Thursday, November 19, 2015

Enthusiasm, VIII: The Age of Aquarius


In the previous posting in this series we noted that books like E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and Guide for the Perplexed appeared to be in conformity with the “new” openness in the Catholic Church, especially anything labeled a “social concern” or that promoters believed had the potential to bring the Church up to date.

Madame Blavatsky, Theosophist
On closer examination, however, the authors and those who promoted such works took advantage of the confusion of thought prevalent in academia and the Church to advance theories and philosophies that were directly at odds with both human tradition and Sacred Tradition, to say nothing of plain common sense.  Small is Beautiful, essentially a Fabian socialist tract, was originally marketed as “The New Age Guide to Economics,” and today is usually listed under “Buddhist Economics.”  A Guide for the Perplexed is a vapid reworking of theosophical theory that could as easily have come from the automatic pen of Madame Blavatsky or the Ouija Board of Annie Besant.  Ironically, although Chesterton despised both socialism and New Age thought, some of Schumacher’s strongest advocates can be found today among neo-distributists and neo-Chestertonians.
 
Fr. Mitch Pacwa warns of the New Age.
It made no difference that the theories on which these and other works are based have been expressly contradicted, even condemned by the Catholic Church many times.  What mattered was conforming the interpretation of Catholic social teaching to bad scientific assumptions about money, credit, banking, and finance that attempt to circumvent the effects of the slavery of past savings, but only succeed in leading directly into capitalism, socialism, or the Servile State.  The motive appeared to be that socialism, presented as the wave of the future, seems to promise so much, and is so very attractive, catering to all the prejudices that human beings have.

Msgr. John A. Ryan justified his proposals for nationalizing basic industries and organizing the workforce into industrial armies on the grounds that “the policy of public ownership is gaining ground every day in every country, and that no country now enjoying it has any thought of reverting to the other system.” (Mueller, The Church and the Social Question, op. cit., 105.)  This was in the early 1920s, and as the civil war between the Reds and the Whites was going on in Russia at the time, and the troubles in Mexico, China, and other countries were well known, it is difficult to determine on what basis Ryan formed his conclusion.

Orestes A. Brownson
In any event, as Orestes Brownson pointed out, socialism flatters people into thinking they are already sanctified, that they are themselves (at least in the collective) God, a basic doctrine in New Age thought.  No wonder Thomas Hobbes referred to the State as a “Mortall God” in Leviathan, his blueprint for totalitarian government.

Socialism thereby delivers to people a “safe” target for their envy, malice, and vindictiveness.  It turns their hatred of the rich and powerful (and anyone who disagrees with them) from an ugly vice into the highest virtue.  No wonder Brownson concluded, “Surely Satan has here, in Socialism, done his best, almost outdone himself and would if it were possible, deceive the very elect, so that no flesh should be saved.” (Brownson, Essays and Reviews loc. cit.)

And the documents of the Second Vatican Council seemed to validate this.  It didn’t help any that most people had no direct, living memory of the previous modernist/traditionalist controversy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had no philosophy, and had studied no real history.  Thanks in large measure to the failings of academia, people seemed unaware that everything being said had been said for centuries, up to the eve of the First World War, when the new human-centered religion of theosophy and socialism went underground for a few decades — at least in the Catholic Church, already having taken over the civil order.

Milton Friedman: "Greed is Good."
The immediate reaction (as was only to be expected) was that some people began insisting Catholic social teaching was to be understood in purely capitalist ways, and that the capitalist was fulfilling God’s plan just by being rich and “creating jobs.”  In extreme cases some insisted that “greed is good” because of the presumably obvious benefits the wealthy confer on society by being wealthy.

In other cases, some people began asserting that the Church (or any religion) has no place in daily life.  Religion is a purely spiritual thing, and should stay in church where it belongs and not interfere in people’s lives.  As Lord Marlborough said, “Religion is all very well in its way, but a man’s soul is his own affair.”

In either case, ordinary Catholics and others often found themselves in an uneasy (and often queasy) alliance with groups with which they shared little other than a distaste for, or even fear of radicals at either end of the spectrum.  As Ronald Knox described this development, “Almost always the opposition is twofold; good Christian people who do not relish an eccentric spirituality find themselves in unwelcome alliance with worldlings who do not relish any spirituality at all.”  (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 1.)

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