Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sigh ... Excoriating Traditional Catholics as Medieval Fundamentalists

If you read enough hard-left blogs, you'll find an increasingly shrill tone of discourse. The goal - now that the left has power - is to smear conservatives as essentially barbarians. Oh sure, both sides do it, but if a conservative is pro-life and favors personal responsibility over governmental handouts and big-government largesse, they'll be tarred as a "reactionary," "racist," and socially apostate.

No wonder the political debate in America is mostly crude and vitriolic, and no wonder that conservatives continue to dig in their heels against the morally relativist tsunami of dread.

I mention all of this after reading James Carroll's essay at the Nation, "
Inside the Obama-Notre Dame Debate." I'm not Catholic, but I espouse many Catholic values. So, I take offense at the Carroll's rank slurs against people of tradition, especially the notion that conservatives just can't think, that they're blinded by "irrationalism":
President Obama goes to Notre Dame University this Sunday to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree, the ninth US president to be so honored. The event has stirred up a hornet's nest of conservative Catholics, with more than forty bishops objecting, and hundreds of thousands of Catholics signing petitions in protest. In the words of South Bend's Bishop John M. D'Arcy, the complaint boils down to President Obama's "long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred." Notre Dame, the bishop charged, has chosen "prestige over truth."

Not even most Catholics agree with such criticism. A recent Pew poll, for instance, shows that 50 percent of Catholics support Notre Dame's decision to honor Obama; little more than one-quarter oppose. It is, after all, possible to acknowledge the subtle complexities of "life" questions -- When actually does human life begin? How is stem cell research to be ethically carried out? -- and even to suggest that they are more complex than most Catholic bishops think, without thereby "refusing to hold human life as sacred."

For many outside the ranks of conservative religious belief, this dispute may seem arcane indeed. Since it's more than likely that the anti-Obama complainers were once John McCain supporters, many observers see the Notre Dame flap as little more than mischief by Republicans who still deplore the Democratic victory in November. Given the ways in which the dispute can be reduced to the merely parochial, why should Americans care?

Medievalism in Our Future?

In fact, the crucial question that underlies the flap at Notre Dame has enormous importance for the unfolding twenty-first century: Will Roman Catholicism, with its global reach, including more than a billion people crossing every boundary of race, class, education, geography and culture, be swept into the rising tide of religious fundamentalism?

Those Catholics who regard a moderate progressive like Barack Obama as the enemy--despite the fact that his already unfolding social and health programs, including support for impoverished women, will do more to reduce the number of abortions in America than the glibly pro-life George W. Bush ever did--have so purged ethical thought of any capacity to draw meaningful distinctions as to reduce religious faith to blind irrationality. They have so embraced a spirit of sectarian intolerance as to undercut the Church's traditional catholicity, adding fuel to the spreading fire of religious contempt for those who depart from rigidly defined orthodoxies. They are resurrecting the lost cause of religion's war against modernity--a war of words that folds neatly into the new century's war of weapons.

If the Catholic reactionaries succeed in dominating their church, a heretofore unfundamentalist tradition, what would follow? The triumph of a strain of contemporary Roman Catholicism that rejects pluralism, feminism, clerical reform, religious self-criticism, historically-minded theology and the scientific method as applied to sacred texts would only exacerbate alarming trends in world Christianity as a whole, and at the worst of times. This may especially be so in the nations of the southern hemisphere where Catholicism sees its future. It's there that proselytizing evangelical belief, Protestant and Catholic both, is spreading rapidly. Between 1985 and 2001, for example, Catholic membership increased in Africa by 87 percent, in Europe by 1 percent.

In their shared determination to restore the medieval European Catholicism into which they were born, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI became inadvertent avatars of the new Catholic fundamentalism, a fact reflected in the character of the bishops they appointed to run the Church, so many of whom now find President Obama to be a threat to virtue. The great question now is whether this defensive, pre-Enlightenment view of the faith will maintain a permanent grip on the Catholic imagination. John Paul II and Benedict XVI may be self-described apostles of peace, yet if this narrow aspect of their legacy takes hold, they will have helped to undermine global peace, not through political intention but deeply felt religious conviction.
You can read the whole thing here.

Catholic Church doctrine is not my specialty, but I often look to the Vatican for moral guidance. I was moved upon
the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 to reflect on the powerful role of the Roman Church in defending freedom from Soviet totalitarianism; and on John Paul's leadership in returning the Church to its preeminent role in international politics as a beacon of goodness and light in the world.

I expect nothing less from Pope Benedict XVI.

So I see Carroll's screed as simply representative of the anti-life nihilistic mindset found among so many on today's radical left. I'd rather hang out with people like
Michele Sagala and Andrew Chronister any day.

7 comments:

Rusty Walker said...

Thank you for another intelligent view and choosing to note the value in religious influences. We all know that the Catholic church, as in all religious organizations, have dogma and scandals – as in every facet of human life, but must we always deny the basic principles of goodness and grace. I was raised Catholic and miss the Latin mass; later attended Episcopal churches, which I found to a watered down version of Catholicism (It is a failing of mine, that I just couldn’t abide the decision to allow women priests). But, still, the Catholic church has also been responsible for giving many in the world a sound set of fundamental values, and at the very least, as Ariel Durant once pointed out, the value of “religion as a source of moral instruction and social order” is missing in today’s media-driven world.

Rich Casebolt said...

All my life, those who share Mr. Carroll's views, in whole or in part, have fought to be "liberated" ... from what?

Not from tyranny, hard or soft ... but from the mere disdain and disapproval of others.

They don't have the guts to stand up and exercise their freedom of conscience in the face of criticism ... and that tells me that they know that a lot of what they are advocating is, in absolute terms, WRONG -- but the desire to turn their advocacy into reality is still strong -- so, in their conflicted state, they attempt to force it into social acceptance as a CYA move on their part.

The Leftist/statist definition of "fundamentalist": anyone who treats their relationship with their God as more than a convenient hobby.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Dr.D,
Even though I am a life-long Catholic, I do not profess to be a theologian. However, this essay was surely written from the perspective that organized religion is fundamentally bad and in particular Christianity is unacceptable for its past and future damage. If the writer were intellectually honest he would have stated his true belief that organized religion should be eradicated from human existance.

It is apparent that the writer has an agenda that he intends to push, however, he is too deceitful to honestly express it. I also find it interesting that Christianity seems to be at the root of all evil as the writer fails to even discuss the jihadists among us.

Obama as a moderate progressive? The writer is languishing in a delusional, Christian-hating, cloud, writing in an echo chamber of like-minded drones.

Greywolfe said...

really, I only have one question.. Given the morally bankrupt state of our society, how can one be guilty of social apostacy? As I understand the word, you have to actually have a set of core beliefs to abandon in order to be an apostate. Our nation's society no longer has any foundational principles, other than "do what makes you feel good, dude!" or the sub-principle of "Don't harsh my mellow, man!"

Kevin Gleeson said...

So, this writer claims that the Church has reverted to the Middle Ages (or, rather, to the worst of how libs caricature them) all because 40 intellectual, educated leaders of the Church oppose a Catholic university bestowing President Abortorama an honorary degree on the principle of letting babies live.

I'm also skeptical about the quality of proabort Catholics in the poll he cites (i.e., how many of them bother to attend Mass anymore?).

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Kevin!

Kevin Gleeson said...

No, no. Thank YOOOU, Donald!