This morning Rod Dreher delivered on his daily promise to keep me entertained by shedding light on the world of Catholic Integralists.
I’m going to dispense with nice and go straight to answering a couple questions posed by his essay:
- Is Integralism a good idea? Answer (agreeing with Dreher): No. It is a terrible idea. Didn’t work before, will never work, concupiscence is real and we have all of human history to prove it.
- Since classical liberalism doesn’t work, what do we do? Answer: Actually, classical liberalism isn’t half bad, when we put our minds to actually doing it. But it’s only good at doing the thing that it does, it won’t solve all your problems. There’s another part of the equation, and readers you probably know what I’m going to tell you.
Detailed and very pointed answer follows for those who just can’t get enough of Rant-o-Rama. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
#1 Seriously. Integralism is a horrible idea. Just no. No.
“Integralism” is a new term for an old concept, theocracy. And to this idea I have only one answer: Have you even been to church? Because for every parish that is on fire for Jesus and doing all the right things, there’s another one that . . . isn’t.
And I mean, come on: I was on a parish council once. Do you understand what that means? In your heart of hearts can you say to yourself, “Wow, Jen Fitz was saved by Jesus, she can totally run my life now!” Hello I can’t even run my own life. And yet, there I was.*
Priests and deacons and bishops and popes? They aren’t much better than me. They are fallible human beings, still working on saying the black and doing the red, still trying to figure out what the implications of the Real Presence are, still just hoping to get the roof fixed before the leak wrecks the plaster. Ministering to the spiritual needs of the faithful is more than enough vocation for one lifetime, do not add politics onto those holy, venerable, and loveably human shoulders.
But wait, there’s worse! When you make faith the key to power? It’s not faith anymore. It’s a scam. The creed ceases to be what I believe and becomes what I must say. It becomes a lie. Theocracy is beatific in heaven, where everyone is perfected and sinless. Down here in the world of fallen men, concupiscence-riddled and many of us lucky if we can just squeak into purgatory, theocracy is the dark art of turning the means of our salvation into a means of damnation.
I don’t mean that metaphorically.
I mean that literally.
When you create incentives for people to lie about the state of their souls, lie about the one thing most important in both this world and the next, you are setting up your neighbor for Hell. Lord have mercy on everyone who’s gotten on this wagon.
The truth will set you free. A system of government that supports the common good is a system that enables truth.
#2 Classical liberalism? Yep. It can work-ish? But not only classical liberalism.
Three things worth saving from the American experiment, and by extension its analogs elsewhere:
- Consent of the Governed
- Separation of Powers
- The Bill of Rights
These aspects of classical liberalism are pretty good. They don’t presto-chango eliminate sin. But they are in fact bulwarks against corruption, and thus these structures, or others like them if you must, are worth having. I’m not going to sit here thinking up a new government when I’m living in a country that’s already got a framework in place for a half-decent one.
If we look to, oh, just about every aspect of corruption and evil in our present American regime, and also 98% of the travesties of our past, at least one if not all three of those principles has been violated. So yes, actually, the solution to a poor liberal democracy is better liberal democracy. Just as the spiritual life must be marked by constant conversion, the political life must be marked by constant reform.
Nature of the beast. To be fully human is to live a life marked by wrestling with evil and endeavoring to overcome it.
But, to be fair to Dreher and the integralists and everyone else who’s lost sight of what they learned from The Reader’s Digest and fifth grade civics (back when Mrs. Grant, who was uncomfortably ancient and old-school even in the ’80’s, was making us sing the Star Spangled Banner), or perhaps they never had that formation to begin with: Liberal democracy has no power to save. It is a set of boundaries you can choose to use or you can choose to let slip out of your hands, but what those boundaries protect is up to you.
And thus, our necessary third way.
#3 You can’t legislate the battle for human souls. You have to fight the fight.
The downside of consent-of-the-governed is that you risk electing ideological sociopaths who think that covering up rape is better than taking an honest look at the conditions that led to that rape. If you could magically cause only good people to be elected, appointed, or born into power, that would be nice, yes?
But you can’t. Hence the crucial features of working liberal democracy and its just counterparts in other times and places, the creation of limitations on power, mechanisms for correcting injustice, and protection of those who are in the minority.
Ultimately, though, pretty-good forms of government only work if there are pretty-good people populating them. To cause that, you need to evangelize.
But seriously, that’s what you have to do. Must do, and by that I mean: You had one job.
You can’t be all like, “Oh, if only we had this better government, then people would be good!” No. They won’t be good. They will be good, or rather, they will try to be good, when their hearts are turned to God who is all good.
Government isn’t what makes you good. God is who makes you good. There is no law, no office, no structure that can legislate someone’s heart into a relationship with Jesus Christ. That work is for evangelists. So if you want to fix the world, evangelize. Period.
I’m not being idealistic here. It’s just how it is. So quit wringing your hands and saying what do we dooooooo? and go do the thing. Sheesh.
Photo: A weathered statue of Saints Cyril and Methodius, CC 4.0. This was today’s Image of the Day at Wikimedia, call it providence or irony or just a couple guys who gave it a shot at doing the thing. FYI, since I keep on having these posts where I rant a lot and then say, “In conclusion, you need Jesus,” let’s be clear: You don’t need to buy my book in order to evangelize. Sheesh, if my number one goal were to sell books, I would be much nicer. But the reason I rant is because I care about this topic, and so yeah, thanks to my very firm editors at OSV, who made me scrap and rewrite all the parts where I went off the rails, yes we managed to cough up a pretty darn good compendium of what’s working in evangelism today. Built around typical US and Canadian parish life, but the principles are nothing new.
*Oh, you’re like, “Well, Jen being on parish council isn’t the same thing as total obedience to the Pope, he is appointed by God.” Yes, well, I got on parish council because my duly-installed, appointed-by-God-via-the-bishop pastor received the inspiration during Mass and asked me. I told him to kick me off as soon as I started to drive him crazy, but he never did. But he was military and I think he sorta liked it? So he’s not really a good judge of what non-masochists want in an advisory council.