Sunday, June 24, 2012

My very own Rex Mottram

In Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, there is a character named Rex Mottram who is a lapsed Protestant that wishes to marry a Catholic girl. Mottram offers to convert to placate her family. In those days before RCIA classes, all catechumens received one-on-one instruction from the parish priest. The priest who tries to instruct Mottram is quickly frustrated by Rex's disinterest in spiritual matters. While teaching him about papal infallibility, the priest says, "The pope is infallible when he solemnly proclaims a teaching about faith and morals. Do you understand what that means?"

"Oh yes Father," Rex replies.

"Ok, let's suppose the pope said that he thinks it's going to rain tomorrow. Does that means it is definitely going to rain tomorrow?"

"Oh yes Father."

"But supposing it doesn't rain tomorrow? What does that mean?"

Rex thought for a second and said, "Well, I suppose it would be raining spiritually, only the rest of us are too sinful to see it."

I always think of Rex Mottram whenever I encounter a progressive Catholic with the usual, predictable opinions about WOCHA: women's ordination, contraception, homosexuality, and abortion. Take this essay by the sixteen year old Erik Baker, held up by the National Catholic Reporter as an example of a young man courageously speaking truth to power:

The Vatican's recent report excoriating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents the majority of nuns in the US, has elucidated a stark truth that has become increasingly evident over the past few years: the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is deeply misogynist. The time for mincing words is over: the old male autocrats who run the church are dedicated to a platform that is defined primarily by opposition to women's rights. This latest brouhaha only makes clear that there is nothing that church leaders can stand less than the thought of women advocating for themselves.
 ...Beyond that, there is no argument against the use of contraception that is not entirely bankrupt. The usual argument has to do with "natural law" in the Thomistic tradition, suggesting that contraception is in violation of the "natural purpose" of intercourse. But this is a laughably bad argument. For starters, it demonstrates the way in which Church conservatives view women as mere baby-making machines, who ought to stay silent in the church and reproduce when necessary. When applied to contraception this argument entrenches the double standard that often exists in regard to sexual expression by males and females.
There's a peculiar sort of epistemic oddity among progressive Catholics that hopes or expects that the Church will adopt an objectively false view of human sexuality. The late, great blogger Zippy Catholic (whose blog has vanished, alas) coined the term "Ultramontane Moral Relativism" to describe it. It is the belief that moral facts are not really facts. It holds that the Church is the manufacturer of truth instead of an infallible guide to the truth. Consider: why is it that progressives heap so much abuse on the Church for its claim that it cannot ordain women to the priesthood, or that abortion and contraception are always wrong?

If you dig deep enough you'll realize it's because they don't believe in a fixed body of truth or an objective unchanging human nature. The Church has the authority to make something moral or immoral simply by declaring it so. Once you believe that, the rest follows. "The Church says it cannot ordain women? That contraception is immoral? That homosexual acts are gravely disordered? But the Church could change those teachings at any time. If they won't do it, then it means they're just rationalizing misogyny! Those evil sexist pigs! Those homophobic bigots!"

Rex believed papal infallibility meant that whatever the pope proclaimed, it must be so even if it didn't square with what our lying eyes were telling us. The pope is the servant, not the master, of the Deposit of Faith. Some have described the pope as the last absolute monarch on earth, but that isn't accurate; the pope is chained by Tradition. Progressive Catholics, ironically, attribute far more power to the Magisterium than she really has. Everyone is free to hope that the Church will solemnly teach error on matters of faith or morals. But we have a divine guarantee that that will never happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment