Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is a Coup in Our Future?

I was reflecting on my (recently expanded) post on Preaching. And I think a big part of the problem is that Catholics preach as if they are on the defensive rather than the offensive.

The whole institutional church has, for some time now (perhaps centuries) put itself in this defensive posture, the attempt at aggiornamento at Vatican II notwithstanding. The architects of that removed some of the external barriers perhaps, but this seems to have only made the psychological defensiveness even more entrenched, as GK Chesterton predicted it would:
Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground...We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.
Would anyone deny that the clerical bureaucrats today are just as, if not more, in a defensive psychological stance as ever, whether they be liberal or conservative? As the metaphor illustrates, a defensive posture (especially with external defenses removed) tends to sap the psychological resources of an organization and, ironically, leaves them rather defenseless.

In the French Revolution, the ironic thing was that the fighters for "freedom" were just as defensive once they took power and were the ones who initiated the Reign of Terror, exhausting the whole nation. So Napoleon found France ripe for the taking.

Not to sound crazy, but just socio-historically speaking...the Church is institutionally over-ripe (or "vulnerable" depending on your outlook) for a "takeover" or regime-change from-without (since Trent, the Vatican has pretty much been an insider's club controlled by the party of curial initiates, who are mainly scholar-bureaucrats).

An aborted liberal Revolution happened some decades ago at/after Vatican II...fizzled out spectacularly (well, strictly speaking it was simply co-opted by the powers-that-be) but no leadership for change or real reform has filled the growing vacuum. Instead an extreme neo-conservative defense of the institutional status quo has persisted, even in the face of sexual molestation scandals, financial problems, a loss of many followers.

In the meantime, growing ties with traditional-minded Anglicans, and the Orthodox, are potentially game-changing. They create even more permeability and are additional forces of potential destabilization; I suspect that overt gestures of reunion have been so slow to come in many ways because both sides are trying (probably futilely) to minimize the merely political impact such a development would have on their own respective status quos in their own respective spheres.

The gate is open and the guards are asleep while the bureaucrats argue their own petty little internal battles, appease the World, and talk endlessly about vague abstractions. A small group with their heads out of the clouds, with real motivation and dedication (and, compared to the clergy, that probably just means a willingness to work more than 3 hours a day) would probably have a clear path to "take the Church by storm" as it were.

The only major hurdle would probably be the collective action problems involved in overcoming the dead-weight of the general malaise. The factionalism in the Church currently makes it institutionally weaker, is a huge chink in the armor, but it would need to be used strategically by anyone attempting to overturn the current institutional order, as such division can be as much a force for stagnation as for dynamism (as the Democrat-Republican dead-lock on US politics shows...)

Anyway, my bets are on some new religious order or similar organization with an energetic/charismatic founder. Something like that would probably be the best candidate. All the times this has happened in the past it's been one of them; the Benedictines "took over" once in the Dark Ages, the Mendicants (Franciscans and Dominicans) "swept the Church" the peak of the High Middle Ages, and then the Jesuits during the Counter-Reformation. Even under John Paul, Opus Dei and the Legionnaires had some similar success, though they seem to have tried to take an "inside" path to influence and ended up being largely co-opted.

This post is also an example of another thing the Church is ripe for: detailed sociological/intra-institutional political analysis. Sociologists and Political Scientists have spent a lot of time studying the State and power-structure thereof...but the Catholic Church is a veritable menagerie of (and laboratory for?) sociology and political science concepts, and yet I feel the analysis is rather limited, and what does exist is mainly of a historical nature (ie, of the medieval or early modern Church).

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