As we saw in the previous posting in this series, in the 1830s John Henry Newman and others in the Oxford Movement found themselves at odds with the “Broad Church” movement within the Church of England, a variety of what purported to be Christianity, but without all those annoying legalistic, papist rules that got in the way of the true religion taught by Jesus: democratic socialism. At issue was the nature of truth itself, even if such a thing as truth could exist.
|G.K. Chesterton, "the English Sheen"
From a certain perspective, yes, fact can often be stranger than fiction. Facts are, while fiction is might-have-been/could-be/should-be. That’s probably what Chesterton meant when he said something or other about novels being truer than history — one of those paradoxes of which the English Sheen was so fond that violates the first principle of reason to make a point.
Fiction (if it’s any good) needs to be consistent, make sense, and fit within a coherent philosophical framework. Whether the fiction is consistent with probability or possibility, is based on proven principles of common sense, or the philosophy is sound is not the issue (except in didactic fiction which is usually boring as all get out).
Fiction must be true in the sense that it is a true artwork that gives some insights into reality, even if it’s only the truism that good guys always win. Of course we know they don’t. Quite often very bad people win rather spectacular victories, even to the point of convincing others that their lie is true, and that the truth with which others oppose them is a lie. The truth is that the good guys should win, and that is the truth greater than the fact that the good guys often lose very badly.
Thus we can have the certainty that Christianity (or any other religion) is true, and at the same time have the fact that there are some very bad Christians and others who make Christianity or their own particularly faiths look false. (Yes, there are false religions, but even the worst of them have some truth somewhere, or they would not attract human believers. If someone believes a religion is teaching falsehood, why would he or she remain in it?)
|And exactly how is this "not wrong"?
That is why we were rather surprised to find a statement from a few years ago from a harsh critic of the Just Third Way that (and this is an exact quote, punctuation and all), “Paganism isn't ‘wrong’; It is just incomplete, and subject to some degeneration (as are all religions, including the Catholic religion.) But the Church does recognize itself as ‘semper reformanda’, Always in need of reform.”
Ordinarily such a stupid statement could be dismissed out of hand. The problem is that the fundamental assumptions about the mutability of truth itself inferred from this statement are embodied in much, if not all, of the critic’s writings. Worse, this particular individual is held in high regard in some Catholic and Catholic-affiliated institutions assumed to be irreproachably orthodox, and we have heard rumors that this individual’s books are even used as texts in high schools and universities.
|Some people you just don't disagree with. . . .
And the books written by this critic? Admittedly, most of the reviewers buy into the critic’s self-assessment and deliver appropriately adulatory remarks. There are, however, dissenters, one of which warned readers and others not to disagree with the author, as the author has the unfortunate reputation of throwing hissy fits and f-bombs when challenged, and of declaring everyone (else) a liar. Another declared that the critic’s work is “[e]vil pretending to be just.” Others have claimed the critic is “a bad economist,” “totally bogus,” “dishonest,” and other words that should not appear on a family blog.
Why would people say such things about this critic? Consider the brief statement we quoted above.
Paganism not wrong, just incomplete? On the contrary, while paganism is incomplete (especially the modern variety that worships the self in place of a transcendent Supreme Being), it is also fundamentally wrong in many respects that do not outweigh the truths it contains.
The Catholic Church, while it does not claim a monopoly on truth, does claim a “fullness of truth,” i.e., no contradiction in its essential doctrines. Admittedly, many of the doctrinal applications (called “disciplines”) of the Catholic Church have from time to time “degenerated” (if that is the word you want to use) and must be reformed or updated, a constant process.
|"I'm a socialist? Since when?"
But “the Catholic religion” is “subject to some degeneration”? And the critic claims to be a Catholic? Frankly, we don’t think much of an adherent of any faith who claims that the doctrines of his or her religion have “degenerated,” or even that they can “degenerate,” and are thus no longer true as “truth” has traditionally been understood. Why in the unprintable expletive would anyone belong to a religion that he or she does not believe to be true?
There is only one reason someone would do that: to change fundamental doctrines, destroying the religion for what it is, and remake it into the image of what the “reformer” wants it to be.
And the critic of the Just Third Way has stated on a number of occasions that the Catholic Church has changed fundamental doctrines, particularly the inviolability of the natural right of private property. This individual )a devoted follower of the agrarian socialist Henry George who attempted to establish a New Christianity) has declared that the Catholic Church and so-called “democratic socialism” are compatible and is a socialist because that is what the Church now teaches, having changed the doctrine regarding private property in Rerum Novarum, subsequent social encyclicals, and by the fiat of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger prior to his election as Benedict XVI.
|"I'm a socialist? Since when?"
Is it any surprise that this critic is highly revered among those who are convinced, contrary to virtually everything Chesterton and Belloc said or did and all the condemnations of the “new things” by the Catholic Church since 1832, that “distributism” is just another variety of Fabian socialism? Or that the critic is one of those who, during the “Baby Alfie” horror, claimed that the British government had every right not only to withhold treatment, but to prevent treatment, even forbid it with the whole might and force of the State? (And then whine about how, when, e.g., the state of Louisiana could no longer afford to fund hospice care out of depleted state coffers, the governor was not “truly pro-life.”)
That passes not merely “evil pretending to be just.” It descends to the Satanic. It calls to mind an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal by a married woman who, having “accidentally” gotten pregnant (her word . . . we think they know what causes that, though), and finding out that the child had a 25% chance of having a genetic disorder that would result in the child’s certain death within five years, chose to kill the child before birth rather than subject themselves to the possibility that he or she might die a few years later. That’s called “logic.”
|"Am I a socialist, too?"
Yes, the claims are ludicrous. That does not, however, stop quite a large number of people from accepting such things at face value, or keep the critic and others of a similar mindset from issuing shrill denunciations of anyone who dares to criticize or even question the claim that socialism, modernism, and New Age thought are now to be accepted as authentic Catholic doctrine.
And the reason for this rather long digression from our discussion of John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement? It is because it is not really a digression at all, but a graphic illustration of the very thing Newman and the others in the Movement were attempting to counter. It destroyed for many people the legitimacy of the Church of England (although the Most Reverend Justin Welby, current Archbishop of Canterbury, seems to be engaging in some outreach that could prove to be very interesting from a natural law perspective), even in some cases a belief in Christianity or any other religion.
In short, the spread of the “new things” of socialism, modernism, and the New Age, is not of concern merely to Catholics and Anglicans, but to everyone whose faith or philosophy has some grounding in an understanding of the natural law based on nature and discerned by reason.