Challenging How We Think About the Catholic Church

We have so many confrontations that are focused on episodes. For once, I’d rather skip the episodes and talk about the larger issues that are driving the episodes behind the scenes.

I intend to provoke. I want to challenge Ricochet to confront some assumptions that need to be looked at. Before going any further, I’m not going to kid anyone: everyone who has read Ricochet knows who holds these assumptions. They’re held by some of our best and most accomplished writers. The people who hold…

  1. Nanda Panjandrum

    Wow, KC…A magisterial post.  I don’t find it provocative; I find it remedial and a source of relief…Thanks for this! AMDG.

  2. Jennifer
    KC Mulville: 

    I say that some people on Ricochet see religion as something useful to help politics…

    Great post. What you’ve said here reminds me of something I’ve been telling my conservative Evangelical friends about their concerns over “liberal” Pope Francis: liberals need the gospel too. As conservatives, we may have been so focused on conservatism that we’ve inadvertently held IT up as the gospel, rather than simply holding up the gospel. When you go to liberal sites that discuss Francis, it’s amazing how many commenters say things like, “I’m thinking of going back to the Church.” For whatever reason, he appeals to them and that’s not a bad thing.

    Dissent on the Right is just as harmful as dissent on the Left. It seems to me that dissent on the Right leads to schism, while dissent on the Left leads to decay. 

  3. Patrickb63

    Interesting read and it has given me some things to think about, thanks.

  4. BrentB67

    A lot of thoughts here, well done KC.

    I think there are some aspects not addressed and that isn’t intended to be critical, it is a lot of ground covered.

    Those of us, including me, who’ve been critical of the Church of late agree with you – religion is not something useful to help politics.

    My frustration is that you are clearly better equipped to realize and address this than the hundreds of Churches (Catholic and other) that have chosen to proactively insert themselves directly into specific political issues. 

    Example: SNAP. The Church has a clear role, arguably leading,  in addressing the poor as you highlight. The federal government has done more to displace private and Church charity and break the compassionate connection between Christians and the poor a than anyone.

    Yet do a couple of Google searches about Churches speaking out because there is a proposal to reduce the rate of growth of the program and to read the press releases you would think we are proposing to line the poor up and shoot them in the head at the mouths of mass graves.

    If we don’t think the Church is equipped for politics why does She?

  5. EThompson

    It also means that capitalism isn’t an automatic robot that we can turn on and sit back, waiting for the free market to solve all problems.

    Could not disagree more vehemently.

    The problem is that there are few truly free markets left to operate freely in this world. Capitalism isn’t at fault; it simply hasn’t been allowed to function at full capacity and has, in fact, been progressively encumbered for decades by those not willing and able to compete. Read this tidbit from the past: “Harrison Bergeron” by author Kurt Vonnegut.

  6. J.Maestro

    Lots to chew on and I agree with some of it. But this:

    If you think you can bring justice and peace through being a conservative, I’d say you’re wrong. There’s a lot more to life than limiting the government.

    Fine, but why limited government? The answer is concrete: preventing concentrations of power allows individuals to live out the full measure of free will — not so under traditional authoritarian rule.

    Free will cuts both ways: free to be me, free to serve God, etc. Those are personal decisions informed by the teachings you emphasize. Personal freedom is threshold.

    That is why clarity in those teaching is so important. What exactly did the English translation of Francis’ message mean by the word capitalism? Did he mean actual economic freedom? Or did he mean cronyism dressed as capitalism? We don’t know. Then the terms “populism” and “trickle down” — the missing glossary hurts.

    Will the enemies of free will (traditional authoritarians) exploit that lack of clarity? Of course, that’s what they do. We expect it because we resist the authoritarian seduction every day — the one that promises a “human system [that] will bring justice, happiness, and peace.”

  7. KC Mulville
    BrentB67: 

    I think there are some aspects not addressed and that isn’t intended to be critical, it is a lot of ground covered.

    Oh I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface. And, I have no doubt that people will say that my description of these assumptions aren’t fair, or that I’m not taking other factors into account. Well, yeah. That’s why we have discussions about them! That’s where I learn. I welcome that.

    BrentB67:

    If we don’t think the Church is equipped for politics why does She? 

    I’d guess it’s because members of the clergy labor under their own set of assumptions – and that experience alone shaves off the dewy-eyed illusions of “changing the world.”

    A cleric must still fight for justice, but his credibility doesn’t come from academic credentials or media-savvy pronouncements. His credibility comes from the fact that he’s there, with the people suffering. Talking about the poor from the wingchair of the faculty lounge is cheap; talking about the poor when you’re in the middle of the barrio … that’s where the church’s credibility must come from.

  8. Miffed White Male

    There are less poor people than before. Great. But as I said before, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t grade on a curve. The fact that there are still poor people means we still have a lot of work to do. It also means that capitalism isn’t an automatic robot that we can turn on and sit back, waiting for the free market to solve all problems. It still takes believers to get up off our dead ass and do what we can do.

    The laws of mathematics pretty much dictate that there will always be a bottom 20%.

  9. BrentB67

    KC, if your analysis of clergy is correct that should provide more motivation to run from centralized government solutions not to them.

    I don’t want the Church fighting my political battles, but don’t expect me to embrace Her mortal minders when they are openly hostile to my battles and in conflict with the fundamentals of scripture.

  10. Severely Ltd.

    Inadvertently hit post.

  11. Severely Ltd.
    Jennifer Thieme

    KC Mulville: 

    I say that some people on Ricochet see religion as something useful to help politics…

    Great post. What you’ve said here reminds me of something I’ve been telling my conservative Evangelical friends about their concerns over “liberal” Pope Francis: liberals need the gospel too. As conservatives, we may have been so focused on conservatism that we’ve inadvertently held IT up as the gospel, rather than simply holding up the gospel. When you go to liberal sites that discuss Francis, it’s amazing how many commenters say things like, “I’m thinking of going back to the Church.” For whatever reason, he appeals to them and that’s not a bad thing.

    If the Liberals you mention returning to the church are correct that Francis agrees with them, Francis is wrong. If they’re wrong and he doesn’t agree with them, they’re hardly likely to stay. I don’t think winning converts because of their misapprehension of the facts is a wonderful thing.

  12. J.Maestro
    Mole-eye: Maestro, I appreciate your points but I suspect that life was just as complex and avoiding the contemplation of politics was just as difficult as it is today, if not more so.  Let’s not forget that Jesus’ Judea was an occupied state…

    Your point is strong: Rome was a brutal, conquering force and Jesus was emphatically not calling for resistance. Nor did he note the grandeur of their public works.

    Mighty Rome, a blip in history, He knew.

    That coin with Caesar’s face on it today would have no legal tender value; the after-tax Bernanke-bucks in my wallet will likewise be worthless someday (soon, if the Fed keeps on).

    Maybe a better analysis of Roman rule is a comparison of Judas versus the early martyrs. What is the appropriate response when an all-powerful state commands that you kneel at the altar of its Established Religion?

    Also, how does self-government change the analysis? Imperial Rome’s subjects had no specific responsibility to the political order — we do. That is a massive burden, well-worth all the philosophical inquiry into whether a free human really can sell himself (or his neighbor) into servitude.

  13. Mole-eye

     However flawed their approach, the Catholic Church’s mission is (supposed to be, anyway) to promote the agenda of Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ agenda was to try to get us to live by God’s rules and the spirit behind them.  Jesus’ ministry was apolitical, and he made the point of that apoliticality with the comment about “Render unto Caesar”. 

    Judging the Church by what it does politically now is like trying to judge a plumber by how good he is as an aircraft mechanic.   It’s not the thing by which you evaluate whether the Pope is doing his job well.

    All too often we forget that that whole of the law is to love God, and our neighbor.  I find Francis’ exaltation of that love to be most refreshing.

  14. Severely Ltd.
    Mole-eye: …

    Judging the Church by what it does politically now is like trying to judge a plumber by how good he is as an aircraft mechanic.   It’s not the thing by which you evaluate whether the Pope is doing his job well.

    Truth in the religious, spiritual realm is truth period and should lead to positive results in all others, including the political, don’t you think? Much of what this Pope says is exactly the wrong emphasis and encourages the wrong ideology. You might say his words are being misinterpreted, but both the Right and the Left agree that he seems to be giving ammunition to the Left. When both sides agree on something like this I think there’s a good chance it’s true.

  15. J.Maestro

    That said, Jesus raised the bar even higher for us when he said to give to the man who steals from you the rest of your belongings as well.

    That’s even tougher medicine than “render unto Caesar.”

    Considering how so much of global poverty is presided over (enforced, I’d argue) by corrupt kleptocracies, this teaching is extremely difficult to put into action. But I know we must — even as we are called to help the impoverished/imprisoned who suffer under the kleptocrats’ boot-heel.

    Still, as voters in a system that is nominally one of self-government I think it is consistent with these teachings to expose the kleptocrat and urge that he be voted from office. I’m wary of those who imply, inadvertently, that roads and bridges (you didn’t build that!) make kleptocracies more morally palatable.

  16. J.Maestro
    Mole-eye:  However flawed their approach, the Catholic Church’s mission is (supposed to be, anyway) to promote the agenda of Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ agenda was to try to get us to live by God’s rules and the spirit behind them.  Jesus’ ministry was apolitical, and he made the point of that apoliticality with the comment about “Render unto Caesar”. …

    But isn’t that the heart of the dilemma? Being a-political is my preference too. But in an age of speech codes. diversity requirements, group preferences and PC intolerance, politics is breaking down your door before you even got your boots on.

    In other words, “that which is Caesar’s” envelopes too much of each person’s life. That is the natural upshot of a culture (here in America at least) that proudly proclaims “the personal is the political.”

    When Caesar’s realm crosses a certain threshold, we call it totalitarianism. And that’s when the poor (and pretty much anyone else lacking the right connections) get most mercilessly trampled.

    I’m focusing on American style politics; Christians in countries like China have an even worse totalitarianism problem to face.

  17. KC Mulville
    Severely Ltd.

    You might say his words are being misinterpreted, but both the Right and the Left agree that he seems to be giving ammunition to the Left. When both sides agree on something like this I think there’s a good chance it’s true.

    OK, but then you can take that same logic and apply it … to you. Your words are clearly undermining any trust in the pope, and undermine trust in the church. The enemies of the church read these words and take comfort. Therefore, that same logic can establish the “fact” that you’re an enemy of the church.

    That’s why that logic is wrong.

    The pope is criticizing capitalism. The fact that criticizing capitalism gives comfort to the enemies of capitalism does not prove that the critic must also be an enemy of capitalism.

    If criticism is seen as treason, stop this merry-go-round, I want to get off.

  18. Severely Ltd.

    “I say that some people on Ricochet see religion as something useful to help politics.”  KC

    Well, of course, Ricochet is a political site, not a Catholic site. My concern is how Catholicism can benefit conservatism. Are you surprised that that is many people’s focus?

    I’ve been disappointed more often than not with the Catholic slant on Conservatism. There is an undeniable resistance to limited government among many Catholic members. Rachel has explained it well, but knowing the historical and philosophical antecedents hasn’t made trusting the state any more palatable to me. I thank God America’s founders came from a Protestant tradition.

  19. Hank Rhody
    KC Mulville:

    The Roman Catholic Church isn’t a statutory, constitutional organization. You’ve likely heard the quote from John Adams that the United States was to be a nation of laws and not of men; but that formula is not true of the Catholic Church. Much of its authority is vested in men. Jesus never gave the keys of the kingdom with a proviso that the authority can only be used if it agrees with some text. The authority belongs to the person, and we have faith that the Holy Spirit will keep our path straight, not any text.

    This bothers me, as a matter of principle. Regardless of any pope’s individual statements. Remember that there is a Text more fundamental than the Catechism. Remember too that St. Peter and St. Paul warned us against false teachers. Heretics, by definition, have to come from the church.

    I’m emphatically not calling names, but it’s wise to keep the possibility in mind. You’re right that the Holy Spirit protects us, but in the same way that the grace of God doesn’t absolve us from tilling our field, we must still be vigilant against error.

  20. J.Maestro
    KC Mulville

    The pope is criticizing capitalism. The fact that criticizing capitalism gives comfort to the enemies of capitalism does not prove that the critic must also be an enemy of capitalism.

    Do we know for sure that he is? Cardinal Dolan is doing some damage control this week arguing that maybe he isn’t. I can read his comments and, squinting, see a critique of statism. Or something. The problem is we don’t really know what Francis thinks or knows about economic systems. Because he wrote using undefined and hotly-contested terminology (or at least his official translators did).

    On not worshiping money, yes, I think we are all clear and that’s why those of us who call ourselves Catholic are still on board — because that’s the important stuff.

    But what really undermines a pope’s stature? His issuing unclear and unsubstantiated statements? Or our saying, “you need to clarify, you need to substantiate”?

    I’d argue that neither undermines his actual authority. (Backdoor!)

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