Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, June 28, 2003"Should Christians Convert Muslims?"
The cover story for the June 30, 2003, issue of Time magazine asks, "Should Christians Convert Muslims?" and proceeds to document the effort by American evangelicals to target for evangelization the majority Moslem nations found in the "10/40 Window." The "10/40 Window" is a reference to those nations between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude where it is estimated that 97% of the unevangelized in the world live (Time, p. 40). Not surprisingly, Time magazine as a mainstream national news magazine presents the story of the evangelical missionaries in a highly critical and skeptical manner. Nevertheless, the reality of these missionary efforts cannot be ignored. And that reality is a good thing.
What about the role of Catholics? The article mentions Catholics only to note that a Catholic archbishop in Lebanon condemned evangelicals who were denounced by Moslem leaders for "handing out Christian literature and evangelizing to [sic] Muslim youth" (p. 43). Without further details, it is hard to form a definite opinion about why the archbishop condemned the evangelicals. Yet, on the face of it, the impression created, whether accurate or not, is one of Catholic disapproval. Time also implies Catholic disapproval of these evangelical efforts when it lumps Catholics and mainline Protestants together as having embraced "a social gospel" and abandoned "preaching to the unenlightened" (pp. 39-40).
Well, if we look to the authoritative pronouncements of the Catholic Church, it is unambigously clear that the Catholic Church has in no way abandoned preaching to the unenlightened. In 2000, Pope John Paul II ratified and confirmed the well-known document Dominus Iesus prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The document rejects viewing other religions as equal or complementary means of salvation: "[I]t would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God" (section 21).
The document also describes followers of other religions as being "in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation" even though "it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace" (section 21). It is also noted that interreligious dialogue cannot replace the missionary enterprise: "In interreligious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes ["to the peoples"] 'today as always retains its full force and necessity' " (section 22, quoting Vatican II's Decree Ad Gentes, 7).
All of this means that the Catholic Church must be missionary, as missionary as the Protestant evangelicals, toward the Muslims and anyone else:
"But the Church, to whom this truth [the truth of salvation] has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them [all men] the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary."
Dominus Iesus, 22 (quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 851).
This missionary enterprise requires "proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (section 22) (emphasis added). Thus, Catholics must proclaim the Gospel to all people, even those of other religions, including Muslims.
Contrary to Time magazine's report, it must be repeated that the Catholic Church has not abandoned "preaching to the unenlightened" for the sake of a "social gospel" (Time article, pp. 39-40, June 30, 2003, issue). It is also part of Catholic theology that, while the fullness of the Church of Christ exists only in the Catholic Church, " 'outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth,' . . . in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church" (Dominus Iesus, section 16). The bold efforts by Protestant evangelicals to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims are examples of those elements of sanctification and truth in Christian bodies outside the Catholic Church. We Catholics should rejoice in the courage of these Protestant missionaries and emulate them. Let the Gospel be preached to all people, without coercion, as in apostolic times, whether Muslim or Jewish or of any other religious tradition. Respectfully, charitably, and without pressure, the Gospel must be proclaimed and proposed to all people. That is the official Catholic position.
Friday, June 27, 2003U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Law Criminalizing Gay Sodomy
In a 6-3 decision, that is, not a close 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on June 26, 2003, struck down a Texas statute that made homosexual sodomy a crime. (These remarks are a preliminary analysis based on the "syllabus" or summary of the court decision provided by the court plus extensive portions of the opinion appearing in the New York Times. The full text of the decision, Lawrence v. Texas, is available at the Supreme Court website under "Recent Decisions.") While the majority of the court focused on the liberty interest of homosexuals arising from the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment, it appears that a crucial element for one particular justice, Justice O'Connor, was the fact that the law prohibited only homosexual sodomy, not sodomy in general. As the court correctly noted in its decision, sodomy laws in the U.S. historically targeted all forms of sodomy, whether homosexual or heterosexual, in a "general condemnation of nonprocreative sex." But, of course, our society has long since come to accept heterosexual sodomy (anal or oral "sex") as quite normal, as can be seen in discussions in popular general circulation magazines. Again, widespread heterosexual vice has made it politically impossible in many, if not most, states to pass a statute that would prohibit all forms of sodomy. Certainly, the Texas legislature refused to pass a statute that would apply to heterosexual sodomy.
Interestingly, the court states that "stare decisis is not an inexorable command." Stare decisis, meaning in Latin "to stand by things decided," refers to the Anglo-American legal principle that prior court decisions on the same issue (court "precedent") should be followed in most cases and rarely contradicted. This respect for court precedent is the same principle always cited in upholding Roe v. Wade. Let us hope that one day the same court will recognize that respect for precedent in not an "inexorable command" when reconsidering Roe v. Wade's legalization of widespread abortion. That day may be far off with the current composition of the Supreme Court given that the court's opinion in the Texas sodomy case cites Roe v. Wade as supporting precedent on the privacy of decisions of a sexual nature.
In any event, in the Texas sodomy case which is now in the news, the court stated that respect for its own precedent is not inexorable. It did so as a way to justify the reversal of an earlier 1986 decision. In that earlier decision, known as the Bowers case, the court upheld a Georgia statute prohibiting all acts of sodomy, whether by homosexuals or heterosexuals. The reversal of its earlier Georgia decision was necessary for the new and radical reasoning used by five of the justices to invalidate the Texas sodomy statute which is now in the news.
The radical reasoning used to overturn Texas' anti-sodomy statute lays the groundwork for the Supreme Court to recognize gay marriage as a fundamental right under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment which requires that all persons in similar circumstances be treated equally by the law. The court explicitly places gay sexual relationships on a par with marriage when it makes the following comparison:
To say that the issue in Bowers [the 1986 Georgia case noted above] was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse.
What the court is saying is that a law prohibiting gay sexual conduct is really an assault on the personal dignity of individuals just as much as a law denying someone the right to marry based on race or some other extraneous factor. It is clear that the Supreme Court is well on its way to ultimately saying that to deny the right to marry based on the gender of the individuals seeking marriage is also an unconstitutional assault on the personal dignity of such individuals.
Furthermore, the court indicates that it will look to legal developments in other Western nations in deciding whether the law of an American state is offensive to human dignity. In striking down the sodomy statute, the court cited a decision by a European human rights court. It seems that the Supreme Court has now made us part of the European Union without even the courtesy of a referendum! Certainly, the court will not hesitate to cite in the future the much more proximate Canadian court decision ordering the recognition of gay marriage.
Volumes will be written on this decision touching on the above points and many others. But what preliminary reflections can we as Catholics make? First of all, it is clear, as St. Thomas Aquinas has noted, that we are in a stage in American culture where precepts of the natural law have been "blotted out from the human heart . . . by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom I), were not esteemed sinful" (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 94, 6, quoted in Peter Kreeft, Summa of the Summa [Ignatius Press 1990], p. 521). The cultural normalization of heterosexual fornication and sodomy leads inexorably to the cultural normalization of homosexual sodomy.
Secondly, I submit that the Supreme Court's recognition of the right to homosexual sodomy is not binding in conscience on Catholics, including public officials and judges. Certainly, a lower court judge would have to invalidate a state statute that was exactly the same in form and application as that just struck down. But duplicates are rare in the law. Another state may find a different way to express its disapproval of sodomy. And certainly a lower court judge can question the extension of the defective reasoning in the Texas case to other areas of controversy, such as adoptions or same-gender unions and "marriages" or laws prohibiting prostitution. (Another Western nation, New Zealand, recently legalized prostitution. Given the Supreme Court's reliance on the changing mores of other Western nations, little New Zealand will now be part of our evolving constitutional law.)
In my view, which, let me be clear, is a highly controversial view that would find few supporters in the legal profession, a Catholic judge is not bound to follow the Supreme Court's recognition of vice because the Supreme Court lacks the power to engage in judicial rulings contrary to the natural law. Thus, Catholic judges are fully within their rights to decide cases consistent with the natural law. Consequently, if a Catholic judge is considering a statute challenged on the basis of a right to sodomy as intrinsic to human dignity, that judge is free to use his legal knowledge and acumen to reject the reasoning used by the Supreme Court. To this suggestion, most judges will cry out in horror that they are bound by the rulings of the nation's highest court.
My response is that Catholic judges are free to decide a case differently than the Supreme Court if they can use legal reasoning and precedent to show facets of the legal issue and factual evidence ignored by the Supreme Court. In the legal world, this process of reasoning is used all of the time to "distinguish" one case from an older case. An intelligent judge can easily find gaping holes in the Supreme Court's logic that would more than justify upholding the natural law. No judge is bound by faulty and weak logic or by failure to consider compelling evidence even if it emanates from the Supreme Court. The truth is that the intellectual powers of Supreme Court justices and their opinion-writing clerks are highly overrated by an inappropriately overawed society. The idea that a lower court judge is inexorably bound by the specious reasoning of a higher court is a myth. If in the past talented judges had acted as if bound by such defective reasoning by a higher court, then much beneficial progress in the law would have been impossible. Respecting precedent, even from a higher court, is as much about departing from its faulty reasoning and gaps as it is about following its relevant reasoning. And, of course, the Supreme Court is always free to evaluate and reverse on appeal any lower court rulings it disagrees with.
The abortion controversy provides a good example. In my view, given the dramatic progress in scientific evidence concerning the undeniable humanity of the unborn child, a Catholic judge is free to rule contrary to Roe v. Wade precisely because Roe did not and could not have considered such scientific development. While the lower court judge could not technically "reverse" Roe v. Wade and would have to leave that technical ruling up to the Supreme Court, he could merely conclude that Roe is inapplicable to the facts before him. In legal jargon, he or she would simply conclude that "Roe v. Wade is not controlling" in the case at issue.
The Supreme Court has shown that the law is infinitely malleable as a means of undermining duly and democratically enacted state statutes reflecting the natural law. Surely, then lower court judges can use that infinite malleability in favor of expressions of the natural law as enacted by democratic legislatures. In other words, Catholic judges should push the envelope. Progress in the law has always come from pushing the envelope. It is absurd for Catholic judges to put their intellects in abeyance in deference to Supreme Court opinions that are so intellectually weak and so easily limited to unique or inadequately developed factual circumstances. The virtue of fortitude demands that Catholic judges and other judges who are committed to the natural law take the same professional risks as those who reject the natural law are willing to take to advance their agenda. The difference is that those supporting the agenda of the natural law are in step with the sources of Western law and civilization and are appealing to the only authority binding on human conscience. And, after all, law to be law must be capable of binding the human conscience. And only consistency with the natural law can provide that essential ingredient. Catholic judges especially should strive to include that essential ingredient.
Let me end with a quotation from a lecture by the great American jurist Benajmin Cardozo (1870-1938), who served on the U.S. Supreme Court in the thirties:
Our survey of judicial methods teaches us, I think, the lesson that the whole subject matter of jurisprudence is more plastic, more malleable, the moulds less definitively cast, the bound of right and wrong less preordained and constant, than most of us, without the aid of some such analysis, have been accustomed to believe.
Benjamin Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process (Yale University Press 1921 ), p. 161.
The malleability noted by Justice Cardozo is still with us, and thinking judges should use it to mitigate the damage from the strange reasoning used by the majority to overturn the Texas sodomy statute.
Thursday, June 26, 2003The Anglican Gay Crisis and Ecumenism: The Fall of Canterbury and the Rise of Lagos [Nigeria]
Once again, the Anglican Communion is embroiled in talk of schism, this time about the integration of the gay lifestyle into the heart of its structure and practices. One event after another has led to the current frenzy of statements and press releases by clerics and others on both sides of the gay issue. First, this year a new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the honorific leader of the Anglican Communion, who acknowledges knowingly ordaining an actively gay clergyman was chosen. Second, an Anglican diocese in Canada officially begins to bless same-gender unions. Third, New Hampshire Episcopalians have chosen an actively gay cleric as their new bishop, subject to approval by the national Episcopal Church USA which has long been on shaky ground with traditional Anglicans. And, finally, an openly gay cleric and activist is appointed a bishop in England, with his official consecration by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury set for October 9, 2003.
The so-called debate is astonishingly absurd. The advocates of "baptizing" the gay lifestyle urge that irate Anglicans should focus on combating AIDS rather than objecting to the gay lifestyle! Others gay advocates urge their fellow Anglicans to focus on combating "paganism" and "secularisation" rather than opposing the gay lifestyle, as if the gay lifestyle were not itself a prime instance of paganism and secularization. Then, there are attacks on the Anglican Primate of Nigeria who has called the gay agenda a "Satanic attack on God's church" (see news story). These attacks refer to the Nigerians as hypocrites for tolerating polygamy and human sacrifice. You read it right: human sacrifice! The gay zealots even accuse traditional Christians of human sacrifice, an accusation reminiscent of that made in the pagan Greco-Roman world against the early Christian celebration of the Eucharist.
The response of the essentially powerless, honorific Anglican leader, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, is exactly the same as that condemned by the Vatican when it comes to the normalization of sexual relations outside of marriage by heterosexuals and homosexuals. The Anglican leader's statements call for calm and unity without addressing the question of truth. In other words, for the titular Anglican leader, everything is negotiable in the interests of maintaining the unity of his ecclesiastical community.
In condemning the relativism that approves of sexual unions outside of Christian marriage, the Pontifical Council for the Family quoted from John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):
When freedom is disconnected from truth, "any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures onto the shifting sands of complete relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining, even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life."
Family, Marriage and "De Facto" Unions, section 30 (Pauline Books 2000).
The conventionally recognized leadership of the Anglican Communion has long been venturing in "the shifting sands of complete relativism." Their pronouncements and hedging show that they have long since rejected Christ as the rock upon which all must be built. In my view, this trend, now culminating with the integration of the gay lifestyle into the heart of the Anglican polity, marks the end of serious ecumenical discussions with those Anglican leaders situated in Canterbury.
But with this end, there are signs of a new beginning. The large Anglican community in Nigeria, led by its outspoken Archbishop Peter Akinola, has broken relations with the Canadian Anglicans who are blessing same-gender unions and has expressed alarm about the gay bishops-elect in New Hampshire and in the United Kingdom (see Nigerian statement). Akinola has raised the possibility of schism if Canterbury goes forward with the ordination of the gay bishop-elect in the United Kingdom (see news story). The Anglicans in Nigeria form the largest single Anglican community in the world and note on their website that they are the "fastest growing church in the Anglican Communion." Our Catholic ecumenical dialogue with Anglicanism should go through Lagos, Nigeria, rather than Canterbury. In my opinion, there is no common ground with Canterbury worthy of further serious discussion. Genuine Christian Anglicanism has been expelled from the historic center of Anglicanism. We Catholics cannot ignore the truth of that statement without compromising ourselves. As confirmed by the trends documented in Philip Jenkins' recent book The Next Christendom, Africa should be the focus of serious Catholic-Anglican dialogue.
Follow up: For a reaction from Germany to this article, see Credo ut intelligam for July 31, 2003.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003The Vatican on Gay "Marriage"
In the year 2000, the Pontifical Council for the Family issued an official document entitled "Family, Marriage, and 'De Facto' Unions" which sets forth the Church's position on the efforts in some nations to make non-marital sexual partnerships equal to marriage. The Vatican uses the term "de facto union" to refer to all forms of sexual cohabitation, including the homosexual variety. The document focuses primarily on analyzing the rising phenomenon, especially in the developed world, of sexual cohabitation by heterosexual couples. Yet, the document also comments on the effort to legally recognize sexual cohabitation by persons of the same gender.
By treating the phenomenon of homosexual partnerships within the wider phenomenon of heterosexual de facto unions, the Vatican makes a major point already discussed in Catholic Analysis: the roots of the movement to recognize gay "marriage" lie in the deconstruction of traditional marriage that began with the spread of "shacking up" among heterosexuals. In a way, the gay activists are merely tagging along to exploit the opportunities created by the attacks on marriage carried out over the last thirty to forty years by heterosexuals. Every time another heterosexual couple decides to sexually cohabit there is another nail driven in the coffin of authentic marriage. Thus, a coherent response to the gay "marriage" movement must involve addressing heterosexual de facto unions. Focusing exclusively on gays misses the roots of the problem.
But the Vatican document goes even deeper in its analysis by focusing on the contributions of the divorce mentality to de facto unions:
Through pro-divorce legislation, marriage often tends to lose its identity in personal conscience. In this sense, a lack of confidence in the institution of marriage should be pointed out which sometimes comes from the negative experience of persons who have been traumatized by a previous divorce or by their parents' divorce. This distressing phenomenon is beginning to become important from a social viewpoint in the more economically developed countries.
The Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage and De Facto Unions (Pauline Books 2000), section 5 (hereafter referenced as "De Facto Unions" with section number).
This observation that the disintegration of marriage through a divorce mentality is a real and significant cause of de facto unions has been confirmed by independent research. The new normality of divorce has redefined marriage in Western societies from a permanent commitment to a provisional commitment. It has even redefined "adultery" by conventionally viewing separated persons as free to pursue other sexual relationships even prior to the final divorce. As a result, divorce has eviscerated the original social definition of marriage as permanent and as requiring fidelity during its existence. The trauma of the divorced, and especially of the legions of children of the divorced, has led to the acceptance of de facto unions as an emotional and psychological defense from the disillusion of further divorce.
The Pontifical Council also addresses another key factor in the demise of marriage by quoting from Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, 47, which pointed to "so-called free love" as a cause of the breakdown of marriage (De Facto Unions, 12). By "so-called free love," Vatican II was referring to the fornication culture that was already emerging in the early sixties. The Pontifical Council for the Family rightly concluded that "what the [Second Vatican] Council calls 'free' love, which opposes true conjugal love, was then-- and is now-- the seed that produces de facto unions" (De Facto Unions, 12).
With this analysis, we can see the chain reaction in which widespread fornication and a divorce mentality feed into each other and in which both in turn spawn widespread sexual cohabitation. All three social practices-- fornication, divorce, and de facto unions-- inevitably destroy the concept of marriage as a permanent and exclusive sexual union by legitimizing sexual activity outside of marriage. In the end, all three of these practices are grounded in "an underlying mentality that gives little value to sexuality" (De Facto Unions, 5). This mentality "is influenced more or less by pragmatism and hedonism, as well as by a conception of love detached from any responsibility" (De Facto Unions, 5).
In Western nations, this fornication culture matches the Western emphasis on individualism. In the United States, the fornication culture also matches the American emphasis on individuals as free consumers in a market economy. The freedom of the sovereign consumer in the economic market becomes the unfettered freedom of the consumer in the sexual "market" always experimenting with new sexual partners and living arrangements to suit the desires of the moment. The Pontifical Council refers to this libertarianism by speaking of the "undifferentiated exaltation of individuals' freedom of choice, with no reference to a socially relevant value order, [which] obeys a completely individualistic and private approach to marriage and the family that is blind to its objective social dimension" (De Facto Unions, 15). And, of course, this making of sexuality into a market commodity takes place with the assistance of the technologies of contraception and abortion which further the exaltation of choice even at the cost of human life itself.
All of the above frames the conclusions of this Vatican document on gay "marriage." The Pontifical Council quotes John Paul II as specifically noting that " 'de facto unions' between homosexuals are a deplorable distortion of what should be a communion of love and life between a man and a woman in a reciprocal gift open to life" (De Facto Unions, 23). The Pontifical Council then adds that "the presumption to make these [de facto] unions equivalent to 'legal marriage,' as some recent initiatives attempt to do, is even more serious" (De Facto Unions, 23). The document also states that "the attempts to legalize the adoption of children by homosexual couples adds an element of great danger to all the previous ones" (Ibid.). Again quoting from John Paul II, the Pontifical Council points out the reason why such adoptions are dangerous: "The bond between two men or two women cannot constitute a real family and much less can the right be attributed to that union to adopt children without a family" (Ibid.).
To make clear that the defense of marriage against these innovations is not motivated by hatred of homosexuals, the Pontifical Council adds these words:
To recall the social transcendence of the truth about conjugal love and consequently the grave error of recognizing or even making homosexual relations equivalent to marriage does not presume to discriminate against these persons in any way. It is the common good of society which requires the laws to recognize, favor and protect the marital union as the basis of the family which would be damaged in this way.
De Facto Unions, 23.
This pursuit of the common good views marriage as crucial to society from the point of view of "right reason" not limited to specifically religious or denominational beliefs (De Facto Unions, 13). Right reason requires "that the interpretation of reality and the judgment of reason must be objective, and free from conditioning, such as disorderly affectivity or weakness in considering sorrowful situations that inclines toward a superficial compassion, eventual ideological prejudices, social or cultural pressures, conditioning by lobbies or political parties" (De Facto Unions, 13). The Catholic opposition to giving legal recognition to non-marital sexual unions and to gay "marriages" is based on objective reason, not necessarily on specific theological beliefs. Thus, the claim that Catholics are trying to impose their religious beliefs on others is, as in the case of abortion, baseless.
A democracy like Canada that rejects right reason or objective "values" grounded in reason in the end " 'turns easily into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism' " which will require unjust discrimination and oppression against Christians and others duly enforced by the courts (De Facto Unions, 18, quoting John Paul II). Gay activists make wild and unfounded accusations that Christians and others who openly declare that homosexual acts are sinful are giving a license to violence. The truth is that the use of the courts and legislature to force Christians and others to recognize gay "marriage" is itself a form of violence as St. Thomas Aquinas would attest.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003The Surprising Superficiality of John Dewey
The on-line New York Times obituary section contains a running list of obituaries from its archives that are made available free of charge. The current list includes the obituary of philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952), a pillar of American philosophy or "pragmatism." Years ago, I was deeply impressed by the social philosophy of John Dewey because of his vigorous commitment to democracy as a way of life in contrast to the reality of crass elitist rule that permeates much of human society. Even today, as a Catholic, I can find Dewey's commitment to democracy a bracing call for social justice in which the common good, and not the privileges of self-perpetuating elites, is the raison d'Ítre of all human society. In that sense, Dewey's commitment to democracy was in direct continuity with Aquinas' emphasis on political power being used for the common good and on the Aristotelian origins of that concept based on viewing man as essentially a social or political animal. Dewey was a prolific writer, a social and political activist, and from all accounts a highly decent, if somewhat politically naive, man. No one disputes his intellectual genius.
Yet, Dewey had a strangely narrow and superficial view of the enterprise of Western philosophy evident in some of his writings. Here is a summary view presented in the 1952 obituary:
In reviewing Dr. Dewey's "Problems of Men," published in June, 1946, Dr. Alvin Johnson, president emeritus of the New School for Social Research, said Dr. Dewey struck "straight at reactionary philosophers." In replying to his philosophical and educational critics, Dr. Johnson said that Dewey concluded: "Philosophy counts for next to nothing in the present world-wide crisis of human affairs and should count for less. It needs a thorough house-cleaning and the final, definitive abandonment of most of its traditional values. Those values are class values. They were established in a time when the masses of mankind lived in slavery, or near-slavery, and when a little body of the elect could occupy themselves with speculations on the divine and the absolute. The present world belongs to a democracy. And the democracy cannot waste time on recondite speculations that have nothing to do with life."
As someone who has read widely in Dewey's work in the past, this summary sounds accurate. Dewey presented a picture of Western philosophy as the plaything of an elite social class. Related to this depiction of Western philosophy was a sense that the concerns of natural theology and of revealed theology were irrelevant to the realities and exigencies of human life. In fact, the sense one gets from reading Dewey is that such concerns were either frivolous diversions or tools for class oppression.
In this way, Dewey foreshadowed some of the emphases of those claiming to practice liberation theology by emphasizing that traditional theological and philosophical ideas were and are tools of class oppression of the masses. Here, we can see the surprising superficiality of Dewey, even while admitting his genius and talents. To thus imply that Thomas Aquinas, the great emblematic philosopher of medieval civilization, pursued his studies and prolific work for the sake of catering to the whims of the ruling classes of medieval Europe is absurd. Those who accept Dewey's simplistic stereotype of Western philosophy should be aware that the ruling classes had no interest in the subtleties of Thomist philosophy and theology. Like all ruling classes, their primary and all-absorbing interest were in the accumulation and maintenance of financial and political power. Thomas began his young life as a rebel against the pressures of his powerful family to have him pursue a career of power in the Church. Thomas instead chose to join the relatively new and controversial Dominican order and pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge or, more precisely, knowledge for the sake of approaching the One who is the Truth.
When Thomas writes about unjust laws as perversions and as forms of violence, when Thomas writes about the essential aspect of governance as being pursuit of the common good, Thomas is creating the heritage that made the life of John Dewey possible. Without the Thomistic backdrop to Western civilization, the civilized life of university teaching, of democracy and free expression that marked the peaceful and long intellectual life of John Dewey would not have been possible. And, of course, Thomas is but one example of a philosopher who lived for the truth and not for power or to serve the class interests of an elite. In contending for such a superficial view of Western philosophy, Dewey reveals the strange ingratitude of his generation for the fruits of Western civilization. The great British economist John Maynard Keynes, a contemporary of Dewey, once wrote to the effect that his generation was living off the social capital created by the religious beliefs of prior generations. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Dewey was born in the same year (1859) as the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species which sparked widespread doubt about traditional beliefs. Dewey also lived off that social capital and its legacy of natural law and natural rights while expressing disdain for its alleged oppression of the masses.
Today, the ingratitude of great intellects like Dewey for the heritage of Western philosophy has created the conditions for the collapse of the legacy of natural law. Now, the hens are coming home to roost as all semblance of moral law is thrown out the window. Widespread abortion, uncontrolled mad scientific experimentation with embryos and cloning, the abolition of marriage between man and woman, a contraceptive mentality that is eviscerating European populations are the result of a relativistic "situation ethics" whose roots can be directly traced to John Dewey. It is ironic that so much that is bad has come from the superficial engagement of John Dewey and his generation with traditional Western philosophy. It is ironic that indeed the road to hell is paved with good intentions, even the good intentions of what to all accounts was a humane and decent man.
Monday, June 23, 2003Catholic Analysis Milestone
Catholic Analysis has now logged well over 10,000 "visits" since its inception on December 18, 2002. For the curious, the tracking meter defines a "visit" as "a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes between page views." A single page view occurs "every time you follow a link." (Thus, as I understand it, 10,000 visits is much more meaningful than talking about 10,000 "hits" because apparently one person can generate many "hits" by just viewing one page.)
In any event, I am grateful for those visitors who give me the satisfaction of carrying on this small and enjoyable apostolate.
Sensible Remarks on Our Catholic Moment in the United States
The late Raymond Brown, S.S., was to all appearances a devout man and certainly a highly regarded biblical scholar. Although I wince frequently at some of his speculations about the authorship of some biblical books, at his scholarly reconstructions of the context of some biblical books, and at his reliance on the consensus of unnamed "critical" scholars, his writings are certainly worth examining critically and some of his pastoral insights are thought-provoking. At the same time, it is necessary to note that Brown's habit of unnecessarily creating confusion and doubt in his writings about some core Catholic beliefs, but then beating a hasty retreat to an orthodox affirmation of Catholic belief is maddening and troubling to readers. His dutiful retreats to orthodox affirmation tend to be lost in the smoke of the initial confusion he creates. He was surely capable of expressing himself better on such crucial matters and ought to have done so. In my view, the fault appears to lie in Brown's excessive preoccupation, whether conscious or unconscious, with maintaining credibility with the academic fraternity of historical critical biblical scholars, probably due to his being a Roman Catholic priest in a field traditionally dominated by liberal Protestants. The unfortunate end result is that the biblical evidence for important Christian and Catholic beliefs is, in my opinion, needlessly underestimated in some of his writings.
In any event, in 1984 Brown published a book entitled The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist Press 1984), which seeks to illuminate how seven different particular churches described in the New Testament survived the passing of the apostles who founded and inspired them. This book is an intentional pastoral departure from his more technical and scholarly works, and thus allows Brown to be more direct and sensible in his analysis of Scripture free of the professional inhibitions of his scholarly fraternity. It is worth focusing on some passages that capture with remarkable conciseness the state of the Church in the United States and probably in a few other Western nations.
In commenting on the ecclesiology found in the Johannine Epistles, Brown writes about a modern version of what he calls "the loss of heritage" that he sees in the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism. Note that these are the words of a critical biblical scholar highly esteemed by those who consider themselves to be in the mainstream of American Catholicism. These words do not come from a fuming traditionalist. In describing the aftermath of Vatican II, Brown comments on the failure to pass on the Catholic heritage, a failure also noted more recently in a lecture by Francis Cardinal George of Chicago:
. . .Roman Catholicism suffered from the suddenness and dramatic quality of the changes, so that polemics followed the Council; . . . . The new developments that had affected the lives of the teachers were the substance of the message communicated to the children, but concomitantly this involved a neglect of much Catholic tradition that was not affected by the Council-- the distinctive presuppostions of Catholic life. As a result, the generation that grew up in the 1970s . . . were often painfully ignorant of much of their Catholic heritage . . . .
Brown, pp. 117-18.
This continuing decline in Catholic practice was brought home to me recently during the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in a way that confirms the flaccid nature of American Catholicism when compared to the robust Catholicism of Africa. The Nigerian priest who was the guest homilist at the Corpus Christi Mass I attended noted how in Africa and other places this solemnity is marked by a joyous Eucharistic procession through towns and villages. He made a point of noting the contrasting absence of such a procession in our particular American celebration of the same feast. The message was obvious to those with ears to hear: Catholics in America need to recover their Catholic identity. I was even happily surprised to read some comments by Andrew Greeley, a cleric whose work I dislike for very good reasons, also opining that American Catholics need to recover distinctive Catholic practices such as solemn processions.
Father Brown further and more specifically summarizes our tragic losses in the aftermath of Vatican II in a catalogue that will resonate with many:
But others, and I would include myself among them, while enthusiastic for what was introduced into Catholicism by Vatican II, see no need for the concomitant losses, e.g., of inner-Catholic loyalty, obedience, and commitment to the church; of dignity in liturgy; of Gregorian chant; of a knowledge of the Latin tradition reaching from Augustine through Thomas to the Middle Ages. To try now to recoup some of those losses while still advancing the gains of Vatican II would be an act of eminent good sense.
Brown, p. 118.
That programme of recouping the losses has been the programme for the past 25 years of John Paul II with the able assistance of Cardinal Ratzinger, although it is a programme which in spite of its "eminent good sense" is stubbornly misunderstood by extremists on the left and on the right. That ideological misunderstanding is especially evident in the obtuseness of publications like the National Catholic Reporter about whose mission Fr. Brown had some apt words: "The dubious service that the National Enquirer renders to the nation, the National Catholic Reporter renders to the church" (Brown, p. 56). This particular book by Raymond Brown has other valuable pastoral insights that will further enlighten and probably surprise the reader, especially when coming from such an "establishment" figure.