John Zmirak breaks down widespread resistance and dissent among Catholics on the issue of contraception in “The Shame of the Catholic Subculture” for The Catholic Thing. The most salient facts of the situation:
On a grave moral issue where several popes have invoked their full moral authority short of making an infallible declaration, 95 percent of U.S. Catholics (the number is surely higher in most of Europe) have rejected the guidance of Rome. They are not “bad Catholics” so much members of a new, dissenting sect – which happens to occupy most of the seats in most of the churches, and many of the pulpits and bishop’s offices, too.
I’m not sure that I agree that they are not “bad Catholics.” To the extent that they have been poorly catechized, this might be the case. Many of us know from personal experience however that there are plenty of people who say that they are Catholics, understand that Catholics must abide by the dogmatic teachings of the Church, and simply don’t. However they rationalize it is really not important to me.
On the other hand, Zmirak makes a convincing case for extending a tolerant and understanding olive branch to well-meaning dissenters (and that does not include all dissenters, mind you); they’re over 90% of the Church, perhaps over 95%, at least in the developed West. H also makes a good point about conservative/traditionalist circles that, while doctrinally orthodox, suffer from ideological stagnation and social isolation. The 90-95% need those who believe that truth is not optional to speak boldly for it, but not in a way that is alienating or unsympathetic to their concerns.
If, for instance, the problem with contraception is that an otherwise willing Catholic family feels it simply can’t handle the financial burden, then those of us who would have them hold to the teaching of the Church should be devising creative solutions to that problem. Perhaps living as self-contained nuclear families in a mass consumer society is not the way to live as Catholics. Perhaps local, voluntary, and bold projects are needed to unite people who wish to live the faith authentically, to share burdens and responsibilities – something beyond the mere handouts so often advocated by leftists. The pro-life movement has had great success with crisis pregnancy centers and other forms of relief for pregnant women; I see no reason why we can’t take it a step further and devise forms of relief for struggling parents.
Hello again TAC! It has been nearly a year since I posted here, and it is good to be back. I have a long one for you this time, but I think you will find it interesting and my hope is that it will contribute to an ongoing discussion about an important topic.
In December of last year John Zmirak, a Catholic author I know and respect, wrote a piece for Aleteia.org titled “Illiberal Catholicism.” In it, Zmirak takes to task a growing tendency among both Catholic traditionalists (bear in mind I consider myself a traditionalist) and various leftists to denigrate liberalism in general and America’s classical liberal heritage in particular. The piece rubbed quite a few people the wrong way, as several hundred Facebook posts I skimmed would attest. There were lengthier responses from some corners of the Catholic blogosphere as well. If I had to offer the thesis statement of the piece, it would be this:
[T]here is something very serious going on in Catholic intellectual and educational circles, which — if it goes on unchecked — will threaten the pro-life cause, the Church’s influence in society, and the safety and freedom of individual Catholics in America. The growth of illiberal Catholicism will strengthen the power of the intolerant secular left, revive (and fully justify) the old anti-Catholicism that long pervaded America, and make Catholics in the United States as laughably marginal as they now are in countries like Spain and France…
From there, Zmirak provides us with an overview of the lack of tolerance in Church history that was bound to rankle traditionalists, as well as an endorsement of political and economic liberty that anti-capitalist traditionalists and leftists could not but despise. He also explicitly identified with “Tea Party” Catholicism – what could be more philistine for the enlightened anti-capitalist crowd, traddie or leftie?
Today is Bastille Day, typically associated with the start of the French Revolution. In honor of that blessed event, I offer up this classic piece by John Zmirak:
Remember when the L.A. riots spun out of control, and engulfed the whole United States? The key moment was no doubt when police and Army commanders took fright and changed sides, throwing their support to the Committee for Public Safety led by Tom Hayden, along with Noam Chomsky, Barbara Boxer, Michael Moore, and Edward Said. After Hayden’s fall and execution, his successor, Marion Barry, insisted that President Bush and his wife Barbara be tried for treason. Their executions shocked the world but sparked wild celebrations in the capital, as the First Couple’s severed heads danced on poles in daylong parades. A crack whore was duly enshrined in the National Cathedral as the Goddess of Reason.
Brace yourselves, everyone. I am about to announce one of those major shifts in thinking that causes everyone I know to recoil in shock and horror, or, if they’ve been paying attention to what I say and write, simply shrug because they saw it coming. Most people do not change their thinking as drastically in a lifetime as many times as I do in a decade. I am hoping that I will eventually reach an equilibrium. I can’t help it that new facts require a reexamination of old logic.
For the last few years, I have been a pretty consistent advocate for a particular interpretation of Catholic social teaching. The central argument was that, contra all forms of libertarianism, the state had a right and a duty to intervene in the economy in particular, and social life in general, short of establishing a command economy, in order to promote the common good.
Before continuing, I should make clear that I still believe this ought to be the case in principle. Should the right conditions arise, I would be the first in line to support everything that follows from this political and moral premise. But I have come to understand that the conditions for this project do not exist. For the premise that a just socio-economic order will arise from the intervention of the state presupposes that the people who are in charge of the state are themselves just.
This presupposition, in the United States of America, in 2010 Anno Domini, is entirely false.
Recently I engaged in a debate with John Zmirak on Inside Catholic regarding the status of Catholicism in modern America. Those who want to try and sort out the back and forth can go here to follow the exchange.
Particularly we disagree on the issue of immigration, but it seems there is a more fundamental disagreement as well. John was originally going to indirectly reply to some of my comments with another article on IC, but instead published his thoughts in Taki’s Magazine. Although he doesn’t mention me by name, he did say that our exchanged inspired him to write what he did.
The charges he levels against me, or at least those he assumes think like me, are amusing in their wild inaccuracy. The reader can examine for him or herself their specifics; the primary purpose of the second half of this polemic is to portray us as those who would sacrifice our children’s future out of a desire to extend mercy and charity to the undocumented workers that have come to our country seeking to support their own families.
My hope is that his final screed against the “modern American liberal” was intended for the faithless, a group distinct from those such as myself who are openly devout Catholics who simply disagree with his hierarchy of values.