August 28, 2018

Trying to Make Sense of Absurdistan

I've been lately wandering lost in a haze of information overload, the scandal du jour that begets and begets and begets and just keeps on begetting. From the '16 election that lifted a reality TV star and insult champion to the presidency, to the now very non-rhetorical query: "Is the pope Catholic?" -- the last few years have been, uh, attention-getting.

So a few disjointed thoughts. (Are there any other kind?)

The sentimental view of religion is certainly taking a hit.  Oxymorons abound: "Catholic Ireland", "Holy Father", "pope resigns", "World Meeting of [Hetero?] Families", "hush money".  It's a world in which a cardinal tweets to his sister "Nighty-night baby, I love you."  It's a world where politicians object to bishops being called "politicians" since no politician could be so tone deaf.  It's a world in which the bishops talk about national boundaries but not the protection of the physical boundaries of seminarians. It's a world in which the flock is called upon to direct the shepherds (ala M. B. Doughtery: "I’m not looking for a perfect Church, I’d appreciate one in which bishops demonstrated anger at rapists and some determination to stop them before proceeding to try and guilt the the laity for being scandalized by it" and "Imagine the Apostle Andrew reacting to Judas’ betrayal, 'We should write up some bylaws against betraying our Lord unto death'”).

Weird sh-t is happening everywhere, like Catholic author Taylor Marshall inexplicably retweeting Alex Jones. Twice.

Well interesting times and all that jazz.

Baylor professor Alan Jacobs describes the parallels of Trump and Francis:
Like Donald Trump, Francis makes dramatic and apparently extreme pronouncements which send the world into interpretative tizzies. When he says things like “Who am I to judge?” Catholics who support him effectively say that he should be taken “seriously but not literally” — just as Trump supporters say about their man. Both men generate massive, thick fogs of uncertainty.

Like Donald Trump, Francis cuts through political complications by issuing executive orders and blunt power grabs, as when he dismissed the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta and is seeking to replace him with a “papal delegate” under his own personal control, a move of questionable legality.

Like Donald Trump, Francis is an authoritarian populist: he bypasses institutional structures and governs by executive order, but believes that there can be nothing tyrannical about this because he is acting in the name of the people and is committed to “draining the swamp” of his institution’s internal corruption.

Norms are created by institutions, and we live in an age of week and despised institutions. This is how populist leaders arise: when a great many people believe that institutions exist merely to serve themselves, they come to despise not just those institutions but also the norms associated with them, and applaud leaders who scorn and seek to tear down the whole edifice.

General contempt for our institutions, government and church alike, makes them too weak to enforce their norms, which first enables corruption — the kind of corruption American Catholic bishops and members of the Congress of the United States are guilty of — and then produces populist figures who appear to want to undo that corruption. But the institutions are too weak to control the leaders either, so those leaders are empowered to do more or less whatever they want to do. This is the case with Trump, who will surely last at least until the 2020 election, and also, I think, with Francis, who will probably last until he dies or chooses like his predecessor to resign.

Moreover, since neither Trump nor Francis is interested in doing the work needed to repair their corrupt institutions — they don’t even have any incentive to do so: the ongoing presence of ‘swamps’ is what lends them such legitimacy as they possess — all the products and enablers of corruption are safe. This is why the American bishops who spent decades enabling and hiding sexual abuse are probably feeling pretty good about their prospects right now.
This past Sunday the homilist said the problem is that many clergy live “soft lives” attentive to luxuries and this encourages others to become priests who want not only softness but outright infidelity. A slippery slope. The beach houses and grand homes of the hierarchy attract the wrong element.

It reminds me of how many say that Washington D.C. was ruined by air-conditioning. Once a/c came to the city, it became desirable. Once it became desirable it started attracting hacks who wanted to live there forever and thus made re-election their goal instead of improving the country, so they didn't have to go back to their godforsaken home districts that lacked the sizzle and glitter of the ever-growing capitol.

At least I have full closure on Pope Francis now. I unfollowed him on Twitter, lol as the kids say. The ViganĂ² memo without the backdrop of what we already know about Francis would've felt out of left field. As it was, for me, it seems right down 2nd base. Smoke, meet fire.

But some on Twitter reminded me that the proper response to the scandals is not primarily anger but repentance on behalf of those who need it.  Sobering. The Christian response is not to weep not out of a sense of betrayal, but for the victims and Pope Francis and the enablers of abuse.

One priest tweeted:
The effect of a what has been going on in the Church will be to make the Church effectively congregationalist in its polity. The laity will attend a parish of their choice, and network with other like-minded Catholics through organizations (both on- and offline) to which bishops are marginal. In the Church today, all of the exciting things are happening outside of the management of chanceries, and all of the things under the purview of chanceries (e.g. Catholic schools) are failed institutions, which in some cases actively undermine people's faith. Note: I am not saying that this is *desirable*, I'm just saying that it is the case.

Amy Welborn provides historical perspective:
There have always – always, people – been terrible problems in the Church. It’s unfortunate that general historical illiteracy, combined with contemporary experiences of faith that are mostly determined by which party you happen to fall into, work to hide this plain fact from most people...

What is consistent, it seems, is the overarching instinct to throw your lot in with the prevailing culture and its values – power, success, money, sex, a particular social system – and be formed by that instead of the Gospel, instead of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I thought of that in how it juxtaposes with Jeff C's FB post*. One could say, with Amy, that history teaches over and over that corruption even at the highest levels has always been. But perhaps it’s like being robbed - you know the statistics, that there is a lot of crime, but until it happens to you personally it still feels distant. And for the current pope to be implicated feels “more real” than centuries ago.

Perhaps part of the surprise of some to the degeneracy of many of these leaders is due simply to what a priest sermonized recently about, how there seems to be an ignorance that the grace of the sacraments - including obviously Holy orders - cannot penetrate without the proper disposition. There’s no such thing as osmosis or magic, he said. Disposition is crucial and that’s standard Catholic teaching. A rock in a stream of water won't absorb much water. As George MacDonald wrote, "Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it."

* - “Tonight, many excellent Catholics are grieving due to Archbishop Vigano's devastating revelations about Pope Francis - the grief and tears of betrayal. Perhaps you and I grieved much earlier, for different reasons, and have now moved on to a cold cynicism, but that's no advantage. Remember what that grieving was like and grieve again.”


William Luse said...

Every now and then I drop by here, poke around, and remember why I used to read blogs.

TS said...

Thanks much Bill! Sorry for the delay, I wasn’t getting notifications of comments,