Monday, February 7, 2011

Intentional Dissidents

As Kevin O'Brien has continued to write about the concept of intentional discipleship, I've been thinking about it, too. I like a lot of what Kevin says: that we can't "make disciples" or do much of anything else without the grace of God; that we are all His unworthy instruments, and can only do our best.

This is not to say that I think the Making Disciples (tm) program is necessarily a bad thing. Like other parish programs like Why Catholic or any of these parish evangelization programs, the Siena Institute's program should be appreciated for its efforts and may be quite helpful in parishes. In fact, since I haven't gone through this particular program nothing I write should be taken as a direct criticism of the program itself--which probably, like most such programs, has valuable strengths and perhaps a few weaknesses here and there which may be ironed out as the years go by.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Church here in America isn't really suffering primarily from a lack of Christian discipleship--not as such, that is. I think what we are suffering from are the Intentional Dissidents.

There are, at the parish level, quite a lot of unintentional dissidents. Forty-plus years of execrable catechesis combined with poor leadership and liturgy ranging, in most places, from the dull and uninspiring to the irreverent and shocking has had its foreseeable effect. (And right now there are Catholics reading this who are muttering to themselves, "What I wouldn't give for my parish to have merely execrable catechesis, only poor leadership, and just dull liturgy!") Add to these things the influence of pop culture, and it's not really all that surprising to hear a sweet-looking elderly lector-lady or long-time volunteer usher tell you that of course the Church has always oppressed and suppressed women, who used to be priests before Constantine got hold of things. These same people, or their counterparts, will tell you sincerely that "Vatican II" changed everything, that nobody really goes to Hell anyway, or that their pastor told them "back in the day" that contraception was fine in their case, so long as they really felt justified using it (which, naturally, they did). Some of them will agree that gay marriage will be embraced by the Church one day, because after all some book or other proved that gays used to have lavish Church weddings back in the days of the Medici--or did they mean the Borgias? Anyway, all that anti-gay stuff was made up by St. Paul, who took all those nice sayings of that nice preacher-revolutionary we call Jesus and twisted them to be mean and hateful against women, gays, and--well--anybody else Paul didn't like.

All of these things are the tenets of Tommy Nutting, whose credo, "Jesus was be nice too..." is the sum total of the deposit of faith as far as many American Catholics today are concerned. I wouldn't like to give an opinion as to whether the abysmal ignorance displayed by the many is evidence of invincible ignorance, or merely a stubborn and rather rooted version of the vincible kind, but either way ignorance of the faith is all too common among Catholics in America in the year 2011.

But it's the intentional dissidents who cause the most problems. They're the ones who can recite relevant Catechism passages as to why contraception is gravely morally wrong--right before they shrug and say something like, "Naturally, you don't have to accept any of that to be a good Catholic." They're the ones who are all for obeying bishops when bishops pronounce against capital punishment--and all for ignoring those same bishops when they speak out against abortion, especially if such pro-life episcopal speech is in any way inconvenient to their future career plans or political ambitions.

Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are Intentional Dissidents of the sort I mean; so, apparently, is Sister Marlene Weisenbeck:
You might remember that precisely at the time where Catholics needed to show their firm opposition to any forced participation in abortion, Sr Weisenbeck led a charge of dissident women who hoped to provide enough cover for the Obama administration to pass a bill that in the future can "codify Roe v Wade." Since FOCA became widely unpopular, the president chose to make his health care legislation the foundation for unlimited abortion funding. Frantic for power and prestige these sisters lead by Weisenbeck publicly opposed the Catholic Church's long held teaching that every life is sacred. I was told that Weisenbeck was called to Rome after that debacle which it seems has not affected her interest in pursuing her political career. Obviously this appointment tells the real story behind her opposition of pro-life efforts and the USCCB. She scratches Obama's back and he scratches hers. Do you think she'll get a pen now too? [All links and emphasis in original--E.M.].
Alas; there was a day when such sycophantic betrayal might get you Wales; now, Sister will be lucky to get a presidential pen. The truth is, there are so many Intentional Dissidents in the Church nowadays, lining up to betray Christ with a kiss, that their price has fallen rather. Sadly, I suspect there will still be dissident Catholics eager to trash the Church in public when they won't even get a campaign button out of it; such is the nature of dissidence, which always seeks to justify itself, and never can.

The problem with the Church in America is that there are too many Intentional Dissidents, and, perhaps, too few Intentional Disciples willing to upset the credo of niceness and stand up to them, calling them out on their betrayal of Christ and His Church. The dissidents have sought, for at least this past forty years, to make it seem as though Christ had divorced His mystical bride and could be followed in some meaningful way while she was excluded; but Christ and His Church are one, and to follow and obey one is to follow and obey the other.


JMB said...

I think that there has always been a large number of intentional dissidents, even prior to the last 40 years. Why the Protestant Revolution? If Catholics truly believed back then, wouldn't they have stayed Catholic?

What is faith? It's a gift from God. Not everyone will recognize it, but a lot do. Look at the numbers of converts that come into the Church every year. The Holy Spirit is at work.

I'm just tired of the blame game. Does it really matter? I sit through lame music, canned homilies, lackluster catechesis, it's all there. But so is the Eucharist. That's why I'm there. I don't understand it myself.

JMB said...

ok, meant Reformation (ha)!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

1) The notion of "codifying" Roe v. Wade is ludicrous. The constitutional issue is jurisdictional in nature: who makes the ultimate decision, the individual citizen, or The State. If it is not the business of The State, both the legislative and executive branches should mind their own business, that is, deal with what IS constitutionally within their jurisdiction.

2) I view the Roman Catholic Church declaring "war" on the duly elected government of any nation with the same revulsion as the advocates of a world wide Islamic caliphate. The United States of America is not, never has been, and by constitutional design cannot be, subordinate to any religious authority. Individual Roman Catholics may be motivated to engage in civil disobedience, but that is between their conscience and their rights as citizens. It does not subordinate OUR government to a foreign prince. Some days I wish Garibaldi had gone ahead and taken the Vatican as well as the rest of Rome.

3) I suspect that Erin, for all her professed conservatism, would have felt herself bound to give the same obedience to Dom Helder Cammara as to any other duly installed archbishop. That is not true of all conservative Catholics. Many of them also cherry pick which authorities they give obedience to. (Dom Helder is remembered for the observation "When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a communist."

John Thayer Jensen said...


The United States of America is not, never has been, and by constitutional design cannot be, subordinate to any religious authority

The problem is that abortion, like slavery, theft, murder, and many other matters of ordinary natural morality, is not a religious issue, nor has it anything to do with conservatism. The government has the same moral duty of forbidding it that it has of forbidding slavery, theft, murder, and other crimes against natural justice.


L. said...

Naturally, I read this and shrugged and said something like, "You don't have to accept everything to be a Catholic."

I think it's better to be a dissident Catholic than not be Catholic at all, and I accept that not everyone agrees with this.

Bathilda said...

I shrugged along with L. It might sound childlike to say this, but I just can't get over Catholic arrogance. We are right. you are wrong. Jesus and the Church are one. maybe. you are just relying on faith that it is true. As one Agnostic friend says, "I don't know, but neither do you." Your finger pointing, name calling, and outright dismissal of Catholics who don't follow blindly with a hook in their mouths is just scary.

Anonymous said...

I like your writing. You are a forceful writer and you back up what you say with evidence, etc. This post encapsulates the big picture for me, but the big question is....What do we, or the bishops and priests specifically, do about it?

I see thoughts such as reflected in this post all over the Catholic blogosphere, but I don't see the thoughts taken to their natural conclusion.

Example: If bishops and priests were to start hollering about the evils of contraception, en masse, at Mass, what would happen to the Catholic Church in America? It could dwindle down to literally 5% of its current size. Are we really willing to do that?

LarryD said...

Example: If bishops and priests were to start hollering about the evils of contraception, en masse, at Mass, what would happen to the Catholic Church in America?

First of all, hollering isn't necessary. It's possible to speak truth convincingly without having to shout - shouting is never persuasive. If more bishops and priests permitted the Holy Spirit to work through them as they boldly yet humbly proclaimed ALL the truths of the faith - not just about the evils of contraception - I think you would be surprised at how many people would be attracted to that, and make the effort to amend their lives, repent of their sins and live their lives fully as dynamic Catholics.

I think that would mean a smaller Catholic church is America, and that parishes would close and merge, and maybe even some dioceses would consolidate. That's not necessarily a bad thing, nor a permanent one. Just as God led Gideon to victory with only 300 soldiers, He will continue to lead His Church. As last Sunday's gospel told us, we are to be salt and light for the world. If we go along like 95% of the other Catholics who contracept, then we aren't fulfilling the gospel. And neither are the bishops or priests who don't preach against it.

Also, many would remain in the Church as intentional dissidents anyway, and their level of participation and contribution wouldn't change much. They'd continue to stop up their ears and go about their lives. But - perhaps they would be surrounded by more faithful Catholics than they had been in the past, and perhaps by their examples, the I.D.'s would allow the grace of God to break their stony hearts.

What it comes down to is not worrying about the logical conclusions - because at the end of the day, God's ways are not our ways. Our job is to be faithful, to be ready to defend the faith, and to give reasons for our joyfulness. We have the spirit of boldness and love, not timidity and fear. Encourage your priests and bishop to speak the truth in love, and pray for them to be strong. And be salt and light to those around you - because it's not just the bishops and priests who have to proclaim the Gospel.

Chris-2-4 said...

"I just can't get over Catholic arrogance."

Indeed! Which is arrogant? To accept the traditional teaching of the Church in obedience or to set oneself up as the authority?

With respect, I hope you do eventually find a way to get over such arrogance.

Anonymous said...

LarryD, I didn't mean literal hollering : )

Yes, I agree, if bishops and priests really started talking about these things, the size of the Church would go into a cliff fall. And quickly. I would say to possibly 1/20th of its current size.

I think even Orthodox Catholics enjoy the fact that the Church is still large and influential. We shrink down to 1/20th of our size, well, we'll be like the Amish basically.

Bathilda said...

I'm saying that you don't know who's better... Most religions claim to be the true way. Eastern Orthodox has a pretty good claim on history. I don't think that I am arrogant to not follow a church that I don't know to be the one true authority over me or anyone else. Don't bother with the not being open to the holy spirit tripe. not true. I'm just saying that no one knows for absolute certain that any one church is right all of the time...unless God has told you directly... who's arrogant now?

Chris-2-4 said...

"...unless God has told you directly... who's arrogant now?"

So... the person who believes Church teaching through Faith based on Scripture and the Church is arrogant, but the person who insists that they need not believe unless God appears to them face to face, is not arrogant?

I don't think that word means what you think it means...

Rebecca in CA said...

I think it might dwindle at first but (speaking as a convert here) I think a lot of people would be attracted to the firm teaching of the truth. The fact is, truth can be hard but it also speaks to the heart. People actually do thirst for something that is larger than what can be contained by their own minds, something that is more than just a fulfilment of what they think they want. I am strongly of the opinion that if priests did start speaking the truth from the pulpits, in charity and compassion of course but without watering down, the Catholic Church would in a few years be larger than it ever was.

bathilda said...

okay, chris, I'll bow to you as a good spin doctor. But you know what I mean. There are different churches founded on scripture that aren't catholic, and they have their interpretation, and you have yours.

Rebecca, I think that you are correct that people need something larger than themselves. that's why we have organized religions in the first place. I think that if the catholic church said take the hard line, or get out, a lot would be just as happy in protestant or evangelical churches, many of whom have a much more welcoming attitude. I think that the 1/20th prediction above is more like it. I don't know how accurate any polls are, but I would say that there are VERY few Catholics who obey Rome on every last thing. I am a convert Catholic who mostly started because my husband was Catholic and wanted to be married in the church. What kept me in the classes was an amazing priest who did indeed tell me that I didn't have to go to confession. I'm pretty sure that he's gay, but I don't know for sure. he is no longer a priest, as he was arrested for exposing himself to a police officer at a rest stop many years ago. He was whip smart, a beautiful man, a powerful speaker, and he brought me into the Church. A false view of the Church as many of you will say, but in all the priests I have talked to, they have ALL taken a very liberal stance to Rome and all of the other nitty gritty. I can have no other opinion from my own personal experience than much of the church is indeed NOT orthodox and it is a fringe movement.

c matt said...

you are just relying on faith that it is true.

Well, yes and no. Faith complemented by reason (or reason complemented by faith, take your pick). Not "just relying on faith". For example, it doesn't take difficult reasoning to figure out abortion is immoral; it does take a lot of emotional manipulation to justify it, though.

Dave said...


Have you seen the trends in religious orders and seminaries? The growing orders and the younger priests and seminarians are all orthodox. So if that's a "fringe" movement, why are the progressive orders dying of old age?

Bathilda said...

we'll just have to see what comes next... Growing orders are still small. even if the priests start in with orthodoxy, we'll see how many sheep they get for their flocks that are orthodox as well.

bathilda said...

c matt, you are correct in that much of morality can be reinforced in reasoning. However, our religious practices--believing that bread and wine turn to flesh and blood, that many miracles were/are performed takes a suspension of reason that is only faith. We tell our children that magic isn't true, but we expect them to believe that sometimes it is... I'm willing to call myself a child here...

L. said...

LarryD, if the Church took an orthodox turn, and this part proved to be true...

"Also, many would remain in the Church as intentional dissidents anyway, and their level of participation and contribution wouldn't change much. They'd continue to stop up their ears and go about their lives..."

So what would the difference be, then?

Charlotte said...

All I know is that when my priest preaches against abortion at mass, there always seems to be one or two people who walk out in the middle of mass. (I'm usually thinking "Good! Leave!" Although I should probably pray for them.)

I can't imagine what people would do if active preaching against contraception took place. But I agree with Larry, it doesn't have to be "hollering," even while people who don't want to hear the Truth will consider it inflammatory hollering and badgering anyway.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

My dear friend John Thayer Jensen,

Assuming, arguendo, that abortion is indeed something "The government has the same moral duty of forbidding" that it has of "forbidding slavery, theft, murder, and other crimes against natural justice," you would be, or are, morally correct to exercise your rights and duties as a citizen to see that it is forbidden. You may well be inspired by your church in the performance of that duty.

However, this does NOT mean that the hierarchy of your church may dictate to OUR government what it shall, or shall not, forbid. Nor does it mean that church cannon law is mandatory authority in the civil court of our nation. There is a difference.

Recently, an anonymous poster opined at Gary Fouse's blogspot site that Islamic Shariah law is above the law of any nation. The only difference in logic or reason between this assertion, and a similar assertion by the Vatican, is that each speaker perceives that "I am right and you are wrong."

The point of separating church and state is precisely that only a direct recourse to God can determine who IS right, and every speaker claims the mantle of divine authority. Further, you cannot change a person's soul, mind, heart or spirit at the point of a sword, although you certainly can enforce obedient adherence to a prescribed ritual.

I think LarryD is right that if the church insisted on adherence to its teachings, it would be smaller, but more of one accord. I suspect it would stay that way, with the inflow of converts balanced by the outflow of cradle Catholics who decided, this isn't for me.

But who am I to tell a Catholyc that they have no place in the church to which they were born, in which the were raised, and to which they wish to cling?

Anonymous said...

However, our religious practices--believing that bread and wine turn to flesh and blood, that many miracles were/are performed takes a suspension of reason that is only faith.

Not a suspension of reason, but reason needs to be complemented by faith. The two cannot be contradictory. And it is not contradictory to believe in an omnipotent God and that He can perform miracles/Eucharist. In fact, it would contradict reason to believe in an omnipotent God and not believe He could perform miracles. At least in principle, if you believe in God, you would have to believe miracles can occur, including transubstantiation. Otherwise, it would be a logical contradiction.

c matt (for some reason, could not comment under name/url)

Anonymous said...

Miracles are not magic in the commonly understood sense. Magic implies a power by which an individual human being can suspend the laws of nature of his own accord and under his own control. But no human being can do that. Only God, as the author and controller of the laws of nature can do that (and He can do that through human beings if He so chooses). Magic would be similar to a character in a story being able to change the story from within. Only the author of the story can change the story (and he may use a particular character to do it). This distinction is made in Acts when the apostles meet with a magician who wants the same power the apostles have to cure people (forgot the citation and the name of the dude)

c matt

Rebecca in CA said...


Unfortunately I don't have any problem believing you that most of the priests and Catholics you have encountered are not terribly interested in being faithful to Rome. And that percentage-wise, right now, faithful Catholics are few and far between. It has happened many times in history, and it's sad and a scandal.

When I was speaking of people wishing for something bigger than themselves, I was not meaning bigger in numbers, or large in the sense of a huge institution. What I meant is that truth is surely larger than any individual's conception of it. Religions which do not require adherence to any certain doctrine, but will conform to whatever the individual likes, may seem more attractive at first, because there is nothing to challenge us or make us feel uncomfortable. But I believe that religions relying on private opinions/interpretations are ultimately suffocating and that finally people do desire to know by a light much greater than the light of their own minds. Unfortunately people try to meet this need by religions which are demanding but unreasonable, and rather than enriching their reason they contradict and trample it. Or, it comes out as fanatic dedication to a political leader or party. There's a legitimate desire there, different from the apathy and self-satisfaction of being one's own Pope, but it is only freeing and humanizing in the context of the Truth.

John Thayer Jensen said...

@c matt:

Miracles are not magic in the commonly understood sense

Neither are the Sacraments. Mark Shea, in his superb trilogy on Mary ("Mary, Mother of the Son" - which you should all buy and read -, makes the interesting point that the Sacraments are almost the opposite of magic.

Magic seeks to use spiritual power - whether demonic or angelic - to effect material results; the Sacraments use material means - water, bread, wine, oil, salt - to effect spiritual results.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Somehow I rather doubt that God has any interest in any of us drinking literal, physical blood, or eating human flesh, even that of Jesus Christ. Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me," and that's all the significance I need. Yes, the shedding of his blood is what is to be remembered, but nobody at the scene of the crucifixion, who had direct access, tried to taste the blood.