Dissent or Discovery?

Does the Catholic Church demand that all her followers march along in lockstep formation in a form of unthinking blind obedience? Of course that is the charge, not only from non-Catholics but also from ‘dissenting’ Catholics. I’ve always found it curious when people say, “Oh, how nice for you! Now that you’re a Catholic you won’t have to think anymore.”

Err. I guess that would make SS Augustine, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Maritain, Dawson, vonHildebrand, Edith Stein, von Balthasar etc etc  the greatest philosophers, theologians and faithful Catholic thinkers of every age to be non thinking, brainwashed dummies.

No, it doesn’t wash. The Catholic Church does not demand that her members be brainwashed zombie cult members. There is a difference between dissent and discovery. The Church calls us to use our reason to explore the richness of the Church’s teachings. Even when it is difficult especially when it is difficult we are called to engage with the teachings of the church with an enquiring and questing mind. The questions are not the problem. Questions are good. The attitude is the problem.

I often get high school students come to me with the problem that they doubt their faith. I explain the difference between a doubt and a difficulty. Bl. John Henry Newman said “a thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” So I explain that a difficulty is the attitude which says, “How can that be so?” whereas a doubt is the attitude that says, “That can’t be so.” The first is open, engaged, intelligent and searching the tradition in order to understand the teaching. The second puts on above the tradition and the teaching by insisting that one knows better than Holy Church.

Apart from being arrogant this attitude is well, dumb. Who am I to suggest that I know better than the Church? My learning is so limited. My perspective is so narrow. My experience is so finite. My understanding so incomplete. The Church’s view is universal. She speaks from the tradition of the ages. She speaks to the condition of humanity everywhere and at all times. For me to challenge her teachings just doesn’t make sense. For me to question her teachings and seek to understand them and even to kick against them because they hurt me or affect me–all that is good. But to dismiss them in an adolescent attitude of intentional dissent is small.

So dissent is like doubt. If it is rebellious and rejecting then it is an attitude that is small and getting smaller. It is like water going down the plughole. It is a life and an attitude that is a downward spiral. However, to engage with the faith with intelligent, curious and positive attitude–”Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief!” Now this is something which is an upward spiral. “Further up and Further In” the children of Narnia cry as they enter more and more deeply into the spiral of suffering and glory.

Nevertheless, from the emails and comments I get from around the country it seems that a very large proportion of the American Catholic Church are still locked in the downward spiral of dissent and doubt. This attitude goes nowhere at all, and all people get from it is a false freedom. The call license ‘liberty’. Lack of discipline they call ‘freedom of conscience’ and disregard for the sacred tradition they call ‘creativity.’ The dissenting Catholics in this country are basically making up their own religion, and whenever we make up our own religion we only end up worshipping one thing: ourselves.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Always expect emnity from the world Father, yet always remember who (the person who saw you before you were formed in the womb)loves you, just keep doing the next right thing. If you get it wrong, repent and start again. That's the deal. That was His deal. Why should we expect anything less? However, bear in mind, where sin abounds, how much more grace and also, we will never be tested beyond our strength to bear. Hate to tell you this Father, but the battle is just beginning. Don't fret though, He who calls you will carry you. That's a promise you can trust. You were made for great things Father, hard, sure but you'll be allright in the end. Read more Avilla and Norwich. Ros. Never, ever give up. And pray for my boys!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01678341854029479678 Old Bob

    Great post Father, and thanks! I don't believe I've seen the difference between difficulty and doubt expressed so well.

  • http://fabricdragon.livejournal.com/ fabricdragon

    i left Christianity because i was routinely told to not ask, not question, or just told "thats a very mature question" which i eventually learned meant "shut up" and never got any answers.i was in a protestant church at the time.are all protestant churches opposed to question and seeking? no.i suspect the people who think the Catholic church is, are people who think that since they have MORE concrete answers and books and such, it must be merely a greater concentration of "dont ask".they view religions that have no "set answers" no prepared catechism and no liturgy as being somehow more open. i have found in my search that the unwritten assumption of conformity in many of these churches without doctrine, is far worse than anything i have found in the Church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03356251106719115253 Brad

    The good subaru-plastered-with-liberal-bumper-stickers-katholics who have cultivated a pathology of constant dissent are simply mouthing ancient words: "non servium". Do they ever stop to wonder who is the puppet-master who has his hand around their throats, squeezing their larynges and fingering their lips in just the right way so that they will quote him?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14393706761520227346 brencel

    Fr John Courtney Murray and other theologians were silenced before Vatican II and then practically wrote large sections of the documents produced. If the Roman Curia had not been displaced by VII these theologians would probably still be silenced on their topic of influence,They were “dissenters” who are now known as “discoverers” because VII cut the stranglehold of the Roman Curia.Unfortunately a lot of our present “discoverers” are known as “dissenters” because of the present Roman Curia and their ilk.Roll on Vatican III!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14807873592896092136 Anthony S. “Tony” Layne

    Father: Great post. The distinction is one I've been trying to articulate for some time. As brencel so tellingly illustrates, dissidence is always easy to rationalize; agreement often takes hard work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12788348671692642067 Angry Jason

    ah yes, Vatican II. The springtime continues! Of indifferentism, apathy and Ecumania…Murray was suppressed early on by people with the foresight to see where some of his ideas might lead. Looking back on the last 50 years, did softening the previous hard line against birth control, abortion and false Ecumenism strengthen the faith of the average Catholic?As a matter of fact, the dissent Father speaks of is a fruit of the mush that came out of the "Spirit of Vatican II". Your average Catholic in the West barely knows his faith, doesn't practice it, aborts/fornicates/contracepts with similar frequency to the population at large, and is largely indifferent about the key dogmas that set the Church apart from the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12167332645985278749 Elizabeth of Hungary

    'Tis the difference between Zechariah's and Mary's responses to the angel in Luke. "Riiight … why should I believe you?" vs. "Ok…how's that gonna work?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16813482372662211165 Mike Fears

    Our diocese (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) is having a great deal of trouble when it comes to separating the concepts of discovery and dissent. After questioning the recent acquisition and advertisement of one of Joan Chittister's books by our Pastoral Centre Library, I was told that the work would not be reconsidered and "Hers is a significant voice that Catholics in Southern Alberta have the right and responsibility to hear and consider." (direct quote from email response). We also advertise events run by a secular Carmelite and Buddhist nun (who runs a non-canonical "monastery" and supports abortion and is a reported womenpriest). Contacts with the bishop, the Catholic centre hosting the event and local parishes where the event is advertised have been met with almost total silence. What's next, a special collection next Sunday for the legal fund for gays suing the Church?

  • http://openid.aol.com/ned016187 Ned

    In reading some of the comments (after reading your post), I'm thinking I'm done with discovery. I'd rather understand the classics. I guess I want to discover the classics, discover the faith. I want to know my boundaries. I want to hear about the Real Presence. I want to go to adoration. I want to know how God wants me to live. I'm sick of the noise. My other general comment is – the bishops need to be leaders. If people leave the church, so be it. But I am sick of compromise. I am sick of silence. I am sick of fear. What are they afraid of? The world? Jesus has conquered the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Ned,infact all of us, let's concentrate on what truly is to fear. Not what man can do but what God is going to do, individually, one day, to each of us. (sorry if I used too many commas). Still focus on my main point non-the-less. You'll find it in Matt 10.28, also Luke 12.4. And maybe some other character knows wherelse it is said.But in the meantime, the time of His mercy, let's learn to love. Because we will need it for eternity.God bless all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13617472632756484543 GeorgeRic

    Fr. l in Dissent or Discovery describes well the fact that a lot of what Christians believe is difficult. Edwin Abbott described a solution when writing 'Flatland'. Now the book 'Techie Worlds' available from Amazon.com looks at the difficult Christian teaching in the light of Abbott's explanation and finds those teachings logical and mechanically sound. It is written for engineers and mechanical people and it explains where God is and how He has done his marvelous deeds.George Richter

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09245959720626825944 Michael Barber

    Well put.