Wednesday, May 21, 2003

OK, People, Very Funny, Ha Ha...

I suppose it was a mistake for me announce the imposition of The Johansen Protocol at the end of my blog "Reforming The Culture, Part II". And some of you have leapt upon the opportunity to exercise your wit in pointing that out.

Of course, by posting things the way I did, everyone was drawn to comment on that rather than the more substantive post on the culture that preceeded it. So I've re-arranged it: If you want to wax wittily on the Johansen Protocol, feel free, below. But I'm putting the Culture II post here, and hopefully that will encourage more substantive commentary.

The "Burma Shave" bit was pretty funny...

Reforming The Culture, Part II

Against my better judgment, I'm going to respond to a commentor on Monday's blog. I've been advised by several other bloggers to simply ignore this person, but I'll indulge him with a response this one last time. This commentor has been wont to excoriate me and others, like Mark Shea, who assert that the Laity have some responsibility for The Situation. Firstly, nowhere have I ever said that the laity is "fundamentally" responsible for The Situation. Both clergy and laity have been to a certain extent compromised by the dominant culture. It is taken for granted in the dominant culture that there is, at bottom, nothing wrong with giving in to Appetite. And as I've said before, the problem is that once I've made it OK for me to give in to my appetite, I have no logical leg to stand on to say that it isn't OK for you to give in to yours. Hence it shouldn't surprise us that priests (some of whom eventually became bishops) who've made it OK for people to contracept, cohabitate, or engage in homosexual activity, were unable to muster the moral fortitude to condemn and punish pedophilia. To say that either bishops or laity are "fundamentally" responsible is a chicken-and-egg scenario. Both are influenced by and to have some extent accomodated themselves to the culture. And the bishops that some are so fond of denouncing came from the same generation that either welcomed or passively accepted the wholesale embrace of appetite that characterized the 70's and 80's.

The culture does influence attitudes and behaviors. Not that we're "amoebas" who simply absorb everything. But to counteract a poisonous environment requires constant care and vigilance, a vigilance which has been lacking at all levels in Catholic society. The priests and bishops who gave us things like Building Your Own Conscience have been walking in lockstep with lay "catholics" like those in Boston who have decided that the church needs to be more "up to date" on issues like contraception, homosexuality, women's ordination, etc. Both the clergy and laity imbibed the culture and have been poisoned by it. They enabled one another to be lulled into torpor and complacency.

As to the "powerlessness" of the laity with regard to their pastors: Poppycock! While the laity may have no "formal" say-so in the appointments of pastors or bishops, anyone with any experience of the real world knows that formally defined power isn't the only kind of power. I know priests who were transferred by their bishops when groups of disaffected parishioners banded together to complain about that priest's insistence on preaching the hard truths of church teaching. I know priests who were not allowed into their own parish or diocesan schools because the feminist nuns who ran the place didn't want the priest infecting the kids with sound doctrine. I have heard priests tell me that they "used to" preach or teach about things like contraception, but "don't bother" anymore because, after being shouted down too many times, they realized that "people won't receive that sort of thing."

Why is the culture important? Because, as I wrote before, it is the "incarnation" of, the way people live and experience, their beliefs and ideals. It can either re-inforce and augment the Faith, or undermine it. People learn not only by formal instruction or catechesis, but by picking up on the cultural cues around them regarding what's Really Important. It is a tone-deafness of the first order to deny the importance of those cultural cues. For example, I think it can be convincingly demonstrated that the practice of slavery is contrary to the Gospel. It is not specifically condemned in the gospel, but surely the gospel's message about humanity's redeemed nature and dignity in Christ implies the rejection of slavery. Yet we do not see the apostles or their immediate successors demand the abolition of slavery. Why? I would contend that, being immersed in a Greco-Roman culture which took slavery as given, they didn't even think to question it. It took the society's steeping in the Gospel for some 1300 years (which is when the explicit questioning of slavery begins in earnest), and the development of an explicitly Christian culture, for people to begin to figure out that slavery was contrary to the Faith.

Do we need culture to keep people Catholic? Strictly speaking, I suppose not. People obviously can and do remain steadfast under the most dire circumstances. But it requires heroic virtue to maintain the faith under those circumstances, and the Church has always made it clear that in a just and well-ordered society, it should not require heroic virtue simply to persevere in the Faith. Did the martyrs of the first two centuries need a Catholic culture to keep the faith? Obviously not, but alongside the martyrs who gave their lives for Christ were many lapsi who caved under the pressure of persecution. There were so many of them that St. Cyprian of Carthage had to write a treatise about the situation called De Lapsis. Did the magisterium fail those lapsi? I think not. On the contrary, the Church worked hard at inviting those people back into the fold. But how many, once having been lost, stayed that way? The Church has taught consistently that a well-ordered society, both in it's governance and in its cultural order, should aim to make it easier for Joe Six-Pack to live a holy life. A Catholic culture does this by providing the raw material for a Catholic imagination.

If anyone doubts the desirability of Catholic society with a Catholic culture, look at the culture around you. Do you really want more of the same?