Engaging the world

At Crisis Magazine, Fr. Christopher Roberts critiques a claim of Bishop Robert Barron.

Barron claims that the Church has been fruitlessly pouring resources into promoting the Church’s teaching on sexuality in the past generation. The campaign, no matter how well-intentioned, has not yielded the hoped-for results and it is time to deploy our resources elsewhere.

Fr. Roberts rightly points out that the Church has in fact put very little effort into defending and explaining her sexual ethics.  That we have been consistently routed may be mostly due to the fact that only the other side has been fighting.

I would add two points to this.  First of all, it only takes one side to start a fight.  Although the clergy would be happy to let Catholic sexual ethics remain a sort of secret that no one talks about, they can’t help it that the Left continues to attack on this front.  Anything short of an explicit repudiation of our beliefs and embrace of the sodomite system will provoke the world’s wrath.  There seems to much to lose from silence–from not even trying to put up a defense–and little to gain.

Second, and most importantly, if we want people to convert (or if we even just want to prevent existing Catholics from apostasizing), we have to convince them that the Church is right and the world wrong on some issue on which the two disagree.  These are rival belief systems, after all; if Catholicism is true, the accepted beliefs of the secular world must be wrong somewhere.  Even if the Left would let us disengage from battles over sex, this would only be a useful thing to do if we planned to attack somewhere else.  One hears a lot from clergy about “becoming countercultural” and “sharing the gospel”, but this cannot be done by simply agreeing with the secular consensus.  There is no point in going mute on sex so that we can tell the world that capitalism and global warming are bad.  That’s already the conventional opinion.  For all their talk about being countercultural, the clergy know damned well that these are safe opinions to express; that’s why they like them.  Now, it may well be orthodox and true that capitalism and global warming are bad, in which case there’s nothing wrong in saying it, but there’s no point in the Church emphasizing it.  One can’t very well argue that the Christian faith is needed to motivate socialism and environmentalism when these things are already popular among atheists (more popular than among Christians).  Anyway, anyone who thinks “Catholicism is anti-capitalist” is an argument for Catholicism must already have some sufficient motivation for disliking capitalism, meaning Catholicism is unnecessary to them in this regard.  Contradicting people’s other beliefs may cause them to abandon the faith, but agreeing with their other beliefs does nothing to encourage conversion.

So, if we’re not going to fight the world about sex, what are we going to fight it about?  Remember, it must be a fight, meaning we must be contesting the secular consensus, meaning we must be advocating an unpopular opinion.  So priests will have the same reasons to feel uncomfortable talking about this new topic as they currently do talking about sex.  Attacking low-status people (“racists”) already demonized by the elite does nothing to challenge the authority of the elite’s consensus.  How about this:  let’s attack society’s disrespect for fathers.  I can just imagine how priests must shudder at such an idea.  Okay, perhaps family is too close to sex, and we want something different altogether.

There is the high road of attacking liberalism in the abstract via philosophical critiques of individualism, the social contract, etc.  However, a communitarianism that refuses to constrict personal freedom in some concrete ways (for cases with no utilitarian or liberal justification) is rightly not taken seriously.  So again, to do the work we need to do, we must restrict the popular choices of popular people.

On the other hand, one could pick a fight over some non-moral issue, e.g. the historicity of the gospels or some other historical or scientific issue.  That would mean our priests would need the stomach for a fight against “scholarly consensus”; such fortitude is unfortunately not much in evidence.  Even if we go that route, there still needs to be some moral issue on which we contest the world, because it is the Left’s perceived moral authority that is the greatest danger and obstacle to the Faith.

There’s no getting around it.  You can’t win without fighting.

Civilization means saying no to the poor

Political scientist James Scott argues that barbarism is superior to civilization:

What if early civilization was not a boon to humankind but a disaster: for health and safety, for freedom, and for the natural world? What if the first cities were, above all, vast technologies of exploitation by a small and rapacious elite?

Lots about the awful “exploitation” wherever settled agriculture took root, compared to the carefree egalitarianism of the barbarians.  My God, can we have any reprieve from this relentless moralizing by our men of letters?  Do they ever do anything but preach?  Has there ever before been an age of such suffocating moralism?

One historical parallel did occur to me.

I have received, sir, your new book against the human race, and I thank you for it. You will please people by your manner of telling them the truth about themselves, but you will not alter them. The horrors of that human society–from which in our feebleness and ignorance we expect so many consolations–have never been painted in more striking colors: no one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes one long to go about all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I.

Although I instinctively dislike him, I do agree with Professor Scott on one point:  “exploitation” really is the essence of civilization, whether by exploitation one simply means authority as described by those insensible to its moral force or more simply the refusal of elites to divulge their resources to the poor.

In fact, no human creation of lasting worth could ever be made without a willingness to tell the poor to *** off.  If we really listened to the demands of social justice, if we really let compassion be our guide, we could have no art, no music, no science, no religion, no philosophy, no architecture beyond the crudest shelters.  The poor are before us, their need perpetually urgent.  It is inexcusable for us ever to build a sculpture, a cathedral, a particle accelerator.  And the poor, we have it on two good authorities (the other being common sense), will be with us always.  What we give for their needs today will have disappeared tomorrow, and they will be hungry again.  Imagine if some Savonarola had come to Florence a century or two earlier and convinced the Florentine elite to open their hearts and their wallets to the poor in preference for worldly vanities.  All that wealth would have been squandered on the poor and would have disappeared without a trace.  Instead, we got the Renaissance.

When I was young, the refrain was still popular “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we…?”  The answer, of course, is that solving social problems like homelessness and dysfunctional nonwhite ghettos is more difficult than putting a man on the moon.  Money and technology can give us the latter, but are quite inadequate to the former.  But the answer to the question isn’t its point.  The point of the question is the resentment it expresses.  “You had no right to send a man to the moon while black children were starving.  You are proud of doing this, when you ought to be ashamed.”  Now, anyone whose spirit hasn’t been strangled by morality will see the project of sending men on a rocket to walk on the moon and then return to Earth as an act of greatness, as a glorious deed of the kind one sings about generations hence.  Glorious deeds do nothing for the poor, so the man of social justice will see no value in them.  But we are tempted to respond in the name of our ancestors “You good men think you’re better than us.  In fact, you need us more than we need you.  We build.  You only critique.  We are ‘exploiters’, ‘fascists’ because we had the brutality needed to impose order out of chaos.  Our order makes decent life possible.  You always find fault with it, but there is no real alternative.  When we do something great, you mock and condemn us, because mockery and condemnation is all you are capable of.  You are too good to ever be great.”

Science and religion both expend resources, in defiance of social justice, in ways that do not materially benefit the poor.  (The extravagances of social justice propagandists and their expensive creations are, naturally, never criticized.)  Religion gets criticized for this more, even though the goods of churches and religious artwork are far more accessible to the poor than the results of scientific research.  (Savonarola, despite his republican stupidities, at least had sense enough to appreciate the value of religious art to the poor.)  Advocates for science sometimes grant the social justice premise, but claim that pure science will justify itself through technology which will lift up the poor.  There’s a Star Trek future before us, and it’s in the ultimate interest of the poor that we get there as soon as possible.  I actually think the case for pure science funding is stronger if this is not true.  Suppose humanity is destined to sink to pre-industrial poverty once the fossil fuels run out.  Then now is the time for ambitious experiments that may someday be beyond our capacity.  What we learn now can be recorded for all these future generations, while resources given to the poor will benefit only their immediate recipients.  If we grant that ending poverty forever is not really possible, the demands of social justice lose some of their force, and we can perhaps even make the case for civilization.

A matter of language

Midwives Alliance of North America:  comments that say that men can’t give birth are transphobic and will not be tolerated.

How could I have not realized before how hateful and fearful I have been!  Of course men can have babies, since gender is just a matter of self-identification and what one believes is one’s “true self”.  Just thinking to oneself “I am a man” doesn’t affect the reproductive potential of an ovaries-and-uterus-endowed person.

Of course, at least in medical contexts, it can still be important to know if a man or woman belongs to the class of people with uteruses and ovaries who at some point in life might become pregnant.  Even when not pregnant, they differ in important ways from other men and women.  For convenience, we could have a word for these people; let us call them “uterines”.  Only uterines can become pregnant.  This is not hateful; it is tautological.  We can have another word for the other medically important category of men and women born with penises who at some point in life might impregnate a uterine–call these people “seminists”.  Which category a given person belongs to could be called its “procreaclass”.

I now agree with the feminists that whether one is a man or a woman should have no bearing on one’s social roles, on how one is treated by anyone.  In fact, it shouldn’t even be anyone else’s business to know whether I identify today as a man, woman or nonbinary, and it is senselessly intrusive to put this information on public records.  On the other hand, whether one is a uterine or a seminist has a number of consequences.  The much greater physical strength of seminists has led many to incorrectly believe that there is something distinctly ghastly about violence committed by men against women or that there should be separate athletic teams for men and women.  In fact, gender should have no bearing on social relations–that would be sexist.  Taking procreaclass into account on the other hand, is common sense.  Fortunately, while no one has any way of knowing anyone else’s gender (until that person reveals its preferred pronoun), people are remarkably good at distinguishing seminists from uterines.  Furthermore, whereas many college persons identify as various alternate genders, people who fail to fall into one of the two main procreaclasses are vanishingly rare.  Lastly, procreaclass can easily be identified at birth.

It goes without saying that I now must accept same-sex marriage.  After all, what if I should tomorrow re-identify as a woman?  Would I stop being married to my wife?  No, I agree with the liberals:  gender identification has nothing to do with the marital relationship.  Procreaclass, on the other hand, certainly does affect the nature of a relationship.  Only uterine-seminist couplings can generate offspring.  Thus, whereas other marriages are primarily about affirming love, uterine-seminist marriages are primarily about establishing paternity.  For other marriages, liberals are perfectly right to object to the traditional strictures of monogamy.  Why demand continued public recognition for a love that has died?  However, one does have a legitimate grievance against an unfaithful opposite-procreaclass spouse.  These unions naturally have different expectations and duties.  They need a name.  Let us call them “genetons”, the name meant to suggest the basic quantum of reproductive potential and society’s interest in granting them the impression of Democritian indestructibility.  Only a seminist and a uterine can form a geneton.  This is not hateful; it is tautological.  Like the atoms of Democritus, genetons tend to bind to form larger wholes such as tribes and nations, in addition to producing all their inhabitants, so we may reasonably concern ourselves with the health of these unions, while taking a more libertine attitude toward other marriages.