Sunday, March 6, 2011

Modernity and Modernism

Like the young Ratzinger, I think I some time ago reached the peak of my more liberal optimism, and now the pendulum is swinging back a little. I thought that there was no danger in such a mental openness, thought a synthesis between certain progressive values and orthodoxy and tradition could be achieved. Then I saw that path, taken too far, lead to spiritual ruin in others, and now I am much more cynical about it.

There was a recent post on Reditus about Bishop Williamson that really reminded me just why, though I try not to be radical or a fundamentalist, though I try to be "renegade," I am in the end truly a trad:

Now, before I start the whole pointing of fingers and saying, “he be crazy…”, there is still a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. How are the Jews saved in the Catholic consciousness if we aren’t supposed to preach Jesus to them? What of all of those passages in St. Paul about wives subjugating themselves to their husbands? What of all of the Fathers of the Church who believed that the vast majority of people would be damned, and they believed that the Gospel had been preached to the ends of the earth? There is a distinct sensation that Bishop Williamson, for all his craziness, has absolutely nothing to hide or apologize for. Modern Catholicism, the nemesis he despises so much, seems to be an exercise in justifying why we don’t do/believe X anymore; about evolution, the hierarchy of the sexes, monarchical government, and so on. It is the modern Catholic who resorts most often to political and authoritarian thinking when it comes to belief since if he were to go to tradition, to what is “on the books” so to speak, he has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, his entire act of Faith becomes an act of explaining how the decisions of power can change how we think about or view a particular issue. Because something is no longer popular, or certain legislation was passed by the Curia, we can ditch all of those things we now see as “unpreachable”.

I think it’s a good thing, but not because God has anything to do with it. I still have a hard time believing that Christians got God so wrong for so long, and somehow we have Him right. I have a hard time believing that just because some document written fifty years ago says otherwise, that a doctrine preached for two thousand years no longer counts. If I find Williamson appalling (and I do), it is not from the point of view of “authentic, official Catholicism”, but from the point of view of a secular thinker. The only reason the Catholic Church preaches a fluffy, nice God now, one who accepts the Jews just as they are, one who will not excommunicate the war monger but rather the desperate pregnant woman, one who accepts usury up to a point and not homosexuality, is that our real Sacred, secular liberal democracy, is what truly influences the tone of ecclesiastical discourse. We are beholden to its sensibilities, even if we have to keep up a façade of opposition. In some places, such as sexual ethics, the Church is dragging behind. But no doubt the game is up, and the Church will have to find its place again absent any secular or moral authority whatsoever. Perhaps it is the SSPX that is already doing just that (unless you count out the French fascist Front National… oops, probably not).

So pardon me if a small part of me feels that Bishop Williamson’s Catholicism is real Christianity. Or at least, it is more authentic for him than ours is for us. For him, his ideas have consequences, even though he is crazy. Our ideas have consequences too, but they are not the ideas we openly profess, but the ideology that frames us even without our knowing. If Bishop Williamson’s god is unpreachable, it is because we have become skilled dialecticians in spite of ourselves.
At least as Arturo has described it, I have to then identify firmly on the side of Bishop Williamson (though hopefully without the crazy stuff like holocaust denial). Yet I have seen this even theological surrender to the values of modern secularism and liberal democracy and pluralism all too often in modern Catholics, even ones with preferences for traditional liturgy.

They just can't bring themselves to accept that the "enlightened" secular opinion on some of these things is wrong (because that idea has been socially marginalized) and that the perennial teaching of the Church is right. Though, of course, it is understandably difficult to do when even the modern Popes seem to have grave doubts about these things and acts as if some teachings of the past need to be "explained away" in order to make the Church acceptable to modern cultural values.

But, ultimately, we do have to choose. We can salvage what is good in any culture, but ultimately if our secular democratic values are trumping our religious orthodoxy, then we aren’t really Catholic any meaningful sense of the word.

I would deny that this means being “crazy” like many radical traditionalists. There are certain things which are clearly doctrinal issues and others which are clearly culturally contingent or prudential decisions, and the line is clear enough. Certainly, living in this Age, I am in no rush to go back to beheadings and Crusades that made sense only in a given historical context. Though I will not condemn them in that context either as if they were absolutely unjustifiable, as if we "know better now." We simply don't.

At the same time, any compromise on essential values just because secular culture has developed (even if as the inevitable extrapolation from Christian culture) in that direction is to be, in the final consideration, a moral coward, is to sell Christ out for 30 silver pieces to the Jews, and inevitably leads to more and more heresy and immorality. I have seen people take that route of intellectual promiscuity, and it has revealed itself to be complete and total spiritual ruin and self-delusion, even if its proponents at first present themselves as angels of light.

When we find ourselves rejecting doctrine in favor of “more enlightened” secular values, we might as well have no religion at all. If you are like that, then do us all a favor and leave right now, please. (Though I know they won't.) If the World is more satisfying, why try to infect the Church with its errors too? (Though I also know She won't be.)

Why should we care about the ethical values of post-modern society? Inasmuch as some values are compatible, and make sense in our current context, then I'm all for them. We should be, after all, like "a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old." But if they conflict and we side with them over anything essential to the Christian tradition, if these novelties are at the center of our identity or conscience, then Christ is not. And if Christ is not, we're going straight to Hell. The writing is on the wall.


Stohn said...

Great post! I discovered this blog last week, and I have been enjoying your thoughts on things.

FrGregACCA said...

See my comment on Arturo's post and the following on my own blog:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I sometimes wonder what is lacking in us. People used to kill because of things like "two fingers or three". Do we really know better now? If so, what was wrong with those folks back then?

A Sinner said...

Well, though I respect in some sense that sort of detailed-traditionalism of the Old Believers...the two-or-three fingers thing was really a highly political battle, I get the sense, about conservatism, Hellenization, etc.

Though, perhaps the reason that people used to care so much about religion (and still do about a few issues today) is because it used to be utterly entwined with the politics of the day. Which isn't necessarily "ideal" at all, as if the Kingdom of God could be realized on earth.

As Christ said, IF His kingdom were of this world, THEN His attendants would be "fighting" for Him. As it's not, or at least isn't supposed to be, a worldly kingdom, so maybe we're not supposed to "fight for Him" in that sense.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I notice in dealing with these matters that to not a few people, religion is just an add-on to their ideology/political view.