Posts Tagged ‘ CS Lewis ’

“Liberal” Catholics Are Not Progressive Enough

I don’t understand actions and attitudes quite common in many American Roman Catholic  believers, attitudes which are, at their core, the fruits of the Enlightenment.  Ideals such as freedom and progress, as defined and practiced by today’s standards are fine.  But when mixed with Christianity–I get confused when Enlightenment-defined freedom subverts Christian freedom.  That is merely one example.

For the longest time, I rationalized that perhaps believers of this persuasion were simply heirs to the Enlightenment, and that was all they knew.  Indoctrinated in Enlightenment thought, they learned to emphasize Enlightenment values over any other values.  They received a thoroughly Enlightenment-influenced education and control a media landscape with a tendency toward brainwashing “progressivism.”

But people have a choice.  They are rational beings with a heart and a soul, who can make choices.  Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular presents a starkly contrasting view.  Christianity presents a more progressive view of  life, humanity, the future, death, and all sorts of terribly important aspects of living, compared with the drab gray, literally hopeless Enlightenment landscape.

Enlightenment living is static–for something is only better if it supports the meta-narrative of progress-de jure.  Since objective truths and values are anathema, real, lasting progress is only an ideal and can never be a reality in Enlightenment-influenced living.   Truly, the academy and the media concoct and promote a view of life so limiting, so anti-progress.   The axiom goes something like this: I am who I am and you are who you are, and that’s enough.   How is that progressive?

Want real choice?  Christianity offers expansive freedom and choice.  Want real, deep down hope?  Christianity offers that as well.  Believe in humanism?  The goodness of humanity at the core?  Christianity offers a deeper, comprehensive view of humanity.  Want to help people?  Real, lasting help?  Help which transcends ideology?  That started and ends with Christianity as well.

What I don’t understand is why believers prefer a twisted, anti-Christian brand of Christianity to what is really there. Why, when given the choice between the candy-saccharine heterodox Christianity and the joyous feast which orthodoxy provides, that heterodoxy is ever chosen?

C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Beauty” said it better, as always:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to eagerly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion…is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Of course in reality, it’s not an either-or endeavor.  None of us is perfect.  None of us is precisely obedient to the Lord and His Church.  All of us land on a continuum between heteropraxy and orthopraxy.

But, I’m not talking about heteropraxy (doing things contrary to the Lord and His Church) and orthopraxy (doing things in line with the Lord’s teachings and His Church).

I’m talking about heterodoxy (believing in things contrary to the Lord and His Church) and orthodoxy (believing in things in line with the Lord and His Church).  We all fall short, in practice.  To soak-in, breathe, teach, and argue for non-truth (heterodoxy), to the exclusion of truth–that is what I don’t understand.

Christianity is the true progressive heuristic, as compared with paganism or deterministic humanism/scientism or anything else.  Buddhism, teaching that people can become one, is progressive, but falls short of the progressivism of Christianity.  Christianity believes that people can actually progress–to be more like God–and to unite with God.  That doctrine is infinitely more progressive than any other belief conjured by the Democratic party, or by the overlords of scientism and the Enlightenment.

What is more progressive than knowing that each person’s potential is infinite?  A limited, constricting view of progressivism propagated by contemporary ruling powers falls short of the true progressivism taught by Christianity:

God Himself was born.  He healed and taught.  He suffered, died, and rose again.  Through sanctifying grace we can rise as well, as He did.

Now that’s progress!


A Call to Arms

In the culture wars, everyone has an opinion.  As Catholics, our opinion, of course, is that Heaven is our destination, and that we need to get on that road, fast.  Part of getting on that road is pointing out the way for others to get on that road too.  This is the new evangelization.

The road to Heaven is the road to Truth and Goodness.  Jesus is the most pure Truth and most Good.  Of course, even people who don’t know about Jesus can know aspects of His Truth and aspects of His Goodness.  I think that logic is behind Vatican II documents’ and Pope Francis’ recent point about how non-Christians can be “saved,” of sorts.  People who know and live the Goodness and Truth of life, written in their hearts by the Author of life, essentially know Jesus.

We call this naturally-observed Goodness and Truth “virtue.”  The natural virtues are part of natural law.  CS Lewis, one of my Christian heroes, in his treatise on natural law Abolition of Man compiled a list of several virtues from across times and cultures throughout the world (pp 34-40 of the pdf).  Not surprisingly, each virtue he listed had support from east to west, north to south, since the beginning of written time.  Humble as ever, Lewis admits that this compilation is not a scholarly endeavor in that it is not a work of cultural anthropology.  However, one can easily deduce that the compilation demonstrates that virtues are more or less universally found in cultures throughout history.

If the natural laws are universal, and thus are written on the hearts of all, I am not surprised about the vitriol with which culture warriors argue against natural virtues.  People have written on their hearts the way to Truth and Goodness as exemplified by natural virtues.  Because of our collective fallen nature, it is not easy to live that way.

Here is my inchoate hypothesis about why.  Fallout from the industrial revolution splintered communities, making it more difficult to receive emotional security from the world.  It was harder to connect to people around them, but they still needed to connect on a deep way–we need connection and intimacy.  We are built to reflect the unity of the Trinity.  We need and crave community.  Though still connected with their family, and still connected, albeit in a less predictable and effective way to their greater community, isolation left a deep social-spiritual-emotional wound.  Without community and intimacy to help heal, people turned inward.  The pleasure principle took over–people turned to biological-ecological means of healing.  This ranges from the hard core (drugs, alcohol, binge eating) to the seemingly innocuous (exercise, mild use of antidepressants).  Either way, due in part to social isolation people tend to cope with the difficulties of this world and their isolation by biological means.

Because this pattern is naturally reinforcing (people feel bad, they turn to some external means to feel better, they feel better, and then they are more disposed to turn to that same means to feel better), it becomes an integral part of people’s functioning.  However, the pattern may be at times at odds with our tendency to live natural virtues.  The pleasure principle wins the day, and anything standing in the way of living that principle becomes anathema.  This explains the vehemence against the Church, Christianity, and Tim Tebow, as I discussed in my last post.

This brings us to practical considerations.  As I explored in my last post words are weapons in the culture wars.  Calling Tebow “polarizing” is an attack on Christian living, defending the belief that there is no right or wrong and thus maintaining the primacy of pleasure.

Two can play that game.  We have at our disposal more battle-weathered tools.  The virtues, written on our hearts, are our way to connect Jesus manifest in all our hearts with people who do not believe.  Using virtue-promoting language in secular contexts is our way to fight fire with fire.  We don’t have to debate first principles if we, like our “enemies,” implicitly promote Truth, Beauty, and Goodness by using virtues-promoting language.

The way that we describe our world in secular contexts can have a profound impact on how others view those contexts.  There are great benefits to this approach.  First of all, it does not necessarily presuppose revelation.  Thus, we don’t get into circular debates about epistemology or the relative costs or benefits to using scripture as the basis for debate in secular contexts.  Secondly, people are already used to hearing this sort of rhetoric.  It has become part of the cultural vernacular to imbue into our language our perspectives.  Third, it directly challenges the perspectives put forward by the “other side,” using their own tactics.  People are used to philosophical messages being subsumed by more overt statements.  Finally, this tactic is especially amenable to new media–texts, memes, twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube, blogs…all of these media thrive on the 10-second or 10-word bold statement.  By staking a claim on those platforms using virtues-promoting language, the message of Truth can thrive on screens, and therefore, in hearts and minds.

There is a caveat here.  Reducing Christianity and Jesus Christ to simply a model of living by focusing on the virtues is a dangerous heresy.  True Christian living is changing one’s heart as a result of an encounter with the Living Christ.  Without that encounter, virtue-guided living ends up as a sort of pantheism, which is one step away from relativism.  Additionally, this is not an easy tactic.  It takes a great command of language, an in-depth understanding of faith and philosophy, and, more practically speaking, an outlet.  Finally, it takes commitment.  Courageous Catholics need to step up.

Many already do–bloggers such as Marc Barnes takes this approach in his blogging and meme creation.  His approach is a model since he does a wonderful job writing for a broad audience.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Fr. Z, Simcha Fisher, and others.  But these fantastic bloggers tend to write for and attract a primarily Catholic audience of a certain flavor.  And that is fine, and necessary.  Their audience loves and needs them.  But as Pope Francis stresses, we can’t just be a church turned inward.  We need to reach out and get dirty.

The culture wars are far from over.  That said, it is up to us to be able to read between the lines and refute the implicit assumptions embedded in contemporary oral and written public discourse.  Furthermore, we need to ingest solid Catholic and Christian theology and philosophy and hone our expressive arts so we can embed in our discourse the language of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.