Friday, May 24, 2019

The Theology of Sexual Abuse II

Every now and then I take a look at Commonweal magazine. As far as religious commentary goes it's a bit left-of-centre so I don't normally take what they have to take too seriously. But this article, by Cathleen Kaveny echos--and develops further--some of my own thoughts on the subject.  I'm glad to see that at last some people are beginning to see past the "sexual" element of the abuse crisis and delve deeper into the the theological problems which have underpinned it.

Kaveny takes a rather justified swipe at Pope Benedict's take on the subject. I'll let Kaveny do the talking. I've reproduced the article at length on what I believe is fair use grounds. If anyone has any objection I'll take it down:
The debate about Benedict XVI’s recent intervention on the sex-abuse crisis has focused on his account of its root causes, which occupies the vast majority of his letter. To the delight of conservatives and the consternation of progressives, he blames the lax sexual morality of the 1960s, rather than the enduring phenomenon of clericalism.
In my view, the problem with Benedict’s letter is far more fundamental. It also transcends the American progressive-conservative divide. He gets the basic moral description of the acts of sex abuse wrong. He frames them as acts of sacrilege, rather than grave injustice.

So what? Benedict clearly thinks these actions are unacceptable—why quibble about details? Because details matter, both theoretically and practically. If we get the description of a misdeed wrong, we fail to grasp the underlying moral reality of the situation. That, in turn, can lead to disastrous strategies for reform.

What is the bedrock moral description of an act of clergy sex abuse? Is it a terrible act of injustice toward vulnerable persons, especially children? If so, then clergy sexual abusers belong in the same category as others who have betrayed their position of authority in this manner: they are like sexually abusive teachers, Scout leaders, and medical professionals. Trading upon their power, they have inflicted physical and psychological harm on their victims. In this perspective, the fact that the perpetrator is a Catholic priest is a circumstance that exacerbates the wrongfulness of the act but does not change its core moral description as an act of gross injustice.

Or should clergy sex abuse be understood most basically as a grave act of sacrilege? If so, clergy sex abuse should be grouped with other acts of sacrilege, such as desecration of the Host, blasphemy against the Blessed Mother, and the commission of any serious moral wrong inside a holy place. From this perspective, the fact that the perpetrator is a priest does not merely exacerbate the wrongful act; it constitutes the core of it. The priest is befouling his holy vows. The fact that he does so by abusing a child adds to the wrong, but does not change its core moral description—it is an act of sacrilege, akin to celebrating a Black Mass.

By framing sex abuse as a matter of sacrilege, Benedict reinforces the disastrous playbook that has guided the church’s response to the abuse crisis for the past fifty years.
Benedict’s letter seems [Ed: seems] to put clergy sex abuse in the category of sacrilege, not injustice. He does not use the term “sacrilege.” But it is the category that best fits his account of why the act is wrong, especially when sacrilege is understood broadly as a violation or misuse of the sacred. He presents the major victim as the Faith itself—not the children whose integrity was violated. According to Benedict, the “alarming situation” is that “the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection.” What bothers him most about one of the human victims he encountered is that she can no longer hear the words of consecration without distress, because her priest-attacker used them in the course of the abuse. He says nothing about how the abuse would have affected the entire course of her life. He does not issue a forceful call to protect children, but rather implores us to “do all we can to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.”

Benedict’s approach has dangerous consequences. If the real victim is the Faith, then the overriding task is to protect the institution of the church, which instantiates the mystical Body of Christ in time. If the worst consequence of the crisis is the widespread loss of faith in the church’s credibility, then it is better to handle specific instances quietly—so as not to scandalize the faithful. Offending priests should be quickly laicized, so that they do not continue to befoul the Body of Christ. Once they are no longer part of the hierarchy, they are no longer the church’s problem. Victims should be encouraged to remain quiet, perhaps with a legally binding confidentiality agreement, so they don’t erode the church’s ability to pass on the faith. They should be discouraged from seeking monetary damages from the church, since it is the original and primary victim of the priest’s transgression. Finally, secular law enforcement should not be involved in most cases, since their involvement occludes the mystical and transcendent nature of the problem.

By framing the basic offense as a matter of sacrilege, Benedict reinforces the disastrous playbook that has guided the church’s response to the abuse crisis for the past fifty years. He provides a lofty theological rationale for protecting the institution rather than the victims. He offers not a clean, well-lighted path to reform, but rather a detour back into the muck.

Benedict’s intervention is ironic. He blames revisionist moral theologians for the crisis, claiming that they look only at the motive and circumstances of sinful human actions, rather than focusing on the moral quality of the act itself. But Benedict himself is the one who refuses to look closely at the sinful acts in question here. This implacable defender of the existence of intrinsically evil acts refuses to call these acts by their most basic moral name: child rape.
I've got to applaud her for a far more sophisticated analysis when compared to mine. Though I didn't read Benedict as seeing sexual abuse as  sacrilegious rather Benedict seemed to recognise that the Church's traditional approach of seeing the crime only through the perspective of the abuser was deficient: still he does sail close to the sacrilegious dimension, and while he may not have stepped over the line many bishops and cardinals have taken exactly this "theological"  approach.

I think what Kenevy highlights is the distortion of moral reasoning that has come about from an excessively theological approach to religion.  Simple people--i.e. the laity--lacking proper "training or spirituality" didn't fall into this error. Child rape was seen for what it was: not the wounding of the mystical body of Christ but simply child rape.  They knew that the Church would suffer for having this stuff exposed but they never forgot that primary concern was the well being of the child and not the "mystical" Church.

Now Benedict is a good guy and one of the sharpest tools in the shed but when someone like this gets it so wrong you've have to realise that the there is something amiss with the Church. I also want people to note that Benedict is considered an orthodox conservative.

I'm still running on the hypothesis that secularisation phenomenon in the West is primarily driven by a withdrawal of Grace by God because of His displeasure with his Church. I think this hypothesis has significant traction when you see what results orthodox theologians acting in good faith produce.

Thursday, May 09, 2019


Sorry lads, another religious post.

Clericalism is topical currently because of its purported relationship with the sexual abuse crisis affecting the Church. However, in my opinion, this is a great example where faulty concepts of clericalism confuse more than they help. One of the key problems in understanding the problem of clericalism is that it means different things to different people, the vagueness of its definition contributing quite a bit to a misunderstanding of its effects. A good help to understanding the phenomenon is surprisingly Wikipaedia, which describes clericalism as:
...clericalism is often used to denote ecclesiolatry, that is, excessive devotion to the institutional aspects of an organized religion, usually over and against the religion's own beliefs or faith.
I think this is a good starting point since it emphasises what is the core poison of clericalism,
ecclesiolatry. The core idea behind ecclesiolatry is the notion that clergy is somehow special and the the rules that apply to the rest Christianity don't really apply to them.  From a Christian perspective this is a loser's game.

One of the things which makes an understanding of clericalism difficult is the fact that it assumes different forms. From my perspective I can identity three forms:

1) Venal Clericalism:

This type of clericalism values the Church and its offices for personal advantages that can be gained by doing so. A good example of this is the priest who views his work as a job instead of a vocation, and see's himself as a career man, hoping to climb the ranks and thereby attaining all their associated privileges. The care of the faithful is only of secondary concern.

At is most base, venal clericalism aims at securing a position of worldly status and advantage by virtue of being a priest. The corruption of the Borgia popes, for instance, is a typical example of this type.

The thing is that while this type of clericalism does a lot of damage, it's also the type that's easiest to spot and therefore relatively easy to combat since it is the most obvious.

2) Institutional Clericalism:

This type of clericalism is a more principled type and it's here where we start to get into more spiritually corrupting territory. Here the integrity of the institution--i.e. the Church as occupied by the clergy--is valued above its founding principles. The typical example here is that, is in an effort to avoid scandal, the clergy hides crimes in order to preserve the "reputation" of the Church. i.e. The Church lies in order to appear good. Sinning to appear virtuous is a spiritual oxymoron and you eventually have to pay the price. The problem is that when this stuff is eventually exposed--as it always is-- the Church ends up appearing as a hypocrite, undermining the peoples' faith in the Church as a whole.

Of all the types of clericalism it is this type that played a moderate role in the sexual abuse crisis of the Church. Many of the bishops and senior clerics when made aware of sexual abuse were horrified at the stories of abuse but wanted desperately to preserve the reputation of the church--at the expense of justice to the victims-- and covered the crimes up.

One of things that sin is meant to do is disturb a well formed conscience, but institutional clericalism does is provide a salve for any such disturbances. Doing something wrong? It's OK its for the good of the Church.  I imagine that many clergy have lied, suppressed truth, and punished victims in order to "preserve" the reputation of the Church. Sins which help you sleep soundly are very deadly indeed.

3) Spiritual Clericalism.

Here we get into the real spiritual poison and it's the one that seems to have Catholicism in its grip at the moment. Here the clergy abrogate to themselves the notion that they are the true guardians of the faith and no one but them has a monopoly on the truth. Not only do these people, with certainty, know what is right and wrong, but know in advance how God will act in the future. In these individuals,  there is no sense or meaningful notion that they could be wrong about something...........the thought never occurs in their head. There are zero pangs of conscience, instead they double down when challenged.

It needs to be understood that this type of clericalism has both its liberal and conservative variants and in my mind has three distinguishing features. Firstly there the lack  of fidelity to the Pope: unless the Pope is teaching on their terms.

How this type of clericalism differs from conscience is that conscience knows that it may differ from papal teaching but it does not assume the Pope a heretic. Conscience assumes that there may be some accommodation  with the Pope and the person remains in the Church, or no accommodation at all  and the person has to leave. It does not assume that the Pope should leave the Church.

And secondly there is a lack of fidelity toward the truth. Facts which are inconvenient are simply ignored.

Thirdly: As for the laity.........who are they?

As I've argued before, there is no restoration of Western Civilisation until a religious revival occurs. My current working hypothesis that the secularization of the West has primarily come about because there is something seriously wrong with religion in the West. This "wrongness" has been present in the Church from at least the mid 19th Century and unless it is corrected Western civilisation is doomed. Clericalism, particularly versions (2) and (3) have contributed significantly to this wrongness and they need to be tackled and purged before things can be made right. I'm not sure that the clergy has the resources in itself to tackle the problem and that's why I'm increasingly convinced that the future of the West may lay with the Christian laity.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Resurrection: Signs and Omens

In ancient Rome it was the role of the auguries to determine the will of the Gods through the omens observed. The Romans, unlike our modern contemporaries, were religious people who felt that the Gods communicated to men though signs and phenomenon from which the carefully observant would divine their will. So firm was their belief in this state of affairs that they would not proceed with an important issue unless the God's were on their side.

By nature I'm very skeptical sort of guy, not prone to such practices, but I've got to admit that the burning of Notre Dame sure felt like an omen to me: an uneasy one. Notre Dame isn't just another Church, it's in many ways the symbol of French Catholicity--with all that brings--and its partial destruction seemed to be a foreboding sign.  Unlike many other church fires, even the atheists recoginised that the is fire had a far greater symbolic significance.

Some traditionalist wags on Twitter--wishing to prove that God was on their side-- commented that the new modern altar was buried under the rubble while the "traditionalist" one remained unscathed.  What they forgot to point out is that a lot of the old Church was destroyed and if destruction was a sign of the Divine Will,  then God seemed to be unhappy with some bits of the "old" Church as well.

Some of the more liberal commentators felt that the destruction while regrettable was a new opportunity to rebuild the Church in a way "reflective of contemporary French society".  Anyone familiar with modern architecture and contemporary politics  can only interpret this angle with a great deal of apprehension.  The French secular state has been hostile to the Church and it is not beyond the realms of  possibility that it will exert its power to "rebuild" Notre Dame in way which both asserts its authority and humiliates the Catholic Church.

Knowing what crimes modern architecture is capable of, many are calling for the Church to be restored to exactly how it was before the fire.  I'm not particularly opposed to this view, especially considering the potential modern alternatives but if this fire really was an omen of sorts then I don't think that's going to happen. This is what comes to mind;
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables,and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace. His disciples recalled the words of scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me." At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

As I said before, I'm a skeptical sort of guy, but it there is any omen here, in my mind it is signifying that a change is coming,  probably through French Catholicism first. The temple is being torn down and its going to get rebuilt but it won't be a copy of the old.  Still,  I couldn't but feel looking at the photos of the old altar standing relatively unscathed by the fire that everything was going to be alright in the end. No matter what calamities may befall us, the Faith will endure.

He has conquered death and its corruption.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Quote du Jour

Houellebecq is back at it, this time at First Things, talking about religion, particularly Catholicism. I thought this was very good:
And the Church seems to apologize for her existence. Currently in France, we are experiencing a vast insurrection by those who could be termed the “leftovers of globalization,” the gilets jaunes. These people are crying out with an anger that has been growing for a long time, and they have been ­supported by a majority of the population. A social phenomenon of this order cannot escape the notice of any institution claiming to have a plan for men. In lieu of exercising a political influence, the Church could be offering a spiritual plan to those who are fighting against a loss of fundamental meaning. There are approximatively a hundred dioceses in France, and a few more bishops, all of whom are the representatives of the Church in the country. Only one of them has decided it would be a good idea to go to a meeting of the gilets jaunes.
From Restoration, over at First Things.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Theology of Sexual Abuse

As I've said before, before the restoration of the West will only occur once its  religious underpinnings are re-instituted. Most bloggers on the subject of Western restoration tend to focus on political and immigration reforms but these things are all moot if the culture underpinning them is rubbish. Religion matters, particularly the Catholic religion, which IS the foundational element of the West.

One only has to pick up a newspaper or browse online to realise that there is something seriously wrong with the Catholic Church and while many, including many in the leadership recognise this the fact is that the leadership is floundering. As someone who has been following events for a while now it's quite obvious that most of the Church's governing class and commentariat are clueless  So it was quite a surprise to see that  Pope Emeritus Benedict weigh into the conversation by publishing a series of notes with regard to his reflections on the sexual abuse crisis.

I felt that they deserved some comment.

While I admire Benedict's first rate intellect, one whole, the notes themselves did not seem to rise to his usual level of theological insight, and seemed more an interpretation of events as you would expect from some traditional provincial priest. This is worrying as it is a reflection of the thinking that was occurring at the top during his pontificate and goes a long way to explaining why the Church has not been able to adequately deal with the issue.

Benedict seems to blame the the following for the crisis:
a) A loss of belief in the real presence of God in our lives.
b) With consequent loss of reverence towards the Eucharist.
c) The cultural/sexual revolution of the 60's which infected the Church and legitimised many previously illegitimate sexual behaviours including pedophillia.
d) Liberal theology which denied any kind of intrinsically wrongs acts.
e) Canon law which made it effectively impossible to get rid of a bad priest.
Leon Podles does a good takedown of Benedict's claims, while I agree with a lot of what he says I don't agree with him on the subject of clericalism. In my mind clericalism is only a minor component of the abuse crisis. It's malign effects are felt elsewhere. Rather, the problem is much deeper, rooted in modern "orthodox" theology  and I get the feeling that Benedict is only just now  beginning to grasp the true nature of it. The other guys are clueless.

To illustrate the true nature of the problem you have to perform a thought experiment. Consider the following:

Suppose Pope Francis, JPII or Benedict were put in charge of a prison-or for a matter of fact any senior cleric: How would they deal with the  inmates? Suppose a prisoner came up to the Pope and said he was sorry for what he did and promised he'd never commit a crime again. How do you suppose the Pope would react. I think it's reasonable to think that the Pope would pardon the prisoner and either commute his sentence or let him free. The justice owed to the victim of crime would not be factored in at all.

This, in a nutshell is the story of the whole sexual abuse saga.  i.e the redemption of the sinner takes priority over justice for the victim. Focusing only on the sexual abuse aspect misses the bigger picture; which is that the welfare of the sinner always takes priority over the justice owed to the victim in Catholic practice.  And it doesn't just affect how the Church deals with issues of sexual abuse but also how it deals with all other crimes such as fraud, embezzlement and murder. A slap on the wrist and all is ok.

For example, here is the rationale for the impermissibilty of the Death Penalty as taken from the Catechism:
“Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption,”

Note:  The redemption of the criminal matters more than the justice owed to the victim. Massimo Faggioli is absolutely right, the Church is incapable of punishing crimes and requires state intervention to do so. (This is going bring a whole lot of pain in ways that people can't imagine including the "punishment" of innocent priests by the State who aren't politically correct.)

Now, I get the impression that Benedict is finally beginning to see that there is something wrong with the Church's kumbayah approach when he writes:
A balanced canon law that corresponds to the whole of Jesus’ message  [ED] must therefore not only provide a guarantee for the accused, the respect for whom is a legal good. It must also protect the Faith, which is also an important legal asset. A properly formed canon law must therefore contain a double guarantee — legal protection of the accused, legal protection of the good at stake. If today one puts forward this inherently clear conception, one generally falls on deaf ears when it comes to the question of the protection of the Faith as a legal good. In the general awareness of the law, the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection. This is an alarming situation which must be considered and taken seriously by the pastors of the Church.

What Benedict is saying here is that when it comes to legal matters the Church can't just simply look at the good of the sinner but needs to take other factors into account as well, and in this instance it is the good of "the Faith". This is a welcome improvement in thinking but still misses the mark. Benedict is beginning to realise that you can't just neglect justice for mercy without having some serious consequences, including the loss of the Faith.

The Faith is not injured primarily by mercy towards the sinner but rather by a failure to render justice to the victim. The people who have the left the Church have left primarily because of their disgust at the way the victims were treated and there tormentors were allowed to escape punishment. What kills the the good  of "the Faith" is not the application of Mercy but the neglect of Justice. Something that the Church despite all of its affirmation of, honours in the breach.

While the cultural changes that have occurred int the 20th C have contributed to the loss of Faith in the Western nations it has been some of the theological developments--or lack thereof--which have done the most damage. Pastors which practice and preach an ostensibly orthodox theology which neglects the victims of crime are contemptible to the laity and their walking with their feet. Their sensus fidelium is working quite well. It's the senior clergy that are blind.

More importantly such a theology is contemptible to God as well.

That's why the pews are empty.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

A Church Impotent

Sorry atheists, another religious post.

This is St Paul thundering at the early Christians telling them to get their act together.

Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?  Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more, things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life, do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church?  I say this to move you to shame. What, cannot there be found among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren,  but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? [ED] Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you, that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded?  Nay, but ye yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8

I put up this post a few days ago quoting St Thomas on the relationship of Justice to Mercy with the implication that a lot of the Church's problems in dealing with sin in its ranks was due to the progressive theological emphasis on mercy at the expense of justice. This theological shift, largely under the watch of conservative Popes, reached it's definitive expression in the Church's recent change in the Catechism, effectively outlawing the death penalty. The other aspect to this theological shift has been a diminshing sense of the social dimension of sin. A theology which which emphaises mercy to the criminal at the expense of justice to the victim is going to be one that ends up being soft on crime.

Understanding the institutionalised failure of the Catholic Church to combat sexual abuse is much easier when you look at the situation through this perspective. When crimes were reported to Church authorities their primary aim was the rehabilitation of the criminal and not the restitution due to the victim. The problem with this theological approach is that it paralyses the administration of justice.  The Church becomes effectively incapable of punishing crime in its ranks. While there is no doubt a large element of sin present the core of the Catholic Church's  problems is not malice, it's theology.

I'm bringing up this subject again because Massimo Faggioli recently penned a good article in the local news following the conviction of Cardinal Pell for sex abuse*, showing just how bad things have gotten. Massimo is what many Americans would call a liberal, but he's an honest one, and while I disagree with him on a lot of issues I can't really find much to fault in this piece. I thought this was pertinent:

And both Church and State are repositioning themselves in response to this crisis. With the pontificate of Francis, there is no question that the institutional Catholic Church no longer fights against secular justice or shields alleged criminals from prosecution by the civil authorities. The Church actually welcomes secular justice, knowing now that without the intervention of public prosecutors many cases of sexual abuse in the Church would have never been addressed, investigated and punished.[ED] The Catholic Church is now totally on the defensive [ED] ― locally and globally; in Australia and in the Vatican; in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. And it is on the defensive because of an uncovered history of the indefensible practices of covering up abusers, re-victimising victims, vilifying the media investigating the cases and shielding top clerics from justice ― sometimes by shipping them to the Vatican (beginning with the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, in 2004).

The point worth emphasising here is that the Catholic Church is now structurally, even if not explicitly, reliant on the verdicts of the secular courts to make determinations about the firing (and the hiring) of its cardinals and bishops[ED] This is why any talk of "zero tolerance" for abusers in the Church ― in the Church's ministries as well as among the Catholic clergy as ordained members ― becomes meaningless if it does not consider who determines if a member of the Church is a sexual abuser. The fact is that the fight against sexual abuse in the Church is, to a large extent, only as good as the rule of law in a given country or state.[ED]


Read that carefully and realise we've reached the situation deplored by St Paul. We need pagan courts to police the ranks.  We can't do it ourselves. Francis has had to call in the cops because the clergy institution has been unable to administer justice.


Now, also notice that the all the lurid stuff which transfixes the minds of the shallow is a secondary phenomenon to the primary evil, which has been the mutilation of justice, all under the high principle of Mercy. Also note, that it was a doctrine emphasised especially during the pontificate of JPII, so you can't stick this on Francis.

Chesterton understood what was going on. In Orthodoxy he wrote:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. 

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble, upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years........ .......Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful.[ED] ....... Of these theological equalisations I have to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.

The Church has been careless and has become unbalanced. There is no doubt that the sexual abuse crisis has resulted in a crisis of faith among many. But here's the question, given a choice, is it better for God to let people lose the faith and become pagans that punish child abuse, or "faithful Christians" that are incapable of dealing with it because of "principled" forgiveness. Better the Samaritan than the Pharisee.

 What would a loving God do in such a circumstance?

For the Christian, any understanding of the secularisation process has to involve some element of Divine agency. From the Christian perspective God is not passive but active in human affairs. It may not be that the Church is dying because of modernism, it may be because there is something wrong with it, and God is mighty displeased. Modernism is a merely a correlate.

*BTW, George Pell is innocent. It was a stitch up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Some thoughts on Secularisation

Atheist warning, this is a religious post.

One of the things that has been occupying my mind for quite a while now is the process of  Western secularisation.  Despite what the fedora-wearers say, we've gone from a culture that was highly religious to a culture where religion doesn't really matter at all. I have read a few books on the secularisation  process and there have been good insights in some, I haven't really read a book which has provided a convincing theory. I think it is a truism that  there are many factors which have  contributed to the secularisation,  there is perhaps another dimension to this problem that is missed when tackled by mainstream sociological analysis.

This traditional approach tends to see secularisation as a emergent phenomenon bought about by the application of science and reason to traditional society.  Implicit in the view is the notion that science and reason are religous solvents and are  incompatible with it.  This is the traditional Positivistic view and despite their best intentions, knucklehead Trads play into this frame, keeping it alive, every time they rally against "da Enlightenment", seeing it as toxic to Christianity.

St Thomas would not be amused.

The approach I intend to take is theological one, and where I want to start with is a little bit of scripture;

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven[ED].
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him [ED}, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:44

Now, what's interesting in both of these passages Christ explicitly alludes to the notion that belief in Him--as God's son-- is contingent on some kind of operation by the Father upon the believer.  I don't want to get into the mechanics of what this operation is, the point is that belief in God is not a simple intellectual operation of the believer alone, rather something else must be added to the human person in order for there to be sincere belief. As I've said before, faith is a perceptive noetic sense and and it is only after God has passed onto the individual some kind of potency that the individual is able to "see" and "hear" the truth of the Christian claim.

Now, while it may be possible for some kind of ersatz like "faith" to be produced through social engineering or philosophical argument it is impossible for true faith to arise in this matter.  Factual instruction and logical presentation of the data is not enough. The important point to recognise is that faith is contingent upon divine agency.

But if this is indeed the case then the implications of this line of thought raises some rather disturbing questions, especially with regard to the relentless march of secularisation.

Traditional Christian understanding of the phenomenon tends to see the main culprit of secularisation being liberalism. But, maybe we've got it all wrong, maybe liberalism is not the problem, because if faith is contingent upon the agency of God, then is the phenomenon of secularisation due to a lack of divine agency. Is God holding back?

Now if that's the case, then for us who are Christians, we've got a serious problem, since any type of "managerial" solution is not going to work unless God is on board, no matter what we do.

You see, if God by his own free choice, chooses to infuse the virtue of faith into an individual, it really doesn't matter what kind of environment the person is in, they will see the truth of the Christian faith and have the capacity to believe. We actually see this stuff happen all the time.  Conversion stories are replete with individuals who were unbelievers living in Christian hostile environments who suddenly saw the light. St Paul's conversion is a case in point: from hostile persecutor to christian missionary, in a flash: He turned on a dime.

On the other hand, we all know of individuals who are absolutely stone cold on the faith yet were raised in solidly Christian environments. And disbelief is not necessarily a consequence of living a life of debauchery and sin, there are many who live quietly virtuous lives but are simply unable to convince themselves of the truth of Christian propositions.  Nor is disbelief always due hostility towards the faith. There are other individuals out there who are very sympathetic to Christianity who want to believe but simply can't. Whatever His reason, God has chosen not to give these people the gift of faith.

The disturbing line of thought here is that secularisation is, at least,  partially due to God holding back.

Like most Christians, as a result of my upbringing, I always had this conception of God as "always being there" for those who wanted to believe. That faith was somehow just a matter of chosing to believe and that God would take care of the rest. But that line of thought does imply a certain lack of agency by God. It also tends to contradict scripture which implies that it's God that does the picking and choosing of who gets to believe and not man.  I don't think I'm being heretical here in asserting that faith is a gift from God and not a right of Man.

But if this is the case, then why is God holding back?

Since I don't have a direct line to God and He doesn't consult me on these thing my thoughts on this matter are speculative, but at the moment my thinking is anlong two lines.

The first line is more "Traditional" in nature, in that God is holding back because we are so wicked and has abandoned us to our ways. Scripture clearly indicates that faith is a "two way street", in that the believer has not only to be guided by this noetic sense of faith but also has the responsibility to nurture it, as neglect will result in its loss.  For example, if you know that fornication is wrong but continue to fornicate, with time the sense of its wrongness will be lost.  The idea here is that sin progressively destroys faith.

If this is indeed the case then we're screwed. By traditional standards we're a modern Sodom with vice and sin being ascendant. Passing some critical point a while ago, we've entered a positive feedback cycle which we cannot escape. The only way to break this cycle is by some deliberate act of God and that's something we cannot assume will happen.  God's justice demands that we be damned for our sins and  and we cannot presume on His mercy. As the priest told Whittaker Chambers, who's to say that the West deserves to be saved.

The second line of thought which is increasingly occupying my mind is the notion that God is holding back because--as a loving God-- he is "protecting" the people from a distorted faith. While  he while he may not like a "Godless society" he much prefers it to one based on a "distorted" Christianity. Better let the people lapse into a healthy Paganism or Utilitarianism than Methodism, or a Catholicism that seems unable to deal with the simple issue of sexual abuse.  What I'm trying to say is perhaps a kumbayah/integralist Catholicism is more offensive to God than a honest atheism, hence--for their own good-- he keeps people atheist.

I know that this may shock some people since it implies that a lot of the secularisation that has occurred in the 20th Century may have a degree of divine input into it, but theologically, I imagine from God's perspective, that a perversion of the faith would seem to be worse than atheism, since the perversion masquerades as a truth. If this latter thought is indeed the case, then Christianity does not make a comeback until it gets reformed to God's pleasure. It's only at that point that the faith "tap" gets switched on and society becomes desecularised.

And by reform, I don't mean code for reform according to my i.e. Slumlord's pleasure. What I mean is deep examination of where it all went wrong, and correcting the mistakes. My own analysis of the problem points me in many directions, some of which I've written about in previous posts. Now, I could be wrong about some of them but the important point here is that what is attempted by the Christian community is a movement towards what God wants with a recognition that there has been error.

Now, there may be other reasons as to why God is holding back the faith, but the important point that I wish to bring across here is that any understanding of the secularisation process can't simply be done from a secular frame without any acknowledgement of an element of divine agency. I think one of the reasons why we've been so bad at fighting the secularisation process is because we act and think like secularists instead of Christians.