Sunday, June 20, 2010

ROSS DOUTHAT ENDS RELIGION

From that same edition of ‘The Atlantic’ another ‘Idea’ the mag considers worthy of note is Ross Douthat’s short piece entitled and declaring that “The Catholic Church Is Finished”.

His thesis is that the pedophile priest crisis – on oxygen provided by his own paper, ‘The New York Times’ – is the end for the Catholic Church, taking its place as the Church’s Watergate or Waterloo or as “another Reformation”.

There’s a little incoherence in that last: the Reformation took place in the 16th century and, not to put too fine a point on it, the Church survived that and actually emerged stronger and in some ways ‘reformed’ herself.

As for the Watergate trope, I can understand any paper’s (and any reporter’s) burning desire to repeat the exploits of the journalism establishment in those halcyon days. But I’m not sure that you get the same level of intentional cover-up, the same ‘smoking gun’ excitement. Especially once you make rather necessary allowances for the interchange between various levels and jurisdictions of this world-wide Church’s governance and for efforts – not at all respected here – to avoid a hasty race to judgment that might well be a misapplication of the sovereign legal authority (which can impose defrocking or even excommunication on a priest, destroying both a life-calling and perhaps spiritual membership and identity itself).

Anyone who can – say – ‘understand’ the Pentagon’s desire not to let too much out, or too soon, about – say – Abu Ghraib or Gitmo or, more proportionally accurate, the mistakes or even misdeeds committed in the course of military operations, can surely grasp the need any large organization has not only for ‘protecting itself’ by the too-glitzy ‘cover-up’ but even ‘protecting itself’ by preventing the too-hasty application of its own laws before everything is known and considered.

And rules of evidence apply in the Church law more than they do in the military law setting, and beyond that, the Church may be far less into the ‘cover-up’ business than the Pentagon or the CIA or various other elements of the US government. Surely the ongoing refusal to prosecute the high-level attorneys who approved torture and advised how best to avoid torturous activities being actually colorable as ‘torture’ in the legal sense … surely that ongoing refusal doesn’t spell the end of Obama’s Administration or of the US government.

Which is not to say that I condone or approve of the sexual violation of anybody by anybody else, especially when one of the parties is at least legally a ‘child’.

But then again, there are all those teens who have been scooped up and are languishing in various US government ‘black sites’ and facilities here there and everywhere around the planet. And who has even bothered to count, let alone ‘report about’, the number of children, women, and certainly adults who are dead or permanently maimed because of military operations that went awry, were not too particular in their ‘authorized targets’ to begin with, or were the poisoned fruit of the poisonous tree of a fundamental flaw at the level of strategic vision in the first place?

If Mr. Douthat and his paper are ‘patriotic’ enough to give the offending sovereignty – i.e. the US government – an indulgent Pass on all that, then I’m a little curious as to why they aren’t at least a little more ‘understanding’ in the Church matter.

Or at least that they might take the time to present coherent arguments why not. And why the Church is so worthy of being ‘ended’.

Otherwise my first thought is to wonder why they are creating so much noise and so little light (as Abe Lincoln said about the thunderstorm that caught him one night while out on the road riding circuit).

He does manage to get some history accurately: “the Church has been horrifyingly corrupt in previous eras and still survived”. Yes. Although I’d add that the Renaissance Papacy was reformed by the Church herself and there hasn’t been another outbreak of that sort of thing (which at the time was a style of governance that was pretty much par for the course in Europe, and elsewhere – and in some places still is).

The Church has had to take legitimate criticism. But the amazing thing about her is that she has made constructive use of that criticism in improving her operations. And few governments have ever called a system-wide top-level world-conference to consider Everything, as the Church did most recently in 1962-5 with the Second Vatican Council.

Indeed, it was that Council that earned the Church the apparently undying enmity of many American religious elites who were and are profoundly dissatisfied with the incompleteness of the updating, or the slow pace, or the concept of any Church governance except the current American conceptions of government by (pick one: populist democracy, knowledgeable elites, ‘the right kind’ or gender or sexual orientation or ethnic background or nationality of leaders).

And these Catholic elites in America are also upset that much of the Church’s rather comprehensive and age-old vision creates a formidable conceptual inconvenience for various currently politically influential ‘identities’ who aren’t used to being said No to, who have found themselves pandered to and deferred to by the US political establishment itself, and who would very much like – to use Henry II’s image – to “be rid of this troublesome priest”.

As best I can see, the Church is currently an ongoing inconvenience to the American Left (opposition to abortion, disapproval of overt homosexual behavior, support of the Family as an institution, refusal to ordain women, and in some cases for having an ordained priesthood at all). On top of all the governance stuff.

And to the American Right (opposition to unjust wars – including ‘preventive’, opposition to ‘torture’ – she’s been there-done that and earned her opposition the hard way, and concerned for the right of every human being to a living wage and the necessities of subsistence at a decent level, and her refusal to regress to a Biblical fundamentalism – also been there-done that and learned the hard way). And in general, her support of those capital letter concepts such as Truth, Justice, Virtue, Character and so on that are like holy water to a vampire when discussed in front of current American elites.

All in all, the Church presents a troublesome speed-bump to an awful lot of politically connected folks who are used to having their way.

And Douthat is being a tad sleazy himself by speaking about “this year” as if his paper and its subsidiary organs hadn’t been after the Church for the past quarter-century, and especially the past decade or so, in regard to the sex-abuse issue. But to mention all those previous Phases of the campaign – currently we’re in the 4th by my count – might give an unsuspecting reader grounds for wondering if this isn’t something of a vendetta, or an organized campaign like Tailhook as it was applied to the Navy back in 1991.

Then he ends his short piece by qualifying his thesis to the point of extinction: “But if the Church isn’t finished period, it can still be finished for certain people, in certain contexts, at certain times”. (I’ve heard of people existing in certain places, but in certain “contexts”?)

This suggests to me that he is up to an interesting MIRV-mix of objectives here:

First, he is signaling all around that the American campaign is willing to settle for the Church simply being erased as a moral and spiritual obstruction here and now in America. This is a big dial-back of Objective;

Second, he is signaling to the American anti-Church ‘faithful’ or ‘cadres’ that this is the new Party line;

Third, he is trying to make a nice, status-enhancing noise that will keep up his creds and his union card as a ‘liberal’ and that will keep him on the necessary Beltway A-lists for elite dinner parties while at the same time trying not to sound too shrill and uninformed (all those historical references tossed about).

But there is also a fourth bit: “for millions in Europe and America, Catholicism is probably permanently associated with sexual scandal rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ”.

In other words, this is what he hopes will be the case. And again, the campaign will now settle for that result, since it will for all its practical and political purposes have removed the Church as a rival to either Left or Right’s own Griff nach der Weltmacht, their own abiding desires to have untrammeled moral influence and unrivalled ‘autonomy’ to do whatever they think the world and the species need in order to be fulfilled.

(I can’t help but observe that Left and Right have come to an ominous but cozy bipartisanship in their recent invention of ‘humanitarian intervention’: under that doctrine, any country can be invaded if any of its citizens are declared by Washington to be ‘oppressed’ in any sense of that capaciously-defined term – and if while there rescuing the victims of the aforesaid oppression, the troops wind up in control of oil, strategically useful positioning, precious metals, or just nice scenery … well, that’s just God’s way of rewarding America for being His Deputy … neat.)

But I would say that the Americans (Leftists and Rightists together) have brought the proverbial knife to a gunfight.

And the manner of it is on this wise: The Church’s greatest strength has always been its ability to provide – with some degree of efficacy – a support for the abiding human desire to encounter the Divine. And a Divine that Grounds their lives, Cares for them, and seeks in divers mysterious ways to accompany their passage through this world (so often a Vale of Tears – ask the Iraqis).

The current American campaign, having failed to establish its own Flat vision of a world un-Accompanied, un-Guided, un-Assisted – and who, really, could be surprised? – now seeks not so much to establish itself through its own Vision, but rather to wreck the alternative (rival) Vision as embodied most stubbornly in the Church.

But, refusing to accept the existence of a Beyond, and a personal Deity, most of the elite strategists are operating in a ‘Battlespace’ limited to two-dimensions. The dimension of the Beyond is utterly beyond them – if I may – and so they keep finding themselves in a situation similar to that of an 18th century admiral whose fleet is transported in time to, say, World War 2 in the Pacific: utterly unaware that his target can operate beneath or above the surface of the sea, or at distances far beyond the range of the human eye at the masthead, he finds himself unable to strike a decisive blow.

They attack using tenuous matters or using ‘ideas’ – which have proven more than enough to cow the average Beltway pol but don’t really register with the billions of human beings who seek Encounter with the Divine. And those billions know that – however imperfectly – the Church always seeks to provide and support them in the satisfaction of that deep longing.

In that sense the Church is operating on truly 'interior lines': despite having a large institutional establishment, she operates in and addresses herself to the realm of the human spirit, especially as that spirit connects with what she unalterably proclaims as the realm of the Spirit, of the Divine, and the human relationship to that realm. Hers is neither a Flat vision nor a two-dimensional 'surface' Battlespace.

And many human beings respond to that, want that, need that.

But the American 'liberals' as they have evolved now precisely operate in a Flat, two-dimensional Battlespace because they either a) insist that 'spirit' is only a 'private' matter and perhaps an illusion like Marley's Ghost or b) deny that 'spirit' and the realm of 'spirit' and the Realm of Spirit exist at all.

Thus they are trying to 'take down' the Church as if it were just another earthly organization (like the Navy with Tailhook and all its follow-ons, as I have said before).

They are waging a two-dimensional campaign against a three-dimensional or four-dimensional entity, and they are trying to fight with their old familiar two-dimensional weapons. While in many cases also refusing to admit that those extra dimensions exist at all.

(Let alone taking into account the possibility, as Sun Tzu might point out, that within those extra dimensions there exists for the Church a powerful Ally.)

But the 'liberals' will keep trying, seeking to make the Church's entire existence depend on the occasional failures - some of them repugnant - of individual priests (the Third Phase that began in 2002) or of the Church's handling of them (Rome and Europe in the Fourth Phase that began this year).

So where all this winds up is anybody’s guess, but I’m thinking that the Church isn’t going to fall into the role that the elites have scripted for it, even here in America. The elites know what they want, but have no idea how to bring it about – nor have they even figured out if what they want is a workable objective in the first place. Sorta like the Iraq War, come to think of it. But the Church isn’t Iraq. Although it does indeed seem that Beltway elites are always and everywhere Beltway elites.

Why don’t I think their dampdreams will come true? Because I think that despite the wide success of Political Correctness over here, it hasn’t really been a deep success; and that like the officials of a certain German government between 1933 and 1945, there are many well-coiffed Beltway heads that look at the windows at the public ‘out there’ and wonder just how committed to The Great Revolution most of those really folks are. And that a lot of those folks haven’t so much accepted The Great Revolution and its New Order, nor have even acquiesced in it, but have simply learned how to keep a straight face and their thoughts to themselves.

Mussolini used to fear that too, but consoled himself with the fantasy that he was too personally full of magnetism for any large number of Italians to resist his seductive energies.

It seems, from reading Douthat’s piece here, that he is starting to feel the pull of that consolation. And Musso isn’t around to advise him: been there, done that, don’t .

Being a Catholic myself, I accept that in this remarkably dynamic and complex Universe, Musso certainly is rattling around somewhere – but the American elites, even if he came to them, would consider him merely “a bit of undigested beef”.

And they will bumble furiously on.

ADDENDUM

I try not to Post too often, to give readers a chance to read one before another one is up. But I had to put this Post up quickly for the following reason: I am certain that there are many American Catholics trying to do their best, priests included, and have to face daily the over-hyped opprobrium fanned by the assorted political and econonomic interests who find it convenient to carry on this campaign against the Church.

And I want to put a little perspective into things so that they all don't feel like they are being played for fools by some alleged monstrous world-wide sinister organization.

Nor am I seeking to 'minimize' the pain of authentic victims of failures by individual priests or hierarchs who have actually sought to minimize authentic grievances.

But perspective is needed here, just as much - as even the 'liberals' would insist - it is needed when judging the past decade's worth of activity of the US government here, there, and everywhere in the Global War on Terror (or whatever they are calling the thing nowadays - I don't get all the Party-line Memos).

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You need to complete a thought. I don't even know what you are for or against. If you are trying to say give the church a break, I am in agreement with you. One to many reasoning is dangerous and often associated with attacks on the church, and I don't believe that is fair, but your piece reads like a suspended 7th chord without a resolution.

4:07 PM  
Blogger publion said...

I’m not sure what thought I didn’t complete. If you can’t figure out what I am ‘for’ or ‘against’ that may be because I am not writing to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ – I leave the reader to reach whatever reasons s/he determines. These essays are to prompt thought, not to dictate it.

8:09 PM  

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