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.

Friday, February 01, 2019

The Preferential Option for the Criminal

As mentioned previously on this blog, there is going to be no restoration of the West until a re-evangelisation of the people occurs.  For a variety of reasons, I don't feel that the Protestant churches have the ability to execute this function, which leaves the Catholic Church as the only institution capable of doing so. If the Catholic Church fails, it's all over. Fortunately we have the word of Christ, so we're going to win.

However, as things stand, the Catholic Church is in a lot of trouble and is fighting for its survival. Therefore before any re-evangelisation can occur it needs to get its own house in order and therefore its problems, and the battles to fix them, are of vital concern to anyone with an interest in a Western restoration.

From my perspective the Church has several deep theological and structural faults which have seriously hampered its ability to tackle Modernism. The sexual abuse saga in many ways illustrates some of the problems affecting the Church and I think it's worthwhile looking into them in order to diagnose, and then work out correctives to these institutional pathologies. And as an aside, I think that Francis is correct in that a simple "judicial" approach to this affair is wrong, and that a deeper analysis of the problem is required.

As I see it, the institutional failure in response to this crisis has several dimension which include.
1) Clericalism, which in this instance is the presumption of priestly impeccability by virtue of holding the office.
2) The avoidance of scandal. Which in this instance meaning the preservation of reputation at the expense of truth.

3)The influence of materialistic psychology which viewed moral fault as an "organic disease" which absolved the the guilt of perpetrator by removing responsibility because "he was sick".

4) Theological developments in the 20th Century which elevated the role of Mercy at the expense of Justice. i.e. the victim doesn't matter.
I actually think that this last one (4) is probably the biggest issue. Issues like homosexuality and greed are actually peripheral, as they they determine the types of crimes committed not the institutional response to them. What reports into the corruption of the Church have shown is that it was equally inept at punishing or reporting crimes no matter what their nature. Hetero's, homo's and thieves were all given free passes.

I suppose a good illustration of what I'm getting at is by looking at latest amendment to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Death Penalty.
The death penalty

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. 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.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Astute readers will notice that the whole focus on the entry is primarily on the criminal and their redemption, secondarily on the protection of society, with there being no mention at all of the justice owed to the victim: The victim doesn't matter.

The recurring theme in the sexual abuse saga, across all continents, is the fact that the complaints of the victims were dismissed, suppressed or not openly acknowledged, and that priests were given multiple opportunities for redemption at the expense of their victims. Given the consistency of this response across various times and cultures it points towards an institutional feature and not a local anomaly.  It was standard operating procedure to have a presumption in favour of the priest at the expense of the victim.

I don't think that it was explicit malice that drove this presumption, rather theological developments in the 20th Century have led the Church to develop an implicit doctrine which results in a real world "preferential option for the criminal"..... at the expense of the victim. It may not be formally stated as such but it's what happens in reality. Being merciful to the wicked means being unjust to their victims. It's this institutional and cultural imperative--despite the well meaning natures of many who had to investigate sexual crimes within the Church--that led to the total organisational failure with regard to the protection of minors. It's a systemic problem with its roots in modern theology with its strong emphasis on the personal aspect of the faith at the expense of its communitarian " Church" dimension.

What the old guys understood and what the new guys have forgotten is that the thing about Mercy and Justice is that they are in opposition, and a theology which focuses exclusively on Mercy is one that is going to downplay Justice. They knew that the good ordering of society was just as necessary as the redemption of the criminal  and that's why they came down hard on the criminals in the past, sometimes too hard. They knew, as magistrates and judges, that they had a duty primarily to the victim and to the criminal to see that justice was done, otherwise they would be answerable to God. Letting the criminal off the hook was just not going to cut it.

Paradoxically, this new theology of mercy is just as likely to result in injustice to the criminal as well. If the primary metrics have now become redemption of the criminal and protection of society who determines when this has been achieved, how do long to prison sentences last? You don't have to be that bright to see the horrific potential for abuse in real world settings.

My own understanding of Christianity leads me to the conclusion that God is merciful, in fact He wants to be merciful: He's not a hanging judge. But the existence of Hell leads to the implicit conclusion that this faculty of mercy is at His discretion and is not always exercised. There are also good reasons to believe that his mercy may at times be conditional and that he is primarily just. This new theology seems hard to square up with scripture and tradition and goes a long way to explaining the mess in the Church and the reforms needed. This isn't just about homo's and sexuality as the Trads would like you to think, the problem is far deeper.

BTW, this isn't a swipe at Francis. From my perspective he's a mixed bag as a pope but he does seem to have grasped, in a way that his predecessor's haven't, that this is a far deeper problem than first appears.  He seems to have a good grasp of the structural reforms needed while being blind to the theological ones.  Fortunately, he seems to have the capacity to change his mind, whether he does so is a different matter altogether.