Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The SSPX recently released a much-ridiculed "response" (receiving more attention probably due to the impending reunion) to a statement released by the USCCB regarding the question of "contraception mandate" for religious hospitals' and schools' insurance programs and how this violates Catholics' religious freedom.

The SSPX document is written in their typical hysterical and paranoiac style. However, as a recent post on Vox Nova points out...they really sort of have a point.

A commenter there recommends an amazing article, all of which is worth reading (and the discussion in the comments is pretty spectacular too!), but concludes with the summary:

The response of American Catholics to the HHS mandate has (perhaps necessarily) been framed in dominantly liberal terms that give it a chance of receiving a hearing in today’s public sphere and within its Courts. But it should be acknowledged (as the response to the 'Compromise' reveals) that the Church will ultimately lose the argument simply due to the fact that the way it is framed already represents a capitulation to liberal premises. Doubtless, an argument that stated more explicitly the Church’s opposition to birth control would be even more quickly dismissed (but, first, caricatured and mocked) than the current invocation of 'religious freedom.' But, the real debate is not over religious freedom, in fact: it is over the very nature of humanity and the way in which we order our polities and societies. Catholicism is one of the few remaining voices of principle and depth that can articulate an forceful and learned alternative to today’s dominant liberal worldview. That it truncates those arguments for the sake of prudential engagement in a contemporary skirmish should not shroud the nature of the deeper conflict. That conflict will continue apace, and Catholics do themselves no favors if they do not understand the true nature of the battle, and the fact that current arguments aid and abet their opponent.
See, if only the SSPX could have phrased things this articulately rather than in their bizarro freak-out self-caricature way...

Because they do have a huge point, as Deneen says: framing things in these terms (which the Church has been doing since Vatican II) is already a capitulation to liberal premises…so they shouldn’t be surprised if people carry those premises to their actual logical conclusions. Deneen (whose article, again, I can't recommend enough) already goes into the whole long history of the privitization of The Good, and the enmity to Catholic Christianity (which does, after all, claim to be catholic) inherent in this approach. But I'd like to point something out, something I myself am just beginning to understand, regarding the effects this has even on the attitudes of orthodox faithful Catholics.

I am coming to see that this cozying-up-to The World and modernity is actually one of the major causes of a fundamentalist outlook among certain “neoconservative Catholic” voices (a different sort of fundamentalism than radical traditionalists themselves espouse): namely, there is this idea that, due to the “splendor of truth”…liberalism (in the 18th-century sense) will actually help the Catholic cause, because then everyone will personally internalize the Faith for himself. Then it won’t just be this sort of tribal conformity, but each individual’s personal choice. And certainly, I guess, that sort of personal choice and internalization is ideal. However, that doesn’t mean the “tribal conformity” model is positively bad either (as long as it is, in fact, conformity to the selfsame faith).

However, this expectation that there could still be universal conformity through personal free choice without the massive State/social pressure that maintained Christendom through that tribal conformity…that it could “coincidentally” wind up with each individual freely personally embracing it “on their own”…is naive. Most people are not going to have faith “on their own.” And even in Christendom, even many of those who did make that ideal personal internalization (among the clerical class, say)…didn’t really do it “on their own,” but as a blossoming of what started as that tribal conformity in childhood.

And so the frustration born of not seeing this expectation play out in practice expresses itself as a sort of vitriol, even rage, at the masses among such fundamentalists, because the narrative becomes something like, “We let you decide on your own, trusting you’d still make the right choice, and you didn’t! So you’re ingrates, and must not be honestly discerning truth for yourself, but rather motivated by pure self-will or hedonism or spiritual sloth or willful obstinance!”

Because the idea for these neocons is something like the trope of giving someone a “choice” and then throwing a tantrum when they don’t make the choice you want. The paradoxical notion that everyone must choose freely in favor of Catholicism (or some other ideology)…winds up ironically with a sort of 1984 totalitarianism-style attitude where they don’t merely want to force you do something, but want to paradoxically "force you to do it freely." They want to extract a voluntarist submission. “And you’re gonna LIKE it too!” is the idea.

But of course, this leads to a greater hatred against the other who, without coercion, doesn’t make the right choice (because many won't without the massive social support structure, because, really, our choices always take place in a social/relational context). To solve this, really, you need to either sacrifice the individualist notion of “freedom” that is the basis of pluralist society, or sacrifice the idea that anyone “has to” do anything, that there is any “ought.” Trying to have them both just winds up in a contradiction that is this neoconservative form of fundamentalism, wanting people to freely embrace and then feeling antagonistic when they don't validate your own beliefs that way.

Of course, the same basic contradiction ends up playing out in the ideology which is Secularism. The idea that without any particular notion of the Good enforced, everyone will be able to have their own notion "privately," winds up with the positive expectation or implication that everyone will accept this "void" itself as, essentially, the public Good (really more a sort of Anti-Good).

And the fact that some people's private notions of the Good, in this system, still make totalizing or exclusivist or universalizing claims, and still conceive of themselves as (at least rightfully) the Good that should be public (or, at least, also personally embraced by everyone else) the so-called "paradox of tolerance" and leads inevitably to attempts by the supposed neutral Secularists to neuter these alternate claims (thus destroying their claim to neutrality).

No, trying to fit any sort of orthodoxy into these basic modern assumptions of liberalism or pluralism...just isn't going to work, and you end up playing to the lowest common denominator. Catholics need to simply stop pandering to that, as the compromise has ended up with us shooting ourselves in the foot. But the question of a solution is not so simple. The fundamentalism that throws a tantrum when people don't make the free choice you want is not the answer. Yet I don't think a reactionary fortress or "remnant" posture ala the Lefebvrists is any good either, as that's also a sort of fundamentalism (if of a less subtle sort) and is also entirely ineffective and naive (as the Deneen quote says, such an approach, "would be even more quickly dismissed but, first, caricatured and mocked.")

However, a new Christendom cannot be created over night, nor do I think it is a good idea to actively force it on society coercively; such fascism is not equivalent to a social pressure that develops organically and which one is born into. But neither should those of us who are "aware" and have personally chosen and internalized the faith drop our orthodoxy or its ultimately universalizing claims/expectations.

The question, then, of what our institutional approach or attitude should be, how to behave with both principle and prudent pragmatism, becomes a very tricky one. As I discussed at the end of another post, I like the suggestion that in our situation we should model ourselves on the prophetic penance enjoined on the chosen people in exile, maintaining our own purity and faithfulness (and even still trying to spread that Gospel on a heart-to-heart level individually) while nevertheless changing our rhetoric so that we fundamentally blame ourselves, rather than the Other, for our marginalization and the sinfulness and faithlessness of the world, the silence of God.

Really, radical love and humility like this can be the only answer. But what this would or could look like (or how it could be better achieved) in terms of specific reforms of institutional structure or "political" approach or pastoral style...I am somewhat less certain. But maybe that doesn't matter. I have a good enough idea of what it would look like for the individual (namely, holiness) and perhaps we don't need a whole vision or platform or plan for the whole outside of that, perhaps "the community" only starts to emerge from enough individuals.


Agellius said...

I think the first thing is to create a culture that is uniquely Catholic, at least within the Church. In other words, it's fine to meet the world where it's at when you're going out to meet the world, on the world's own turf. But within our own churches at least, let's be who we are and stop trying to imitate the surrounding culture or bring the worldly culture into our churches.

And this starts, I think, with our art: Music, architecture, sculpture, painting, etc., as well as our own religious vocabulary -- again, not trying to express Catholic ideas in the culture's terms, but using our own traditional terms.

This may sound like adopting a ghetto mentality, but it's really not. If you look at old -- say, pre-1950 movies portraying the Church, you see Catholics engaging with the world, enjoying worldly activities and worldly art, like "normal" people. But when you go inside a Catholic church (in the movie), convent, or rectory, you find yourself within a definite Catholic environment which is not trying to incorporate the surrounding culture into itself, nor trying to impose itself on the surrounding culture, but simply being comfortable in its own skin.

And then, of course, we need to be unapologetic about righteousness and sin. The seriousness and danger of sin needs to be preached from the pulpit regularly, as well as the pursuit of holiness (I put sin first only because we hardly ever hear about sin as such, whereas holiness is spoken of at least on occasion).

I think the combination of our own unique culture, of which we are unashamed, and the restoration of preaching on traditional notions of holiness and sin, would help to restore the "tribal conformity" which can at least act as a foundation from which, as you mention elsewhere, genuine conversions could eventually grow. But we need to be strong in our own culture before we can have the slightest hope of influencing the culture around us. Don't you think?

Michael said...

I think the USCCB document is pretty clear about distinguishing between the church as a divine and "catholic" institution and dealing with its current practical situation in America. Granted, it does have *some* VII sympathizing, but how does this compromise the the church's claim towards being the "true church"? The SSPX crowd is simply reacting to what they mistakenly think is an attack on the church's claim for being the "true church." What the document really says, however, is that religious liberty is legally necessary, at least in this country, for the church to continue to be able to freely assert itself in the public forum. Yes, the church can go underground and street-preach, but why choose that over greater legal protection and flexibility? I think it's more of an issue of church vs. state. Do we want a Catholic monarchy in a non-Catholic country?

Garrison Copeland said...

It is completely appropriate for the bishops and faithful to support Vatican II and the documents that came out of it. It deserves respect as an ecumenical council.

A Sinner said...

Things have to earn our respect by being respectable.

If the Emperor is naked, we don't respect him just because he's the Emperor...

Who Am I said...

I recall having left a comment prior, but perhaps my Google account is acting up.

It's not a matter of VII being problematic, and this in turn being a neo-Con response in it's defense. Rather, when read in light of the collective of the Church's Tradition (East, and West), the documents themselves are QUITE clear. The problem is, the West never adapted to the discourse employed therein, hence the disastrous results limited to the Church in the West. The other Churches didn't seem to experience the same problems in it's application. ;-)

However, you may all take that as you please, and draw our your own conclusions on the matter.

Garrison Copeland said...

"If the Emperor is naked, we don't respect him just because he's the Emperor..."
Actually, we do respect him as the Emperor even though he is naked. We also let him know that he is naked. And we do respect the Ecumenical Councils of the Church of which the Second Vatican Council is one. Even if it is later clarified (as it clarified the First Vatican Council), it is still due respect as an infallible part of the Tradition.

dominic1955 said...

You have to make all the proper distinction, though. In what way is Vatican II infallible, and for that matter, how are the other ones infallible? Not every piece of a Council document is infallible. Disciplinary issues are an obvious example.

With a Council like VII that specifically chose to "remain on a modest, pastoral level..." (per then Cardinal Ratzinger) much of what it said needs all the more to be read according to previous teaching as it did not define anything or anathematize anything like previous Councils did.

It deserves respect, certainly, but at this point the best we can do with it would be to say something to the effect of, "Well, that was an interesting experiment..." and consign it to the history books.

Garrison Copeland said...

But it is infallible. The Fathers of the Council were preserved from error (what "infallible" means when talking about the Church) as are all Ecumenical Councils.
You should read the conciliar documents. Vatican II most certainly did define and promote teachings. For example, the dogma of papal infallibility was rightly brought back into balance with the propagation of the teaching on the collegiality of the bishops. Also, the statements made in the Council, though they may have not been declared binding, as well as the fact that the Magisterium continues to rely on those documents for such teachings as on religious freedom lends great weight. Again, not as if it really needed additional authority. Does a council have to have "anathema sit!" attached to it to be authoritative? I'm pretty sure the Council was trying to avoid such a thing.
Vatican II deserves much more respect than such a dismissive reply. The documents of the Council are worthy for all the faithful to read and interpret in light of Tradition as well as interpreting Tradition through those documents.
It certainly seems most are reacting to the excesses that occurred after and without the approval of the Council in the name of some ill-defined "Spirit of Vatican II."
As for the Council being an "experiment" (seriously?), both the Pope and the Magisterium seem to be committed to it, so we move forward with it.

Michael said...

The documents of VII are just as varied in thought and doctrine as the bishops who headed the committees that created them. I only accept the council as a pastoral council and maybe a dogmatic council if some of its documents are a clarification of previous councils.

In terms of application, I like the intellectual freedom, pastoral sensitivity and open dialogue with other religions that the council espoused, but I hate what it did to liturgy and small traditions. I love the Council, but hate the Novus Ordo.

Garrison Copeland said...

I agree that liturgical abuses have reigned since it, but I do not believe those were within the view of the Council. See the Sacrosancum Concilium
I also don't think it matters whether it was a dogmatic or pastoral council in the ultimate state of things. It is still the authoritative voice of the Church.

Picard said...

Sorry, but I can not see how the SSPX-response is "bizarre" and "freaky"
- it´s is just sound Catholic - in a clear way, that we are not used to anymore in our time of ambiguouse-"new-speak".

Pater, O.S.B. said...

Excellent observations, as usual, A Sinner.