They think they’re being profound when they say that there are only two forms of government:  liberal democracy and everything else–all cases of everything else being basically the same and morally equivalent to Stalin.  In fact, to anyone who has ever thought outside the liberal box, this sounds as ignorantly provincial as a man who imagined that there are only two types of people:  Americans and foreigners–all foreigners being basically alike.

But doesn’t he have a point?  Don’t antimodernist Catholicism and communism have something important in common, namely that they both posit some idea of the good life and the common good, and they authorize the state to impose this by force?  Well, yes, but this is true of all ruling ideologies, including liberalism, with its fetishism of autonomy and officially imposed atheist utilitarianism.  No need to go on–everybody here knows the hollowness of liberalism’s pretense to be a “neutral” doctrine that upholds individual consciences in a special way.  As soon as we leave our part of the web, though, we see what strong a hold liberalism’s boasts still hold over the educated public.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a leper”

I’m guessing most of my Catholic readers got subjected to their yearly anti-discrimination sermon–whoops, I mean “homily”– today.  We all heard the story about how Jesus cured a leper.  The priest then tells us solemnly that lepers were “considered unclean” back in Biblical times, and that there was an awful “social stigma” attached to leprosy.  People would be mean to lepers, segregated them, and imagined that non-leprosy is somehow “better” than leprosy.  Jesus, however, was all about breaking social barriers that keep people apart.  So Jesus found this leper, (cured him) and made people stop discriminating against him and start treating him equally (by taking away his ghastly and potentially contagious disease).  Let us all think about who the “lepers” are in our communities, and do likewise.

Morons.  Morons.  Morons.

First, let’s look at what’s wrong with this on the literal level.  Leprosy is not a social construct; it is caused, not by prejudice, but by the bacterium Mycobacteriumleprae.  It causes skin lesions, disfigurement, and severe nerve damage.  And although official sources–more worried about preventing “stigma” than preventing spreading–like to say that it’s not “very contagious”, it is contagious.  Note the recommended means of prevention:

Prevention consists of avoiding close physical contact with untreated people.

The “treatment” indicated did not, of course, exist until modern times.  So, how many of you oh-so-morally-superior modern pricks feel like kissing a leper now?  If you were an ancient people, and the only way you knew to stop the spread of a horrific disease was to quarantine those infected (and note only those definitely infected–not everyone who could have been exposed), would this be an entirely irrational and mean-spirited thing to do?  In any event, should a Catholic priest be criticizing the Jews for doing what sacred scripture explicitly tells them to do?  Remember, we believe as a matter of faith that the Torah comes from God.  Even if we didn’t, it hardly takes a leap of religious faith to see the obvious and overriding common interest served by Moses’ law in this matter.  Sure, segregating lepers might have made them feel bad, but it saved lives.  Notice also that Jesus Himself never criticizes the Mosaic law on lepers.  In fact, he has the leper he cured follow the regular procedure on reintegration into the community.  Thus, it’s also silly for us to lament that ancient and medieval Christians “betrayed Jesus’ legacy” by continuing to quarantine lepers.  No, they weren’t being bad Christians; they just weren’t being stupid either.

Leprosy, as I said, is a horrible disease, and comparing today’s pet minorities to lepers is just grotesque.  On the other hand, the curing of the leper does have a symbolic value that previous generations of Christians did recognize.  Instead of thinking of ourselves as the excluding Pharisees (as the VII priestards want us to do), let us realize that we are the lepers, that our souls are diseased and disfigured by sin as a body is by leprosy, and that Jesus Christ alone can cure us.  This is supposed to be the point of the story.  Unlike the “learning to accept the Other” story, it doesn’t trivialize a very real physical affliction.  Someone with a sense of the gravity of sin–that is, the holy ones of previous generations–would realize that what sin does to the soul really is as bad as what leprosy does to the body.  It really is that big a deal.  As is the redemption from so ghastly a state brought by our Saviour.

One can see why our priests don’t preach that lesson from the Gospel:  they have no sense of sin.  They don’t believe that there is really anything wrong with anyone.  They believe it so strongly that they are forced to the absurd conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with leprosy.  Admitting that leprosy is a really, really bad thing might contribute to the social stigma which is the only evil they can recognize.  Since there’s nothing really wrong with anybody, Jesus really doesn’t have any healing or redeeming to do, so that part is always deemphasized as much as possible.  The only remaining point of Christianity is to carry the Good News that everyone is fine the way he/she/it is, and so we should therefore “accept” each other.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a sinner or a leper.”  It’s a reducio ad absurdum of the Spirit of Vatican II, if another was needed.

Show me your conscience; don’t tell me about it


Catholic institutions shouldn’t have to pay for their employees’ contraceptives because it goes against our consciences, and we should have religious freedom not to have to violate our consciences.


Contraception is evil.  It desecrates the marital bond, offends against chastity, and is a menace to public morals.  It is reprehensible to engage in contraceptive acts or to cooperate in them in any way.  This is a matter of natural law; it has nothing to do with religion.  Public bodies should not be promoting or enabling this sin.  Neither Holy Mother Church, nor any other group, religious or secular, nor any individual should be forced by government to divulge funds for such wicked purposes.

The first message, the wrong one, can be translated as follows:

We Catholics have this weird idea that contraception is bad.  We have no reason for this belief.  Don’t look at us, man; it’s the old man in Rome.  He made up this rule and the rest of us are stuck with it.  It’s like the Jews and pork–a ‘religion’ thing.  However, even though poor, poor women (Who cares about men, after all?) are going to, like die, or whatever it is that happens to chicks who don’t get their contraceptive pills, we are selfishly sticking with our arbitrary dislike, and we think we’ve found something in the constitution that forces you to let us.

If you say the second thing, people might think to themselves

Whoa.  They really believe this stuff.  I guess it would be wrong to force them to do something they think is that bad.  Maybe these laws are getting a little pushy.  And maybe it isn’t a ‘religion’ thing; maybe we’ve been running over peoples’ consciences for a long time, and it’s only now that the target was big enough to fight back.

So, what’s actually going to happen?  I think this comment at What’s Wrong with the World sounds most plausible:

I predict the following:
1. Most if not all the bishops will start out sounding strong in solidarity in trying to get this reversed.
2. Some catholic organizations (colleges, hospitals, clinics, etc) will refuse to go along with the bishops, will not follow their lead, and will give in to the demand to provide the insurance.
3. Some bishops (but not all) who have Catholic orgs in their diocese who give in (#2 above) will “enter into” dialogue with them, and this dialogue will become extraordinarily complex to sort out. Aug 2013 will pass without resolution of the dialogue. (Recall the complex discussions Cardinal Law had about a Catholic org entering into contracts with non-Catholic entities for shared space?)
4. Approximately 6 bishops who have orgs in #2 above will timely excommunicate members of the boards. Bruskewitz of Lincoln NE (if he has any boards so foolish as to tempt him) being first, followed quickly by Olmstead of Phoenix, Chaput of Philly, and Loverde of Arlington VA.
5. Several org boards will simply renounce their Catholic ties and become non-affiliated orgs. Then they will buy the insurance. (This has already happened by one group, so it doesn’t take much prescience.) They will hope to avoid excommunication this way.
6. A large number of theologians will announce that giving in to the regulations is not (a) formal cooperation with evil, and (b) is not immediate material cooperation with evil, and therefore is subject to the usual “cooperation with evil” rule, requiring proportionate good.

The practical problem the bishops (as a body) have with making any kind of effective political stand is the combination of 3, 5 and 6 above. The more they hold a hard line with solidarity, the more pressure some board members will feel to sever Catholic association, and use 6 to justify themselves – resulting in a noticeable number of rats leaving the ship, upsetting the ONE LARGE BLOCK UNITED IN OPPOSITION picture. If they were unified and pro-active they would pre-emptively formulate a strategy together to _all_ (a) give a 1-month hard deadline to all orgs trying to go with the HHS regulation for all “discussion”, and (b) publicly punish all orgs and their boards that EITHER sever ties over this or buy the insurance, and (c) formally silence theologian dissent on the issue. I don’t even know if these are readily possible within Canon Law.

Down with homilies!

This will be an intra-Christian discussion, so the corresponding rules apply.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a decision.  I’m not putting up with homilies anymore if I don’t have to.  People holding babies have to get up and miss parts of mass all the time, so opportunities easily arise for me to duck out with no one thinking anything of it.  This one little evasion will improve my ability to appreciate the Mass immeasurably.   I won’t have to be angry or feel insulted; homilies seem to be designed to make people like me suffer.  The best that one can hope for is banality:  “God wants us to be nice to each other”.  Most of the time this is combined with idiotic sentimentality and baby-talk:  “To explain today’s Gospel, I’m going to tell you the story of the grumpy giant who didn’t want children to play in his yard”.  (I shit you not; Father Leo in Ithaca loved to tell children’s stories in his homilies.)  About a third of the time, you have to deal with outright heresy and rebellion, always expressed in the most obnoxious and condescending ways (“Some of us are so narrow-minded to think our religion is better than Islam.  Saint Paul didn’t really mean it when he said that wives have to obey their husbands.”  Yes, I’ve heard those ones too, more than once.)  Why should I have to put up with this?  I shouldn’t even be allowing my family to be subjected to it.  Now, I’m actually grateful that Father Jose in my current parish doesn’t seem to be a heretic, so I just get banality and sentimentality.  I have to hand it to him:  he did a good job explaining and actually supporting the recent changes to the Mass.  His one ideological quirk is that he thinks it’s somewhere in the Bible that members of his nationality have an unlimited right to despoil members of my nationality.  Given what I’ve come to expect, that’s not so bad.  Unfortunately, when he goes to visit family in Mexico, we get the damned American priests who go back and forth between baby-talk and lecturing us on the evils of discrimination.

So, I intend to dodge homilies whenever I find a remotely plausible excuse.  But, thinking about it, what about those other poor people who couldn’t come up with a good excuse?  Why do we have to have homilies at all?  I’m serious, why doesn’t the Church just scrap them?  I think it would be a really, really good idea.

But there’s a good Catholic reason for homilies, right?  Scriptural interpretation shouldn’t happen in a vacuum.  The priest can share with his congregation the wisdom of 2000 years of Fathers, mystics, and magisterial authority.  He can explain key Catholic dogmas like the Trinity or Transubstantiation.  He can defend the Church’s contested ethical teachings.

I ask my Catholic readers:  does this ever happen?  Ever?

Okay, I vaguely remember hearing a homily on the Trinity back when I was at America’s orthodox stronghold, the Newman center at the University of Illinois.  But that was a long time ago.  Since then, Trinity Sunday has been an awkward experience.  The priest will say something about how we shouldn’t worry about dogmas and make some joke about how it’s dangerous anyway, since most people who think about the Trinity end up getting condemned as heretics.  Instead, we should think about how God is present in our lives.  This is followed by a story about a little girl who wanted to give her lunch money to the poor, or about the uptight churchmen who learned a valuable lesson about how sometimes people with long hair are good people, or about the fish in a pond who didn’t believe in the ocean, or some other God-damned horse shit like that.

Quick:  count the number of homilies you’ve heard where the priest warns that contraception and divorce are mortal sins.  I’ll bet for most of you the number is less than one.  Now, is this because there’s no one in the parish whose soul is in danger from these mortal sins, so that such warnings would be superfluous?  Is it because the priest knows that many of his parishioners engage in these sins, and he’s afraid of angering them?  Or is it because he rejects the Church’s infallible teachings on these matters but doesn’t want to say that for fear of having to get a real job?  And aren’t you appalled to be in a situation of hoping that the second possibility is right–that your priest is a coward, but an orthodox one?

Setting aside the heresy and even the insults to our intelligence for the moment, let us think about what kind of an effect a typical homily has on the spiritual state of the participants.  I mean the practice, universal among orthodox and heretic alike, of telling jokes in homilies.  Does this increase or decrease one’s sense of being in the presence of the mysterium tremendum?  Is this the way a man who seriously believes that Jesus Christ is about to become bodily present comports himself?

Just get rid of the damned thing.

A new age

How odd that we’d just been noting the death of one Cold Warrior (the commie Christopher Hitchens), when now I’ve just read about the death of two much more important Cold War figures:  Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il.  Havel was, of course, a great hero of the anti-Communist resistance, while Kim was one of the last of the old-style communist dictators.  Both of them seem oddly out of place today.  The ultimate issue is the same now as it was forty years ago, but the forms are changed, and many of the old labels are no longer useful.  (How odd it sounds to me when I hear someone accused of being a “socialist”.)

Havel’s classical liberalism seems like something from another age; it doesn’t address the questions that vex us, now that the choices we face are no longer “communism” vs. “democracy”.  We certainly must honor him for fighting the great evil of communism, and for fighting it on the correct grounds:  not that it was inefficient, but that it was morally corrupting.  Still, I could imagine his anti-totalitarian writings inspiring either side of today’s great debate, since each side accuses the other of forcing the public to profess obvious falsehoods.

And how quaint is North Korean brutality!  It’s as if they’re the only ones to get the memo that that isn’t how the Left operates anymore.  Now that the society-altering visions of today’s Leftists are less ambitious than were those of Lenin and Mao, but they’ve learned how to work toward them without yielding a huge crop of martyrs.  People and organizations who openly oppose the Left will get broken, but they won’t be martyrs.  Can you imagine a professor losing his job for writing against a cherished Leftist belief?  Perish the thought!  Of course, sometimes people must be let go for creating hostile work environments, environments where gay and transgendered students feel insufficiently “affirmed”.  Can you imagine a Leftist government confiscating Church property because it disapproves of Catholic doctrines?  That’s so 1920s!  Now we look for some crime, like adolescent sexual abuse, that Catholic clergy engage in at the roughly same rate as the rest of the population, gather together every accusation–viable or not–over the entire globe over the course of 60 years (which inevitably creates a large absolute number sure to impress the mathematically illiterate), and use your pet media to create a moral panic.  Then bend statute of limitation laws only against the Church and award order-of-magnitude larger settlements than other organizations face for comparable offenses, and pretty soon you can eradicate the communal patrimony of an entire religious group (made largely of working-class ethnic whites and hispanics) while making sure that they get no sympathy in the process.  No, anyone who objects to this ongoing cultural genocide will be accused of not caring about “the chiiiillllddddrrren!!!!”  (Me:  “But how does it help children to obsess every few years over the same set of accusations from the 1970s?  Today, priests in most parishes aren’t even allowed to be alone with children anymore.  And why don’t we spare some attention for the much vaster problem of child sexual abuse in other institutions?”  Them:  “Don’t change the subject!  If you really loved your children, you wouldn’t ask those questions!”)  Don’t you see how stupid the communists were?  They allowed people to go to jail explicitly for their beliefs.  When the Left attack me, they’ll tell the world either that I don’t respect my students or that I don’t love my kids.  Today’s Kims have learned how to avoid making Havels.

Evangelization: how to do it?

I’d like to discuss something with my fellow Christians.  I’ll be writing from a Catholic perspective, but the Protestant position is basically the same, so I’ll be interested in everybody’s thoughts.

Jesus told us to bring the Good News to all people; evangelization is a serious duty for each of us.  My simple plan for converting the world is as follows:  there are about 1 billion Catholics in the world, and 6 billion non-Catholics.  Therefore, each of us should convert 6 people.  Done.  How hard could that be?  Just six people.  I must know dozens of non-Catholics and interact at least in small ways with hundreds.  I’ve probably got six decades of adult life, so if I wanted to, I could target one person for a whole decade (not that I think that would be a particularly effective strategy).

All right, let’s do it.  Let’s make converts.  But how?  How about the direct approach?  Preach at street corners; witness to our co-workers.  The trouble is that I can’t imagine one chance in a million of this actually working, or accomplishing anything but pissing people off.  How about the indirect approach?  “Preach” by example, by works of virtue and mercy.  This is what clergy usually tell us to do nowadays, and of course it’s a good thing, but it sounds like an excuse to not evangelize and pretend you did.  Faith can’t be spread entirely by spiritual osmosis.  At some point, we must bring up the subject of Christianity to the potential convert.  Besides, if the idea is to impress via good deeds, doesn’t that mean we have to make a point to show off to everyone how virtuous we are?  There are Biblical strictures against that.  The third strategy is prayer and fasting.  Again, those are definitely things to do, but is that really all we’re going to do to spread the faith?

To tell the truth, I have no idea how to make converts.  The correct answer, I know, is that we never really do.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not from us.  That can’t mean that we are to just sit back and wait for the Holy Ghost to start hitting people over the head; we have been told to spread the faith.  The effect (conversion) is always disproportionate to our contribution (witnessing, good example) to the cause.  Still, there must be an intelligible connection between what we do and what the Holy Spirit brings out of it.  Otherwise, why not just sit in your room and play marbles, saying that God may take your concentration on the game and, in His mysterious ways, use it for the salvation of souls?  Here’s where a theology of evangelization would be helpful; instead, theologians have spent the past century giving us arguments why we don’t need to bother with evangelizing (because, you know, everybody is already an “anonymous Christian”).

I can’t think of anything I could do to get through to these people.  I have had friends and family leave the Church, and there was nothing I could think to do to stop them.  I would always end up doing very little, thinking I should be careful to maintain a positive relationship, don’t let it turn into an argument, set myself up to “subtly” win them back later (although the opportunity for “subtle” action never does seem to arise.)  In retrospect, I half wish I had just made an ass of myself, and demanded they repent their heresies for reasons X, Y, and Z.  I can’t imagine it working, but at least when I face judgment I would have been able to say that I did something.

Right now, aside from trying to shelter the souls of my wife and daughter, this blog is my main evangelization effort.  That’s pretty puny, given that this isn’t even an apologetics blog, and I don’t give my readers reasons to convert–although if anybody wants to hear why I think he should be a Christian, I’d be happy to oblige.  However, my impression of the culture is that the main things that keep people away from and hostile to the Church are philosophical/moral/social beliefs rather than strictly theological ones.  To be a Christian, you must believe in stuff like the Incarnation, but most nonbelievers never even get as far as asking whether they believe this.  They know that the Church is hierarchical, patriarchal, and anti-democratic; they think these are damning faults, and so they never even consider the Church’s more distinct doctrines.  If I can knock down these false philosophical positions in some people, their main obstacle to the faith will be removed, and that seems like a major thing.

Still, I suspect that what I just wrote is just rationalization, that I am substituting something difficult and frightening–actually outing myself as a Christian and preaching the Gospel to people who will hate me for it–with something easy and enjoyable–blabbing anonymously on the internet.  I haven’t significantly helped in the conversion of anybody, so I’m definitely not on track to make my quota.  Even in my extended family, where I have made some efforts–encouraging prayers before meals, arguing the Church’s positions against my modernizing elders and contemporaries–it’s not clear that I’m making anything but a superficial difference.  I really don’t know what to do.

So tell me, what do you do to spread the faith?

Different responses to Vatican II

My post quoting Bruce on Tolkien and VII generated lots of interesting comments.

Here’s Bill:

VII provides its own escape mechanism, one clearly expressed by John XXIII and Paul VI and referred to by the current Holy Father. The two conciliar Popes both said quite clearly and explicitly that VII was about re-expressing the same Catholic Faith in modern language….Thus, the Church can back away from this experiment by saying “hey, that re-expression led to a lot of misunderstandings, let’s go back to the way we used to talk.”

The documents of VII and the subsequent Magisterium are such a tangled mess that they could be taken to mean almost anything at all. They provide no constraint at all on the future development of the Church, especially if they are subjected to the sort of willfully hostile re-interpretation which the reformers have subjected the rest of Church teaching to. If the Syllabus can have a counter-Syllabus, then the counter-Syllabus can have a counter-counter-Syllabus. Or, the council can just quietly be dropped.

This is pretty much my position.  I don’t see how the progressives could criticize me for it either.  They’re always saying that the Church is “learning” so what’s true today may be false tomorrow.  That’s nonsense, of course, but how can they know that we won’t one day learn our way out of Dignitatis Humanae the way we supposedly have learned our way out of the Syllabus of Errors?

Trent13 disagrees:

Were the Ordinary Magisterium not infallible, I would agree with you. But that is where your thesis fails. I refer you to John Daly’s article on the subject here:

Daly believes that we currently have no valid pope.  I would not accept such a dangerous statement unless I was absolutely compelled to, and I don’t think Daly’s case is so strong that we’re at that point.  Many of the sins he cites against the post-conciliar Church are sins of omission:  failure to preach on hell, failure to pray for the conversion of Jews, etc.  We are promised no protection from those.  The other sins are abuses, rather than actions of the ordinary magisterium, a major example being the annulment factory that is the American Church.  The American Church is neck-deep in complicity with adultery, no doubt, but no worse than how some Churches were riven with simony in the Dark Ages.  The right laws are on the books; it’s just that no one follows them because it would mean offending women who want to ditch their husbands, something no Westerner would dare do.  What we have here is cowardice.  Daly’s application of Church infallibility is so extreme, he could probably use it to show that the Throne of Saint Peter has been empty since shortly after its first occupant went to his reward.  By his own description, an act of the ordinary magisterium is a strong criterion, requiring the universal consent of the Church at all levels.  We haven’t had anything like that since VII cursed us with its “spirit”.

Justin also thinks we reactionary Catholics are in an untenable position:

I would disagree with the idea that everyone goes along eventually. We are called, and JUDGED, as individuals. If our church leaders schism from Truth, are we required to follow them? Let me put the question to you: what line would have to be crossed for you to leave the Roman Catholic Church? Is there one? Or would you support it, NO MATTER WHAT?

I would say that no amount of treachery by the lower clergy against the Catholic Church would make me think that I myself should betray her.  I suppose two infallible statements in unambiguous contradiction would be enough to disprove Catholicism.  Even setting aside faith in the Holy Spirit, I think it’s pretty unlikely that we reactionary Catholics will ever be faced with that.  Our enemy doesn’t believe in infallibility, so even if they captured the Papacy itself, they couldn’t force a disproof of this sort.  They couldn’t speak their heresy ex cathedra and seriously mean it to be taken that way.  The Catholic Church is a traditionalist organization, meaning it derives its authority from its connection to the past (all the way to the Apostles, we believe).  This locks it into its past positions pretty effectively and limits the amount of doctrinal creativity the magisterium can exercise without throwing away its legitimacy.

Finally, bgc clarifies his position:

My point may be clarified in my current blog post – I wished to imply that Vatican II was *not* well-motivated. To say this is partly merely to assume that almost all human-derived motivations are bad in this fallen world; but also that the explicit motivations for Vatican II are not good – they were worldly motivations – motivations of expediency, the opposite of good motivations.



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