Catholicism and Secular Liberalism: Who’s off the Reservation?

Martyrs of Uganda Catholic Church in Detroit

Martyrs of Uganda Catholic Church in Detroit

by Doughlas Remy

In a post from last Thursday (5/23), Gil Bailie opines about the challenges conservative Catholics face as they attempt to move freely about in a society that is “thoroughly suffused with and monitored by secular liberalism’s worldview and presuppositions.” 

This is a telling admission about the dilemma of modern Catholicism. Bailie himself seems pained by the idea that the Catholic worldview has been marginalized to the point that most educated people find it foreign, unintelligible, and at times shocking: “… liberal opinions are expressed breezily, as though those who might dissent from such views live far, far away—maybe in Kansas, wherever that is.” When one voices views informed by Catholic teaching, he writes, “one is immediately thought beyond the pale of decency.”

As if this is almost too much to contemplate, Bailie briefly engages in wishful thinking. It is the secular liberals who are marginalized: “Many secular liberals have lived most or all of their lives on these intellectual and moral reservations,” he writes. But let’s get real. Bailie is not visiting the reservations; he’s visiting from the reservation. 

Émile Durkheim correctly saw that God is the community. Monotheism’s requirement that there be a single community and a single law accounts for its expansionist and universalizing tendencies, as expressed in the Catholic teaching that there is no salvation outside the Church. Retrenchment of the sort we’re seeing in modern Catholicism creates just the kinds of dilemmas that Bailie experiences in his own dealings with the world. Catholic ideology is no longer universal, widely understood, or necessarily considered legitimate. The “default” worldview has long since become unmoored from Catholic teaching. Quel chagrin!

Take up thy crossWhat to do? Retreat? (hard for a schmoozer like Bailie) Play along? (and deny Christ?) Evangelize? (And be thought beyond the pale of decency?) These are difficult choices when one is, after all, unsure whether one really intends to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus. 

Below, I’ve included Gil Bailie’s post, followed by Timothy Brock’s response, and then by Dean Hansen’s:

Gil Bailie writes:

Many of us live and move and have our precarious being inside a social network thoroughly suffused with and monitored by secular liberalism’s worldview and presuppositions. Many secular liberals have lived most or all of their lives on these intellectual and moral reservations, whose unexamined presuppositions they share. Among the pre-conscious but widely held assumptions is that everyone who is intelligent and educated is a secular liberal. If an intelligent and educated person happens to have a religious hobby or two that is not particularly held against him or her, as long as this religious interest is attenuated enough and is deferential to secular liberalism’s various sacred cows.

When one meets people in such settings, it is so confidently assumed that intelligence and education correlate positively with the degree of one’s liberal outlook, that liberal opinions are expressed breezily, as though those who might dissent from such views live far, far away —maybe in Kansas, wherever that is.

laughin_henry_gibsonOne is then faced with either playing along, just to be polite, or voicing one’s views, which—in these settings—are so shocking to the locals that friendships may well not survive the shock. One is immediately thought beyond the pale of decency. And the very worst part is that—in the interest of salvaging the moment and possibly a friendship—one feels the need to insert little liberal sentiments into the ensuing conversation in order to reassure one’s interrogators that one is not, in fact, a Nazi or a George Wallace admirer. It’s a strange, self-enclosed world, and self-reinforced world. 

One does one’s best.

Timothy Brock responds:

Gil, what you’ve written offers a truly fascinating perspective into a conservative Catholic’s experience of a society from which he feels increasingly alienated. I gather from what you’ve revealed about yourself that you move about in the world. You give lectures, you go to conferences, and you meet a lot of people. You’re hardly reclusive or introverted, and the cloistered life would not appeal to you. Retreat is not an option. Obviously, however, your outer-directedness and your sense of calling are increasingly at odds with the world in which you move. It is becoming harder for you to get traction in the world of secular liberalism. Certain values are “assumed,” especially on the West Coast where you live, and they are a strong current to swim against. 

A real and urgent civilizational crisis

A real and urgent civilizational crisis

Our modern world is in many ways in “crisis,” as you say, but perhaps not for the reasons that you think. Even more obvious to me, however, is that the Catholic Church is in crisis, and your musings about your difficulties finding traction in secular settings is one of the symptoms of that crisis.

You are aware of the widening gap between secular society and the teachings of the Church. Sometime in the late 19th century, the Church emphatically rejected modernism. Unfortunately, that entailed a rejection of much that is good about modernism, especially the efflorescence of scientific inquiry. Today, the Church is going its own way, drifting ever farther from the mainstream. In fact, “mainstream” has become a dirty word. It is ridiculed as the “fashion du jour” when in fact outcomes sometimes show that it is coursing in the right direction.

I believe the Church’s blanket repudiation of modernism has contributed mightily to the growing alienation that conservative Catholics feel with regard to their ambient culture. 

Where there is alienation, there is little or no engagement. And yet you have committed yourself to engage with the culture and change it. I think you’ve got an uphill struggle in front of you—and a very frustrating one. Your faith will no doubt give you courage for the task.

Dean Hansen responds with his own translation of Gil Bailie’s post:

Translation:

Not-pleasantJesus (who loves everyone) has nevertheless told me to be wary of people that he loves because they are probably “secular liberals,” and we know that Jesus has no truck with sek’lar libruls. Of course, they’re not quite as bad as ni**ers, kikes, faggots and abortion doctors, but Lordy, Lordy, they’re bad enough!  I know this because I know that Jesus is angry at them since they think for themselves and arrive at conclusions based on rational sense about how the world works. In short, they refuse to live in the same hermetically-sealed, biblically-sterilized world that I do. Now, ironically, I’m tempted to agree with them from time to time, because they make a lot of sense, and I really have to fight the impulse to join with them, which is overpowering at times. I became aware of this tendency on those rare occasions when I doubted my own convictions, when I would be confronted with a profound sense of fatigue, and a corresponding feeling of emptiness. But fortunately, I was able to interpret these feelings correctly: Loss of essence.  Of course, secular liberals sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid liberals, dear friends in Jesus, but I do deny them my essence.  Since I don’t want Jesus to hate me, which he would probably do if I were like them, I have spent my entire life resisting the impulse to be human and share myself with those who would otherwise be my friends.  Bastards!

Peter Sellars and Sterling HaydenThe Bible has provided me with a template which has to be spray painted on everything to test it for reliability. If the conclusions reached by others fall outside the lines of that template, they must be rejected along with the people who hold them, because God is a stickler for accuracy and perfection. Since I am obsessed with doing things correctly and never making mistakes which would result if I actually thought for myself, I will allow myself to be completely blinded by my own presuppositions, because otherwise, I would fall under the sway of my own judgment, and then I would explode. I will do my best therefore to make it sound as though others have rejected me, because I enjoy the illusion of difference that identifies me as being distinct from everyone else. How else can God be on my side unless he’s against everyone else? Being a contrarian about everything is hard, because it goes against the better angels of my nature, but I don’t want to be cast out forever, so I’ll make life hell for myself now and will then be better equipped to enjoy the beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly while being permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell as the special reward granted to the conservative libertarians of God.

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