By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 11, 2005
A couple weeks ago I saw two or three articles with the title "Santorum reconsiders death-penalty stance" -- or words to that effect. A pro-capital-punishment Republican senator, Santorum was reported to be rethinking his support in the light of recent statements from Pope John Paul II and the U.S. bishops.
I don't know whether or to what extent Santorum shifted. But what struck me is how unthinkable it is that any of our pro-abortion Catholic senators would let himself be taught by the Church on this topic. Would they even let it be known that they were contemplating the possibility of letting the Church form their thinking?
It's true not only of officeholders but of dissenting Catholics generally: if you decide the Church is in error about something -- I'm talking about solemnly declared doctrine -- you make that judgment according to some standard. That standard, then, replaces the Church as your final arbiter of truth. That means the Church becomes superfluous, redundant, worthless (i.e., as a teacher; you can still use her as a soapbox or music hall). You may sometimes agree with her, but so what?
Hence the phoniness of so much of the "let's patch up our differences" rhetoric. The spiritual orientation of the man who has judged the Church wrong isn't and can't be the same as he who offers her his obedience -- however perplexed or tormented he may find himself. If you think the Church has given you false answers, then even the value of her right answers is provisional. Should you come to doubt the truth of an answer you once thought right -- say, about the prohibition of re-marriage -- what sort of spiritual resistance could you put up? What would such resistance mean?
Polemically it's an effective sound-bite slam to contend that orthodox obedience means checking your brain at the door, refusing to think, etc. But those who let the Church teach them know that's not how it feels from inside. Everyone craves to understand what he loves. If God's word is important to you, you can't help but ponder the difficult or even shocking parts. It's not a matter of closing the mind but of opening up something deeper than the mind, of letting the word speak to you after setting aside your suspicion.
There is a necessary chasm that separates the dissenter from the Catholic, because both intuit that "belonging to the Church" has a radically different meaning for each. We share pews, hymnbooks, potato salad at the parish picnic, but always with the hope (a hope which nearly all churchmen will forbid us to express) that the other guys will eventually amend their lives -- not a change of mind, but a change of allegiance.
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