Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A “necessary declaration of Catholic independence.”

THE UNITED STATES is not a Christian country; this claim can be substantiated first by examining the beliefs of most of her Founding Fathers, and secondly by the nature of the political process itself: can true Christian discipleship exist within a man (or woman!) who desires the power invested in the U.S. government, and more importantly, is willing to do the vile things that are required to get elected?

Also, we must understand that even though the people of the United States are overwhelmingly Christian, the word ‘Christianity’ is defined here nominalistically — that is, the word is merely a vocal utterance, which means whatever the sayer wants it to mean. Under this hollow, un-philosophical system, what is Christian for you may not be Christian for me, and that the only things that our ‘Christianities’ have in common is the name, which means that the word means nothing at all. While we can take solace in Our Lord's promise that “where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” this is not a comprehensive theology for either the Church or for a nominally Christian State.

Realism, and not nominalism, is a great distinguishing mark of the philosophy of Catholicism, and this realism is key to having solid mathematics and natural sciences — and also theology and political science.

Catholics have always had an uneasy life in the republic, being seen as outsiders, and are only accepted — particularly for higher office — if they reject those parts of the Holy Faith that are not compatible with the common opinion of their party. As it so happens, Catholics in this country, especially those who are political, nowadays tend to conform quite closely to one or the other party lines.

In a review of the book Liberty, The God That Failed: Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, from Locke to Obama, by Christopher A. Ferrara and Patrick McKinley Brennan, the book review author Dr. Christopher Shannon writes:
...Much of how you judge the Founders’ intentions and the historical record of religion and public life in American history depends upon what you mean by religion. Ferrara convincingly argues that the Founders were more or less Masonic deists to a man, with no desire to see anything like a robust, orthodox Christianity, even of the Protestant variety, shaping public life. They certainly believed that the health of the republic depended upon a disciplined, moral citizenry and believed that religion—at the very least, a belief in God and fear of damnation—was useful as a prop to support such a public morality. That the moral probity of eighteenth-century Masonic British gentry strikes many a conservative Catholic today as a rough approximation of a Catholic world view should be troubling to Catholics, whatever their politics. The only God that the Founders acknowledged as having public standing was, as Ferrara’s title suggests, the God of Liberty.

For Ferrara, Liberty is not a political ideal, but a rival faith, a false idol. His book is difficult reading for any Catholic, liberal or conservative, raised on the idea of the complete compatibility of Catholicism and the American Founding...
This does not mean that Catholics ought not be patriotic, for patriotism is direct result of the cardinal virtue of justice, and is a form of filial piety. It simply means that we ought not to believe in the philosophical foundations and current legal theories of our great empire.
...Ferrara argues that the whole modern social contract tradition has been nothing less than an alternative foundational myth, a parody or perversion of the origins of human society found in the Book of Genesis. If traditional Christendom saw the purpose of political life to approximate, within the limits of our fallen nature, the City of God amidst the City of Man, the social contract tradition understands politics as a tool for protecting individual freedom, particularly through the instrument of rights. In public life, Catholics have been all too willing to accept this myth as a guide to political action—such as the grounding of pro-life politics in a “right to life....”
Herein lies the problem. How can Catholics relate to the wider American culture? Protestants will not accept the teaching authority of the Church just as secularists will not accept the authority of the Bible. What mode of argument ought we use? For the time being, the bishops of the United States are using the language of the social contract, along with its notions of rights and duties, for at least that is language that is understood. But if those notions are false, this will lead to trouble in the future.

One of the annoying aspects of American political discourse is the inversion of the allegorical method of the interpretation of scripture. In its true sense, the literal meaning of writings allegorically point to greater spiritual, moral, or eschatological realities: the Song of Songs literally depicts lovers, but allegorically describes, among other things, the Church's relationship to Christ. In the inverted American political meaning, great spiritual exemplars are used as allegories for lesser literal things, and for this reason, so much political discourse has a misleading religious-sounding tone to it, such as slavery being called the “original sin” of the Republic. This is an example of the American vice of subordinating religion to the State, making it a means to a political end. Shannon continues:
If Locke’s political philosophy is at fundamental odds with Catholicism in theory, it is at odds with itself in practice. The great philosopher of liberty significantly excluded Catholicism from his vision of religious tolerance, largely because, through the person of the pope, the Catholic Church still claimed to have some public authority over the rule of princes. The so-called “Glorious Revolution” that drove a legitimate Catholic king (James II) from the throne of England and secured Protestant rule was followed by a century long battle to bleed Catholicism from the people of Ireland through a series of draconian penal laws. The irony of coercion in the name of freedom was not limited to eighteenth-century Ireland or the French Revolution, but has characterized the reign of Lockean freedom in American history...
The Original Sin of Eden is the original sin of the founding of the nation, and the American rejection of the actual original sin has led to other, greater sins. In American history, we usually find that great idealism is followed by great atrocity at the hands of the idealists themselves. The idealistic founding of the Republic was followed by a bloody war for independence (which was an unjust rebellion against a legitimate ruler); the liberation of slaves during the Civil War led to the genocide of the Indians; the New Deal led to the intentional bombing of civilians in World War II; and the Civil Rights movement led to the atrocity of abortion on demand. What future atrocities can we expect from our current round of idealists who seek novel rights and freedoms?

We ought to realize that the political philosophies of our nation are at their root Christian heresies. The ideals of rights and liberty did not ultimately come from any other milieu but orthodox Christianity, but like all heretics, modern adherents overemphasize one doctrine of the Church at the expense of the others. As Arianism overemphasized the humanity of Christ at the cost of His divinity, so does the contemporary system overemphasize the freedom of humankind over the doctrines regarding our slavery to sin.

The crimes of the Catholic Church are always loudly denounced, but these pale in comparison to the scale of the crimes committed by the heretics. How did King George III get the power to oppress the American colonies? Who instituted chattel slavery? Who caused depressions with widespread poverty? Who oppressed racial minorities? On the other hand, which Encyclicals or Catechisms encourage bloody revolution, slavery, economic depressions, genocide, racism, or the killing of innocents? Dr. Shannon instead tells American Catholics that we ought to recognize that the political ideals of our country are not consonant with Catholic teaching, but are in fact heresies and must be opposed:
Any honest look at American history will show that negative liberty, “freedom from,” has consistently triumphed in its battle against positive conceptions of human flourishing and the common good... Catholics can work with the American system, but they first must realize what it is. When the Church converted the Roman Empire, it knew that it was dealing with a pagan institution... If Catholics are to be truly Catholic in America, and not just a branch office of the Church of Liberty, we need to first stand apart from a political tradition born in a revolt against the Catholic Church....
This, he provocatively writes, is “a necessary declaration of Catholic independence.” However, we aren't going to start any bloody revolutions because of this, but rather pray for a conversion of hearts.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for taking the time review Mr. Ferrara's new book. It's at the top of my to-read list now!

    Your review reminds me of an excellent book, "The Spirits of '76," by Donald D'Elia. It is an evaluation of the Founding Fathers from a Catholic perspective, and an excellent counterpoint to what most of us took for granted from our school days. Here is a quotation from the book:

    "This modern, Renaissance-Enlightenment Weltanschauung of Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and Hamilton was bourgeois, by which we mean that it was an ideology of the new social class whose ruling interest was exploitation of the material world. Francis Bacon, of course, was a leading spokesman for this ideology in which knowledge was narrowly conceived as power. Newton, too, for all his examination of [divine] prophecies late in life, accepted the Baconian ideal and as president of the Royal Society – after which Franklin's American Philosophical Society was modelled – subscribed to the new, exploitative attitude towards nature. Locke, another Jefferson's 'gods,' completed in his psychology the work of Descartes in reducing the soul of man to a mere machine for ideas, and in his likewise distorted naturalistic social and political philosophy made use of the same crude, mechanical analogy in treating men as monads in a nominalistic commonwealth. These and other thinkers whose names are well-known as shapers of the modern age conceived man essentially as a machine to exploit nature's wealth. Hamilton's homo economicus and the Industrial Revolution itself, about which Jefferson had grave doubts, were paradoxically the logical outcome of this instrumentalist, Baconian view of nature which the Virginian accepted and which he learned from his teachers at William and Mary. This bourgeois conception of man as naturally acquisitive, free, and self-determined in his relationship to nature (and culture) was emphatically not that held by Rush, Carroll and Pascal who, true to the older, Judaeo-Christian tradition, recognized man's essence as more than economic, political, and social – but as universal."

    Donald D'Elia, The Spirits of '76: A Catholic Inquiry. Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom College Press, 1983. 173.