Error has no rights

Just because the pope says something doesn’t mean it’s not stupid.  Consider the following:

The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in the God revealed to them in Jesus Christ, and as such they also died for freedom of conscience and for the freedom to confess their faith.

In fact, there’s not reason to think that the martyrs believed they had a “freedom” or a right to confess their faith, because it is theirs, independent of what that faith might be.  It was not their rights they were upholding, but God’s.  God has the right to be served and worshiped according to His specifications.  It would be better to say that the martyrs died for God, rather than for their faith in Him, lest people come to imagine that their faith is a sort of personal property that other people are bound to respect.

There is nothing contradictory about thinking it wrong for the State to outlaw the true religion while thinking it right to outlaw false ones.  To imagine there is, one must accept the liberal neutrality principle, that the State can’t favor one set of beliefs over another.  This belief is far from obvious.  In fact, it’s so counterintuitive that it is only applied in the case of religion.  If two men were talking to children, one encouraging them to drink milk, and the other to drink poison, the law would have no trouble discriminating between the two beliefs, regardless of how sincerely held they both were.  Now suppose instead of bodily harm, the issue were spiritual harm.  Suppose one man was giving children advice that would lead them to heaven, and the other was giving them advice that would lead them to hell.  Suddenly, conscience is supreme and the State can do nothing.  It is said this is because we value freedom so highly, but that’s obviously not true.  We have no problem restricting freedom in the case where bodily harm is at issue.  The real reason is what the nineteenth century popes said it was:  religious indifferentism.  (Since then, of course, the State has ceased to be indifferent, and has become positively hostile to the true faith.  Today, the man giving children godly advice would be accused of child abuse, while the one giving wicked advice would be designated a “sex educator” and get paid by the school.)

Father Rhonheimer (you’ll remember Father Condom) tries to argue that Vatican II’s declaration on religious liberty was continuous in some deep sense with Catholic tradition.  I’ve usually been sympathetic to this claim, but Rhonheimer if anything seems to prove the exact opposite.  In his reading, Vatican II has rejected the ideal of a confessional State, essentially rejected the claim that national communities as such have any duty to the truth, and indeed rejected the social kingship of Christ.  We are to collectively, but not privately, to embrace religious indifferentism.  This is worse than heretical; it’s irrational.  Whatever the truth is about God and man, surely it’s axiomatic that men should conform themselves–both as individuals and as a group–to this reality.  It’s perfectly fine to say that individuals have rights, and there are means that should not be employed–because they are immoral–to maintain a Catholic confessional State.  The tradition will back you up there.  But if you’re a Catholic, you must believe that Christ is not only rightful king of each and every American; He is rightful king of America itself.

24 Responses

  1. If I could “like” it more than once, I would. Nice post. Viva Christo Rey!

  2. I should skip the pleasantries. My fore-bearers were Huguenots. And some people have very long memories.
    BTW, in what way did France gain from driving away their most active, thoughtful, and enterprising citizens? Doing that was a tremendous gift to the places that took them in. And it certainly did not help France avoid the stupid frenzy of their Revolutionary period.

  3. I mean, I read all of your stuff. But I think you are just posturing. I really doubt that you, even if in authority, would act on even half of these notions if your intended targets could easily kill you for trying.

  4. Hello Rum,

    Let us suppose it is true that French Protestants are more active, thoughtful, and enterprising than French Catholics. Then it is even more crucial if France is to be a Catholic country for the Church to receive State recognition. Otherwise, the Protestant elite will naturally come to dominate all the public space, just as secular Jewish sensibilities have managed to be imposed on American public space. State Catholicism doesn’t have to mean expelling heretics, but you would no doubt still find it vexing, since your public authorities would be deferring to a religion not your own, indeed the religion of what you see (perhaps even justifiably) as an inferior group.

    Also, I should say that I regard any religious establishment as better than state atheism. I have in the past defended England’s establishment, and even the exclusion of Catholics from the throne! I would support a Protestant establishment in America and consider myself lucky if my children were taught justification by faith in school, rather than health by contraception.

  5. The special difficulties experienced by the Huguenots was heralded by the progressive removal of their rights. Being the owners of religious errors and all. Exactly the same program was followed by the 3rd Reich with many of the same words used to justify it.
    That is why the notion of some folks having less rights – leading to no rights – solely on the basis of their religion could be construed in some quarters as provocative…

  6. Hello again Rum,

    I have not said that religious dissenters should have fewer rights. Only that the established Church should have special privileges coming with being the officially recognized truth. All governments must recognize some truth claims, at least implicitly through their actions. My concern is that the beliefs the State acts on be true beliefs and that it be honest about what its doing, rather than hiding behind a spurious claim of neutrality.

  7. Hello Rum,

    I am honored. I’m not sure that I read all my stuff. If I were in authority, would I be intimidated by threats to my life? I’d like to say “hey, man, you don’t know anything about me”, but you do know that I refuse to put my actual name on my blog, so assuming I’m a coward is not unreasonable. Of course, if I were holding a public office, I’d also have to consider what was practically achievable at the time, and stuff like that. Being a powerless blogger is liberating, in that I get to stick to hammering away at first principles as long as I want.

    By the way, your evident connection to your ancestors is admirable.

  8. A large percentage of Huguenots in N.America eventually joined the Church of England and were assimilated utterly into American life. That was a good thing, imho.
    I would agree with much of your last point but would prefer to rephrase it to: “How does a wise and self-preserving society best defend itself from belief systems which might be turn out to be violently incompatible with it?'” I am thinking of Islam, of course.
    I am not yet sure of the best answer. Overt suppression of a sect often has the perverse effect of weeding out the indifferent and radicalizing the remnant. This certainly applies to just about every minority persecuted and sorted strictly by religious belief, Huguenots, (arguably) Jews, even the wretched Mormons, absolutely the early Orthodox Church all grew more intense and able by being tested and concentrated as it were. So, overt suppression does not seem to work very well without expulsion and expulsion drives out the most determined and religiously serious elements of society. Even if they are “wrong” they are by definition strong willed, serious about ideals, and deeply self-confident.
    But their grand kids are not so much if they are just left alone. That has been the American Plan. The Mormons tossed out their real orthodoxy, JFK promised to ignore the Pope, and Jews forgot their family obligations en mass (50% intermarriage since WW2) mainly because the larger society stopped helping to define their group-hood.
    But Islam? I worry about this.

  9. I took off on the question of non-orthodox sects losing some of their rights because the title of this blog is a blunt assertion that “error” has NO rights.
    My bad.
    The soul of a Calvin-haunted individual has often found a comfortable home in rugged frontier communities peopled entirely with volunteers to the quest for a dramatically better life. The attitudes brought with the Calvinist would place great value on showing that one can survive peril and overcome enemies while holding on to a sincere type of moral earnestness. Because that is what the Elect naturally do in this world. Doing it does not compel admission to the Elect but failing to do it really does represent the end of hope because it reveals a nature not of the elect. Makes sense; sort of.
    If drunkards and slackers fall by the way side – push them out of the way. We know who they are.
    OTOH, if another type of person is living strongly as the Elect would live then always give them respect. Because they could actually BE among the elect beneath some accidents of appearance.
    Folks like the Huguenots never had a quarrel with people like the Jews, even about religion, because their mode of living so often looked like The Elect might.
    For my parents and family of origin, a person that exhibited ambition , hard work, and forward motion was automatically held in high regard regardless of their sectarian affiliation. But if they did not, — keep them outside the gate, they might have worms.
    In an upside down, slightly crazy way, this was a form of open-mindedness. It is why the right sort of catholic could eventually get in the Country Club.
    I am very aware of the gap between Catholic orthodoxy and this desription. More than you probably think, even.. But this is an example of how religious peace has been maintained in America.
    A lot of these attitudes survive, braced for a clash with the Arabs.

  10. Have you come across Fr Brian Harrison’s work on Dignitatis Humanae?

    He places some emphasis on the distinction between the individual having a right to espouse error (not true, according to traditional Catholicism) and the state having a (general) right to stop her from doing so (which is a different proposition). He argues that accepting the latter would mean that a Catholic must agree that it was right and legitimate for the former Soviet states to repress the schismatic Eastern Orthodox churches.

  11. Rum: I think your latest post, on the transition from Puritan to Yankee, is essentially correct. American denominationalism accepts any creed that yields the visible results of middle class respectability. That’s how Mormons went from a “peculiar people” to model Americans (almost). I do wonder, though, whether the reasons for this are as high-minded as they are said to be. Tolerance is often a mask for indifference. This came to me years ago, reading Kingsley Amis’s novel “Girl 20,” the basic point of which is that we let others do as they please, as often as not, because we really don’t give a damn about what becomes of them. I think we all ought to be slightly offended if someone of decidedly different religious views doesn’t make some effort to convert us to their way of seeing things. They need to know when to stop, of course: but if they simply “respect my freedom of conscience,” I can’t help but to think that they either (a) don’t really believe what they say they believe, or (b) don’t care if I go to Hell, live in a delusion, etc.

    Bonald: Good post. I think your right that the Pope is imposing anachronistic concepts on early Christians. Their martyrdom expressed their sense of duty to the truth, not a right to freedom of conscience.

  12. I haven’t seen Harrison’s work, but thanks for pointing it out to me. It sounds quite silly, though. He must be assuming (at least implicitly) that the State’s rights and duties regarding beliefs can make no distinction between true and false, good and bad beliefs. Reject that, and there’s no reason why it can’t be right both to promote belief X and discourage belief Y.

  13. Hi Rum,

    You weren’t necessarily wrong to worry that denying rights to “error” would mean “error-holders” losing some freedom of action. The counterrevolutionary Catholics who made this claim wanted to severely restrict the ability of dissenters to publicly undermine what we regard as the true faith, and to promote alternatives. So, for example, they would certainly want to take away your right to publish a book called “Why Catholicism is wrong”. Letting nonbelievers hold high government posts would also presumably be problematic. I wouldn’t call this persecution, but I can see how you would find it vexing.

  14. I’d say that he makes a good job of reconciling the traditional and contemporary teachings. I don’t concur with his position, but his writings are interesting. Here are a couple of them:

    http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt23.html (scroll down to the second item)

    http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt9.html (ditto)

  15. Rum

    In the UK, Quakers, Moravians and Jews, who were all excluded from public life and the learned professions by the Test Acts were all remarkable for their commercial success. Quakers were always a tiny minority, but two of the largest banks, Barclays and Lloyds are both Quaker foundations, as is a major insurance company, Friends’ Provident. They also dominated the cocoa trade, Rowntrees and Cadbury’s were both Quaker firms. The Moravians controlled the West Indian sugar trade and the Moravian church is still strong in the British West Indies.

    Restrict the opportunities for talent and the talented will tend to dominate in the fields in which they are allowed to exercise their talents. No doubt, many Huguenots, who would otherwise have had distinguished careers as academics, functionaries (the ambition of every Frenchman), lawyers or Army officers, perforce took to commerce “faute de mieux.”

    Here in Scotland, a small group of Huguenot émigrés founded the clock and watch-making industry in Glasgow and may, thus, have laid the foundations of that city’s later prominence in nautical instrument making and precision engineering more generally.

  16. Excellent post, Bonald.

    If you have already dealt with the subject, could you please direct me to where you have treated the question of why Protestant nations have generally fared better, commercially at least, than Catholic nations? I’m thinking of the corrupt nations in Central and South America as well as the benighted Catholic countries of Europe. Thanks for your help!

  17. I would suggestt hatt he answer is in the question: protestant nations are more successful by the standards they espouse.

    I mentioned in an earlier post on this thread the commercial success of excluded religious minorities in the UK, notably Quakers, Moravians and Jews; the glaring exception is the Catholics, who, as a class, despised commerce and shunned usury.

  18. This may be a partial solution, but does it answer why the citizens of Catholic countries don’t seem to practice a vigorous work ethic and lag scientifically, religiously, and even morally behind Protestant nations?

    What real world Catholic model can we look to?

  19. Andrew,
    Here’s the short answer: Protestantism got the northern Europeans, Catholicism got the southern Europeans, and average IQ declines as you get closer to the equator. Interestingly, this is one reason drunkenness is much more of a problem in northern European countries. It relieves the anxiety that accompanies high IQ (the longer your time horizon, the more there is to worry about).

    There’s obviously much more to it than that, but I would like to agree with Michael Paterson-Seymour’s point. Protestants did some great things, but they produced very little noteworthy religious art, architecture, or music (Bach excepted). Your great churches were either stolen from Rome or copied from (originally) Roman models. Yes, Protestants (and ex-Protestants) gave us cities like Manchester and New York, but Catholics (and ex) gave us Venice and Paris. I’m not trying to knock Protestants: I used to be a theological Protestant and suspect I’m still a cultural Protestant at heart. But Catholic cultures clearly beat Protestant cultures in some very important areas of civilized life.

    I’d like to take you up on the assertion that Catholic countries are less moral than Protestant. I know the argument. A Catholic can sin and then run to the confessional, whereas a Protestant must walk with Christ as evidence of salvation. If we control for all variables but religion, the best you’re likely to find is that there is no difference in moral behavior. Catholics can, and do, certainly abuse the rite of reconciliation; but Protestants can, and do, abuse the doctrine of once saved, always saved.

    I don’t mean to be aggressive or defensive here. There’s reason for humility all round.

  20. Catholic countries have produced many famous Post-Reformation Catholic scientists and mathematicians, such as – off the top of my head – Ampère, Volta and Coulomb, Descartes, Pascal, Fermat, Cauchy, Lavoisier, Dumas, Pasteur, Duhem, and d’Espagnat, including priests like Bl Francesco Faà di Bruno, Jean Baptiste Carnoy, Gregor Mendel, Henri Breuil and Georges Lemaître.

    France alone can produce a list of scientists, mathematicians, theologians, preachers, philosophers, jurists, statesmen and soldiers that no Protestant country can rival and Catholicism was the established religion in France, until the law of 9 December 1905.

  21. Just so you know, JMsmith, I’m just waiting for the opportune time to enter the Catholic Church. I’m fully convinced it possesses the fulness of the faith. For several reasons of personal circumstance it’s just not possible for me right now.

    I’m accumulating arguments to answer the problem. The best I’ve come up with so far is that the children of this world are wiser *in their generation* than the children of light (Luke 16:8; cf. Gen. 4:17-24). The wicked are ambitious and employ the most technically (sometimes brutally) efficient means to achieve their ends. But these methods have relatively little success over the long term.

    Over the long term, I expect Catholic countries to have greater staying power than Protestant countries.

    I’m intrigued by the idea that IQ lessens closer to the Equator. What explanations have been proposed for this phenomenon?

  22. MPS: You’re right, the list of distinguished Catholic scientists is very long. There certainly were, and are, plenty of intelligent and inquisitive people in Catholic (and low-latitude) countries. Its just the overall average that appears to be lower.

    AM: I pray your move into the Church goes well. I attended mass for five years before I knew I was ready. I think what you say about the children of the world is probably right. The standard theory on latitude and average IQ is that cold winters select for humans with higher IQ (their clothing and housing is harder to make) and longer time horizons (always have to remember that winter’s on its way). In a warm climate houses can be small and fairly ramshackle, clothing is minimal, and there’s always something to eat. But, as I said, high IQ and long time horizons is not an unmixed blessing. Lots of anxiety, lots of drunks, lots of Protestants worried that misinterpreted scripture might land them in hell.

  23. Remember that there aren’t that many European countries, so we don’t have good statistics. Much of Protestantism’s reputation in our minds really comes from England, but England is exceptional and has been since before the Reformation. Perhaps if Henry VIII had been satisfied with his first wife, our perceptions of Catholicism vs Protestantism would be different. The other big historical contingency, which Michael PS brings up, is France, long Catholicism’s flagship and the premier country in Europe; the Revolution put France’s greatness on the path to extinction.

  24. Thanks for the helpful responses, gentlemen. And, thank you, JMsmith.

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