I’m not entitled to a team

I mentioned John Zmirak a few days ago.  A decent guy from what I can tell.  And yet I was rather rude in my disagreements with him some years ago, due to his unsoundness on matters of freedom of speech and religion, etc.  I wish I hadn’t been that way.  In those days, I was angry to find conservative Catholics who were not on board with integralism.  I knew that my opinions were very unpopular in the wider world, but on that account I thought myself even more entitled to have unanimity on my own little team.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost this sense of being entitled to be part of a team that shares the same beliefs on every matter I regard as important.  Even on the Orthosphere, I am in some ways a minority, as I find little to agree with in the writings of Nicolas Berdyaev or Rene Girard, at least as far as my colleagues have explained them.  After all, I hate freedom, and my understanding of Christianity is grounded entirely on ritual sacrifice.  Five years ago, I would have probably made an ass of myself accusing Richard Cocks and Tom Bertonneau of undermining the Faith, or some such thing.  Now it seems silly to me to get angry about disagreements, and perverse to be more angry at disagreements with people on “my side”, as if someone who agrees with me about one thing is thereby obliged to agree with me about others.  I am very lucky to be on the same team as RC and TB.

This change of attitude comes just in time too, because I know no one agrees with my opposition to a reform of the Church.  I only feel pity for my fellow Catholics.  Having internalized one thousand years of self-loathing, they hope that with this final act of institutional self-immolation God will finally be happy with them.  I understand their self-hatred, because it’s in me too.  I’ll always be haunted by the feeling that being a Catholic means that I’m not as good as everybody else.  None of us can have the simple pride toward our ancestors and our leaders that other peoples have and take for granted.  As the sodomite is defined by his pride, the Catholic is trapped in his humiliation.

I suspect that, because the Devil is the Prince of this World, our evil words have more effect than our good ones.  I cannot prove it, but I fear that the most influential writings on this blog were my deleted attacks on Pope Francis, which undermined the Church and thus advanced the agenda of Satan.  Good intentions have little influence on the career of our words once we have uttered them and thus turned them loose.  And how can I know if my intentions were truly good?  Fortunately, this blog now gets very little traffic, meaning I suppose that the Enemy can no longer find any use for it.  Nevertheless, I played my little role in bringing ruin to the Church, through my writings and my various personal failures.  How could I be angry at anyone else?

I have argued for performative conservatism in the past.  I imagine, though, that the Prince of this World will always arrange things so that, if one does decide to make some grand gesture of fidelity to God or the Church or one’s people that more ill will come of it than good.  Perhaps like me you are an unimpressive person, and that toward which you wish to be faithful is better off not having you publicly associated with it.  Perhaps you will only inspire your workplace to crack down harder on dissidents, making life even harder for your side.  Perhaps performative conservatism is selfish after all.  Thinking that one should do something grand and romantic, when more likely God intended one to do something mundane and practical.  Was I too proud to ask myself what God is realistically asking of someone with my meager abilities?  Were the essays an excuse to avoid manual labor volunteer work?

24 Responses

  1. Don’t let yourself be taken in by the line that all good Catholics are feeding hobos at a soup kitchen. At the very worse, your attacks on Pope Francis were an idle waste of time. Perhaps they spread despondency and alarm among a tiny handful of the faithful, but your readers were already despondent and alarmed, and perhaps not all that faithful. I think you are right about the vanity of thinking that a cause will benefit from our association with it, but it is not much less vain to think it will be damaged by our bad reputation. A blistering attack on the Pope might very well bolster a reader’s fidelity by arousing that reader’s sense of angry indignation. I am sure that my arguments often serve to confirm the reader’s prejudice that only idiots make such arguments.

    With that said, I agree that people on the right must show more tolerance for other people on the right. I’m not going to jump on the good Catholics who do feed hobos in soup kitchens, and I’m going to bite my tongue when I hear minor deviations (unless they are easy to ridicule or really make me mad).

  2. Bonald,

    I’ve been reading your recent entries, and have written comments on about half of them before deleting them instead of posting, but I figured I’d give conversation a go on this one. Where do you get a thousand years of ashamed Catholicism? Certainly counter-Reformation Catholicism was loud and proud and unafraid of taking the high ground over its enemies. Even through the early part of the prior century you can find unashamed Catholicism pretty easily – “Don John of Austria has set his people free!” – and it seems like we didn’t get all mopey until the general collapse of the ’60s. I guess there must have been a lot of pus in the boil for everything to go south as quickly as it did, but it wasn’t obvious beforehand.

  3. Thank you, JMSmith, for always helping me in my despondency. You’re certainly one of the best friends I’ve never met.

  4. > Where do you get a thousand years of ashamed Catholicism?

    Good question. I date it to the Gregorian reforms, which is very close to a century ago. Since then, Catholics have boasted of their Church’s orthodoxy and sacraments, but never–so far as I can tell–of themselves. Rather, we have always been given to believe that the Church is corrupt, and that all of us (especially the clergy, but the rest of us as well) have deeply failed God and brought disrepute on the great gifts He has given us. Was there ever a time when the Pope announced that the reform is complete, and now we can all feel good about ourselves?

    Now, there is something deeply appropriate in feeling one is a mere unprofitable servant before God and that the true potency of His gifts to us have not shown forth because of our sins. Complacency is indeed inimical to a deep religious sense.

    However, so long of never been able to be pleased with ourselves leaves a mark. One sees it in the dim view Catholics have of each other–Popes apologizing for past Catholic clerics, kings, and warriors, laymen always ready to believe the worst of their priests. Even the fact, much commented on, that Catholic parish life is so cold and unfriendly may trace to our poor opinion of ourselves.

  5. >Good question. I date it to the Gregorian reforms, which is very close to a century ago. Since then, Catholics have boasted of their Church’s orthodoxy and sacraments, but never–so far as I can tell–of themselves.

    The 11th/12th century reformers and the generations that immediately succeeded them are (in my fairly extensive reading) the most confident in the faith of any set of authors in the history of the Church.

    I really think you’re making an error in conflating calls for reform and invectives against corrupt clergy with a lack of confidence in the Church. In reality, these calls are almost always foregrounded in a profound conviction of the truth of the faith, the worthiness of the Church, etc.

    It’s noteworthy, by contrast, that calls for reform today are muted in comparison (compare the rhetoric of Gregorian or Counter-Reformation polemics, most written by high-ranking, prominent clergymen or monks with the largely anonymous criticism of anonymous tweeters today), precisely because so few of our prominent churchmen have any confidence in the faith or the Church. Understood this way, we’re much closer to the 10th century reign of the Theophylacti than that of Gregory VIII.

  6. I agree that people on the right must show more tolerance for other people on the right.

    This strikes me as question-begging. Are conservatives, by and large, on the right? Clearly not. It’s sad that Bonald is lonely, but his choice is to be lonely or to join John Zmirak on the left.

  7. > invectives against corrupt clergy…a profound conviction of the truth of the faith…

    Isn’t that what I’ve been saying? Reformers love Catholic doctrine and sacraments and hate actual Catholics. Reform is analogous to a parenting strategy of always criticizing the child and telling it to be ashamed of itself, with never a word of praise or affection. One could say that such cruelty shows a robust faith in the child’s potential, but the result is still despair. Gregory VII taught us that we are inferior to Jews and pagans, and we have learned that lesson so deeply that there is no one to defend the Church–not as an abstract body of truth claims but an actual people and institution. Half of Catholics are contemplating apostasy, and what do you expect when all they hear from Catholic conservatives–supposedly the loyalist faction!–is that Catholics are child molesters? They will go off and join a religion that they can be proud of.

    Reformers think that shame and humiliation are the only valid motivators. What about the motivation of having an admired history and ancestors to which one wants to be worthy? Ask yourself, who is better motivated today: the self-loathing Catholics or the proud Muslims and Jews?

  8. …hate actual Catholics…Gregory VII taught us that we are inferior to Jews and pagans… the self-loathing Catholics

    Are you representing everyone involved here fairly? Would Gregory VII, for example, agree with you that “we” are inferior to Jews and pagans? Somehow I doubt it.

    You could start the ball rolling on getting Catholics admiring our patrimony again by doing so yourself. Probably would take an act of the will, though maybe that’s to be eschewed as too doctrinal.

    James Kalb gives some encouragement today I think.

  9. Judge for yourself:


    “Wherever I turn my eyes–to the west, to the north, or to the south–I find everywhere bishops who have obtained their office in an irregular way, whose lives and conversation are strangely at variance with their sacred calling; who go through their duties not for the love of Christ but from motives of worldly gain. There are no longer princes who set God’s honour before their own selfish ends, or who allow justice to stand in the way of their ambition. . . .And those among whom I live–Romans, Lombards, and Normans–are, as I have often told them, worse than Jews or Pagans” (Greg. VII, Registr., 1.II, ep. xlix).

  10. Looks to me as though he is addressing a particular people at a particular time in a particular place; and performing the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner while doing it. No doubt he is holding those who have the grace of baptism to a higher standard than those who haven’t, as is only reasonable. It would be hatred of his Catholic flock if he didn’t, ignoring the fact that they can and ought to live better than Jews and pagans.

    To say it is better not to do as St Gregory did is to advise against living as a Catholic. It’s one thing to fail to live up to Catholic standards, and another to say that the aspiring to do so is evil. Again, it looks like the path you are suggesting is not simply to imitate the Jews, but actually in some way, to be Jews. It’s illogical.

  11. If it makes you feel any differently, I haven’t really experienced much of the sense of shame you speak of.

  12. >Reformers love Catholic doctrine and sacraments and hate actual Catholics.

    Yet reformers regularly praise faithful Catholics, exalt the Church, and denigrate non-Christians. It’s frankly scandalous to suggest that some of the greatest voices in the history of the Church, many of them saints, “hate[d] actual Catholics.”

    And your evidence for this is rhetorical exclamations from one of those saints, Gregory VII, in which he is explicitly condemning secular princes for oppressing the masses of good Christians!

    Indeed, in the same letter he speaks of the “vast and universal grief” that assails him because of the slaughter of Christians in the east and the spiritual destruction towards which their lousy bishops are leading them. He openly wishes for death because he is unable to help them and worries that his own sins have made him unworthy of the task. This is in between the effusive praise he gives the faithful monks and nobles to whom he is writing.

    If these are the words of a man who hates “actual Catholics,” I would be very interested to read the words of someone who loves them. Would he suggest they should become more like the Jews?

  13. Buckyinky, I read Kalb’s article. It seems to advocate a Church of saints. All very fine, but the Church was always one of sinners. Has Purgatory been forgotten? A Church this demanding, and Chesterton was adamant that God left us with much freedom and only troubled us with very few Commandments, will certainly be very small.

  14. I guess Kalb would have to speak for himself, but I didn’t see the article as a warning that the less-than-perfect need not apply. More of an encouragement to hold fast, not to jump ship, and to know that there is a goal, not only obtained in the afterlife, but even here in history.

  15. Thinking that God surely doesn’t want any grand romantic gestures from you is also a form of pride. A despairing form, to be sure, but still pride. He wants what He wants.

  16. This is a time for individuals, not teams, as I have learned as a non-Christian.


  17. I interpreted Kalb’s article to be in the class of Darwinian arguments for optimism. Modernity selects for what can resist it, so an anti-modern Christianity will gain strength (or Christianity will go extinct).

  18. “Ask yourself, who is better motivated today: the self-loathing Catholics or the proud Muslims and Jews?”

    Tribal Catholics don’t like ecumenism, because it’s usually just an excuse for Catholic-bashing from those who are supposed to be our leaders. From liberal Catholic theologians, we hear about how much more enlightened the mainline Protestants are (although even they pale before the glory of atheists, Jews, and Muslims). From conservative Catholic theologians, we hear about how much more enlightened the Eastern Orthodox are (although they again are not nearly as wonderful as the Jews). I’m sick of it. If the heretics and schismatics are so wonderful, go join them.

    – author unknown

  19. Indeed, I still don’t like ecumenism. Ordinarily, my pride would make me disdain learning from my enemies, but the danger of extinction can motivate extraordinary measures. “We’re all child molesters” is not good for recruitment or retention; that’s why no one else does it.

  20. What if “we’re all child molesters” and “be like the Jews” weren’t the only options?

  21. Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

    This excerpt more or less captures the Jewish and Catholic attitudes. Which is superior?

  22. “Thank God we’re better than everyone else” and “we’re worse than everyone else, please listen to us anyway” are both bad, but the former is far worse. The latter hinders the cause of the faith, but the former would subvert it, just as it subverted the faith of Israel.

  23. It’s also worth pointing out that while Pharisaical self-righteousness often manifests as tribalism in places where Jews are a minority, it isn’t so inherently. It didn’t, for example, stop them from declaring fealty to a gentile king in order to get their own messiah crucified.

    Heck, even today Jews are perfectly happy to join lynch mobs directed against other Jews who they deem beneath themselves (Kyle Kashuv, Laura Loomer, Jared Kushner, Darren Beattie, to name a few). The Jewish mentality is not a healthy one, even for a people with no mandate to evangelize the world. For Catholics to adopt it would be moral suicide.

  24. Brother, don’t worry so much about what you have done. It is done, if you felt it offended the Almighty you have confessed and repented, and most importantly mended your way and sought to rectify any damage done. Same for what you should have done.

    Ours is a joyful faith, for many reasons, but not least because every day is an opportunity to be a saint, and even a different kind of saint each morning. A contemplative monk, a patient teacher, one day maybe a glorious martyr of we are so blessed. You have not been idle, buried your talents. Don’t doubt his mercy for our weakness.

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