Worshippers of the machine

Sam Kriss has a delightful takedown of Neil deGrasse Tyson and I F—–g Love Science*. He makes this point:

A decent name for this tendency, for stars and spaceships recast as the instruments of a joyless and pedantic class spite, would be I F—-g Love Science. ‘Science’ here has very little to do with the scientific method itself; it means ontological physicalism, not believing in our Lord Jesus Christ, hating the spectrally stupid, and, more than anything, pretty pictures of nebulae and tree frogs. ‘Science’ comes to metonymically refer to the natural world, the object of science; it’s like describing a crime as ‘the police,’ or the ocean as ‘drinking.’ What ‘I F—–g Love Science’ actually means is ‘I F—–g Love Existing Conditions.’ But because the word ‘science’ still pings about between the limits of a discourse that depends on the exclusion of alternate modes of knowledge, the natural world of I F—–g Love Science is presented as being essentially a series of factual statements. There are no things, there are only truths. The fact that the earth is a sphere is vast and ponderous: you stand on its grinding surface, as that fact carries you on its heavy plod around our nearest star. The fact that the forms of organic life emerge through Darwinian evolution is fractal and distributed, so that little fragments of that fact will bark at you in the street or dart chirping overhead. The fact that there is no God, being a negative statement, is invisible, but you know for certain that it’s out there.

(Emphasis supplied and profanity redacted.) Read the whole thing, of course.

Kriss makes several incisive points in the paragraph we quoted above. First, he is one-hundred-percent correct in identifying a strongly classist element to pop-scientism (perhaps there’s a better phrase for the phenomenon, but for our purposes here, this is the phrase we will use). We admit that this connection had not necessarily occurred to us (perhaps this is a function of some bias on our part), but once Kriss says it, its obvious. Of course there’s a classist element to pop-scientism. We’ll come back to that in a minute or two. Second, he is also correct in noting that the understanding of science in pop-scientism is hugely reductive. For pop-scientism, science is not a way of investigating the world—which is all the scientific method can credibly, though not always coherently, offer—science is a way of being in the world. As Kriss notes, the adherent to pop-scientism, reduces the world to a collection of facts, which process already asks too much of the scientific method, and then declares that the world consists only of those facts.

In reading Kriss’s critique, the Holy Father’s recent social encyclical, Laudato si’, came to mind (as it often does in this context). It seems to us that Laudato si’ contains an extended discussion and critique of the basic assumptions of pop-scientism. Or, to put it another way, pop-scientism seems to be an expression of the mentality that the Holy Father critiques in Laudato si’. Indeed, it seems as though the Holy Father had this phenomenon clearly in mind when he discussed the technocratic, anthropocentric mentality that worships technology—and science, for that matter—as a mode of existing in and in relation to the world. And his critique absolutely knocks the stuffing out of it.  Recall one of our favorite passages from Laudato si’:

The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”.

It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes and formatting omitted.)  Pop-scientism is just another expression of this process of mastery over objects; indeed, it is the purest expression of this process. For the person enamored of pop-scientism, nothing could be simpler than to approach an external object and gain mastery over it through the scientific method. Why? Because it is presumed that the scientific method is the only way of approaching something. Better still is when someone else has approached an object through the scientific method. Because of the irrefutable presumption in favor of “science,” pop-scientism simply uses the scientific work of others to reduce external objects to facts, as Kriss noted.

The Holy Father also quite perceptively notes that this anthropocentric, technocratic outlook becomes hermetic and ultimately self-contained:

The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.

(Emphasis supplied.) Kriss, it seems, hints toward this myopic specialization in the snippet we quoted above. The pictures of nebulae and tree frogs to which he refers—if humorously—represent in a real sense the fragmentation of knowledge. For pop-scientism, there is to delve into the mysteries of creation, either here on earth or in the universe at large. The broader horizon is, as the Holy Father says, irrelevant. The picture, the back-of-the-envelope summary of this experiment or that project is enough. More than enough, really. It does not matter whether there are connections between tree frogs and nebulae. Still less does it matter whether or not other fields of study could draw connections between the tree frog and the nebula. (We are reminded of a profoundly silly cartoon from the “humor” website The Oatmeal likening various fields of study to searching for a black cat in a dark room.)

And what of class spite? Consider this bit from Laudato si’:

The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable. The technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic. It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all”. As a result, “man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature”. Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one’s alternative creativity are diminished.

(Emphasis supplied.) In a real sense, pop-scientism draws a line in the sand and calls it science. On the right side of the line are people who accept fundamentally the claim that science works endlessly for the progress of humanity. Every capsule summary of research represents a major advancement. Every new gadget, brought about by science, is another step toward some better future. And people who refuse to accept all of the consequences of pop-scientism, even if they ultimately accept most of the claims of mainstream scientists today, are put squarely on the other side of the line. Pop-scientism therefore creates a twofold path to power. On one hand, it offers a cheap and easy way to achieve dominance over external objects and reduce them to mere facts. On the other hand, it offers a cheap and easy way for its adherents to achieve dominance over the countercultural reactionaries who are not as taken with it. This is Kriss’s class spite, we think: wealthy, educated Americans can look down on poorer, less-educated Americans because they have not accepted the basic truths of pop-science. And the condescension is merited, because, as every child knows, science brings progress.

Thus, we see in Laudato si’, three clear aspects of pop-scientism explained in clear, critical terms. If a Catholic wants to push back against the tide of Facebook memes and other notes in the social-media chorus of pop-scientism, as, indeed, a Catholic may well want to do, Laudato si’ is a good place to start.

* NOTE: Given the general purpose of Semiduplex, it never occurred to us that we’d need a profanity policy. However, the issue has come up a bit in recent days. While we see the need for occasional earthy language, it is our view that we ought not to use it or reprint it here unredacted, given the potential for causing scandal or serving as a near occasion of sin for you, dear reader.  

The Christian response to March Madness

At First Things, Valparaiso University professor Gilbert Meilaender argues that colleges serious about their Christian identity ought to skip NCAA tournament play on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This argument is, in and of itself, not especially interesting. However, Meilaender makes an interesting connection:

Fast forward to March 2015: The state of Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), in the midst of that year’s March Madness, offered ­obeisance to the great gods of inclusivity and diversity, issuing not-very-veiled threats to remove its headquarters and future events from Indianapolis. Nor was this the first time the NCAA had used its considerable corporate heft to try to shape public opinion on social issues.

Look forward now to March 2016: The tournament’s first full weekend of play, in which sixty-four teams are reduced to (the sweet) sixteen, will take place from Thursday, March 17, to Sunday, March 20. The second weekend of play (March 24–27) will reduce the Sweet Sixteen first to the Elite Eight and then to the Final Four, who will have to wait yet another week before the tourney is finished and a champion crowned. True fans immerse themselves in the entire tourney, of course, but they may have different opinions about which weekend is most exciting. The second full weekend happens to be my own favorite. By that time the remaining sixteen teams are in large part the cream of the crop, and the competition is intense.

But there is a case to be made this year for suggesting that Christians should pass on this weekend—and perhaps on the entire 2016 tourney. Their God, after all, is not the NCAA’s god. And the dates for the games on the second full weekend should concern us. They are March 24 (Maundy Thursday), March 25 (Good Friday), March 26 (Holy Saturday), March 27 (Easter). Could it be that other things—things more earthshaking than March Madness—should occupy our attention in that span of days?

(Emphasis supplied.) We will have to think on this connection a little bit, since it seems that Meilaender’s point is that at least in part because the NCAA weighed into Indiana’s RFRA debate, Christians ought to recognize the holiness of Holy Week by refraining from tournament play.

To that end, we have a couple of observations. First of all, Indiana’s RFRA—indeed, all RFRA-type statutes—are in some regard incompatible with the rights of Christ and Christ’s Church. The State does not have a duty to protect all religions; it has a duty to protect and promote the true religion. Now, Aquinas tells us that permitting other religions’ to persist may well be justifiable, particularly if the evils arising from suppressing the religion outstrip the evils created by the religion itself. For example, no one would suggest that suppressing a benign sect such as Zen Buddhism ought to be a particularly high priority for a rightly ordered state.

But such toleration does not require, nor could it require, adopting a general position that all religion no matter what is supposed to be protected and favored by the state. Such a position would be the inadmissible error of indifferentism. Last summer, The Josias made available a translation of Pius IX’s allocution, Maxima quidem, in which that great pope said,

In addition, they dare to deny any activity of God in men and in the world. And they rashly assert that human reason, without any reference to God, is the only judge of truth and falsehood, good and evil, and that human reason is a law unto itself, and suffices by its own natural power for the care of the good of persons and peoples. But since they perversely dare to derive all truths of religion from the inborn force of human reason, they assign to man a certain basic right, from which he can think and speak about religion as he likes, and give such honor and worship to God as he finds more agreeable to himself.

(Emphasis supplied.) It was this sharp rebuke in Maxima quidem that formed the basis of one of Pius’s definitive condemnations of indifferentism in Syllabus (#15). Thus, while we agree with Meilaender that the NCAA took a stance incompatible with orthodox Christianity, we cannot agree that RFRA is a permissible expression of orthodox Christianity. Indeed, it is not. It is steeped in error.

And this leads us to our second point: does the NCAA’s stance on RFRA actually have anything to do with whether or not Christian schools’ teams should participate in the games scheduled during Holy Week? Let us assume that the NCAA opposed RFRA for the right reason (i.e., that it is a product of erroneous indifferentism) or, less fantastically, that the NCAA supported RFRA; would it make playing basketball on Good Friday any less unseemly?

Link Roundup: March 20, 2016

We wish all of our readers a blessed and fruitful Holy Week as we all prepare ourselves for the Triduum. 

An older entry is up first, but it’s well worth your time. In 2009, Gregory DiPippo went through and chronicled in painstaking detail the 1955 Holy Week reforms of Pius XII. (We link to the last post in the series, since it has a links to the previous posts.) At the time, the 1955 changes represented the first significant changes to the Roman Missal since 1570. (The Roman Breviary had not done so well.) However, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Pius’s 1955 reforms were but a prelude to the wholesale revision of the liturgy in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. DiPippo’s series is, therefore, essential reading to understand how Bugnini’s big project began.

At the National Catholic Register, there is an article about the preparations for the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions of Our Lady. It seems to us that the Fatima message is as essential today as then. Probably more so.

An anonymous priest at Rorate Caeli writes a very brief note about the dangers of the Church stooping to adopt modern modes of communication.

Fr. John Hunwicke has a lengthy prediction about the forthcoming post-synodal exhortation, which, in point of fact, differs from ours in an important dimension. Fr. Hunwicke says, “It will not open up a regular public pathway to the admission of such people to the Sacraments without the regularisation of their matrimonial situation through the Nullity system.” (Emphasis in original.) We’ll see.

Fr. Joseph Koczera posts an interesting homily on the gospel account of the resurrection of Lazarus, in which he makes the important point, which we had not consciously recognized until now, that we all can identify with Martha and Mary.

Every day you see one more card

Tomorrow (today, depending on where you are when this is published), March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, it is widely anticipated that the Holy Father will sign his post-synodal exhortation. It is also widely anticipated that the Holy Father will issue it, if not tomorrow, then in very short order thereafter. It is extraordinary to see how quickly the Catholic blogosphere cycles through things; the Ordinary General Assembly and its Relatio have sort of faded from view, despite regular reports about the likely contents of the post-synodal exhortation. And Laudato si’ passed out of the conscience of Catholic bloggers pretty quickly, too, for that matter. Curious why that’s so.

We would be hugely happy to eat these words, but: whether it is the forum internum compromise brokered by Cardinal Marx in the Germanicus small group, which was ultimately where the final Relatio landed (after, it is alleged, another revolt on the floor by the orthodox bishops), or whether it is the stronger version long championed by Cardinal Kasper, it seems fairly likely that some form of a penitential path to communion for bigamists is in the cards. (Though St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor, it must be noted, and this alone gives us some cause for hope.) This will undoubtedly cause a reaction.

Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society, has a fairly lengthy, very balanced essay about how to approach the Holy Father’s post-synodal exhortation. A brief preview:

What is significant about a document from Rome is what it changes, not what it says. This is an exegetical principle of the late Michael Davies: when reading a new document, ask What does it allow which was not previously allowed? What does it forbid which was not previously forbidden? The rest is padding. The truth of this principle becomes clear with the assistance of hindsight. What is significant about Paul VI’s Memoriale Domini is that it allowed Communion in the Hand: it is irrelevant that nine tenths of the thing is hymn of praise for Communion on the Tongue, and that it actually says that the existing rules aren’t being changed. That 90% of the document is inert, like the polystyrene padding in a parcel. In exactly the same way, what is significant about Summorum Pontificum is that the Traditional Mass is allowed without permission from bishops. The rhetorical concessions to liberals unhappy about this, slipped in here and there, are of no significance. Getting worked up about them is a complete waste of time.

This is the most important lesson of all. When the document comes out, there will be something for everyone. Neo-conservative bloggers will fill pages with quotations from it about the importance and indissolubility of marriage: guaranteed. Liberal journalists will fill pages of the dead-wood media with quotations from it about the importance of mercy: no question about it. Neither makes any difference. It will all be forgotten within the year. This kind of material can be read in line with any number of different views about what, in practise, should happen to the divorced and remarried. The only thing which is important in the document is what it changes, the bits where the Pope uses his legislative authority to make a concrete difference. There are currently clear rules in Canon Law about the rights and obligations of Catholics living in a public state of sin, and of priests ministering to them. These rules can be changed in a number of different ways. Again, rules and principles of confessional practise can be changed, and rules about who can be a godparent – what it means to be a public sinner – and so on.

(Emphasis in red supplied.) We encourage you to read the whole thing there.

A notable new book on the Church’s social teaching

At The Distributist Review, Thomas Storck reviews Daniel Schwindt’s new book, Catholic Social Teaching: A New Synthesis. Storck’s review is, in the main, positive, and we have ourselves added Schwindt’s book to the list of books we want to buy. (An ever-expanding list that is, we admit, more aspirational than anything else!) We encourage you to check it out, and if we get around to buying it and reading it, we will be sure to share our impressions. We note particularly a couple of points that Storck makes that encourage us greatly.

First, Storck observes that:

Following these preliminary points, the author discusses what he calls “permanent principles,” which are: the common good, the universal destination of goods, private property, solidarity and subsidiarity, freedom and justice. The inclusion of freedom in this list raises some questions, however. The freedom of choice with which man is endowed accompanies him everywhere, indeed is inseparable from his nature, regardless of his political or even penal situation. In the Anglo-American tradition, however, it is not this inherent freedom which preoccupies us but freedom in the political order, which is widely seen as the chief political good. But this is surely incorrect. Rather it is justice which is the chief political good, and it is justice which rules and determines the other principles listed here, such as property, solidarity and subsidiarity. Obviously political freedom is good to a degree, but it is subordinate to both justice and the common good.

(Emphasis added.) This seems to us to be a very good capsule summary of much of what is wrong with modern America, economically and otherwise. And it seems to us further to be a really very good way of summarizing the fundamental disagreement between those who are faithful to the whole of the Church’s social teaching and those who part ways with the Church. Obviously, there is nothing incompatible with justice and freedom necessarily, provided that both are understood properly. However, when freedom becomes disordered and ossifies into liberalism, it is indeed often flatly incompatible with justice. Now, this might not be the end of the discussion, but it seems to us that it’s a fine elevator pitch.

Second:

Although, as he notes, the popes have called for cooperation and just dealings between capitalist owners and workers, still “the Christian aversion to the concentration of ownership and wealth has ancient roots.” If ownership and work are not divorced, it is more difficult for such concentrations of wealth to arise. Schwindt quotes Leo XIII pointedly, the “law … should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.” This, of course, is exactly what Distributism aims at—the widest diffusion of productive property, in large part to prevent that fatal separation of ownership and work which leads to so many evils, both societal and even personal. Also worthy of note is Schwindt’s discussion of guilds. The guild system, suitably updated to take account of contemporary conditions, is one of the foundations of Catholic social thought, for it avoids the twin rocks of state control of the economy and the injustices and chaos produced by competitive capitalism.

(Emphasis added.) This is, of course, very interesting, since guilds (or syndicates or trade unions or what-have-you) featured heavily in the popes’ early social teaching, especially Quadragesimo anno. Indeed, one could argue that subsidiary function is most functional in  an environment where there are robust guilds and similar organizations. However, this line of the Church’s teaching has sort of fallen into disuse, if not outright oblivion. It will be interesting to see Schwindt’s treatment and whether he makes any concrete proposals for reinvigorating the notion of guilds.

Finally:

I call attention also to Schwindt’s discussion of taxation, and in particular of progressive taxation. He quotes Pius XI’s encyclical Divini Redemptoris that “the wealthy classes must be induced to assume those burdens without which human society cannot be saved nor they themselves remain secure.” As Schwindt notes, “the exact application of this principle could take various forms, but one can say without much risk of error that the system known as the ‘progressive tax’ is a fairly straightforward and appropriate means of realizing this goal.” In the last few decades in the United States conservative politicians have somehow persuaded large numbers of people that a flat tax is more fair than a progressive tax, even though it should be obvious that a rich man has much more disposable income than a poorer man, and hence can rightly afford to give up a larger percentage of his income in taxation. Despite what some people claim, there is absolutely nothing in Catholic teaching or tradition that would prohibit a progressive income tax.

(Emphasis added.) Enough said.

If you have any impressions that you’d like to share with us—and we note that correspondence received will likely be anonymized and published here—feel free to drop us a line at our email address or on Twitter.

You were there: the end of “National Review”

The Trump phenomenon—based, we acknowledge, primarily in the anxieties of middle-class whites, which is not an altogether comforting point—has whipped movement conservatives into a frenzy. And why not? They’re about to lose their grip on the Republican Party. The latest paroxysm of this frenzy is Kevin Williamson’s National Review article, “The Father-Führer.”

In this piece, which only goes downhill (if possible) from the title, Williamson argues, essentially, that the middle-class whites of America behind the Trump movement have only themselves to blame for their lot in life. Trump isn’t the answer; abandoning their doomed communities and their wastrel ways is the answer. Only he’s not as polite as that. His piece is behind a paywall, but a National Review colleague, running to save Williamson from the tidal wave of opprobrium quotes extensively from it. Williamson’s viciousness reaches its fullest expression with this nasty little peroration:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your g——-d gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

(Expletive redacted.) If the best answer Kevin Williamson can come up with for Trump is to recite the same old conservative dogmas, but louder and meaner, then Kevin Williamson does not have an answer. Because Williamson’s piece boils down to the same old poor bashing that some conservatives resort to whenever their policies don’t produce the results they think they should. (If only the Czar knew!) That National Review thinks that that’s somehow an answer to the Trump phenomenon, then National Review is out of answers, too. In fact, we’re inclined to say that “The Father-Führer” represents the end of National Review.

It is plain that National Review is panicked by Donald Trump. We note that they did devote seemingly an entire issue—or at least a significant portion of an entire issue—to brief essays “against Trump.” And they printed that plea for help from Catholics from Robert George and George Weigel a little while back. Of course, National Review is right to be panicked by the Trump movement, because Trump has tapped into a right-wing current different than the economic and moral currents generally claimed by the conservative movement. And it is clear that many Americans no longer believe in basic, Reagan-era conservative doctrine, largely because they have noticed that that doctrine has not, in point of fact, stopped their communities from being devastated one way or another. It is no surprise that they’ve run to someone who promises something better, but it is surprising that National Review hasn’t come up with a better response.

We note in passing that we could be wrong, and this could be little more than a profoundly snotty reaction of a thought leader who has discovered that his followers have run to the other guy’s show, but, in a way, that’s worse. It means that deep suspicion of cultural and political elites that runs through the Trump movement is justified or at least justifiable. 

But the thing is, we agree: Donald Trump is not the answer to what’s wrong with America today. No politician is. The towering Pope Pius XI tells us that only the Social Kingship of Christ will cure the disease at the heart of modern American society—and modern society more generally. But even speaking in narrowly political terms: Donald Trump is not the answer. But neither is Republican Party orthodoxy, however stringently one wants to express it. As we have discussed previously, it is Republican Party orthodoxy that created the conditions that made Trump possible. Doubling down on that orthodoxy is not going to make Trump go away. And insisting that it will obliterates one’s credibility.

Just read National Review if you don’t believe us.

 

Link Roundup: Mar. 13, 2016

To start things off, Gabriel Sanchez offers a brief critique of an idea we have heard before: support for the Democratic Party—with its policies of wealth redistribution through taxes and social-welfare programs—may paradoxically result in fewer abortions. (Click through Sanchez’s piece to read the Distributist Review pieces he’s discussing.) It seems to us that there’s a whiff of the post hoc rationalization about that idea. Certainly, the Republicans are terrible on lots of issues, but it’s a little too convenient—isn’t it?—to say that the Democrats’ strengths also magically resolve their one enormous weakness.

Next, at Rorate Caeli, Joseph Shaw has a FIUV Position Paper on the Good Friday prayer for the Jews. You may recall that the bishops of England and Wales have—taking a page from the German bishops—petitioned the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to replace the Extraordinary Form prayer, itself composed in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI to replace the ancient prayer, with the prayer currently used in the Ordinary Form. This is sensitive stuff, to be sure, but it ought to be considered (though not obsessed over).

At Reuters, there is a lengthy article by Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan about the “marginalization” of conservatives under the Holy Father’s reign. It’s an okay overview, though it could be better, especially since it discusses the Society of St. Pius X without noting that regularization of the SSPX has been a major priority for the Holy Father, with rumors of an imminent agreement swirling on message boards and blogs.

The Boston Globe‘s Catholic vertical, Crux, is shutting down. It looks like it’s going to be turned over to John Allen, who had been site lead since it was launched, as his personal project. We were uncertain what Crux’s business model looked like in a world where the Register and the Reporter are established brands, to say nothing of the major blogs and blog aggregators, like Rorate or Patheos Catholic or Aleteia.

Edward Pentin has a lengthy article at the Register about the continuing fallout from the Holy Father’s meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill, especially with respect to the tricky situation created for Patriarch Sviatoslav of Kiev. There are some positive notes that have come out of a meeting earlier this month between the Holy Father and Patriarch Sviatoslav.

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has a brief recollection of the late Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Imagine living in the Austria he describes briefly, where a high-school student could audit Harnoncourt’s classes at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, or where one could turn up regularly for Harnoncourt’s concerts in Vienna.

 

Some perceptive comments on the Trump situation

Gabriel Sanchez, at Opus Publicum, has a very perceptive post on the assault launched against Trump by Catholic neocon thought leaders George Weigel and Robert George. (Sanchez is commenting on this piece by Rod Dreher, for your reference.) He concludes,

The whole situation reveals one of the critical flaws in contemporary (American) Catholicism, namely the belief that liberal democracy can still provide the pathway to a better future. It won’t. Although I will be the last man in Michigan to mourn the death of neoconservative Catholic politics, I am fine with elbowing my way to the front of the line to declare that no Catholic in good conscience should support Donald Trump or any of the other disappointing choices on offer this election cycle. Conservative-to-traditional Catholics who support Trump are no less seduced by Americanist ideology than those who commonly (and perhaps thoughtlessly) pull the lever for Democrats on the belief that the latter rigorously uphold Catholic social teaching. Instead of taking this moment in American history as a sign that we have no earthly political home (at the moment), Catholics are at war with one another over which earthly messiah will save us. Better, I think, to recognize our post-political situation and prepare for the storm on the horizon rather than squabble over which brand of liberalism will best satiate our basest longings.

(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed. In the discussion on Twitter over our previous piece on Weigel and George’s attempt to enlist Catholics to save the Republicans from Trump, one person suggested that there is a widespread sense among Catholics that the Republican Party are their agents or friends in Washington. Not so, Sanchez rightly points out.

This is the point which we were driving at when we explored the morality of staying home on Election Day. Voting for any candidate whose views diverge from Catholic teaching in all of its aspects is at best a compromise, justified by the reminder that all moral teachings do not have the same weight. But when every candidate diverges from Catholic teaching in important respects—or espouses Catholic teaching incredibly, as some candidates do—there is no requirement that one go to the polls to agonize over the candidate who is, on balance, the least out of step with the Church. Furthermore, the obligation to vote comes from shared responsibility for the common good; if all candidates threaten the common good more or less equally, then it may well better serve the common good to stay home. Obviously it is a question of conscience, and, therefore, we do not deny necessarily that a Catholic could come to the conclusion that he or she could vote for a given candidate in this cycle. But, so far, like Sanchez, we fail to see that any of the candidates is the thoroughly Catholic candidate that Pius XII told us we were bound to support.

Furthermore, in the context of the debate over Trump, Sanchez has also interrogated Chad Pecknold’s assertion that “limited government” is an Augustinian doctrine, despite the fact that “limited government” is a code phrase for “free-market capitalism.”  Sanchez makes this point,

Anyone with eyes to see knows by now that this commitment to “limited government” is essentially code for a commitment to free-market capitalism with modest (if any) economic intervention on the part of the government. While “limited government” can and often does imply other restraints on centralized coercive power, it is difficult to discern how they square with Catholic social teaching. Libertarians (and their loosely estranged social-liberal brethren) routinely speak of “limited government” with regards to most moral issues held near and dear by Catholics, which is why they take a generally low view of legislation restricting social blights such as abortion, prostitution, and pornography. If the principle of subsidiarity is truly what Catholics are after, why not speak instead of “localized government”? The expression has the benefit of  being free from the ideological baggage long associated with “limited government” while pointing to the true meaning of subsidiarity.

(Emphasis supplied.) For our part, given the clarity of the phrase “limited government” in our political discourse, we are inclined to think that anyone who uses it is referring to the conventionally conservative sense.

Certainly, Weigel and George—and, we suppose, Pecknold, since he signed Weigel and George’s “appeal”—have some explaining to do when they try to claim that Republican notions of limited government and constitutionalism (which is the same thing, near as we can tell) are “America’s unique expression of Catholic social doctrine’s principle of subsidiarity.” They’re a unique expression because they’re really not an expression of subsidiarity at all. At least not a subsidiarity recognizable in Quadragesimo anno. Subsidiarity holds that the smallest competent unit handles an issue, not that government needs to be restrained to let individuals do as they please. Such liberalism is an inadmissible error. And the notion that the Church ought to change its doctrine to catch up with modern thinking about liberalism is also an inadmissible error. It may also be economic or moral modernism, another inadmissible error. (We concede, in passing, that one could argue, we suppose, that John Paul introduced personalism into the concept of subsidiarity in Centesimus annus, but one would have to recognize, however, that John Paul’s notion of subsidiarity may break with his predecessors’ concepts.)

Read both of Sanchez’s posts. Hugely interesting stuff.

Fr. Montgomery Wright

Fr. Ray Blake—whose blog we ought to read more—posts an interesting video (two interesting videos, in fact) about Fr. Quintin Montgomery Wright, a Scottish priest in Normandy.  Fr. Montgomery Wright started out as an Anglican minister, but, at some point, converted to the Church and was ordained. He then went to France where, according to some comments we have read, he said the Tridentine Mass in French and versus populum. Then, at some point after the Council, he began to take a more traditionalist line. In both videos, the SSPX appears in the background. In the first, Fr. Montgomery Wright acknowledges being friendly with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and in the second we see Bishop Tissier, now living (shelved?) in Chicago, performing some confirmations. However, we do not see where Fr. Montgomery Wright was ever formally associated with the Society.

At any rate, Fr. Montgomery Wright’s traditionalism, at least from what we see from the videos, was not “prissy,” to borrow Fr. Blake’s point. It was simply a continuation of what had always been done by and for people living in rural France. In other words, it was a hearty, frank insistence that there was no reason to throw out what had worked for a long time, least of all to please some Roman liturgical experts. (Those of us who are farmers or close to farmers understand this attitude implicitly.) Of course, Fr. Montgomery Wright’s enormous personal charm, we suspect, could have sold traditionalism even to a hostile parish.

At any rate, take a little time and watch the videos.