Competing Religions

Liberalism

Christopher Johnson, the non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for Mother Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, points to an editorial of The Washington Post that hopes the next Pope will not be so Catholic:

Roman Catholics?  You have my deepest sympathies.  You guys are going to have a LOT of crap to put up with over the next month and a half:

The hallmark of Pope Benedict’s tenure, for better or for worse, was fierce resistance to those changes. He rejected calls by Catholic progressives for reconsideration of doctrines such as celibacy and the ban on women in the priesthood; at a time when acceptance of the rights of gays and lesbians is rapidly spreading across the world, he was outspoken in condemning homosexuality as “unnatural” and unacceptable. With sectarian tension growing in Europe as well as the Middle East, he eschewed dialogue with Muslims and infuriated many by quoting a condemnation of Islamic theology as “evil and inhuman.”

Some of Pope Benedict’s most important achievements came in response to the backlash triggered by his reactionary acts. Pilloried for having suggested before a tour of AIDS-stricken Africa that the use of condoms “increases the problem,” he later suggested that the use of a condom by an HIV-infected person to avoid infecting a partner could be a positive step. After angering Jews by rehabilitating a bishop known as a Holocaust denier, the pope prayed at Auschwitz and published a book exonerating the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.

Pope Benedict will leave behind a church facing the same debilitating problems that loomed after the death of Pope John Paul II — above all, how to remain relevant to an increasingly secular world and to its own changing membership. This pope’s response was to insist that only uncompromising adherence to past doctrine could preserve the faith. Catholics who seek a different answer will have to hope that a college of cardinals dominated by the pope’s appointees will choose a more progressive successor.

Go here to read the comments.  Contemporary liberalism is a substitute religion and the denizens of the editorial board of The Washington Post are adherents of that religion. They recognize in Catholicism a stumbling block to their ambitions.  I thank them for the compliment!

32 Responses to Competing Religions

  • The accompanying photo reminds me of a quote by William F. Buckley:
    “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”

  • I have to wonder if press bias has as much effect as we think. That editorial is about half opinion, half incorrect information. Reading it is like playing charades, trying to guess the real event from its mis-description. But then I think, they do that with everything. Every single thing that I know about, I can find errors in the coverage of. If I attend something, it’ll get falsely described. I wonder if we all just filter out the nonsense reflexively.

    In czarist Russia, in the Soviet Union, and for all I know in present-day Russia, no one ever believed the official story about anything. By censoring the news, they created a situation where any rumor was assumed to be more truthful than any official account. I’ve heard it argued that in the Soviet era, the whole point was to make a news story as false as possible, not because anyone would believe it, but because it broke people’s spirits to have to pretend to believe the stuff. The more outrageous the falsehood, the more dehumanizing it was to feign assent to it.

    So when I read this WaPo nonsense, part of me is afraid for the souls that think they know the Church based on the press’s reporting of it. But another part of me thinks that no one believes the press any more, about anything.

  • when people die are they going to go to catholic heaven, baptist heaven, methodist heaven ect ect?

    religious institutions are big money making machines, i wonder what our LORD/JESUS thinks about all this?

  • when people die are they going to go to catholic heaven, baptist heaven, methodist heaven ect ect?

    No. There is only one heaven.

    religious institutions are big money making machines, i wonder what our LORD/JESUS thinks about all this?

    For whom? The flagship Anglican parish in my home town, chock-a-bloc with attorneys and corporation executives, employed a grand total of ten people. It had that many because it operated a day care center on site. That would be the most affluent parish in the most affluent denomination in the metropolitan region. The rector of that parish lived well, but rather less well than most of his parishioners and less well than the real-estate developer who bought the rectory when the vestry decided future rectors should own their own homes. Another parish in that same denomination (just down the road) lived hand to mouth under the inept financial administration of the schoolteachers who made up the majority of its vestry. The rector was over paid, but still earning less than he might have in the engineering career he had abandoned. That particular parish had a rector, a sexton, and a secretary.

    Catholic clergy receive a stipend that was (at that time) about 60% lower than the salaries paid to Anglican clergy. They were also celibates, generally owned no real property and often no consumer durables worth more than a three-figure sum of money.

    Running a small eleemosynary and receiving compensation similar to what a school teacher might receive is not an ascetic life; neither is it a life that would be chosen by someone notably acquisitive.

    You do realize, do you not, that religious congregations have no profits to distribute?

  • “he was outspoken in condemning homosexuality as “unnatural” and unacceptable.”

    What a horribly false mischaracterization! The Church certainly asserts that homosexual attraction is “unnatural” (which it is, how is that a contentious claim?), but she never claims that the orientation itself, distinct from acting upon it, is “unacceptable!”

    The problem is that we live in a world where people are incapable of using logic and reason. There is no nuance, there is no appreciation for subtle differences. It’s almost impossible be taken seriously when this is how the media portrays you.

  • And by the way, Left liberals aren’t the only ones guilty of mischaracterizing what the Pope/Church says.

    Sean Winters had a fantastic article praising Benedict’s papacy, but he also made some incredible insights into American Catholics.

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/why-i-came-love-benedict-xvi

    I realize most of you won’t click through because it’s a piece from the National Catholic Register (I don’t blame you…this is the first half-way redeemable article from them that I’ve ever come across), so I’ll copy and paste the two most relevant paragraphs:

    “This concern for unity was evidenced in other aspects of his teachings. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he was clear that the social justice teachings of the church and the teachings about sexual morality flowed from a single source and, in his mind, were irrevocably bound together. As I mentioned in my article at The New Republic yesterday, the fact that the pope was as devoted to social justice issues as he was to issues of sexual morality has been somewhat opaque in the U.S. because so many of his loudest supporters in the U.S. tended not to mention his commitment to social justice or minimized the radicalness of the demands he made in that regard. Catholic neo-cons dismissed his call for a conversion of Western lifestyles, his commitment to environmental protection, his denunciation of “unregulated financial capitalism” as a threat to world peace, his abiding lament at growing income inequality, and because these neo-con voices claimed to be authoritative and because the mainstream media does not know any better, Benedict’s rigorous critique of modern consumer, capitalist culture was underplayed. Whenever he spoke against gay marriage, however, the headlines of a reactionary pope could be found everywhere.

    The Catholic left, unfortunately, let the Catholic right define the narrative of Benedict’s reign. They, too, neglected the significance of his social teachings to focus on anything he said about sex or gender. More importantly, they failed to really wrestle with his challenge, to see all the issues the church addresses as bound together. Take this morning’s Washington Post. There, George Weigel is quoted as saying, “If you don’t sell full-throttle Catholicism, people are not going to buy it. Everyone knows the whole package is more compelling and interesting than some sort of Catholic hors d’oeuvres that leave you hungry.” This from the man who advised using red and gold pens to mark up Caritas in Veritate, ignoring the parts Weigel thought were not really from the pope’s hand. This from the man who can cite one paragraph, and one paragraph only, from John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus but never once has evidenced his compliance with, nor appreciation for, the call to a conversion of Western lifestyles contained in that same encyclical, nor its restatement of the church’s commitment to the rights of workers, nor those sections that question the very ethical and anthropological foundations of capitalism. I agree with Weigel about the need for “full-throttle Catholicism,” though I find his use of the verb “sell” telling. I just wish Weigel and other Catholic neo-cons actually engaged the full breadth of the church’s teachings instead of trying to distort and minimize those teachings about economic and social justice they disdain.”

  • @JL a small correction, Sean Winters’ article was in the National Catholic Reporter, not the National Catholic Register (which is usually steadfast in supporting Church doctrine)

  • @Kathy

    You’re absolutely right! My apologies. It’s so annoying that those two are so close in name, yet generally so far apart in terms of orthodoxy!

    Nonetheless, I suggest you all give Winters’ piece a chance.

  • Pinky, interesting thought. Of course, we Catholics know that confusion is a tool used by Satan. An individual that can’t trust anything he or she hears is an individual that is isolated and helpless against the devil. He or she is similarly shielded and resistant to Love.

  • JL – I read the article. I had two problems with it. First, it took the pettiness and infighting over messaging far too seriously. If a person tells a story about both sides’ pettiness, he always casts himself as the visionary who can see above it all. “The time for partisanship is over”, et cetera. I don’t think that anyone, even those involved in the trivial “left”/”right” squabbles, think they’re representing the fullness of the Faith.

    Secondly, the bit about Benedict saving the Church from being juridical and neo-scholastic. That didn’t sound genuine. It’s no different from saying “I like him”. It’s always easy to say that the people before the guy you like failed to resonate, because they failed to resonate with you. And there is something about a live person fleshing out an idea that makes it more compelling. But saying the Church wasn’t Christological enough? The Church is always walking the line between being formal and passionate. Each of its members walks that line. But it’s just weird that Winters praises Benedict for his organic hermeneutic at the same time he calls him a break from the past, and at the same time he complains about his heavy-handedness.

  • Art Deco, thank you for your comment. i believe that regardless of the church we attend, our worship is judged by the Lord. We do not earn browny points for aligning ourselves with a particular tradition, nor do we gain merit by associating ourselves with a worshipping community that claims an astonishing pedigree. We are one in the Spirit if we claim Christ as Lord and Savior, and this is the essence of true religion. He that worships him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.

  • @Pinky

    “First, it took the pettiness and infighting over messaging far too seriously.”

    It’s not really about the pettiness and infighting as evils in and of themselves, it’s about the fact that they obfuscate the entirety of Pope Benedict’s teaching. The problem isn’t primarily that “conservative Catholics” and their left-wing counterparts squabble amongst each other, it’s that they both latch on to one aspect of the pope’s teaching (sexual morality), and use it to define the pope and all he has to say in the terms of the American political spectrum. They’re too busy cramming him into pigeonholes that fit their own partisan paradigm to bother hearing out the rest of his message.

    Weigel is such an obvious example of this that it’s like he’s a living caricature. The audacity and presumption needed to go through a papal encyclical and decide what’s “legitimate” and what’s not is simply stunning. I don’t want to judge his intent, but it seems like he’s got a pretty bad case of the “conservative before Catholic” thing going on.

  • JL

    I am rushed today so I will have breaks in taking apart your flawed thinking.

    “In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he was clear that the social justice teachings of the church and the teachings about sexual morality flowed from a single source and, in his mind, were irrevocably bound together.”

    No problem there, Catholics agree God is the source of all good. However, the Church teaches that God holds some things to be evil (i.e. abortion, homosexuality). No one can ever condone those. However, in ordering the common good (justice) there are different legitimate solutions which people can licitly disagree with.

    “As I mentioned in my article at The New Republic yesterday, the fact that the pope was as devoted to social justice issues as he was to issues of sexual morality has been somewhat opaque in the U.S. because so many of his loudest supporters in the U.S. tended not to mention his commitment to social justice or minimized the radicalness of the demands he made in that regard. ”

    Conservatives don’t deny those social justice issues, they just disagree with the application of other’s solutions (see above). Rather, they see the preeminent issue as being that of the attack on the most vulnerable of our society – the unborn.

  • Weigel is such an obvious example of this that it’s like he’s a living caricature. The audacity and presumption needed to go through a papal encyclical and decide what’s “legitimate” and what’s not is simply stunning. I don’t want to judge his intent, but it seems like he’s got a pretty bad case of the “conservative before Catholic” thing going on.

    Oh go on. Actual disputes over political economy and social policy in this country involve questions of whether or not to replace extant public insurance schemes with vouchers, what sort of deductibles to put on public and private insurance programs, how to determine re-imbursement rates for physicians, and the balance between public and private insurance in financing medical care. You cannot repair to the social encyclicals to adjudicate these sorts of questions.

  • “You cannot repair to the social encyclicals to adjudicate these sorts of questions.”

    Exactually. Catholic Social Teaching definitively states that the Church does not propose specific solutions. The error of Sean Winters (and by extension JL) is that they believe it does. And they believe that those solutions happen to coincide with their political prejudices.

  • You cannot repair to the social encyclicals to adjudicate these sorts of questions.

    While I pretty much endorse most of what Art has said in response, I will throw in a word of caution. There are no specific guidelines to treat these issues within the magnificent treasure of Church magisterial teachings; however, the Church certainly proscribes certain – for lack of a better term – attitudes. Catholics need to approach economic issues in light of those guidelines.

    To be a little more specific, I’ll go to a non-economic issue. It is manifestly incorrect to assert that Catholics are bound to oppose the death penalty. Church teaching throughout the century has not mandated an absolutist anti-death penalty approach. That said, Catholics who do support the death penalty do have to do more than pay lip service to the many qualifications the Church places on the practice. One cannot simply wave their hands and say that it is a prudential matter. If one has honestly wrestled with what the Church has laid down and can show where support for the death penalty is justified, then one may support the institution with a clear conscience.

    I will grant JL one thing – gasp! Conservative Catholics sometimes do suggest that economic policies are merely prudential matters. In a sense they are, but we can’t breezily dismiss what the Church has taught through the ages. I am certainly not suggesting Art or anyone here has done this, and Winters as usual demagogues and exaggerates the issue in an attempt to salve his own conscience. It’s just a mild note of caution about how we should approach these prudential matters as Catholics.

  • The Church is on firm footing as to goals: help the poor comes to mind. She is on much less firm footing frequently when she comes to means: the long ban against interest for example. Additionally, mistakes of fact remain mistakes of fact whether they are in Church documents or not. Consider this from 2267 of the Catechism:

    “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

    American prisons, and most prisons around the globe, are ongoing refutations of the argument that the State can render prisoners incapable of doing harm.

  • the long ban against interest for example. Additionally, mistakes of fact remain mistakes of fact whether they are in Church documents or not. Consider this from 2267 of the Catechism:

    Interest is the price of credit and in part derived from alternative opportunities. The implications and effects of charging interest are dependent on context. Medieval society (and early modern society – see Stanley Engerman on colonial America) featured rates of economic improvement that were glacial on balance and featured both sudden catastrophes and elongated periods of economic decline as well as advance (the latter 14th century and the early 16th century). In addition to that, the effect of charging interest in a cash poor agricultural society is not the same as in a modern society. Somewhere I have some lecture tapes which delineate the implications of charging interest in that context.

  • I will grant JL one thing – gasp! Conservative Catholics sometimes do suggest that economic policies are merely prudential matters. In a sense they are, but we can’t breezily dismiss what the Church has taught through the ages. I am certainly not suggesting Art or anyone here has done this, and Winters as usual demagogues and exaggerates the issue in an attempt to salve his own conscience. It’s just a mild note of caution about how we should approach these prudential matters as Catholics.

    I am not a close reader of the social encyclicals. As far as I can see, they rule out command economies (however inspired) and rule out most flavors of libertarianism. Getting more specific than that – and making sense of some apparent prescriptions – is a challenge.

  • “She is on much less firm footing frequently when she comes to means”

    True. Which is why, in her wisdom, the Church is stating more and more clearly that it does not have specific solutions. This is why the Church leaves to the laity, following the principles She lays out, to bring order to the world.

    “One cannot simply wave their hands and say that it is a prudential matter.”

    True again. Though one must be cautious. Not every pronouncement of an encyclical, apostolic exhortation etc. is binding on the conscience of a Catholic. This is not to pick or choose. Rather, the Church herself is taking from science, economics, historical understanding etc. to guide her. As understanding in these areas evolve, that guidance will change. The Church does indeed acknowledge this.

    An example I would posit is Climate Change (aka Global Warming.) Is the science on this definitive? If not, then is Church guidance on this open to reflection and correction? I would say that the science is not definitive and that Church reflections on the environment may shift some.

    Another issue, I know JP II in part argued against the death penalty citing that social science showed there was no deterrence effect of it. But that science may in fact have been flawed. In fact some current work shows the death penalty does deter crime. Will this change the Church’s judgment? It should if the change was based on such work.

  • Mobility of capital is desireable in any society, but most especially a cash poor one.

    I agree with Don re 2267. It’s expression of a factual assessment seems ideosyncratic and out of place in a catechism. The extent to which modern society can render violent criminals incapable of further violence requires a prudential assessment. And I point that out even though I’m generally opposed to the death penalty in the US.

  • @Art

    “Oh go on. Actual disputes over political economy and social policy in this country involve questions of whether or not to replace extant public insurance schemes with vouchers, what sort of deductibles to put on public and private insurance programs, how to determine re-imbursement rates for physicians, and the balance between public and private insurance in financing medical care. You cannot repair to the social encyclicals to adjudicate these sorts of questions.”

    Weigel wasn’t having a debate. He was pulling a Jefferson and cutting out what he didn’t like (not inferring that encyclical = scripture so please don’t go there). He consistently uses papal encyclical’s as binding commandments when they serve his purposes, so this amateur exegesis by him was a necessary reaction.

  • “I am rushed today so I will have breaks in taking apart your flawed thinking.”

    Sigh. This place would be far healthier without this unneeded internet combox bravado.

  • What Weigel did with Caritas in Veritate was pretty embarrassing. While there are usually several hands involved in constructing an encyclical, to go source-critical on it said more about Weigel than it did about Benedict.

  • “Sigh. This place would be far healthier without this unneeded internet combox bravado.”

    Back from retreat so I can respond. Thanks for not addressing the points I made. Instead you resort to pseudo-wit.

  • JL,

    Some more unpacking of the, um, internet bravado of Sean Winters.

    “nor its restatement of the church’s commitment to the rights of workers…”

    A commitment that is qualified. This as seen in Abp. Morlino’s prophetic response to the Wisconsin Public Union fiasco.

    “…nor those sections that question the very ethical and anthropological foundations of capitalism.”

    These foundations are not questioned per se. Otherwise JP II and Benedict XVI would not have had their qualified endorsement of Capitalism.

    Enough for tonight. But the reason I do not read Sean Winters much is that I routinely read the National Catholic Reporter. Someone leaves them in the back of Chuch. I take them home and read them before throwing them away. Unfortunately, every issue seems to say the same thing. Women priests, homosexual marriage, etc.

  • @Phillip.

    Of course it’s qualified. The right to life is qualified to. As is the right to liberty. Etc.

    Re: capitalism: http://distributistreview.com/mag/2009/02/what-does-centesimus-annus-really-teach/ I think critical acceptance is a better way to put it than “endorsement.”

    My approval of Winters and NCR went no further than the words that were written on that page.

  • The endorsement is in the wording of Centesimus Annus. Even if distributists disagree.

  • “The endorsement is in the wording of Centesimus Annus.”

    Prove it.

  • And quickly here from CA. I include the whole paragraph to show, as is frequently the case, a qualified endorsement. But an endorsement nonetheless.

    “34. It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are “solvent”, insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are “marketable”, insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish. It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity. Inseparable from that required “something” is the possibility to survive and, at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good of humanity.”

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