Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Comments on Greg Erlandson's "A House Divided"

I read an interesting article today about the tension between Church teaching on gay "marriage" and the Western movement to embrace that behavior as morally acceptable. In it, this line appeared:
"What is not hard to believe is that many Catholics no longer accept the Church’s teaching."
Source: Greg Erlandson, "A House Divided," OSV Newsweekly, April 16, 2014, accessed April 22, 2014, https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly/ByIssue/Article/TabId/735/ArtMID/13636/ArticleID/14518/A-house-divided.aspx.

But I really do wonder, when has it been the case that "many Catholics" have accepted the Church's teaching? And how would we even measure that? There already exists the tendency to view the Middle Ages with rose-tinted glasses as though there existed a golden age of Catholicism. But what data do we have? There are no statistics for those times. And if it's objected that times past constituted a genuinely "Christian" society, this claim also has to be called into question. Is a Christian society the same as when Christianity constitutes a regular aspect of the worldview of, and let's grant it for argument's sake, most of society's members? But what does that worldview entail? How shall it be measured? By obedience to authority, to doctrine? By holiness attained? By the production of faith-inspired cultural artifacts? How much of this Christian or Catholic society is constituted by the general milieu of a society and its leisurely productions (such as in the arts and philosophy) and how much of it is constituted by individual adherence to the faith? Is this a false dichotomy, and who says so?

I don't mean to be that guy who makes the issue way more complicated than it should be. All I'm saying is that, because the author of this article mentions specifically how the Catholic youth are increasingly mirroring the beliefs of the society around them—and I count myself among the Catholic youth (or at least, young adults)—, what constitutes a Christian society is far from clear, at least prima facie. I want a Christian—no, Catholic—society as much as the next zealous Catholic. But what does it mean? What does it look like? How do we pursue the actualization of that goal? Is it by political means? My gut suspicion is that Catholic society always includes the political (necessarily so since we're dealing with humans) but transcends it in its self-understanding; that is, a Catholic society is more than about how many people call themselves Catholic and abide by Catholic "rules"; rather it is more about how many people think salvation and holiness of life, which is nothing other than making the glory of God their all, frames every other activity that they do. Is this too high a standard? And by what shall we compare our progress with? My assumption has always been that we should compare it with the heavenly Kingdom as hinted at in Revelation. Is that incorrect?

Then there's the other issue I have, which is that the Church's "political theory" is founded historically on a deception (namely, the Decretals of Isidore and the Donation of Constantine), and this theory forms how the Church interacts with "secular" society for the next 1000 years. What are we to make of that? Is it the Holy Ghost at work? Undoubtedly, but in what respects specifically?

Anyway, to get back to the article, the author also writes the following:
"As a result, the Church must find new ways, even a new language to articulate its teachings on marriage and sexuality to its own people. [...] It is clear that its teachings pose a big problem for the majority of young Catholics. It is posing a problem for many middle-aged Catholics as well."
Is the problem the language or is it the "Catholics" in question? Is it both? What are these "new ways"? Do they entail certain means of communication, the style of presentation, or the very content itself? What will the language look like? Will it incorporate the slang of the present generation? Oy vey, we all know from our satire that when we want to make a person look outmoded, we have them use the slang from the previous generation. They come across not only as "un-cool" but as desperate.

What about personal holiness? Is that a new way? And isn't holiness the taproot of all authentic and actually effective evangelization? Does holiness need a "new language"? Isn't that what this tension ultimately comes down to—the holy, the not yet holy, and those who don't wish to be holy? I think that's the basic threefold division that Pascal also formulated. The Church's teaching on sexuality poses a "problem" for many young and middle-aged people because many young and middle-aged people live unrepentant, sexually-devious lives. There, I said it. The second one makes any kind of effort—even a vastly unsuccessful effort—to live chastely, then the Church's teachings on sexuality all make great sense, it seems to me.

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