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Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Rock And A Hard Place

It seems like a lot of us are caught between the desire for justice, and the desire for stability. I can remember taking a university course on the history of the 1960s, and it was kind of like this. Destructive revolution on the left, and violent reactionaries on the right.

Somewhere in my Republican soul, I said, "I draw the line at General Grant." The people who said that the agitation against statues was becoming a generalized iconoclasm have been proven right. I am not in support of racist iconography, but neither do I support the destruction of all iconography. It seems to me that our society in its own way is still very much Christian and Protestant; we just don't read our Bibles anymore. Our religious sense is not going to go anywhere. If we're not going to be Christian, we will be pagan. Secularism was never a real option; we can play at being secular, but we're not good at it.

There will have to be something human that we all can latch onto, some liferaft of stability that we can share. We won't be able to be angry at this level for too much longer. For anger to be useful, and for it to usher in real change, it has to be tempered and harnessed. I read an interesting article in Psychology Today about the toxicity of unbridled rage. Great leaders have always channeled anger into concrete action. Rage goes in unending cycles, and destroys our social bonds. Once more, we know the wisdom of, "be angry, but do not sin."

I suppose I could be tempted to say that I feel useless, but I don't feel useless. I can see what I can see; I know why a good chunk of us are angry, and I know why another chunk of us is fearful. If we can talk about it, maybe we can find a way forward. I hope I see a new generation of true leaders, that even in these troubled times will speak to the better angels of our nature. I understand that sentiment and symbolism is not enough to meet the demands of justice, but woe to those who have begun to believe that there was never any purpose in sentiment or symbolism. We have destroyed the very space for the expression of human generosity. We should not be surprised when we seek grace, and find none.

I pray even now that you find solace in prayer, and true solidarity, in this fight for human dignity. We will endure, if we hold on to hope.

Monday, June 15, 2020

I'll Be The Bad Guy (You Probably Won't Charm Anyone Into Heaven)

There is an army of moderate-to-liberal Christians, who may be committed to the traditional teaching on human sexuality, but they somehow think that by some combination of political activity and meanness, some earlier generation of Christians forfeited the moral authority to speak to certain groups of people with the words of Jesus, and credibly to the reality of the human person.

Such an idea is not completely without foundation, but sooner or later, we come back to the truth about human sexuality, the purposes of our reproductive system, and the limits of self-definition. There is no way that the truth of an authentic human anthropology will survive in the ghetto of private Christian devotion. Much if not all of it is public truth, accessible to reason alone. Do some of these Christians actually believe that the decisions of the secular state about what constitutes a family has no impact upon how ordinary people think about their sexuality? Do you actually think you will be able to convert most of the world, to convince them of the way Jesus intends us to live, if every cultural institution remains against us? No; the West was a Christian society, because we transformed it from the inside. And it wasn't simply Christian dominance in the proper sense; it was the harmony of right reason, and revealed truth.

Let me summarize: the idea that we should pay no attention to the secular kingdoms of the earth, and to the values they espouse, while we attempt to save souls from within our enclaves, is utter and complete foolishness.

You might have to endure the sting of being called a bigot, and just stand there and take it. If we have the truth, why are we afraid of it?

The Institutional Church: Safeguard against Falsehood

One of the things that I love about being Catholic is that the Catholic tradition recovered the visible Church in a real sense. The Church that Christ founded subsists in the Catholic Church. The one visible Church is headed by one living person, and governed by visible, living bishops in visible union with him.

It's tragic to watch people argue endlessly firstly about what the "Church" has or hasn't done, or does or does not believe, because no one can actually find it, first of all.

Secondly, how long does anyone actually think they'll be able to hold the "historic" Christian teaching on anything, without actually being in union with that Church which is tasked with preaching that historic teaching? It should not be news to people, but if the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Jesus Christ, then she is also protected by Jesus Christ, in a way that nothing else is, except by a special and extraordinary mercy of the Holy Spirit. Even so, the Holy Spirit is leading all Christians back toward the Church.

It is truly a liberating thing to wake up every single day, knowing that the Catholic Church will not and cannot change anything in natural law, or in supernaturally revealed truth that she has received from Jesus. We don't have to debate homosexuality, or whatever we mean by "gay", or anything else. I might have personal opinions about how to say this or that thing better than it was said by this or that person, but at the end of the day, the question is, "Do I believe that what the Catholic Church teaches has been revealed by God?"

Evangelicals--by which we mean Protestants--seem to be stuck in an endless loop of bad faith accusations, and an ambivalent relationship to their own forefathers, and to their relationship with historic Christian teaching. Let's save each other the time, and realize that any historic Christian teaching is by definition Catholic teaching. If you want to affirm Catholic teaching, be my guest. But you cannot hold it merely by means of Sola Scriptura.

Furthermore, the structures of a visible church are the structures by which historic dogma is preserved, if and only if those structures possess at least a situational charism of infallibility. This is why all the working papers and doctrinal statements of every Protestant community can only be snapshots in time, because Sola Scriptura may also be defined as, "ecclesial fallibility". One of the things that means in practice is that the debate is never really over. And once a critical mass of people decides that some element of "historic" teaching is not all that historic, they go their own way, and the cycle begins again.

I never lost my faith, in the sense that I always believed that Jesus really has come to reveal the Father. Therefore, I knew that there was some thread of belief, some teaching that could never go away, and never be erased. The reason why the Catholic Church will eventually win every historical argument is that one cannot account for the origins of the most ancient dogmas, without the visibly identifiable structure of the Catholic Church. Submitting to the Catholic Church in one's own time and place tells that coherent story, but also prepares one to meet new challenges to the faith once delivered.

I belong first and only to God, and to his Church. I lament the loss of Christian influence in society, not because I have some power that I wish to gain, but because an influential and highly visible Church truly is Christ's presence in the world, and is a sign of salvation for the small and the great alike. We say that we want a more just society, that upholds the dignity of every person. Do we realize however, that the foremost dignity of every person involves their eternal salvation? Every moment that Christians remain separated, and in doubt about what God has given the world, harms the dignity of all people. Christian disunity harms the dignity of all people.

If you believe that you cannot under any circumstances consider submission to the Catholic Church to be submission to Christ himself, by all means, stand apart. But if you can see the possibility that submitting to the Catholic Church could be submitting to Christ himself, and that what once was known and clear to all Christians is being lost in the endless scriptural and doctrinal debates--which always seem to end in a decidedly non-historical direction--then you should go forward in pursuing possible full communion with the Catholic Church.

All I ever wanted to do was love Jesus, and love people in Jesus. But a certain affection for relativism meant that while people wanted to affirm me in that, they kept distorting who Jesus is, for the sake of the "essentials". Sooner or later, one starts to notice that the universe of essentials is getting smaller and smaller, and paradoxically, the arguments are getting fiercer and fiercer. God is a God of peace and order, and not confusion. The sacred Scriptures speak of his faithfulness, and his unchanging nature, almost more than they speak of anything else. And yet my old way of looking at the historical record was such that God wrote the Bible, and then abandoned the people to whom he was allegedly speaking. That doesn't make sense. It just doesn't.