Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sketchy opinions of a Catholic anarchist

Much as one might have loathed them during and after, when we were teenagers, we had the Youth Groups. Out of the latter grew the various ministries which, once Confirmed, we had the right — nay, the duty — to participate in. More than anything, there was a social framework, outside of, but (presumably) centered around, the Mass. This “community of Christians” became, for many, the very reason to show up for several hours every Sunday, and sometimes even during the week; for many, the Catholic youth community was a refuge from the pangs of adolescence and the social farce of public school life. There is no great loss in the fact that most young minds cannot perceive that they were missing the bigger point, namely the Eucharist. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor — specially your Christian neighbor — is the holiest thing that can be presented to your senses in this life.

Something that the Youth Groups never prepared you for, however, was What To Do after high school graduation. Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends; some people (often accidentally) have children and get married before the age of 23; others move away, even out of state, to go to college; many move away simply and solely to move away. There are a variety of dividing tactics which (I believe) the Dark One employs at this part of our lives. The bottom line is that the security of a “faith community” that had been built up over several years is promptly obliterated. And since so many at this age based their “faith life” on their “faith community” — and to re-build a new one would require all the work involved in meeting a host of new people that one gets on with fairly well, and to balance this with all the other concerns that come with “growing up” — many will backslide, and the Church becomes an afterthought. “Church” quickly comes to mean “the place one ought to have been last Sunday.” And so it goes, or might go, for several years.

In my early-20s, I encountered a few organizations that tried to do for “young adults” what the Youth Groups did for us as teenagers. But rather than getting into more serious, adult issues of faith, these groups tended to remain at the intellectual level of a 15-year-old. They seemed simply to say, “What we had a few years ago — it doesn’t have to go away! And this time around we get to go out for beer and hotwings!” The only way such assemblies “progress” is by the addition of alcohol and the occasional tryst (which will promptly be confessed by Saturday). The only “progression” is, in fact, toward newfound secular freedoms, predicated on a religious context: not religious progress. This is not to say that there are no sincere efforts on the leaders of such groups, nor that one may not find members who make the most of what they can get. My point, however, is that they shouldn’t have to make the most of anything: the “most” should already be there, and they should be the recipients of it — just as the Church as a whole is “already there.” What began in the “youth groups” ought to continue into adulthood, the former being the foundation for something more complex — spiritually, theologically, and communally — that would come later. Yet for this to happen, the original “faith community” should have had to remain together, and so continue to grow together. But this does not — perhaps can not — happen. One might chalk it up to the very mobile nature of the contemporary world. No one has any roots anymore. Gone are the days of knowing and living in, for one’s whole life, the same neighborhood as the people one grew up with. Had people stayed put in the first place, we shouldn’t have even needed the “youth groups”: from the outset our Catholicism would simply have been part — indeed the very centerpiece — of our local culture.

My objective here is not to suggest a solution to this pathology, but to call to mind that such a pathology does, in fact, exist. Regardless of the diagnosis, I don’t believe, such as the world is today, that the prognosis is very good. And I certainly don’t believe there is a cure, not unless there were a veritable revolution in public mores. Public mores, however, are informed by religious mores — and our religious mores are weak. Furthermore, they are under constant assault by ideologues of many stripes (often on the basis of the erroneous and backward assumption that the First Amendment was written to keep religion out of public life). Perhaps sanity can be restored, but I personally am of the opinion that the world we have built needs be burned to the ground, the pig fully eviscerated, before the proper foundations can once again be laid.

At this point, I would like to reply to a possible objection raised by the language which I have just used. This objection was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, a Monsignor, with whom I discussed this problem. He pointed out that, while he appreciated my “inclination toward an anarchistic remedy for all that ails us,” nonetheless “burning the house down kills people as well as all those things that afflict them”; furthermore, “their successors would also be born with the affliction of Original Sin and its consequences.” There is of course great wisdom and truth in this point, but I think it betrays a misunderstanding in what I have said. Thus I shall use it to clarify my wider political theory. This is not (so far as I know) church doctrine; it is solely my preliminary, “sketchy” theory about the possibility of a peace which, I think, should follow upon the coexistence of Catholicism and anarchism.

Now, first of all, I would like to make perfectly clear that I am not proposing an “anarchistic remedy,” if by “anarchy” we mean, so to speak, a Bolshevik Solution. One needn’t define anarchy as anything other than what its Latin word-parts suggest, viz., the absence of government; and that absence needn’t mean destruction nor chaos. The French Revolution — the origin of Liberalism, and, by circuitous routes, all our modern “ideologies” — was indeed a “burning to the ground” which was merely to replace one government with another. “Revolution” is frequently a misnomer. Historically, so-called revolutions have a curious way of not “reverting back” to anything that was previous and/or preferable: more often they are devolutions. As to anarchism, my own view is that an anarchistic society — more properly: anarchistic societies — could enjoy more religious and civil freedom than anyone has known for a long time, if people but had the courage to abandon government and defend their own natural rights. The Constitution of the United States of America is, however, an ingenious compromise between the extremes of anarchy and the contemporary omnipresent State, if only our government would follow it. If government in the U.S. would but restrict itself to doing solely what the Constitution says it can do and nothing more, we might enjoy all the freedoms one could ask for in this life. As it stands, however, our government seems to far exceed its originary, Constitutional mandate. To scrap the current regime — that endlessly complex federation of bureaucracies and bylaws — to return to a pure and commonsense execution of the Constitution just as it was written: that would be a true revolution, a “going back.”

This proposal, nevertheless, presents us with yet another pathology in want of a cure. It is difficult to see how, in our Nuclear Epoch, such rejuvenation would be possible. The bureaucratic complexity of our world has ensured that any kind of re-simplification would result in serious threats to our safety, namely, from foreign enemies, and certainly, due to our modern money system, an economic disaster. We are locked in a cultural and socio-political vice by the very edifice of modernity.

Another point I would like to clarify about my so-called “anarchistic solution.” I did not mean to suggest that we ought to rally and “burn it all down” ourselves. What I meant to imply was that the possibility of a solution might only come about if (or when) the Nations do indeed destroy themselves; as, for example, in nuclear fire or economic collapse. What remained of humanity, being thus able to start from scratch, as it were, might then work toward a truly purged civil society. The Church, incidentally, by necessity of Her “mandate,” would remain the last standing authority — the only non-factitious authority on Earth, and therefore one worth following — and the people might see that She provides all the “governance” we really require on any large scale: a “bureaucracy” whose only purpose is the salvation of Man. As for the “small” scale, each community could choose their own ways and means of living: and that is all that “anarchy” means. As for the original pathology, I don’t think the problem of “youth groups” or “young adults” would come up in the peace of a Catholic anarchy.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pearce quotes Flitcraft

The great Catholic biographer and literary scholar Joseph Pearce recently quoted little old me in an article at The Imaginative Conservative.  How funny.  My comment is the third from the top:

Chesterton & Eliot: Friends or Enemies?