Religion

A theory on "pro-choice Catholics"

Whenever one finds a "dissident" group that appears to advocate for the exact opposite of what an organization generally stands for, it's a good bet that it is insincere.  Choose your term of art - "astroturf", "false flag" - the notion is that it's basically a front group that's trying to attack the organization from within.

In the realm of religion this is a bit strange because (especially in the United States), there are few obstacles preventing movement from one belief to another.  Obviously, people in concentrated and close-knit communities such as the Amish or Mormons might find support "on the outside" hard to manage, but if one deeply disagrees with the teachings of the faith to the point of openly disputing them, that decisions has already been made.

There are of course a few exceptions where the dissenters actual win.  The Anglican Church is one example of this.  Just about everything the Anglicans believed in a century ago has been discarded.  Heck, the changes over the last 25 years have been profound.  So it is with the United Methodists (which are in fact breaking up) and other Protestant groups.

Within the Catholic Church, however, such movements gain little official traction.  In fact, right now the Church is seeing a strong push from the laity to become more orthodox, more faithful and more consistent in enforcing doctrine.  The current moral laxity (such as that originating in Germany) seems to come entirely from the leadership, which is stuck in a 1970s mindset).

Thus we have the strange creature known as the "pro-choice Catholic," an individual who claims to be a member of the Body of Christ, yet for some reason directly contradicts sacred scripture,  Church tradition, long-standing doctrine and Papal pronouncements. 

As my father likes to joke, there's a term for people like this: "Protestant."

I think the issue is twofold.  On the one hand, there is the egotism of thinking oneself smarter than the Church fathers, the Magisterium and the rest of the faith.  For some odd reason, people sometimes produce polls showing that a significant amount of Americans support some form of abortion, as if the Catholic Church is some sort of elective body.

There's also the fact that these people tend to be older, cradle Catholics whose identity was shaped when being Catholic was more of an ethnic identity than a religious one.  Neighborhoods were more ethnically homogeneous, so on Sunday, all the Irish, Italians, Polish, etc. went to Mass by default.

These communities have broken up over time, so there's no comparable social pressure.  Catholics are fully in the American mainstream and have been for a while.  Still, the older sort clings to their nominal faith perhaps out of a nostalgic sense of victimhood. 

In any event, I think there's another aspect to this, which also is rooted in the past, and that's the experience of socially ambitious Catholic women.

Young women in the 1960s did not have a lot of options for birth control.  Yes, The Pill burst on the scene (with disastrous results), but women of "good character" would never admit to taking it.  Certainly not Catholic girls.

Similarly, the time-tested condom was out of the question.  For one thing, "nice girls" didn't dare keep them around, nor would they admit having planned to have sex outside of marriage.

This is why abortion became such a lightning rod - because these women were going off to college, experimenting with relationships and wanting to try sex - but if they got pregnant, their lives would be completely ruined.

None of them could face the disgrace of being an unwed mother.  To them, it was worse than death, a live without the dream of house, husband and children and the social stigma was too terrible to contemplate.

Adoption was not really an option because it would require months of seclusion and also a paper trail.  Even if all went well, the child might come back, and could wreck an otherwise happy marriage by exposing Mom's Dark Secret.

Abortion avoided both problems.  The baby was obliterated and no one would ever know.  Having made "a mistake" the woman could resume her hope for a nice husband and happy home - and children whose entry into the world would bring her status rather than shame.

I think this attitude is pervasive among women over 50.  Under that, it's more of a tribal membership because by the time the Gen Xers were getting into college, condoms were pretty much being distributed far and wide.  Birth control had lost its stigma even among Catholics, and if one didn't want The Pill, there were other more discrete but effective options.

But for the generations before, abortion was the only option.  "Nice girls" didn't keep that stuff lying around and in fact if - at the moment of decision it was produced - the man might be filled with disgust.  Here he thought he had truly seduced the innocent, only to find out he's bagged a slut with a condom stash!

To be clear, none of these women necessarily wanted pre-marital sex, but if they got lost in the moment, what would be their recourse?  Abortion would.

Of course, the world has changed considerably since then.  There is zero stigma in popular society to pre-marital sex or using birth control.  Religious communities still frown on it, but they're also strongly pro-life.

In that sense, the secular victory in the culture wars over sexual preference and promiscuity are the very things destroying the necessity for abortion.  Given the many, inexpensive and reinforcing methods of birth control that are available, there is simply no reason for the procedure other than the three classic exceptions: rape, incest, and life of the mother.

But for people stuck in the past, none of that matters - they're still fighting the battles of their distant youth.

Which is odd, given that so many of them identify as "progressive."


Welcome to the (secular) Poxy-clipse: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

It may seem strange to put it this way, but Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is arguably one of the more realistic depictions of the post-apocalyptic world.

Bartertown is a functional economy and (just as with Road Warrior) you get the crazy punk-meets-tribal look, only it is now more fully realized.   The use of livestock manure to supply natural gas for power generation is actually "a thing" these days and large scale operations can reach a remarkable degree of self-sufficiency.

We also see the progression from nomadic raiders to a growing settlement and a semblance of civilization.

One must make a special call-out to Tina Turner, who is exceptional as the matriarch of Bartertown.  I've said this many, many times before, but strong women in films is nothing new.  It is as old as film (and before that theater) itself.  Her portrayal is marvelous, and her discussion of how she was a "nobody" and is now "somebody" is a wonderful shorthand way to describe her rise to power.

There's also her undeniable presence, something sorely lacking in today's stars.  You can readily believe that she can gain and hold attention.

Amidst all the fun and now iconic phrases ("two men enter, one man leaves!"), there is a sour note that I missed when I saw it back in the 80s but now standing out like a flashing light: a complete absence of faith.

The Lost Children have learned their legend, and ascribed semi-divine power to an airline pilot, but what about God?  There's a reference in the memorial the parents left behind them, but that's it.

I suppose it is a sad commentary on Australian culture that even in 1985 no one would think that parents would teach children their prayers or a little scripture.  If they were trying to flee the urban nightmare, might not one have brought the family bible along with a recording of French lessons?

This hearkens back to something that The Lord of Spirits podcast brought up more than a year ago: the modern assumption that settlement patterns are driven entirely by economics, with religion being a later addition, a luxury item.

The origin for this notion is probably in the settlement of the American frontier - or at least the modern secular interpretation of it.  We see it in countless cowboy movies set in the Old West: the town starts has a tavern/general store, later a jail and then once civilization shows up, a church.

This completely ignores that fact that many settlements were actually built around missionary communities.  Indeed, the United States itself was in large part a refuge for religious communities - the Pilgrims, and later Catholics, Anabaptists, etc. - all came seeking freedom of worship rather than simply a chance to build a log cabin.

Even the Old West was shaped by this drive for religious freedom.  Utah exists in its present Mormon-heavy configuration because the practice of polygamy led to that faith's persecution east of the Mississippi. 

As much as we like to pretend otherwise, humans are spiritual creatures, incapable of existing outside of a moral framework.  Those who claim to be most secular have simply substituted their own divine code, which they delude themselves by thinking is "rational" or "science-based," but it really just a reflection of their own personal priorities.

It would be interesting to imagine a post-apocalyptic world with a religious element - mission settlements built around surviving churches or even a shrine commemorating a miracle during the Downfall.

This brings us to the great irony that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome itself uses religious language ("Poxy-clipse") to describe the collapse of civilization without any thought to its deeper meaning.


Reading the Bible the Orthodox (and Catholic) way

I'm continuing to enjoy listening to the Lord of Spirits podcast, though as the show has progressed I've noticed a few missteps regarding Catholicism that strike me as unfortunate.

That being said, Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church are farm more similar than different - and many of the differences are a function of culture rather than doctrine.

For example, the treatment of the Bible is essentially the same.  Like the Catholic Church, our Orthodox brothers do not believe that it can be taken out of context or interpreted on an individual basis.  This approach has led to schism and confusion.

Recently they did an episode specifically about this topic.  I should note that most of the podcast goes through how not to read the Bible, and various "Bible scholars" receive (well-deserved) criticism.

The core issue is people who do not understand the way in which the Bible was written, lack historical context and also an understanding of how the Church Fathers interpreted it.  One of the things that attracted me to Catholicism was the fact that all of the 'big questions' had already been answered centuries ago.  I find it terribly annoying when someone comes up with what they think is a hot new idea when in fact they've stumbled on something people figured out hundreds of years ago.

You get a lot of that in what we now call "Bible study," and it bugs me to no end.  I love that I live in a country where people have the freedom to read a simplified translation, come up with their own take and start their very own special church dedicated to what they think it says.

I don't love all the spiritual confusion this creates.

One of the Christian virtues is humility and I wish more of the people who styled themselves authorities in this area were willing to consider that the countless people who came before them were not ignorant or unintelligent and given the same problem set, likely figured out an answer well in advance of this particular generation.

The Bible has effectively been analyzed by a massive multi-century crowdsourced distributed computer system, yet some people think their single brain can compete (and even surpass) the collected knowledge of centuries because we possess an internet search engine.  That's pretty arrogant.

Anyhow, it's a good listen and as usual my only quibble is the stray derogatory remark (often based on a shocking degree of ignorance) about Catholic doctrine and practices.

 


Self-defeating Tactics 101: Attacking Catholic Churches

One of the (many) mistakes made by the Popular Front in the run-up to the Spanish Civil War was its decision to target Catholic churches and clergy.  By 1936, Spain was well on the way to being a secular society.  Mass attendance was low and falling, and there was little reason to believe the situation would change.

One of the many unique things about Francisco Franco was that he was a religious military officer, which was all but unheard of at that time.  Unless it was a wedding or a funeral, Spanish men didn't go to church. 

This changed when the Popular Front gained control of the Republic and its militias began a large-scale campaign of arson and murder.  As Stanley G. Payne has noted, in the run-up to the war and in the chaotic months that followed its outbreak, the Spanish clergy lost a higher percentage of its members than the Orthodox Church did in Communist Russia.

With historic cathedrals in flames, it was not surprising that the surviving Church leadership agreed that it was time to fight to defend what remained of Spanish Christianity. 

One could argue that this was the final straw in turning popular opinion decisively against the Republic.  As I note in Long Live Death, one did not have to be a practicing Catholic to find someone burning your home parish down and killing the local priest abhorrent.  Acts of desecration likewise stirred powerful - and ultimately homicidal - emotions.

This also had to have factored in the decision of the Carlist militias in Navarre to side with the Nationalists.  It is important to recall that the July Rising was originally to "save the Republic."  It was only later that a Nationalist ideology was developed.

The Carlists correctly reasoned that while neither side represented their interests, the annihilation of the Church was unacceptable.  The Requetes from Navarre would become the true elite of the Nationalist Army, outstripping even the Spanish Foreign Legion in their tenacity and determination.

It was a self-defeating tactic, but also an inevitable one.  Having decided to destroy traditional society, the Anarchists would also have to target the Church as well.

While the Orthodox Church was unable to mount much of a defense in Soviet Russia, history shows that Catholics often offer very effective resistance.


What are the German Catholics up to now?!

Whenever he came across Catholics who were in favor of abortion, or wanted to ordain women as priests, my father would nod sagely and say:  "You know, there's a term for people who feel like you - Protestant."

Apparently a bunch of Catholic bishops in Germany have decided that the way to put more people in pews is to stop being Catholic.

Which is weird, because all the "reforms" being trotted out are already available in the German Evangelical (i.e. Lutheran) Church.

What's interesting is that this is generating a backlash amongst the Catholic hierarchy of global proportions.

By the way, none of this is in any way new.  One doesn't even have to go back to Martin Luther - a century ago the same bromides were being advocated to "modernize" Christianity.  One of the amusing things about reading G.K. Chesterton or Evelyn Waugh is that the would-be reformers of past years sound just like the ones of today.

The difference of course is that we've had a century to see where that leads.  The fruit of the trees is plain to see, and it's a wasteland of unfaith and depravity.  The same Protestant church I mentioned a few weeks ago has a new message on its jumbo-tron style sign out front:  "You are enough."  The words appear amidst sunlit clouds, implying that God is the one saying this.

Which is absurd, because if we are enough, who needs God?  Why go to church?  Why donate?  I'm enough, so I can sleep in or maybe stream the service between binging on Netflix.

The whole point of Easter is that we aren't enough.  If everything's okay, if God loves me no matter what, why did Christ have to suffer death and then conquer it through the Resurrection?

One gets the sense that a great many German clerics never really bought into any of the Church's teachings.  Perhaps they assumed that the Church would fall prey to modernity and that by now women would be in wearing priestly vestments and they could be having licit homosexual relationships (since that's also always a key feature of "modernization").

There is a certain irony here, because Pope Francis - who is the least dogmatic Pontiff in generations - is being driving into the same corner as the hard-liners.  He also wants to change the Church, but I'm fairly certain he does not want to go down in history as the Pope who lost Germany for the second time.


Keeping the Sabbath holy

I figure Easter Sunday is a great time to talk about one of my other projects: keeping the Sabbath holy.

Growing up as I did in an irreligious household, Sunday was just the other half of the weekend.  Weekends were great because you got to sleep in for two days in a row.  While I always had some conception of God (thanks in large part to the influence of my grandparents), my parents deeply disliked organized religion, so I regarded the notion of going to church to pray as silly.

Even after I entered the Catholic Church, I found my old attitudes and habits persisted.  Saturday was the fun day, and Sunday was now the day of obligation, which meant Mass but also taking care of other items.  After Mass, I might go to the grocery store to get ready for the coming week, or tackle projects in the yard.  It was a day of work, just different kinds of work.

About a year ago I made a concerted effort to make Sunday special.  Obviously, that includes going to Mass, but it also extends to not buying anything.  At first this was just inconvenient, but like so many other ancient religious practices that have fallen into disuse, once you try them you see that there's a lot more going on than you realized.

For one thing, it forces better planning.  When you go over the list, you have to factor in an extra day where nothing can be bought.  The mere act of doing this reminds you that Sunday is not just any other day.

It's not unusual that I will have overlooked something (or more likely, no one told me we were out of it), and that means we'll just have to get by until Monday.  That's also a healthy thing, forcing a pause in our instant-gratification world.

It's also having an effect on my kids, who at first were puzzled but now accept that Sunday just isn't a shopping day.

I'm still grappling with some of the other implications, such as:  "Am I allowed to do minor housecleaning or tackle an obnoxious situation in the yard?"  I think the answer is generally "yes," so long as I find the task satisfying.  The fact is, "rest" doesn't have to mean "idle."  I think puttering around the yard or getting the popcorn I spilled on the carpet last night are okay simply because I can't imagine a theological reason not to take care of it.

A thornier question is whether it is acceptable for me to go to a book store or do leisure shopping.  There I'm going to say "no," because I'm forcing those employees to work on the Sabbath.

Still, it's not like I'm a religious authority, so reasonable people may differ.  The point is to reshape my life (and that of my family) around religious obligation rather than commercial convenience.

Today is the perfect day to think about this.


The doomed hedonism of Caddyshack

Going back and watching the films of my youth has led me to some interesting places.  For example, I came to realize that The Crow is a profoundly Catholic movie.

I'm also seeing comedies in different ways.  Today's discussion is about Caddyshack, which I was too young to watch in the theater and only got the full sense of it as a teenager when it was on VHS.

On the surface, it's a movie vehicle for Chevy Chase (an up-and-coming star from Saturday Night Live) and veteran Rodney Dangerfield.  Add in Ted Knight as a foil and Bill Murray as the weirdo groundskeeper, and the movie was guaranteed to be a laugh riot.

It is still quite funny (in part because of its rudeness), but it is also very dated.  The film highlights the tension between the old White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment and everyone else, from new money to the working class.

If a remake was to be attempted, the caddies would be the villains, deplorable and hateful.  The tale would be about how enlightened and woke people destroyed the rude, obnoxious yard workers, maybe replacing them with robots.

But I digress.

Caddyshack is an anti-establishment movie, but the problem was that the libertarianish dream it embodies of easy sex, casual drug use and thumbing one's nose at convention ultimately leads to greater tyranny.  It's all nice and fun to pick middle class morality, but what replaces it is far more restrictive.

Of course, Caddyshack is also about exposing hypocrisy, and a proper remake would be an even more target-rich environment, starting with people who have "Climate Action Now" signs in the vast yards 5,000 square-foot homes.

The sexual adventurism of the aptly-named Lacy Underall has been replaced by sex police on university campuses.  These not-so-grand inquisitors are supposedly there in the name of protecting the rights of women, but they trample upon every concept of rights in the process.

To put it another way, it seems unimaginable that we could get here from there.

And yet here we are.

 


The Catholic Resurgence

A friend of mine loaned me a cd of the Great Courses for my listening pleasure.  This was was about Catholicism in America, which he figured I would be interested in.  I was, but in practice I could not get through the entire lecture.

The reason?  It was totally out of date.  It was like reading campaign material from 2004.  Not long ago I pointed out the fact that the "peace movement" has completely disappeared, but back then, it was a force throughout international politics.

In the case of the lecture, it was prepared in an era where Church doctrine was increasingly being called into question and American Catholicism in particular was headed into something like Anglicanism.

And then everything changed.

Listening to the speaker tick off the collapse of vocations, the rise of "dissident Catholic" groups (which we now know are nothing more than astroturf organizations that pass money back and forth between each other) was simply boring.  I know how people used to think about the Church.

It is shocking how quickly these trends have reversed.  The vocations (especially among women) have seen a huge surge of interest.  The number of seminarians studying for the priesthood in mid-Michigan has tripled.

My formerly liberal college parish had record Mass attendance on Ash Wednesday this year, and 80 percent of parish schools have seen enrollment increases, some up as much as 20 percent year-on-year.

The push by Pope Francis to discourage the Latin Rite is evidence that the progressive movement within Catholicism is losing ground.  There is renewed interest in tradition, and a rejection of the false promises of modernity.

I can't blame the speaker for getting things so absolutely wrong, but I can blame him for falling into the same old trap of saying "if current trends continue" because throughout history they do until they don't.  Decline is often the spur for renewal.

Of course, that is the logical explanation.  In matters of faith, different rules apply.


Participation trophy Christianity

Driving around today, I saw one of the multi-color display signs in front of a church display the following message:  "God loves you just as you are.  #goodenough"

I'm sure the people who came up with it thought it was reassuring, but to me it undermines the fundamental reason for going to church at all.

After all, if God loves me "just as I am," why do I need to change anything?  And what else can the hashtag of "good enough" mean other than that I need no further salvation?

In one sense, this is a larger-scale version of yard sign Calvinism, insofar as the church is saying they personally think you're okay.  The other mean churches may thing you need reform, but they don't.

If you attend that particular church, you'll feel welcome and no one will ask you to change.

Which is a pretty remarkable position for someone claiming to be Christian to take.

But in another sense, it attacks the very foundations of Christian belief.  If "God loves you just the way you are," where does original sin come in?  Why do we need a savior?

Why should I get up on Sunday?

The evidence of human depravity is all around us, and increasingly hard to ignore.  The prosperity of the Baby Boom era led many people think that a sense guilt and repentance were a losing proposition and that they needed to be downplayed if not dropped altogether.

The truth is that in my lifetime at least, they've never been more needed.

 


Is the peace movement extinct?

My decision to tune out the news for a few weeks has been a fruitful one.  Instead of fuming over various "hot takes" or arguing in comment sections, my China project has been moving at its fastest pace since December.  At this point, it's a given that it will be longer than Long Live Death, but even if it equals my longest book, I'm at least halfway there.

All of which is to say that I haven't tuned out the news entirely, and one thing I've noticed is the complete absence of any kind of peace movement.  With the exception of the Catholic Church and other religious leaders, everyone seems to be demanding that the combat become fiercer and bloodier. 

I've never seen anything like it.

All my life there have been vocal and high-profile politicians and activists whose response to any form of violence has been to call for immediate cease-fires and negotiations.  Again, I'm not following this closely, but even my cursory glances would have noticed something.  Where are the streets-filling "peace marches?" 

I don't think a single interventionist has been denounced as a war monger or had their office occupied by protestors. 

Did all those people change their minds?  Is violence now the answer?

I'd love to talk with someone who carried a "no blood for oil" sign and find out what they think.