Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

under false colors

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 03, 2005

Isn't it about time someone threw an open-field block into the knees of U.S. Catholic? In its faux-folksy, Parade Magazine way, it gets up to as much mischief as America.

The standard U.S. Catholic formula is the What Are Half-Catholics Saying About Sin? sociological approach, presenting a spectrum of "viewpoints" of the supermarket survey variety. The damage comes not from the survey or its findings, but from U.S. Catholic's consistent failure to distinguish Catholic perspectives from counter-Catholic ones. The result is invariably a weakening of the intelligibility of authentic doctrine and a covert plug for heterodox alternatives. This month the target is Confession.

Though [39-year-old Massachusetts Catholic Sean Going] appreciated his parish's presentation on Reconciliation, he has no plans to make it a regular part of his life.

"I am so comfortable with my relationship with God that I don't believe I need an intermediary," he says. "I'm a big fan of Eastern philosophies that focus more on self-examination or meditation. It's not that I don't like talking to priests; I just don't feel the need to do that. But I think it's great to have as an option."

Going has discussed this approach with his 7-year-old son and plans to teach his 5-year-old daughter in the same manner. "I want them to have that option," he says. "I tell them that it is a way of communicating with God while having a priest there to focus that communication."

Isn't he cute? You can picture the sentimentalist M*A*S*H fans nodding along in agreement, largely if not wholly oblivious to the manner in which their faith is being filched away by subterfuge. Mr. Going, we are given to believe, is a Catholic in good standing, whence his opinion is to be understood as a Catholic opinion. The self-serving and superficially plausible "I don't need an intermediary" line will strike a chord with lots of folks who have disquieting memories of their compromises with the world -- compromises they'd just as soon remained secret -- and will help keep them away from Confession for years. Because the orthodox doctrine on absolution has been proven false? No, but because they've been presented with a very attractive option which, in context, the audience assumes to be permissibly Catholic. C.S. Lewis once remarked on how authors of school textbooks can dupe the reader in the same way:

It is not a theory [the authors] put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.

Nor is U.S. Catholic really neutral, its plurality of voices and survey-centered approach notwithstanding. There's always a moral defeatism at work, in which the (again, unspoken) assumption is that Catholic demands are too hard to meet -- at least for you and me -- so the game is how to cope once we've given in to modernity. We rarely get testimony of the kind that pulls us closer to the center of the Church, testimony of the kind wherein a Catholic faces some grievous moral challenge and says, "Here's how God's grace delivered me from a hardship I found unconquerable by my own devices." The magazine's cover from the previous issue is typical. The featured article is "How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex," and the photo shows a steamed-up window of a parked car with the words INTIMATE CONVERSATIONS playfully written by a fingertip. The thrust is clear: We've already lost the war. We can't expect kids to live as Catholics. So let's cut our losses, since they'll be sexually misbehaving whether we approve or not, and at least keep them disease and depression-free. What can be fairer than that?

Well, one step in the direction of fairness is "truth in labeling," and by that standard the word "Catholic" has no place on the magazine's masthead. Every war produces its own crop of collaborators -- Vichyites and Quislings who side with the adversary when his strength is uppermost -- and the culture wars are no different. U.S. Catholic's editors, writers, and readers alike may sincerely believe that appeasement is the only answer. But they should at least put down the flag of their former allegiance and raise a white one instead.

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