Or, The Immaturity of the West: Will millions of Catholic deaths and the utter destruction of Catholic civilization at Protestant, Liberal, and Communist hands never suffice?
Some days ago I was able to catch parts of the BBC debate on the Catholic Church; and I must say Ann Widdecombe and the Archbishop were caught napping. Technically speaking, I think these factors led to their loss:
(1) They were too soft. Every debater knows that the defending side is always harder: the attacker need only find weaknesses, so he can afford to be narrow and one-sided, whereas the defender must defend on a broad front; and compared to an attack (“You did evil!”), a defense is always weaker (“No, I didn’t!”). Therefore a hedged and nuanced defense, however reasonable, is unsatisfactory; one needs to go hardline. That is, instead of saying “we didn’t really do it wrong”, the defender should say “this, and this alone, was the right thing, and I dare you to prove otherwise!” Perhaps they could have used the Church’s history as a redoubt for an attack:
“The Catholic Church alone stood against the forces of barbarism when empires themselves had fallen… Today we gripe over her mistakes, but we gripe in halls of thought she built behind walls of arms she defended. You can criticize her two thousand years of sinners and failures solely because you benefit from her two thousand years of sanctity and success. She made mistakes because she built the edifice of our civilization, and so vast a work cannot be made without mistakes. It is too easy to criticize the structure at leisure, to you tear down cathedrals now in peace; but the Church alone, in her holiness and humanity, could build them in time of war.”
This, we believe, the defenders in the BBC debate failed to adequately do.
(2) They were outclassed. Debating, frankly, is less about right and wrong than about matter, manner, and method. You go in prepared and practiced, armed with convincing arguments, an appropriate strategy, and crisp responses, or better yet, clever put-downs to probable objections; and you do not stop attacking with blunt bludgeon or elegant rapier–whatever works–until your opponent is broken beyond hope, but without going too far lest you be thought a cad. Widdecombe’s side did these wrong, I submit; for they set up a passive Maginot Line instead of an aggressive Kursk against the opposition’s perfect, unrelenting blitzkrieg. Hitchens I thought was okay, but Stephen Fry was simply fascinating. He is a brilliant writer and actor–better by far than his peers, including his fellow Footlights–and though I bemoaned his victory, across the gulf of ideology we must salute a great controversialist.
That said, I must and I do take exception to the Modern obsession with finding fault with the Church, as so ably, but so wrongly, demonstrated by Fry & Co. I don’t mean only the onesidedness, though that too is significant–for how indeed could an objective historiography ignore the contribution of Fathers Mendel, Kirchner, Buridan, etc., of the papacy, the Franciscans, and the Jesuits to science and focuses on the single case of Galileo; or blame Africa on alleged Catholic obscurantism on sex and ignore the sheer scale and scope of Catholic charities and social justice-and-peace efforts in Africa and everywhere? How could it forget the ecclesiastical origins of the Western university system, international law, monetary and human rights theory, or entirely ignore the humanitarianism of De Las Casas, Sant’Egidio and the reducciones, or, when discussing the Crusades, omit noting that Islam’s conquering juggernaut attacked first and swallowed up half of Christendom before the West finally fought back?
By the Modern obesession I mean, rather, the temperamental–one might say neurotic–desire to not only prove the Church wrong but also to destroy her, force her to kneel and apologize for her beliefs, her precepts, her history, a demand never made on religions with similar or more “restrictive” beliefs. Evangelicalism and Islam, for instance, have never attempted to harmonize rational inquiry with faith as the Church did in Aquinas and Vatican I, but have never been subjected to the same onus from rationalism; and America, that cult of itself, which ethnic-cleansed the Indians, robbed Mexico of half its land, genocided Filipinos, and caused the greenhouse effect, is not asked to justify her existence. The vile treatment of Catholicism in particular is understandable, perhaps, given the parent-child dynamic of the Church and the West with all its Freudian implications, and the diametrical opposition between Catholic virtue-morality and Modern freedom-ethics; but it’s becoming a trifle old.
For I wonder, isn’t the West satisfied that Catholics already form minorities in many formerly Catholic countries, that whole religious orders have been erased since the 19th century, that the Church is almost everywhere disestablished and where established is ignored (i.e., Monaco)? Isn’t enough that the Church has utterly lost the great 19th century struggle with bourgeois liberalism, which is everywhere triumphant in its New Left and Neoliberal forms, while her own social teachings against capital concentration and social antinomianism gather dust? Isn’t it enough that Christendom’s children have been taught to forget where they got their culture, educational system, sciences and whatnot–with histories of philosophy skipping Suarez, Abelard and the whole of Latin thought–, and have been brainwashed to think of the Church as a non-relation beneath contempt, or at best as a deservedly neglected mother, nasty, brutish, and stupid? Will the Seculars never be satisfied until the Church surrenders and agrees with them, or vows silence, or dies, with the last Pope strangled with the intestines of the last priest?
And they call us bigots?
The notion of collective guilt, it seems, has survived Nuremberg–“you Catholics are damned for what other Catholics did 1,000 years ago”–; but whatever the sin involved, haven’t Torquemada, Pius XII, and Franco been expiated, or at least revenged by the massacre of priests, dissolution of congregations, seizure of universities–oh, how we weep for Sorbonne and Sapienza!–and other savaging of Catholics in Mexico, England, France, Northern and Eastern Europe; the crushing subjection of the Catholic Swiss in the Sonderbund; the massacres at the Vendee and the betrayal of Castelfidardo in the name of liberte and fraternite; the kulturkampf; the loss of Northern Europe to Protestantism and of North Africa and the Middle East to Islam?
And what about Protestant England’s rape of Catholic Ireland, from Cromwell’s genocide to the Potato Famine, which England refused to stop lest she upset market forces(!); the ongoing persecutions in China and Vietnam, the self-emasculation of Vatican II and the self-humiliation of John Paul II? Even if the Church and its leaders did wrong, will the millions of Catholic deaths, the millions of defections (and therefore damnations), and the utter destruction of Catholic civilization at Protestant, Liberal-Capitalist, Socialist hands never suffice? Must it be billions, must it be annihilation?
In short, though I admire Western culture, even the modern West for the brilliance of Kant and the fire of Nietzsche, there is no abiding its myopic immaturity, its frenetic desire to cut its parent down to size lest it never become “his own man”, its eagerness to forget its roots lest it remember its debt and maybe have to listen to mommy. It boggles the mind that the Secular West, already grown to a nuclear-armed leviathan, could still sport the rank injustice, nay, the insecure totalitarianism of an ungrateful brat. For how is holy mommy Church a threat to the Liberal Capitalist Total-State, when only a tenth of her flock even listen to her shepherds? Is it because statesmen who still respect her sometimes contest elections on equal terms with anti-Catholic/anti-Human politicians, and sometimes win? Is it her equality with them that they hate? Or is it rather that in their souls (whose existence they deny) they somehow know (an act they question) that the Church has, alas! a point?
I also cannot help remarking–one ad hominem deserves another–at the cowardice a la “2012” of brutally attacking a long-browbeaten opponent whose only threat is that she still talks, while prudently appeasing the far more illiberal, more irrational opponent who carries bombs and issues fatwas. Though maybe that’s for the best. For Islam doesn’t command to “turn the other cheek”; and when it triumphs in the West–as it surely will, for the rootless youth of the West will yearn for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, and why shouldn’t they turn to the religion their craven elders placate?–, Islam will not suffer the Moderns the freedom they enjoyed in Christendom. Little Secular will cry for the milder disciplines and easy indulgences of holy Church, and the imam will say, sorry, mommy’s gone, and by the way, the door to ijtihad is closed. It wouldn’t quite expiate matricide, but it’d be a start.
Therefore, though I regret that Ann Widdecombe’s side resoundingly lost the debate, I regret much more the fact that they had to debate at all. With 2,000 years of history and historical baggage the Church is an easy target–therefore shame on the Moderns, shame on Hitchens, shame even on bright, wonderful, funny, made-me-weep-for-Noel-Coward Fry for picking on the unmissable dartboard–; but with everything she gave the West and the world the balance of the scales should be a non-issue.
For shame, I say again, shame. Let’s see. Faithful Catholics in the millions abandoned worldly success for unpaid service to the poor and sick and abandoned in shelters, orphanages, and hospitals; the Church’s leaders and orders sustained civilization though invasion after invasion, recolonizing depopulated regions and hostile terrain, teaching letters, protecting books and feeding paupers; her patronage of reason (and which other religion anathematizes, as did Vatican I, those people who question reason?) kept philosophy alive in Christendom even as the Mutakallimun and the Mutazila died in Dar al-Islam; her prelates patronized some of the greatest music and architecture and art in history–for good or ill she created Western civilization itself, with even the Roman curia proving a model for emerging governments.
And how do the ultimate beneficiaries of Bede’s and Alcuin’s and Anselm’s renaissances reciprocate? After their confreres genocided priests, religious, and laity by the millions, wiped out monasteries and guilds because (for Cavour, for instance) they’re insufficiently capitalist, stole her schools and stole her children, destroyed all her works and her memories–in other words, after Protestantism, bourgeois Liberalism, and Socialism raped their mother Church, damned her faithful and smashed their civilization–, they have the cheek, the gall to sit in judgment over her, demanding that she justify herself because she dares to criticize their sex life, their penchant for killing the weak and inconvenient with abortions and DNRs! Plautus and Petronius combined could never make such a farce.
To be fair, I must say that I have little doubt that if the Church stopped fighting the new utilitarianian and sexualist orthodoxy the Moderns would slow their anti-Catholic inquisitions; if her clergy actually blessed free market and free love–unlimited greed and unremitting lust–they wouldn’t launch attacks against her. But I had thought before that disagreement, even on policy, did not demand ad hominem, well-poisoning exchanges that center on the person and not the issues on which the parties disagree. Today I think otherwise in exasperation. Even amid the criticisms and ideological battles a little civility, a little evenhandedness, a little gratitude would be nice; but if that is not forthcoming, if we will be attacked with one-sidedness and logical fallacies, then I say we take a more polemical approach. We’ve been pushovers too long.
May God forgive our anger if and when it turned unjust; may He re-mould it into zeal for justice; and may He bless us all.