Saturday, May 12, 2007

Prophets and Pharisees

The blogger Morning’s Minion posts this Seven Step Program for Right Wing American Catholics that is only partly satirical:
If you want to be a successful right-wing American Catholic, you need to follow the following seven steps. It is extremely important that you master each step before you move on to the next one. Only then will everything fit together, and you will find total peace and enlightenment, and those pernicious liberals can't touch you....(1) Make friends with the evangelical right, and ignore the aspects of their theology that conflicts with Catholicism. At the same time, attack your fellow Catholics on the left. This is a good warm-up exercise, as it is not intellectually very challenging.(2) Tell Catholics that they are prohibited from voting Democratic because of their position on abortion and embryonic cell research. If you are feeling really zealous, throw in gay marriage for good measure. For bonus points, come up with some bogus theological justification (if in doubt, just crib from Catholic Answers).(3) Insist that the bishops deny communion to all Democrats. Feel free to denounce the 99 percent of bishops who do not follow your advice. The key to a success at this stage lies in displaying the right amount of self-righteous outrage.(4) Dismiss Catholic social teaching not mentioned in stage 2 as "mere trifles". Be as dismissive as possible, and don't forget to make condescending remarks about Europe. Make sure you have plenty of good anecdotes. Denounce high taxes, and talk about the long waiting list for hip replacements in Canada.(5) Adopt a zealous America-first nationalism. Make sure to note that anybody who opposes Bush's war is a Euro-weenie, and being a pope does not let you off the hook! To ensure that everybody knows how reasonable your position is, point out the fact that your enemies are inflicted with "Bush Derangement Syndrome" and are leftist moon bat loons. Make sure to denounce Euro-weenies and the United Nations. Bonus points if you can twist just war theory to support the Iraq war!(6) Time for consequentialism: the end justifies the means! Make sure you point out that America did no wrong whatsoever during the Second World War, and make those fools understand that nuking the hell out of those Japanese cities was the only way to defend lives. And point out to those "liberals" that torture may be needed to stop terrorists nuking cities (theological source: Jack Bauer on 24). If you are feeling really clever, you can try and argue that Pope John Paul did not really say what they think he said.(7) Disregard facts, including scientific facts. Dismiss evolution and global warming as liberal hoaxes. Now you are ready to create your own reality, and your task has been accomplished. Congratulations! (Note that before too long someone had posted a similar list for left wing American Catholics.)
This post illustrates an apparent polarization in the US Catholic Church that I have been following in my blog reading for some time. I should note that for some reason the blogs I read are mainly “right wing” – mainly I think because they have a greater presence on the Internet. These writers have been concerned with different things over time. Much was written in the past about the issue of the clerical abuse scandal with particular attention being paid to the alleged misdeeds of any bishops regarding their handling of the matter. More recently a prime concern has been with the liturgy. These “right wing” Catholics attribute much of the malaise in contemporary Catholicism to the liturgical changes that followed Vatican II. They seem to feel that restoring the liturgy of the 1950’s will somehow also restore the religious ethos of those days. They are partly right in that our liturgy needs to go back to emphasizing the sacred and the transcendent but I can recall some Latin masses that were not very reverential either.
I think that the most troubling characteristic of these blogs is their willingness to vilify those who they consider to be less than orthodox. Part of the basis for this seems to be the political culture wars in the USA. One of the accusations leveled by the author of the “seven steps” quoted above is that they have adopted the political agenda of the “right wing” including their tendency to personally attack political opponents. The archbishop of Los Angeles is a favorite target for these writers. This seems to me to be contrary to the prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John (“that they may be one”) and Paul’s exhortations to unity in both Ephesians and Romans. The Catholic Church can embrace a wide variety of people (the original meaning of the word catholic) so why can’t we accept people who are Catholic but who disagree with us. Of course it is true that even in the Gospels we find the disciples fighting over who would be the greatest and in the Acts we find the early Church disagreeing about the application of Jewish law to gentile converts. So, nobody should expect blissful harmony in the Church today.

On one level I suppose these "right wing" writers could be (at least from their own point of view) trying to play a prophetic role in the Church. They certainly feel that the Church has strayed in recent years and are trying to call all of us back to a more fervent, more devout practice of our faith. In the minds of some they might even be trying to drive some “left wingers” from the Church in the belief that a numerically smaller but more devout Church will be more effective. Naturally playing a prophetic role involves alienating some people. Now, here is the tricky part. The other group that insisted on strict rules for their religion and was intolerant of anyone else was the Pharisees. What happened to them? So, I think that the prophetic elements found in some of these “right wing” blogs are good in that they call us back to some important things that have been “left behind” in the years since Vatican II. When these same blogs become so focused on vilifying individual “left wingers” and refusing to see any good in those who disagree with them then they run the risk of becoming Pharisees instead of Prophets.

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