Catholic in the age of decline: a personal coda

I had meant to slow down with this blog.  If I am ever going to produce anything of enduring value, I must focus my dwindling energies.  In fact, I am exhausted by my ordinary commitments to my children and students, quite apart from any increasingly-unrealistic intellectual ambitions.

But then, I kept reading on the internet, and no one was expressing my opinions.  It’s the thing that drives a man to blog, against his better judgement.

I am, as readers know, a tribalist, and a good part of my elemental survival instinct is (no doubt because I am not now in physical danger) devoted to the survival of my tribe, so that the collective conscience of which I am a part, and hence a part of myself, might survive my personal death.  The prospect of the Catholic Church being defeated and brought to the brink of destruction–and in such an ignominious way!–is a source of continual anguish for me.  I should keep it to myself, I know.  I am driven at least in part by a selfish desire that someone will prove to me that I’m wrong and thus ease my anxiety.

Much that I read irritates me, but nothing enrages me as much as when I read about “getting their own house in order first”.  You see, I, as a Roman Catholic, and hence presumptive child molester, have no moral standing before the world, my moral betters, whom I should never speak against, but before whom I should waste my wretched existence in groveling apologies and self-recrimination.  This is why the null hypothesis matters.

“If God cared about us, He would not have abandoned us to such a shameful end”, I sometimes think to myself with as much bitterness as you would expect, but that’s not quite right.  Even if, suppose, Catholics aren’t God’s favorite people, we still fall within His ubiquitous providence.  There must be a reason he chose us, you and me, to live at this time.

Perhaps there is something about us personally that we are better off, more virtuous or something, for living now.  One thinks of the calls of conservative Catholics, interspersed with their destructive advice, to pray and fast.  Perhaps some of their readers will end up being more conscientious in their spiritual lives for having lived in such bleak times.  I’ve sometimes speculated that I owe my faith, such as it is, to the world’s apostasy.  Religion does not come naturally to me.  Disagreeing with the majority of my peers on the other hand…

Another possibility is that God will allow us to do some noble thing in these days.  Not that we will “reform” or “save” the Church, but that in our fidelity to what must look like a hopeless cause we might do something worthy in itself.  This is performative conservatism.  The goal of performative conservatism is to get me to stop thinking about the long-term, large-scale future and to focus only on my own performance.

This is why I should be using my energies better.  There must be some way I can identify with the Church in her decline and share in a bit of her disrepute.  And yet, I’m such a mediocrity.  Plenty of people know I am a Catholic, but if more knew, would that just be another embarrassment for the Church?  “Oh, look.  The least productive, least intelligent member of the Physics Department is a Catholic.  Figures.”  That’s what they’d say, right?  Should I rather try to improve myself in visible ways first, become a credit to my people?  But that might never happen, might just be an excuse to avoid the performance when its chance comes.  And what could this worthy thing be, anyway?  Probably not any of the things I would like it to be.  I can only hope that God will arrange and make it clear when the time comes.  In the meantime, I should prepare myself intellectually and morally.  Serious reading, intensive thinking, getting my ass off to Confession, doing Lent right this time.

But I’ll probably end up posting here again tomorrow instead.

10 Responses

  1. You may recall that I one asked whether spite might be the vital impulse in my religious life. I’m sorry to say that this sometimes causes me to shock and alarm the good people in my pre-mass Bible study, since they are not naturally Catholics contra mundum. Although even they have begun to feel The Fear (and not only because of me).

    It may give you some comfort to know that I have greatly appreciated your recent posts refusing abasement for Catholic sexual misconduct. I know I have expressed personal disgust over unchaste priests, but I also understand that the enemies of Christianity turn our virtues into suicidal pathologies. Love, purity, forgiveness, alms, honesty . . . we may need to learn how to be less nice.

  2. “Perhaps there is something about us personally that we are better off, more virtuous or something, for living now. ”

    I think along the same lines sometimes. I don’t feel more virtuous than the Catholics of yesteryear but I do feel more stubborn.

    I wonder if the property of today’s Catholic conservatives is that they are more stubborn, less easily influenced by social pressure and propaganda

  3. It’s ok. For us, the long term outlook is stellar.

    But go ahead and do Lent the best you can, which means “poorly” when viewed in the light of reality, after all. What else is a penitent season but a moment in which to try to see oneself as one really is? And that is truly the seedbed of good news, because the healthy have no need of a physician.

  4. If it makes you feel any better I have greatly enjoyed following this blog.

  5. I’m very glad you’re not slowing down, even if it’s for selfish reasons. You’re one of the most fascinating, insightful and talented writers among the Dissident Right.

    I’m a Protestant, btw, but over the past few years I’ve been re-thinking the protest.

  6. Thank you for the encouragement, gentlemen.

    JMSmith, yes I remember your post on spite now. We indeed have similar suspicions about ourselves. Another piece of evidence is that I can remember disliking the whole subject of religion when I was an elementary school student in Sacred Heart School in Pana, Illinois. Not that I disbelieved, precisely, but that I had an incompatible sensibility. It wasn’t until I was midway through college that my attitude had definitely shifted.

  7. I just don’t getting worrying about having an opinion about what “the Church” should do about the gay sex crisis when they people who would be doing the doing are either idiots, charlatans or Quislings.

  8. @Bonald – I think recurrently about your situation. I don’t see your current situation as viable, because (unless there is a reversal of trends) *your tribe* will eject you.

    Do you ever consider Pope Benedict’s prophetic conviction that the RCC will (and should) shrink to a much smaller faithful core (with massive implication for the structure)? It was an extraordinary thing for a Pope to say – and therefore, given that Benedict was a great man – I would tend to believe it.

    I would regard that as a very optimistic prophecy – because the faithful retain the church organisation.

  9. Hi Bruce,

    > *your tribe* will eject you.

    There would be a certain humor in that.

    Benedict’s prophesy is indeed optimistic. As you are certainly aware, becoming smaller doesn’t necessarily mean becoming purer or holier. In fact, current efforts to “reform” the Church seem destined to produce a general paralysis, in which all of our energy is devoted to witch hunts against child molesters. Nor is it clear that the people the Church is currently losing or keeping away are the ones we want to repel.

    Completely off topic: I have been very much enjoying your elaboration of Romantic Christianity. Yours is perhaps the most original blog I read and one of the few that leaves me feeling more at peace after I read than before. I’m afraid I’ve taken leave of it for a while, because I’ve given up reading blogs (other than the two I’m associated with) for Lent. I’m convinced that many of the ones I read are doing me net harm, and even the best of them are facilitating my procrastination. I will look forward on catching up on your thoughts after Easter.

  10. Thank you – I am surprised and pleased to hear that; but I won’t read *too much* into it!

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