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Is Catholicism an ideology?

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 01, 2020

What is the nature of the Church? Is “Catholicism” an ideology? If not, what is the danger in viewing or using Church teaching as an ideology?

An ideology is an idea or system, devised by man and imposed on society by elites, if and when those elites have the power to do so. Communism, socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, tribalism, nationalism, racism, and even multiculturalism are habits of the mind. Of course there are many more ideologies, often variations on the same themes.

Ideologies may reflect some degree of reality, but always fall short of the whole. Proponents of these human designs submit them as templates for happiness in this life. But history teaches harsher lessons. For better or for worse, failed ideological social-systems fill the trash bin of history.

Communism is a socialist political system devised to achieve human happiness. It includes an allegedly inevitable movement toward a classless society and a perfectly happy dictatorship of the proletariat. The problem is that the Communist idea never achieves a classless society (assuming that’s a noble goal) while dictator elites slaughter millions to fit the Marxist socialist pattern.

Nazism is another socialist political system that promotes the supremacy of one nation and one race and organizes all human activity to serve it. The Nazi system is muscular and brutally efficient. Trains run on time and military equipment is flawless. The system demands the best and brightest. So the state identifies for neutralization and destruction “imperfect” and “subhuman” elements that threaten to dilute the ethnic purity of the master race.

A variation of Nazism is the ideology of the modern-day “pro-choice” abortion industry that defines unborn babies as subhuman. Hence the intrusive and dangerous tissue in the womb can be dismembered in the name of the compelling human value, “choice.” (One suspects, however, that the motivating value is sexual pleasure on demand.)

The population-control ideology also has its roots in fascism as well as racism. Usually the proponents are elites: highly educated and affluent technocrats who are attracted to the levers of political and economic power. As one wag described the ideology, “There are way too many of you, but just enough of me.” In the name of population control, wealthy countries attach a price to their foreign aid to impoverished nations. They often require recipients to distribute state-subsidized contraception to qualify for assistance.

The population-control ideology has been effective in the systematic destruction of families, and the pruning of “undesirable” races, particularly in inner cities. (The Planned Parenthood foundress, Margaret Sanger, targeted the inner city with her clinics with well-documented racist motives.) The ideology defines happiness as advancing one’s “quality of life” even if the results incontrovertibly point to the exact opposite. The Social Security crisis predicted for 2030 is based on the demographic fact that there will be fewer young people funding an overcrowded system.

Capitalism (and its variant libertarianism) is an economic system accentuating the primacy of the means of production and free-market forces. As ideologies go, capitalism at first glance seems to disperse the tendency toward centralized power through fruitful competition. When it’s running well, there is general economic success, while some businesses inevitably fail. But questions of business ethics—good and evil—remain even as capitalists insist that market forces will inevitably correct any excesses. While it is true that greedy capitalists may eventually fail in the marketplace, there is abundant evidence many do not. Without the seeds of virtue—as we all too frequently see—capitalism becomes competition that is not particularly friendly (a long-forgotten term in economics) but viciously cutthroat. Happiness is not limited to mere economic success; it includes the elimination of competitors and unrestrained profit and political power for some and economic dependency for others.

Paradoxically, successful capitalists often seek an alliance with the political power of big government to protect their position in the marketplace. It also gives rise to another ideology, consumerism, the bread-and-circuses of a populace anesthetized by pleasure-seeking.

The evils of racism and the excesses of tribalism and nationalism violate the virtue of patriotism. Hubris distorts the natural tendency to love and respect one’s ethnic or national heritage. Multiculturalism has become a modern secular remedy, promoting the (presumed) equal dignity of every culture by “celebrating diversity.” But most cultures in the West have become cesspools of immorality. Other cultures have not yet broken with harmful superstitions. We may admire the highly advanced ancient Aztec civilization, for example, but we would not likely celebrate the Aztec practice of human sacrifice.

Many think Catholicism imposes an ideal system on the life of the faithful. According to this ideological view, for Church teaching to remain relevant, it must continually evolve to keep up with human progress. The frequent demand for change in Church teaching in matters of faith and morals betrays this harmful view.

But the Incarnation reconciles God and man in the Person of Jesus, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. God and man are reconciled in freedom, through Mary’s fiat. There is no forced compliance between incompatibles. There is instead reconciliation, the revelation of inestimable dignity of man, and his liberation from sin in Jesus.

Hence to know Jesus means to grasp an essential reality: the mystery of ourselves in happiness with our Creator. The Catholic faith offers a universal truth-—applying to all men—that Jesus reveals to us through the Church. The Holy Spirit, received on Pentecost, animates the Church and nudges us with grace on our pilgrim way. The teachings of Jesus not only transcend all human activity and ideology. His teachings reveal the bedrock of human existence.

The authentic and traditional tenets of the Catholic faith critique all ideologies and call for conversion to the truth of Jesus in freedom. Man is a child of God, created in the Divine image, called to virtue in this life and the everlasting happiness of heaven in the next.

Jesus calls Christians to be the leaven or the yeast of goodness within the context of every human economic or political system (cf. Mt. 13:33). Not an ideological imposition, but a Divine mandate.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines.
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