Prolegomenon to B16

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This critical Catholic assessment of the last Papacy may serve as a useful introduction to the new one as well. Writing in a recent issue of The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, veteran Vatican critic Marco Politi applauds John Paul II for his many achievements, but calls him "a man ill at ease in his own century."

It was JP2's stated view that "from Descartes onwards, there had developed in modern society an anti-religious agenda based on 'the battle against God' and 'the systematic elimination of everything that is Christian.' The Pope described it as an attack which had 'dominated in large part the thought and life of the West for three centuries.'"

According to Politi, "Many believers were left perplexed by this interpretation of the development of critical thought from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Non-believers found it incomprehensible that the Enlightenment, Positivism, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud could be represented as a sort of huge plot against Christianity."

"John Paul II always had a problem with modernity," Politi believes. "He was constantly in conflict with it. Nihilism, relativism, hedonism, materialism—these were to him the basic elements of contemporary culture, a tangled mass of 'isms' that wandered ghost-like through the modern world." Of course, these are largely the same views held by John Paul's successor. Indeed, such continuity was apparently a major factor in Benedict's election to the Papacy. He now can be ill at ease in a century of his own.

The essay's money quote concerning modernity's central challenge to the Church is drawn from Italian sociologist Giuseppe De Rita, who (in Politi's formulation) holds that "the Catholic Church must sooner or later take account of the most explosive phenomenon of modern civilisation, the emergence of a desire for full self-determination on the part of individuals. Today, this has reached a point where religion itself is increasingly a do-it-yourself affair."

Speaking of DIY religion, Jesse Walker examined modern civilization's spiritual jacuzzi here.

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  1. “…Today, this has reached a point where religion itself is increasingly a do-it-yourself affair.”

    This is nothing new; it goes back to a fellow named Martin Luther…

  2. The definitive comment on religion, Jacuzzi or otherwise …

    I’ve tried the tubs in Aspen
    Where the bunnies go to ski,
    And the tubs in California
    Full of wet celebrities.
    But I swear a hot tub party
    Makes my heart begin to droop,
    As I watch all those sweet young tomatoes
    Try to turn themselves to soup.

    But not me,
    My onions mean too much to me.
    And my soul is saturated,
    I’m just a hot tub refugee.
    – Steve Goodman

  3. I wasn’t aware of the idea that analytic geometry was the Anti-Christ.

    BTW, that Church of Fred Mertz sounds interesting. Good find.

  4. “Today, this has reached a point where religion itself is increasingly a do-it-yourself affair.”

    If any statement shows the utter and complete intellectual tyranny of organized religion, it is this. YOU can’t come up with your own answers regarding the universe and your place in it. You might come up with the wrong one and somehow condemn the whole of humanity to damnation. You need a priest/minister/rabbi/iman/shamen/guru to do that for you. Of course, if you doubt the revealed “truth” these holy men schill out, you can always count on your fellow believers to goad, guilt-trip, or even threaten you on the straight and narrow.

    To God-hustlers, you exist as nothing more than a veneration machine, signing your praises to a capricious God who, for some reason, needs your worship–not to mention, your money in to form of tithes and donations.

  5. Happy Jack:

    The portrait of the Anti-Christ can be seen when you graph equations of the form
    ax^6 + by^6 + cz^6 = k

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

    You know, I was thinking that Catholics who see a vision of Mary in freeway underpasses, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc., were hysterical freaks. But then I remembered that there are some Evangelicals and/or Fundamentalists who find The Devil in rock records, biology textbooks, graphs of analytical equations, etc. I decided I liked the nutty but harmless Catholic visions to the nutty and harmful Fundy visions. Nobody is hurt when a Catholic puts a grilled cheese sandwich on display. Everyone is hurt when a Fundy attempts to ban Harry Potter.

  6. Unfriendly to Catholicism as I am, I’m still baffled by how badly it’s misunderstood.
    People talking about ‘what the Pope should do,’ listen up: YOU DON’T GET A VOTE.
    THE POPE TELLS YOU WHAT TO THINK, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
    IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, YOU’RE NOT A GOOD CATHOLIC.
    IF YOU WERE BROUGHT UP CATHOLIC: EITHER SUCK IT UP, OR FIND A NEW RELIGION. Don’t piss’n’moan about how much your religion sucks when you’re free to adopt a better one.
    If you’re NOT Catholic, (like me) either gloat about it, or show some pity. But, please, don’t pretend anyone cares what YOU think about how they should run their stupid religion.
    Telling the Pope he should recognize freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, married lesbian priests, or majority rule is like telling the U.S. President to serve and obey the UN.
    Like telling a witness to commit perjury.
    Like telling the Queen of England to hand over her crown and scepter.

  7. So explain this in terms I can understand: was JPII a 20th century man who didn’t want to be here, or was he an ape-ape man?

  8. What McClain said! Couldn’t agree more.

  9. McClain hit it on the head!

    Harry Potter sucks. Damn near every fantasy book ever written is better, even the $1 erotic stuff. Banning the books would be illiberal, but no great loss.

  10. I agree with Akira and McClain. I also like Douglas’ Kinks reference.

  11. 1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” (Catechism)

    People on this site keep misrepresenting the teaching of the Catholic Church. It’s a bit frustrating.

  12. Raymond,

    You can’t counteract the modern widespread intolerance of individualism within the RCC with one obscure passage.

    Quick gut check: let’s say, for example, my “conscience” demanded that I make the moral decision to use a condom. Now, what would the RCC say about that? Would they recall the above quote from Catechism, and praise me since I was acting “in conscience and in freedom”? Or would they judge me based on their narrow views on contraception?

    There’s a grand difference between the teachings as spelled out in Catechism, and the actual culture of the modern church. And unless someone on this site proclaimed that Catechism officially prohibited individual freedom, your point is moot.

  13. May I be so bold as to add to McClain most excellent post? Cool, thanks.

    So all you Ameri-Catholics want the Church to change its views and teachings on a whole bunch of stuff that I need not enumerate. You say the Church must make these changes or become increasingly irrelevant and, maybe even, perish.

    Well here is the choice from the Church’s perspective:

    1. Accept all the changes and totally transform the Church into something based on a whole new set of core principles.

    2. Be true to the current teachings and basic tenets of the Church by rejecting all the “modernizations” recommended.

    In the first case, the Church, as it is today, will cease to exist as soon as the changes are adopted. In the second case, there is only a RISK that they Church will, over time, cease to exist.

    I’m guessing the Church will take its chances with #2. And, despite the success of Martin Luther and all those Protestants, history appears to be on their side in this argument.

  14. Speaking as an agnostic, I have to say that raymond is right. People who prattle on about how tyrannical Catholicism is on matters of faith and conscience show very little understanding of Catholic philosophy, which is all about reconciling free will (you know, the fundamental precept of free minds and free markets) with a God who cares about, even loves, his annoying little chimp creations.

  15. The Docrtine of Conscience is not “an obscure passage.”

    Who’s this “they” that are supposed to be judging you? Your parish priest? The College of Cardinals? The people you go to mass with?

    You got this right, though: “There’s a grand difference between the teachings as spelled out in Catechism, and the actual culture of the modern church.”

    steve, that’s a false dichotomy, in your first choice assumes that the existing practices are themselves consistent with the core principles of the Church, and the desired modernizations reflect diversions away from those core teachings.

    Here’s some history for you: he doctrine that the firmament didn’t move was once considered the only atronomical belief consistent with core Church teachings, yet no one today will argue that the Church became any less Catholic for revising its view.

    I believe the teaching that homosexuals are required to spend their entire lives without intimacy is contrary to about half a dozen core principles. Just because a doctrine is status quo doesn’t make it irrefutable.

  16. “YOU can’t come up with your own answers regarding the universe and your place in it. You might come up with the wrong one and somehow condemn the whole of humanity to damnation.”

    I’m sure you’re aware that this is a nothing but a trite characiture of Catholic beliefs.

    Atheism and “self-determinism” may be pleasing to the rational mind, but do they bring happiness to the individual?

  17. Holy Crap – I agree with joe! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I find it hysterical that so many posters on here spout off about the bigotry of the “fundies” and “Christers”, yet time and time again, reveal their complete and utter ignorance of Catholicism. Gee, and here I always thought that ignorance was the core ingredient in bigotry…

    Personally, I see very little intellectual difference between those who condemn gays and those who condemn organized religion. It’s just one group of goofy-ass extremists vs. another.

    *shrug*

  18. Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

    Never said better.

    Live free, fight or fall.

  19. So explain this in terms I can understand: was JPII a 20th century man who didn’t want to be here, or was he an ape-ape man?

    He was a Muswell hillbilly boy, but his heart lies in old West Virginia.

  20. Quick gut check: let’s say, for example, my “conscience” demanded that I make the moral decision to use a condom.

    You are bound to follow your conscience.

    Now, what would the RCC say about that?

    The Church is more than the Pope, the other bishops, and the priests. I imagine the “Church” would be the forum of a big argument about the use of condoms, with many members affirming that (for example) an HIV-infected man must use a condom when he makes love with his negative wife, while others might argue that such a couple is just going to have to forego sex altogether. In the end, though, one is bound to follow one’s conscience.

    Or would they judge me based on their narrow views on contraception?

    “They” may judge (the way some American bishops judged Kerry re abortion, for example), but their judgment is – from God’s point of view – irrelevant.

    There is one Law: the Law of Love. Individual Catholics (Popes, other bishops, priests, nasty old nuns) may forget this fact from time to time, but the Church is more an on-going process than a finished product, so perhaps she’s growing into it. John Paul’s apologies to Jews and Muslims are evidence of that.

  21. Getting back to the point of the post, I think much of the Enlightenment in Europe was a response to Catholicsm. Luther and his brethren could be viewed as a religious aspect of the same social phenomena which inspired Galileo and other natural philosophers.

    Much like the crazy kids today, youngsters exposed to the idea of the Aristotle and other Greeks for the first time (from translations of the Islamic books of captured during the reconquista of Spain) used these new ideas to fight against authority, and in those days the Church was much more of an authority than the individual nation states.

    Since the Church sort of inspired the enlightenment, it shouldn?t be a big surprise that it?s still uneasy with the ?isms? which are the philosophical grandchild of enlightenment ideals.

  22. If you don’t agree with the hierarchy, mysteries, or social doctrines of the Catholic Church, do what I did: just walk away.

    And no, you do not need religion to be happy. Music and art make me happy. Friends make me happy. Being alive itself makes me happy. I don’t care how I got here and I’m not terribly concerned about where I’m going.

    Personally, I see very little intellectual difference between those who condemn gays and those who condemn organized religion. It’s just one group of goofy-ass extremists vs. another.

    True, but only one of these goofy-ass extremists wants actively to keep the other one from living their life they way they see fit and openly says they’re going to hell for doing so.

  23. Former atheist,

    In a few words, yes and no. It can bring happiness to some people, and extreme unhappiness, loneliness, and cognitive disonance to others. It helps if the important people around you are not condeming you for your beliefs.

    I hope you are finding the answers you need to live a happy and fulfilling life. My atheism has helped me do the same.

  24. Y’know, as an atheist, I’d really like to be able to say “well, those Catholics believe what they believe, and those of us who don’t like it don’t have to be Catholic.” That sort of live-and-let-live position would be viable if the Catholic Church really understood and accepted (rather than just paying lip service to) the separation of church and state, so that what Catholics believed would have no impact on what I could do.

    Problem is, they don’t. Since the Enlightenment the Church has been forced, kicking and screaming, to accept a diminished role in politics, but it has shown an eagerness to expand that role whenever feasible. Look at what the Catholic establishment did to the law in mid-20th-C Ireland and in Franco’s Spain. Look at the serious proposals made last year that John Kerry should be excommunicated, not because his *personal* beliefs about the morality of abortion contradict Catholic teaching, but because he doesn’t support the forcible imposition of those beliefs on everyone else. Look at Ratzinger’s inveighing against the evils of allowing gay marriage– even though no Catholic church is ever going to be forced to marry a gay couple.

    They just don’t get it. And until they do, sadly, their strange and backward doctrines will remain a matter of some concern to the rest of us.

  25. True, but only one of these goofy-ass extremists wants actively to keep the other one from living their life they way they see fit and openly says they’re going to hell for doing so.

    You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!

    And the other group says they’re a bunch of morons for believing in a magical man who lives in the clouds. Fags! Christers!

    Jesus H. Christ, but the whole thing is pedantic enough to make me want to shove a gun in my mouth.

    I don’t know, I see myself (and most rational people – those of faith and those not) as just kinda sitting on the sidelines, watching both groups, and just kinda shaking our heads and muttering, “Assholes.”

  26. Ditto what everyone here has said in the vein of “live and let live”. It’s when religious doctrine based on faith is forced upon others through operation of government and the law that there are problems.

    As an atheist, I don’t care what religious beliefs people have for themselves personally. However, when the next tsunami strikes (whether it’s an actual tsunami or a metaphorical one) that affects real world problems, I want real world solutions, not religious theology based on Dark Ages-understanding about the world.

  27. If you don’t agree with the hierarchy, mysteries, or social doctrines of the Catholic Church, do what I did: just walk away.

    Hardliners would like you to believe the only two choices are to accept it all or leave, and in a sense they’re right: Somebody dealing with the condom situation in the way raymond describes would indisputably be living in a “state of sin,” which theoretically should be an immediate barrier to receiving any of the sacraments until he confesses and stops doing it. In practice, there is a third option, embodied by joe and most American Catholics: Do your own thing, but stick around and continue to be a pain in the ass. They almost certainly won’t try and kick you out, and even if they try-as was shown in the Kerry-communion business-the public controversy and the near-impossibility of getting unanimity on enforcement mean that they will lose. One thing the liberals and the hardliners conspire in is the illusion that the Pope or his bishops actually have a lot of power.

    You folks are full of high sentence, but you really need to keep up: The conscience doctrine is an obscure passage the way the first amendment is a bunch of forgotten fine print in the U.S. Constitution.

  28. Tim,

    During the “Kerry’s not Catholic enough” phase of the campaign, I used to wonder what would happen to him if somebody actually got footage of a priest refusing to give him the sacrament as he stood in line.

    Of course, the campaign was far too chickenshit to ever try anything that might be controversial.

  29. I think Pope Rat would be happy that there’s actually a discussion going on about it. If we ignore the church it loses all power, but discussing it either pro or con at least lets the church give some input to the topics of public debate.

    And another thing, I’ve been wondering if the disappearance of Gary Gunnels and the appearance of Pope Rat around the same time is really a coincidence….

  30. He was a Muswell hillbilly boy, but his heart lies in old West Virginia.

    He was one of God’s Children, neither a Wonderboy nor a Plastic Man. Just a Dedicated Follower of Catholic Fashion.

  31. Somebody dealing with the condom situation in the way raymond describes would indisputably be living in a “state of sin,” which theoretically should be an immediate barrier to receiving any of the sacraments until he confesses and stops doing it.

    I disagree vigourously with that statement.

    1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

    Let us, for the sake of discussion, assume that simply using a condom is in grave opposition to God’s law. Let us assume that thousands of holy people have told me this. Over and over again.

    If I, using my reasoning conscience, do not know (ie, interiorize the knowledge of) this opposition, I cannot be thought to be guilty of mortal sin. I am not living in a state of sin.

    On the other hand: If, in the conviction that spreading HIV is sinful, I choose to have sexual relations with my wife without protection, then that act can be thought of as “mortal sin”.

    Let me take something simpler. Let’s say that I am convinced that eating meat on Friday is a mortal sin. I choose to eat meat on a Friday. Then… “Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.”

    Finally (and most importantly): …although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God. (Catechism)

    Canon Law is different in purpose from the Catechism.

    Can.? 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion. (Code of Canon Law)

    This is what I think you’re referring to.

    Let’s admit, for the discussion, that using a condom is “grave”. Let’s admit that it’s ongoing. I doubt it’s “manifest”. Ergo, even theoretically the HIV+ condom-using man could not be refused communion.

    Canon Law can be changed. The Law of Love (which the Catechism teaches) cannot.

    (Sorry. Can’t help myself.)

  32. He was one of God’s Children, neither a Wonderboy nor a Plastic Man. Just a Dedicated Follower of Catholic Fashion.

    I guess that’s why the man was so well-respected, even if he put so many people in a state of confusion.

  33. By that interpretation of the conscience doctrine, morality is very relative, isn’t it?

  34. Raymond, we’re running the risk of chasing everybody off this thread with this boring debate…Ah, what the hell!

    What you said is true with regard to the disposition of the person’s soul (and as I’m sure you know, even excommunication contains no presumption about whether you’re going to go up or down on the last busy day). But it is not true with regard to full entry into the sacraments; that’s all I was referring to. I suspect neither of us knows what the actual correct procedure is in the HIV+-/married/condom scenario: My hunch is that the negative judgment on sexual relations that are “not open to the possibility of procreation” would apply here, and the proper behavior would be judged to be celibacy. However, it’s also true that there’s no bar on married but infertile couples doing the nasty, so maybe that would apply here. Let’s not forget that there’s a third possibility-that a canon lawyer might say the wife’s only option (other than celibacy) would be sex without protection, risking her own life in the name of openness to procreation. (Remember that an HIV+ baby is no less valid in the eyes of God.) Whatever the ruling is, I have no doubt you could find members of the clergy willing to define any infraction as obstinate perseverence in sin, and refuse you service as a result. You’d find others (many more, I suspect) who would feel differently.

    But it’s not true that you can continue to go to confession, recite your sins but say you’re not sorry for them because you don’t consider them sins, and expect to be considered in full communion. That’s not a question of morality but of honoring the terms of a contract. It’s true that most U.S. Catholics don’t honor the terms of the contract but continue to receive communion, and most U.S. Catholic clergy, who prefer their churches not to be completely empty, don’t press the point.

  35. and most U.S. Catholic clergy, who prefer their churches not to be completely empty, don’t press the point.

    I also really wonder if it’s not, at least to some degree, that a lot of US Catholic clergy agree with their rebellious parishoners on many issues regarding Church doctrine. FWIW, a lot of the priests I know have an extremely liberal attitude towards the Church’s teachings. This strikes me as a Good Thing in general.

  36. But it’s not true that you can continue to go to confession, recite your sins but say you’re not sorry for them because you don’t consider them sins, and expect to be considered in full communion. That’s not a question of morality but of honoring the terms of a contract. It’s true that most U.S. Catholics don’t honor the terms of the contract but continue to receive communion, and most U.S. Catholic clergy, who prefer their churches not to be completely empty, don’t press the point.

    Contract?? As a lapsed Catholic, I find most Catholics aren’t Catholic by choice, but by coercion as children. Coerced guilt keeps a lot of people in the church.

  37. Again and again I hear non-believers (and some believers, for that matter), say “Believe what you want, but don’t do anything to act on that belief.”

    This is nonsense. Following this policy reduces religious belief to nothing more than a fashion statement. One more time: there is a prohibition on the establishment of religion by the state, but not a separation of church and state.

  38. It may be boring, but it’s (maybe) useful. (And anyway, _I_’m not bored.)

    But it’s not true that you can continue to go to confession, recite your sins but say you’re not sorry for them because you don’t consider them sins, and expect to be considered in full communion.

    If you don’t consider something a sin, then you don’t confess it, do you.

    “Bless me Father for I have not sinned.”

    obstinate perseverence in sin

    It’s _manifest_, not “obstinate”, which is important here. I suppose that particular article of Canon Law is meant to deal specifically with scandal. Giving communion to Billy the Kid every Sunday might confuse the parishioners.

    (And if God really wants that baby conceived, he’ll poke a hole in the condom.)

    By that interpretation of the conscience doctrine, morality is very relative, isn’t it?

    Nope. The Law is Love. There’s nothing relative about it.

  39. if we amend that to “don’t do anything to ME when acting on that belief” i doubt many people would have problems.

  40. The thing that is problematic with the current situation in the Catholic Church is that it is fixated on Church doctrine at, I feel, the expense of the gospel. I have had experience with liberation theology on the ground in Sao Paulo, Brasil. Did it have touches of Marxism in it? I analize that this way. Oppression is very harmful to those who are oppressed. If force is used to oppress, then the oppressed have few options. How many times can one ‘turn the other cheek’? The other piece of it is the process known as praxis; “see, judge, (feel), act”. See the reality, judge it based on the scripture, feel what it may mean, and act to bring it about. It seems to me that Jesus was always struggling against oppression. Today, who are the oppressors and who are the oppressed?

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