Archive for the ‘Sacrality and Secularism’ Category

Totalitarianism From Church to State

Triumph_des_Willens_poster

by Doughlas Remy

Gil Bailie (The Cornerstone Forum Facebook page) quotes from political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism:”

The first disastrous result of man’s coming of age is that modern man has come to resent everything given, even his own existence — to resent the very fact that he is not the creator of the universe and himself. In this fundamental resentment, he refuses to see rhyme or reason in the given world. In his resentment of all laws merely given to him, he proclaims openly that everything is permitted and believes secretly that everything is possible.

The triumph of the will—to borrow the title of the Leni Riefenstahl’s wretched documentary hymn to Adolph Hitler—the triumph of the will doesn’t mean that the will actually triumphs; reality is too recalcitrant. It means that the will lays waste the world in the effort to force reality to conform to whatever ideological make-believe has caught the fancy of the utopian planners.

Timothy Brock responds: (Note: Mr. Brock was “defriended” shortly after posting this comment, and the comment was removed.)

Totalitarianism is always a project of absolute control of every single aspect of a person’s existence, from cradle to grave and beyond. It is antithetical to privacy, because even a person’s most intimate actions, thoughts and desires must become totally transparent to those in control. If one does not voluntarily submit to these intrusions, then one is shamed and, if necessary, coerced. If one does not voluntarily confess one’s crimes, then one is threatened and sometimes isolated or tortured. Totalitarian systems assume that everyone has something to hide and therefore to confess, and yet these systems are themselves highly secretive. While requiring total transparency from those they control, they demand total opacity for their own conduct.

The individual’s sexual behavior—and even his or her innermost desires—are of particular use to the totalitarian mindset, because shame is one of the most powerful forces in the human psyche and can be leveraged for total control. Once an individual is made to feel ashamed of any sexual desire that lies outside a very narrow spectrum of social utility, he or she can be manipulated to an astonishing degree.

Once the Church lost the power to exert this level of control, is it any surprise that the state stepped into the breach?

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From distinguished antiquity to anthropological nonsense

by Doughlas Remy

(This is a continuation of my previous post, just below, in which I am responding to Gil Bailie’s untitled post of 6/28/13 on The Cornerstone Forum Facebook page. [TCF])

Gil Bailie writes:

Pope Red PradaA few critics seem to think that opinions expressed on this FB Page are so alien to common decency as to be intrinsically odious. These critics are unlikely to be convinced otherwise when shown that these opinions and perspectives are shared, not only by the Church to which I belong and to which I intend to remain loyal, but also by the greatest theological and philosophical minds of recent memory, including Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger, Joseph Pieper, Henri de Lubac, John XXIII, Paul IV, John Paul II and Pope Francis, to name but a few. These points of view and principles are rooted, however, in anthropological reality and moral reason, the persuasiveness of which depends on no particular religious belief.

Those who consider the distinguished antiquity of these principles as proof of their contemporary uselessness, and who therefore regard those who adhere to them as mean-spirited Neanderthals and moral dullards, often use the comments section of the Cornerstone Forum FB Page to let fly entirely predictable salvos of contempt. When reminded that our purpose here is not to argue with those who do not share our perspective but to be of use to those who do, howls of protest arise. And when, in exasperation, we refuse to allow this Page to become a bulletin-board for anthropological nonsense, moral muddle, and anti-Catholic discourses, their authors enjoy the satisfaction of believing themselves to be martyrs in the cause of free expression.

They are as welcome to believe that as they are to believe all the rest of what they believe. I bear them no ill-will, but they will have to find other venues for propagating ideas that, though wildly popular among Lady Gaga Liberals, evince rather than seriously address the civilizational crisis that is upon us.

Mr. Bailie says his purpose here is “not to argue,” and yet he presents several arguments to refute criticisms of TCF’s principles and assumptions. He might more accurately have written that his purpose here is “not to tolerate counter-arguments.”

The first of his arguments—the appeal to authority—is in fact Mr. Bailie’s first line of defense, and its logic goes something like this: “Our opinions are highly respectable because they are shared by our church and by certain theologians and philosophers that we happen to hold in very high esteem.” Mr. Bailie apparently sees no need for further discussion of any of these opinions, since their definitive and authoritative expression has already been offered up in distinguished texts that should be considered the modern-day equivalents of sacred scripture. And yet, TCF offers a comments field after each dollop of wisdom from these august sources, apparently in the hope of gathering up offerings of assent and admiration for them.

Mr. Bailie’s second argument is an attempt to shore up the first: “These points of view and principles are rooted, however, in anthropological reality and moral reason, the persuasiveness of which depends on no particular religious belief.”

This is of course circular, since the “anthropological reality and moral reason” of which he speaks have been garnered from the eight theologians and philosophers he cites, all of whom, significantly, are Catholics, and five of whom are popes! And then he adds, as if not having noticed any of this, that “the persuasiveness [of these views and principles] depends on no particular religious belief.” Really?

Mr. Bailie’s third argument is the appeal to the “distinguished antiquity” of these principles. The older the better, right? To this I would say, if you want antiquity, go to ancient Greece, Egypt, India, or China. Antiquity is a guarantee of nothing, least of all truth, justice, and the American way.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

And when all else fails, one can always resort to name-calling. No one has called Mr. Bailie a “Neanderthal” or a “moral dullard,” but he has no scruples about calling his critics “Lady Gaga Liberals” who use TCF as a “bulletin-board for anthropological nonsense, moral muddle, and anti-Catholic discourses.”

One would like to know WHY he has reached these conclusions about his interlocutors. But we are not likely to find out, because in Mr. Bailie’s world there is no intermediate stage between expressing an opinion and attacking those who disagree with it. There is no desire to enter into conversation, no respect for divergent opinions, and no tolerance of vigorous debate. This is the Old Catholicism of centuries gone by, a Catholicism that held sway through ignorance, fear, and deference for authority. It is a far cry from our contemporary lay Catholicism that has sought openness, dialog, and reform.

TCF’s own comment thread for Mr. Bailie’s post follows:

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From intrinsically disordered to intrinsically odious

by Doughlas Remy

After more than a week of testy exchanges with friends and other respondents on The Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page, Gil Bailie expresses his exasperation in an untitled post on 6/28/13. I believe his post clarifies his position very ably, and I will respond to it in detail. First, however, a little background:

Mr. Bailie believes we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. So do I. The one that he sees and the one that I see are same, but our perspectives on it are very different.

Though hardly a utopian, I see our cultural stresses in a mostly positive light, for I believe they are signs of a creative unfolding of the better parts of our human nature. I am hopeful, but not always optimistic, that this unfolding will continue, because time is running out and the worsening condition of our planet is creating environmental stresses that could warp or reverse these positive tendencies.

Mr. Bailie’s view, on the other hand, is apocalyptic: the worst impulses of our fallen natures are in the ascendency, and only those who are faithful to the teachings of the Church will resist being swept away by the currents of cultural change.

The “crisis” results from the opposing movements of two great tectonic plates: modernism and religion. Modernism is associated with the European Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and, more recently, the scientific and communications revolutions. It is fundamentally consequentialist and pragmatic, secular and naturalistic, progressive, democratic, and egalitarian. Religion (including the political religions of Communism and Nazism) is associated with resistance to all of the above. It is supernaturalist, conservative/regressive, authoritarian, and anti-scientific when contradicted by science. It tends to distrust and even abhor the expansion of knowledge and the free exchange of information and ideas.

The Cornerstone Forum’s Facebook page is a microcosm of the cultural clashes that I have just described. This accounts for my longstanding interest in it. One can’t do a longitudinal study of a cultural petrie dish without somehow staying in the lab and collecting data.

So, I found Mr. Bailie’s post very enlightening and will respond to it here as best I can. He begins:

A few critics seem to think that opinions expressed on this Facebook page are so alien to common decency as to be intrinsically odious.

Notes from the UndergroundThe term “intrinsically odious” cannot fail to remind us of the Catechism’s description of homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.” Is this just a coincidence, or is it a reverberation? Several of Mr. Bailie’s critics and one of his supporters have already commented on the mimetic doubling effects that have become apparent, both in Mr. Bailie’s responses and my own project of “mirroring” TCF on this site. I believe there is considerable truth in these observations, and I am willing to own that truth for my part. Resentment has indeed driven many of my responses to Mr. Bailie’s incessant disparagement of homosexuals over the years. Why do I continue reading his homophobic comments? It’s not because I enjoy being demeaned. Rather, it is because Mr. Bailie’s treatment of me and other LGBTs makes me angry, and I believe I can both own that anger and put it to good use in the service of others. (I realize this holds the promise of a fruitful discussion about the merits of righteous anger from a Girardian perspective: How can one be certain that one’s anger is righteous, and what if it is not?)

An additional reason for my returning again and again to track Mr. Bailie’s shabby treatment of homosexuals is that I am witnessing the fascinating spectacle of a mimetic reversal in progress. In recent years, those who were once so virulent in their denunciations of all things gay have begun to worry that the tables are being turned on them and that they will become as marginalized for their bigotry as LGBTs have been for their sexual orientation. We have heard this from Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown of NOM, and from virtually every other media opponent of same-sex marriage. In fact, it has become one of the major talking-points of the opposition. Just last week we heard it in Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion on the DOMA case, where, unaware of the irony of his remarks, he made the very same complaints that we have heard from homosexuals for years, i.e., we are being condemned, demeaned, and humiliated; we do not wish to be adjudged “hostes humani generis” (enemies of the human race). This is the language of the victim and of the powerless, and I do not believe Justice Scalia was shamming for the sake of effect. There was emotion in his words, and that emotion was fear mixed with anger and resentment.

I sensed that same trepidation in Mr. Bailie’s opening sentence for the post in question: “A few critics seem to think that opinions expressed on this Facebook page are so alien to common decency as to be intrinsically odious.”

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGEThe DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, added to the state legislative victories of recent months and years and the same-sex marriage legalizations happening in Europe and Latin America, have rattled the political right. There can be no mistaking that. Cultural crises are always about paradigm shifts and usually entail redistributions of power. But the long arc of equality and justice in our consitutional democracies should ensure that no one has anything to fear when these changes occur.

There’s much more in Mr. Bailie’s post to chew on, and I will continue doing so tomorrow.

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.

Sophie Kicks the Door Down

The Cornerstone Forum writes:

“The process of desacralization … ends up by returning us to a savage sacrality.” – Antoine Vergote

We can, and should, move from the primitive sacred—at the heart of which is violence and superstition—to the sacramental sacrality of sanctification and holiness, but secularity is not sustainable in naturally religious creatures like ourselves. As a religiously edifying sense of the sacred is eliminated from cultural life, it is only a matter of time before primitive forms return: idolatry and child sacrifice.

Readers respond:

Sophie Sommers Mr. Bailie, what is the difference between primitive sacrality and the sacrality of Christianity? How does desacralization return us to sacrality?

Gordon Savage

Gordon Savage

Gordon Savage Sophie, Seriously, to understand what goes on at this forum you need to have read and thought through [René] Girard’s “Violence and the Sacred” and “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” as well as Gil’s book [“Violence Unveiled”]. Minimum. If you don’t know how Girard differentiates the primitive sacred from Christianity, you’re simply missing the meaning of most of what goes on here.

Sophie Sommers Gordon, how arrogant of you to assume my question was asked out of ignorance of Girard’s theory. I have read all of Girard’s major works as well as Mr Bailie’s only one. And how ungenerous of you to put down anyone who asks a question about mimetic theory. Not very interested in outreach and education, are you?

Since you have been initiated into the mysteries, maybe you could answer my question, provided you have not taken a vow of secrecy and your fraternal society does not exclude women.

Can you explain the paradox? How does one achieve “desacralization” through human sacrifice, even if the victim is recognized as a victim? If God “sent” an incarnation of himself to be sacrificed for our sins, and that sacrifice was in expiation for original sin, as Catholic teaching holds, how is that NOT a continuation of the primitive sacred? How can the Passion “reveal” the scapegoating mechanism while actually serving the identical purpose that all blood sacrifice serves, i.e., expiating, cleansing of rancor and of sin? The victim is always regarded as a savior/god “after the fact,” and is also sometimes shown to have been innocent. Doesn’t Jesus’s death serve the same purpose for Christians as human and animal sacrifice always did for those who practiced it? It’s a foundational act because without it there would be endless mimetic conflict, making stable societies impossible. Isn’t that also what expiation is also all about? Carrying away sin? Cleansing the society? Washing oneself in the blood of the lamb?

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