The social fragility of Catholicism

Democracy and liberalism tend to erode Catholicism, but they invigorate Islam.  The record is clear.  One struggles to think of exceptions.  How to explain it, though?  Is it that Islam is more compatible with liberalism?  Perhaps it is less compatible and gives liberalism less of a foot in the door?  Is Islam simpler, and thus better suited to mass appeal, or is it more complicated, and thus better able to rebut modernist criticisms?

A liberal would frame the phenomenon as Catholicism’s inability to thrive under conditions of “freedom”, that is, in an “open society”.  Of course, we non-liberals know that neutrality at the top is impossible–to rule is to decide.  Catholicism does poorly when a hostile faith like liberalism is established.  That is certainly not surprising, although Islam seems to feed off the provocation of a secular establishment.  Catholicism also does poorly in situations where the dominant ideology is contested, uncertain, or disguised, as in vigorous democracies.  Muslims rally to a fight, while Catholics become demoralized and indifferent.

Tertullian said that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.  This is true if it refers to the blood of heretic martyrs.  To paraphrase General Patton, the way to succeed over rival religions is to make the other dumb bastard die for his faith.

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What have white people ever contributed, anyway?

If you’re really optimistic, you can say this was the last time that old white people would command the Republican Party’s attention, its platform, its public face,” Charles P. Pierce, a writer at large at Esquire magazine, said during the panel discussion…

In response, Mr. King said: “This whole ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Mr. Hayes asked.

Mr. King responded: “Than Western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

The claim is actually quite modest.  In response to a writer gloating over the demise of his race, Mr. King asks what other subgroup contributed more to civilization than Western civilization, rhetorically implying that no other group contributed more, and therefore none of them are in a position to demand that whites be singled out in not being allowed to dominate anything anywhere on Earth.  The assertion that no group has contributed more than the West is compatible with other civilizations having contributed equally and with other civilizations in aggregate having contributed more.  It simply means that the West is second to none.

King is right to connect the white race with Western civilization.  Race is a social construct, and today being white mostly means being identified with European civilization.  He is also right to be angered by Mr. Pierce’s zeal to replace white people as the “public face” of a Western nation’s political party.  If its participants can’t be socially dominant anywhere, Western culture will cease to exist as a culture.  No one objects to Chinese being the face of the Chinese Communist Party, of Indians being the face of the BJP, or of blacks running sub-Saharan Africa.  It’s a big planet, and a little bit of diversity isn’t a terrible thing.

Still, I think the lesson here is that even the claim that the West is second to none is still too strong.  It is certainly contestable, and it triggers an argument we don’t need to win.  Suppose it could be definitively shown that, say, Islam added more to civilization as a whole than did the West.  Would we all meekly accept that Europe should then be ruled or co-ruled by African Muslims?  I prefer to avoid comparisons.  Can we not strongly argue that the West–defined broadly as Mr. King does as all Classical, Christian, and European-Anglosphere civilization–has made some contributions to civilization as a whole, and that this is an indication of its inherent worth?  After all, the main contribution any given civilization makes to civilization as a whole is its very existence.  Simply to give birth to a distinctive way of life is a stupendous achievement.

On the indestructibility of the Church

What explains the apparent lack of political sanity among Catholics?  Where is the survival instinct?  For liberal Catholics, the answer is easy:  Catholicism isn’t their tribe, and they’re wrecking it in obedience to their true object of loyalty.  Orthodox Catholics, on the other hand, believe the Church is indestructible, in which case she may be confronted with sinners and heretics but never by a true existential enemy.  They thus resemble in political ineptness the Gnostics, as described by Voegelin, who forget the contingency of their social order’s existence, retreat into an essentialist dream world, and respond to exterior threats with ineffectual virtue-signaling.  Now, orthodox Catholics do realize that the Church’s destruction is a logical possibility, but it is not considered a real possibility because Jesus Christ has supposedly promised that it will not happen, and thus will presumably act to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Catholics who believe this can point out how limited this promise really is.  It may happen that Catholicism will be wiped out from whole continents and never return.  It may be that 99.99% of the laity and all but one bishop will apostasize.  It may be that even those Catholics that remain shall despise all past generations of Catholics and shall devote all their energies into showing their enthusiasm for democracy, the Founding Fathers, and the Muslim settlement of Europe, just so long as the one bishop maintains an embarrassed formal adherence to orthodoxy.  In other words, like the Sibyl whom Apollo cursed to continue aging but never die, survival might not take the form any of us would recognize or want.

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Development of doctrine: new categories more convenient for my use

As I said, it turns out to be a tricky thing to give the Church the authority she needs to clarify doctrine without also giving the laity the excuse it wants to ignore clarifications it doesn’t like.

Newman gave much attention to the difference between valid development of doctrine and its corruption.  His purpose was to validate past developments and was thus conservative.  Today, the conservative’s task is different, as Catholics everywhere are clambering for the Church to renounce this or that part of her deposit.  I’d like to categorize putative developments a bit differently for reference in future posts.

Category 1:  specification

The Church at one time teaches X, but X is itself includes several possibilities:   X = X1 or X2 or X3 or …  Thus, at a later date, the Church specifies that by X she means X1.  Before the Church speaks, anyone may argue for X1, X2, etc.  After she speaks, everyone must fall into line, and to continue to argue for X2 or X3 would be heretical.

This is the least problematic case.  The only danger of relativism is if someone reasons that every statement is ambiguous in that it admits further specification, so we really don’t ever get fully intelligible nuggets of truth, so we can’t ever understand them well enough to say that any future development is off the table.  This would be a case of liberating the pope into irrelevance, because, like I said, no one need bother with statements he cannot understand well enough to reason from.

Category 2:  re-specification

Suppose at some time there is an argument between X and Y.  X, again, has several possibilities:  X1, X2, etc.  The Church resolves the debate between X and Y by specifying X1.  This is a valid Magisterial act.  Suppose, though, that people weren’t really thinking about X2 at the time of the debate, but later it becomes a live issue.  Is it possible that when the Church said X1, she really just meant X, so that X2 is not really ruled out?  I think this is possible, and it is probably what’s going on in those cases of development where continuity seems most problematic (e.g. the ever-growing qualifications to “no salvation outside the Church”).

However, reasoning in this way is dangerous.  Ordinarily, we are to concern ourselves only with what the documents say, not with what we imagine past popes were or weren’t thinking about.  At most, we may be guided by how the Church as a whole tended to understand a given statement.  Only the Magisterium can be authorized to tell us what it meant to say.

This is a difference between category 1 and category 2.  In the first, X1 and X2 are equally available to Catholics before the pope settles it.  In category 2, X1 is the Church’s official position, and Catholics probably should not publicly argue for X2 against X1, even if they suspect such a development would be licit.  Instead, they should direct their concerns to the appropriate ecclesiastic personnel.

Category 3:  re-metanorming

The Church teaches very general principles X and Y.  Let us say X and Y are vague things like “transcendence”, “sacramental mediation”, or “mercy”.  She has long taught that X1 is an application of X.  Then those claiming to be enlightened say that their deeper understanding of Y leads them to believe that X1 is incompatible with Y.  Therefore, X1 must be rejected, not in defiance of previous teaching, but in obedience to its “deeper” exigencies.

This wielding of “metanorms” against “norms” is credited to the prophets by Pope Benedict XVI, but it is surely illegitimate for Catholics.  The Catholic way is that the more specific determines the meaning of the less explicit.  Norms provide the concrete meaning of metanorms.  The latter may not be turned against the former, and if they are, the principle/metanorm is being misunderstood/misused in a heretical way.

Category 4:  deculturing

The Church has always taught X, but X was taken for granted in the background culture of earlier eras, so it is claimed that this was just cultural conditioning, not the real Gospel message.  Now that we’re more enlightened, we should chuck X.

This way of thinking is also unCatholic and illegitimate.  Church teaching is no less authoritative when it conforms to the cultural expectations of its time of promulgation.  People indulging in such lines of thought should learn humility by considering that they too are products of their culture, and it is they, not ancient or Medieval Christians, who are working to conform the Gospel to the sensibilities of their own society.

Category 5:  agnosticizing

If the Church teaches X = X1 or X2 at one time, she may later choose to specify X1, or she may specify X2, or she may abstain from further specification, or she may actually state that she does not know whether the truth is X1 or if it is X2.  How binding are the latter statements?  For example, a commission under Benedict XVI stated that we do not know that Limbo exists, not that it doesn’t exist, but that it’s not part of established teaching.  Could the Church declare definitively that revelation is insufficient to distinguish between some X1 and X2, such that it would then be impossible for any future pope to resolve the issue, no matter what future arguments come in?

The subtleties of maximizing papal authority

We’re all practical sedevacantists.  For the most part, that’s a good thing.  The day-to-day functioning of Catholics and their local Churches should not depend on papal input.  Even among those who follow the pope’s statements, how many could be said to allow themselves to be taught by them?  Did Amoris laetitia actually change anyone’s mind about ‘”irregular unions”‘?  The liberal and the traditionalist will accept or reject what Francis says based on its consistency with their own prior beliefs.  Those who claim to accept everything Francis teaches but always read “in the light of tradition” (i.e. replacing his obviously intended meaning with something orthodox) just do this more subtly.

I do not believe that Catholics, because we have a pope, are somehow in a different epistemic situation than Protestants.  That is, we are still forced to interpret documents, and we must still each decide whether the source is reliable and the overall system is coherent.  In terms of settled, articulated doctrine, we just have more documents to work from than the Protestants.  I really don’t know what my fellow Catholics are talking about when they criticize “private interpretation” of the Bible, except that it means interpreting this one document (on one’s own or not doesn’t matter) without checking for consistency with the others.

A pope would be shortsighted to think that being allowed to refashion doctrine without any restrictions would maximize real papal power.  If a pope is not bound by his predecessors, his successors are not bound by him, so he cannot expect any of his innovations to outlive him.  In fact, it’s worse than that.  If Catholic doctrine can be X today and not-X tomorrow, then Catholic doctrine can only be accidentally connected with truth, and no one would have any reason to feel bound by it.  Nor does it practically matter what linguistic rationalizations are used to avoid formal contradiction.  If the meaning of papal statements are so opaque that the faithful are not qualified to recognize a contradiction, then communication is not really taking place at all, and again, no one need feel bound by statements he is told he can’t understand well enough to reason from independently.

It turns out to be a very tricky thing to give the Church the authority she needs to clarify doctrine without also giving the laity the excuse it wants to ignore clarifications it doesn’t like.

 

A tribal Catholic’s last straw

I have argued before that the friend-enemy distinction is an irreducible and legitimate distinction for Catholics.  That is, to recognize someone as an enemy of the Church is not the same as calling him a heretic or accusing him of personal sin.  This is why we are perfectly correct to distinguish the gay rights movement, an enemy working to persecute the Church and entice our children to apostasy, from the mass of humans indulging in unnatural sexual acts (homosexuality, masturbation, contraception, or whatever–they’re all morally equivalent) but not demanding the Church either change her teaching to accommodate their vices or be destroyed.  This is why we are correct to direct our hostility toward the Kasperites who are collaborating with our mortal enemy, Liberalism, toward the destruction of the Church while remaining friendly with the Mormons who, by our standards, aren’t even monotheists but nevertheless wish us well.  To recognize the enemy is to recognize that the Church is, as a human organization, vulnerable.  It can be destroyed, and if it was, all the spiritual goods of the Church would disappear with it.  The Church is at war with Liberalism, her mortal foe who might destroy her and will destroy her if it can.  War is the moment of ultimate social clarity.  Faced with the live possibility of the destruction of the Church, there arises within the Catholic soul an urgent will to collective survival.  The prerogative to survive, to rebuff attack, overrides every consideration except absolute moral prohibitions.  Fastidious concern for Canon Law would be madness, an abdication of responsibility, when survival in the face of the Liberal enemy is at stake.

Some commenters at the Orthosphere think themselves too moral for the ideas of political philosopher Carl Schmitt because of his association with German National Socialism.  The men and nations who actually fought the actual Nazis, on the other hand, were fortunately “Nazi” enough in their thinking to understand the friend-enemy distinction.  Imagine if World War II had been run like today’s Catholic Church.  Suppose Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, General Eisenhower, etc. were prone to tremendously demoralizing off-the-cuff interviews where they hinted that major surrenders were on the way and encouraged everyone to meditate on the injustices of Versailles and the legitimate aspirations of the Japanese Empire, and maybe to send an apology or two toward our aggrieved adversaries.  Disgruntled soldiers could console themselves by remembering that what their leaders say to journalists is not official Allied/Soviet/American/British policy and should be ignored.  Suppose they took it farther.  Suppose one of our brave wartime leaders, Joe Stalin say (because Russia of all the Allied powers faced the most existential threat, making it the best analogy for the Church), announced that he had become a Nazi and would henceforth work for the subjugation of the Slavic race.  It would be insane to care that he only said this in an off-the-cuff interview to journalists rather than in any official capacity.  The proper thing would be for the communist party to remove him in a prompt and orderly way, but every Russian down to the lowliest private should stop obeying him immediately, even regarding orders not obviously treasonous.  The reason is not because the leader has proven himself wrong or immoral, but by the more urgent fact that he has revealed himself as an enemy.  Loyalty to Russia would most certainly not mean desperately pretending that the traitor is not a traitor, of delusionally reading Nazi-convert-Stalin in the Leninist tradition.

The Sedevacantists have concentrated on the level of doctrine.  Is it established that the pope is a heretic?  Does he automatically cease to be pope if he is?  I will not address this question.  The Sedevacantist might be wrong doctrinally, but he is right practically.  For Pope Francis to claim that Catholics should apologize to sodomites for marginalizing them (that is, for promoting a heteronormative social order) is like Stalin doing a Nazi salute.  He’s actually throwing punches for the other side.  Put to the side whether he is a heretic, whether he is personally sinning by his outrageous non-binding statements, whether he is in fact pope.  Has he not exposed himself as being on the enemy’s side?  What obedience could we possibly owe to an enemy?

Precondition for a meaningful democracy

Democracy is never a smart system of government, but it’s not always a meaningless formality.  The elite always rule, but if there are two rival elites, the populace can be asked to choose between them.  If there is one elite, meaning they are all agreed on wanting policy X, the populace may vote in a referendum for not X (~X), but the one elite will be in charge of implementing it, and one can be sure that they will do so in a way that makes ~X indistinguishable from X.  If even this formal obedience is too wounding to their pride, they can keep repeating the vote until they get the answer they want.  We have all noticed that Leftist victories are definitive while Rightist victories are never more than provisional.

See details.

Again, nobody’s saying that giving the masses a real choice is in general a good idea.  Just that you’re also really screwed with rule by an evil elite.

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