Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Crisis of Reason, I: Bad News and Good News


Here’s the bad news — and it’s very bad news, not just for Catholics and other Christians, but for adherents of all organized religions, especially the “thinking” religions, such as Judaism and Islam.  While there have always been those who just didn’t fit into the whole religion-thing (a category the Catholic Church covers with its “invincible ignorance” doctrine), an overall decline in the numbers of people who don’t go along with a program has always been a sign of a society in deep trouble.

Religion in Ancient Rome: going through the motions.
Take the late Roman Republic/Early Empire.  While there were exceptions, as a whole the Roman “smart set” was agnostic or outright atheist: the more intelligent — realizing you can’t prove that the gods don’t exist (you can’t logically prove the existence of non-existence) — were agnostic, while those “in the know” (“smart people don’t believe in the gods”) were atheist.

All of them, however, went through the motions of performing the proper rituals in public, while ridiculing the whole thing (and the superstitious lower classes who believed that tripe) in private.  This is often a more damaging and insidious form of anti-religion than outright hostility.

"The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."
After all, if your beliefs are attacked, you tend to fight back, if only by resisting and not surrendering your principles.  If, however, getting in with the in-crowd requires just a little private betrayal, such as mocking the very ceremonies you’re participating in, exchanging a knowing glance with the “right” person to show you don’t really go along with this sort of thing, it’s all a show to impress the Great Unwashed and get votes, and so on, it’s much easier to go along to get along.  And so on.

Demands that religion must change its basic principles to adapt to the modern world fall into the same category.  Take, for example, three recent news stories about the state of the Catholic Church today:

On May 12, 2015, the Wall Street Journal published an article giving the results of a study, “Unaffiliated Americans Outrank Catholics, Study Says” (05/12/15, A4).  Assuming that the study was accurate (many surveys and studies, oddly enough, tell the people taking the survey or making the study exactly what they wanted to hear in the first place), more and more people are describing themselves as “spiritual, but not religious,” as it is often expressed: “Many who are unaffiliated are joining or starting church-like communities, without religion.”

The Catholic Church in Germany, rich, but nobody goes.
On May 20, 2015, commentator George Weigel published a column on “The Catholic Church’s German Crisis.” (Catholic World Report)  His point was that a seemingly strong institution like the Catholic Church in Germany is facing a crisis of faith.  As Weigel stated,

“To make a very long story short, they had often been speaking-about-speaking-about-God: that is, they’d been chasing their tails in trying to respond to the crisis of belief in late modernity.  And in doing so, they’d gotten stuck inside what Polish philosopher Wojciech Chudy, an intellectual great-grandson of John Paul II, called the post-Kantian ‘trap of reflection:’ thinking-about-thinking, rather than thinking about reality — in this case, the Gospel and its truths.  Less elegantly, I’d describe Chudy’s ‘trap of reflection’ as the quicksand pit of a subjectivism become self-absorption, from which it’s hard to extract oneself and answer the Master’s call, ‘Come, follow me.’”

On May 22, 2015, LifeSite News reported on a poll taken by the bishops of Switzerland on May 5, 2015 to determine attitudes towards marriage and the family as a prelude to the upcoming Synod on the Family to take place in October.  As reported in “Swiss Bishops Say Catholics Demand Change on Homosexuality, Contraception,”

“In a highly controversial May 5 release, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference published a report on the results of the questionnaire they received from the Synod of Bishops on the Family concerning questions of marriage and the family.  The report to be sent to Rome in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome, in October of 2015, suggests radical departure from the Catholic faith. It demands communion for remarried divorcees, calls for blessing on homosexual relationships, and even disparages the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model for families.”

Okay, that’s the bad news.  So what’s the good news?

Judas leaving the first Mass early.
None of this is particularly new.  Even before the founding of the Catholic Church (celebrated this past Pentecost Sunday) there have been demands that the Catholic Church change its teachings and do things more democratically, i.e., my way.  Judas Iscariot, for example, decided he knew better than Jesus how to handle matters, and took steps to get the misguided boob (a.k.a., the Christ) removed and replaced with someone more in touch with reality, e.g., himself, and who wouldn’t waste money on expensive perfumes when people were starving.

Ironically (or perhaps predictably), religions and sects that abandon fundamental principles to adapt themselves to whatever way the world is going eventually disappear.  This goes for the nations that abandon their founding principles as well, not to mention the family, the basic unit of society.  Once something does not know what it is, there is no longer any reason for it to exist.

How is this good news?  The Catholic Church has lived through this kind of thing before.  As long as it doesn’t abandon its fundamental principles, it will again.  All it has to do is hang on, and the demands to update Church teachings will not abate, but they will shift to other things once the current movements die out — and they will, if they are truly contrary to fundamental principles.

#30#

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