Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The rise of the New Catholic Pharisees

First, some good news: I did manage to finish the entire manuscript of the second book in the Adventures of Ordinary Sam series (which, right now, looks as though it will be a trilogy, but one never knows).

I love writing fiction, but I also sort of miss blogging. So I want to make an attempt to get back to it.

Fortunately, the Catholic Blogosphere is always full of reasons for me to want to blog. The latest thing I've been noticing is a phenomenon I can only call the rise of the New Catholic Pharisees.

The New Catholic Pharisees, like the Pharisees of old, are Catholics who want to place burdens upon their fellow believers--burdens that the Church herself does not place.  And the New Catholic Pharisees come in all sorts--this isn't a "liberal Catholic" problem or an "orthodox Catholic" problem--it's just a Catholic problem.

Take, for instance, the growing push in some quarters to insist that it is pretty much immoral for a Catholic to own firearms. Now, I think all reasonable people could agree that it's not exactly moral for a Catholic to stockpile illegally-purchased assault weapons while publishing anti-government manifestos and listening out the window for the sound of helicopters; it is also not exactly sane. But once you admit that the Church has never, in fact, forbidden Catholics to own various types of personal-use weapons provided they comply with local laws, secure those weapons properly to make sure children or other unauthorized users can't get at them, and carry the proper permits, you pretty much can't turn around and accuse Catholics who do own personal firearms of colluding in mass murder, or anything of the sort. The people who would give a sort of grudging permission for a Catholic who lives out in the country to own a shotgun or rifle in order to protect his livestock from coyotes but bristle in anger at the idea that a Catholic who lives in a dodgy apartment in a bad part of the city might want a pistol to protect herself from violent intruders need to consider whether they're placing a heavier burden on their fellow Catholics than the Church does.

Or consider the rumblings--as yet subdued--about whether a Catholic's duty regarding civic participation means that a Catholic absolutely must vote for one or the other of the major political parties' candidates running for the presidency. The Church doesn't say this. The Church doesn't generally want people to become totally apathetic about the political process (outside of certain times and places in which participation was a sham meant to prop up dictators and fool outside observers, and tempting though it may be to say we are there it isn't true yet), but she does not demand that her American children must vote for a person with either an "R" or a "D" next to that person's name. Insisting that she does teach that is, again, to place a burden on the faithful which the Church herself doesn't place.

Just today I found another example. Sam Guzman at The Catholic Gentleman wrote a lovely post (no, really, I'm serious) about the way NFP has benefitted him in his marriage. But sure enough, a New Catholic Pharisee turned up in the comment box below the post to write the following:
I don’t consider it (Note: NFP) moral. I have given it a good deal of thought, I’ve read the documents, I’ve asked others, I’ve even jumped headlong into arguments to try to “test” the point but up to this point I (genuinely) haven’t been able to think of, nor been given some reason or even happened upon one that can solidly defend it’s morality. Right now I am absolutely certain that the method of “partial abstinence during cycles” is morally wrong. I’m not one to be contrary for the sake of it, if I would be given some information or taught some distinction that I’m missing up to now I would admit I got it wrong and change my mind, that’s not an issue at all. Until that happens though, I’m at liberty to say it is wrong.
So there you have it, ladies and gentleman: in spite of Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II and Church tradition stretching back into the mists of history regarding the moral liceity of married couples abstaining from marital relations during the fertile period for a just reason, a random Internet combox New Catholic Pharisee has decided that NFP isn't moral. Further comments from this person indicate that he seems to agree with the opinion that if a really serious, life-threatening reason exists to avoid pregnancy the couple must abstain completely until the woman reaches menopause. I was tempted to jump into the conversation and ask whether in that case the woman wouldn't still have a duty to risk death in childbirth so that her husband wouldn't fall into serious sexual sin, since grave sin is worse than death, but the better angels restrained me from such obvious baiting.

I find it interesting that there are, apparently, New Catholic Pharisees in every Catholic population. You will see them at E.F. Masses and O.F. Masses; they make an appearance on the left, right, and middle side of every debate. The temptation to place burdens upon our fellow men that are heavier than anything that God, through His Church, ever places upon them is, I fear, a universal one.


Elizabeth said...

This post got me to thinking about Catholic teaching as a Christian Middle Path.

That excerpt, Erin, indicates that some American Catholics may have been overly exposed to the worst aspects of cultish evangelical extremism. What lasting, humane spiritual Way requires all adherents to maintain extreme standards that put their lives at risk, or their possibility of some life satisfaction aside, for the sake of someone’s concept of purity? That’s a totalitarian stance, not a Path of Love.

I recall someone asking, on Rod Dreher’s old BeliefNet blog, if NOT using NFP didn’t amount to a failure to “manage fertility.” This was in response to a post from a Catholic woman who said she and her husband had decided, upon marrying, to just enjoy each other and welcome the babies as they came. She had ten children. They were raising the children that resulted from their couplings - that must count as managing fertility, no?

If someone wants to forego intimacy within their own marriage, and can do it without damaging the bond or themselves or their partner, well, aren’t they special. But how is it their business how other people manage their marriages and fertility?

Frankly, I think your better angel was wrong. Why not get that person thinking about the potential impact of his attitude?

Red Cardigan said...

Elizabeth, I would agree that the couple who can have ten kids and raise them joyfully is very blessed--and it's no one's business if they don't use NFP. When the Church asks those preparing for marriage to learn NFP (as some bishops do), though, I think they're doing so to make sure that IF some dire situation arises the couple isn't left scrambling to figure out the method or facing pressure to use artificial birth control.

I tend to agree with you though about those who want everything to be extreme. I sometimes wonder what's going on there, spiritually--there's usually something.

John InEastTX said...

Just because someone wants to put a burden on me doesn't mean I have to accept it.

A blank smile and slight chuckle works much better for me (in real life) then does trying to convince someone else that I'm going to be better at running my own life then they are at running my life.

I tend to agree with you though about those who want everything to be extreme. I sometimes wonder what's going on there, spiritually--there's usually something.

That, or - perish the thought - there is money to be made by marketing an extreme lifestyle.

Or, why not both?

David Sharples said...

On heavy burdens, you might have included those who say a Catholic should always have their children attend Catholic school, who's prices are now astronomical especially if one has been open to life.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

David, I would agree if they mean as in ruling out homeschooling.

But in most public school districts, the injunction is good sense in so far as it means keeping children away from pûblic school.

It is not Pharisaic to ask parents not to expose their young ones to a choice between compromise on religious issues (like saying to pals "I don't believe EVERYTHING the Church teaches" or things like that) and getting harrassed and bullied.