America is a divided country. Our divisions are beginning to alarm even the most blithely optimistic among us. Those on the far Right prepare for revolution and disaster, packing years' worth of food and fuel into their basements and stocking up on guns and ammunition. Meanwhile the extreme Left... prepares for revolution and disaster – albeit in a more centralized way: lobbying for executive action to gather citizens into the fold of government protection (and control), pushing regulations to provide food and security to the displaced and vulnerable, and, of course, amassing guns and ammunition into the hands of officers of the state.
What keeps Left and Right so far apart? Well, it can’t help that we spend so much time trying not to be partisan, and straining to find agreement on abstract ideological terms, only to discover again and again how diametrically opposed our ideologies are. Maybe our vision of a sunny, agreeable future, where every argument is settled with the infallible accuracy of pure logic, is what makes our current state seem so dark. We’re all so tired of looking for a consistent ideology that we can all agree to support, maybe it’s time to take comfort in the many concrete vices we can all agree to oppose. In that spirit, I recently took comfort in an article at Patheos.com entitled “The Church Needs to Replace the Family.”
Blogger Artur Rosman argues that “The parish and archdiocese levels [of the Roman Catholic Church] need to be reorganized” to provide “free services” like “childcare, career advice, food, and money” to parishioners like himself. His thesis sounded attractive to me at first. Perhaps, I thought, Rosman is pointing to the Tocquevillian “voluntary associations” that prevent the consolidation of power to the state. If I really wanted to assume the best of the author, I could have kept on thinking that way, finished the article, and gone about my business, happy to have discovered another member of my partisan conservative tribe.
But I try not to assume the best of people.
The idea of the Church doing charity work for parishioners might sound good, especially to me, a member of the conservative-Catholic tribe. But the idea should start to sour when proposed by, say, an unemployed Polish Catholic immigrant who, instead of showing gratitude for his new home and the higher education he’s received here, fantasizes about establishing a centralized Church-State that punishes his American neighbors as “heretics” for daring to form a political order that isn’t obedient to the Vatican.
Some intellectuals would say I should only consider the objective merits of Rosman’s arguments, instead of questioning his character. But I would remind them that it’s perfectly legitimate to examine a person's character and credibility before deciding I’m for or against him. According to Aristotle, a speaker must prove his “ethos”—his virtue, disinterest, and wisdom--before his arguments deserve a hearing. Without following Aristotle's advice, it's easy to be misled by the politics of people who really don't have our best interests in mind. I'd like to avoid being taken in, and I think others, both liberals and conservatives, deserve to know the "ethos" of the people who ask for their support.
Progressives might be taken in by Rosman's appeal at the outset, resembling as it does the goodwill that motivates their own support of welfare programs. But they wouldn't have to read far before discovering that Rosman's concern for the poor is little more than a concern for himself—not unlike a passive version of the aggressive “virtue of selfishness” that some capitalists champion. When Rosman pushes for the Church to “replace the family,” he plainly states that his purpose is to “take the pressure off” of families like his own, which currently has to deal with “all the problems I talked about yesterday.” Here he links to a previous post in which he laments his “unemployment” and “career confusion,” complains of “financial problems” and the “crappy” meals he makes for his kids, and vents his frustration with the daily “changing of diapers” required of him as a stay-at-home dad. He does not make any grateful mention of his hardworking wife, who earns the family bread and bears his children.
While Rosman now calls for the Church to “throw a lot of money at” family problems, he has long been asking his readers to do the same for him. “I have not directly chosen any of the troubles listed above,” he writes. He admits that he is mostly responsible for them, but “you can help out a bit through the recently installed paypal donate button on the upper right of my homepage….” Appeals for money are a regular feature of Rosman’s online oeuvre. When he agreed to an interview with a devoted fellow blogger, he was quick to mention he was "on the dole" and "could use [some] money right about now." He also wasn’t above the interviewer making an additional solicitation on his behalf: “He is broke. If you have some money, don't be a tight ass.”
Beyond the rather bald self-interest of Rosman's politics, readers on both Left and Right will surely take issue with the authoritarian approach he takes to achieve his ends. He doesn’t only advocate expansions of tax-funded social welfare programs, as well-intentioned liberals do. Rather, he'd like to see American government entirely at the service of the Catholic Church—Catholic welfare programs being only a feature of that larger project. In one post he recommends the Medieval Church-State as a model for "comprehensive Church aid and wealth redistribution programs....” Imagine traditionalist authorities mandating top-down regulations that affected our community and family life. The thought would be repulsive to just about anyone, and progressives should find it especially problematic—which, by the way, might give them some insight into how ordinary Catholics feel about top-down progressive mandates.
Rosman's vision of a government of the Church, for the Church and by the Church doesn't stop at wealth distribution. He rejects those on the Right who believe in such “anti-Catholic” principles as freedom of conscience for non-Catholics. In a post entitled “In Praise of the Inquisition,” Rosman defends that institution's “good name” by pointing out how, after all, some Protestants were just as violent as the Roman Catholic officials who once tortured and burned them at the stake. In fact, he argues, in the years following the Reformation, Protestants were even more violent than Catholics because “they lacked a central authority like the Inquisition to impose its will” on them. He then suggests that we “pray Rome may still save us from the illiberal excesses of the income gap, pollution, political agonism, abortion, the divorce plague, and consumerism.” He concludes that “maybe it would be most rational for the US to call in l’inquisition douce,” presumably to “impose its will” on American heretics like you and me.
Rosman also rejects the “anti-Catholic” Left that advocates for the victims of the Catholic sex abuse crisis. When the secular media rightly denounced Richard Dawkins’s scandalous suggestion that predator schoolmasters did no “lasting harm” to their victims, Rosman posted an article entitled “Richard Dawkins Puts Pedophilia in Perspective.” The Catholic Church’s track record is really quite modest in comparison with pedophilia rates among non-Catholic organizations, such as public schools and Protestant churches, he argues. Alright, so far. But what's he getting at? Well, he can also attest from his own experience that the victims of priest rapists aren't as worthy of compassion as one might think. He recounts how, after he had published a piece on the “anti-Catholic” media’s response to the Catholic sex abuse scandal, one victim repeatedly messaged him about the priest who had raped him and the Church's failure to adequately deal with the situation: “An abuse victim himself, the stalker persisted abusively threatening me personally ... The whole sorry episode unfortunately confirmed the old adage that victims frequently become victimizers.”
Catholics of all people should know that ignoring the faults in our own tribe puts us in a bad spot, while leaving criticism up to our enemies. But even cynical anti-Catholic liberals helped to expose the corruption surrounding clerical sex-abuse coverups in the Church, a scandal that anyone truly devoted to the Church’s mission should welcome in the interest of putting our own house in order. I recently wrote approvingly of Pope Francis’s decision to fire Bishop Livieres of the diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The bishop in question checked off all the right boxes for membership in my conservative Catholic tribe, even founding an independent conservative seminary free of the wrongheaded liberal teachings that are compromising the Church elsewhere. So why do I approve of a “liberal” victory over one of my own? Because Livieres had accepted a predator priest into his diocese and promoted him to a position which provided ample access to young seminarian boys. The bishop is a cover-up artist and an enabler of sexual predation. Far too many deceivers get away with their schemes because their fellow tribesmen feel that questioning their character is off-limits.
Progressives should also know better. In their zealous opposition to McCarthyism, many otherwise intelligent members of the progressive tribe overlooked the reality of communist operatives in American government. Regardless of the somewhat maddened nature of McCarthyism, anti-communists did expose the real presence of dangerous spies who aimed to subject American citizens to the cold and murderous machine of Soviet rule. Any true liberal democrat should have welcomed the revelation for the sake of keeping America democratic. Assuming the best of each other, while it may warm our feelings for fellow tribesmen, is less heartwarming in light of such consequences as the Holocaust-dwarfing death toll of communism, and the permanent, destructive pain inflicted on victims of the Catholic sex-abuse crisis.
When we focus our energies exclusively in the abstract realm, on ideological battle-lines, we can be blinded to real, bad characters among us. These infiltrators are found wherever we make the futile all-or-nothing effort to address every social ill with one, consistent ideology, and choose to reject only those who fall outside its pale. By proving that they theoretically belong within certain ideological barriers, anyone can become a tribal freeloader, who contributes nothing to his comrades and lives on the dole of his fellow tribesmen’s collective sense of loyalty.
We will never be in complete agreement with our ideological opponents, and we shouldn’t exhaust ourselves trying to end all tribal enmities. But as long as we’re stuck with tribes, we should at least keep our own in order. Let’s hope for a future world where we're ready to join even our enemies in denouncing what all of us should oppose: dishonesty, cynical self-interest, and ill will. We will be ready to confront these evils and take action against them. We will have the integrity to stand against them wherever they are found, especially when they crop up within our own parties.
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