A personal distaste for the “sub-culture” of orthodox Catholicism has been evident with Dr. John Zmirak for quite some time. In recent weeks, however, this contempt has attained the level of a crusade. His latest rant is remarkable for its pleading stereotypes and crass superficiality:
The weirdness, bitterness, crankiness, and the general mediocrity that pervade the Catholic subculture – from its newspapers to its TV shows, from most of its tiny colleges to the poorly-penned books, and sloppy, sentimental blogs that flood the tiny market of conservative Catholic readers – is the direct result of having few people to choose from …
Is this Church of the Umbrella Handle, with its much smaller set of human types, the ‘smaller, purer Church’ of which Pope Benedict XVI spoke – or is it the subset of ‘neo-Pelagian immanentists’ against whom Pope Francis warned? Of course, it is both, and the wheat is irretrievably mixed up among the tares. But one thing is certain: It is as inbred as a pack of captive cheetahs, with all the dangers of deformity and disease that that implies.
The Church as righteous subculture is unappealing to nearly everyone – including the kids who grow up inside it, who despite all those years of homeschooling and chapel veils frequently flee for what look like saner pastures.
In fairness, Zmirak could have made a legitimate point here without gratuitously insulting the only Catholics left who give a damn. But that opportunity was squandered by his bitterness. One suspects that the author of “The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song” has been, shall we say, unlucky with the devout “home schooled and chapel veiled” set. I should hope so, at any rate.
What Zmirak fails to account for is the fact that without a “righteous sub-culture”, there is no Catholic culture – period. Bad Catholics like Zmirak (and I reluctantly include myself in his company) are by definition parasitical. If you want to be a bad Catholic you need a strong base of serious, orthodox, striving-for-holiness Catholics to sustain the cultural framework. I have discussed the idea at length in various posts over the years. Bad Catholics – defined as those who are less than devout but are not dissenters – are a tolerable and even amusing evil, but they are also a luxury, possible only when the Faith is strong and capable of producing saints. Today, that element is present only in the Catholic sub-culture Zmirak so passionately disparages.
The Catholic sub-culture certainly has warts. But it is virtually alone in producing orthodox vocations, raising large families, and handing down the faith from one generation to the next. Contrary to Zmirak’s insinuation that kids who grow up in this sub-culture are fleeing in droves (which may be his honest perception, as malcontents tend to attract malcontents), those small orthodox colleges are the only Catholic colleges where the overwhelming majority of graduates keep the Faith. As the sub-culture grows and rebuilds, it will also become more diverse, and a place for the Zmiraks of the world will be more secure. But at present, in all sobriety, the Church simply cannot afford Bad Catholics anymore. Bad Catholics drag the Church down just as much as the dissenters, if not more so, because they are more readily perceived as hypocrites (fairly or not) and because they discourage the weak by their impiety. Christ did not establish the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for the pleasure and enjoyment of Bad Catholics. It was “the Church as righteous sub culture”, however unappealing to the worldly, that converted Rome and the world in the end.
From Psalm 9, Tuesday’s reading at the office of Prime:
“Arise, O Lord, let not man prevail; let the nations be judged in Thy sight.
Appoint, O Lord, a ruler over them, that the nations may know they are but men.”
This seems pertinent to a recent discussion at W4. I think it’s safe to say that the desire to be governed – in this world – by a just man, a monarch, is deeply rooted in the Christian soul. That’s not to say that other non-monarchial systems are illegitimate, but ultimately we want to be ruled by God’s vicar. The psalmist describes the unhappy alternative: man prevails on earth, assigning to himself god-like powers and usurping God’s prerogatives.
Many of you are already familiar with these recent stories:
For Catholics, the question is this: to what degree can a small business cooperate – without sin – with the evil of same-sex “marriage” and the legitimization of homosexual behavior? I’m no theologian, but it seems to me that the bakery and photographer in the stories linked above were asked to engage in mediate material cooperation with evil, defined as follows:
Mediate material cooperation is concurrence in the morally wrong action of another, not by actually doing the act in any way and not by intending to do the act, but by supplying some peripheral assistance, or preparation for the act to be performed. This assistance must be in itself a good or at least morally indifferent act.
Mediate material cooperation with evil is sometimes licit, and sometimes illicit, depending on circumstances. My current understanding of the problem is that such cooperation would be licit if: a) refusal of cooperation would result in an unreasonable burden (e.g., closing the business); and b) the cooperation is protested to the best of one’s ability.
If the LGBT regime in the state of Oregon requires one to sell a wedding cake for a homosexual couple pretending to get married, and the price of refusal is going out of business and losing one’s economic livelihood, it seems to me that the cake can be licitly baked and sold if done under protest. If I’m right about that (and I could be wrong), here are some suggestions for doing so:
1. Include with the packaged cake a tract on the four sins that “cry out to God for vengeance”.
2. Include a statement of protest on the receipt: “This cake was baked and sold under compulsion by the state of Oregon. Smith’s Bakery strongly protests this unjust law, opposes homosexual behavior, and affirms that marriage is impossible between two people of the same sex.”
3. Issue a public statement along these lines: “All proceeds derived from same-sex ‘wedding’ cakes will be donated to Courage, the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, or similar organizations.”
You’ll never listen to this beautiful work in the same way again …
This is an essay I wrote in 2004 for my first blog, El Camino Real, which is no longer online. I am posting it here for archiving purposes.
The liturgical, theological, and moral collapse within American Catholicism is much discussed and well documented in orthodox circles. There is widespread recognition that a crisis exists, even if there seems to be very little agreement as to its cause or cure. Various groups and associations have been formed with their own unique solutions, and some of them have done productive and excellent work indeed.
Yet there exists today another crisis in the Church that is barely discussed or examined at all: the crisis of community. The falling-away of many Catholics after the Second Vatican Council was tragic not only for the souls who left the Faith, but also for the souls who were left behind. Catholics who once depended upon their relatives, neighbors, and friends for social support and religious solidarity found themselves left alone in the cold. Of those who stubbornly remained with the Church, perhaps a majority were led to embrace the liturgical revolution and the new theologies. Orthodox, tradition-minded Catholics became outcasts in their own communities almost overnight. As a result of this disruption many of the faithful must look outside of their parishes and neighborhoods for solidarity. EWTN, Catholic Radio, and orthodox periodicals are primarily supported and enjoyed by Catholics who do not know each other.
For the fortunate few, non-geographical movements and religious orders have replaced the local parish as sources of orthodox teaching and example. Some find that the internet is the only place where intelligent discussion can be had with those who share a zeal for Christ and His Church. Others discover that they have more in common with their Protestant neighbors than with the modernist, dissenting Catholics in their local parish, and so they become susceptible to a kind of “conservative” indifferentism. Still others, in their extreme isolation, become vulnerable to the influence of sedevacantists and various schismatic sects.
The irony is that the destruction of Catholic community is due, in part, to the replacement of the old God-centered and vertical orientation with a new community-centered and horizontal orientation as pertaining to liturgy and parish life. Beware the law of unintended consequences! Authentic Christian community presupposes the absolute primacy of God and Church and never results when community is its own raison d’etre.
The crisis of community presents a serious problem for the Catholic family. The training and nurture of Catholic children – if it is to be effective – requires the long term influence and reinforcement of other Catholic personalities. Raising orthodox Catholic children alone in a sea of secularists, modernists, and Protestants is a recipe for confusion and alienation. Furthermore, it is essential for the health of Catholic marriages that spouses maintain friendships with members of the same sex who are strong in the Faith. The tragic absence of community, the decline of the extended family, and the contemporary demise of same sex friendship has resulted in enormous pressure for husbands and wives to fulfill each other’s every social need. Such unrealistic expectations have undoubtedly resulted in many failed marriages.
The Public Square
Although the United States was never a Catholic nation, there have long been regions, cities, and neighborhoods in our country with a strongly Catholic flavor. The influence of Catholicism in such places was strong enough to be taken seriously even by non-Catholics. Great cities like Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and San Francisco once had sizable Catholic populations which not only gave these cities a unique cultural flavor, but also provided a political and moral bulwark that could not be ignored. Things weren’t perfect – there was never an American Catholic Shangri-la – but the Church and her faithful members were not politically and culturally marginalized as they are today.
The concentration of numbers is also important from a purely missionary and evangelical perspective. It is true that individual Catholics can live holy lives and perform good works wherever they find themselves – even when isolated in non-Catholic communities. However, their non-Catholic neighbors may not ascribe their virtues to their religion unless there are other corroborating examples. The greater the numbers, the better and more effective the witness. The fact is that the Church cannot influence the culture unless there are strong geographical concentrations of committed and faithful Catholics. Such concentrations no longer exist in America on a meaningful scale.
As the world becomes increasingly hostile to Christian values, it will become more and more difficult for Catholics to work for the businesses and corporations that dominate the mainstream economy. It is therefore necessary to create an alternate economy, a network of small Catholic businesses that can employ those who are no longer willing to compromise with the emerging Leviathan, and who can conduct business beneath the radar of corporate HR departments. In order for such businesses to survive, they will need patrons and employees who live in the same area: i.e., they will need the support of large, local Catholic communities.
Stability and Culture
Culture takes time. In order for a genuine culture to develop, like-minded people must live together in one place for at least several generations. By “like-minded”, we do not mean a rigid uniformity, but a commitment to first principles, such as those supplied by the Catholic Church. By “together in one place”, we do not mean a tightly controlled commune or a fortress, but merely a region or neighborhood where there is regular and sustained interaction among the people who live there.
Culture building requires that most people inculcate a love for their region, city, or neighborhood – a loyalty to one’s home and extended family. Catholic culture is all but destroyed in our land because these things have all been lost. Those who do live together are not like-minded; those who are like-minded do not live together; and those who are like-minded and do happen to live together are not usually Catholic. We are faced, then, with the irony that rebuilding a stable Catholic culture – if it is to be done at all — will require the uprooting and resettlement of vast numbers of people. We are starting over.
What are the options?
There has long been an impulse in Christianity that favors living apart from the ungodly influences of the world. Towards that end the Church has blessed a surprising variety of communal expressions, ranging from monasticism to enclosed missionary villages. In the modern West there have been numerous attempts to create small Catholic villages based on the ideals of distributism and the teachings of papal encyclicals. However, due to extreme economic hardship and a peculiar susceptibility to personality cults, these ventures have not met with much success. More recently we have heard about a group of Protestants who want to create a Christian State in South Carolina, and a group of Libertarians who want to create a Free State in New Hampshire, but they have their mind too much on politics.
We are not proposing anything as radical or ambitious as the above. Our current economic system is a cruel master, and most forty-year old suburban insurance salesmen and business attorneys are not going to uproot their families to start over somewhere as the village butcher – even if they should. Catholic resettlement, if it is going to be anything other than a fringe movement, will have to consider modern cities with a viable economic base. Most importantly, the rebuilding of Catholic community must take place around existing orthodox parishes, and these are primarily in the cities.
To this writer, the most attractive model is that of identifying an existing community for Catholic colonization. It is critical that such a place be home to an established center of orthodox Catholic life, preferably an apostolate served by one of the traditional orders. The city should have a population between 5,000 and 50,000 people: small enough to be lovable, but large enough to make gainful employment realistic. A smaller town might be considered if located near a city with decent employment opportunities. Affordable rural acreage should be available within a short commute. One might live anywhere within a city of this size and still be no more than ten minutes away from any other place or person in town. Moreover, the cultural and political impact of, let us say, five thousand new Catholics will be far more significant in a city of 25,000 than a city of 500,000.
Another model is that of resettling specific neighborhoods around orthodox parishes in existing major cities. This seems less exciting with respect to influencing politics and the surrounding culture, but it would substantially improve community life and might eventually have a much larger impact. Daily Mass would be accessible to all. Homeschooling families and Catholic businesses would have the local support they need. The goal should be to find employment and to start new businesses in close proximity to the parish, slashing commute time and increasing time available for family, friends, and religion.
The colonization project would need a small group of pioneering families, a newsletter or website for publicity, and perhaps a relocation fund to help lower-income families with expenses. Every good thing starts small. Grandiose plans usually involve grandiose egos that eventually destroy what they sought to create. Yet it remains true that something must be done if any remnant of Christendom is going to survive the present barbarian assaults. Is this task for you? The important work of preservation will be carried out by ordinary Catholics who realize that they are not called to live as radical individualists, but as servants of Christ and members of His Mystical Body in the world. And who knows? In the process, we could witness the rebirth of Catholic civilization right here in the United States, in our own lifetimes.
The final promise of the Scout oath is the most important: “to keep myself … morally straight”. And that promise has now been broken by the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America in a spectacular way.
The new membership policy states that “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” Some Catholic commentators, including bishops, note that the bare words of this policy do not violate Catholic teaching. And that is quite true in the strictest sense of “orientation” and “preference”. I have all kinds of orientations and preferences that are opposed to the virtues of Scouting, and even opposed to the commandments of God. Living a “morally straight” life means striving to overcome sinful or disordered “orientations”. A literal reading of the new policy is therefore not a problem for Catholics.
In fact, the Scout’s previous policy doesn’t even violate the new policy. The old policy asserted ”… we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.” Sexual orientation or preference wasn’t the issue. Same-sex attraction, by itself, was never enough to be excluded from membership. The problem was the openness and the self-identification with homosexuality. The policy referred to “avowed homosexuals”, avowed meaning “to declare openly, boldly, and unashamedly”. The issue has always been the open and public identification with homosexuality and the implied approval of homosexual acts.
What, then, has changed?
The Boy Scouts of America did not simply tack a new explanatory note onto the old policy. If they had, the clarification would have been unremarkable. Rather, the Boy Scouts of America repealed the old policy and replaced it with a new one. Taken at face value, the mild language about “sexual orientation or preference” in the new policy is a red herring. It’s not the real story. The big news is that the former policy excluding “open or avowed homosexuals” has been formally rejected.
Now that we’ve examined the plain words, let us confront the plain message behind the words. The fact that the exclusion of “open or avowed homosexuals” was replaced with a prohibition of exclusion based on “sexual orientation or preference” indicates that, in the minds of BSA leadership, “sexual orientation or preference” is expected to be “open or avowed”. The unmistakable message is that open or avowed homosexuals are no longer excluded from membership.
Teenage boys talk about lots of things. Very often, they talk about girls – even chaste boys who are not sexually active, and who have no intention of being sexually active until marriage, can talk a lot about girls. Presumably scouts who consider themselves homosexuals will be free to talk about other boys in the same way that normal boys talk about girls, and nothing can be done about it (unless, of course, talking about girls is now forbidden.) This will change the entire culture of the organization by introducing a sexual element into the group, permeating every relationship. A certain innocence will be lost, trust will be compromised, needless confusion will be sowed, and social pressure will increase exponentially. Consider the fact that BSA’s magazine for boys, Boy’s Life, runs an advice column that often deals with “girl problems”. Expect this column to begin addressing “boy problems” in the near future. As a recent case here in northern California demonstrates, the unchecked presence of homosexuality within a troop can and does lead to disaster.
Open homosexuality adds still another more insidious, tyrannical element to the problem: that of institutional dishonesty. Everyone must now pretend that homosexual behavior is natural, moral, and healthy. Sexually confused boys, who might otherwise grow up normally, may come to believe it themselves and act accordingly. Worst of all, though, the culture of lies now forced on the Boy Scouts of America will produce a systematic and habitual dishonesty within the organization across the board.
Thus far, to the best of my knowledge, of the Catholic bishops to whom we look for leadership and direction only Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, has had the courage to suggest that the new policy “forces us to prayerfully reconsider whether a continued partnership with the BSA will be possible”. Otherwise the response of Catholic bishops has been weak and insipid, to say the least – though not surprising given the dismal state of the Church today. With respect to the new policy the National Catholic Committee on Scouting wants to “study its effects”. Give me a break. I suggest they study the Bible and Catechism.
There is some good news on the horizon. A coalition of former BSA leaders and parents are meeting in Louisville, Kentucky next month to plan for a new organization that will be true to the traditional virtues of Scouting.
“I am pleased to announce that OnMyHonor.Net along with other likeminded organizations, parents and BSA members, are announcing a coalition meeting that will take place next month in Louisville, Kentucky. There we will discuss the creation of a new character development organization for boys. While the meeting will be private, your voice is very important to us and will be represented there. We will host and facilitate a national coalition meeting of former BSA parents and other youth leaders who wish to return to truly timeless values that once made the BSA great. We welcome your comments as we develop our plans. Please share your thoughts with us at Contact@OnMyHonor.Net.”
There is a growing movement of Catholic scouting called the Federation of North American Explorers. This group has a lot of promise and organizational support is already in place. Also – Dr. Taylor Marshall of Fisher-More College is launching the Catholic Scouts of St. George, which seems to have gained considerable traction in a short time.
As for scouting in Chico, I am not optimistic. Our scoutmaster, God bless him, is furious and disgusted at the BSA’s decision and is soul-searching about what to do. Yet he feels “obligated to carry on the tradition”, and I can’t help but sympathize. The troop has been a blessing for these boys, many of whom have formed great friendships and worked hard to achieve their rank. Conservative troops like ours will probably try to carry on as usual, hoping the subject never comes up. Alternative scouting organizations are not likely to find much support around here.
Scouting families need to understand something. The Boy Scouts of America isn’t going to let troops ignore the homosexual agenda. A memo from the Golden Empire Council hints at “new safety trainings, camp dynamics, and other incremental changes” on the way. The BSA today isn’t the same organization it was last week. The uniform today stands for something different.
“What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death.
He has no intention of converting this human society of ours into an efficient machine for efficient machine-operators, dominated by master mechanics. Men are put into this world, he realizes, to struggle, to suffer, to contend against the evil that is in their neighbors and in themselves, and to aspire toward the triumph of Love. They are put into this world to live like men, and to die like men. He seeks to preserve a society which allows men to attain manhood, rather than keeping them within bonds of perpetual childhood. With Dante, he looks upward from this place of slime, this world of gorgons and chimeras, toward the light which gives Love to this poor earth and all the stars. And, with Burke, he knows that ‘they will never love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate.’” – Russell Kirk
Here are some highlights from the annual CSOTFA championships in Oroville last month:
We were privileged to visit Thomas Aquinas College again this month. I attended one philosophy class and two theology seminars, and left greatly impressed with the participating students. One of the children remarked that TAC feels more like “home” than home, and I can definitely see the point. Here are some photos taken by a family friend who accompanied us:
This little story about Pope Francis and one of his weary Swiss guards will inevitably charm everyone but the stone-hearted. As it well should. We see in Pope Francis, the Jesuit, a very Latin and Franciscan way of being Catholic.
But let’s be very careful about reading too much into gestures like this. It’s true that rules were made for man, not man for rules. And so when a man-made rule is broken for the sake of charity or necessity, it can be a laudable thing. Our Lord Himself paved the way when, for example, he healed the sick on the Sabbath (a divine law, but deformed at the time by many Jewish accretions).
However, selective rule-breaking is only laudable in the context of general rule-keeping. Let me put it another way: rule-breaking only has symbolic value in a culture where the default mentality is obedience and rule-keeping. Otherwise, breaking the rules symbolizes nothing more than just another individual doing his own thing, his own way, just as everyone else does – because he can.
When it comes to religion and all things associated with Catholicism, I submit that most Catholics don’t need a lesson in charitable rule-breaking or any other kind of rule-breaking. Some of us do, undoubtedly, and if the shoe fits let us wear it gladly. Pope Francis is who he is, and I am grateful for that. But generally speaking, the Christian world is reeling from its contempt for Catholic order and discipline, and is desperately in need of holy examples of obedience. If another pope decided, instead, to commend the Swiss guard on his fidelity and discipline rather than bringing him a chair and a sandwich, such a pope would not for this reason be any less charitable.