The Indiana Jones heuristic — the search for fact is science, the search for Truth is philosophy — can go only so far in finessing the inherent conflict between science, which is organized around assumptions of objectivity, and the poisonous identity politics holding as its fundamental principle that everything is subjective.
. . .
But if it were really about science, we’d be hearing more from scientists and less from people who have batty, superstitious attitudes about modern agriculture and evidence-based medicine. You will not hear Democrats complaining about the fact that the Affordable Care Act clears the way for subsidizing such hokum as acupuncture and homeopathy. Seventh-day Adventists may make some claims about the world that sound ridiculous from the scientific point of view, but so do practitioners of yoga and sweat-lodge enthusiasts. The public adoration of Science isn’t about science.
. . .
The postmodernists were correct in one thing: There is some politics built into the scientific method, in that the scientific method assumes an environment in which people are at liberty to speak, debate, and publish — a liberty with which the American Left, particularly on college campuses, is at war. They are not interested in debate or conversation. They are interested in silencing those who disagree with them, and they have high-profile allies: Democratic prosecutors around the country are working to criminalize the holding of nonconformist views about global warming (some prominent activists have openly called for jailing “climate deniers”), and Howard Dean has taken up the novel argument that the First Amendment does not actually protect political speech with which he disagrees. (It is, he insists, “hate speech,” a legally null term in the American context.) Dean has argued that the federal laws governing the conduct of political campaigns could and should be used to regulate all public speaking.
The partisans of Science believe themselves to be part of an eternal war between Galileo and the Inquisition, but they have in fact chosen the Inquisition’s side. They have chosen the side of the Censor and the Index — so long as they get to choose who serves as Censor and who manages the Index. That is how they have reconciled Science and its claims of objective fact with identity politics and its denial of the same: They are engaged in neither the pursuit of fact nor the pursuit of Truth — only the pursuit of Power.
The outrage and hysteria over Trump should confirm what should have been obvious during the Obama years: progressives have turned politics into a religion.
The consternation and outrage we’ve seen in response to President Trump’s executive order on immigration has little to do with the policy as such. Restricting immigration from certain countries is nothing new; President Obama did it, as did presidents Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, and Reagan.
Rather, it has everything to do with the elevation of progressive politics to the status of a religion—a dogmatic and intolerant religion, whose practitioners are now experiencing a crisis of faith.
. . .
The Left Has Been Moralizing Politics For A Long Time
Trump shook that faith. But his election also unmasked the degree to which progressivism as a political project is based not on science or rationality, or even sound policy, but on faith in the power of government to ameliorate and eventually perfect society. All the protests and denunciations of Trump serve not just as an outlet for progressives’ despair, but the chance to signal their moral virtue through collective outrage and moral preening—something that wasn’t really possible under Obama, at least not to this degree.
Not that they didn’t try. Recall that during the Obamacare debate in 2009 Ezra Klein suggested that Sen. Joe Lieberman was “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score,” simply because he threatened to filibuster what would become the Affordable Care Act. This is the language of political fundamentalism—policy invested with the certainty of religious conviction.
Religious fundamentalism of course rests on immutable truths that cannot be negotiated.
. . .
Conservatives sometimes invoke religion in policy debates, but it’s usually not because they’re trying to make a religion out of politics. Most often, it’s in reaction to progressives’ insistence that religious beliefs be cast aside when they impede the political agenda of the Left—like when Obama tried to fine the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns, $70 million for refusing, on religious grounds, to participate in a government scheme to distribute birth control.
. . .
That progressive politics should carry the force of religious belief should not come as a surprise. For the Left, politics holds the promise of paradise on earth. Through the instrument of government, progressives believe they can right the world’s wrongs, punish the wicked, feed the hungry, outlaw bigotry, and perhaps even save the earth from climate change. All they need is control of government and sound policies. If everything that matters is at stake, then everything is justified in the pursuit of political power.
. . .
If we are consumed by politics in the age of Trump, it is not because of Trump. It is because progressives have made politics into a god, and their god is failing them.
When most Catholics think about Mary, we have one of two images in our heads: the virginal Jewish teen from Galilee who says yes to God’s plan; or the mother of Jesus, the woman of mercy and tenderness, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” We can too easily forget that Mary is also the woman clothed in the sun who crushes the head of the serpent. She embodies in her purity the greatness of humanity fully alive in God. She’s the mother who intercedes for us, comforts us and teaches us—but who also defends us.
And in doing that, she reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion”—not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.” The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.
If our theme as a meeting this week is reclaiming the Church for the Catholic imagination, we can’t overlook the fact that the flesh and blood model for our Church—Mary as mater et magistra—is quite accomplished at punching the devil in the nose. And as Mary’s adopted sons, we need to be bishops who lead and teach like the great Cyril of Jerusalem.
Having said all that, my thoughts today come in three parts. I want to speak first about the people we’ve become as American Catholics. Then I’ll turn to how and why we got where we are. Finally I’ll suggest what we need to do about it, not merely as individuals, but more importantly as a Church. We need to recover our identity as a believing community. And I think a good way to begin doing that is with the “catechetical content” of our current political moment.
. . .
Americans aren’t fools. They have a good sense of smell when things aren’t right. And one of the things wrong with our country right now is the hollowing out and retooling of all the key words in our country’s public lexicon; words like democracy, representative government, freedom, justice, due process, religious liberty and constitutional protections. The language of our politics is the same. The content of the words is different. Voting still matters. Public protest and letters to members of Congress can still have an effect. But more and more of our nation’s life is governed by executive order, judicial overreach and administrative agencies with little accountability to Congress.
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Let me put our situation this way. The two unavoidable facts of life are mortality and inequality. We’re going to die. And – here I’m committing a primal American heresy — we’re not created “equal” in the secular meaning of that word. We’re obviously not equal in dozens of ways: health, intellect, athletic ability, opportunity, education, income, social status, economic resources, wisdom, social skills, character, holiness, beauty or anything else. And we never will be. Wise social policy can ease our material inequalities and improve the lives of the poor. But as Tocqueville warned, the more we try to enforce a radical, unnatural, egalitarian equality, the more “totalitarian” democracy becomes.
For all its talk of diversity, democracy is finally monist. It begins by protecting the autonomy of the individual but can easily end by eliminating competing centers of authority and absorbing civil society into the state. Even the family, seen through secular democratic eyes, can be cast as inefficient, parochial and a potential greenhouse of social problems. Parental authority can become suspect because it escapes the scrutiny and guidance of the state. And the state can easily present itself as better able to educate the young because of its superior resources and broader grasp of the needs of society.
. . .
So it is with our Catholic understanding of God. Every human life, no matter how seemingly worthless, has infinite dignity in his eyes. Every human life is loved without limits by the God who made us. Our weaknesses are not signs of unworthiness or failure. They’re invitations to depend on each other and become more than ourselves by giving away our strengths in the service of others, and receiving their support in return. This is the truth in the old legend about heaven and hell. Both have exactly the same tables. Both have exactly the same rich foods. But the spoons in both places are much too long. In hell people starve because they try to feed themselves. In heaven they thrive because they feed each other.
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Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need instead to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.
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Serenity of heart comes from consciously trying to live on a daily basis the things we claim to believe. Acting on our faith increases our faith. And it serves as a magnet for other people. To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time. Francis radiated all these things during his time in Philadelphia.
If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them. And the reason we do it is because too many of us have welcomed the good news of Vatican II without carving its demand for conversion onto the stone of our hearts. In opening ourselves to the world, we’ve forgotten our parts in the larger drama of our lives—salvation history, which always, in some way, involves walking past St. Cyril’s serpent.
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Catholics today—and I’m one of them—feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.
Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.
We need to speak plainly and honestly. Modern bureaucratic life, even in the Church, is the enemy of candor and truth. We live in an age that thrives on the subversion of language.
. . .
If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.” It’s a moment for courage and candor, but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.
This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church. And so we can say with confidence: Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us. And St. Cyril of Jerusalem, patron of bishops, be our model and brother in our service to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ.
Hillary Clinton, viewed as nemesis by the Evangelical Right, can hardly hurt them. Perhaps, in power, she might appoint the Antichrist to the Supreme Court, or embark upon military adventures abroad that will speed Armageddon; but still do no harm, to a single Evangelical (or other Christian) soul.
For that, she has no power. She could only have that power if she were sufficiently attractive to them, that they might be willing to defend the goods she is selling. Only then would she be in a position to corrupt them; not when they wouldn’t dream of voting for her.
Moore suggests, however, that by putting their politics ahead of their religion, in support of the incorrigible Donald Trump, the champions of the Religious Right are actually endangering Christian souls. For they are willing to waive any support they ever gave to “family values” and what is now called “social conservatism” in order to get their man elected. They have proved themselves to be raving “consequentialists,” which is to say, utterly cynical.
While he restricts himself to criticizing some of his own denominational elders – and that, they may note, before a mostly Catholic audience – Moore makes a point that crosses all denominational lines. In order to be of any value in politics, or to our country, we must be Christians first. From the moment we offer compromises – specifically moral compromises, to get ahead – we are damned, and no use to anybody.
. . .
The question of character goes right to the bone; to our bone. We must never become so world-weary that we dispense ourselves from Christian belief for a shot at power.
Idolizing politics and politicians leads to statolatry
[A]ny visit to an awesome commercial center, teeming with life and full of human diversity, would be palliative. Or maybe it is a visit to a superstore to observe the products, the service, energy, the benevolence, of the commercial space. We can meet people, encounter their humanity, revel in the beauty and bounty of human life. Or it could be your local watering hole with its diverse cast of characters and complicated lives that elude political characterization.
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In this extremely strange election year, escaping the roiling antagonism and duplicity of politics, and finding instead the evidence all around us that we can get along, however imperfectly, might actually be essential for a healthy outlook on life.
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The message that politics beats into our heads hourly is that your neighbor might be your enemy, and that the realization of your values requires the crushing of someone else’s.
That’s a terrible model of human engagement to accept as the only reality.
. . .
What if the whole of life worked like the political sector? It would be unrelenting misery, with no escape, ever. As it is, this is not the case. We should be thankful for it, and remember that the thing that makes life wonderful, beautiful, and loving is not crushing your enemy with a political weapon but rather the gains that come from turning would-be enemies into friends in an environment of freedom.
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A slogan passed around some years ago in academic circles was that “the personal is the political.” That sounds like hell on earth. The slogan should be flipped and serve as a warning to all of us: whatever you politicize will eventually invade your personal life. We should not allow this to happen. The less that life is mediated by political institutions, the more the spontaneous and value-creating impulses in our nature come to the fore.
Our real and immediate interest is to rebuild the character of our civilization; to recover that common understanding of up and down; of right and wrong; of what is worthy and what is unworthy; of what is godly and what is ungodly; along with the telling power of example. Let the world titter in its cynicism: the recovery begins when we fast and pray.
Supreme Court nominees will not save you. National security advisers will not save you. An Ivy League education will not save you. A quarterback who’s cool under pressure will not save you. Tax breaks will not save you. The love of Mr. Right will not save you. A traditional priest will not save you. A progressive priest will not save you. This pope will not save you. A different pope will not save you.
If there’s any heresy the internet encourages, it’s the passionate conviction that “all we need is….” All we need is a Republican president or a more compassionate bishop or a baby who sleeps through the night or a diet that actually works or a higher minimum wage or better paternity leave or free reign to go after ISIS or a new iPhone or a good harvest and then we’ll be happy.
No. All you need is Jesus.
We all seem to know, Christian or not, that we’re in desperate need of a savior. Every four years, we find that savior in a political candidate, appalling as he or she may be. In between, our savior might be an ecclesial movement or a dear friend or a cup of coffee. They’re not bad things until they’re everything and then they’re idols just as much as any golden calf or statue of Bel.
. . .
It’s not just politics, of course. We look to money and love and fame and comfort to save us just as much as we do to our political leaders—more. We make them our gods, confident that what we need is a raise or a faithful spouse or a vacation or more reliable internet provider and then we’ll be okay.
Those things might be nice. Or they might be bricks building up into a wall of self-sufficiency, good things that blind us to our need for a savior. And without making a single deal with the devil or even skipping a single Mass we suffer the loss of our souls because we have installed created things in the place set aside for the creator.
[O]n occasion, our loyalties to particular messengers of the Gospel can cause us to lose sight of the message itself and create needless divisions. Those of us who proclaim the Gospel should try to do so as faithfully as we can and not worry about our own popularity. Those who listen to the proclamation will inevitably find one teacher or preacher more helpful than another, but we should avoid forming fan clubs and closing ourselves off to other ministers of the Gospel. As St. Paul reminds us, the Kingdom is God’s field; we are merely the workers.
Could isolating one’s self from the broader Church to follow only one person or organization be a form of idol worship? Cults tend to isolate people and to operate in secrecy.
My opinion of “the peeple” is low; it is securely founded in observations of myself. They have all the foibles of our current politicians, including our populist pope: low intelligence, poor education, overweening vanity. I recognize these qualities immediately; I suffer from each myself; everyone in Parkdale suffers from them, except a few graced souls who, I notice, avoid politics altogether. Permit us to make important decisions, and the world will be as you see around you, gentle reader! It will become “a mess,” that only Christ can fix.
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Nevertheless, there is a Secret Government.
This information was imparted by no less than the Founder of our Church. Too, it was known among the Hebrews, and perhaps some others, for millennia before. It is a permanent conspiracy. It works, more or less, because it does not depend on humans. Moreover, it is perfectly aware that it cannot depend on humans, who are so perverse, that sometimes they do good when they are intending evil. Not even the Devil can trust us.
And he, let me say, is the master conspirator. He is working with a very large cast of little subordinate devils, sneaky and diligent about their work. (As we might be, if we had no tomorrow.) Their chief has been identified as the Prince of This World, and he is in charge of the Secret Government. The Christian is instructed to revolt against him, openly by means of an ungovernable Love. To do so regardless of cost. But this revolt would appear to be still in its earliest stages, and moving backwards at the moment.
The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder. At some point, we must say to ourselves, I’m going to need to let go.
So why do bad things happen to good people? Didn’t Jesus suffer for us on the cross? Wasn’t his suffering a total and complete sacrifice for our sins? Do we need to unite our sufferings with Jesus to be saved, or is suffering just some random event that happens here on earth with no afterlife consequences?
The bible has the answers. St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”
That statement packs a lot of theology. Pope John Paul II said that Christ’s sufferings were lacking nothing. What this verse means is that Christ expects us to unite our sufferings with His. Peter talks about this in 1 Peter 4:13:
“But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
And why is this? For the sake of The Church, which is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23):
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When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil.
More people have abandoned their faith because of the problem of evil than for any other reason. It is certainly the greatest test of faith, the greatest temptation to unbelief. And it’s not just an intellectual objection. We feel it. We live it. That’s why the Book of Job is so arresting.
The problem can be stated very simply: If God is so good, why Is his world so bad? If an all-good, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, and all-powerful God is running the show, why does he seem to be doing such a miserable job of it? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The unbeliever who asks that question is usually feeling resentment toward and rebellion against God, not just lacking evidence for his existence. C. S. Lewis recalls that as an atheist he did not believe God existed.
“Yeah, he’s a real person,” Scalia continued, speaking of the Devil. “Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.”
The interviewer asked if Scalia had ever personally seen evidence of the Devil.
“You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.”
“What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way. […] He got wilier.”
Scalia sensed the interviewer was taken aback by his literal belief in the Evil One.
“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird,” Scalia said. “My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil?”
“I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.”
The means by which we live are marvelous indeed. And yet something is missing. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.
An Oriental writer has portrayed our dilemma in candid terms:
“You call your thousand material devices ‘labor-saving machinery,’ yet you are forever ‘busy.’ With the multiplying of your machinery you grow increasingly fatigued, anxious, nervous, dissatisfied. Whatever you have, you want more; and wherever you are you want to go somewhere else. You have a machine to dig the raw material for you, a machine to manufacture [it], a machine to transport [it], a machine to sweep and dust, one to carry messages, one to write, one to talk, one to sing, one to play at the theater, one to vote, one to sew, and a hundred others to do a hundred other things for you, and still you are the most nervously busy man in the world. Your devices are neither time-saving nor soul-saving machinery. They are so many sharp spurs which urge you on to invent more machinery and to do more business.”
. . .
We have guided missiles and misguided man.
If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me! Please put up with me.
Who and what do you love, who are your idols?
Without love… we are like whitewashed sepulchers, a gong booming or a cymbal clashing, nothing.
4 Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited,
5 it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.
6 Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
7 It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.