Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 3)

I'm less than enthused about Romney's win in Michigan. It's the top story on Drudge, of course, but the link provided doesn't even mention Ron Paul, who actually beat Thompson and Giuliani. Oh well. On to more important things.

Last time, I promised to talk about how religion, or at least the Catholic religion, covers all things.

But first, I wish to reiterate--again--that my understanding of Catholicism was severely limited at this point in my life. While it--more specifically, weekly Mass--provided an essential ritual, and sometimes offered good moral guidance, I was totally unaware of its totality and its coherence. I was ignorant of Catholic philosophy; but I was also ignorant of philosophy in general. If I had succinctly summarize, I would have said that the Church was a group of people--priests and other religious, as well as lay members--who shared some common beliefs; these beliefs were drawn from the Bible, and we, the lay members, received our instruction by attending Mass.

Now, none of this is inaccurate, per se. But it is heretical, in Chesterton's sense of the word, because it is only a partial truth. The Church is so much more than a loosely affiliated group of believers, just as the Faith is formed, and lived, not just in Mass, but in all times and all places. The Church is a longstanding institution, founded by Jesus Christ Himself two thousand years ago, with a solemn promise that He would not abandon her and that the gates of Hell would never prevail against His bride. Far from being a weekly ritual, the Faith had and has the power to transform history; but what is more important, it does so by transforming individual human lives.

Though at times reactionary--properly speaking, every human action is a reaction against something else--the Church is not simply an antiquarian institution, blindly reiterating the same things it has said for years. Of course, since Truth doesn't change, the Church is still proclaiming that same Truth, and will continue to do so until the end of all things. But the Church has also sough to interpret the Truth in fresh and new ways, and apply Truth to situations which, though rarely being wholly new, possess a sense of novelty. To give but a few examples, Augustine incorporated Platonic thought into the language of the Church; Aquinas would similarly "baptize" Aristotle centuries later. John Paul II developed his Theology of the Body, a revolutionary way of looking at human sexuality.

In fairness to my teachers, having some of us read Augustine would have run the danger of casting pearls before swine. My intellectual heroes at the time were Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, and I thought Clancy novels were serious literature. I had some serious work to do before I was ready to read Augustine. And yet, when Just War Theory was presented--the only part of the Catechism we studied in four years--it wasn't explained as a centuries old teaching, developed by the one time Bishop of Hippo, and found to be of startling utility in the modern world. Perhaps it wouldn't have done any good. In any event, faced with this information, I had no idea how to process it. Where did Just War fit into the rest of things?

Insofar as the Just War Theory had any place, it seemed to be yet another instance of the teachers using the podium to enforce upon us their liberal bias. I've since repented of my Republican ways, but the bias was real. I was blessed with some good teachers in some subjects; I had a wonderful Government teacher, for instance. But there was a strong liberal bias. It would be unwise for me to bemoan it too readily, since it caused me to rethink a lot of my own position and led me to grow intellectually. Yet it could be ridiculous at times. Teaching liberation theology, for instance, is preposterous. I never dealt with it, but my brothers still attend the school, and they have to hear all about that heretical nonsense.

And yet, I can't say I remember any condemnations of abortion. The Church's opposition to abortion may have seemed similarly out of place, but it was very suspect that we didn't touch on the issue, since it was, and is, the most important issue for Roman Catholics, at least in America. To me, Just War was important, not because we were a Catholic school, but because Bush was in violation of it. A curious proof may be that I had to learn on my own of Pope John Paul II's condemnation of the Iraq War.

Meanwhile, our school had no problem with homosexuality. We even had a couple of groups on campus devoted to homosexual students. The one time we discussed the issue in class, I wound up attempting to defend the Church's position, something I was almost completely ignorant about, while students were either antagonistic or uninvolved. I could better explain the Church's opposition to homosexuality now, but it's telling that no one in the entire room had both the ability and the courage to do so. I wouldn't give myself much credit for courage either.

The reader may wonder what homosexuality has to do with interventionist war. The answer resides in the Catholic Church. The same institution which has developed a coherent and cogent case for sexuality, open to procreation within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman, has done the same when it comes to explaining when wars may be fought justifiably. And both teachings, as all of Her teachings do, stem from the Incarnation: the tremendous mystery of God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

If I had to give a one word answer of what was lacking in my religious education, I would have to say Jesus. He was in the periphery, along with a plethora of teachings which were deemed irrelevant to religion class. Understandably, not everything can be covered, in four years, in a life time, in a thousand life times. But when the students of your religion class go away with no understanding of Jesus Christ, that's a very bad sign.

Bereft of Christ, Christianity is worthless. Attempts to keep the good in Christianity while getting rid of that which is bad, or at least unlikable--and this is what at least some of my teachers did--is impossible, since Christianity is inexorably tied to Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man.

But such was the education I received that I thought the Republican party--for goodness sake!--held a wider view of man than did my own Church. If you asked me then, I would have said I was a Catholic and a Republican, but the latter held stronger sway. Now, I'm a Catholic libertarian; the adjective informs the noun, as it should be. More importantly, though I fall short with a disgusting degree of regularity, Jesus Christ, informs all. There is no other way to be Catholic.


hoosiertoo said...

Oddly enough, I'm coming to parallel conclusions some 25 years farther along the timeline, although instead of in the context of Catholic education I'm beginning to see the depth of Tradition below the surface of the modern Church. I'm beginning to suspect that we're being had by the modernists.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

I'm beginning to suspect that we're being had by the modernists.

I used to think so, too, and I'm certainly not completely sold on all of Vatican II's reforms. But Weigel explains that John Paul II believed in Vatican II, and I'm beginning to come around.

The Church should never reject Tradition, but we weren't making any converts by ignoring modernity, at least in the western world. Take heart, and have Hope. The Church never falters.

troutsky said...

What would Jesus have objected to in Liberation Theology? What would he say to the capitalist economic system?

hoosier, we were had by modernists in many ways (progress as a determined trajectory, etc) A post-modern view is that it can go either way, that we must create our own reality as a collection of individuals.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

What would Jesus have objected to in Liberation Theology?

As a Catholic, I believe Jesus speaks through the Church. The pertinent document is Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation.

George Weigel references this document to make the following points:

Certain themes in some theologies of liberation, however, were clearly incompatible with Christian orthodoxy. The great biblical image of the Exodus could not be reduced to narrowly political meanings. Sin should not be primarily located in social, political, or economic structures, but in human hearts. "Good" and "evil" could not be understood in strictly political categories. Truth was universal, not "partisan". Class struggle was not the chief dynamic of history, and using class struggle models to justify violent revolution against "structural violence" did not square with a Christian view of history. The Gospel "poor in spirit" were not the Marxist "proletariat"... The Instruction's concerns were well-summed-up in one caution raised toward the end of the document: "One needs to be on guard against the politicization of existence which, misunderstanding the entire meaning of the Kingdom of God and the transcendence of the person, begins to sacralize politics and betray the religion of the people in favor of the projects of the revolution." Christians had a greater freedom to proclaim.

- Witness to Hope, pp. 457-8

What would he say to the capitalist economic system?

In general, Christianity is tenable with capitalism, although certain things are necessary. For instance, the Church insists on a right to property and a reasonable wage. Rerum Novarum, which condemns Marxism, also chides capitalism considerably. We have a lot of reform to do to make the current system consistent with Christianity, but it cannot be done through violent revolution, and it won't be done through the political realm. Culture has to change first.