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the sorcerer's apprentice

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 03, 2009

In the course of a somewhat rambling blog-entry on the Washington Post religion site, a Catholic priest reveals some of the sordid origins of Catholic doctrine:

The Pauline analogy of husbands mirroring Christ and wives mirroring the church has within it the seeds of much in theology and church discipline that is sexist and misogynist.


The attitudes that men have towards women are formed very early in their development. We are socialized within our families, in our church communities, in our schools.  If Catholics are told that only men can be, for sacramental purposes, in persona Christi, standing in the place of Christ at the Eucharist, are we seriously meant to believe that this does not lay down the germ of an idea, namely that women are inferior to men, even in the order of God's grace?


[chop]


The sin of clericalism, however, is a choice, and not an ineluctable consequence of being a Catholic priest. Similarly, Catholic men may read St Paul, or the latest Vatican instruction against women priests, and yet come away unconvinced that socially-conditioned notions from 2 millennia ago have the force of divine will.


The mind-set exemplified in the remarks above would hardly be surprising in a rancorous atheist or anti-Christian. The idea that the Church disguised self-serving priestly lies as God's teaching is as old as the Enlightenment, and doctrinaire secularists work continually to delegitimize whatever doctrines are currently unpopular by exposing them as impostures. The game is to show that what the Magisterium presents as the Deposit of Faith vouchsafed to the Church by Jesus Christ turns out -- once the smoke of sexism or patriarchy or class interest has been blown away -- to be nothing other than a pious fraud visited upon the faithful.


Here's what I don't understand. An agnostic or atheist or radical libertarian treats the Church's claims with skepticism because he has declared himself immune from her authority. Fine.  On its own terms that makes sense.  But how can a Catholic -- and still more a Catholic priest -- make use of this skepticism? More to the point: having picked up the tool of skepticism to undercut doctrine A and doctrine B, how does he put it down again to accept as valid doctrines C through Z? If I claim the Church is wrong about, say, the sacrament of Orders -- whereas the common opinion of my own social class in my own time has it right -- how can I know the Church is a reliable teacher regarding those doctrines I cherish, such as the duty of charity, or the universal destination of goods, or the Resurrection? How can I know these doctrines won't themselves be exposed as frauds twenty years from now?  How can I acquit myself of that self-serving arbitariness I impute to the apostles and the Church fathers?


The author of the remarks above, we're told, belongs to the Society of Jesus, an order whose claim to work "for the defense and propagation of the Faith" has been flipped by its leadership into a kind of po-mo spoof. You're supposed to clue-in to the fact that the traditional mottos are still repeated but what's afoot in their efforts is not your grandfather's defense and propagation. "Creative fidelity" is the Jesuit term of art for dismantling Church teaching under the pretense of patching up the weak points. One notes with admiration the creatively faithful way our Jesuit has, ahem, defended an unpopular teaching by associating it with misogyny and the sin of clericalism. Yet my difficulty remains: having switched on the engine of the hermeneutics of suspicion, how do you switch it off again?

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