A Mixed Blessing is Still A Blessing

Nothing has shaped the modern world more powerfully than capitalism, destroying as it has millennia-old patterns of economic, social, and political life. Over the centuries it has destroyed feudalism and monarchism with their emphasis on bloodlines and birth. It has created an independent class of businesspeople who owe little to the state and who are now the dominant force in every advanced society in the world. It has made made change and dynamism – rather than order and tradition – the governing philosophy of the modern age. Capitalism created a new world, utterly different from the one that had existed for millennia.

Fareed Zakaria (2003), The Future of Freedom, pp. 45-46

h/t: Cafe Hayek.

Like the Enlightenment, capitalism (or maybe better, the free market) has been a mixed blessing for the Church. Together with the loss of the social structures of “feudalism and monarchism” that Zakaria mentions, there has also been a more general loss of deference to hierarchy and tradition. The Church can no longer assume (much less presume) that even its own faithful will accept as true traditional Christian teach or see traditional Christian practice and moral prescription as wholesome and in the service of human flourishing. The independence of businesspeople to pursue profit as they see fit and of consumers to judge the relative value of different products and services has now become a cultural norm in all areas of life including religion.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Both I think. Yes, the Church has lost some the status and authority that it once in the culture and in people’s lives. But this loss of power also allows the Church corporately and Christians personally to more close imitate the poverty of Jesus Christ. This poverty was not primarily material but personal. In becoming man, the Son of God embraced a poverty of status, authority and power that–paradoxically–made His ministry all that more credible and effective. Or this at least is how St Paul understood the matter:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:5-11).

The cultural changes that Zakaria mentions are a challenge to the Church and to individual Christians no question about it. But if we look beyond the momentary discomfort they bring we can see that they also represent an opportunity for the Church to be purified and strengthened. Just as in our own spiritual life there are times of purification that teach us to depend more fully on God and less on the gifts He’s given us, so too for the Church. While the loss of cultural status is hard and is costly it brings with it the opportunity for Christians to strengthen our personal and corporate commitment to live as disciples of Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

 

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Different Groups, Different Rules?

My post at Acton generated an insightful response from a reader (go here to read it). The commentator raised a number of very good points, all of which I wish I had made! Let me focus here on one point specifically, the difference between family/tribal rules and national rules. Continue reading

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The Cruelity of the Elite

Now and then I’ve written about different moral theories that seem to be taking hold culturally. One that I find especially worrying is the growing acceptance by Christians of antinomianism or the idea that the Gospel frees us from obedience to the moral law (you can read my thoughts about this here, here and here).

The theologian R.R. Reno makes the interesting observation that at least among the social elite in America a new moral model has taken hold: esotericism. He makes argument that matches with my own observations. Looking around me I see a moral system that encourages a kind of decadence that some can afford because they are wealthy and social privileged but which when imitated by those with less material wealth or social status leads to personal disaster.  This is simply cruel.

Here’s the part of Reno’s essay that summarizes the very real human and social problem of esoteric elite morality:

It’s this quality—the esotericism—that is as destructive today as political correctness and the dictatorship of relativism. I’m not a fan of the elite approach to sex and marriage, but it’s shown itself to be a functional system—for elites. The problem is that for everybody else it’s mysterious and inaccessible. And so we have no functional social norms for ordinary people. Traditional views are bludgeoned by the elite commitment to “inclusion.” But nothing clear takes it’s place. Elites are happy with their esoteric approach, which can’t function for society as a whole.

Why the esotericism? Why no commitment to a larger, functional social ethic of sex and marriage?

I don’t want to be too Marxist, but I think it has something to do with sustaining class domination. I can’t imagine a system more congenial to elite domination than one that demoralized most (the dictatorship of relativism) while allowing elites to flourishing according to esoteric norms that only insiders can apply (“healthy choices”).

You can read the whole of his essay here.

Why do the elites do this? Why do they not only engage in but actively encourage others to decadence? Continue reading

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On Our Cultural Failings

Thank you to Fr Hans Jacobse for his recent essay (Catholic Online: The Republic is Finished and the America We Knew is Gone) and for the many thoughtful comments it has inspired.

As to whether or not the latest decision of the SCOTUS supporting the constitutionality of the Patient Affordability Act is the end of the Republic or not I can’t say. If however our’ Republic is rooted in virtue understood as the fruit of human obedience to Natural Law then this needn’t be the end. In fact since virtue grows best in adversity I see this as a potentially good thing since it might inspire just the moral awakening and cultural renewal that America needs.  On the other hand, if our Republic is not really and truly rooted in virtue and obedience to “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” then we are better off for the loss and of our pretense to being a virtuous and “almost chosen people.”

Contrary to what some might want to believe, the Public Square and American culture were not taken by the forces of moral corruption. Rather I think we are where we are as a People became we became complacent, we withdrew from the Public Square and the culture. We forget that vice is not a real thing but the absence of virtue, of those habits of thought and action that make human flourishing possible.

Vice never wins. Continue reading

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The HSS Contraception Mandate, Part 1: The Catholic Bishops’ Response

Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil.

Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae  no. 74

The  Immorality of the HSS Mandate. The Obama administration will now require employers through their health insurance program provide artificial contraceptive drugs and devices. “Beginning August 1, 2012, most new and renewed health plans will be required to cover” these services “without cost sharing for women across the country.” According to the press release from the Department of Health and Human Services:

Women will not have to forego these services because of expensive co-pays or deductibles, or because an insurance plan doesn’t include contraceptive services. This rule is consistent with the laws in a majority of states which already require contraception coverage in health plans, and includes the exemption in the interim final rule allowing certain religious organizations not to provide contraception coverage.

While the current “rule allows certain non-profit religious employers that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraceptive services” after August 1, 2013, religiously based employers “do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan” will be required to do so or face significant fines.  “This additional year,” HSS says is to “allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.” In the interim, “employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.”

Along with other religious and non-religious groups from both the political left and right, the US Catholic bishops have objected to the HSS mandate arguing, among other things, that mandate is a violation of religious freedom. In addition, the argument goes, the mandate is unjust because it requires that employers engage in activities (for example, early term abortion) that are contrary to the Christian tradition and natural law (you can read the whole text here).  It is this second objection that is central to understanding the objections of the Catholic Church to the policy. Merely asking employers who object to stand, as one commentator put the matter, “several steps removed” from providing contraceptive drugs misses the point of the Catholic Church’s objection. The State has no right to require any citizen or institution, religious or not, to support financially contraception and abortion.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I will leave to others the economic arguments against the possibility providing drugs for free. Others have addressed that better than I (see here). My concern here is on the philosophical and theological arguments made by the Catholic bishops. While we ought not to minimize the Constitutional arguments against the mandate, as we will see the Catholic bishops are a deeper and broader argument grounded.

In later essay, I want to raise address the moral status of artificial contraception in the Orthodox Church.  The mandate and the arguments both for and against it hinge in part of the morality of the required services. The patristic evidence is clearly opposed to what today we would call artificial contraception (J. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, First Edition. Belknap Press; Enlarged ed edition,1965). The Church’s liturgical tradition sees children as divine blessing not only for the couple themselves but also for the “for the continuation of the [human] race” (Rite of Betrothal). And in the marriage service the priests asks that God grant the newly married couple “ the fruit of the womb, fair offspring, concord of soul and body” as they “may be expedient” for the couples salvation and earthly happiness (Rite of Crowning).

But seen in light of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, the Catholic bishops are correct in their assertion that the mandate reflects a faulty understanding of human biology and so anthropology. Unlike other mandated service that actually “prevent disease[s]” such as high blood pressure or cancer, the HSS mandate does not. It rather works to prevent the normal, healthy function of the human body. To do this, the government treats pregnancy as a disease. But “pregnancy is not a disease” and in fact represents the proper functioning of the human body. It is simply wrong to think of contraception in terms of disease prevention. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, let’s return to what else the Catholic bishops had to say. Continue reading

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An Orthodox Christian Witness in the Public Square

More and more I think that, on Christological grounds, we can’t proclaim the Gospel if we absent ourselves from the Public Square. St Matthew, for example, is clear. The birth of Jesus has political implications. The Person of Jesus Christ—and the proclamation of His Gospel—is necessarily and rightly a direct challenge to Caesar’s authority. This is how the Orthodox Church expressed the matter in her liturgical life:

When Augustus reigned alone on the earth, the many kingdoms of mankind came to an end; and when you became man from the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed; the cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one single Godhead; the peoples were enrolled by decree of Caesar; we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead, when you became man, O our God. Great is your mercy, Lord; glory to you! (Vesperal hymn for Christmas)

The many kingdoms of this world have come to an end. Their power has been broken and they too are accountable to God. They are no more free to violate His commandments then is the individual.  Continue reading

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