Introduction: The following is an exercise in the logical, argumentative method of reductio ad absurdum, or “illustrating the absurd by being absurd.” In this technique – which is at least as old as Socrates and Plato – the arguer tries to demonstrate that a belief-system, taken to its logical conclusions, is absurd or otherwise objectionable. If absurd conclusions flow consistently from a premise, then the premise must be rejected as false. The foundations of the system must be questioned and then rejected, in this eventuality.
My specific technique below has been to adopt the outlook of a radical Catholic reactionary [see definition] in order to illustrate the flaws in the system by use of exaggeration, some sarcasm, and tweaking observations, thus revealing (I think) its ultimate radical inconsistency and absurdity, as well as its ultimately non-Catholic outlook in many important respects. Oftentimes, the people towards whom such a technique is directed (i.e., critiques of their arguments, not them personally) do not understand the points being made, or the technique itself (which is quite legitimate and honored in philosophical and debate circles) and/or become quite angry at such analysis. But that’s okay.
My main purpose is to alert people who are not already of the reactionary persuasion to see what it leads to, both in fact, and in terms of logically-consistent results. If my unconventional argumentative method here shocks some few reactionaries into seeing the error of their ways, so much the better. But I am under no illusions that such a desirable outcome is very likely.
Remember, I do not believe the following (except in those instances where I was expressing “dissent” from reactionaries – there I was giving my own true beliefs). My own beliefs on these matters can be found by reading articles on my web page devoted to these topics. There need be no confusion whatever about my own views. I am a vocal and vigorous opponent of reactionaryism, and ally to legitimate “traditionalism.”
The reductio ad absurdum, like it’s half-sister sarcasm, or like satire, is always dead-serious at bottom, with a very important point to make, notwithstanding the biting humor and acerbic observations involved in it. My present paper is no exception. Sometimes, a view is so objectionable that one wonders if responding to it is futile. That is the time for a reductio ad absurdum.
* * * * *
It’s amazing how I have fooled myself all these years, and how I’ve been blind to what’s really going on. Reactionary arguments have shaken me out of my compromised, neo-Catholic stupor. I’ve been living a lie, special pleading in the name of orthodox and “conservative” Catholic apologetics, and using every rationalizing tactic in the book to deny the truth of the reality in the Church today.
One has to admit (there is no other rational or moral option) that John Paul II (aka the “Holy Father” or the “pope”) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He clearly cares nothing about children being molested by priests (in fact, he positively encouraged this), or traditional sexual morality, is a modernist and a liberal through-and-through (as proven beyond any doubt by the unspeakably corrupt and offensive Assisi ecumenical conferences), and the final straw was his kissing the Koran, which (quite clearly) proved that he regards the Koran as a document equally as inspired and worthy of reverence as the Holy Bible.
Doesn’t he know that this is an objectively blasphemous action? What has the Church come to, for a pope to be so ignorant of what every reasonably-catechized lay Catholic knows? No one knows why he did this despicable, outrageous act, but we all know that it was wrong and scandalous. One can’t even imagine a proper explanation for such a thing.
Who is he fooling? Catholics everywhere need to rebel against this charlatan, who is making a mockery of the traditional Catholic faith. We need to stand up and call a spade a spade. As you say, so many of the neo-Catholic special pleaders in the apologetic community have been defending everything the pope says and does, and it is time for that to stop.
It should be noted in passing, however, that I have never done this, much as I have been accused of doing it from folks like Mario Derksen and others. For in my paper about the pope kissing the Koran, I stated: “I am not one who says one can never criticize a pope. I even have papers about that on my website.” And in another paper (“Are All Catholic Laymen and Non-Theologians Qualified to Freely and Frequently Criticize the Pope’s Opinions and Prudential Judgment?” – from November 2000), I wrote:
Yes, one can conceivably question the pope – especially his actions (we are not ultramontanes; and I have had a paper on my site about this possibility for over three years), yet I think it must be done only with overwhelming evidence that he is doing something completely contrary to Catholic doctrine and prior practice. It is not something that a non-theologian or non-priest should do nonchalantly and as a matter of course. To me that smacks far too much of the Protestant attitude of private judgment and lack of an authority-structure. . . .
My point is not that a pope can never be rebuked, nor that they could never be “bad” (a ludicrous opinion), but that an instance of rebuking them ought to be quite rare, exercised with the greatest prudence, and preferably by one who has some significant credentials, which is why I mentioned saints. . . .
Nor does this mean that one can never criticize the pope, or that if they do, that their responsibility to submit in obedience is somehow lessened.
I was asserting this even back in 1997, in my paper, “Laymen Advising and Rebuking Popes”, where I wrote:
Have you heard of the sensus fidelium (“sense of the faithful”), which was re-emphasized by Cardinal Newman? Pope John XXII was soundly and successfully rebuked by the masses when he temporarily espoused belief in a false doctrine. St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Francis of Assisi rebuked popes, and their advice was respected and heeded . . .
I’m sure there were also many instances of morally inferior popes (e.g., during the Renaissance) being soundly rebuked by holy priests and laymen. This is nothing novel whatsoever in Catholic ecclesiology.
Despite all this, reactionary Mario Derksen [who eventually became a sedevacantist] wrote about me (among other neo-Catholics):
Neo-Catholics who are reasonably well versed in Church history will readily admit that there have indeed been Popes who have harmed the Church through imprudent words, actions, or inactions. However, in practice, they assert that our current Pope (John Paul II) is not capable of such imprudence. So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Neo-Catholics are guilty of “Wojtylolatry”, the idolatry of John Paul II (whose real name is Karol Wojtyla) – at least as long as he is the reigning Pontiff. . . .
As more and more Catholics are beginning to acknowledge that Pope John Paul II’s pontificate has been at least a very mixed bag or even disastrous in some ways, Mark Shea appears to have shifted into “defend John Paul II at all costs” gear, regardless of extreme mental gymnastics he must undergo to do so. In this he joins other Neo-Catholics like Dr. Warren Carroll, Karl Keating, and Dave Armstrong. For instance, Dr. Carroll once told me that he would defend John Paul II to his death – apparently, no matter what.
And here we have come to the core of the matter, again. In practice, the Neo-Catholic axiom boils down to this: this Pope can make no error of real consequence, or at least, if he could, no one has the right to even say so, let alone try to defend against that error. But this effectively amounts to “Wojtylolatry,” i.e. the worship of Pope John Paul II. It is as much opposed to the true Catholic teaching on papal infallibility as the denial of papal infallibility is. Make no mistake about it–those who espouse such idolatry are not helping the Church, nor do they help the Pope by reflexively endorsing and praising everything he does. In fact, this is a very dangerous, un-Catholic practice. (“Shea What You Will, He’s Still Off the Mark”)
This is highly interesting, in light of the fact that I disagreed with the pope (as far as I understood his position) on the war in Iraq. I also admitted in my dialogue on the Koran-kissing incident and elsewhere that reasonable and good men could differ as to that act’s prudence, and that it would be good for the pope to further explain his act (echoing your own concerns).
But these are trifles. Now that I am spiritually awake, I can easily forgive such well-meaning misrepresentations and distortions of my former positions (and those of the more articulate neo-Catholics). I mention it only to illustrate that I was (and am) different in this regard from people like yourself in the old days, and other neo-Catholic apologists.
Anyway, where I have gone dreadfully wrong was to accept the monstrosity of the papal kiss of the Koran. Indeed, I chose to modify my faith rather than stand up and admit the obvious, painful as it was. And I have discovered – once I stopped the equivocating and rationalizing and special pleading (which is the stock-in-trade of the neo-Catholic half-modernist buffoons and stooges) – that many more indefensible positions in my previous viewpoint became exposed for what they were.
Before, I would have derided such an eventuality as a slippery slope of un-Catholic pessimism and “gloom-and-doom,” whereas now I see it as simply an acknowledgment (albeit painful) of reality, whether it is “pessimistic” or not. There is a certain liberation in giving in at long last to the manifest truths and realizations that reactionaries alone possess, and which neo-Catholics irrationally resist for fear of the consequences. One feels as though the scales have come off one’s eyes.
I agree with you that John Paul II should have been removed from office after this act of kissing the Koran, because it proves he is a modernist indifferentist who regards all faiths as equally valid (a position beyond that of even the ambiguous and highly-questionable Vatican II). Never mind recent pronouncements by the Church that there is no salvation outside of the Church and Jesus Christ . . . Those are just modernist covers, in order to pull the wool over the eyes of those who don’t see the crisis we are in. One needs to get down to brass tacks.
Only in a full-fledged reactionaryism is Catholic orthodoxy preserved. That doesn’t mean, however, that I will agree with every jot and tittle of my reactionary comrades. I didn’t do that before with the pope, and I don’t intend to do so now. Some think that reactionaryism concentrates on non-doctrinal issues. I have to disagree with this. We reactionaries certainly do discuss doctrine insofar as we critique so-called ecumenism and actions which presuppose said error. This is very serious business – so much so that the removal of a pope is called for on grounds of blasphemy, as you correctly observe. Clearly, matters of blasphemy have to do with doctrine: the doctrine of God. We would not want a pope removed for mere imprudence, . . .
Furthermore, our denial (well, that of many of us, anyway) of the validity of Vatican II as a genuine ecumenical council, involves very grave doctrinal matters (or ecclesiological ones, I should say). For such a judgment doesn’t often occur in history (I am reminded of the “Robber Council” in 449 as one analogy). Even if not strictly doctrinal matters, Vatican II and the Assisi ecumenical fiascoes and suchlike involve a subversion of the faith itself. I like how reactionary Mario Derksen puts it (this illustrates well the point I am trying to make, I think). He decries:
[T]he novelties that have come out of Rome since the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958 and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). By defending these novelties, it appears evident that he [Mark Shea, as a representative of the neo-Catholic mentality] pits himself against the Tradition of the Church before 1958. This is becoming more and more visible now as the Vatican is clearly following a pattern of enabling or even bringing about the subversion of the Church’s teaching on the evangelization of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. This has occurred through various means, such as the appointment of heterodox bishops and cardinals to key posts related to these issues and by holding highly questionable or even scandalous events such as the Pope’s “interfaith prayer meetings” of Assisi in 1986 and 2002. These policies and practices have the plain, practical effect of contradicting Christ’s divine command to convert all nations, and the infallible dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. (Ibid.)
So we see that reactionary concerns involve far more than simply non-doctrinal matters. Rather, we are talking about the subversion of Catholic Tradition itself and dogmas such as “no salvation outside the Catholic Church,” even, alas, a wholesale rebellion against our Lord Jesus’ command to convert the nations and to evangelize. As Mario also noted, papolatry of John Paul II (where it exists) amounts to a denial of the dogma of papal infallibility: an extreme opposite of its liberal counterpart (but equally mistaken).
The liberals deny the dogma, while some neo-Catholics grotesquely distort it, thinking that the pope can command us when to blow our nose and what color socks to wear. Only the reactionaries get it right and know when to criticize a pope and when not to; when to call for his removal as a heretic and blasphemer, and when to reach the conclusion that he is, in fact, no pope (or no Catholic) at all (as some of our noble, esteemed traditionalist friends in the sedevacantist and SSPX wings of reactionaryism do).
As for Vatican II, at long last reactionaries are coming out against it as apostate and heretical, rather than maintaining the equivocating, “appearances-only” facade of pretending that we accept it as a legitimate council, despite our (especially in private) withering condemnations of aspects of it (religious liberty, ecumenism, indifferentism, the modernist ambiguity with which it is rife, etc.). This is a welcome development, because up till recently, the neo-Catholics could rightly criticize many reactionaries for talking out of both sides of their mouth and special pleading: as “betwixt and between” with regard to the Council and the Novus Ordo so-called Mass: accepting them on one hand while denouncing them with the other.
Now it is refreshing to see a more consistent, open, vocal stance against Vatican II and the New “Mass.” Reactionaries, more and more, are willing to come out of the closet of (ironic) ambiguity and highly-nuanced statements (made for fear of offending and further alienating the neo-Catholics). In other words, we are now refusing, more and more, to fall into the same mentality of those we criticize. We’re not kow-towing any more. The truth is on our side and we speak it, regardless of what the compromisers think, or how “unpopular” and “marginalized” we become as a result. Athanasius contra mundum!
I note (with some self-satisfaction, I admit) that in my former days as a neo-Catholic special pleader, I accused reactionaries of not admitting (or understanding) what the logical outcome of their own position was. There was a lot of truth in that judgment, in many cases. Now, however (I am happy to report), reactionaries are becoming much more consistent and adopting a thoroughgoing skepticism which is fit for the times and much-needed as a wake-up call to the deluded neo-Catholics, who defend the post-Vatican II novelty of regime in a trance-like stupor. Hence we find people like Christopher A. Ferrara, co-author of the unanswerable bombshell expose, The Great Facade (with Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Minnesota: Remnant Press, 2002), writing profound things like the following:
As the Novus Ordo establishment completes its inevitable collapse into a heap of scandal and apostasy, we are still hearing calls for a return to the “real meaning” of Vatican II as the solution to the Novus Ordo’s catastrophic failure. The “return” to the “real meaning” of Vatican II is a staple of neo-Catholic thought. That Vatican II actually triggered this whole disaster is, of course, unthinkable to the neo-Catholic mind. . . .
Except where it simply repeated a constant teaching of the Church, Vatican II is utterly meaningless. Insofar as its supposedly “distinctive” teaching is concerned, the Council is a collection of ambiguities that tend to cancel each other out, leaving us, in essence, with nothing. It is precisely the nothingness of Vatican II that has led to the endless debate over what it means. (“Interpreting Vatican II: A Handy Schematic,” from The Remnant)
Mario Derksen (wise far beyond his years) has made it clear that he regards John Paul II as a heretic and no Catholic, but does not hate him personally. Thus, we reactionaries are shown to be the charitable, unassuming people that we, contrary to the neo-Catholic caricatures and smear tactics habitually used to describe us:
I’ll tell you what I hate: I hate what John Paul II has been doing to the Holy Catholic Church, the only ark of salvation, our Mother and Teacher, the Bride of Christ. I hate the damage he has done, I hate his inaction and toleration of heresy, perversion, and schism, I hate his Assisi idolatry, I hate his own erroneous teachings, etc. But I do not hate the man. . . .
[L]et me clarify. I did indeed say that I think I am a better Catholic than Pope John Paul II. But the reason for that is, . . . that I believe that John Paul II is not a Catholic at all. And any practicing Catholic is a better Catholic than a non-Catholic. I do not mean to suggest hereby, however, that John Paul II is not the Pope. He is. . . .
I believe that John Paul II does not hold the Catholic faith . . . Note that I am not talking here about the subjective state of John Paul II’s soul, but rather about his objective actions and teachings. . . .
This article is not one I originally wanted to write, but I thought it better and necessary to do so. (“The Latar Fiasco”)
Ah, blessed consistency, plain-spoken truth and courage to commit oneself to these things . . . we see how even Mario hesitated to speak the truth (last sentence above), but praise God, he did it and we are all the better for it. Ferrara and Woods are equally outspoken about Vatican II in their book, The Great Facade:
[S]ome neo-Catholic commentators are honest enough to admit that the Council and the conciliar Popes have introduced true novelties into the Church. Taking the bull by the horns, they openly declare that John Paul II is an innovator, who sees in Vatican II (as did Paul VI) a mandate for previously unheard-of progressivist undertakings . . .
[T]he traditionalists we would defend have been in just the right place all along: the postconciliar novelties are neither Magisterial nor formally heretical; they do not actually bind the Church to an act of belief in what is wrong. The Pope is still the Pope, and yet this is the worst crisis the Church has ever endured, in part because the conciliar Popes, helped along by the blind “obedience” of the neo-Catholics, have refused to acknowledge that there is a crisis, but instead persist in the very novelties that have engendered it. . . .
[T]he documents of Vatican II are a hopeless muddle of ambiguity from which it is impossible to discern the “real Council,” . . . The “real Council” is, therefore, a chimera. (pp. 38-39, 58-59, 308)
Yet (regrettably), Ferrara and Woods make the same error about the view of neo-Catholics concerning agreeing with every jot and tittle of the pope’s utterances and actions, since they assert of “the neo-Catholics” that they “think that mindless applause for every papal word and deed is the way to show true loyalty to the Pope” (p. 58).
This seems to be a widespread misconception, but hey, the neo-Catholics have their own caricatures of us reactionaries, so maybe we can be excused our own straw men on the grounds that human nature tends to caricature opposing viewpoints. The important thing is that they get it right about Vatican II and the post-conciliar “popes.” On the other hand: you may have believed such things when you were a neo-Catholic, but I did not, and many neo-Catholics do not. And if we are honest we must acknowledge that fact in order to avoid misrepresenting our opponents.
I have come to agree that the pope makes statements which cannot be harmonized with the traditional Catholic Faith. This must stop. All good, conscientious, reactionaries have had enough of it. We must adopt the position of the principled Protestants in the halcyon days when that movement first began (like Martin Luther, for example). We must stand up like he did at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and say to this present incorrigibly corrupt Church:
I will answer without horns [i.e., like the ambiguous neo-Catholic clowns do] and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture [and canon law and obscure statements of various carefully-selected bishops, whose opinions are granted an arbitrary extraordinary importance] and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes [after 1958] and Councils [after 1870], for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God [and canon law and Catholic thought as infallibly interpreted by a small band of elitist, “smarter than the pope” pointy-heads]. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. I am the reluctant rebel.
Luther also showed himself a good reactionary when he said shortly afterwards:
The pope is no judge of matters pertaining to God’s Word and faith, but a Christian man must examine and judge for himself.
The peculiar genius of reactionaryism is plainly exhibited in its adoption of Luther’s principle to our scenario today: all reactionaries must adopt Luther’s approach, given the grave circumstances. This is where reactionaryism is unanswerable and unassailable. Indeed, the situation has become so terrible and scandalous that we must rebel against it and form a new band, a “remnant,” if you will. Some of us (e.g., Mario Derksen) are more consistent than others, in believing that this heretic is not a Catholic at all. Others are a bit more restrained than that. But certainly we can all agree that he has no more authority over us free Catholic men.
If we can determine beyond all doubt that what the “pope” teaches is contrary to Catholic Faith as passed down for 2000 years (Luther himself was dealing with a paltry 1500 years), then we must reject his authority and replace it with our own private judgment. We Catholic reactionaries are the small remnant who have kept the faith and True Tradition inviolate, while the neo-Catholic dupes and useful idiots are compromising it all around us. To paraphrase Calvinist Arthur Pink, who – like Luther – understood the necessary individualism of principled persons in times of crisis:
Now this right of private judgment, and the duty of each person to determine for himself what the Catholic Church [he wrote, “God’s Word”] teaches, is categorically denied by the neo-Catholics, who aver that “ignorance is the mother of devotion,” and that the highest form of service is that of “blind obedience” . . .
And to quote this great man’s exact words, this time:
Not only is private judgment a right which God has conferred upon each of His children, but it is their bounden duty to exercise the same. The Lord requires us to make full use of this privilege, and to employ all lawful and peaceful means for its maintenance. Not only are we responsible to reject all erroneous teaching, but we are not to be the serfs of any ecclesiastical tyranny.
Amen! This is our situation today! John Paul II is a tyrant and a heretic. Our only recourse is to adopt the Protestant principle of private judgment, placing higher authority in ourselves than in this so-called “pope,” and to also incorporate the liberal notion of “pick-and-choose” or “cafeteria Catholicism” into our thinking. This is the only way we can survive. If we have to adopt principles from people we have been criticizing as “anti-reactionaries” for years, so be it. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?
The cogent, compelling traditionalist presentation of many of these aspects of the true situation today in the Church have caused me to become a reactionary. I couldn’t stand the intellectual dishonesty and moral duplicity of neo-Catholicism or “conservative Catholicism” any more. The strain and cognitive dissonance was too great. I would much rather accept the curious, odd (yet profoundly right and true) reactionary hybrid of 19th-century Catholicism, combined with the necessary epistemological additions of Protestantism and theological liberalism. At least now I am consistent and can live with myself without having to squirm every night as I try to sleep, due to my tormented conscience . . .
My only remaining question now is: do I have to undergo some ceremony, like when I became a Catholic, to become a real, reactionary Catholic? Perhaps a secret ritual in the Masonic Lodge?
(“Straight” — no longer a reductio ad absurdum)
No one I know denies the modernist crisis. I agree with [the late] Fr. [John A.] Hardon [S.J.] that it is the worst crisis in the history of the Church. Of course it matters, but the nonsense and claptrap that reactionaries come up with in response does not help things because it is based on false premises, a lack of faith, liberal and Protestant modes of thought, tendentious, hackneyed, cliched, herd-mentality thinking (you guys always all sound alike, because you simply repeat the latest fashionable boilerplate, obtained from The Great Facade or the most recent lamebrain offering of The Remnant, or whatever is the latest rage in your ranks).
In writing on ecumenism, I am simply incorporating the larger context of John Paul II’s thought, against the backdrop of Vatican II. I’m not trying at all to justify objective error (obviously not; if I thought it were error, then I wouldn’t be defending it!).
Rather, I am contending that the things defended (kissing the Koran, Assisi conferences) are not objectively wrong at all, but that they must be understood and interpreted according to what they objectively are: conciliatory gestures not implying indifferentism or a denial of anything Catholic, but ecumenical agreement on things where we do in fact agree with non-Catholics.
This is a completely different approach from the standard reactionary caricature of ecumenism. Conciliatory gestures are part of ecumenism, and also tie into diplomacy. They are different things from apologetics or theology per se, but not contrary to those. The pope does all these things. The reactionary mistake is to try and find a disconnect or contradiction where there is none. The fault lies in their thinking and inability to properly analyze things, because their preconceived notions and agenda (reinforced by living in the bubble of people and ideas that they have voluntarily placed themselves in) will not allow them to see anything other than their own self-induced propaganda.
Reactionaries think that Pope John Paul II denied the Catholic Faith with regard to the death penalty. This is a case study of illogic and false interpretation according to preconceived notions. They simply see what they want to see and then proclaim with high indignation and disgust that there is some contradiction here or proclamation supposedly “contrary to the Catholic Faith.” The fact remains that this is not an “absolute prohibition.” This is a false inference from what the Holy Father said. The wise interpreter takes into account the background context of someone’s thought. This can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: #2263-2267. #2266 states:
[T]he Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.
In John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (October 11, 1992), the Holy Father declares that the Catechism:
. . . is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion . . .
. . . a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine . . . showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the catholic faith . . . offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.
Now, again, the wise, faithful, obedient, non-cynical Catholic who believes in the authority of the papacy will try to synthesize the Catechism and the pope’s statement, just as the wise exegete of Holy Scripture always does that, rather than conclude that there is a contradiction or nefarious conspiracy going on because two passages may at first sight appear to contradict. I don’t see any problem harmonizing the two in this instance, once one understands the intellectual and ethical background. The pope is not proclaiming a moral absolute, but rather, arguing that in present circumstances the death penalty is not necessary.
(originally posted on 7 October 2003. Terminology revision: 8-7-13 and 5-18-16)
Photo credit: Image by Piotr Siedlecki [Public DomainPictures.Net]