Friday, January 17, 2014

taking in the view

R. R. Reno, editor of First Things, lays out some considerations for the new year.  He closes with:

Most important of all, in 2014 we’ll need to redouble our efforts to defend the weak. The deconstruction of marriage, abortion on demand, legalization of marijuana, acceptance of pornography, expansion of gambling, provisions for doctor-assisted suicide—progressives either endorse or refuse to speak up against these and other policies and trends. Today’s progressives seem to have as their primary concern expanding freedoms that only the strong are capable of prudently enjoying.

A woman’s “right to choose” is an obvious example, coming as it does at the expense of the weakest of the weak, the unborn. But it’s also true for the wider range of moral and cultural issues. As progressives deconstruct the authority of traditional morality, they grant themselves moral indulgences. In many ways life-style liberation is to cultural politics what materialism is to metaphysics—the promise of wealth, power, and pleasure without fear of judgment. To achieve this goal the powerful now work very hard to deprive the weak and vulnerable of straightforward, reliable norms for navigating through life.

I regard the war on the weak as the great social injustice of our time. The battle cry is this war was notoriously formulated by Justice Kennedy in the Casey decision upholding the abortion license in America: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is the perfect charter for endless dominance of the strong: It eliminates all moral and metaphysical principles that limit their freedom.

Yes, it’s a war, a war on the weak. And if first things mean anything, we have to mount a counter-offensive. That’s not a prediction. That’s a promise.

Right on. Combating spiritual diabetes requires the sort of balance and commitment Reno describes (and has been, as FT readers know, for a few years now.  good stuff).  One cannot live solely on a diet of theological ripostes to the likes of Jamie Stiehm and Amanda Marcotte (although God knows there will be those who try...).  A simple negative diet--one that only avoids certain food but does nothing to encourage good eating--isn't enough.  We need diet and exercise--physically and spiritually.  As said before on this blog, Roman Catholicism offers just this.  Too often, though, we struggle with the requirements such exercise demands.  George Weigel reminds us:

Although it is very difficult for those who see Catholicism through political lenses to grasp this, popes are not like presidents or state governors, and doctrine is not like public policy. Which means that a change of papal “administration” does not—indeed cannot—mean a change of Catholic “views.” Doctrine, as the Church understands it, is not a matter of anyone’s “views,” but of settled understandings of the truth of things.  

And on that note, Rod Dreher, in his characteristically thoughtful way, alerts us that maybe a lot of Catholics just don't care anymore about doctrine. "Pope Francis makes us feel good--don't bother us with the details."  Dreher thinks many conservative Catholics find Francis' new style acceptable since he's clearly not tinkering with doctrine. However, near his conclusion Dreher asserts:

Now, it is true that you can effectively change doctrine in people’s hearts by failing to teach the truth as by affirmatively teaching a lie. Perhaps Francis may one day be fairly faulted for failing in this way, I don’t know. It’s too early to tell for sure. But 20, 30 years out, will the children and grandchildren of the No-Doctrine Catholics, the Trishes of American Catholicism, still be in the Church? Or will they have given up out of boredom, or moved to a conservative Evangelical church, where at least people still believe that we can’t just make it up as we go along?
A line needs to be drawn here.  Since when did conservative Evangelical churches become the last bastion of doctrinal defense?  It's lines like this that fueled the creation of Spiritual Diabetes.  Our inability to "digest" and authentically convert the spiritual realities around us (just as the diabetic can no longer regulate internally blood sugar levels, thus leading to spiritual highs and lows) causes us spiritual thirst.  In trying to slake that thirst, we start clutching and consuming whatever's around us, usually to our own disadvantage (and thus additional spiritual plunges).  Reno's last few lines about the war on the weak allude to this.  The strong elites, suffering just like the rest of us from spiritual diabetes, seek to assuage their own thirsts by belittling or eliminating the ideas and principles impeding their freedom. 

To be sure, evangelicalism does foster an image of permanence, but it's only that:  an image.  Given his own spiritual journey through evangelicalism through Rome to Orthodoxy, Dreher himself should realize this.  American evangelicalism, at least, falls prey to Donatist temptations:  the localized church of the pure.  Further, recalling both Weigel and Reno, it's precisely because of doctrine's permanence (one anchored from the Scriptures through the Church's witness over the centuries, not just the smug, often self-satisfied presentism of evangelicalism--"Jesus is lucky He has us to defend him") that we're able to look ahead in the new year, redouble defending the weak, and watching our own appetites.

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