Sunday, November 7, 2010

Preaching to the Choir

I don't think I need to write too much to vent this point to you all. It's just something I had occasion to think about today that really bugs me. It is the question of the modern politicization of the Gospel, which essentially secularizes it. I mean, I'm all for Catholic cultures and societies. I'm all for the Faith having a voice (even a privileged voice) in the public square, and people voting or ruling according to Christian principles. But recently, it seems like so much of what we hear from the Pope or bishops are essentially political messages (about sex, usually) regarding how we should try to make society according to our ideals.

Now, abortion I understand. We're trying to save lives there, protest a huge and horrifying injustice, and the Church would be remembered negatively by history if they were silent about that massive human rights question (we've learned that lesson, finally: you have to speak out about genocide). But on these other questions, involving consenting adults who usually aren't Catholic, in societies which aren't either anymore, it seems to me rather...well, odd, to say the very least, to put all this effort into energizing the "good Catholic" base to "fight against" these evils, which in practice translates into trying to legislate what other non-Catholic people should do.

Oh, some of them will claim it's to protect the "innocent children" who deserve a society where they won't be exposed to such things. But that's really disingenuous. It really seems to be about creating enemies to fight politically. About projecting our own inner demons as an institution so that we can distract ourselves with an external and visible battle against these proxies, without actually addressing the internal and invisible corruption in our souls.

What secularists or heretics are doing in secular society is not really what pastors of souls need to be preaching about. What they need to preaching about is the state of the souls of their congregation. It may make "good Catholics" feel good to be told they are the few, the saved, and that there is a world full of evil perverts that we need to try to co-opt the power of the state to restrain, but it isn't very spiritually helpful.

The job of the Church isn't principally to try to institutionalize Gospel principles publicly; that will happen on its own if individual people are genuinely Christian. Voting "family values" may make one feel righteous, but I doubt it is actually a meritorious act. I mean, which work of mercy would it fall under, exactly? It isn't admonishing sinners; it's attempting to restrain or condemn them by force.

No, the Church's purpose is to sanctify its own sinners, to convert Catholics, not the political sphere. To win souls, not elections. They may say that is a means to winning souls, but there are plenty of souls filling the pews already who clearly need more attention. We should be focusing on rooting out vice in our own lives, and that is what pastoral programs and the community should be most concerned with. Not trying to stop non-Christians from doing various things, nor attempting to win the culture wars. We "win" when individual souls are triumphing over sin and getting to heaven, not when there is some petty victory in terms of civil policy being enacted in line with our ideology. I'm not sure what the value of that is at all to the Church's mission.

It almost seems sometimes like the conservatives are desperate to enshrine some semblance of official social approval of Christianity as a psychological crutch to their own faith. It's as if they have doubts they need to fight by forcing other people to believe the same way and neutralizing opposition; it's easy to believe when everyone shares the same values and assumptions as given ("Everyone knows that. If you don't you're a fool or insane!") It becomes much murkier when there is no social consensus about such horizons, and I think such uncertainty scares them.

Like their beliefs depend on everyone else believing the same thing, or on the affirmation of those around them, so that they can feel smug in a "moral majority." And if that doesn't work, then we're a "persecuted" minority that needs to bolster our "identity" by taking an oppositional stance and finding "anti-Catholic bigotry" everywhere. Yet I can't see what any of this identity-politics has to do with the Good News.

The sinners and non-believers will come around in God's good time if we live as Christians and demonstrate Christian love. Trying to legally restrain the personal sin of outsiders like that is indicative of a very sickly mindset in the Church today, and only feeds the self-righteousness of the conservatives. The Church's job is to help our members get holy, not to do jihad against infidels.

1 comment:

sortacatholic said...

RT: Think Prohibition. Temperance was not founded solely for the abolition of alcohol sale. Temperance activists and prohibitionists abhored alcohol not only because of the side effects of inebriation, but also because of deep-seated prejudices. For many temperance activists and prohibitionists, alcohol was the vice of immigrants (read: Catholics and Jews, southern and eastern Europeans) and also the impetus behind the fabricated "crimes" of African Americans and Native Americans. No, the elect (both temporally and sprirtually), secured within the white evangelical Protestant ethos, would save society from the threat outside their clique.

We all know that Prohibition was a abject failure. Heck, Bill W. and Dr. Bob remind us that getting plastered was no less difficult after Volstead than before.

Both sides of the abortion rhetoric roll with the fury of Carry Nation. For the Church and the pro-life movement, it's not about the babies anymore. The Church has found in abortion a vehicle to align itself with a political party and gain a seat in the political arena. Abortion could be abolished in some states after an overturn of Roe. This moral victory would eject the Church from the GOP, as the convenient marriage would be for naught. The GOP would also desperately thwart a Roe overturn, as such a decision would alienate their Catholic and evangelical bigamy. Did not the temperance activists believe their mission won after the 18th Amendment? The Volstead Act effectively annulled their political influence. Similarly, the limited abolition of abortion through the repeal of Roe would end the Church's contribution within government.

This Faustian bargain should be to the benefit of slain children. Instead, this unholy marriage is stained with the grime of petty politics and little moral imperative.