The Disordered Culture of Catholic Oppositionalism

The Disordered Culture of Catholic Oppositionalism August 23, 2016

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This post is a part of the Patheos Catholic Channel series, “Catholicity: Identity and Its Discontents.” Steel Magnificat both cordially invites and heartily encourages our readers to read more here.

Regular readers will know that the more alarmist elements of the public face of Catholicism have recently caught my eye. I am going to go a little further today and seek to identify the common theme to all the diverse forms of catholic alarmism. Also, I am advocating that we Catholics both name and claim our problem. Once we own it, we can take responsibility for it. Repentance, reconsideration or even defense of an attitude, practice, or lifestyle is futile and confusing unless the what under discussion is identified. (Even if that identity must then be questioned or offers more questions than it resolves, it at least gives the finite mind a place to begin its work.)

I am in no way challenging that Catholics, singly and collectively, should engage in politics in general and ecclesiastical politics in particular, but I will qualify in what sense I think these politics are desirable. Politics in its desirable (and also unavoidable) sense always revolves around the question “How ought we order our lives together?”, either in general or in some particular application. If we are a community in any sense, be that community sacred, secular, diverse, uniform, off-line or online, ect. – then that community will have implicit, explicit, or more likely both forms of politics. How we ought to order our lives within that community will be a locus of belief, question, controversy, consensus, armed conflict, armstice and more. Ecclesiastical politics will be the same, but localized to questions of the specific community of the ecclesia and how it overlaps and interacts with other levels of human community.

So far and so good. Wherein lies the “oppositionalism” I so inelegantly name in the title? Didn’t I just imply (and don’t I here explicitly state) the legitimacy of an ecclesiastical politics? Indeed I do. And I am by no means confident that such a politics will or should remain free of even animated controversy. If we care about the ordering of our lives, especially in our shared lives in the Church, then let us question, discuss, disagree, agree, alienate, reconcile, discern, deliberate, advocate and as many other contextually appropriate verbs as one might care to add. Let us do it humbly, deliberately, honestly and earnestly. The problem comes when we hand over these conversations not merely to disagreement, but to egotism, arrogance, competition- in short- when we hand over our shared lives to disorder.

Disorder here does not mean not my preferred order, nor does it mean not the preferred order of my hero, patron saint, favorite thinker or authority (be that authority wax-nosed, hard-nosed or clown-nosed). I mean here not a disagreement about what order is to be preferred nor one over how strict or loose that ordering should be. What I am writing about here is not when we as Catholics concern ourselves with order within our communities or between our communities and other communities, but when we abandon order altogether. When we convince ourselves or try to convince others that those who disagree with us MUST be dishonest. When we presume the secular press is plotting against us because it doesn’t see things the same way we do. When we “pray” novenas against those who disagree with us on the internet. When we fret that our neighbor has too many or too few children. When we worry over whether we, or our pastors, or our press is too liberal or too conservative or too moderate and let that eclipse questions of right and wrong. When right and wrong are things we think about with regard to our neighbor rather than in the examination of ourselves. When we do these things and others like them can we stand before the dread judgment with a clean conscience and without condemnation? Do we think our Father is like ourselves?

I think that when we find ourselves engaged in such practices we must recognize that it is not everyone else plunging the world or the Church into disorder but we ourselves who have turned our backs on order.

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