Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The most charitable assumption

I'm busy today, and so the lengthy blog post I had planned for later, involving the much-less-controversial topic of young adult fiction and what's wrong with it, will have to wait; it may appear late tonight, or else tomorrow.

Since I can't manage that, though, let's talk about the real chumps in the whole gay "marriage" thing: my fellow Catholics.

Sometimes I'm tempted to believe that at least 75% of the people who call themselves Catholics in America haven't got enough of the brains the good God gave them to be able to blow their own noses without serious risk of self-injury. This just goes to prove it (hat tip: the Deacon's Bench):
One of the more interesting findings of the poll is that white Catholic voters approve of the 53-year-old Cuomo by almost 3-to-1, or 62 percent to 22 percent, despite the Catholic Church’s staunch opposition to the gay marriage bill, which the Senate passed Friday and Cuomo signed shortly thereafter.

“It’s up, up and away for super-Andrew after the close of the legislative session,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Governor Cuomo’s job approval is high, even among Republicans, and almost 3-1 among Catholics.


Please note: my assumption that my fellow Catholics, especially 62% of the New York ones, are startlingly unintelligent and deeply brainless and almost completely ignorant about the Catholic faith is the most charitable assumption I can make. Otherwise I would have to think that 62% of my fellow Catholics in New York were non-practicing indifferentists, heretics and/or apostates, and that, my friends, would be awfully judgmental of me, as would the corresponding assumption that the Church in New York is a total and absolute failure in the area of proper catechetics, especially in matters dealing with the Church's teaching on marriage and the family--and it's not like scandalously high divorce, abortion, and contraception rates among New York Catholics already illustrate that, or anything.

UPDATE: To avoid confusion, let me state the following (some of which I said in response to a commenter): this post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek humor. I actually do believe that most Catholics in America have very little understanding of Catholic moral issues because they, like most Americans, have almost no training in philosophy or logic. In addition to the decline in quality catechesis, most Catholics are wallowing in a syrupy moral mess where the only commandment God ever gives anybody is, "Always be as nice as possible!" The corollary to this commandment is: good is that which is sort of nice and makes people feel good about themselves, while bad is that which is sort of mean and makes people experience a loss of self-esteem. In that calculation, divorce, homosexual sex, fornication, pornography use, and similar ills can be called "good," while the Church's rules about marriage are "bad" and "hurtful."

You'll hear this sort of nonsense a lot from Catholics who have never heard of Aquinas, let alone any Catholic philosopher who came after his time, and who have no idea what morality actually is, or how, absent a lot of sugary sentimentality, to figure out if something is good or bad, pleasing or displeasing to God--which is the only moral calculation that really matters.

25 comments:

bearing said...

You can be intelligent and have a brain and still be ignorant. I don't think you can infer brainlessness. Plain old ignorance is the most charitable assumption.

At least, it's charitable towards the Catholics.

If indeed they're ignorant, it's close to damning towards the bishops, priests, and catechists.

Who presumably know better.

Unless we assume they are ignorant too.

How far up does this go?

Red Cardigan said...

Um...the post is meant to be sort of tongue in cheek, Bearing.

I actually do believe that most Catholics in America have very little understanding of Catholic moral issues because they, like most Americans, have almost no training in philosophy or logic. In addition to the decline in quality catechesis, most Catholics are wallowing in a syrupy moral mess where the only commandment God ever gives anybody is, "Always be as nice as possible!" The corollary to this commandment is: good is that which is sort of nice and makes people feel good about themselves, while bad is that which is sort of mean and makes people experience a loss of self-esteem. In that calculation, divorce, homosexual sex, fornication, pornography use, and similar ills can be called "good," while the Church's rules about marriage are "bad" and "hurtful."

You'll hear this sort of nonsense a lot from Catholics who have never heard of Aquinas, let alone anybody who followed him, and who have no idea what morality actually is, or how, absent a lot of sugary sentimentality, to figure out if something is good or bad, pleasing or displeasing to God--which is the only moral calculation that really matters.

Hm. Maybe I should update the post, in case anyone else thought "brainless" was meant seriously...

Anonymous said...

These polls are always flawed. I would like to know the percentage of Catholics in NY who attend Mass each Sunday who agree with this. That is the real number.

Deacon Dean said...

This is one of those (not infrequent) posts that makes me so very glad that I happened upon your blog!!

Keep on keepin' on!!

Maureen said...

K-12 in Catholic schools in the diocese of the capital of NY...it was bad when I graduated in 84 and has only gotten worse, much worse. My niece finished her K-12 there a year ago so I have a basis for comparison. It would be comical if it weren't peoples' everlasting souls that hang in the balance.

John E. said...

Otherwise I would have to think that 62% of my fellow Catholics in New York were non-practicing indifferentists...

Naw, that's probably the explanation.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think part of the problem is that a lot of modern Catholics are pretty close to universalists. They believe that anyone who is "basically a decent and nice person" is going to heaven. So, if they're going to heaven anyway, why upset them by telling them they shouldn't be living with their girlfriend?

The calculus changes if sin and hell are real. Because then, the "nice" thing to do for someone in the short term becomes unspeakably cruel in the long term.

Maybe the key is to go back to teaching about sin, satan and hell. (My CCD books growing up were very light on this stuff. On the other hand, the Faith and Life series from Ignatius is pretty frank, even with first graders. My daughter is already better catechized at 7 than I was at 17!)

Hector said...

Re: The calculus changes if sin and hell are real.

More specifically, it changes if the RC church is right about what counts as a sin.

I kind of agree with Red Cardigan here: if you're in a church with which you disagree on some fundamental tenets, you might be better off leaving and joining a church with which you do agree. I don't quite get why so many dissenting Catholics keep calling themselves Catholic, instead of joining a different church, which they are free to do.

Deirdre Mundy said...

A lot of the lapsed/dissenting Catholics I know (the sort who support Gay marriage and premarital sex, for instance) continue to call themselves Catholic not because they have any strong attachment to the Church (it's not like the go to MASS or anything) but because it avoids fights at Thanksgiving dinner.

"Yeah I'm still Catholic and I'll go back to Church some day," beats "Look, I'm totally indifferent to God and I think you are all superstitious morons" as a way to get through to the dessert course without food being flung.....

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Like John, I think the most likely explanation is that the majority of your "fellow Catholics in New York were non-practicing indifferentists, heretics and/or apostates," I also think it is the most charitable. They are not stupid. They do not share your values.

On principle, I agree with Hector that people who don't wish to observe the canons of a church should find themselves another church. On the other hand, I sympathize with people who were raised in a church, who find in it their social home, the place their kids were baptized, the place they were married, the place parents and grand parents are buried, and feel deep down in their bones that they have a RIGHT to a voice in policy.

As I've said at LarryD's blog more than once, there is a name for such people: Protestant. But there are many Catholics who disagree.

I do think if the church comes down as hard as Erin and others have sincerely recommended, the Roman Catholic Church will find itself a much smaller demographic. Maybe we will then all have a more honest sense of who believes in what, and how many of each.

Hector said...

Re: On the other hand, I sympathize with people who were raised in a church, who find in it their social home, the place their kids were baptized, the place they were married, the place parents and grand parents are buried, and feel deep down in their bones that they have a RIGHT to a voice in policy.

I'm not sure I have that much sympathy for them. I converted, plenty of other people convert to a different religion all the time, and endure the subsequent dinner table food fights that Ms. Deirde Mundy refers to. Things would certainly be easier for me if I hadn't converted, so again, I don't have too much sympathy. People just need to bite the bullet, as they say.

Re: As I've said at LarryD's blog more than once, there is a name for such people: Protestant.

Or at the very least, "Non-Catholic".

Re: and feel deep down in their bones that they have a RIGHT to a voice in policy.

This I particularly don't get. The RC Church is not a congregational body, and _no one_ (unless they're a bishop) has a 'voice in policy', if by 'policy' you mean basic matters of doctrine. You can argue that that's a good thing or a bad thing (as someone rather skeptical of democracy, I can see arguments both ways) but it's simply the way it is.

Turmarion said...

Deirdre: The calculus changes if sin and hell are real.

I've posted my thoughts on Hell several times--suffice it to say I'm a cautious universalist, and I think this can be supported from many early Fathers as well as from recent theologians such as Von Balthasar, a favorite of John Paul II whose work has never been condemned. I'm not saying "do what thou wilt be the whole of the law", but I am saying that maybe slinging hellfire and damnation right and left is not a good strategy.

Hector: if you're in a church with which you disagree on some fundamental tenets, you might be better off leaving and joining a church with which you do agree.

I'd broadly say this is correct, but it's more complicated than that. For many people the Church is like family--no matter how much you disagree, it's still family, and you don't quit being part of it. Others persist in the conviction that they are being true to their conscience and that they must witness to it, regardless. Bl. John Henry Newman was in constant trouble with the hierarchy after his conversion, but eventually the Church concurred on most of his views (mainly after he was dead). Should he have left? I don't think so.

Philosophically, one could argue that it's more consistent to leave if you disagree; but one might also say it's better to stay so that you're getting at least some benefit, and who knows--you might reconcile.

Or for a final metaphor, look at it as a marriage. Do you bolt at the first sign of trouble, or during a rough patch? Or do you stick it out?

Think of Medieval peasants--not the ones of romantic fantasy, but the real ones. Most of them probably had a very tenuous grasp of anything beyond the bare minimum of doctrine (historical accounts by scandalized clerics indicate this much), and most of them were probably at the very least mediocre Catholics. Money quote from this interesting post at Vox Nova:

Viewed nostalgically [the Middle Ages were] the age of Christendom, when Catholic teaching permeated and shaped culture and society. But at the same time, it was also a period of very weak faith. Consider just the example of St. Francis of Assisi, whose biographers commend him for reawakening the faith in the hearts of many in whom it had grown cold. One the one hand, they had no faith (as a saint such as Francis would understand it), yet they lived in the “age of Faith” and hewed willingly to their Catholic identity. Why? Because it provided the psychological reassurance of belonging, the illusion that by doing so they were securing God’s love and salvation. Much of the “economy” of salvation—the indulgences, the bequests to the poor, the endless masses—becomes more understandable when we see it in these terms.

Does this mean that almost all Medieval Catholics were doomed indifferentists, or that the Church should have kicked them out? Whatever your answer to that question is, I don't think things have ever really been that much different, mutatis mutandis, from the way they are today.

Charlotte said...

I have no training in philosophy, no decent Catholic catechesis, and some, a bit of experience with logic, and I still say it's all about common sense and nature. Which ultimately means we, as a society, have lost our most basic bearings as to common sense and nature.

Sometime in the last year, I made the "accusation" on my blog that whenever I talk about gay issues, there is dead silence and chirping crickets. I stated that I believed most Catholics - even the orthodox ones - supported gay love, rights, marriage, adoption, whatever. Very few people commented on that post - which was proof in my mind of what I was alleging - but the few who did claimed that is was a losing battle and there were bigger fish to fry, etc.

Sad.

kkollwitz said...

This is one of those times that I remind myself that the rest of America isna't like South Carolina.

John E. said...

@Hector:
I'm not sure I have that much sympathy for them. I converted, plenty of other people convert to a different religion all the time, and endure the subsequent dinner table food fights that Ms. Deirde Mundy refers to.

Well the difference is that you, like Red, take religion seriously.

I suspect that most of the folks you and Red refer to don't.

If religions isn't important to someone, it isn't something that they are going to make a family or social fuss about.

App. Prof said...

I grew up in NY in the seventies. The Catholic Church had very little to offer an adolescent right in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. I ended up in a Pentecostal Church for about a decade. Wacky theology in some areas, but at least they offered a counterculture. My home parish offered "be nice" and "there's no such thing as hell." The only fervent group in my parish (though there always were, and still are, very fervent individuals) was the charismatics (my parents were part of this) and they were dismissed as weirdos. There was a hemorrhage of the serious and fervent to Protestant churches that offered young people active youth groups and challenged them to live by something other than the norms of pop culture. I was sorry to read that according to Maureen, it's actually worse. I believe it, though. And this is why I give some credence to this poll, though I'm sure it's not totally accurate in everything.

Turmarion said...

Here is a fascinating post from Vox Nova that I think should be required reading regarding the discussion at hand over the last few threads here.

Also from Vox Nova is this interesting and provocative post. FWIW.

Barbara C. said...

It mainly just boils down that the majority of Catholics don't actually know what their faith teaches, and they don't really care enough to find out. They figure that they passed the classes, so now they know all they need to know. When they were Confirmed in 8th grade, they became "adults in the Church" and adults don't have to do anything they don't want to do.

Oh, and the Catholic Church is a democracy or should be, because Democracy is the only "good" way for anything to be run. At least that's what all the history books say.

SherryTex said...

Most people's cathecism is poor and experiential at best; what they saw at home, they imitate but like a poor copy of a copy.

Catholicism is not a democracy, it is truth, it is universal, it is beauty and it is both the most difficult and easy way to embrace.

What history books tell is the story narrative of the past, not the template for how a religion should be.

Confirmation at 8th grade is not the issue at hand, the Holy Spirit will work with us whether we are 17 or 13 or 33 or 45 or whathaveyou.

What we really must do is rededicate ourselves to
1) understanding the values we claim to know as truth
2) comprehend that all of these values are the way to live love in action, towards each other and God.
3) be unafraid to articulate these truths because we've bothered to read all the gifted writers thinkers and Saints that came before us guided by the Holy Spirit such that we KNOW what we believe in addition to believing it.

Sorry to run on, but it just got to me.

Anonymous said...

Its our job to seek the truth. Period.

Most of us do not want to seek the truth. We have already made up our minds what the truth is. Then, absent metanoia(if my use of this word is correct), the vast majority of us continue to bolster our positions with a selective abuse of various types of "evidence". This inertia, to most, is way too comfortable and not worth challenging.

I believe, since God loves each of us, to throw up our hands in despair in acceptance of this reality, is too easy as well. But there is not, percentage-wise, a significant chunk of Catholics interested, at all, in accepting Catholic teachings on ANYTHING which contradicts their, firmly established, presumptions regarding right and wrong.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Yes, it is our job to seek the truth. Therefore, I will not take any bishop's word for it.

As Turmarion's fascinating post points out, without perhaps intending to, there are no consistent liberals. We each differ as to what we wish to be liberal about.

Sleeping Beastly said...

@Turmarion: Thanks for turning me on to Vox Nova. Just finished Morning's Minion's insightful response to Robbie George's NRO interview. I'm not in full agreement with him (?) on every tiny detail, but he makes a great point about economic liberalism and the Catholic approach to the common good. Into the RSS feed it goes...

Turmarion said...

Despite the fact that we have areas of disagreement, Beastly, I'm glad to have provided you with a useful resource! :)

Sleeping Beastly said...

@Turmarion: Something tells me our disagreements are more matters of emphasis than anything else. Vox Nova kind of seems to me like the flip side of the Creative Minority Report coin. Wrong in the places where CMR is right, and vice versa. Interesting.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Sherry, we can agree that religion, not limited to the Roman Catholic Church, is not a democracy. It is indeed about truth, and that truth does not depend on elections or on anyone's opinion.

Even congregational church government, although it did provide one root for American democracy, is premised on the Lordship of Jesus Christ as head of the church. Congregationalists believe that a vote among communicant members provides a better sense of the work of the Holy Spirit on each believer and all believers than the pronouncements of any bishop or priest.

Where I have a problem with "obedience" to any church, any religious authority, is the arrogant assumption that ANY person, ANY earthly institution, is an authority for the Truth of God.

I reject that coming from jihadist advocates of a world-wide caliphate, I reject it coming from the Magisterium of your church, I reject it coming from Pentecostal revivalists, although I can find both truth and beauty in the faiths each of the above speak to and presume to speak for.

A thorough catechism can offer a child, or an adult, what any body of religious belief has to offer, but each individual WILL choose for themselves. Most of us will find that no body of doctrine IS the Truth, it merely provides a discipline for seeking the Truth. If we are lucky, we will possess sufficient humility to understand that whatever we learn, or conclude, or consider, we are each bound to be partly wrong, because "my ways are not your ways saith the Lord."