Sunday, July 29, 2007

Parochial Schools as Heretical Media

TS quotes Steve Kellmeyer on the catechetical failures of the parochial school system:

Religious orders have their own regulations and formation processes, their own discipline systems...It is useful at this point to remember that the only order in the two-thousand-year history of the Church that has not required reform at some point is the Carthusians...Monastic orders have historically had their share of problems, but they tend to eliminate many of these problems by intentionally limiting contact wit the secular world. These orders do not seek out secular formation. Religious teaching orders have not this luxury.

In effect, with the formation of the compulsory parochial school system, the bishops had created a double-edged sword. The system would not only allow doctrine to be efficiently disseminated, it would also allow heresy to sweep unchecked through their flocks if, or more likely when, the religious teaching orders became heterodox. Furthermore, these religious taught children, that segment of the population that is least able to resist the blandishments of error and heresy.

I am somewhat sympathetic to Kellmeyer's diagnosis. Yet the collapse of catechesis in Western countries seems to have been too widespread to have been the fault of religious orders. Surely some orders would have been more resistant to heresy than others.

Further, many of the problems in religious education are due not to theological error but lax, content-free educational styles. Though indifferentism is technically a heresy, indifference is also a vicious habit undermining quality education.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Dissatisfied Sadness of Rasselas

"He had been before terrified at the length of life which nature promised him, because he considered that in a long time much must be endured; he now rejoiced in his youth, because in many years much might be done."
-Samuel Johnson, Rasselas

Few works are so affecting as Johnson's study of human limitation and discontent therewith. His protagonist described here has not been worn down by poverty or illness, but rather luxury: Rasselas is an Ethiopian prince confined to a Happy Valley where all his desires are apparently met. Yet man gets unused to anything, and so the prince abandons his regimented life of ease to explore the real world, that he might find true happiness.

Rasselas meets philosophers, robbers, an eighteenth-century mad scientist, and men wealthy and poor yet no way of life relieves his sense of unfulfillment. He must content himself with the limits of life, dissatisfying and otherwise. Johnson plays with one of the basic paradoxes of life: limited goals are the only attainable goals, yet human improvement rests on our often boundless resentment of limitations.

That Johnsonian wit which powered Boswell's biography is present throughout. Regarding the the perils of moralism Rasselas' guide cautions "Be not too hasty to trust, or to admire, the teachers of morality: they discourse like angels, but they live like men." One such moralist, after enchanting a crowd with his praises of the philosophical life, soon finds himself disconsolate after the death of his daughter:

"Sir, said the prince, mortality is an event by which a wise man can never be surprised: we know that death is always near, and it should therefore always be expected."
"Young man, answered the philosopher, you speak like one that has never felt the pangs of separation."
"Have you then forgot the precepts, said Rasselas, which you so powerfully enforced? Has wisdom no strength to arm the heart against calamity? Consider, that external things are naturally variable, but truth and reason are always the same."
"What comfort, said the mourner, can truth and reason afford me? of what effect are they now, but to tell me that my daughter will not be restored?"

Vanity and pride aspire to eradicate sadness and explain away death, but find their efforts thwarted in the end. The thematic parallels with Ecclesiastes are obvious.

Johnson rightly concludes his tale inconclusively. The optimism of the young Rasselas is tempered by experience, though the prince still itches for greatness. His anxieties about choosing the proper path fade after examining the catacombs of Cairo. His philosophical interlude itself appears vain in the face of mortality, and he makes an uneasy peace with the dissatisfied life. The futile quest for worldly happiness is resolved only in the hope of eternal happiness with God. And fallen creatures that we are, that great hope still does not satisfy.

See also: Theorodre Dalrymple favorably compares Rasselas to Voltaire's Candide.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Catholic Social Thought and the New Deal

In the Boston Review essay In Search of the Common Good Lew Daly pens an examination of the roots of the New Deal in Catholic social thought especially as interpreted through the work of Msgr James A. Ryan. At times he echoes Murray Rothbard's analysis of the liturgicalist-pietist fissures in early twentieth-century American life. Daly's particular focus, however, is the rise and fall of the common good as an objective of good government.

Limiting capitalist acquisitiveness, securing a living wage for the working class, and instilling social solidarity between workers and owners were goals which found support among activist clergy inspired by papal encyclicals and the Catholic working class. Daly takes particular aim at the concept of a secularist New Deal:

The Catholic press had little doubt that the New Deal’s vision of social justice was rooted in Christian thought. As Commonweal magazine urged readers to recognize, Roosevelt’s triumph in 1932 was “likewise the Catholic opportunity to make the teachings of Christ apply to the benefit of all.” The Christian journalist and editor Stanley Hoflund High, who organized the interdenominational Good Neighbor League to mobilize religious support for Roosevelt in 1936, similarly argued that “the fundamental objective of what we call the New Deal is religious.” This is the first time in modern history, he stated, “when a Government in any nation has set out to give practical application to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount.”

At a minimum it should be clear that the common good of New Deal liberalism involved much more than the bland commitment to self-sacrifice proposed by Tomasky. Indeed, it was in many ways a product of extraordinary developments in religious thought (if not “religious faith”). We cannot ignore or deny the religious roots of that ideal if we want a revival of the common good to motivate significant changes today.

By way of contrast Dorothy Day, another American devotee of Catholic social thought, found the New Deal to be an unacceptable compromise. In her view its programs locked workers in place, keeping them from another key goal of the papal encyclicals: ownership of economically productive property for the lower classes. Here she is on Social Security:

Security for the worker, not ownership; security for the industrialist, the owner, not confiscation--that is what Beveridge plans and Wallace plans of permanent employment lead to.

There is more vision, more Catholicity in that plan of the Auto Workers Union, CIO, to buy one of the Ford plants for reconversion and make prefabricated homes for workers. At least this is a step in the right direction toward ownership and responsibility.
The Servile State

Day aside, the collapse of the New Deal coalition marked the decline of Catholic influence on the national scene. As Daly writes:

Sexual freedom, extreme secularism, and other agendas of the new social liberalism did not merely replace the common good as a normative framework. It shifted the whole framework of rights from the worker and his family and community, viewed as something in need of protection, to the detached individual of liberal philosophy, regardless of economic position or need. Essentially, the common good was supplanted by individual liberation, and what remained of it in public discourse was little more than empty rhetoric (think “compassionate conservatism”).

While the economic individualism of the Right undermines its declared support for "Family Values," the lifestyle individualism of the left compromises its efforts at economic solidarity.