Friday, December 19, 2014

Be Nice, Good Catholic

For a while I've been noticing something: exemplary Catholics unable to get mean when they need to be. I see it most often when it comes to issues of social welfare. "Of course," they seem to reason, "we have to be for economic policies that give money to the poor."

Now, before you get all, "Colin is a big meanie - and isn't he the poorest guy we know?" on me. I will explain the precise intent of this statement.

I mock.
I believe we have to give money to the poor. The 'we' I mean is you and I, not some stupid unnatural thing we call the modern nation state. What's the difference? The difference is, I owe the poor love and care. Me. Not some entity supposedly working on my behalf. What's the difference? If you still don't get it, let me add some more nuance.

I have a massive student loan debt. I have every intention of paying it back (some day, some how). I see now that I should never have taken this loan out, but I did, and it's too late for 'should ofs.' It is my responsibility to pay it back. Thus, it would be wrong, for instance, to decide to give a bunch of money (say I actually had some) to some other person or entity before paying back what I owe. That is my responsibility, and I cannot commute it by means of some intermediary thing, like a government with too many financial commitments. It is wrong for an individual to spend money he does not have. It is wrong for governments to spend money they do not have. Thus, it is wrong to support economic policies that do just that. In other words, if the US debt was flush, it would be wrong for them not to help Mexicans. It is not, not nearly, flush, therefore, it is actually wrong for that government to do so, ceteris paribus

But, of course, it is not wrong for individuals who can afford to do so, to do so, someone like Glenn Beck, which is what he did, actually. In fact, I have no doubt that it would be wrong for a wealthy man like that not to do things like this. 

This is not my ultimate point. I am just attempting to show that just because it is nice, and generously intended, doesn't mean it is actually right and advisable. 

It is actually morally evil to take from future generations. It would be evil, were I to have a farm, to lace it with radioactive elements so that no future generation - my child, grandchildren, etc. could use it. Accruing debt is no different. Thus, debt is not morally defensible (save in cases of short term emergency).

In other words, just because it feels generous doesn't mean it is.

But many strong Catholics have a blind spot here. 

They tend to do the same thing with the issue of homosexuality. Because many of them have bought into the meme of the innocent homosexual is every homosexual, they believe that we should be extra sensitive to them. 

If you know me, you know that I am about the gentlest soul you will ever find. I love babies and old people, kittens and puppies. I love gay people, but I don't laugh at them: I don't think they are humorous; I think they are sad.

And yet when I point out the nefarious side of the homosexual movement, these Catholic lovers of all things soft and sweet jump down my throat with accusations left and right about not being sensitive enough. These are the same people who think that Muslims can be reasoned with. Pope Francis dissented from Pope Benedict's sage Regensburg Address, because he didn't know any better. I am sure that, if he has not regretted this yet, he will eventually, that is, when bombs start going off in the Vatican. And, they will go off. And, regretfully, he will go down in history as the naive pope, like a Pius XII times ten.

But it's not nice to say mean things about Pope Francis, say people like Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher. I don't really read either one of these people, but this is the sense I get. Correct me if I am wrong. And, incidentally, Shea is also a give the poor government money person. In this he is being consistent.

How so?

Not nice things are intrinsically bad things, they reason.

There is a lot of wishful thinking going on here.

That was one of my problems with the Augustine movie, "Restless Heart," which I reviewed for Catholic Insight - check out the latest issue of that great magazine!

Here's my theory. It's three-pronged.

1) Guilt and shame (not the same thing) about their Catholic Faith's hard position on homosexuality, against women priests, etc., makes them bend over backwards to "feel at" these people. The unjustifiable side-effect of this is rose-colored glasses, the assumption that government money grows on trees and that homosexuality can be loved into a state of civil cooperation.

This means their faith is irrational. It is irrational in so far as it is based on a simply false view of fallen human nature.

2) They think Jesus was nice. They equate truth and kindness.

This means they love their children like grandparents - a definite no-no, said C. S. Lewis.

I once told a beautiful girl in scanty clothes (to whom I was quite attracted), in reply to her assertion to the contrary, that what you wear does, in fact, say something about you. That was 14 years ago and she hasn't spoken to me since.

3) They are irrationally afraid of being grouped in with conservatives per se, the Republican Party, etc., I mean. The ultimate bad word for these people is: Neo-Conservative. I say it is irrational, because fear of a label is not rational. Got it? You can't be both socially and economically conservative! they say, therefore they know they are required to give up the latter for sake of the former. Sure, they chose the better, but they didn't have to chose at all! is my point. They have a fear of not being complex. They have a fear of not being interesting. They have a fear of being considered heartless. Now, I don't know a great deal about Neo-Con policy, but I do not think that to pro-life, pro-marriage and anti-debt is anything but Christian.


It's difficult to say 'no' these days, for some reason.

Let me venture a thought on why good Catholics have a problem with it - and if you've so far only been skimming this post, thinking to yourself, nothing new here, nothing new here, pay attention now, because this is the original part:

False anthropology. These good Catholics who have tried to really learn their faith have gotten something fundamentally wrong about the Church's teaching on human nature. I know I am right about this: I have seen it in too many students and others over the years. They do not understand original sin and the Church's teaching on grace.

According to the teaching of the truth, man does not tend to chose, to recognize, to identify what is actually true and good. To say he does is to be unCatholic, is to reveal your total ignorance of what it is to be Catholic. Most Catholics are Pelagians - a heresy that states that a person's salvation depends upon his choices, that he has the free will to know, to will and to do what he needs to do for sake of salvation. This is a two-pronged error: man by himself cannot know, will and do the good; even if he could, this would not entitle him to salvation.

So what's the relevance here with respect to the topic of the bleeding heart? It is this: Catholics presume that feelings are a gauge to moral correctness. Feelings of compassion, they assume, are good, because it's compassion, after all, not anger. See the fallacy here? Why is your feeling of compassion morally astute while your feeling anger is not? Why does sympathy lead you to the right decision, but anger does not? Anger is just as informative in a bad person as compassion; in a good person so is it also. Read Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Augustine and Aquinas, if you don't agree with me.

Why do modern people - even Catholics - think one feeling not need to be informed by objective data and the other does?

Have you noticed that being angry is considered a universally-valid write-off? Angry right-wing so and so...? Morally speaking, being compassionate is just as indicting, as the woman who stopped for the ducks on the highway in Quebec recently learned.

We do the same with all the 'positive' feelings: make exceptions for them - the worst offender being the feeling of romantic love.

So, what's wrong with Shea and all these people I have unfairly chosen to personify my attack here?

1) They have bought into the myth and there are good feelings and bad feelings.
2) They think we must always unreflectively follow the dictates of today's super-virtue, compassion.
3) They believe that there are innocent people. Homosexuals are a privileged people who simply embody love and are therefore always deserving of 'mercy.'
4) Good feelings permit things like national debt and the rights of the wealthy to their wealth to be considered inconsequential compared to the needs of the poor.

I am only talking about Shea and those types because they are, if you haven't guessed already, rather left-wing when it comes to 'social programs.'

Why the act of faith in social programs? What proof do they have that they actually work? Many very 'compassionate' and conscientious political scientists, politicians and economists have observed with great frustration that they seem to do little to change the economic realities of the most down-trodden. Consider Aboriginals in Canada. Money has done nothing to help them. My assumption is, it never will. So, if you cannot answer this observation of mine, then your faith in social programs is at least worth questioning. Do economically liberal Catholics do so? No, they don't because compassion requires no reconsideration for them. Since it is not selfish, they conclude it is correct and Catholic.

Individuals, be generous! But the social program mindset does not deserve your faith.

Kindness can be just as destructive as selfishness. Consider abortion: those who support it are supported a genocide against black North Americans. Compassion is not enough.

This is why I am tired of the word mercy.

When Catholics use the word - and they seem to a lot these days - what do they mean by it? Every word like this has an opposite, so what is it that they suppose advocating 'mercy' is meant to save us from? Ruthlessness and cruelty, Google tells me. If you can think of a bishop or priest anywhere in the world who fits this description, I would say it's time for mercy. In other words, talking about mercy is setting up a straw-man. Or, where else do they suppose they are experiencing cruelty?

From the teachings of the Church themselves? Teachings that are hardly ever abided by anywhere, ever. So, yeah, free us from that tyranny, would you?

Mercy is the ultimate ego trip.


  1. Fascinating about the Pelagians, didn't know anything about that.

    Interesting analysis. Another part of the reason why so many Catholics confuse compassion with the good side, and anger/outrage with the wrong side, may have to do with the influence of the dominant culture around us. Feelings have become more important than truth.

    Being "angry right-wing..." is almost redundant in the 'bleeding heart' circles. Just being labelled "right-wing" is enough to cause an awkward and shocked silence to fall over the room, as everyone takes a step away from the unfortunate redneck and immediately discounts every past and future statement that emanated from his or her mouth. You see, right-wing people are primitive and stone-brained, hence their irrational and distasteful anger. In contrast, bleeding hearts are highly evolved and refined, with far more culture and class. They know what is best for everyone.

  2. Where does it all come from? Schopenhauer says religion is about feelings. Freud told us that unattended feelings can ruin our future. Truth? who cares!

  3. I remember reading that JPII's favorite V2 document was Gaudium et spes, whereas Ratzinger was less a fan and thought that it had parts that were essentially Pelagian. (I think the optimistic emphasis on dialogue, as opposed to the necessity of grace, justifies JR's concerns.) Then Ratzinger becomes pope and writes Spe salvi, para. 46: "For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul." So what is that? There's a kind of semi-universalism which seems contrary to the words of Christ and the constant historical teaching of the Church (I think). But what about Pelagianism? Pelagianism strikes me as essentially theoretical, as being about (in)correctly describing the functioning (i.e., the priority) of grace in relation to free will, so that it doesn't directly entail anything about the 'cheapness' of grace or what proportion of (mostly conformist) people are saved. But the question is still: What is there, in the depths of the being of the great majority of people? A responsiveness to grace, or not? A tendency towards truth and goodness, or not? The first formulation would sound more non-Pelagian, I suppose, while the second could more easily fall into Pelagianism; but in substance, is there any difference? I think we could be safely non-Pelagian either way, if we express ourselves carefully. The real, practical issue is elsewhere. What Papa Ratzinger seems to be saying is that - "we may suppose" - it is quite difficult and rare for an individual to be in a state of actual mortal sin. I wish I knew what it is that he thinks makes it legitimate for us to make that supposition. Any ideas? -DM (Speaking of Freud and feelings, it's interesting to note that Papa Bergoglio's main papal publication to date is entitled Die Freude des Evangeliums...)