Friday, January 7, 2011

Intellectual Promiscuity

As I mentioned in my last post, where I addressed the actual scientific/theological question, Vox Nova has an annoying little post on monogenism vs polygenism, with the suggestion that biological knowledge somehow may necessitate a change in teachings about our First Parents and original sin.

Besides being irritating for its apparent blatant lack of understanding of the biology involved, as I addressed in that post (originally the two were one, and I split them), it is also demonstrative as an example (even if unintentional) of what seems to be a common trope of liberal intellectual Catholic thinkers in trying to find cracks (or merely "explore" potential cracks on a purely "hypothetical" level) in Catholic teaching.

These cracks, of course, are never really problems of internal consistency; all those wrinkles were ironed out long ago. So they always try to find the supposed Achilles heel in some external voice or new "evidence" or novel socio-cultural circumstance and then suggest that this critique from some Other (the Scientist, in this specific case) implies that Church teachings need to adapt, to change or be "reinterpreted" in order to answer this Other.

Some avant-garde "theologians" apparently think such a "dynamism" of teaching is good for its own sake, that concrete absolute principles are intellectually "childish" or something like that (merely because they haven't kept up with the latest philosophical fads) and so they should change or "evolve" for evolution's own sake, that we should be constantly open and permeable to these Other voices merely for openness's own sake.

However, most of the time, it seems like it is really for an ulterior motive. It is usually because there is some other teaching these people want to conform to modern attitudes. And usually it's about sexual morality. They are hoping a "chink in the armor" will start that process of surrender (because, once we admit one thing, everything is up in the air).

I bring up the part about the link with desires to change our sexual morality not because I'm one of the fundamentalist Catholics concerned with enforcing sexual orthodoxy as part of some fascist regime, but because there is, I think, a very profound symbolic connection buried somewhere here regarding chastity. I haven't fleshed out the idea completely, and this could probably make another whole post, but I think we can see here a very good reason why the Church is a Virgin, or at least chastely married; admitting others into the self comes at the peril of personal disintegration, at least when done so unchastely, and that applies symbolically to the intellectual or cultural sphere as well. Mental masturbation is one thing, and I must think mental fornication is rather more grave.

Catholic doctrine is a rather complete self-contained system, and it has managed to resist all the prodding it has gotten from the outside Others over the years and remained self-assured, has refused to be seduced. For as soon as you actually admit one of these prodding needles in, it usually ends up just popping the whole balloon. Not always, obviously. Aquinas was able to synthesize it with Aristotle, for example, but only at the height of Christendom and only in the most chaste of marriages; Catholic doctrine was not asked to give up anything essential to her, and nothing was withheld. And it's been a fertile union indeed!

But a sort of intellectual promiscuity (which I think probably often involves a sort of philosophical contraception or even sodomy and incest as well, symbolically speaking) only leads to a total and unnecessary internal destabilization, just as its counterpart in literal unchastity leads to a sort of personal dissolution of the self. I think this is certainly what happened to our Western liturgy in their attempt to make it "dialogue with" (sleep around with) The World.

I will conclude by answering another meta-point that the Vox Nova post raised: “It’s certainly interesting that the children of the Church enjoy no liberty to hold a view[...]because a reconciliation of ideas is in no way apparent, as if something not being apparent is enough to place limits on the liberty of thought.”

I think this makes perfect sense, though, because while not exactly logically incompatible by syllogism, the notion of strict polygenism (for example) seems so utterly contradictory to the Truth as we know it, that trying to square that circle leads to dangerous places (like the insinuation that teachings on original sin would need to change).

And given that it is completely unnecessary to do this, that, as scientific knowledge stands, this would be just a vain exercise playing with a hypothetical (that, if true, would actually destroy the system completely)…it is a rather impious thing to try to "explore." It’s like trying to work out a consistent philosophy and construct a meaning of life for “if there were no God”...but just "for fun," or just as an academic exercise. To return to my "intellectual chastity" principle...this is, at the very least, an "adultery of the heart."

I know I'm supposed to be all for free-thinking, but I am also a pragmatist who does believe to some extent in Chesterton's "the walls of a playground" idea, because I've seen where such "exploration" of other ideas can lead, even when they start out just as harmless "hypotheticals." It's intellectually dangerous. And, yes, there is still such a category as intellectually dangerous, of thoughts better left unthought.

Even if the boundaries are much less constricting than the neocons and rad-trads would like to believe. For we can appreciate these philosophical Others in themselves, even take great insight about the Divine from their own particular beauty, as long as we do not lust after them (and certainly we cannot let them penetrate us unless we are prepared for the consequences of a lifelong marriage of the philosophies.)

Such “contingency plans” philosophically, such as discussed vis a vis polygenism on Vox Nova...seem, to me, to show a total lack of faith. Or maybe they show Perfect Faith and I'm just a subconscious doubter without the courage for such radical exploration, for fear it will make me lose mine. So be it, then; I've seen stronger and better minds than mine led to apostasy through such "exploration," and thus it would be foolish for me (or most anyone) to undertake it. We have to know our limits in that regard. In the end we are not Gnostics; we are saved by Faith (which is to say, fidelity) and Charity, not Knowledge (carnal or otherwise). Through [intellectual] chastity, not [philosophical] promiscuity.


Anonymous said...


Par les soirs bleus d'été, j'irai dans les sentiers,
Picoté par les blés, fouler l'herbe menue,
Rêveur, j'en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.

Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien :
Mais l'amour infini me montera dans l'âme,
Et j'irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,
Par la nature, heureux comme avec une femme.

-- Arthur Rimbaud

Through blue summer nights I will pass along paths,
Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:
Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,
Will let breezes bathe my bare head.

Not a word, not a thought:
Boundless love will surge through my soul,
And I will wander far away, a vagabond
In Nature - as happily as with a woman.

(trans. Wyatt Mason)

sortacatholic said...

RT, I understand your concerns about polygenism in general and the dissolution of associated theological philosophical positions in particular. There are some in the Church that have to develop a stronger methodology against the "perils" of modern fertility and sexuality. The tendency to repeat quotations from HV and TOTB in a mantric fashion must be avoided.

Everyone plays unfairly on this "intellectual playground". Notice how neo-con/theologically conservative media outlets tend to fall back on logical fallacies or persecution complexes when complex secular philosophical-theological arguments over pelvic issues require a more thorough response. Rarely will you hear reasoned arguments about the biological genesis of human beings as a prolegomenon to pelvic hot issues. The neo-Caths will gladly dish out endless pablum about why many sexual activites and moral positions "are just WRONG." "It's just wrong" is not an argument. "Teh gheyz/NOW/the Pill/public school sex ed are out to destroy the rights of the Church" is not an argument. This is why secular or progressive Catholics with heads on their shoulders can run circles around conservatives who bang their heads against the playground walls of "proper" Catholic discourse. I don't see conservative Catholic media fronting compelling arguments that earnestly defend monogenism on a purely philosophical basis. Until then, welcome to the theo-philosophical anarchist's playground.

Julie said...

Your last paragraph is basically where I'm at. I'm having a very difficult time with all of this, and I'm starting to think it's better that I don't even think about it. :-(