Inner Conversion vs. Outer Force

Inner Conversion vs. Outer Force September 18, 2018

If you are looking for a good film to watch, may I recommend Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce, the English Evangelical who did, almost by sheer force of character alone, what it would take all the slaughter of our Civil War to achieve: the destruction of the English slave trade.

I am fascinated with these sorts of stories of real moral revolutions in human history.  Some evil that was hitherto excused or acceptable simply becomes unbearable.  People who could formerly turn a blind eye to something simply cannot live with the accusation of their conscience about it another second and they, miracle of miracles, repent.  Really repent.  Not some theoretical thing.  Nor some merely notional gesture, as when a French Protestant became Catholic so that he could claim the throne saying, “Paris is worth a Mass” but real repentance when your guts tell you, “As God is my witness I will never permit this again!”

It’s these kinds of moments of moral turning that really drive so much of human history. Like the Christian monks who ran into the Roman arena shouting at the mob, “FOR GOD’S SAKE! FOREBEAR!” They literally shamed Rome into abandoning a popular custom of blood sport that had dominated their culture for centuries. It would be like a bunch Quakers going on TV and simply, through force of character, successfully pleading for Americans to popularly sponsor the repeal of the second amendment or the abolition of football.

Speaking of Quakers, William Penn was, like all gentlemen of time, given to wearing a sword for fashion. But Quakers refused to because they are pacifists. He agonized about the question and went to George Fox in hopes of him binding Penn with a command that would make him give up his sword.  He wanted an external force to make him be good. So he asked Fox, “How much longer may I wear my sword?”

But Fox refused to tell him what he could and could not do. His answer: “As long as you can.”

Penn put down his sword and never took it up again.

The core problem American Christianism faces is that it offers a morally incredible witness. It wants people to act according a highly selective Christian ethos suitable to the needs of the Party of Trump but it constantly tells the world it does not trust Jesus by its actions. It asks for sacrifice and trust by the weak but stockpiles guns for the powerful and fearful. It backs killing people as a first resort and killing the innocent to get at the guilty. It talks about reverence for human life in the womb and salivates over caging children at the border.  And it lives, above all, in the perpetual dream that a day will come when it can, by force of law, make a nation that overwhelmingly supports the maintenance of Roe abandon that support at gunpoint.

That’s not going to happen.  Even if, by some miracle, it happens and the Court overturns Roe, it’s not going to happen.

First of all, it’s not going to happen because the Court will not overturn Roe.  Especially a Republican court.  The great lie of the “prolife” movement enslaved to the Party of Trump for 35 years has been “Vote GOP or the baby gets it.”  We are all climbing Jacob’s Ladder to the Great Rosy Dawn when there will be a GOP majority on the Court and they will magic Roe away.

In reality, our abortion regime is 100% the creation of GOP appointees.  100%.  Roe was written by Harry Blackmun, Nixon guy. Doe and Casey?  GOP creations.  Casey was given to us at the high water mark of GOP domination of the Court, in 1992, when the Court was GOP 7-2 and had a prolife Dem on it.  “Prolife” leadership has functioned to do one thing for 35 years: train white, conservative, “prolife” suckers to back everything the GOP does–no matter what and no matter how contrary to human dignity and the teaching of the Church–in the eschatological faith that someday, in the Great By and By, a GOP Court will magic Roe away and abortion will disappear.

The result is Trump (from Fear, Woodward’s new book):

“You’ve got some problems on issues,” Bossie said. “I don’t have any problems on issues,” Trump said. “What are you talking about?” “First off, there’s never been a guy win a Republican primary that’s not pro-life,” Bossie said. “And unfortunately, you’re very pro-choice.” “What does that mean?” “You have a record of giving to the abortion guys, the pro-choice candidates. You’ve made statements. You’ve got to be pro-life, against abortion.” “I’m against abortion,” Trump said. “I’m pro-life.” “Well, you’ve got a track record.” “That can be fixed,” Trump said. “You just tell me how to fix that. I’m—what do you call it? Pro-life. I’m pro-life, I’m telling you.”

Ooooh.  Just feel the commitment!

Suckers. For this Fr. Pavone desecrated an altar and virtually the entire “prolife” movement and conservative Christians sold their souls. For this they defend a sex predator.  For this they defend caging children and ripping families to shreds at the border.  For this, they defend mockery of POWs.  For this, they construct elaborate lies that this vile mockery of the disabled is perfectly reconcilable with being “prolife”:


And that is because an American Conservative Catholicism has been carefully catechized by their true moral instructors–FOX, Limbaugh and the self-enclosed bubble of Right Wing Noise Machine Social Media–that virtually the entirety of the Church’s moral tradition is the enemy of the prolife bits they are told to prioritize as the “non-negotiables”. To use the term the “Seamless Garment” is to invite reflexive and explosive scorn and contempt from those who style themselves Real Catholics[TM]. And so we have created a “prolife” witness that is now best summarized by Eric Sammons over at CatholicVote. He now rejects the term prolife. He wants to give full voice to what was once regarded as an accusation against the prolife movement back in the 70s: that he is simply and solely anti-abortion and has not the slightest interest in the rest of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.

At least he’s honest. But he is not accurate. In fact, he and millions like him have an intense interest in the rest of the Church’s prolife teaching: They are doggedly opposed to it and make war on it–using the unborn as human shields to hide behind–constantly. And everybody can see that, which is why their fantasies about abolishing Roe are unreal. The political cult of Christianism has no interest in ending abortion. Neither do most Americans. We do not live in a country that is interested in human life. We want money, pleasure, power, and honor. Christianists simply want to maintain the fiction of caring about the unborn so they can enjoy the pleasure and honor of moral superiority to liberals as they pursue their real ends. Their leader speaks for them eloquently: “I’m—what do you call it? Pro-life. I’m pro-life, I’m telling you.”

Meanwhile, those who are really trying to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Catholic Tradition are fully pro-life from conception to natural death.
Accordingly, they are neither fish nor fowl and have trouble fitting in. And now and then, we meet such figures who actually live the faith and when we do, they are enormously attractive and persuasive–and likely to have passionate friends and equally passionate enemies. Very often, they are stabbed in the back brutally by Christianists and it is only when we look in their eyes and see Christ looking out at us with patient innocence that our hearts stabbed too and we feel ourselves changed forever. Changed as the monks changed Rome. Changed as Fox changed Penn. Changed as Wilberforce changed England. That is how revolutions of the Spirit begin and change the world forever.

Feminists for Life has described its mission not as trying to make abortion illegal, but unthinkable. Christianism’s whole mission is to make it illegal in a culture that can no more imagine outlawing it than outlawing the second amendment. The same people who answer every gun slaughter with “You cannot outlaw evil” also insist that you can totally outlaw abortion and magic it away and that Roe is just about to vanish as it has been just about to vanish since 1/20/81.

Sane people recognize that it is possible to change laws to limit evil but that such changes begin with revolutions of the Spirit, not legal force on populations overwhelmingly hostile to the will of minorities. We do not have public games in which people hack each other to death for sport because long ago some monks made it first morally intolerable to let it go on and the state then made laws to banish the barbarism from the public square. We can plant in the heart the idea that it simply cannot be endured that children are killed in the womb and that will then be reflected in law. We can make abortion unthinkable.

But we cannot do that while we simultaneously spit with contempt on the idea that it is also morally intolerable to shoot them to death, rip them from their parents, cage them, let them starve, leave them naked, gut their family finances for insulin, or let them die from treatable diseases. To be “prolife” in America, especially as a conservative Christian, is to adamantly stand for all of those evils in huge percentages. It is, as CatholicVote makes clear, to increasingly stand for the illusion that you can be anti-abortion and make war on the Church’s teaching about the dignity of the rest of human life.

And that is to make war on the gospel itself. The gospels and the Church’s tradition know nothing of this bizarre schism between belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ and obedience to his word. The same Christ who tells us to believe and be baptized also tells us to do all that he has commanded. The One who tells us to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist also tells us to believe in his presence in the least of these.

And so the Church links our piety about the body of Christ in the Eucharist with the body of Christ in the Church and the body of Christ in the poor. “If you do not see Christ in the beggar at the Church door,” says St. John Chrysostom, “you shall not find him in the chalice.” Likewise, St. John the apostle says, “If you do not love your neighbor whom you have seen, you do not love God whom you have not seen.”

The same is true of our screwed-up politics. If you do not love the kid at the border, the gunshot victim, the kid who needs insulin, the underpaid worker, or the death row inmate whom you have seen, you do not love the unborn whom you have not seen.

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