Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is liberal Catholicism irrelevant?

Recently there's been a spate of articles, by Patrick J. Deneen, Rod Dreher and Bonchamps of The American Catholic, all of whom argue from a single premiss: The struggle for the soul of American Catholics is no longer between "liberals" and "conservatives" as the MSM defines these camps (I prefer the terms "progressive" and "orthodox"), but rather between different strains of conservative Catholics. Claims Deneen:

The real action does not involve liberal "Catholics" at all. Liberal Catholicism, while well-represented in elite circles of the Democratic Party, qua Catholicism is finished. Liberal Catholicism has no future—like liberal Protestantism, it is fated to become liberalism simpliciter within a generation. The children of liberal Catholics will either want their liberalism unvarnished by incense and holy water, or they will rebel and ask if there’s something more challenging, disobeying their parents by “reverting” to Catholicism. While "liberal" Catholicism will appear to be a force because it will continue to have political representation, as a "project" and a theology, like liberal Protestantism it is doomed to oblivion.

Someone needs to tell liberal Catholics that. Angela Bonavoglia, feminist columnist and useful idiot for HuffPo, is also the author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church, and is still very much under the impression that the fight isn't doomed. Same with Kate Childs Graham, a gay feminist whose rationale for calling herself a "pro-choice Catholic" is as narcissistic and intellectually dishonest today as it was when first published by the National Catholic Fishwrap five years ago. Neither Bonavoglia nor Graham are "baby-boomers"; they're as much "Generation X" as I am (perhaps more, as I was born close to the cusp between the two cohorts). And lest you think I'm picking on feminists, let me refer you back to Young Catholics for Choice, who don't just support abortion upon request but rather a whole host of positions that run counter to Catholic moral dogma. YCFC is by no means populated by aging hippies, but rather is run by and for twenty- and thirty-somethings.

This is not to say that Deneen's postulate — "liberal Catholicism" will eventually become irreligious progressivism — is incorrect. No, the error is in deciding that, because liberal Catholicism is doomed, it's no longer a valid source of concern.

In some orthodox Catholic circles, it's common to speak of "the biological solution". It's established that social conservatives tend to have more children than do political liberals. It's easy to look at this fact and get sidetracked into a discussion about comparative education, IQs and income levels. The point, however, is that by advocating, supporting and living according to an ideology that consciously and deliberately depresses birth rates, progressives commit themselves to a declining presence in society — that is, if Darwin is anything to shout about. Put another way, progressives are slowly contracepting, aborting and sodomizing themselves out of the gene pool, or at least out of dominating it. (And liberals are supposed to be both more intelligent and better educated?)

The assumption here is not that political orientation is genetic but that it is yet a heritable trait, that families tend to share beliefs, attitudes and values, and pass them down to succeeding generations. The assumption, however, doesn't take into account the influence of the larger social context. Conservatives, particularly Catholic conservatives, routinely complain of the pervasiveness of progressive indoctrination in our school systems from kindergarten through graduate studies, as well as its dominance of our arts and entertainment. Orthodox Catholics regularly gripe about poor catechesis, liturgical innovations and lukewarm homiletics, all of which fail to reinforce Catholic teaching where they don't actively introduce heresy. Progressivism doesn't simply reproduce like an organism, it replicates like a virus. And many young Catholic minds are currently being formed without the rational or factual antibodies to fight off the infection.

Orthodoxy is on the rise within the Church; outside the Church, however, conservativism is in retreat, its identity fragmented and its leadership divided. Indeed, there is hardly a political orthodoxy among conservatives as there is a religious orthodoxy among Christians and Jews. The Republican Party, as the default "conservative" party, awaits not only a charismatic leader with a plan for victory in 2016 contest but an articulation of principles and beliefs that can give conservative voters not only something to rally around but also a viable identity other than as miserly meanies in thrall to Wall Street, as "anti-progressive". We may comfort ourselves that all is not yet lost, nor will all be lost permanently, yet that won't change the fact that conservativism is failing, and that what finally drives progressivism out of the captain's chair may not be anything we now recognize as "conservative".

The cleavages within the orthodox branch of American Catholicism are interesting and instructive to watch. Nevertheless, the minor disagreements between Deneen's "liberals" and "illiberals" shouldn't distract us from the more exacting and perilous fight between Catholic orthodoxy and pseudo-Catholic progressivism. Nature will eventually compensate for progressivist idiocy: “Vice is its own curse. If we let nature alone, she cures vice by the most frightful penalties” (William Garham Sumner, The Forgotten Man, #14, cit. in Bonchamps [2014], p. 3). Yet it still has plenty of power and plenty of potential damage it can do in the meantime; that it will fail naturally is no argument that we should let it run rampant until it does finally fail.