On politics, the Church, and Satan
Two recent news stories confirm deep flaws in the Catholic Church’s practical commitment to objective moral norms in the United States (and by extension, throughout the West). By “practical commitment”, I do not mean official Church teaching but practical decisions by huge numbers of Catholics, both high and low, to favor and support social movements and political platforms that advocate objectively immoral laws. Again, these decisions are typically based not on Church teaching but on culturally-borrowed perceptions of which causes and candidates are “humane”, or “caring”, or “nice”.
|Free eBook: Liturgical Year 2023-2024, Vol. 3
The two news stories I am using as indicators, though they are hardly fresh news in and of themselves, are these:
- Survey shows trends in US Catholic voting: I recommend clicking through to the original Pew Research Center report, which conveniently highlights under eight headings the evidence that Catholic voters are divided along party lines rather than uniform in their application of Catholic principles.
- Cardinal Tobin: A ‘person in good conscience’ could vote for Biden: For this story, our editor’s note highlights Tobin’s statement that “I, frankly, in my own way of thinking have a more difficult time with the other option.”
Now, a reader might opine that, after all, there are many complex issues in play on both sides of the aisle, but as a matter of hard fact, the issues which attract support based on allegedly Catholic principles for the Democratic Party are invariably rooted in prudential or attitudinal questions, about which good Catholics may disagree. In contrast, the issues which attract support based on allegedly Catholic principles for the Republican Party are invariably absolute questions, about which the Church teaches that only one position is morally acceptable. In this matter the “practical commitment” of the collectivity of lay Catholic voters simply mirrors the “practical commitment” of their Catholic teachers and preachers, who have for the past two generations failed to give any collective countercultural witness, who have failed to take objective moral norms seriously, and have often even gone a few steps further in fabricating entirely new norms.
How can we explain this widespread refusal to allow clear Catholic moral teachings to guide the socio-political decisions of both Catholic leaders (bishops, priests, prominent religious, and professors) and the Catholic rank and file?
Trump-Biden and the question of cultural acceptability
It goes without saying that no political candidate is Satan, just as no political candidate is Christ. In fact, the divide between Catholic voters who support Donald Trump and those who support Joseph Biden is based far more on “image” than on “policy”. I’ve recently had several registered users break their connection with CatholicCulture.org because our writers favor Donald Trump’s position on the life issues while also generally concluding that it is objectively immoral for any Catholic to support Joe Biden’s positive positions on abortion, gay marriage, and any number of other initiatives which either murder other persons or destroy the family—without which (as history is beginning once again to prove) no culture can long survive. But what has been alleged against Trump to justify this deliberate public abandonment of the moral law is that Trump is guilty of just as great a sin, namely racism.
Now it is true that a great many deeply-committed Catholics must hold their noses when voting for Donald Trump, but the cause is not Trump’s alleged racism (or discrimination against any person based on biological characteristics over which he or she has no control). Rather, it is that Trump has a very harsh and dismissive manner of speaking about those with whom he disagrees, by which he proves repeatedly that he does not know what it means to be either gentlemanly or statesmanlike. He simply does not recognize the truth of Hilaire Belloc’s famous stanza:
Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.
[from poem entitled “Courtesy”]
Donald Trump is a stranger to courtesy, and this provides endless fodder for all those who wish to argue that Trump’s various harsh or dismissive (and frequently ill-considered) statements prove that he approves only of “his own kind”, and so must clearly be willing to deny fundamental human rights to those who are different, whether by virtue of gender, sexual attractions, or skin color. This is exacerbated by Trump’s comparatively hard line on illegal immigration which (understandably but perhaps not wisely) engenders distrust among Hispanics. Moreover, the dominant media and professorial classes in the United States (as throughout the West) are overwhelmingly “secular liberal”, and these classes gleefully feed the narrative that Trump is a “hater” who opposes human rights for all those who are “different”.
In one sense, this would not matter if we humans could not instinctively sense the values of the dominant culture and instinctively seek to conform to them. Sadly, if one wishes not to be considered “deplorable” in our times, one must espouse the opinions of the media and professorial elites or else find oneself on the wrong side of history. Then, if one wishes to justify morally the resulting slavish conformity, one must present the widely accepted reasons. And these are usually mere excuses for capitulation to whatever is perceived as “mainstream”.
To stick with the Trump-Biden example, the prevailing myth is easily exploded, and the fact that this does not really matter much to a great many people is proof that we are dealing primarily with the instinctive thirst for acceptance by the dominant culture. For the excuses made by Catholics who maintain a moral preference for Biden are not based on political realities at all. As a matter of hard fact, one can describe Trump’s personal attitudes and sentiments in any way one likes without being able to cite a single policy he has advocated to disadvantage any group based on anything other than the objective morality of their behavior—morality as understood through the natural law and the teachings of the Catholic Church. As far as I have been able to determine, at least, Trump has never advocated any policy based on racial or other natural characteristics.
That does not mean that Catholics must agree with all of Trump’s prudential judgments, or approve his habitual manner of speech. But it is very hard to fault Trump for advocating policies that violate the objective moral law. And my point is that this cannot be said about Joe Biden. In fact, Biden’s candidacy is mostly defined by his support and patronage of those who engage in objectively seriously immoral behavior, and who wish to continue the modern secular trend of having the right to that behavior guaranteed in law. The conclusion is inescapable that huge numbers of Catholics have been carefully taught by the dominant culture what attitudes and goals are required to be considered “kind and caring”, and they either hone or dull their consciences accordingly.
Cardinal Tobin and the triumph of the prudential
Cardinal Tobin’s remarks signal another serious aspect of our problem: The modern Church’s continuing refusal to insist that the objective moral law trumps the relative merits and demerits of various prudential decisions, whether or not the dominant culture is able to paint some decisions as “uncaring” or not. Catholics are not bound to choose one particular plan for the environment as “best” of all or one particular plan for social improvement as “better” than others. The Church herself has no Divinely-given knowledge or authority on such subjects. She has no guarantees of wisdom in weighing either the feasibility or the most likely long-term results of any particular social or environmental reconstruction plan (to mention only the two most obvious examples).
What the Church in our time has largely forgotten—apparently Cardinal Tobin among so many others—is that the Church’s mission is to preach what she knows to be true about Jesus Christ and his plan for all of us to be elevated by grace through sacramental participation, prayer and adhesion to the Christian moral code—which mostly comes to us through the natural law as taught and clarified in Revelation and the Church’s Magisterium, which has the authority to interpret both. Good and faithful Catholic communities, if they are formed well spiritually, gradually take care of all the prudential socio-economic issues simply by acting familially, socially, economically and politically like good and faithful Catholics. But when the absolutes of faith and morals are not taught, upheld and insisted upon in the Church herself, she loses her power to foster good and faithful Catholic communities.
Instead we are faced with a Catholic professoriate which very frequently denies the absolutes of the natural law, with the connivance of too many ecclesiastics who neatly sidestep the issue by constantly elevating the prudential over the absolute. I have written about this several times, so here I will simply call attention once again to the disproportion between the emphasis of too many ecclesiastical leaders on the need for Catholics to endorse one social or environmental proposal after another, as compared with the rarity with which these same ecclesiastics insist on understanding the concrete demands of the absolute moral law and living in accordance with them. The New Testament is a good corrective for these errors. You will find there no advocacy for the socio-political improvement of mankind, and plenty of condemnation of plain and simple personal immorality.
To cite another source besides the obvious, I note that there is a fine article in the latest issue of First Things by Gary Saul Morson (Suicide of the Liberals) which explores the attitudes of the elites in Russia between 1900 and 1917. What Morson finds is that for the Russian elites it was fashionable not only to mouth the revolutionary slogans of the day but to fund the organizations which were openly dedicated to their own destruction (even though they did not personally change their lives very much before the end).
This is a mirror image of what is happening in the West as a whole, and certainly in the United States. It has been repeatedly demonstrated through sociological studies that our elites—the wealthiest and most influential people in our society—advocate all the “correct” causes of “liberation” from social and sexual constraint, even while they tend not to take advantage of the lack of constraint in their own lives nearly as much as those who are lower down in the social order—whose lives and families are very frequently destroyed as a result. In the end, however, it is in the nature of revolutionary cultures that old elites are swept away to make room for new.
As Morson expressed it:
[This problem] has bothered many students of revolutionary movements. Revolutions never succeed without the support of wealthy, liberal, educated society. Yet revolutionaries seldom conceal that their success entails the seizure of all wealth, the suppression of dissenting opinion, and the murder of class enemies.
William Butler Yeats described the essential problem with even greater penetration in the first stanza of his brilliant poem, “The Second Coming”, written in 1919:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Anyone in the West today who cannot see the application of these lines to our own situation is lost in the deadly haze of cultural conformity, a haze too often spread through Catholic leadership and Catholic education in a Church so badly in need of renewal. But while I have mentioned the instinctive human recognition of the existence and pressure of a dominant culture, and the natural human desire to gain status by conforming to it, I have not mentioned what I suspect most of my readers can also discern: Namely, that there is a Satanic element in the formation and exploitation of those dominant human cultures which are characterized by the deliberate flight from God.
Here we have perhaps the most important insight underlying another well-known sociological fact—that Catholic support of the objective moral law in politics rises in direct proportion to the frequency of attendance at Mass. This is in spite of so much bad Catholic preaching and instruction! Of course, while it is frustrating that so many of our contemporaries cannot discern the Satanic element in our culture’s mad flight from reality, it is hardly surprising. St. Paul faced the same problem with many alleged apostles and Catholic leaders in his own day, and he described it in this way:
[S]uch men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. [2 Cor 11:13-15a]
For his part, Paul concludes that “their end will correspond to their deeds” (v.15b). I only mention this in case you did not know.
All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!
Posted by: Pointmaster1386 -
Sep. 21, 2020 1:09 AM ET USA
The Church is always pushing upon the faithful many agendas breaking us down to embrace the left side of the isle. Very few are speaking out Like St Paul against the bewitched Catholics who promote LGBQT, Abortion, Euthenasia, the environment and the list goes on and on. They were never Catholics to begin with. They infiltrated to destroy her.
Posted by: doughlousek7433 -
Sep. 19, 2020 1:46 PM ET USA
Well said! Our "shepherds" should not be making statements Like Cardinal Tobin did. Their job is to lead the flock toward salvation, not be discussing politicians! They can emphasize Catholic teaching, which they should. But to support or endorse is flat out wrong! Yes, Satan is hard at work and it appears he is among the flock! God Bless us!
Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Sep. 19, 2020 8:51 AM ET USA
A clearly stated position and exceptionally well said. Good analysis of the political realities.