Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Rise of the Faux Catholic

(with many thanks to Clinton for the turn of phrase!)

Note: most of this section can easily be adapted to the case of "faux Christians", in the general sense (try it, and see!); I restrict myself to Catholicism, since I'm most familiar with Catholic teaching, and since I'm of that Church, myself.

It doesn't take much to get the average faithful Catholic (or faithful non-Catholic, for that matter) to notice: the 55%+ of them voting for the President-Elect of Death, the vast percentage of "Catholic" retreat masters/mistresses who count themselves among their number, the plentiful "crop" of similarly-minded contributors to Vox Nova and the like, the "ardent, practicing Catholics [sic]" (h/t "One Mom") who unapologetically promote abortion, and on and on, almost interminably. In our culture, the word "Catholic" has been subtly redefined. It used to mean "any person who is validly baptized, who (in his/her adult life) gives full assent to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church, and who strives to obey the Church's laws regarding Faith and morals." Now, on the cusp of 2009, it's been changed (in the common parleyance, anyway) to mean, "anyone who wants to label themselves Catholic, regardless of belief, lifestyle, or "choices").

"Abortion? Only one issue among many... and an annoying and narrow-minded one, too! As if anyone is really 'pro-abortion'; hmf... the very idea! Besides, 'too much' talk about abortion is hardly fitting for balanced, nuanced, open-minded, non-conservative, non-orthodox, non-Pharisaic, tolerant followers of the true, compassionate Jesus (if He existed, that is). Besides, if you're so pro-life, why do you support the war, huh? Huh? I bet you do..."

"Same-sex marriage? Come on, get over it; what harm does it do your marriage if two men (or women) who love [sic] each other want to marry? How spiritually immature of you to be so uncomfortable with that! Are you sure you're comfortable with your own sexuality?"

"Contraception? Grow up! Are you serious? You're the same 'oh, so orthodox' people who want to get rid of abortions, but you're the same people who won't let women have access to common-sense [sic] birth-control [sic: see what G.K. Chesterton says about that!]? Isn't it time you took another look at your unquestioning obedence to a bunch of man-made rules designed by a bunch of celibate, sexually repressed old men in Rome at the expense of women?" [In all likelihood, insert a gratuitous cheap shot about the sex abuse scandals among some members of the Catholic priesthood, here.]

Translation: the Faux Catholic has risen.

What's a Faux Catholic, you ask? Depending on how specific you want to be, the definition is laughably simple, or else frighteningly complicated. The easiest defintion is, "someone who claims (or is supposed) to fit the definition of 'Catholic', but doesn't." This gets complicated by the fact that spiritual laws and definitions are notoriously difficult to enforce "externally", this side of Eternity, and many who are responsible for teaching and protecting those laws and definitions have tolerantly smiled and nodded their acquiesence (or "nodded" as they dozed off) as the definition of "Catholic" gradually changed to include almost anything and everybody.

Interestingly enough: if you try to challenge a Faux Catholic on any point of Catholic discipline (e.g. celibate priesthood, obedience to the Holy Father, etc.) or doctrine (e.g. the Church's condemnation of abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research [ESCR], etc.), he/she will usually "morph" into one of two things: a Faux Canon Lawyer, or a Faux Wolverine. (Such a transformation might actually be fascinating to see, in other circumstances, if the gravity of their falsehood weren't so appalling, and if the stakes were not so high.) I've challenged many such fantastic creatures, and I've yet to see any third (or further) options...

What's the explanation for Faux Catholicism? Quite frankly, it's easier... at least, in the short run. That's the explanation for every heresy that has ever plagued Christianity: heresy is easier than orthodoxy, on one or more levels (e.g. the level of understandability, or of practice, or of emotional satisfaction, etc.). I admit, I *have* seen such heresies "morph" into exotic new versions that (ironically) outstrip true orthodoxy in complexity and/or rigidity... but that never happens until the original heresy proves itself shallow and unrewarding (as it always does), and its adherents "over-correct".

For the Catholics who've become infected with this disturbing disease, why do such people not simply be consistent, and leave the Catholic Church in favour of a religion which is more tolerant of their secular definition of tolerance? So far, I've heard at least three convincing explanations (one of which is from Clinton, from whom I took the phrase--it's only fair that I list his, first! :) ):

1) Catholic institutions offer greater-than-average job security--both in job sustainability, and in reluctance to fire the incompetent, the apathetic, the incurably confused, and the rebellious. This is a fairly strong argument (and it can readily be combined with the others), since the members of Catholic institutions--at least for the last 50 years or so--have ingested the secular redefinitions of "Catholic" and "tolerance" to the point where they fear to discipline wayward employees (how would they earn a living wage, otherwise?) or volunteers (goodness, they've given of their own time when no one else would; we can't get rid of *them*!). To those of this mindset, it's far more important to have a job filled than to have it filled *well*. "Not expecting perfection" becomes the buzz-phrase for "not expecting the job responsibilities to be followed at all".

2) They have a primitive, ineffable recognition of the Church's solidity and authority (which they would call "power"), and they don't want to give that up. To split away from the Church would be to become just another tiny "socially-conscious splinter group" (the Elks probably wouldn't take them as a group, anyway) who are very easily ignored by the world at large. After all: if you're at the weapons panel of a battleship, which would seem the more efficient way of getting your agenda pushed: to commandeer the battleship weapons, or to jump ship onto a raft and be content to bang the side of the battleship with your wooden oar?

3) They're scared. They fear persecution from the secular world (especially the media and their devotees), they don't know how to draw upon God's gift of supernatural courage (no one ever showed them how, since many of their elders were infected with the same disease), and they're starving for approval from the "cool people" (i.e. the media, Hollywood, and all who seem to have what they don't have).

(Side note: As a high school teacher, I've seen many different flavours of this: where student [x] will do some of the most remarkably disrespectful, destructive, and even cruel things, all because they're starved for attention, and their entire lives have been one long training ground, teaching them that "only negative attention will get mommy and daddy's attention away from the TV, the whiskey, their fight with each other, and so on"; by that point, it almost takes a miracle for them to *stop* doing stupid things, even if *good* ways to get attention are readily at hand! Only attention from "The Cool People" (whatever that means, at the moment) matters; attention from proper authorities? Pfft! Get real...)

As a hat-tip across cyberspace: Paul, in his excellent blog, offers the hypothesis that many of such people--specifically those who give vocal support for the "abortion-tolerant" position while disavowing the idea that they're "pro-abortion"--are lying. This hypothesis, to my eyes, is getting more and more difficult to refute by the day. I personally (being something of a mathematical purist) will acknowledge the mathematical possibility that someone might have just the right mixture of mental imbalance, bad upbringing and abysmal ignorance to hold such a position without being culpable for lying... but the number must be vanishingly small, even then.

So... given the disease of Faux Catholicism, a basic description, and some idea of its origins, what do we do about it? Is it curable? Treatable? Something?

Perhaps. But one thing at a time; the diagnosis comes first, and then comes the medical intervention. Here's a quick "self-diagnostic tool" for those at home who lay claim to the title of "Catholic":

1) Are there any circumstances in which you'd find a direct abortion (i.e. the direct killing of an unborn child) permissible? (E.g. rape, incest, danger to the life of the mother?)

2) Are there any circumstances in which you'd find artificial contraception (e.g. condoms, IUD's, injections, etc.) permissible?

3) Are there any circumstances in which you'd find homosexual sexual activity permissible?

4) Are there any circumstances in which you'd find ESCR (i.e. the extraction of stem cells from an embryonic baby, causing the baby's death) acceptable?

5) Are there any circumstances in which you'd find euthanasia (i.e. so-called "mercy killing") acceptable?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you've embraced a position that the Catholic Church condemns as intrinsically evil. If, after being made aware of that, you *persist* in that position, you can confirm your diagnosis as a "Faux Catholic".

More to come.

P.S. At the risk of sounding incongruous, at the end of a severe-sounding post:

Praise God, Jesus is Come in the Flesh!
Merry Christmastide!