Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Progressivism and the Catholic Church

Well, that's a subject line that would merit book-length treatment. But today, for now, just this:

Why is it that several generations of American Catholic clergy and laity have concluded that the big-government solutions of the Progressive Movement are just dandy expressions of Catholic moral teaching?

Looking back through history, it seems to me that the Church generally has had endless trouble when governments were huge and powerful. First there were the persecutions led by pagan Roman emperors. Then, when the emperors turned Christian, there were the repeated interferences in favor of heresy (e.g., Arianism and the Iconoclastic movement), followed by heavy-handed persecution of heresy (e.g., of Monophysitism in the Eastern Empire, a bone-headed move that helped soften up Christian unity for the first waves of Muslim conquest).

In the West, as the power of regional governments grew, starting in the 9th century, we had the Holy Roman Emperors demanding to appoint their own bishops, and generally interfering with the Church governance. As the national governments of France and England grew in power and stability, they too sought to control the selection of the Church's leadership -- finally including the Papacy itself. The Tudor dynasty in England ended the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses and re-established the kingdom, only to have Henry VIII squander his father's legacy, plunder the Church's property to refill his coffers, then tear his country's Church away from Rome in his mania for siring a male heir.

When the "divine right of kings" gave way to the democratic revolutions of the 1700's and 1800's, the Church suffered again -- once again at the hands of all-powerful states which had undergone a change of masters but not a change in their lust to control every important feature of private life.

And then in the 20th century there came those twins of totalitarianism, Communism and Fascism, and their rich uncle Progressivism. These three huge-government movements have all sought to tame the Church to their purposes, and to persecute it when it dared to be uncooperative.

And now we're into the second year of the Presidency of Barack Obama, and of the overwhelming legislative ascendancy of the radical wing of the Democratic Party. Their hostility to core moral teachings of the Church, soft-pedaled during the campaign, is now clear.
And yet so many Catholics still babble about the importance of promoting "social justice" through bigger and bigger government, through the permanent triumph of the Progressivist cause.

If we Catholics really want to promote "social justice", perhaps we should work on making ourselves extraordinary examples of charity and virtue. When we arrive at our own particular judgments before God, I don't think he's likely to ask us how diligently we voted for socialist programs, so that the poor could be helped through the forcible taking of money from other people. Instead, I think He'll ask: "What did you give, freely and humbly, because your heart was illuminated by My grace?"