I’ll bet

Matthew Franck at First Things recommends George Weigel’s, new summons for Catholics to be useful stooges for classical liberalism.  At least, I think he does.

I urge our readers to go read the rest of Weigel’s piece, which is as cogently argued as they will have come to expect.

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Notes on the Catholic mind: some false models

I’m preparing a big “why-I-am-a-Catholic” essay, and some of what follows might make it into that.  Let’s consider some incorrect models of how the Catholic mind works.

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“More Catholic than the Pope”: Mormon edition

Ralph Hancock gives his fellow Mormons some good advice at First Things.  I suspect he’s right that when “thoughtful” Mormons insist that they are “open to continuing revelation”, what they really mean is that they’re on board with a slow-motion capitulation to the Left.

I suspect the situation of the LDS is as follows.  On the one hand, there are liberal Mormons who want their Church to surrender to the Left, and they let it be known that they will fight without ceasing until they get what they want.  (There are fewer of this type than there are liberal Catholics or liberal Evangelicals, which is no small strength for the LDS, but I doubt the ones they’ve got are much different from the ones we have.)  On the other hand, there are the faithful Mormons, who make it very clear that they will go along meekly whenever the leadership decides to surrender.  This does not create the proper incentive structure for the LDS leadership.  Equilibrium requires that force to the Left must be matched by equal and opposite force to the Right.

I would not presume to give advice to my Mormon friends, who after all inhabit a less grievously compromised religious body than mine (at least when judged by what happens at the parish level, rather than what’s “on the books” in the catechism).  However, I suspect that a general knowledge that there will be hell to pay for any compromise on sexual issues would only have a healthy effect on your leaders’ discussions.

Academia or the military: who is less hospitable to conservatives?

This made me return to that question.  I’ve never been sent to a seminar that told me I would be punished for participating in “hate groups” as labeled by the SPLC.

It was once true that universities were more belligerently Leftist than the rest of the country, but that is no longer really true.  Universities haven’t moved rightward, but the rest of society has moved far to the Left.  Now a university is one of the best places for a conservative to be, just because that’s where the old books are.

The one bright side of this is that it may rectify a distortion of the organized Right that I noted here:

A key difference between liberalism and conservatism:

Left intellectuals are expected to be more extreme than liberal voters.

Right intellectuals are expected to be more moderate than conservative voters.

McCain attacks Putin for opposition to blasphemy and sodomy

Behold American conservatism:

…They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn. They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin’s rule…

(See also the take-down on Alternative Right.)

Funny, I don’t remember John McCain officially having his little-homo-bluegrass-player moment yet.  Maybe I missed it, or maybe they’re not even bothering with formal announcements of apostasy anymore.  After all, America is our religion, and publicly-sanctioned sodomy and blasphemy are core American values.  As Edward Feser said about that other case, “I would say that Bottum isn’t being true to his religion, except that I suspect that he is.”

By the way, on the eve of the 2012 election, here was Jerry Salyer rootin’ for Putin:


Of course I’m not claiming Russia’s rulers actually do their duty, much less that they do it well; I am saying that however unscrupulous, Machiavellian, and power-hungry they may be, they are at least vaguely aware of what their duty is:  To preserve the nation.  This stands in stark contrast to Western rulers, who feel it their duty to destroy their respective nations so as to make way for a Brave New World.

In other words, Vladimir Putin is not really detested among our elite for his sins but for his redeeming qualities.  As we live in an age of liberal hegemony, Putin is hated for not being yet another groveling overseas yes-man for the Beltway establishment; as we live in an age of absurd militant tolerance, Putin is hated for not renouncing the very notion of a particular Russian identity; as we live in an age of Alan Alda, Ashton Kucher, and the metrosexual android from Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Putin is hated for appearing somewhat like a man.

That last is worth emphasizing:  The New York Times can’t stand Putin not because he’s a corrupt man, but because he’s a corrupt man.

As for his KGB ties, the outrage is hardly due to the KGB’s role in promoting godless Marxist revolution.   The real offense is that the KGB played a role in Russian nationalism — one of the few sane features of the Soviet mind and empire.

Yes, please do color me un-American, for actually, no, I don’t lie awake at night lamenting the shortage of gay pride parades in Moscow.  Nor do I lose much sleep fretting that, in the event “we” fail to take a strong stand, feminist punk bands throughout the world might lose their Soros-given right to bust into churches and shriek sacrilegious obscenities at the altar.  Nor do I patriotically yearn to see Pushkin and the balalaika finally and irrevocably supplanted by Coca-Cola and Lady Gaga.

A puzzle for conservatives

Carl Scott:

Moreover, some of the more powerful “moderate” voices, i.e., voices which counsel a rejection of both parties, began presenting genuinely radical criticisms of the entire American regime, often from a religious angle. I am thinking here especially of our friend Patrick Deneen–read his latest here–, of the “radical orthodoxy” theologians, etc. Conservatives have had little effective answer to these voices about the spiritual ravages of modern commerce and technology, especially as the concrete social consequences of these (vanishing middle-class, birth dearth, skill-famine, etc,) came more and more undeniably into view.

How can a conservative reply to the accusation that liberal politics and economics (democracy and capitalism) are spiritually debilitating?  While we’re at it, how does a Marxist respond to the observation that capitalism produces gross inequalities of wealth, and how does a monarchist answer the charge that democratic polities always fall prey to demagogy?  The American misuse of political labels can lead to some dicey conundrums.

Actually, there are many sound observations in the linked post.  One can see it as a part of the salutary loss of faith in the American creed that we see slowly unfolding at First Things.  Scott has some appropriately critical things to say about capitalism, and even some sobering things to say about democracy.  No doubt the writers at First Things still have far to go.  The post begins with an odd claim that America and the world are suffering from a loss of faith in democracy.  I wish I saw some evidence of such a happy development–I’m surprised that someone calling himself a conservative would find it discouraging.  Scott’s impression that America is becoming more polarized and ungovernable is understandable given the government shutdown.  Nevertheless, from the broader perspective, what is really striking is how little dissension we are seeing among the people even as the foundation of our civilization, the patriarchal family, is being attacked and destroyed before our eyes.  Against this assault on human nature and religion, what can stand.  Certainly not

A vision of an America united around liberty, racial integration, technological progress, widely-enjoyed economic opportunities and prosperity, and the defense of democracy around the world, and more deeply, around the values of the Founders and the Bible…

That’s already Jacobinism, just waiting to be shown its logical endpoint.


Are we held to higher standards than the Left?  Thinking so is morally hazardous, because one can very easily fall into a mindset that dismisses any criticism of bad behavior on the Right, i.e. we start refusing to hold ourselves to any standard higher than we would imagine the media applying to the Left.  On the other hand, what if it’s actually true?

R. R. Reno is very, very sorry that First Things published an essay by Rabbi Gilles Bernheim in which it turns out the good Rabbi plagiarized a good part of the material.  He insists that the downfall of the Chief Rabbi of France has nothing to do with him having taken on the most powerful lobby in history; it was purely a matter of professional ethics.

The first thing to say is that this affair can’t be interpreted as an example of progressives hunting down dissenters. Bernheim took a strong stand on a controversial issue, but it wasn’t his opposition to gay marriage that precipitated the scandal. It was his dishonesty. These transgressions of basic academic integrity were uncovered by Jean-Noël Darde, a plagiarism watchdog, not a gay activist.

Ah, but how can we be sure?  I suppose the only way would be if we could study a case where a religious figure associated with a Leftist cause was credibly accused of plagiarism, or something of that sort.  Would such a figure be renounced by everyone and held in disgrace?  Would it be ignored?  Would excuses be made, e.g. that the citation standards in religious rhetoric are not the same as in academic writing?

It’s too bad we don’t know of any such case.  It would have made for an interesting comparison.

What’s really driving Pope Francis? Possibilities

In order from least to most probable:

  1. He’s actually been transported here from a mirror universe where Mr. Spock has a goatee and the Catholic Church does nothing but preach about sex.
  2. He’s plotting to replace Catholicism with a heretical modernist religion–the conclusion of Laura Wood, Mundabor, and Louie Verrecchio.  This requires explaining away Francis’ orthodox statements as attempts to deceive the orthodox and keep us from rebellion.  I doubt, however, that there are enough of us for it to be worth the facade.
  3. He knows voices in America and Europe are agitating for an attack on the Vatican.  (This is, after all, where “sue the Vatican” and “arrest the Pope” require.)  That–given what goes on in America’s prisons, schools, and barracks–it is grotesque for America to seize another sovereign head of state over the alleged failure of his organization to defend its charges from sexual predation will not occur to anyone, given the fantasy world constructed by the Leftist propaganda machine.  Francis knows that few Catholics could endure the scandal of a pope arrested, subjected to an American show trial, and then incarcerated and sodomized like a common criminal.  He must convince the Cathedral that he is their man, and then America will not want to compromise his position.
  4. He’s planning some enormous conservative bombshell, like a mass excommunication of all LCWR-affiliated nuns, and he wants the media to be thrown off when he does it.  I would love for this to be true, of course, but the misdirection itself won’t accomplish anything.  The media has no trouble converting someone from hero to villain in a moment’s notice.
  5. He’s stupid, lazy, or otherwise incompetent, and he doesn’t realize what he’s doing.  However, he would have to be very stupid indeed not to have gone through the obvious ass-covering maneuvers after his interviews–sending spokesmen to make “clarifications”, etc.
  6. He’s vain and irresponsible, and cares more about being popular than about defending the faith.  Even if this is true, very few people have such deadened consciences that they can simply admit to themselves that this is what they’re doing.  Even if one were to say that Francis is vain and stupid, it still matters for understanding him what he believes.  If he is a conscious heretic, as in position 2, then the fact that he enjoys the public favor such beliefs win him is not very important.  If he is orthodox, then it is unlikely that he will bring himself to betray the faith without some sort of rationalization, whatever his ultimate psychological motives.  The rationalization chosen will regulate what he will and won’t do.
  7. He buys into the “win people for Christ by visible meekness” meme being pushed throughout the Church since the Council, including the previous pope.  On this understanding, people become Catholic not because they are convinced of the truth of Catholic doctrine, but because they are impressed by the character traits of Catholics.  Francis may thus in all sincerity consider that he has a mandate from God to pursue popularity before all else.  It is the logical conclusion of what everyone has been saying for the last half century.  To impress people, show how much you care about the poor and how tolerant and open-minded you are.  And, of course, the easiest way to do this in the eyes of the world is to badmouth faithful Catholics.  So this is obviously what God wants him to do!

Once I thought of #7, a lot of things fell into place.  Even the pope’s name.  How is Francis of Assisi remembered by the post-conciliar Church?  He’s the guy who (it is falsely claimed) said “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”, which means (it is falsely inferred) that when trying to convert people to the faith we should never actually mention the faith, but we should advertise ourselves instead.  (This attributed to the guy who founded the Church’s largest preaching order!)

I hope I am right that #7 is what is going on.  In that case, we can expect more of what we’ve been seeing, but nothing worse.

Proselytism is the humble way

In the spirit of my resolve to make sure popes get a proper amount of criticism from the Right, I’d like to address a claim being made by both the current pope and his predecessor.  You’re all aware of Francis’ appalling “Proselytism is solemn nonsense” line by now.  It is, I suppose, possible to beat this into an orthodox statement, by saying that evangelization is not “proselytism” if it is done respectfully, or something of the sort.  Even so, the pope himself made no such distinction, and the context of the interview didn’t suggest it.  In fact, I am disturbed by the pope’s seeming acceptance of secular categories.  It allows him to give atheists the impression that he agrees with them completely, while leaving unstated the terminological distinctions that save him from indisputable heresy.  His earlier responses on the question of sodomy–the “Does God love homosexuals?  Of course he does!  Who am I to judge?” line–are another unfortunate example.  They can be reconciled by invoking the orthodox distinction between loving the person and accepting the behavior, but this is a distinction that the world and its Jesuit servants rejects, and the pope does not defend or even mention it.

Let us as docile sons of the Church accept that the orthodox interpretation is in fact the intended one.  If “proselytism”–whatever that means–is a bad way to win souls for Christ, what is the good way?  Here is the official alternative:

“The strength of the Gospel, he continued, is there, “because the Gospel reaches its highest point in the humiliation of Jesus: humility that becomes humiliation. And the force of the Gospel, he said, is properly in humility, in the humility of the child that is guided by the love and the tenderness of the father.”: “The Church, Benedict XVI told us, does not grow through proselytism, it grows through attraction, through witness. And when the people see this witness of humility, of meekness, of mildness, they feel the need that the Prophet Zachariah spoke of: ‘We want to come with you.’ The people feel that need in the face of the witness of charity, of this humble charity, without bullying, not sufficient, humble. Worship and serve!”

The first thing to note is that Benedict’s statement is actually much worse than Francis’ paraphrase:  see here.  Francis adds the key word “witness”, which suggests that at least some verbal mention of the faith may be involved.  He also adds the phrase “without bullying”, perhaps meaning that it is “bullying” of some sort that distinguishes proselytism from evangelization (although he might also mean that all explicit evangelization is “bullying”, but remember that we want to interpret as generously as possible).

So the new model for evangelization seems to be that we should not at first explicitly explain or argue for our faith, but that we should impress people with our humility, our meekness, and let’s say our other virtues as well.  People will be attracted to us, and they will want to join us.  Once they’re filled with that desire, I suppose we can share with them the bases of the faith.

Whether or not this will work, I would like to point out that the one thing it is not is humble.  We are presuming that we ourselves are to be Catholicism’s selling points.  No old-style “proselytist” would presume this.  He would believe that the message itself is the selling point, and he himself is nothing but an unworthy carrier.  He would plead for listeners to forget his own unworthiness and look at the beauty of the faith or the strength of the arguments in its favor.

Marriage is our sacrament

Cross-posted at the Orthosphere.  Please comment there.

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