The Twilight of Modernism

A reader writes…

Most Catholics and most others are pro life. It doesn’t mean they want to recriminalize abortion, contraception, return to the days before divorce was easily available or further stigmatize homosexuality, neither do they embrace the culture of pseudo celibate, closeted Gay, clergy. They aren’t misogynists, homophobes, child sodomizers or heretic burners.

Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church do so because they feel proprietary about it and don’t want to leave its great legacy in the hands of those that currently control it. People like you.

It’s sort of a dizzying comment, and only in the loosest way connected with the post it was “responding” to.

Let me address each point individually:

  1. The reader, “reddog,” speaks a lot of “Most Catholics” and “Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church.” Other than the statement that most Catholics are pro-life, these claims are all extremely suspect, and some are outright false. I agree with Carlos, who politely suggested he might just be projecting his own views, or the views of the rather theologically liberal views he runs in, onto Catholicism writ large.
  2. Beyond all this, all of these are arguments from popularity. Even if some of the “most Catholics” claims are right, so what? Most Catholics in the early 20th Century in the South disagreed with the Church on racial equality, including a disturbing number of priests, and likely more than a few bishops. Were they right because in their pocket of Catholicism, at that point in history, they were a majority? Or do we find that sort of parochially-obsessive logic silly and ineffective at determining the Truth?
  3. Reddog claims next that most Catholics are pro-life, but don’t want to recriminalize abortion. He’s right that most are pro-life, and most Catholics want more restrictions on abortion. The position that “abortion is murder, but we should keep it legal” is utterly indefensible morally. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of things which are sinful, but which for prudential reasons ought to be kept legal. Drunkenness is a mortal sin, but Prohibition was a terrible idea (and, of course, moderate alcohol consumption isn’t sinful). So it isn’t true that anything which violates the religious, or even the moral-ethical codes of Catholics (or anyone else) should be outlawed. There are two reasons to keep an immoral activity legal. One, it’s a sin against God, but not natural law: we aren’t a theocracy, so all of our laws are based on sources other than Divine revelation. It’s wrong to legislate something like mandatory Mass attendance. It’s not wrong to legislate against murder. The former violates religious law, the latter revealed law. The other reason is because (like Prohibition) the costs of legislating outweigh the benefits of the legislation. But for this particular crime against God and nature, we’re talking about the slaughter of children in the womb. It’s a crime against natural law as surely as any other form of murder, and plenty of non-Christians share our pro-life convictions for reasons other than “God says this is wrong.” And there are no possible consequences to outlawing child-murder which would outweigh the horrors of millions upon millions of abortions. So regardless of the number of Catholics who may, in contrast to the teachings of the Church, think it’s okay to let murder be legal, I say to them: you’re wrong.
  4. After this, he recites a litany of things which they also don’t want to do: one sentence talks about how these Catholics want legal and easily available contraception, abortion, and divorce, yet are “pro-life.” But given that these are the major threats to life in modern America, how would one defend these things?
  5. Then he talks about how these Catholics are against “pseudo celibate, closeted Gay, clergy.” If his point is that homosexuals and those who aren’t celibate make poor priests, amen! If his point is that most priests fall into those two categories, he’s obviously and inexcusably wrong. Most priests are actually celibate, heterosexually-oriented-but-not practicing men who have foregone the promise of wife and children for a greater good. These priests need our support, not our slander.
  6. This is followed by a sentence too bizarre to respond to about witch burning and child sodomy. What does it MEAN?
  7. Then comes the snark: “
    Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church do so because they feel proprietary about it and don’t want to leave its great legacy in the hands of those that currently control it. People like you.

    The first thing I’d say is that reddog, or as you call yourself, “Most of those who remain in the Catholic Church,” you need to address this issue in your own life, and stat. If it’s true that you’re only still in the Church because you “feel proprietary” and think you own it, I’ve got news for you. It’s the Body of Christ, and HE owns it. If you’re trying to own the the Church, you’re nothing more than a leech on the Body, sucking out what is good and adding nothing positive. Besides that, this is petty and childish. You’re old, man, and you’ll almost certainly be dead by the time I hit your age. Do you really want to go meet Christ and say, “Yeah, I kept acting like a hippie adolescent into the twilight of my life, and tried to turn the Catholic Church into my generation’s legacy”? Do you think He, or anyone else, will be impressed by that? Good luck.

Beyond that, whether you like it or not, the humans who man the Barque of Peter will shift to an ever-younger generation. And this means that the work of the Modernists is in its collective twilight (barring the unforeseen), because they’ve managed to alienate the very young, liberal Catholics they were counting on perpetuating their heresies.

Because of the work of baby boomer Modernists, a striking number of young Catholics feel disconnected from the Church. I heard it summarized really well like this: the reason that younger generations in the Church are more faithful and orthodox is because the young people who hold the views of the older heretics in the Church don’t both calling themselves Catholic. So as for maintaining that legacy, even your ideological bedfellows don’t find your views Catholic. And the attempts to “be relevant,” those attempts which so define Modernism, make it aesthetically repulsive: Kumbaya doesn’t really “speak to” the Millennial generation. Modernism is trapped in the early 60s, and those who love God, good art, or both, should rejoice in its death.
Modernism, like almost every other heresy which has plagued the Church, is banal and uninteresting. Once the novelty wears off – and believe me, it has – people aren’t attracted to it, dooming those who thought they were paving the way for a New Church to watch their pet projects slowly die (If you think it’s hard being a Modernist, try one of the heresies even further past its expiration date, like being a Monophysite). As for the Church’s great Legacy, on the other hand, it is protected by Someone a lot stronger, and less mortal, than yourself: the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.
I recognize that my tone here has been sort of harsh, but it’s because I think a firm shaking is the best cure for these delusions that you’re somehow representing the noble masses of Catholicism, or that Catholicism needs your protecting to survive. I assure you that it is all done out of love, and concern for your soul. I know that most of those drawn into the heresy of Modernism were repelled by the rules-centric and oppressive-feeling culture of the Church at a certain point in the Twentieth Century. Your reaction was against what were largely legitimate grievances, although your reactions to these grievances haven’t all stood the test of time well (a strong system of rules would have been great when there were non-celibate priests raping kids).
Truth be told, those of us committed and devoted to the Church and Her teachings largely aren’t interested in going backwards (many of us weren’t even alive for the “back then” you’re afraid of). Look at the successful and growing orthodox organs in the Church: Opus Dei is a great example. Opus Dei is committed to, even obsessed with, laymen and women living out the Faith in their daily life, and dedicate themselves to equip those people with the tools to do so. That’s the sort of empowerment which the Second Vatican Council was all about.
So I don’t think you have as much to fear from “people like me” as you think. Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity, which views Vatican II as one of the many parts of the Church’s blessed heritage, means that there’s no such option as going back to before the Council. We’re interested in moving forward, beyonds Modernism, not backwards to an idealized past.

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