A friend writes from New Zealand

A friend writes from New Zealand December 3, 2019

concerning the cultural changes he is seeing there:

Yesterday, our Parliament passed a euthanasia bill – unsurprising, given the response to the first and second readings.  I said to my wife this morning that I didn’t consider it a very big deal, in a way.  It is unfortunate, yes.  The law is a teacher.  We have made another step forward to telling the New Zealand people that killing people, or killing yourself, is a matter of your personal choice.  This is, I think, the attitude of a considerable majority already, but having it official does, of course, send a message: it must be all right, or they wouldn’t let us do it.

This morning, I was reading, on the train, Baruch chapter 1.  I was struck by this:

1Now these are the words of the scroll which Baruch, son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, son of Zedekiah, son of Hasadiah, son of Hilkiah, wrote in Babylon,a2in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month,* at the time the Chaldeans took Jerusalem and destroyed it with fire.b3c Baruch read the words of this scroll in the hearing of Jeconiah, son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the people who came to the reading:d4the nobles, kings’ sons, elders, and all the people, small and great—all who lived in Babylon by the river Sud.*

5They wept, fasted, and prayed before the Lord, 6and collected such funds as each could afford.e7These they sent to Jerusalem, to Jehoiakim the priest, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, and to the priests and the whole people who were with him in Jerusalem. 8(At the same time he* received the vessels of the house of the LORD that had been removed from the temple, to restore them to the land of Judah, on the tenth of Sivan. These silver vessels Zedekiah, son of Josiah, king of Judah, had had made 9f after Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, carried off as captives Jeconiah and the princes, the skilled workers, the nobles, and the people of the land from Jerusalem, and brought them to Babylon.)

B. Confession of Guilt

10The message was: “We send you funds, with which you are to procure burnt offerings, sin offerings, and frankincense, and to prepare grain offerings; offer these* on the altar of the LORD our God,g11and pray for the life of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and of Belshazzar, his son,* that their lifetimes may be as the days of the heavens above the earth.h12Pray that the LORD may give us strength, and light to our eyes, that we may live under the protective shadow of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and of Belshazzar, his son, to serve them many days, and find favor in their sight.13Pray for us to the LORD, our God, for we have sinned against the LORD, our God. Even to this day the wrath of the LORD and his anger have not turned away from us. 14On the feast day and during the days of assembly, read aloud in the house of the LORD this scroll that we send you:i

15* “To the Lord our God belongs justice; to us, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, to be shamefaced, as on this day—j16to us, our kings, rulers, priests, and prophets, and our ancestors. 17We have sinned in the LORD’s sight 18and disobeyed him. We have not listened to the voice of the LORD, our God, so as to follow the precepts the LORD set before us. 19From the day the LORD led our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until the present day, we have been disobedient to the LORD, our God, and neglected to listen to his voice. 20Even today evils cling to us, the curse the LORD pronounced to Moses, his servant, at the time he led our ancestors out of the land of Egypt to give us a land flowing with milk and honey.k21For we did not listen to the voice of the LORD, our God, in all the words of the prophets he sent us, 22but each of us has followed the inclinations of our wicked hearts, served other gods, and done evil in the sight of the LORD, our God.

I had been reading, over the last week or two, Jeremiah – telling the people to pray for the king of Babylon; that God would, in His own time, bring judgement on the king, and deliver His people.  They didn’t, of course – fled to Egypt and … well, the rest is a known story!

Somehow, we need to realise that we live in a country – as do you the USA – that is not culturally Christian.  It was once.  The change has been gradual, so I wouldn’t even think of saying “It was that that made the difference, or this.”.  I know that some who will avail themselves of this legal right to choose death, for themselves or for their loved ones, will not be personally guilty.  I pray that depressed or suffering persons will have the help they need to avoid this.  But I don’t think I need to get all worked up about it.  This has been coming a long time.  In 1986, we decriminalised homosexual behaviour; now we perform gay marriages.  God help us – and He will – in His own time. Patience, loving our neighbour, helping where we can, speaking only when we have good grounds to think it will help.

And pray for Babylon.

Just some maunderings from my nitch down under.

I think what you write is perceptive and I think Catholics outside the US grasp this better than conservative American Catholic for various reasons.

Sherry Weddell, who has been following the demographics on this for years and has forgotten more than most of us will ever know has argued extremely persuasively that Catholics have to face the fact that we do not live in Christendom.

We live in Missiondom.

Francis gets this, and his pontificate is, as I never tire of pointing out, 100% explicable with the words “he has preached good news to the poor”.

But lots of Catholics don’t think of the Church in terms of mission at all.  Indeed, they are actively hostile to mission because evangelization brings in riff raff who do not care at all about the thing that matters to them most: the maintenance of a particular vision of cultural supremacy that is already mostly gone.  I discussed that here recently.

In places like the US, that vision has gotten jumbled up with American power and prestige and with the monied white classes that stand to lose the most when it goes away.  That’s why we have wound up with the bizarre spectacle of the MAGA Catholic Reactionary such as Steve Bannon, in bed with people who, a century and a half ago, would have burned a cross on his lawn and strung him up as a dirty papist Mick.

Funny old world.

Anyway, the choice facing the Church, as Sherry points out, is “Mission or Maintenance”.  Maintenance Catholicism primarily sees the Church as a European cultural legacy to guard and even a Fortress to protect. That is not, not, NOT, the same thing as guarding Apostolic Tradition.  It is about confusing apostolic tradition with a particular cultural and aesthetic vision and regarding all other cultures as foreign and pagan.  Change (which is what outreach invariably brings) is always seen as an assault on that culture and therefore outreach is regarded with fear.  The assumption of such a worldview is that the Tradition (meaning Euro-culture) is an incredibly fragile thing and that the Church is therefore essentially a besieged castle.

And since the election of Francis, that has gone into overdrive with the terror that the castle is no longer besieged: it has been captured by the enemy and doom is near at hand.

Meanwhile, Francis doesn’t care about any of that.  He has left the castle behind and is bound and determined to go out into the highways and byways and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame so that the wedding banquet may be full.  He thinks the Tradition is tough and can handle encounter with the world.  And he is adamant about bringing to Jesus every broken Tom, Dick, and Harry he can find.

These are just the sort of people his enemies fear, especially since, among them are all sorts of people they don’t want.

So, for instance, when Francis says that gay people should, first and foremost, be treated with respect, and compares rage against them, Jews, and gypsies to Hitler, what the Reactionaries reflexively hear is, of course, “Homosexual sex is now just peachy or will be soon.”

Because in the Fortress, the first and last instinct is to pretend the culture has not changed and to maintain old habits of sin as “the Tradition” rather than abandon them in favor of the gospel.  So a “prolife Catholic” was explaining to me just the other day that he saw nothing at all wrong with referring to gay people as “faggots”.  He doesn’t need to change in any way.  It’s the “faggots” who need to change and to suggest otherwise is to capitulate to the “homosexual agenda”.

That is the thinking of somebody who has not the slightest interest in bearing witness to Christ except in the sense of cultural conquest by main force.  What he wants is to maintain a certain cultural consensus from about 1956 decorated with smells and bells and call it “the Tradition”.  It’s Fortress thinking, not Mission thinking.

Meanwhile, the actual Tradition tells us that people are made in the image and likeness of God–even the gay ones–and that Christ died for every person without any exception whatsoever.

More than this, in the most revolutionary statement to come from the Second Vatican Council, the Church tells us that man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.  This stunning insight into a biblical truth as old as Genesis means, among other things, that we have to start first with the dignity of the human person and not with our need to fix them. Missiondom gets that.

The Fortress does not.  In the Fortress, people exist to serve a system, ideology or plan.  Consequently, we don’t start where they actually are.  We start with telling them how they need to change in order to fit our system.  And if they cannot for the life of them see why they should, we try to figure out a way to force them do so.

The thing is, all that is going fast.  That’s why marriage laws have changed and why abortion laws have changed: the culture changed.

In Missiondom, not much time is wasted trying to pass laws that will force people to live by a moral system based on a theology they don’t even understand, much less believe. Instead, the focus is where it was in the early Church, which also lived in a world that did not share its morals, but which was wise enough to know that you  can’t expect people to live by the teaching of Christ if they have never met him and they are unlike to meet him if your approach to them is “Faggot!  Babykiller!”

So, for instance, Jesus does not begin his encounter with Centurion by telling him to repent of owning the slave for whom he sought healing.  Why?  First things first, that’s why.  Instead he met him at his growing edge and commended him for his faith.  Total moral reform would come later.  Jesus engaged people where they were, not where they were not.

In the Fortress, there is no confidence at all in the power of the Spirit to change hearts and minds.  So law and fear is all there is.  In the Fortress, we have to figure out a way to force people who do not believe in Jesus to live the last shreds of the Christian moral life regarding homosexuality and the pelvic issues.  And to do it, we have to support a sex predator and adulterer and tell ourselves he is King David.  Not surprisingly, unbelievers recognize that such an approach to the faith is hypocritical to the core.

What is fascinating to me, again and again, is how often I run into unbelievers who long to meet a Christian who shows them Jesus.  I constantly see tweets and posts from unbelievers who beg for Christians to just treat the weak, the poor, the dispossessed with a modicum of common decency.  And even that is too much because it’s PC.  It’s Liberal.  It’s letting the Libs win.  It’s for losers.

Jesus, of course, says “Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26).  That has been my recommendation all along with respect to the culture war issues that so preoccupy conservative Catholic culture warriors.  Find those areas where your culture war enemies agree with the gospel and accompany them.  Stand up for refugees.  Defend the poor instead of laughing along to Rush Limbaugh ugly “Homeless Updates”.  Stop lying the marching under the banner of the swastika is no big deal.  Stop defending a sex predator who mocks the disabled and POWs.  Stop defending people who treat gay people with contempt. 

None of that would kill a Catholic.  And yet how rare it is for conservative Catholics to touch such things, because it is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and winning is more important than listening to the Church when it helps the damn liberals. The Fortress must be defended, even if it has nothing to do with the gospel and is simply a manmade structure of culture, aesthetics, and extremely human politics.

So I think you are on the right track to not get too wrapped up in winning and focus on praying, trusting God, and bearing witness by the power of the Spirit.  Bravo!


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