Friday, August 26, 2011

Of clocks, toothpaste and other dumb similes

Since I wrote about the altar girl flap in Phoenix yesterday, a couple more articles have come to my attention that demonstrate something wrong with certain liberal Catholics.

First, we have a quick blurb from Bryan Cones of US Catholic, a magazine destined to enter the Hall of Shame along with America and other “Catholic Lite” publications:

The main problem here, though, is baptismal: Does that baptism of girls and women not configure them for service among the people of God[?] So far Rome has said that it doesn’t for the ministries of priest and bishop—deacon still being an open question [no, not really]. But altar server? And just for practical purposes, how much longer will the parents of girls keep taking them to a church that now won’t even let them serve at the altar, much less eventually become priests?

If you’re not serving at the altar, you’re not doing jack squat for the People of God … is that it, Mr. Cones? I’m sure a lot of people, both men and women, working in non-liturgical ministries will be enchanted by your appraisal of their efforts’ worth. Think before you write, please.

As to your second question: A lot longer than you think. Like the women of the Women’s Ordination Conference, you’ve bought into the second-wave feminist premiss that “boys’ stuff is better than girls’ stuff”.

Now, let’s look at a couple of paragraphs from what Father Z is pleased to call the National Catholic Fishwrap. First, we have the all-too-estimable Michael Sean Winters:

There may be an historic connection between boys being altar servers and some of those boys going on to be priests. Hard to tell [if you pay no attention to statistics, sure]. There was also an historical connection between maleness and, say, the American founding. There was, until recently, a connection between being male and running for President. The rector may not have noticed but women do lots of things they did not do previously and it is a misplaced concern for gender differenciation [sic] to want to hold on to yesteryear’s ways.

Next, we have the highly effable Heidi Schlumpf:

They say you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube, but here in the church [Which one … St. Mark Episcopal? Wheatfields Baptist? Denton Seventh-Day Adventist? You mean “Church” with a capital C, milady] there are some who refuse to quit trying. Despite consistent moves toward more openness and acceptance (of laity, of women, of gays and lesbians) [good thing you specified; I might have thought you meant more acceptance of conservatives and traditionalists] in both society and the church [*sigh*], these folks fail to recognize this movement as coming from the Holy Spirit.

I leave it to others, such as LarryD at Acts of the Apostasy, to completely dismantle Winters’ and Schlumpf’s ramblings. For my own part, I wish to look at their common assumption: that orthodox Catholic moves like Fr. John Lankeit’s are efforts to put us all in some kind of Way-Back Machine, to “turn back the clock”.

Both C. S. Lewis and his intellectual godfather G. K. Chesterton have responded to the old bromide, “You can’t put back the clock,” saying, not only can you turn the clock back, if it’s telling the wrong time it’s the most sensible thing to do. The point of the response is not that, yes, we can go backwards in time, but rather that the metaphors of the clock and the toothpaste tube are inapt … not to say inept.

What we’re really dealing with is the popular assumption by self-styled progressives that, so far as the car of social change can be steered at all, it can only be steered to the left. This mindset reeks of the kind of “historical inevitability” that Karl Marx ripped off from Wilhelm F. Hegel (whom David Hume could out-consume … oops, sorry). To this determinist assumption liberal Catholics such as Schlumpf add the dubious rider that their successes are due to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

No doubt it was the same assumption the Arians made in the third and fourth centuries. Having spread in a remarkably short time to infect bishops and even the reigning Emperor, such was its power that, as St. Jerome would later write, “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian” (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 19). And yet, by the end of the fourth century, it had become a splinter group, a heresy held by the Germanic tribes as a separate church, and eventually subsided in the eighth century. Some minor Protestant sects hold Arian or semi-Arian beliefs today … but not as direct descendants of the Visigoths or the Vandals.

There’s something almost charmingly na├»ve in the liberal’s assumption that “because the Holy Spirit has permitted X to exist and prosper, X must be good and right”; it’s as if Schlumpf and like-minded Catholics have never seriously engaged the philosophical problem of evil, as if they’ve never struggled to reconcile an omnibenevolent God with things like hurricanes and the Holocaust.

It would be more charming if it weren’t intellectually dishonest. Because with such vapid dismissals, Schlumpf, Winters et al. refuse to engage the traditionalists’ arguments, treating them as obviously wrong but unable (or unwilling) to explain why they’re “obviously” wrong. It’s furthermore a type of willful blindness to a corps of orthodox, traditionalist Catholics growing not only in the institutional Church but in the pews as well. They’ve had things their way so long they can’t imagine things ever not going their way, that at the most there’ll be useless, futile temporary checks along the road to their ultimate victory.

Let them listen to Pope Benedict, and consider the possibility of another Athanasius contra mundum.