Professor Bainbridge thinks the pontiff might be a closet Kirkian, because of Francis’s remarks the other day about the dangers of turning Christianity into an ideology. Prof. Bainbridge quotes that Kirk essay I linked to here the other day, about the errors of the ideological mind. From the Kirk:

Ideology, in short, is a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells. I set down below some of the vices of ideology.

  1. Ideology is inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation through grace in death, and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution. Ideology inherits the fanaticism that sometimes has afflicted religious faith, and applies that intolerant belief to concerns secular.

  2. Ideology makes political compromise impossible: the ideologue will accept no deviation from the Absolute Truth of his secular revelation. This narrow vision brings about civil war, extirpation of “reactionaries”, and the destruction of beneficial functioning social institutions.

  3. Ideologues vie one with another in fancied fidelity to their Absolute Truth; and they are quick to denounce deviationists or defectors from their party orthodoxy. Thus fierce factions are raised up among the ideologues themselves, and they war mercilessly and endlessly upon one another, as did Trotskyites and Stalinists.

Witness the extreme ideologization of the conservative movement, now tearing the Republican Party apart.

As far as the Catholic Church goes, Bainbridge is onto something. He quotes Francis’s recent sermon:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

The Pope continued, Jesus told us: “You burden the shoulders of people [with] many things; only one is necessary.” This, therefore, is the “spiritual, mental” thought process of one who wants to keep the key in his pocket and the door closed: “The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”

“The key that opens the door to the faith,” the Pope added, “is prayer.” The Holy Father warned: “When a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness.” He who does not pray is “arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble. He seeks his own advancement.” Instead, he said, “when a Christian prays, he is not far from the faith; he speaks with Jesus.” And, the Pope said, “I say to pray, I do not say to say prayers, because these teachers of the law said many prayers” in order to be seen. Jesus, instead, says: “when you pray, go into your room and pray to the Father in secret, heart to heart.” The pope continued: “It is one thing to pray, and another thing to say prayers.”

That is a powerful truth: It is one thing to pray, and another thing to say prayers.

 

As you know, I have been skeptical of Pope Francis, but this sermon of his really spoke to me. I had made an ideology of my Catholicism. I hadn’t meant for it to be that way, but that’s what happened. It came about mostly because I was rightly (I still believe) concerned with the loss of the sense of the holy, and of morals and doctrines, in contemporary Catholicism. But I made the cardinal error of ceasing to pray, or to pray as often or as well as I should have. I mistook talking and thinking about the faith for being serious about the faith. Ideologization helped make my faith brittle. I’ve found that the Orthodox approach to faith makes it much harder for people like me to make the ideologue’s error, though the temptation is always there.

It is hard to be mindful of right doctrine, and right morals, while at the same time remembering that the purpose of the Christian faith is not to learn how to behave morally. But it’s necessary. I am certain that Francis is onto something when he talks about how serious prayer — by which he means an encounter of the soul with the living God — is the antidote to ideological religion.

Similarly, though, the Catholics (and other Christians) who believe that the Christian faith is a feeling, and requires nothing of us but feeling good about ourselves and being nice to others, are also wrong. Like I said, maintaining the balance is hard. But necessary.

(Thanks to the reader who sent the Bainbridge link.)