It is one thing for persons without education, or perhaps with only a child’s capacity for reasoning, to rest on a simple, more or less unquestioned faith. My mother was a simple person, without a college education, but God tested her through very great suffering, including the murder of her second son and a near-fatal car accident to a beloved daughter, among many other griefs. She was cruelly tempted to doubt the goodness of God and even the existence of God. Her love for God, even in the darkness, held firm. She could not, however, good woman that she was, offer a reasoned case for what she was doing. Her faith was deep, and tested, and wise, but not verbose or highly cognitive.
It is another thing for intellectually talented and well-trained minds to practice an unquestioned faith. That would be an abuse of God’s gift, a failure of application, a classic case of intellectual sloth, and a lack of honesty and courage. To think unquestioned faith a standard to be aspired to would be an outrage. In its infantile conception of the God who made the sun and all the stars — and all the brains within the universe — to think unquestioned faith a good would be a blasphemy.
God does not wish us, in coming to Him, to go down on all fours. He wishes us to come to Him erect and free and questioning and attentive. He wishes the worship, not of blind and dumb slaves, but of intelligent and free women and men.
Andrew Sullivan is a brave witness to both love for the Church and brave questioning. He has taught a lot of us more about homosexuality and its inner life than we would otherwise know. To the best of my knowledge, he has not been chastised by the Congregation of the Faith, or any bishop, or any priest for his probing and his quarreling and his often quite strident and grievously pained cries of disapproval. His questioning is a service to the church, as to all persons of good will who come in contact with it. I do think some of his allegations over the top, such as those cited above. Even so, he is entitled to cry out as he sees fit. ~Michael Novak, NRO
A good question might be to ask why Michael Novak has any credibility as a theologian with any serious Catholic when he says things like this. A better question would be why anyone who claims to be a serious Catholic feels the need to justify the whining of an apologist for unrepentant sinners, whose complaints consist chiefly of his church not being accommodating enough with his and other moderns’ sinfulness and disobedience. It is rather disturbing to think that “religion in the public square,” the theme of First Things, of which Mr. Novak is an editor and to which he contributes regularly, is being defined by men with such evidently deficient moral and theological discernment. The appropriate response to Mr. Sullivan’s hysteria after the election of Pope Benedict XVI would have been a curt, concise dismissal of unbalanced and bitter writings.
Hat tip to Tom Piatak and Cultural Revolutions Online.
Bad theologians love to talk about love, as if someone loves properly when he sets his own petty obsessions ahead of the commandments of God. God is all-merciful and the lover of mankind, but His love is not a free pass for persistent disobedience and willfulness. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (Jn. 14:15) The deviant, or his apologist, does not do us a favour by helping us to understand deviancy better, unless it is specifically to heal the spiritual and moral illness, just as the heretic or his apologist helps no one by explaining his heresy, unless it is for the purposes of its refutation. To discover that there is some innate, biological cause for passions is to “discover” what the Fathers have known for ages–what matters is not whence the passions come, but how we discipline ourselves to curb and control them when they come.
Understanding and inquisitio, in its most positive sense, do not exist simply to sympathise with people in error and let them go on their way with our good wishes and fellow feeling–it is to make a correct diagnosis for the sake of healing the sinner. That is real love, a love that proclaims the truth and spreads the light that men and the world do not want because their deeds are evil. Yet Mr. Sullivan not only does not want diagnoses and remedies, he wants validation and some kind of approval. But Novak tells us he is “brave” (why, what does he stand to lose, and what good thing is he defending with risk to himself?) and a witness to “love for the Church” (how, by demeaning its pastors, mocking its teachings, scandalising its faithful, encouraging disrespect for its authority?). Even if motivated by “good intentions,” however hard that might be to believe, one cannot realise good for a church through constant criticism and dissent. When matters vital to the integrity of the Faith are at stake, and the hierarchy seems to have lost its way, then one may and one is obliged to speak out loudly and critically. Otherwise, why sow discord and reap dishonour?
The love Novak is describing here is a pseudo-charity of antinomianism, in which there are no really authoritative definitions and sloppy thinking. I’m sure Mr. Novak would protest that he is being subtle, his thought is complicated, and that he draws myriad distinctions, but all of this is redundant if his fundamental convictions are deeply flawed, as they seem to be. Mr. Novak often poses as something of a traditional Catholic in his respect for authoritative church teachings, but when push comes to shove he always seems to prefer the requirements of the American state, modern society and neoconservatism as the political accommodations of his being a court theologian of the current ruling party and the dominant faction in the Republican Party. It’s all very well to talk of public morality and a public religious discourse, as he and his associates often do, but one should never take it so seriously as to offend a political fellow-traveler or upset the secularist consensus on deviant behaviour.
Yes, indeed, God wishes the worship of free men, but not the free men of 1793, the Me Generation or the diluted Christianity that pretends it can easily and readily coexist with the un-Christian principles of the Enlightenment. God wishes the worship of intelligent and free men, which requires above all that they be intelligent in the way that the Fathers teach, which is that the intellect be conformed to the will of God through constant remembrance of God and that it rule over the passions and so free man from their tyranny. Someone who is himself subject to such passions is very far from being truly free, and even to the extent that he is free because he possesses free will the passions distort and misdirect that will.
True Christian liberty comes from obedience and denying ourselves, not persisently and unchangingly demanding that God and His ministers collaborate with us in our failings; we are rather called in the upward calling in Jesus Christ to collaborate with Him in virtue and perfection. Intelligence and freedom are all very well good, but God did not become man so that we could be an intelligent and free peanut gallery immaturely questioning everything we are called to do; He became man that we might become like God and become perfect in Him, part of which is the purification of the intellect and the true freedom that was natural and always intended for man. For that great gift we should be able, or we should be striving to be able, to set aside the petty and truly irrelevant preoccupations with which we define ourselves in the world.