That Sound You Heard Was Paul Blanshard’s Head Exploding

Paul Blanshard, for those born after Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern, was a lapsed Congregationalist (redundant?) who wrote the last best-selling work of anti-Catholicism. American Freedom and Catholic Power was perhaps the last gasp of Protestant bigotry, but it was still sufficiently forceful and plausible into the 1950s that Blanshard did not get cancelled for expressing hurtful thoughts.

That was 15 years before the end of Vatican II (roughly), when Rome still on paper and through political channels was skeptical about the kind of freedoms embodied in American political norms. In 1950 the church still insisted that “error has no rights,” a position that ran into something of a hurdle with the United States’ Bill of Rights which guaranteed rights for all sorts of groups who held erroneous views (even Roman Catholics).

But Vatican II sort of kind of ended all that and Rome changed its mind about freedom for false religions. That explains this post, an argument that assumes Roman Catholicism and freedom go hand in hand. That Americanist position is receiving push back from integralists (among others). So imagine writing advice about liberal democratic institutions with Roman Catholic integralists as the ones defenders of civil liberties need to fear:

I think the recent intra-conservative French-Ahmari debate can be partially resolved by determining the extent to which secular progressives integralists can be trusted to protect robust freedom of religion for religious traditionalists with conservative views about human sexuality.

If secular progressives integralists are trustworthy, at least by and large, then French’s strategy of working within liberal democratic institutions makes sense. Conservatives should hold secular progressives integralists to a constitutional order that they accept in general, but chafe at in certain cases. Secular progressives Integralists cannot always be trusted to uphold robust freedom of religion, but they’re trustworthy enough not to fundamentally undermine Christianity in the United States. They will obey liberal democratic norms on the whole; conservatives just have to fight to keep them honest.*

However, if secular progressives integralists aren’t trustworthy, then Ahmari’s approach starts ceases to make sense. Secular progressives Integralists will tend to undermine robust protections for freedom of religion in a systematic way, and so ignore constitutional constraints whenever they can get away with it. In that case, politics is war regarding freedom of religion, and conservatives may be permitted to respond in kind. Perhaps the liberal legal settlement is therefore unstable because the left cannot be trusted to uphold it, and so the only truly feasible arrangement is cultural and political victory in the fight against the left. There’s no peace and no middle ground because the other side isn’t trustworthy, and so can’t be trusted to keep a liberal democratic peace.

Actually, I’m not sure if more sentences need to be changed to maintain the parallels. Either way, secular progressives are not the only ones about which to worry. They would likely let Presbyterians worship (and other groups). That was not an option in Roman Catholic societies.

Is the Last Acceptable Prejudice No More?

I like Ross Douthat and all, but the inside Roman Catholic baseball discussions of divorce at his New York Times blog — NEW YORK friggin’ TIMES!! — are perhaps more appropriate for a parochial website like CTC than at the place for all that’s fit to print. Here’s a recent sampling. First Douthat quotes Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry:

I think this is a grace we often overlook. God’s law is as hard as His mercy is infinite. And none of us are righteous under the law. And none of us, if we are honest, can even be said to want to be righteous under the law, in every single dimension of our life. But, particularly in these delicate and demanding aspects of sexual life and life situations, the grace of wanting to want God’s will is already very precious and important. And is it not in those phases, where we are broken down, and all we can muster the strength to pray for is to want to want, or even to want to want to want, that the Church should be most present with the succor of her sacraments?

… If I am a divorced-remarried-unchaste person and, during the eucharistic liturgy, I cry out in my heart, “O Lord! I do not understand your law, and I do not have the will to follow it, but I love you, and I beg you for forgiveness of my sins and the grace to want to want to follow in your footsteps and to be able to humbly receive your body”, is this a contrition that is “sufficient” for me to be able to receive the Body of Christ?

I think so.

Douthat replies in part:

Whatever the complexities and shades-of-gray involved in human sin, it is very clear in Catholic teaching that the medicinal effect, the “succor” of communion, is inseparable (like a two-dose drug) from the succor of a good confession, and you simply can’t make a good confession, and thus be in a position to benefit spiritually from communion, if you don’t intend to take some positive step to separate yourself from a gravely sinful situation or arrangement. To use a higher-stakes version of the professional case Gobry references — if you work at a job that by its nature requires grave sin for full participation (let’s say, I dunno, you’re a lieutenant for the Wolf of Wall Street in his salad days), and you make a confession of sin but have no plan of any kind to disassociate yourself from the business, your confession is by definition insufficient, and saying “I do not have the will to stop defrauding people, Lord, but I pray to gain it” is a sign that you should be praying and not communing.

The same logic, then, would apply to someone in an institutional arrangement that amounts to public adultery under the church’s definitions. You need not have the full desire to change (of course everything is grayer than a term like “perfect contrition” might suggest), but the desire to have the desire is not enough: You need to have some intention to change your life, some idea of alteration, to confess and commune in good conscience.

Can anyone possibly imagine a Reformed Protestant writer for the New York Times blogging about union with Christ or the ordo salutis and the bearing of these debates on denominational politics with reference to American citizens that belong to NAPARC communions? If not, then why do some argue that the anti-Catholic prejudice still exists in the United States? I am well aware that it used to and I can well imagine Paul Blanshard‘s jaws tightening if he were to encounter Douthat while surfing the Times’ webpages. But Ross Douthat free and frequent comments on Roman Catholic faith and practice at the newspaper considered one of the most secular in the nation sure needs to be added to the calculations of anti-Catholic prejudice.

Right Church, Wrong Paradigm

In the effort to keep Jason and the Callers honest about church history and how their paradigm fails epicly, herewith an excerpt from a relatively older article from America about the first Roman Catholic presidential candidate (1928), Al Smith, and the flack he took for the Vatican’s opposition to all societies modern. The New York governor, himself, like many a lay Roman Catholic, did not hang on every word of the magisterium. So when asked whether he could support religious liberty and the separation of church and state, his reply was essentially, “sure, why would you ask?” An exchange in the Atlantic Monthly would require Smith to be more eloquent, but he still didn’t see a problem:

Al Smith could hardly deny that union of church and state was the ideal that was enshrined in papal encyclicals. But Smith replied that this ideal applied only to purely Catholic states, and that such states no longer existed anywhere in the world. “I think that you have taken your thesis from [the] limbo of defunct controversies,” Smith told Marshall. Essentially Smith was telling Marshall that the teaching of 19th-century popes about the union of church and state was no longer official church teaching, because the church had quietly dropped it as no longer applicable in the modern world, least of all in the United States.

Even though Smith won the debate about Rome (and lost the election, also about a Roman Catholic), Thomas J. Shelley thinks that Smith’s anti-Catholic interlocutors had a point: “Smith . . . asserted that the teachings of the 19th-century popes on religious liberty were no longer operative (as a 20th-century presidential press secretary might put it), but they could not cite a single authoritative church document to prove their assertion. There was no such document. . .”

Said document would be forthcoming with the Second Vatican Council:

For the first time in its long history, in the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” the Catholic Church stated unambiguously that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…. The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and through reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right (No. 2).”

Never before had the highest authorities of the Catholic Church expressed such unqualified approval of the rights of conscience of every individual. Prior to Vatican II the official teaching of the church was that error should not be accorded the same rights as truth. The “Declaration on Religious Liberty” stated: “[T]he right to religious freedom has its foundation, not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it” (No. 2).

Shelley concludes with a concession about the historical sleight of hand that is required of Roman Catholics living after Vatican II:

When challenged by reporters or fellow politicians, Al Smith was fond of replying, “Let’s look at the record.” To some extent, as Charles Marshall [Smith’s Protestant critic] insisted, both Governor Smith and Father Duffy [Smith’s clerical advisor] fudged the record of the Catholic Church on religious liberty in 1927. A kinder critic might say that they anticipated the record by almost 40 years. In any event, the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” provided the authoritative pronouncement for which Father Duffy was grappling when he declared, “We are Catholics and we are Americans, and to both loyalties we stick.” “The Declaration on Religious Liberty” eliminated a longstanding source of suspicion and friction from American political life, and for that happy development not only Catholic politicians, but all Americans can be grateful to the Second Vatican Council.

What happened at Vatican II had never happened before. What paradigm do you need to recognize novelty, not only among Protestants, but also among Roman Catholics?

Lyman Beecher was Prophetic

Anti-Catholicism is one of the most difficult topics that I teach on the history religion in the United States. Students today, most of whom were born about the time that the Dude was trying to recover his rug (i.e. the first Iraq War), have no understanding or feel for the sort of animus that Protestants in the U.S. once had for Roman Catholics. One of the most important expressions of anti-Catholicism came as late as 1949 when Paul Blanshard wrote American Freedom and Catholic Power, which was not an obscure monograph but a best-seller.

That sort of anti-Catholicism still haunted the days of my youth, despite the election in 1960 of the first Roman Catholic as president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. This anti-Catholicism was seriously deficient. It drew its animus not from a defense of the Reformation and the formal (sola Scriptura) and material (justification) principles of Protestantism. Instead, it was rooted in a very anti-2k conflation of Protestantism with liberal society (in the form of republicanism and democracy). Because Roman Catholics were subject to a foreign prince (the pope), and because the Church itself was one of the most feudal and medieval (anti-modern and anti-democractic) of institutions, followers of Rome could not be “good” Americans. They were outsiders and Protestants were insiders. That’s why Protestants had public schools and Roman Catholics needed parochial (in both senses) institutions.

Lyman Beecher put anti-Catholic notions succinctly in his book A Plea for the West where he worried about the influx of Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany (at the time a mere trickle compared to what was coming in the 1840s):

If [Roman Catholics] associated with republicans, the power of caste would wear away. If they mingled in our schools, the republican atmosphere would impregnate their minds. If they scattered, unassociated, the attrition of circumstances would wear off their predilections and aversions. If they could read the Bible, and might and did, their darkened intellect would brighten, and their bowed down mind would rise. If they dared to think for themselves, the contrast of protestant independence with their thraldom, would awaken the desire of equal privileges, and put an end to an arbitrary clerical dominion over trembling superstitious minds.

Since 1970 the old Protestant anti-Catholicism has vanished. Some of this owes to the culture wars in which evangelical Protestants have recognized Roman Catholics as some of the surest defenders of traditional morality, especially on matters sexual. Another important factor is that Roman Catholics have “gotten right” with the United States. That is, they have become some of an American way of life’s chief defenders. The process began notably with John Courtney Murray’s book, We Hold These Truths (1960). But it continues and a recent post confirms how American and modern Roman Catholics in the United States have become. Here is what Joseph Pearce has to say:

One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God, it doesn’t matter if people are black or white, healthy or sick, able-bodied or handicapped, or whether babies are inside the womb or out of it. It doesn’t matter that people are different, in terms of race, age or innate abilities; they are all equal in the eyes of God and, therefore, of necessity, in the eyes of Man also. This is the priceless inheritance of Christendom with which our freedoms are established and maintained. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God and Man, everyone must also be equal in the eyes of the law.

If, however, the equality of man is denied, freedom is imperiled. The belief of Nietzsche, adopted by the Nazis, that humanity consists of übermenschen and untermenschen, the “over-men” and the “under-men”, led to people being treated as subhuman, worthy of extermination and victims of genocide. The progressivist belief of Hegel, adopted by Marx and his legion of disciples, that a rationalist dialectic, mechanistically determined, governs the progress of humanity, led to the deterministic inhumanity of communism and the slaughter of those deemed to be enemies of “progress”. The French Revolution, an earlier incarnation of atheistic progressivism and the progenitor of communism, had led to the invention of the guillotine as the efficient and effective instrument of the Great Terror and its rivers of blood. The gas chamber, the Gulag and the guillotine are the direct consequence of the failure to uphold the Christian concept of human equality and the freedom it enshrines. In our own time, the same failure to accept and uphold human equality has led to babies in the womb being declared subhuman, or untermenschen, without any protection in law from their being killed at the whim of their mothers.

Apart from the connection between freedom and equality, the other aspect of freedom enshrined by Christianity is the freedom of the will and the consequences attached to it. If we are free to act and are not merely slaves to instinct as the materialists claim, we have to accept that we are responsible for our choices and for their consequences.

What is remarkable about this argument is that it is precisely the one that Protestants used to use against Roman Catholics. In other words, especially prior to Vatican II, Rome’s hierarchy was especially skeptical about republican institutions and for good reason given how the French Revolution played out for the Church in France. But now Rome seems to be fully on board with those very institutions that Protestants embraced to justify themselves to the wider world. Winthrop’s city on a hill morphed into Wilson’s war to make the world safe for democracy.

What is also important to notice is that just as Protestants had to adapt (and liberalize) their faith to underwrite the U.S. project by giving up Calvinism’s notions about divine sovereignty and human sinfulness (think Finney and Fosdick), so Roman Catholics like Pearce (anyway) have forgotten that Thomas Aquinas was a predestinarian who believed that the human soul was incapable on its own of free will. In other words, the United States first assimilated Protestants to Americanism and now it appears that it is also working its wonders with Roman Catholicism.

The only immunity appears to be two-kingdom theology. It allows you to defend republican (or sacral monarchical) ways in one realm, and divine sovereignty in the other. No muss, no fuss (if only).

Popes Worth Reading

Recent objections to papal infallibility should not be read as a reiteration of old forms of anti-catholicism. The old complaints that Roman Catholics could not be good Americans was as silly as it was wrong (and unfortunately missed the point of the real differences between Rome and Protestants).

Consequently, while Old Life questions what seem to be unthinking assertions of papal infallibility, Old Lifers may read popes with great profit. In this spirit, a couple of excerpts from John Paul II’s important encyclical, Centesimus Annus:

36. It would now be helpful to direct our attention to the specific problems and threats emerging within the more advanced economies and which are related to their particular characteristics. In earlier stages of development, man always lived under the weight of necessity. His needs were few and were determined, to a degree, by the objective structures of his physical make-up. Economic activity was directed towards satisfying these needs. It is clear that today the problem is not only one of supplying people with a sufficient quantity of goods, but also of responding to a demand for quality: the quality of the goods to be produced and consumed, the quality of the services to be enjoyed, the quality of the environment and of life in general.

To call for an existence which is qualitatively more satisfying is of itself legitimate, but one cannot fail to draw attention to the new responsibilities and dangers connected with this phase of history. The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of man and of his true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.

A striking example of artificial consumption contrary to the health and dignity of the human person, and certainly not easy to control, is the use of drugs. Widespread drug use is a sign of a serious malfunction in the social system; it also implies a materialistic and, in a certain sense, destructive “reading” of human needs. In this way the innovative capacity of a free economy is brought to a one-sided and inadequate conclusion. Drugs, as well as pornography and other forms of consumerism which exploit the frailty of the weak, tend to fill the resulting spiritual void.

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being”, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. In this regard, it is not a matter of the duty of charity alone, that is, the duty to give from one’s “abundance”, and sometimes even out of one’s needs, in order to provide what is essential for the life of a poor person. I am referring to the fact that even the decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice. Given the utter necessity of certain economic conditions and of political stability, the decision to invest, that is, to offer people an opportunity to make good use of their own labour, is also determined by an attitude of human sympathy and trust in Providence, which reveal the human quality of the person making such decisions. . . .

39. The first and fundamental structure for “human ecology” is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny. But it often happens that people are discouraged from creating the proper conditions for human reproduction and are led to consider themselves and their lives as a series of sensations to be experienced rather than as a work to be accomplished. The result is a lack of freedom, which causes a person to reject a commitment to enter into a stable relationship with another person and to bring children into the world, or which leads people to consider children as one of the many “things” which an individual can have or not have, according to taste, and which compete with other possibilities.

It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.

Human ingenuity seems to be directed more towards limiting, suppressing or destroying the sources of life — including recourse to abortion, which unfortunately is so widespread in the world — than towards defending and opening up the possibilities of life. The Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis denounced systematic anti-childbearing campaigns which, on the basis of a distorted view of the demographic problem and in a climate of “absolute lack of respect for the freedom of choice of the parties involved”, often subject them “to intolerable pressures … in order to force them to submit to this new form of oppression”. These policies are extending their field of action by the use of new techniques, to the point of poisoning the lives of millions of defenceless human beings, as if in a form of “chemical warfare”.

These criticisms are directed not so much against an economic system as against an ethical and cultural system. The economy in fact is only one aspect and one dimension of the whole of human activity. If economic life is absolutized, if the production and consumption of goods become the centre of social life and society’s only value, not subject to any other value, the reason is to be found not so much in the economic system itself as in the fact that the entire socio-cultural system, by ignoring the ethical and religious dimension, has been weakened, and ends by limiting itself to the production of goods and services alone.

All of this can be summed up by repeating once more that economic freedom is only one element of human freedom. When it becomes autonomous, when man is seen more as a producer or consumer of goods than as a subject who produces and consumes in order to live, then economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him.

This is by no means an endorsement of the encyclical. But it is well worth reading for thinking about the triumph of capitalism over socialism and the dangers of baptizing free markets.