Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Why the death of the 'mushy middle' won't save Catholicism in the West....

Over at Crisis Magazine there is an article on the impending (alleged) death of liberal Catholicism.

Is liberalism dying?

It's another version of that optimistic line, that says liberals are ageing, and the seminaries are filling up with committed actual catholics, all will be well:

"...Catholics in the West will increasingly fall into one of two categories. They will either be (1) quite orthodox on matters of faith and morals and trying, despite sin, to live the Church’s teaching; or (2) more-or-less totally detached from the Church, living lives indistinguishable from secularists. Slowly but surely, the mushy-middle is emptying out."

But does the argument really stand up?  I would argue no.  And the reason is this: at least in Australia what Crisis Magazine describes as the 'mushy middle', have taken over our schools, hospitals, news services, and other Church institutions, are using them to actively prevent a revival in the faith.

The mushy middle

Crisis points to the large group of people who are nominally Catholic, but in practice are protestants:

"Many self-described liberal Catholics have either raised their children to think and act more-or-less like liberal Protestants (another fast-disappearing species), or they’ve decided their children should be “free to make up their own minds” about religious matters.

Of course, the latter position isn’t as neutral as it sounds. As the philosopher J. Budziszewski writes, “declining to teach [the faith] is itself a way of teaching.” Among other things, he adds, it tells children that what their parents think about God is unimportant, and that reflecting adequately about God requires no theological or philosophical formation. Hence, no-one should be surprised that many who grow up in such families end up knowing or caring little about Catholicism."

The trouble is, that for reasons of cost and status, these people still send their children to 'Catholic' schools.  And they then demand accommodationism around them.

Religion 101?

Consider for example the case of the lesbians who wanted to enrol their child in a Catholic school, and the bishop who wanted to allow it.  And let's face it, I'm betting more than a few homosexual couples already have children in our schools, and are working quietly behind the scenes to promote the gay agenda there.

You might think we had some potential allies on holding the line in other religions and ecclesial communities who continue to have a committed core.  Alas, all too many of those religious communities too have been penetrated by the disease of liberalism.

Take this article from the Canberra Times this week, written from a Jewish perspective.

The writer has some legitimate complaints.

But he surely goes too far when he objects to students attending a (private) Church school being forced to go to chapel:

"The problem of respecting Jewish religious rites was particularly pronounced when it came to chapel attendance at the church schools. One participant complained of being forced to go to chapel; the pupil nonchalantly explained they dealt with this situation by simply mouthing the words. Another Jewish student refused to go to chapel at all - according to Jewish law it is forbidden to enter a church in prayer; they were forced to sit in the detention room while the issue was resolved, effectively being punished for observing their Jewish faith."

Sorry mate, but if you don't want your children to be subjected to a religion other than your own, don't send them to a Church school!

Now I'm pretty certain the school in question is an Anglican one (viz the word chapel) - for surely no Catholic school would actually 'force' kids to attend Mass!  The reality is that we've already fallen into the indifferentism the writer seems to advocate in the very name of respect for other religions...

The triumph of liberalism?

The bottom line is that while the aggressive liberals are indeed dying out, they are still replicating themselves.

They are replacing themselves with a new generation who call themselves Catholic but attend Mass only occasionally, doing just enough to get their children baptised so as to get into a Catholic school.

They genuinely see themselves as Catholic in their commitment to social justice, even while rejecting
the idea that the Church is the custodian of absolute truth.

They control the institutions we need to be genuinely Catholic if we want to turn that tiny spark we can currently see in younger committed Catholics into the wildfire we need to spread if we want to save Catholicism in this country.

Saints will arise!

Crisis Magazine concludes that these are the kind of times that call forth great saints.

St Teresa of Avila wrote that we are all called to be great saints: to get there, we need to listen, and act! 

We don't necessarily need visions or miracles to help us know what is to be done.  We just need to educate ourselves in the faith, and open ourselves to the breath of the Holy Spirit, to learn, see and act.

And we should take heart, too, from the other St Therese - our acts don't have to be the big, showy things.  Every little action counts, every small step towards holiness contributes to the whole!

I'm hoping my campaign to reform Cath News might be one such small step, so go over there now and try and comment on what you see, and then come back here and tell us what you found...


Carob_molasses said...

Kate, sorry, but this is unrealistic. Its worth recalling the following truths when thinking about 'declines' and 'crises':
-The amount of the population which is catholic in Australia has always been around 25% or so.
-Most priests have been foreign imports.
-Priests tailor how they present the faith to the people and fit with their sensibilities. They dont do your version of orthodoxy, Kate, because it would alienate far more people (and $$$ - project money for schools, hospitals etc) than it would appeal to.
-Because of Church's engagements with states in other countries in the great old game of 'Catholic Empire', many people in Australia are catholic by ethnicity but dont care much. Has, is, and will always be the case. A lot of the apparently orthodox are not thoughtfully so, but it is wrapped up in toxic ethnic chauvinisms.
-People can care about religion more or less intensely in different times of their lives. The church has to be there for them when they decide to turn on the tap...
-There was always what you call a protestant choose-what-suits mentality in Catholicism, that just didnt take the bully pulpit too seriously, and went along with it for respectability. The difference now is that people are exhausted by the bullies, and (post 60s) have made a social consensus not to reinforce their bullying by dissimulation of orthodoxy.
-As a guage of this choosing mentality, think of contraceptive practices before the 1960s. Widespread. They just didnt have the technology to do it well, and were happy with the maternalist message too. (Ever wondered what all those suburban lemon trees planted in the 1930s-1950s were doing there, which we would encounter as children growing up a few decades later and wish they planted more edible fruits like peaches?...clue: women didnt eat lemon meringue in the bathroom after coitus...)
-You should distinguish religious indifferentism, which is problematic, from political indifferentism, which is a cultivated ability to bracket the pecularities of one's beliefs to engage politically in a pluralistic society. One has to do the latter for civic tolerance, and tearing that down in the name of addressing religious indifferentism is a not very civic minded thing to do, Kate...
the point is, your 'orthodox' leadership love the idea of crisis - it makes them important as the 'last dinosaurs'...but it isnt based on reality....

Once again, Kate, feel free to put curtains on the piano legs of this post to avoid confronting your readers' sensibilities...

R J said...

Kate asks: "Come on Cath News, do you really think it is a good strategy to just blacklist anyone who dares to criticise you?!"

It might not be a good strategy - in fact it manifestly isn't - but it's a quintessentially Australian strategy. I've lost count of the number of "conservative" and/or "Catholic" Australian "editors" who have blacklisted me from their publications, for no other reason than that I've had the audacity to point out a more than usually preposterous factual error they've made, or a more than usually immoral stance they've taken. (Unsurprisingly, these editors were often Stalinists or Maoists in previous lives.) Yet these same conclusions of mine get printed in the States without any problem.

Sometimes I think that the Australian coat of arms' motto should be changed to either "Shoot the messenger" or Ring Lardner's immortal witticism "'Shut up', he explained."

Kate Edwards said...

Carob - Please stop attacking my readers!

I've edited your posts it is because I consider they breach normal catholic principles of communication. So stick to the issues, try and at least make a show of being catholic (or be honest and say I'm an atheist/Anglican/Jew/Muslim/whatever but I wnated to say/ask/...), don't attack other people's bona fides and you'll be fine.

In terms of maintaining itself, the proportion of the population that are catholics is surely irrelevant to the ability to produce vocations. All that is needed is a proportionate number of priests!

There is perhaps an issue in producing sufficient 'homegrown' vocations at times of mass migration. So you would expect lots of Irish imports early on! But actually Australia did very well on this front in the post war years - at least until Vatican II hit!

As for your claims that catholicism before VII was just nominal or the result of priestly bullying, where is the evidence?

There is certainly nothing in the histories I've read that supports your claims, so cite some credible sources.

And my own family history as far as I've been able to track it suggests a long committed tradition. My grandfather and great-aunt kept momentos of the great Eucharistic Congress held in Sydney in 1928 and handed down to me treasured prayer books and handbooks on doctrine (most of which are a lot better than most modern products!).

My great aunt had numerous nun friends at the Launceston Carmel, and I still have prayer cards for some of their professions etc. They were active members of various confraternities and guilds.

And no one ever bullied my Irish great grandmother, who was famous for interrupting in the middle of the sermon when she didn't agree with what the priest was saying (hmm, maybe I inherited some of those genes)!

In fact the family tradition only really became unstuck when Vaticna II liturgical ratbaggery undermined my mother's ability to practice...

As for financial considerations and taking a tough line on orthodoxy, I'd note that hardline fundamentalists and other religions who stick to their guns don't seem to have any problems.

The only reasons catholics do is because we seem to feel the need to cater for those who are catholic in name only when it comes to our schools and other infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

Kate and Carob

"Bully pulpit" has NOTHING to do with bullying.

Having a bully pulpit is taking advantage of a position of authority (i.e. having a pulpit) to express you personal views rather than those of your organisation (and so by extension attempting to change the publicly perceived view of your organisation to your own)

It come's from Roosevelt's love of shouting "Bully!"

Martin S. said...

Compared to countless wonderful, enthusiastic websites around the world, CathNews presents the face of a Church resigned to QUANGO status.

The liberal state means to inhabit all. there will be no neutral secular space left for the Church to live its life out. SSM abolishes the traditional natural law, desire will be the measure of the right. There will be no shared civil society, no language/nature left from which to speak and persuade and order our public life. It will be ruling class liberalism as total. Liberty disappears.

The church is urgently needed as the voice of the voiceless majority, the voiceless unborn, the protector of the natural law - the only language with which to communicate in civil society and so retain a truly free public space. Instead it is accommodating itself to Caesar who means to dismantle it. The middle class is being feasted on, society fragmenting.

The mushy middle needs to be urgently evangelised, which means a ferocious critique of culture - material bribes won't last. The Sacraments can protect our young, the Church can be the barque for what is coming. Souls people, souls. Or be spewed out of His mouth.

An excellent site The Imaginative Conservative.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Mal interesting! I obviously haven't read enough american literature...

Bellis Esperantor said...

I think you are mixing up the existence of multiple tendencies into one measurement.
There is conservative to liberal (a bogus construct but one people seem to love). Then there is the spread of religious faith (Catholic vs Protestant vs Jewish). Then there is secular involvement and the general belief that a particular belief's tenets merit universal adoption (hence I suppose your tag "converting Australia"). Then there is the notion of Catholicism per se - whch can be seen as a kind of parallel to the ethnic vs religious Jewish notion, or ethnically versus religiously Hindu/Taoist/Buddhist etc.

The discussion about the mushy middle conflates all of these as if there was a simple solution to adherence.

For instance, conservatism could be Burkean (holding on to the good things that are essential) or traditionalist (hold on to everything as it's too hard to sort it all out) reconstructionist (by hook or by crook bring back all of what is thought of as essential from a time before it was removed by enemies) or revivalist (reinvest our origins with new fervour as the last XXX years have been a falling away from the proper ways).

Against that you have tolerance liberalism (which allows that we have to tolerate other beliefs, but comes unstuck when considering intolerance and cruelty in other systems of thought) secularisers (people who see the influence of traditional belief systems as pernicious) radicalism (which sees society as full of ills that only concerted social action can fill) progressivism (which sees a positivist weaning away from folk beliefs such as believing in miracles and saints).

You are I suspect revivalist conservative fighting what you see as progressivist fellow believers.

But you also seem to want to make those believers into enemies of choice. This is called the "no true scotsman" argument. Many of these people whom you would style as "liberals" would see you as trying to undo a natural progression that has happened with time. You are condemning them as "not really Catholic" because you have decided what being Catholic means.

Here is a thought experiment for you - There are people out there who are fervent Catholics who believe that the Mysterii Paschalis was a mistake. People who were named for some of the saints felt terrible loss, and felt that an essential component of their religion had been taken away. Their particular conservatism would have all of the saints "restored". If you don't agree with that, they might see you as liberal Catholics.

Generally the more strongly held expressions of opinion on your web site could be held by any one of my evangelical friends. I wonder how they would feel about that, since (in folkloric terms) Catholicism for them is the great adversary.

Now, being brought up an Anglican and still happily in the fold I can tell you the folkmotif of Protestantism was of other - we were apart from the other non-Catholics as much as the Catholics, certainly no sense of solidarity. Generally (philosophically speaking) we saw ourselves as an evolution of Catholicism rather than a reaction against it.

I think Miss Carob Molasses (why do I think it has to be a she?) is going far too far with her arguments about financial concerns. I think it is much more that hard working Catholic taxpayers have a right to have a portion of their contribution towards education funneled into a religious school of their choice.

If you take taxpayers money for schools, then you have to take people who aren't in your faith into your schools if they can stump up the joining fee.

Kate Edwards said...

Bellis Esperantor - No confusion, these things are all linked.

What I am presenting here is not my view of Catholicism, but rather the one set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and numerous Magisterial documents.

I do not consider myself a conservative. Perhaps traditionalist fits best, but certainly not in the terms you have defined traditionalism!

Rather Catholicism itself is by definition traditionalist - about holding on to the faith and traditions handed down to us (Tradition). The ways we talk about it, our spirituality and theology can change, presenting the faith ever anew to respond to the needs of the times in the light of the Spirit. But the core of our faith and the core of our practices (orthodoxy and orthopraxis) do not.

This is what separates Catholicism from Anglicanism and other protestant ecclesial communities: there are things in our Church that cannot be changed at the stroke of a pen by a king or queen, the vote of a synod or Council, or the word of a bishop or pope.

And yes, this does involve an assertion that Catholcism holds the absolute truth.

Unfortunately a great many catholics and Catholic institutions, particularly over the last fifty years, have rejected catholicism in favour of error which for the sake of convenience once can term liberalism. Liberalism is essentially secularist in its effect, and drives out the space for real religious liberty. The two articles Matin provided links to are well worth reading on this front.

As for this blog, if you want to convert people you have to first make them see what it is they are currently attached to, try and show them that their world view is too constrained by blinkers.

So yes, my target group is first nominal catholics ('the New Evangelization') but also all others.

And while (some) Anglicans may see themselves as an 'evolution of Catholicism' that doesn't reflect either the historical reality or what we actually see in most Anglican churches today in terms of practice. Have you looked at joining the Ordinarariate Bellis?

Bellis Esperantor said...

The trouble with Tradition is (I suspect) that it is selective. When you say Magisterium with pride and a sense of belonging, I abjure.

When the Anglican Communion made the break it was a mixture of realpolitik and genuine intellectual advance.

The alternative is to think that the Inheritance of Peter survived the Papal Schism and the officeship of some pretty awful, immoral and corrupt individuals. It also has to take account of some individuals who held that office being responsible for some pretty horrible acts of genocide. So yes, the King created the Anglican Communion with the "stroke of a pen" as you put it, but we got rid of a Tradition of authorised invasions, conquests and slaughters; of simony etc etc.

I understand that your argument for the Magisterium and the Succession is justified through grace: you say that nothing is impossible for God to make manifest through His blessing. Fair enough. But that kind of grace could equally act through the signing act of a king as through the electoral conference of (say) 1431!

PS Well done picking up on the Walshingham link

Kate Edwards said...

Genuine intellectual advance - such as?

What we are actually talking about it a King deciding to make himself head of a Church because he wanted a divorce! The subsequent protestantisation of the Anglicans (largely by his successors) represents a fairly dubious legacy in my view.

By contrast we have a Church that is safeguarded from error by virtue of the promises made by Christ and attested to by Scripture: on this rock, I will buld my Church; the gift of the keys; the promise to be with the apostles (and their successors) until the end of time.

It is true of course that many popes have been great sinners: indeed, even St Peter himself betrayed Our Lord, and was castigated by St Paul for adopting policies of appeasement. We are a church of sinners, but ones hopefully seeking the aid of the great physician to become saints. The bottom line is that the promise of God's protection goes to doctrine and the things necessary for the salvation of the faithful, not to the sanctity of individuals, not even popes!

As for all those alleged 'authorised invasions' - actually not very many and for good cause (for example the denial of pilgrims access to the Holy Land and destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, that triggered the First Crusade). In reality England's invasions of assorted countries (think Australia for a starter!) were often justified in the naem of religion (aka the civilising mission of the white man) and often resulted in genocide or attempts thereto....

In looking at moments in history, we have to test them to see if they were moments of grace - or motivated by other forces...

Cardinal Pole said...

"[You] understand that [Terra's] argument for the Magisterium and the Succession is justified through grace: [Terra] say[s] that nothing is impossible for God to make manifest through His blessing. Fair enough. But that kind of grace could equally act through the signing act of a king as through the electoral conference of (say) 1431!"

It's true that God could preserve, and could have preserved, any Christian King from falling into schism and/or heresy, but why do you think that the King of England would be a more likely candidate for this preservation than, say, the Holy Roman Emperor? or the Pope as Sovereign of the States of the Church?

Also, what do you think of St. Thomas More's argument that, even if Papal Supremacy were of merely Ecclesiastical law, rather than Divine Law, it is, and was at the time of the Act of Supremacy, nevertheless a law, and one from which no part of the Church may unilaterally defect, just as, to use St. Thomas's example, the City of London couldn't unilaterally defect from English law?

Reginaldvs Cantvar