What is the *Matter* with Me Anyway?

What is the *Matter* with Me Anyway? May 15, 2013

A reader complains (not for the first time) that when the Right sins, I blast the Right, but when the Left sins, I say “A pox on both their houses.”  Why do I do that?  I’m sort of surprised by the question, since I should think it would be obvious: it’s because I primarily regard myself as a person of the Right.

I know my audience’s biases and refuse to affirm my tribe in its easy sense of superiority to liberals.  None of my readers is going to fall for a HuffPo piece on the glory of abortion or gay “marriage”.  But they are *very* likely to fall for a Right Wing Noise Machine piece on the genius and goodness of lying and tempting people to mortal sin in the prolife cause, or the glories of torture, or our need to expand our wars to bring DemocracyWhiskeySexy to the world.  Last year, it was not too likely to hear somebody in my audience express doubts about the brilliance of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan’s theories on “Maker and Takers”, or Rick Santorum’s cheers for murdering civilians as “wonderful”. Each year, I can reliably count on my readers to lecture me on the moral splendors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Each time it comes up, I can count on my readers to tell me why the Church is wrong and benighted third world crapholes and the Red Chinese and a North Korean psychopath are right about the death penalty. When the Pope gets lectured on his need to get in line by Forbes, my readers are likely to cheer for Forbes, as they cheered for Romney and for Ryan against the evil 47% of Takers. 

In short, my goal is to uphold a Catholic worldview against the cafeteria Catholicism *I* encounter, not to reinforce the easy and casual tendency of Faithful Conservative Catholics to excommunicate “CINOs” among Those People Over There. (By the way, as a point of clarity, I don’t believe in laypeople running around demanding excommunications, and so though I am critical of various ideas and practices, I have never urged that those who cherish them be kicked out of the Church.  However, many of the people I have criticized *do* believe strongly in kicking their enemies out of the Church and so have assumed that when I disagree with them, I am saying they are “not real Catholics” and should be kicked out.  This is called “projection”.)

I am not a prophet, but I do think we have a duty to emulate the prophetic tradition in Scripture since we are called by our baptism to be Prophet, Priest, and King.  What is striking about every prophet from Samuel to Jesus is that they do not spend nearly as much time chewing out Israel’s enemies as they do telling Israel to listen to the revelation they have received and quit imitating the Gentiles (hence their distinct lack of popularity and tendency to get thrown down wells and sawn in two).  Even when they do chew out Israel’s enemies, they often use such chewouts as a launch pad for saying, “If the stupid pagans, who don’t know any better, are bad, don’t even get me started on Israel, which has the law given by God himself and therefore has no excuse!”  Jesus, in exactly the same vein, reserves his harshest words, not for the pagan enemies of Israel, but for those Jews who are, theologically, most like him. Jesus has a few rough words for the Sadducees. He has basically no rough words for the poor and weak.   It is the Pharisees–who believe in angels and the resurrection of the dead, and practice the works of prayer, fasting and almgiving, and who have valiantly sought to protect their Jewish heritage from syncretism and absorption by pagan culture–it is these people who Jesus is hardest on because they should have known better, but could not imagine the possibility that they were wrong after having been right about such important matters.  Result: it all culminates in the invective of Matthew 23, not in a tirade against the stupid pagan Romans and their brutal, oppressive, idolatrous ways.

Why?  Because like the rest of the prophets, Jesus knows that we need not fear those who kill the body, but rather that we should fear the death of the soul.  The Right has been and remains right about a lot.  It was right about the Commies.  It was right about abortion, and euthanasia and the other non-negotiables.  But it has increasingly managed to be wrong about more and more things and to consistently assume that any criticism of that wrongness is heresy proceeding from bad faith–all while assuming that those it determines to be CINOs need to be kicked out of the Church.  It has, with amazing frequency, managed to not merely be wrong, but *hugely* wrong on obvious issues ranging from Maciel to unjust war and torture, to lying and tempting to grave sin, to accusing Corapi’s bishop of being part of a gay cabal vs. a Living Saint, to insisting that there is some moral obligation before God to vote for men like McCain and Romney, to chewing out Simcha Fisher as a “pro-sodomite, pro-abort” for saying that Holocaust Denialism is evil, to nodding thoughtfully as a George Weigel shreds Caritas in Veritate or Forbes lectures Francis on his need to not criticize the effects of capitalism in the Third World, to circling the wagons for a bishop who brainlessly put a priest in contact with children after he had promised to have no further contact with them.

I am a Catholic first and an American very much second.  I believe that patriotism (not nationalism and not party loyalty) is the duty of every citizen because I believe in the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Patriotism is simply the second commandment extended to one’s borders.  It is the healthy love of home.  But I also know it is the second greatest commandment and that the first commandment is to love the Lord your God.  To love oneself properly is to hold oneself up to the scrutiny of the law and the healing grace of Christ for every place the X ray of the law reveals sin.  To love one’s neighbor as oneself is to obey the prophetic injunction given Ezekiel to warn when one’s country and one’s people are embracing sins that will destroy them.  Over the past ten years, I have–to my great surprise–learned that exactly the same moral heresy–consequentialism–is equally beloved among my own tribe as among the pro-aborts who casually blew off the Church’s teaching on the Pelvic Issues with prattle about “conscience”.  I have discovered that the strategy among my own tribe is to instead invoke “prudential judgement” as the code word for blowing off Church teaching on a wide menu of questions beyond the Non-Negotiables. It comes down to an approach to Church teaching best summed up as “Opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world.” Does a pol beat the drum for bombing the hell out of Iran? No problem! It’s a prudential judgment and therefore we have no moral responsibility to question whether the slaughter of hundreds of thousands more people would be a sin. The pol advocating the war wears a Precious Feet pin, so his cheerleading for war is okay.

My purpose here is simple: to try to get Catholics who ought to know better and who are so ready to excommunicate CINOs among Those People over There to close their own cafeteria and put the Church’s guidance first, even on matters that are not dogmatic. I want to introduce the startling concept that the Church’s moral guidance is normative, even when it is not absolutely binding. I want to suggest that tribal shibboleths and folk hero worship are not sufficient substitutes for exercising common sense, even when our Folk Hero really humiliates Planned Parenthood by unethical means, or tells us lying and torturing for the greater good is fine, or instructs us that you can do evil and good may come of it.

I don’t expect a reader of the National Catholic Reporter to care what the Church teaches.  I don’t expect a HuffPo reader to listen to the Magisterium.  I do expect a self-proclaimed Faithful Conservative Catholic to do that.  And when such people–for years–spend their time coming up with rationales for tempting people to murder, or making excuses for torture, or denouncing Christ’s poor as “parasites”–all while demanding the excommunication of people they have decided are impure CINOs, I think it my duty to say, “If the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” and “The measure you use will be measured to you.”

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