Monday, January 25, 2010

A Nasty Habit

All of my close friends are Catholic; the best people I have ever met are Catholic; the worst people I have met are Catholic. One might puzzle over these things. I do not. I don't see what the great mystery is. Christ offers His grace for all people, and has indeed opened a special counter for distributing his medicine to hurting people.

But the sinful habit that has vexed me most of late is particularly common among 'serious' Catholics. It is self-righteousness, of course. Dictionary.com defines a self-righteous person as one "confident of one's own righteousness, esp. when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others." A theologian is a particularly vulnerable target for these people's wiles. It would be humorous were one to offer economic advice to an economist, but lo' and behold every one's an expert on theology. It is pettiness of character. It is what the Lord meant by the log in your eye. I suppose it's my fault for choosing this profession. I thought I knew better than everyone else too and that the Church was in need of my acuity. But it is a sign of youth and folly to make assertions when one ought rather to be asking questions. Everyone means well - and that's the problem, they mean too well. And they violate the law of charity a thousand times over with their told-you-sos and their zeal for truth, not recognizing that love is the first of all truths, and not at all a dispensable one to God. But I am beginning to sound like a nasty liberal, so I better make learned distinctions now.

On the one hand we have the vacuous term 'tolerance,' which gained such popularity with Locke and the lads. The problem there is that tolerance is a virtue, not a proposition. It is not virtuous to tolerate things for which one has no concern; it is a virtue to hold people dear despite their errors, intransigence and recidivism. The possibility of tolerance dissipates with the abandonment of an objective framework.

On the other hand, zeal for truth, and truth makes good. But what is truth, sayeth Pilate. The ones who are saying ought to be asking, I think, or at least hesitating enough not to presume that they've got it all figured out.

I ran into a string of people lately who believe they know much more than they actually do. What do they fear, I wonder to myself.

But again, it's all my fault for wanting to know and to teach. It's my fault for living a non salus extra kind of life, and yet persisting naively enough in my belief that one can be a Christian Socrates without wrinkle.

The Nature of the Hypothesis?

What is it to entertain possibilities, and what are the parameters by which a Christian ought to be governed?

It has always seemed to me that in the mental realm all ideas are up for grabs. Can anyone possibly maintain that the mind should steel itself against some of them? If I think about what it means for God not to exist, for the universe to be but a meaningless, infinite cycle of cataclysm and reintegration, have I sinned? I cannot see how one can know God without knowing not-God. This is, of course, the most radical form of what I mean by everything's permissible (to borrow Ivan Karamazov's expression). I don't begin each day questioning God's existence. I know it as well as I know that I exist. Questioning is not hypothesizing. By questioning I mean being troubled as to whether something is a fact or not. By hypothesizing I mean analyzing the implications of x and not-x. Make the matter much more mundane - was the world improved by feminism or made worse thereby? The majority would not permit the question being raised - on both sides. I admit I don't know the answer. I suspect that it was made worse, but I don't know for sure. I welcome arguments. I just don't understand why people are so hesitant to say, I don't know... maybe I'm wrong?

Can I raise the possibility (all conjecture's permissible here, remember) that it is because they don't have PhDs? Are they just trying to prove themselves to me? Do I strike people as arrogant? Do you know, I think I am the nicest person I know!

Whatever the case, I suspect that the world would be a little bit of a better place - at least my chunk of it would be - if people just admitted the possibility that the truth is wonderfully, wonderfully complex, despite the fact of their being so right all the time about the bit that's been handed to them.

Here, let's get to it. The hypothesis that needs to be entertained - if for no other reason than that it may well serve to strengthen their original conviction - is that I'm just not as bad as they have guessed me to be. It's likely true that I am, but I don't think they've got sufficient reasons for maintaining it. I think an argument can be made for the other side. Whatever the case may be, I'm deeply offended that for the one thing on which my expertise is boundless - my sinfulness and ineptitude - they've never asked my opinion!

Well, you see how much I dislike it. Henceforth, I shall speak no evil.

Vobiscum Dominus.

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