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Liberalism And The Crisis Of Catholicism

August 16, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By PAUL KRAUSE

(Editor’s Note: Paul Krause is a recent graduate of Yale’s Divinity School. His writings have appeared in Crisis Magazine, Forbes Online, and other publications.)

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Can the Catholic Church be liberal? The answer to that question is probably self-evident to those with a strong knowledge of Church teachings and history. But given the current malaise and crisis facing the Church: loss of self-confidence, increasing self-doubt, retreat, and the clamoring to “get with the times,” we must understand the temptation that liberalism offers and crisis that it poses to the Church — especially in the United States but also much of the Western World.
There are two basic understandings of liberalism. One is academic and philosophical, examining the metaphysical underpinnings of liberalism from which one sees that liberalism is a materialistic, mechanistic, utilitarian, and atomistic philosophy which denies the summum bonum and is functionally hedonistic and atheistic in its practical application in life. The other, which is more pernicious, is the ignorant association of liberalism with goodness, kindness, compassion, and tolerance — a philosophy of “reform” where reform means left-wing social and political changes and those reforms are always and necessarily good.
In Europe, the Catholic Church has long been a bastion of conservatism. Conservatism, here, is not the American understanding but the proper philosophical understanding: Communitarian, hierarchal, pro-order and pro-authority, skeptical of all materialistic movements, and instinctively defensive against outside conquest (including Islamic invasion and liberal or Marxist reformism and revolution).
In America, however, the Catholic Church has long been a partner with the Democratic Party. While the Democratic Party that traces its lineage to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson is not the same Democratic Party that emerged after the Roosevelt realignment, the one thing maintaining continuity between the early iteration of the Democratic Party with the new iteration is reformism.
Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democrats were wildly reformist and sought the expansion of the democratic process to as many people as deemed acceptable in the nineteenth century. Today’s Democrats still follow this inheritance.
As such, American Catholics found an uneasy home in the Democratic Party. Republicans, then as today, were the home of Protestant nativists and nationalist with a deep anti-Catholic prejudice. To be a “good American” was to be a bad Catholic. Many Catholic politicians, whether they are Democratic or Republican, are certainly “good Americans” but exceedingly bad Catholics when it comes to affirming and living by the standards of Catholic social teaching and Catholic moral doctrine.
Democrats were not really pro-Catholic as much as they were anti-Republican. Democrats in the South were just as nativistic and Protestant as their Yankee Puritan brethren in the Republican Party, but Democrats in the North — where Catholic immigration was strongest — sought to utilize Catholics as a new voting bloc to break the power of the Republican Party.
And so began the long history of Catholic subjugation to the Democratic Party for purely political ends. Sadly, American ecclesiastical leadership continues to allow itself to be abused for purely political ends. American Catholics who remain loyal to the Democratic Party, and the USCCB, need to realize they are nothing more than instruments of the Godless, immoral, functionally anti-Catholic Democratic Party.
For various reasons, liberalism — as understood by the public and media — is not what it entails philosophically. Instead, liberalism is seen as the benign and progressive philosophy of universal compassion, “progress,” and toleration. The promise of liberalism is a life free of harm and perpetual peace. And what reasonable person can argue against this?
There are many flaws even with this outlook within liberalism. First, it implicitly denies original sin and makes man into essentially a peaceful creature that doesn’t commit harm or violate others without structural coercion that can be perfected (e.g., “human nature” is malleable).
Second, it is explicitly utopian precisely because of its denial of original sin and believes a literal heavenly Jerusalem can be consummated in the here and now. This is not the same as the Thomistic outlook concerning the common good and civility within society which all humans are called to participate in as perfection of an earthly utopia is not the goal of Thomistic political theology.
Third, toleration is something that Church teaching cannot abide by on certain core moral matters without functionally abandoning the moral teachings of the Church.
Fourth, liberalism is a strictly political ideology that is deficient in its anthropology and philosophy of nature which inevitably exhausts itself in metaphysical and ontological poverty as human minds are corrupted to think only of ephemeral goods and to understand themselves as robotic consumers without a soul to know the good, true, and beautiful (which doesn’t even exist).
Moreover, it is sham to assert that only liberalism is the philosophy of love and compassion. Christianity is the religion of love and charity, and much of the West’s exhaustive and warped language of love and compassion are evidence of the West’s Christian heritage. But rather than a gift of self to another, the “love” of the contemporary West mirrors the “Ministry of Love” employed by Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984: a structural organization that coerces confessions of love and enforces acceptable speech. It is nothing more than a corrupt and hollow parody of love — which is all Satan is capable of achieving.
Catholic teaching is the opposite of liberal ideology. Where liberalism is latitudinal and monistic, Catholic teaching is hierarchal and pluralistic — in the truest sense of the word. Where liberalism asserts hedonism as the highest good in life Catholicism asserts that union with the transcendentals, God, is the summum bonum that is knowable to all.
Liberalism also promotes restless change and abolition of traditions and the Catholic Church promotes order and the maintenance and cultivation of traditions. Whereas liberalism understands man as a mechanistic economic robot, Catholicism understands man not merely as an image of God but the rich anthropology accompanied by Catholic teaching, the Catholic understanding of man — his origin, and destiny — is a total portrait of human exquisiteness (and fragility); the total man which is not found in any other philosophy or religion. Whereas liberalism’s “love” is coerced by structural powers of government, Catholicism’s love is self-giving and rooted in God’s love for us and man’s free will.
Liberalism wages a war against roots, heritage, tradition, history, and moral truths in order to create its perverse parody of the New Jerusalem in the here and now. As such, it is the great enemy of the Catholic Church and of Catholic teaching and truth. Liberalism is the prevailing political zeitgeist of the Western establishment which, in hard times, courts the last great Western institution that has refused — doctrinally — to jump on board with the liberal rush to death to help prop it up.
In good times, as much to be expected, liberalism scorns and attacks the Catholic Church as backward, intolerant, and a threat to liberalism. Which it is, of course.
Westerners do not know themselves anymore. This is a long time coming, which, arguably, began in the Protestant Reformation by severing the heritage of Rome and Athens from the Western inheritance. Liberalism is finishing the job against Rome and Athens and has also turned against what Protestantism promoted over Rome and Athens: Jerusalem.
The three cornerstones of Western civilization — which the Catholic Church has long safeguarded and cultivated — are thus knocked down as the West will be replaced either by a foreign religion and its understanding of the world, or the hollow nihilism of modern liberalism which cannot stand up to that threat anyway.
If the Catholic Church seeks “relevance,” perhaps it should start by defending the vestiges of the civilization it had long nurtured. And from there, tilling the soil and caring for the seed of life to flourish once again, it may yet return to the divine mandate to baptize the nations (yet again) and teach them the ways of God. Liberalism does nothing of the like. And as long as the Catholic Church accommodates liberalism it will continue its slide into irrelevance.

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