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Know the Enemy: Conservative American Catholic Reactionaries

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 16, 2015: Progressives and liberals in the United States are well aware that the Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have made themselves known in the public arena by their opposition to legalized abortion in the first trimester, by their opposition to contraception coverage in Obamacare, and by their opposition to same-sex marriage.

Their opposition on these three issues is based in the misguided Roman Catholic tradition of natural-law moral theory -- a part of the Roman Catholic philosophical tradition.

In the book THE CATHOLIC LABYRINTH: POWER, APATHY, AND A PASSION FOR REFORM IN THE AMERICAN CHURCH (2013), Peter McDonough perceptively characterizes "the sense of encirclement" that the bishops and their lay American Catholic collaborators feel (page 6):

"The church itself [in the United States] faces a secular environment where it feels set upon from all sides. It is the sense of encirclement by externally imposed strictures -- the depletion of influence over politics, service operations, and sexual behavior -- that helps account for the bishops' tough stance regarding a regulatory context touching on the provision of contraceptives, the ministerial exemption from labor laws on hiring and firing, and the like. . . . Without institutional presence under the aegis of the hierarchy, the moral stature of the church is thought to be in danger of turning into a ghostly memory" (page 6).

I would add that the priest-sex-abuse scandal and the role of bishops in transferring abusive priests has deeply diminished the moral stature of the church in the United States and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic bishops in the United States venerate the Roman Catholic tradition of thought. Their veneration of their Roman Catholic tradition of thought is a form of idolatry on their part -- a form of idolatry that the lay American Catholic theocons discussed by Damon Linker in his book THE THEOCONS: SECULAR AMERICA UNDER SIEGE (2006) share.

I think that we should give credit to past achievements where credit is due. But we should also be clear-sighted about past achievements, not nostalgic and sentimental. Most importantly, we should be clear-sighted about living in the present and adapt our thinking to our present cultural context.

For all practical purposes, the cultural context of European Christendom effectively ended with the end of the Thirty Years' War. We should give credit where credit is due to the achievements of European Christendom. But the bishops and their lay American Catholic collaborators have a deep nostalgic idolatry for the cultural conditions of European Christendom. As a result, they see themselves as embattled by what they consider to be secularism.

Historically, the spirit of modernity that emerged in print culture in the West after the emergence of the Gutenberg printing press can be considered to be a secular spirit compared to the spirit of the times in European Christendom. This is a clear-sighted view of the spirit of modernity that emerged historically in print culture in the West. However, the deep-seated nostalgia for and idolatry of the spirit of European Christendom prevents the bishops and their lay American Catholic theocon collaborators from adapting to the cultural conditions of modernity.

Now, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. The Jesuits are known for the spirit of adaptability. Perhaps Pope Francis will be able to help the other Roman Catholic bishops around the world be a bit more adaptable to the modern world. But I wouldn't bet on it. He is not likely to initiate any significant changes in already established doctrinal positions, because he is basically conservative about already established church positions.

Nevertheless, progressives and liberals may cheer on Pope Francis's inveighing against economic inequality. In addition, progressives and liberals may find his announced upcoming encyclical about climate change to contain certain points they like.

Now, in the book GOD, PHILOSOPHY, UNIVERSITIES: A SELECTIVE HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL TRADITION (Sheed & Ward Book/ Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), Alasdair MacIntyre, professor emeritus in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, does not explicitly discuss the Roman Catholic tradition of natural-law moral theory. Instead, he centers his attention on the Roman Catholic philosophical tradition of thought about God.

For the benefit of any readers who may be interested in learning more about the Catholic philosophical tradition of thought about God, I should say that MacIntyre's book is both informed and accessible.

The bishops and their lay American Catholic theocon collaborators have also studied the Catholic philosophical tradition that MacIntyre has studied.

However, as MacIntyre proceeds to construct his admittedly selective history, he actually goes beyond surveying theories about God to include attitudes and views expressed by the Catholic theorizers about certain other persons -- who are termed "fools."

As MacIntyre correctly notes the practice of referring to certain other persons as "fools" can be found in the book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible. For example, in Psalm 14 (and also in Psalm 53), we read the following opening verses:

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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