June 24, 2002

Veni Sancte has a very interesting post on 1968, the year of the Church's Maginot line (i.e. Humane Vitae). He says that "The teaching of the Church is shaped by human experience and human experience is shaped by the teaching of the Church. What happens when the circuit is disrupted? Especially difficult is finding the source of the disruption. The teaching Church is blaming the learning Church and the learning Church is blaming the teaching Church. If history is any guide, I would place my money on the learning Church as coming out ahead. When the learners are telling the teachers that what they are teaching is not the learners’ experience of human existence, nothing can be taught."

But I don't think the learning Church is protected from error. And therein lies the difference. The teaching Church has no choice in teaching that contraception is an evil, if she believes it to be so, regardless of what the learning church thinks or "experiences". The choice in how hard to crackdown is whether or not the Church wishes to risk becoming a remnant, like the Amish. And in these days when bishops act like CEOs, one senses they won't take that path. And so we will probably continue to muddle through with an increasingly polarized Church.

Interestingly, Islam & Mormonism are two fast growing religions that have in common they ask a lot from their adherents. The perfect way to marginalize oneself as a Church is to be weak and capitulate and ask nothing...(Jesus must've understood this in asking that we become perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect). Mormons, of course, are expected to do two years of missionary work and fast from caffeine, alcohol, etc...Muslims are expected to pray five times a day and fast one month a year. So I don't quite understand why Humane Vitae should've been the lightening rod it has become in the sense that practicing it be considered so unreasonable. My wife and I use NFP and don't find it unduly burdensome.

Perhaps the point is that American Catholics find an undemocratic Church a scandal in of and itself. Democracy is in our very blood now; dissent as natural as breathing. Tocqueville wrote in 'Democracy in America': Two things must here be accurately distinguished: equality makes men want to form their own opinions; but, on the other hand, it imbues them with the taste and the idea of unity, simplicity, and impartiality in the power that governs society. Men living in democratic times are therefore very prone to shake off all religious authority; but if they consent to subject themselves to any authority of this kind, they choose at least that it should be single and uniform."

My mother experienced the confusion in 1968, and the confusion was born mostly because the authority became fractured and no longer uniform. She went to a priest to confess her use of birth control and the priest told her, "it's okay, that's not really a sin". This disconnect was what turned her off. In the next sentence Tocqueville writes that "Religious powers not radiating from a common center are naturally repugnant to their minds." It was at this point my mom became of the "learning Church" and dissented from the teaching of Humane Vitae. The tendency in a democracy is to hold one's own opinion as gospel, unless there is a single, uniform authority. And because that authority was fractured in 1968, by dissenting priests and even bishops, we are still suffering the consequences.

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