In the Catholic circles in which I move, there tends to be hard split between conservatives and progressives. I, the vast majority of the time, am somewhere in the middle, leaning center-right. What I have noticed is that, at least in US Catholic sub-culture, the fault-line is defined by ones opinions on EWTN Global Catholic Network.
I personally grew up on EWTN, and to this day, I appreciate all the hard work it does to bring mostly solid Catholic content to viewers and listeners around the world. This, however, does not mean I don’t see some of its flaws and right-leaning tendencies which I feel come off more as an expression of American sub-culture than an expression of true Catholic universality.
For example, the views of Mother Angelica tended to veer right on a number of issues where I myself would fall more in the middle, but the projection of the network is that this is purely “Catholic teaching”, when it fact its way more complex than that, and in many cases, simply a matter of their founder’s opinion or interpretation, and that of the people she gathered around her.
Also, it doesn’t take much to read through thinly veiled endorsement for conservative politics in America. There is also a tendency I’ve noticed in many of the homilies to hammer home a certain cut-dry approach when it comes to sin and its ramifications that I often feel lacks in nuance and range. It is trying to appeal to people with a voice of authority, but not as much with a voice of understanding.
My belief is that we as Catholics can maintain our core understanding of sin and its results without, at the same time, seeming to get lost in the trees and miss the forest. This is what many progressives would accuse us of, focusing more on issues like cohabitation and birth control as the greatest evil while failing to focus on wider societal injustice that creates poverty, inequality, racism, and war.
It becomes legitimate to flip out about calling God “mother”, or to boycott to pieces a controversial depiction of the Gospels such as “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and call these things the heralds that destroy the Church. But sometimes we fail to simply pause and engage with the best in people, and society, even if it is found in imperfect striving towards wholeness in divine union. We become inward-gazing and unable to seek God in all things.
We also become judgmental over garden-variety sins of our society, mostly involving sex, while at the same time making excuses for given politicians (you know who they are) that flaunt those and even more flagrant manners. I’m not advising to judge them either, certain not subjectively; we really should leave judgements in general to God alone. But maybe that’s the point…why go so hard on casual sex but not as hard on defrauding the worker from his just wages?
This does not mean I’m saying that sexual sins aren’t serious, and can have very negative repercussions. But I don’t believe that, especially in the society as it is, perhaps many people engaging in this are not as strictly culpable due to influences and upbringing, and indeed sexual impulses themselves are often strong enough to mess a bit with one’s willpower to resist. This is also why I believe our understanding of sexual functions should adapt to at least be willing to recognize the nature of self-release that practically 98% of humanity cannot completely prevent.
I’m not giving everyone a pass for sleeping around; I stand before you a 25 year old virgin, and can tell you that I am living proof you can go without sex and not perish. What I am saying, though, is that I recognize my own fallibility, and the way the drive to reproduce is indeed intense enough to mess with your mind. I don’t know what state those having sex out of wedlock are in. I don’t approve of their actions, but its impossible for me to condemn them as persons. I pray for them, as everyone else, and let God judge, and hope he will see all the good in them as well as the flaws.
The point is, at the end of the day, the conservative instinct can sometimes act as a kind of freezer on religious tradition that perhaps needs to be re-examined and considered, or at least presented in a way that has a greater reach beyond only one sub-group. This includes working to keep in step with scientific discoveries that may inform and yes, inspire reformulation of certain beliefs. This, I believe, is something that can and should happen when it comes to the topic of Evolution and Original Sin.
To be fair, I have plenty of issues with progressive attitudes too, and I believe Catholic publications leaning more left suffer from a similar problem, reflecting a mostly American sub-cultural reaction to the right-leaning presentation of EWTN. As a result, not only do they create an alternate ideological pressure cooker, but they also tend to be bitter about it, since they feel like the “resistance”, and more often than not, simply demand a complete change of Church social teaching to suit their agendas.
I honestly think the best thing any of us could do is to put down our fists and try to hear each other out.
Perhaps many of believe similar things but have a different emphasis. Perhaps we need to try and consider the Church around the world instead of just the one in the US. And perhaps we need to show each other mercy more than anything else, which will determine the mercy we will be shown when we see the face of God. Perhaps being perfectly right in our opinions is not salvation, but rather the grace that invades the world and is ever to be found if we have eyes to see.