Catholic commentary on culture, media, and politics.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Apologia pro vita blogger

Rex Stultorum (sic) over at Let's be Reasonable has posed some thoughtful questions about a few seeming contradictions in my self-designation as a conservative/Catholic -- that whole thing.

In light of the Welborn protocol (in which any comments or emails are public fodder unless requested otherwise) the best way to enlarge opon my worldview, so that Seize the Dei readers may navigate my brain more easily, is to answer Rex point by point. Rex piggypacks on a complaint from a Mick (a name, I gather, not the derogatory term for the Irish) about whether it was appropriate to joke about religious stuff like the current French plague of locust and drought:

Now I, personally, think that you were making a joke, but a joke that is "informed by" your overall position on politics. That's fine; and I think that a person CAN be a devout Catholic and be willing to make jokes that have a religious theme -- even if those jokes actually BORDER on being a little irreverent. (I guess I mean that the joke would have to be such that only an irrational or hyper-critical person would suppose that the person making the joke were intending to denigrate what is considered sacred.)

I heartily recommend to Rex and to Mick to lighten up. I wrote it to work in a reference to frogs...oh, forget it. The point is, my sense of humor runs toward the puerile, the black, and the inappropriate. Fact. I am 100% sure some of it will be found offensive by some, or at least a source of scandal. For both I am sincerely sorry. While I do support the right to complain, if one is badly allergic to all forms of irreverence, better blogs for you are only a click away.

On the other hand, who knows -- it may be an occasion of grace for some thoughtful heathen to stumble on the blog and find that you don't have to check your edgy sense of humor at the church door when you become a Catholic. I leave it to the Good Lord to work out this particular calculus. While I never post to shock the reader or drum up controversy for its own sake, I do think some sacred cows cry out to be ground into hamburgers. If you recoil at the sight of precious oxes being gored, this is not the blog for you.

Oh, dear. Do I really have to explain that I do not in any way wish actual evil upon the French people, nor wish to make light of anyone's actual suffering? Or do I have to apologize for being viscerally annoyed with many aspects of what the French call culture? Start the list with their militant -- 'ow you zay? -- secularism, i.e., forbidding Muslims to don Islamic headwear in public schools. (Note to self -- a future blog idea...."why the French annoy," hmmmm.)

Ironically, France used to be called the Eldest Daughter of the Church. Scores of saints were bred in her picturesque towns and hamlets. One of my heroes is the French Canadian Jean Vanier who now lives in Trosly-Breuil, France. I've been to the country (mainly Paris and Marseilles), and it's an exercise in melancholy to see the shell of a once-robust Catholic culture. Cathedrals to take your breath away: ornate, sublime, empty. The sacramental husk seems to have been filled in by the spirit of Robespierre and the Jacobin impulse to stifle true religion. Hell, these people revere Jerry Lewis! Is this thing on?

But I think when the whole thrust of your blog is that you are conservative AND Catholic, but Catholic BEFORE conservative, the post does kind of raise questions like Mick's -- or rather a "sense" that in fact the "order" is the reverse.

I should have led with this, but since I'm chasing Rex, it'll have to go here. Being a good Canadian, I've tended to flee the conservative label, and not just because I didn't want my CBC/NPR/New York Times betters to think bad things about me. The more precise term, with respect to my being a Catholic, is orthodoxy. Ah, si, mis amigos, the great romance of orthodoxy. I could rhapsodize all day. Briefly, I accept the teaching authority of the Catholic Church as it comes to us from Jesus Christ through the apostolic Church, to the present day under, and with, Peter (currently, thanks be to God, Pope Benedict XVI). The word is from the Greek meaning correct or right belief. I believe that -- for all the sinfulness of many of her members (beginning with me), for all the crappy things Catholics sometimes say and do -- the Catholic Church is the prime repository of the Christian faith. To progressives liberals (not to mention non-Christians and good Protestants) this truth claim of the Faith is only arrogant, unChristian, nonsense. (This isn't the place for an apologetics epistle, but I can see one brewing. Suffice for now to say that Jesus promised to be a stumbling block for many; as the Bridegroom, so the Bride.)

My point is, "conservative" is a mainly political adjective, and it fails to capture what I believe a faithful Catholic ought to be, which is simply Catholic -- minus trendy appendages. I accept the c-word label when I think it's meant to suggest orthodoxy, but otherwise it's unhelpful, or rather, redundant. Yes, of course there is a sense in which the truths of the depositum fidei that are "conserved" through the ages by the Holy Spirit. But while Christian doctrine can and does develop over time, becoming more and more explicit and "wider," none of it can ever pretzel itself over time into a flat contradiction. Hence the Church is inherently progressive in the sense that she is open to all legitimate development -- deepened specificity -- of Christian doctrine.

It is reasonable to assume that your post reflects on your part a judgment against the French. It is reasonable to assume that your judgment against the French is rooted in your conservative stance -- most notably a support for O.I.F. Pope John Paul II was MORE opposed to O.I.F. than anyone in the French government. So perhaps it might be said that your post, for those reasons, seems to suggest that you'll toss out the Catholic, when the conservative demands it.

Nice try, Rex. Close, but no hand-rolled Cohiba. First, we need to tone down the supercharged language a bit. I don't sit around getting frothy at the mouth because of some big Judgment Against the French. I almost never think of them, except, say, when one of them sucker-punches a non-French Tour de France racer.

Second, please provide chapter and verse from speeches, recorded off the cuff remarks, or any published documents that prove that Pope John Paul II was MORE (sic) opposed to the US liberation of Iraq than anyone in the French government. (Hint, don't waste your time.) This is a favorite liberal ploy, and I mean that as a description, not an indictment. Pope John Paul the Great took a principled stance against the American intervention. That is true. And believe me, I didn't arrive at any conclusions without keeping this Big Fact before me at all times. But here is the part that's hard for progressives liberals to accept: Catholics are not bound in conscience to follow the human opinion of any Sovereign Pontiff in a matter of prudential judgment, especially one as twisty-turny as the history of Iraq in the last 30 years, leading up to the last 12.

The rape rooms are gone; 50 million people can now vote; the torture and humiliation of Iraqi atheletes is over; the Batthist thugs no longer show up at 2 am for tea; Iraq's weaker neighbours no longer cower; a tyrant and his sadistic offspring are finished. There are challenges ahead and democracy will not easily sprout in a people who've lived under a boot heel for 30 years. But I'm grateful to God for the liberation. So is the courageous Catholic Bishop of Baghdad.

This papal-Iraq disagreement is not the same as good ol' leftist dissent from authentic Catholic doctrine. Liberals love to crow, "See, scratch Mr. Conservative and you'll find a dissenter!" But the two cases are not equivalent. According to the Catechism (2309) says, "The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good." How on earth can any Pope correctly discern the myriad intelligence reports (some of which, admittedly, seem to have been inaccurate), the historical and real-time elements of threat to Iraq's neighbours, Saddam Hussein's notorious penchant for sadism against enemies of the state, and all the manifold ingredients that went into a strategic military decision?

Don't forget, the late Holy Father also had spiritual responsibility for millions of Catholics living dangerously in Muslim lands. It would have been grossly imprudent of him to jump up and shout "go team" for any western (read Crusader) action in the Islamosphere. Meaning no disrespect, but if I was shot at close range by a Muslim, I'd be shy to stare down the rest of his fellow fanatics, too. (It's not unreasonable to conclude that John Paul II's rather soft stance on Islamofacism stemmed partly from his being a victim of Mehmet Ali Aga's terrorism.) One more thing: keep in mind that the "official stance of the Holy See," or of a papal spokeman, or of Euroweenie Curia members who get interviewed on CNN aren't to be confused with binding Catholic teaching.

On the matter of a Pope's explicit disagreement with any given war, I offer you the words of a certain Bavarian prelate now living in Rome. These were written in June 2004 in a memo to Cardinal McCarrick, and later made public:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

This is the mind of Benedict XVI about the mind of John Paul II. Re-reading that last sentence of His Holiness is warmly recommended.

Now Patrick, I realize that the "case" I just offered above is FULL of ASSUMPTIONS, and claims to "reasonableness." An assumption can be reasonable and still be incorrect. Are any of those assumptions incorrect? If so, then which? And as for my allegations of "reasonableness," I would maintain the it's the avowedly conservative character of your blog that gives those assumptions their reasonableness. That is, when one says "I'm a conservative," I think it's reasonable to infer that they support President Bush's policies, including O.I.F. Do you think this inference is unreasonable? If so, then why?

The short answer is, you lost me. On President Bush, no, I do not "support his policies," if by "his policies" you mean all his policies. To take one example, while I find a lot to admire about the man and his courage, I think he's out-to-lunch on the porous US/Mexican border issue. Don't get me started. I also wish he'd stop saying things like, "there will be no litmus test with respect to my nominatons for Supreme Court." Yeah, as if. But Rex, by using terms like "avowedly conservative" you make it sound like I have this allegiance-born need to "keep conservative no matter what" as if some weird set of Rush Limbaugh-colored glasses blind me to see the world as it is. On the contrary, I'm just a person who, coming from a decidedly liberal background, looks out on the world armed with personal experience, knowledge of logic, and ongoing study of theology and philosophy, and above all with his faith in Jesus Christ -- a faith that was jumpstarted in a conversion from Catholicism Lite of the 1960s and 70s catechetical ethos. To quote someone I can't quite remember, I got mugged by reality. And seduced by the grace of God poured out in Christ Jesus.

But I prefer the term "Progressive" to the term "Liberal."

Yeah, when I was a liberal I preferred progressive, too. It's nicer. More dialogish and forward-sounding, as opposed to the staid 'n stodgy dogmatism of the past, eh. But the term "progressive," while grabbing frantically for the moral high ground of appearing enlightened, open-minded and tolerant, is not nearly as honest as "liberal." To me, "permissive" covers both.

All I want to be is a Catholic; adjectives be hanged. I pray to be at the Lord's disposal and consider it a great grace to live in the bosom of the Church -- from the heart of the Body of Christ -- and to do my little bit in happy obedience to the authority of Christ and His Church. I happen to accept all that the Church teaches because of the glory of Him -- perfect Truth and Life -- who suffered and died to found, sustain, and protect her (in matters of faith and morals) from all error.

Sorry, but the cafeteria model of Catholicism is nothing more than the embarrassing hangover that lingers from the drinking binge that was the 1960s. It produces no vocations, no permanent marriages, no bracing adventure to undertake; and it gave us feminist nuns, the gay priest scandal, weakened bishops, vapid liturgies, and offered the evil of abortion a nice place to lie down and rest.

In Peter Kreeft's memorable turn of phrase, the Church is our Mother, not the lunch lady.

I hope this helps clarify the intersection between Catholic and conservative here at Seize the Dei.


Anonymous midwestmom said...


Don't go changin' to try-n-please him....

Your sense of humor is fabulous. I, for one, get tired of reading endless erudite threads about the most isolated issues in the Church. "Has Gerry Matatics gone off the deep end or not?"

The average Catholic will be turned off by such exchanges. Keep up the good work!

8:31 PM

Blogger Patrick said...

Billy? Billy JOELLLL? Is that you lovin' me just the way I am?

11:37 PM

Blogger Rex Stultorum said...


Thanks for publishing your lengthy manifesto. It was a great read. I wish more bloggers were so inclined to set forth such carefully developed pieces. Rather new to blogging, perhaps I will find more as I continue to look around.

However, as far as I am able to tell, the small portions of the manifesto that actually address the initial challenges seem ultimately to amount to an identification of the "basically conservative worldview" you avow in your profile with your Catholicism, thus reducing that profile's hypothetical arm-wrestling match between the ... uhhh ... between the two to a rather perplexing image of a single arm wrestling against itself. To whatever extent any such contest is even possible, the loser is sure to be the winner, and vice versa.

Had your profile been so revised as to reflect more clearly and accurately the position you set forth in the manifesto, I suspect that Mick might never have felt any need to make his initial comment, and I would not have found myself inclined to offer mine, either in conjunction with his or in its stead.

This would have eliminated any need for publishing the manifesto; but as I agree with what you said in your response to my first comment -- namely, that clarifying one's view of the world and the Church is always a good thing -- the publication of the manifesto is much appreciated.

5:37 AM

Anonymous Patrick said...

Dear T. Rex:

Dude, I'm glad you liked it. But.....

That's smackdown? No roar of the crowd, no drop-kicks, no throwing salt in the eyes when the ref isn't watching, no high somersaults off the corner post onto the opponent's back? Not one tiny engagement of my argument?


Some clarifications are in order. First, I do't give a hoot about "my Catholicism." I only care about Catholicism as it is -- as in, the objective content of the Cathlic faith, her theological doctrine, her sacraments and moral teachings. To the extent that these are in conformity with prior formulations they can be called conservative (emphasis on "conserve"). But doctrine does develop over time, and so I also believe in the present-and-future process of deepening and widening, so to speak, the deposit of faith that comes from the Apostles and ultimately from Christ.

Still, while "conservative" belongs more to political discourse, I think it's obvious that it's far more accurate in describing authentic Catholicism than is "progressive." In my experience, progressive is nothing but a euphemism for liberal, and usually suggests that the person rejects certain Catholic teachings -- 99% of them having to do with sex -- while claiming to be a faithful a Catholic as the Pope. It's love for "personal journeys" and apathy (or hatred) for real destinations. Stripped of self-justifying bromides, it's pure subjectivity in religious garments, an endless sense of The Quest with no interest in The Answer.

This is why the word orthodox better describes my own worldview. In matters theological and moral, one is orthodox or heterodox, whether on the Right or Left.

As I tried to make clear, I think "progressive" is a self-aggrandizing mantle and people who wear it tend to skirt the fact of their disobedience. I say "tend" because I don't know exactly what you mean by it. You've not said. Maybe now you can tells us more.

For the record, I don't mentally rubber stamp everything I hear from Republicans nor do I think that all Democrats are left wing demons.

I also admit to having some internal contradictions, or tensions. I often find myself laughing hard at a piece from The Onion that I could never defend on Christian grounds. Humor is a funny thing. A great gift from God. Yet our appreciation of things as funny is not untainted by original sin. I don't know anyone who doesn't feel this inner tension. I plead guilty.

Mick, or you, simply may not find me funny, or feel that good Catholics shouldn't exult quite so much in the puerile, and I'm fine with that.

So, care to define "progressive" as it applies to you?

10:34 AM

Blogger Rex Stultorum said...


No. I think the logic of the situation demands that when the response to the initial challenge was "What I said in my profile -- never mind that," my official reply should be "What I said in my comment, which was based on what you said in your profile -- never mind that."

I understand your argument, and I think at the end of the day my definition of "progressive" as it applies to me will not differ too much from your definition of "progressive" or "liberal" as it applies to anyone; and so I'm quite sure that expressions like "disobedient" and "cafeteria Catholic" will be readily applied as well.

Truth be told, I guess the best label that applies to me is "conflicted Catholic." I feel drawn to the Church while at the same time feeling unable "intellectually" to embrace many of the Church's official teachings. I do NOT deny that these teachings ARE the official teachings of the Church; and what separates me (I think) from the "cafeteria Catholic" is that NEITHER DO I DENY THAT MY INABILITY TO ACCEPT THESE TEACHINGS MAKES ME SOMETHING LESS THAN A "GOOD," "FAITHFUL," AND / OR "DEVOUT" CATHOLIC. I am, I realize, out of Communion with the body as long as I cannot accept those things I cannot accept. Indeed, I think I am also incapable of making a proper confession until I can accept what I'm supposed, from the standpoint of "orthodoxy," to accept. Honestly, I can't figure out why I am NOT still the chest-pounding atheist that I had been for oh so many years. It is as if there is a kind of belief "in the bones" that is in constant struggle with that element of intellectual impediment. So I'm drawn to the Church by something I don't understand, and at the same time made to stand at a distance -- not by any Church "authority," as I could "talk the talk" if I simply wanted to be let in, but by my own intellectual honesty (if that's not too "self-aggrandizing" a phrase -- I can't accept what I can't accept) AND MY UNWILLINGNESS TO ACT AS IF IT SIMPLY DOESN'T MATTER WHAT A CATHOLIC BELIEVES!

So, Patrick, I think that, given your clarifications in 1 Manifesto and 2 Manifesto, I think the only "arguments" that might seem initially to be generated between us will be reduced to arguments about what is and what is not the official teaching of the Church -- i.e., something to be settled merely by reading the Cathechism. Arguments about whether an element of the teaching makes any sense -- i.e., whether it SHOULD be the teaching -- I'm sure you will discount as illegitimate: that it IS an element of the official teaching IMPLIES that it should be part of that teaching; and that it should be part of that teaching implies, in turn, that it MUST make sense.

I can't see any purpose to be served by arguments between us under these circumstances.

Patrick, I'm a fairly thick-skinned fellow, with a decent sense of humor myself. And I have nothing against the puerile, when it comes to humor. Its the pedantry and the near paranoia -- the outright, unapologetic, unprovoked hostility -- that really put me off when reading 1 Manifesto. I stumbled into this with an overstuffed duffel of manners, knowing neither the dynamic of the game nor the nature of the beast, and that puts me at something of a disadvantage against a fellow who seems incapable of engaging in thoughtful discourse without a lot of literary eye-rolling, tongue-clucking, mouth-frothing, not to mention all of the name-calling. I feel as if I've unwittingly signed on to play straight-man to Don Rickles, with ol' Don's fans taking to the sidelines with their pom-pons to encourage the schtick.

So I did have something to say about your argument about Pope John Paul II and Operation Iraqi Freedom -- nothing especially contentious, more a call for clarification -- and I also had some "questions for reflection" that might spark some interesting discourse.

But why? I mean really -- WHY?

I'm grateful for the time you took to present your case, in spite of the self-conscious and downright gleeful mean-spiritedness of the manner in which you presented it. (You'd call that good ol' puerile, black, inappropriate humor, I'm guessing.) Having said that, I will respectfully bid you adieu.

No, that's French!


He leaves the steel cage to chants of "Chicken!", and as they turn out the lights and the crowd leaves the arena, in the silence that is left behind -- a RIM-SHOT.

1:33 PM

Anonymous Patrick said...


Oh, dear. If I say you're wimping out of the smackdown YOU promised, I'm being mean-spirited. Truly I can't win.

You confuse me, too, Rex. In your first reply to Manifesto 1, you thanked me for being thoughtful, your were grateful for the effort, you said it was a great read, etc etc.

But now you say I was being a total prick.

Too bad you've flown the coop, bcause I wanted to tell you that you made me think a lot about what being progressive Catholic means to you. I actually have a lot of respect for the way you're going about resolving it, or at least struggling with it. "Conflicted" seems a good way to say it. At least you don't play the I Know Better Than The Church card. Which is admirable.

On the profile, jeez, I can't say it all perfectly and didactically in five or six lines. No one else has picked apart what I meant with my arm-wrestle metaphor. Again I can't win.

And now you flee into the night leaving only the lonely sound of rims shotting.

2:25 PM


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