Monday, October 27, 2014

Synod on the Family, I: A Few Quibbles


What right does a non-religious organization have to comment on a religious event?  Every right, evidently, if you are the media.  The problem, of course, is that, even with all the best will and good intentions in the world, if you don’t understand the underlying principles of reason that support a religious organization’s faith, you’ll probably get a lot of things wrong, and misinterpret or misunderstand what you get factually correct.

A case in point is the recent “Synod on the Family” held by the Catholic Church.  Even some of the participants seemed uncertain what the whole thing was about, inserting discussions on what to do about same sex unions, divorced and remarried couples, and who knows what-all.  We don’t recall reading any reports about discussions involving the subject allegedly under discussion: how to restore and maintain the integrity of the plain, old, normal family — you know, the billions of domestic arrangements that plain, old, ordinary people are in.

We did see one analysis of the Synod that hinted something was being overlooked in all the diversionary issues and discussions.  That was “Father Z.’s” blog posting, which can be accessed here.

A few minor quibbles and one major, all “sins of omission” in our opinion, freely given, and that’s about what it’s worth (our opinion, that is, not Fr. Z’s analysis, which we — mostly — agree with).

Quibbles? 1) the categorization of Catholics (or any other religious believers) into “liberals” and “conservatives.”  We think “orthodox” and “unorthodox” would be better and more accurate.  2) Another word: “progressive.”  It used to be something good, cf. Theodore Roosevelt, Archbishop John Ireland, Judge Peter S. Grosscup, etc.  Then Roosevelt lost the election of 1912 and progressivism degenerated rapidly into another form of socialism.  3) A few other things, but even mentioning the quibbles detracts from the main point that, in our opinion, Fr. Z. should have addressed, but did not:

The rejection of reason as the foundation of faith on the part of both “liberals” and “conservatives.”

This does not mean that reason should replace faith, any more than faith should replace reason.  Faith fulfills reason, just as charity fulfills justice.  Once you get away from that, you lapse almost inevitably into the twin evils of modernism and, strange to say, theosophy (“New Age”) thought; we were astounded last month to come across a “recommended reading list for Catholics” by a leading conservative Catholic intellectual that included E.F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed, a theosophical tract, positing only a difference in degree, not in kind, between the orders of creation and God.

Aquinas warned about the abandonment of reason 800 years ago.  We haven’t gone earlier than the 19th century with the popes, but Pius IX and every pope since, including John Paul I in a Wednesday allocution, have issued similar warnings.  The problem is what to do about it.

In our opinion, the orthodox position would soon reestablish itself if people were empowered with control over their own lives.  As it is, with the concentration of power in private hands as in capitalism, and in the State as in socialism, ordinary people cannot act in accordance with human nature except at great cost to themselves.  Offend your employer and you lose your job.  Offend the State, and you can lose everything.  (Which is why capitalism is marginally better than socialism.)

It is, in our opinion, no coincidence that both modernism and theosophy developed in a world in which ordinary people were rapidly losing property, and thus power.  The different forms of modernism — and there are both liberal and conservative forms, as became evident in the late 19th century — linked up with socialism and capitalism.  Theosophy linked up with socialism.

This is not to say that both liberals and conservatives are not well-intentioned.  We believe they are.  The problem is that by trying to put everything on faith and charity instead of reason and justice in matters pertaining to natural law, and on unsound reason and false notions of justice in matters pertaining to faith and charity, they are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors.  They are clearly suffering from what Ronald Knox termed “enthusiasm,” which he defined as “an excess of charity that threatens unity.”

If people were able to apply reason to the situation, and allow themselves to be guided by the teachings of their religion, this nonsense would soon stop.  Academia, however, has largely abandoned reason, turning into training for jobs that don’t exist.  Consequently, both modernism and theosophy present ways of dealing with the “new things” of the world that circumvent or ignore reason, usually to secure material wellbeing; what the solidarist economist Franz H. Mueller called “meliorism” is, in effect, a new religion, as Chesterton pointed out in his conclusion to St. Francis of Assisi.

And then there’s the new definition of “distributive justice” that developed in the early 20th century.  This is, in our opinion, the best (or worst) example of the distortions that have been forced on understanding of the natural law.  We believe that Fulton Sheen was a victim of this sort of thing at the Catholic University of America, given what he wrote in God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy, his first book.  Sheen inadvertently made himself a target of both modernists and theosophists in all religions by insisting on reason and faith, not reason or faith.

Rather than do “Old things in new ways” as Pope Benedict XV said was the ideal in his first encyclical in 1914, liberal modernists try to do new things in new ways to update religion, while conservative modernists attempt to preserve a past that never was and do old things in old ways in an effort to “freeze” a religion in whatever time period they think was its heyday (of course, this begs the question, for if a religion is true, every day is its heyday).  This leaves the orthodox of all faiths out in the cold, baffled by events like the Synod and confused by the media.

Yet again in our opinion, what is needed to prevent such hijackings in the future is for religious leaders of all faiths (we’re not just picking on Catholics) to issue clear statements of the principles of economic justice (participative justice, distributive justice, and social justice), and suggest ways in which ordinary people can become owners of capital without either redefining the natural right of private property or redistributing existing wealth.  As Leo XIII said (and reading “social” for “labor”),

“We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.” (Rerum Novarum, § 46.)

Once people have regained control over their own lives, and have relearned how to think, that is, use reason properly, they will easily see through the efforts of others, especially some misguided clergy, to change fundamental principles of the natural law to accommodate people who should, rather, be corrected and rehabilitated.

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