Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

The Juvenilization of the Church of Church and Society

The Calvinist theologian and preacher John MacArthur once delivered a sermon in which he decried the what he called juvenilization of the Church. He noted that social media allows us to create our own world – deciding which music we listen to, which people to connect with, which information we see, and anything we don’t want to see, we can easily block. This creates a sense of selfishness and self-centeredness which in turn inculcates a child-like mentality. It is thus difficult to create a sense of fellowship which is all-too important for the life of the Church.

 

MacArthur, in spite of being a non-Catholic (and a proponent of diet anti-Catholicism), is on to something. Religion, in general, and Christianity (particularly Catholic Christianity as the true form of Christianity) in specific, is meant to elevate the human mind, the human soul, and, in a sense, the fullness of the human person. True religion is God-centered, not man-centered; nonetheless, this does not deny the human element, but rather directs its attention to a higher good, a greater reality – in fact, the source of all good and reality – and in so doing elevates the human mind.

 

Yet, with the crisis in the Church – the decline in Church attendance, the decline in ordinations, the PR nightmare caused by multiple scandals with deep-running roots – people within the Church are willing to do anything to draw people into the Church. Instead of focusing on God and using this to elevate man, the leaders in the Church, rather, focus on man, and this almost inevitably leads to appeals to lower and lower parts of man, all for the sake of seeming “cool” or “relevant.”

 

We saw this a few months ago when an Episcopalian cathedral in San Francisco hosted a “Beyonce Mass”. That’s right – a liturgy in which the music of Beyonce took center stage. Those who organized the event believe that her music contains an unique expression of certain Biblical truths which is all too necessary and relevant to today’s situation. The organizer of the event teaches a class in which the lyrics of Beyonce are used as a springboard to the analysis of the Old Testament.

 

There are multiple issues with this. One commentator described the event as a “bringing together of secular music and a religious message to tell a message of empowerment for particularly women of color, but anyone who happens to sing praises to the goddess herself, Beyonce.”

 

Christians are obliged, as a matter of conscience, to fight for justice, particularly in the name of those who are oppressed and marginalized. Yet, worship is not about “empowerment.” There is a saying, first coined in the Patristic era: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivandi – “The Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief which is the Law of Life.” How we pray, how we worship, both influences and gives expression to what we believe, which in turn influences how we live our life. Liturgical worship, as the highest form of prayer, should thus inspire us to live as better Christians, including for our fight for justice. Yet, worship, in and of itself, is centered on God. Forget about how man has certain duties to God, which are fulfilled at least in part in the worship of God. Forget all that stuff about the Eucharist being a participation in and memorial of Christ’s death. It’s about empowerment, which seems here to be defined in the most generic manner, like something one would find in Women’s Studies 101 (but without all the added academic verbiage and with more religious pretense).

 

Further, the organizer of the event, for a living, teaches courses on how Beyonce reflects the message of the Bible. One song contains the lyrics, “I’m a train wreck in the morning, I’m a b**ch in the afternoon…I don’t know why you love me, and that’s why I love you.” Since the audience is ambiguous, this can be seen as a prayer between us and God: we frequently offend God, fail in our moral obligations, but God still loves us, and the infinite love of God should move us to love God in return.

 

I mean, it’s not like there are 2,000 years of Christian and Jewish commentaries on Scripture that make the same point in a more profound manner and with less cliches and vulgarities. It’s not like African-American Christianity has been producing hymns and cultivating a rich spirituality of its own for the past few hundred years. And, if you would prefer to adopt a black nationalist, “back-to-Africa” mentality, it’s not like there areas of Africa where Christianity has existed almost since the dawn of the Church which have their own unique and profound spirituality. (Cyprian who? What’s an Athanasius? Desert Fathers? No, too patriarchal-sounding. St. Augustine? Nah, was too uptight about sex for our taste.) Rather, we need to look to pop stars to find the “embodiment” of “black female spirituality.”

 

Beyonce is the embodiment of black female spirituality? Almost trivializes black female spirituality, doesn’t it? When man focuses in on himself above all else – which, by the way, is the very definition of pride – man falls deeper and deeper into sin, and instead of expressing his or her full potential as a child of God, they contaminate and bring down everything they do. Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Our connection with God is what is the center of our entire being. That’s what gives us our immeasurable dignity. What brings about the immense depravity that results from sin is when we ignore this fact and guide our gaze downward towards anything else but God, acting in accordance with our immediate wants and needs instead of ordering all things towards the highest good, God.

 

When God takes center stage, all that we are and everything we do is elevated by God’s grace. When this is not the case, everything we touch is brought down. It is one thing to examine how religious and culture intersect and influence one another. It is one thing to use the best of whatever culture or time period we live in as a means to evangelize. It is another thing to make some aspect of contemporary culture the center of worship. Hence, the worship was nothing more than a poor attempt to seem relevant to an ever secularized youth, and the spirituality that surrounds it nothing more than a parody of traditional African-American spirituality. Because God was not the center stage, everything else was brought down. Unlike traditional Christian worship, or even traditional African-American spirituality, there is no sense of the transcendent, no sense of God’s presence. When your worship looks more like a concert than a sacrament, your bound to bring about a passing, fleeting sense of joy or profundity at best, nothing that can truly bring us closer to God in the long-haul.

 

This happens when the subjective spiritual view of a small group of individuals is projected onto Divine Worship. Outside of a liturgical realm, you see this in a moral realm. In an article written by John Cornwell in Vanity Fair, the theological differences between Pope-emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis were discussed, and how these differences are causing division within the Church. Speaking of how Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI remained loyal to traditional Catholic views on sexuality. The author goes on to say, “Never mind that new generations of young Catholics were living together before marriage, coming out as gays and lesbians, divorcing and remarrying.” So, we should ignore dealing with whether or not the traditional views of the Church or the Bible are correct, and change Church teaching to get with the times? “Traditional Church teaching does not fit into our own personal way of life, so instead of changing our life to conform to the will of God, we should take the principles that lay the basis for this behavior as axiomatic and expect the Church to change.”

Again, a self-centered mindset brings down everything else, while a God-centered attitude elevates everything. When we conduct our sexual life on our own terms rather than on God’s terms, are we shocked when out-of-wedlock-births increase, so that, as of 2016, 39.8% of births were out-of-wedlock? Or when divorce rates rise (take, for example, how divorce increased in England in the period between 1970 and 1993 from 4.7 for 1,000 people to 14.1 for every 1,000 married people, and that even when it lowered in the period between 1993 and 2014, it was still significantly higher than what it had been 45 years earlier, at 9.3 for every 1,000 married people)? Take also the #MeToo movement. Some say that the #MeToo movement is a reaction to a legitimate issue, namely society’s underwhelming response against “rape culture.” On the other hand, some say that the #MeToo movement blows out of proportion the issue or rape, making it seem as if rape is more common than it is or is even tacitly approved by society, even though the West has more respect for women than any other part of the world. The fact that either of these two things are an option says a lot about the state of contemporary sexual mores.

 

All of these issues and similar ones – whether moral, social, or liturgical – stems from turning our gaze inwards towards ourselves at the expense of turning them towards God. We project ourselves onto the world, accepting what we like, rejecting what we don’t, remaking the world in our own image instead of conforming ourselves to God and ordering all things to HIM. This can only lead to decline, decay and disorder.

Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

Absurdity and the Decline of the West

I was recently speaking with someone on Facebook. This person, in real life, is an outspoken writer and commentator within the traditionalist movement. He spoke of how, in his view, Millenial Catholics are just as irritating as the Baby Boomer Catholics they enjoy mocking and looking down on. And this includes even Millenials within the traditionalist movement. Many of them are known for their snarky attitude and for, in his words, being something along the lines of, if my memory serves me right, “integralist LARPers”.

 

(Integralism is the traditional stance, endorsed by many Catholic theologians [and even many Popes] in the 19th and early 20th century which rejected the separation of Church and State in favor of social models that emphasized the close connection between the Church and the larger society; LARPing means “live action role playing,” and is when a person dresses as a character from a game, and acts out the personal traits of that character while interacting with other LARPers. It is essentially over-the-top cosplaying or war reenacting. His point is that some traditionalist Catholics, especially younger ones, act as if they come from an alternate dimension in which we currently live in an integralist society, or as if the establishing of an integralist society is right around the corner.)

 

This is something I have noticed as well. I’d say that the mindset of younger generations of traditionalists, and younger generations of Catholics in general, is determined by several different factors. The first is that they are shaped, in many ways, by internet culture. This should almost be a stereotype, given what we know about youth culture among any generation currently in their early 30’s and younger. This is significant for two reasons: 1)Concerning some of them being “integralist LARPers,” this may be shaped by the fact that, on the internet, you can find groups of people who think and act just like you. It is very easy to find or form echo chambers. Younger Catholics may desire these echo chambers for several reasons, not the least of which is because, first off, while there is room for debate and dialogue within the study of theology (look at how the De Auxiliis debate has never been resolved in the almost four and a quarter centuries since it began), the Word of God itself, and the infallibly defined magisterium of the Church, are not up for debate. In a world filled with moral relativism, people desire moral certitude, which they do by, unfortunately, giving in to that pack mentality (specifically looking for people who will reinforce their own personal beliefs and biases). Thankfully, some people are manifesting this in the form of traditionalist Catholicism rather than radical feminism on the one hand or the Alt-Right on the other. But further, many young Catholics seek the support of like-minded Catholics as they get attacked on all sides. There is a definite move among younger Catholics (well, at least those who still practice their faith and adhere to the traditional teachings of the Church) to be more theologically conservative and liturgically traditional than their parents or, especially, their grandparents. Even the more theologically moderate youngsters are not as far to the left as their parents. This does not mean that all youngsters are EWTN and ChurchMilitant watching, Latin Mass attending, closeted SSPX supporters, but traditionalism seems to be more of a formidable force among the younger generations. Unlike in the 1960’s and 1970’s, where the larger context was fairly traditional (or at least had the semblance of such), and thus the youth of that era were reacting against that in their crusade to implement “reform”, the context of today is one defined by that same generation running the Church. The secular world is a mess, and things within the Church are not much better. Some among the younger generations of Catholics may believe that the issues of the contemporary period arose when, in an attempt to reform the shortcomings or faults of the past, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. There is thus a desire for a certain element of tradition to be infused back into the Church. This is thus going to get them flack from those outside the Church – why would they of all people want an institution traditionally as powerful as the Church to go back to strongly emphasizing such doctrines as abstinence before marriage, abortion, contraception and gay sex are sins, etc.? – and even from those within the Church who feel that anything traditional is a call to return to the days when women were oppressed, heretics were burned at the stake, and people were not allowed to think for themselves. The internet thus provides a place for Catholics who take their faith seriously and realize that Catholic theology, spirituality and practice had a 19 and a half century-long history prior to Vatican II to seek out other like-minded people for the sake of forming some sense of community and the emotional and moral support that brings.

 

2)This is the nature of the beast. If younger traditionalists seem snarky, it is because humor on the internet is defined by sarcasm, irony, unexpected twists, parodying things from mainstream culture (particularly in counter-intuitive ways), and absurdities. This form of humor, best expressed in memes, has led to the rise of what could be called a “meme culture.” Now, before this sounds like some cliched social commentary from 2012, I think it is important to note a trend that is often ignored outside of religious circles: the rise of forms of humor that combine religious themes with recent trends in internet humor. A quick glance on Facebook will show at least three different Facebook pages titled “Catholic Memes,” a page titled “Roman Catholic Memes,” and others with such names as “TradCatholic Memes,” “Lit Catholic Memes,” “Phresh Catholic Memes from the Papal Meme Office,” and “Traditional Catholic Memes for Working Class Teens.” There are also a series of more general theology-based meme pages, such as “Tommy Aqua’s Summa Memeologica,” “Personal Memes for Theistic Teens,” “Classical Christian Theism Memes for Biblical Teens,” and “Reverend Phlox’s Meme Stash.” There are similar pages among specifically non-Catholic groups, such as “Reformed Memes Daily,” “Calvinist Memes,” “Episcopal Church Memes,” “Methodist Memes,” and “Jewish Memes.” Like every group or subgroup, technology-savvy religious people now have meme pages.

 

There is a part of me that hypothesizes that the appeal of this sort of mindset, even among the religious, is rooted in the fact that reactionary ideologies, polarized public discourse, and absurdism (particularly within the realm of art, music, literature and humor) seems to be an expression of existential angst concerning, or in some cases a coping mechanism (as in the case of absurdism) influenced by, a society in crisis. In some instances it is the final death rattle of a civilization.

 

The polarization of the larger society is reflected in the Church. In 2017, Matthew Schmitz wrote an article for the Catholic Herald on the popularity of more traditional forms of Catholicism among the youth. He spoke of a speech by Pope Francis in which he says that the vision of those who came of age during Vatican II needs to be passed on to the younger generations. Schmitz wrote in response: “Maybe so, but the youth don’t seem to want it.” The young, in my opinion, may be hesitant to walk in the way of their elders because they interpret it not as a variation of what the Church always taught, but as a rejection of or deviation from it. These generational differences take to a feverish pitch that which has already been occurring within the Church for the past 40-50 years.

 

The point I am trying to make is that for the past 50 years, there has been a rivalry between two competing visions of Church teaching, as well as attempts galore to reconcile these two views. We are now at a tipping point. The youth are acutely aware of this. And the quirky or erratic behavior of the youth today is, on some level, a reaction to the reality of this set of circumstances.

Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

Modernity, Morality and Disruptive Change: Who Could’ve Seen That Coming?

On October 25, 2018, Big Think published a video titled “The cult of disruptive innovation: Where America went wrong.” In it, they interviewed the American historian Jill Lepore. I will include a transcript to part of what she said, because I think it is particularly significant:

 

To my view, a lot of our contemporary crisis derives from an abandonment of the idea of moral progress. So, when the country was founded in the 18th century, its framers subscribed to the idea that progress is moral. And that idea of progress came from Christianity. The Pilgrim’s Progress is the journey from sin to salvation. Enlightenment philosophers, like the guys who drafted the founding documents of the United States, didn’t necessarily share that Christian notion of a journey from sin to salvation, but they understood progress in the United States and its founding as an experiment [that] would lead to political progress because it was designed to improve the lives of the most people, that people would act in the sense of a common endeavor, as a republic, that our obligations would be to one another in the form of community and that we should understand achievement as moral progress. That changed over the course of the 19th century when progress came to have a real technological caste – think about the railroad, the telegraph, the camera. People began to think of progress as advancing like a train on a linear track, and each machine would make the world better because things would go faster and goods would become cheaper. And very quickly that idea of moral progress was replaced by progress as prosperity. So, if you were to ask how things are going for the country, the country is prospering, we have made progress. And the slippage from “We’ve made a more just society” to “A lot of people are making a lot more money and goods are cheaper for people to buy,” that’s a real slippage. So then, in the 20th century, progress is even sort of less new forms of production and accelerated forms of production, but accelerated forms of consumption. So, the more people are buying, the more goods people have, [that means] “the standard of living is rising,” therefore we have progress. In the second half of the twentieth century, the idea that there even is progress, technologically-driving progress, begins to fall apart because of Hiroshima. So, people look at the world and [ask], “What’s technological progress gotten us in the middle of the century?” We have built a bomb that could destroy the whole planet, and by the 1950’s we’re destroying the environment, and it may be possible that human life cannot live on this planet indefinitely under these circumstances, or even for the next several centuries. So, there’s a real crisis in the idea of progress. By the time you get to the 1980’s and 1990’s, there’s a new generation of technological utopians, and they start talking about “innovation” as progress. Innovation, historically, as a word, means progress without any concern for morality. Innovation, in the 18th century sense, is bad. Innovation is novelty for its own sake – like, “Just invent it and who cares what the consequences are.” Innovation is historically actually a dreadful and damning thing to accuse someone of. … So, by the 1980’s, there’s such a kind of reckless heedlessness in American businesses. It’s the sort of mergers age, like Wall Street grubbiness…like “the greed is good” kind of thing, that this heedless innovation is fine because this “creative destruction”…this is the engine of economic growth. And nothing else matters – the public good, moral integrity, decency, goodness for more people, the health of the Republic. All that matters is innovation. And then, by the 1990’s, [the question asked is], “Is it disruptive innovation?” “Is it more radically innovative?” “Does it disrupt existing models of business and disrupt existing industries?” And so you get this real embrace of heedlessness as an American value or a corporate value, which is a complete abdication of the [true] spirit of progress.

 

 

So, let me see if I have this right: the Christian view saw progress as moral progress, that is, the transition from a state of sin to a state of holiness, and ultimately salvation. During the Enlightenment, the concept of morality was separated from its Judeo-Christian roots in an attempt to find an objective basis for morality without explicit recourse to God or the categories of traditional philosophy. Yet, at least then there was still some belief in objective morality, and a sense that true progress was growth in virtue (and on a societal level, a growth in justice). Yet, with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, progress became reduced merely to technological progress, which led to the spread of the most morally abhorrent iterations of capitalism. This, in turn, led to materialist and consumerist worldviews which then to the moral degradation of society.

 

Gee, I wish there had been someone who had warned us against this over the course of the past, oh, let’s say century to century and a half. Wouldn’t it have been great if there was someone who would fight against such forces as Communism, Fascism, racism, moral relativism, the oppression of the poor, extreme capitalism, and consumerism, all within the context of a rational defense of traditional values? Oh well.

 

 

Random Polemical Musings, Uncategorized

Capitalism and the Language of Morality

Yesterday was the last day of Politicon, a two day-long event that featured debates and discussions among popular social and political commentators of our time. In the last day of Politicon 2018, the progressive political commentator Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks and the conservative news host Tucker Carlson engaged in a debate on immigration.

 

Based on what I watched from the debate, both sides said what could be described as pretty standard talking points from either side (granted, I was pleasently surprised that it was less adversarial than I expected, considering today’s polarized public discourse). The Catholic view is well-established, and I hope to make a video on it myself in the near future. Yet, there is one thing I would like to focus in on in particular that was said over the course of the debate.

 

A little under nine minutes into the debate, Tucker Carlson responded to the claim that many immigrants coming to the United State are poor and in need of political, social and financial assistance. Carlson claimed that this is not an excuse to let in immigrants indefinitely, since the full political and social ramifications of this are unknown, and possibly negative. The American government has a duty to be selective about which immigrants it lets in and how many immigrants it lets in because the American government does not have any intrinsic moral obligation to foreigners, but only to its own citizens. We are not called to be the world’s policemen or philanthropists. The American government should concern itself solely with the good of its own citizens first and foremost. If the government has any obligation to help the poor, it is the poor within this country. The poor from other parts of the world are not intrinsically entitled to the benefits and opportunities of this country.

 

I’m not here to critique or support this particular viewpoint. I am rather here to deal with what Carlson says immediately after this, to clarify that he is not supporting a sense of cold moral indifference: “Again, I think people of good will have a lot they can do to help those people.” Note what he says: “there is a lot they can do.” The overwhelming point he is trying to make is that the government has no obligation to help foreigners. It seems that here he is advocating for the notion that if the government were to help the large numbers of poor immigrants who enter into this country, the political, social and economic ramifications would be negative and far-reaching. The helping of the poor in other countries is something that should be done more by the private realm than by the public or governmental realm.

 

Again, I’m not debating this point as such. I’m not even making any claims on Carlson’s moral character. But, what I am saying is the way in which Carlson says what he says is very telling. And very problematic. Conservatives who read what I am about to say will accuse me of being a liberal, or that, at the very least, of taking a liberal stance on the issue of immigration. I do not. Liberals will use what I just said to accuse me of being a conservative, which I also am not. But, I think Carlson’s words show the moral limits of the whole “small government, free market” mentality.

 

Carlson’s view seems to be this: You are free to use your own resources to help the poor migrants, and in fact that is a noble thing to do, just don’t use my tax dollars to do so. You feel empathy towards the marginalized? You want to help them? Fine, go ahead; whatever floats your boat. If this is a misrepresentation of Carlson’s thought, or if it is not as nuanced as it could be, I hope someone corrects my thought so I can recant. Yet, helping the poor is not something that you can do; it is something that you must do. It is not something we are free to do as we please, it is something we are obliged to do. Tucker Carlson’s point is distinct from saying that people have different capabilities (mental, emotional, psychological, physical, financial, etc.), and we are only called to help one another to the extent that we are capable; or from the point that your first obligation is to care for those immediately under your protection (family, close friends, local community, etc.). It is a nuanced difference, but an important one. It is incumbent upon all of us to be our brother’s keeper, particularly with regard to the poor and the marginalized. See Matthew 25:34-46, Proverbs 31:8-9, Proverbs 11:25, Psalm 72:3-4, Psalm 140:12, and Isaiah 1:17. I would agree with Carlson that no one can be forced to fulfill their moral obligations. It is not a sign of charity if the government must force you to help the poor. Yet, one recurring theme that I’ve noticed is that, in some circles, things that we must do are often relegated to the status of things that we should or can do. This is an ethical slight of hand taken by conservatives, people who claim to be champions of both a Judeo-Christian worldview and of limiting the authority of the government. How do we recognize that people have objective moral obligations without concluding that we should be forced to do so as a result of more government regulation? Say what Carlson said. Unlike people on the left, I’m not accusing conservatives of being heartless money-grubbers who only care about their own immediate safety and well-being. But, your fear of too much government regulation or unsound immigration policies shouldn’t lead you to the notion that helping the poor and the marginalized is simply something you should do in your free time if you feel like it. It is a responsibility that is incumbent on individuals and societies.

 

This showcases the moral limits of classical liberal thought. In the free market system, no one has any intrinsic moral obligations to anyone else. The only rights people have are negative rights – that is, the right to not be hurt, the right to not be oppressed, the right to not have your free speech infringed, the right to not have your property stolen. The only moral obligations that people have is to not do anything that would hurt others. The only positive obligations I have are the ones I willingly and freely take upon myself in something approximating to a contractual agreement. This is altogether different than saying that people inherently have moral responsibilities towards their fellow man – beyond simply “let everyone else be and don’t hurt them” – and because we have free will we have it within our power to chose whether or not to act upon these obligations (that is, whether or not we fail to act as we ought if the result of our own choices).

 

You see this with Ben Shapiro’s speech at Politicon. He states that negative rights are rights that people intrinsically have simply on account being an individual with a God-given dignity and self-worth; positive rights are those bestowed onto us by the government. He further goes on to say:

 

Now the way you can tell the difference between a negative right and a positive right, just in practice, is whether a right that is articulated requires somebody else’s time or labor in order to effectuate. So, I have the right to bear arms. That doesn’t require anything of you. I have the right to self-defense, freedom of speech. I have the right to my own property. These require nothing of you other than you do not get to invade that right. A right to housing, by contrast, suggests that I have to provide you housing. A right to healthcare suggests I have to provide you healthcare. And that if I am unwilling to provide you these things, then I have violated the social compact and I can be forced to at the point of gun. 

 

No, Ben; the notion that people have a right to housing or healthcare, from a purely ethical perspective, does NOT mean that you can be forced by the government to give it to them. Yes, as a Catholic I admit that the government cannot force you to help your fellow man. As a Catholic I also admit that we are called to help our fellow man only to the extent to which we are capable of acting upon these obligations. And, in some sense, we are speaking past each other: I am speaking of moral responsibility, he is speaking of government policy (not to imply that these things are totally separable in all of their aspects). Nonetheless, Mr. Shapiro’s view, like that of Mr. Carlson, limits itself to speaking of what the government can and cannot force you to do, or which policies are the most politically or economically prudent. It does not, from a purely ethical or spiritual perspective, take into account the fact that we have certain duties to our fellow man. To speak in a manner that would hit close to home for both me and Mr. Shapiro: look to the prophets. What does Isaiah say? “Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) What is expressed here is not merely the notion of not hurting them, but the positive duty to help them, to stand up for them. Look at the Law. The Law presents both the obligation to not violate the rights of others – and thus negative rights – as well as positive obligations to help the poor. Deuteronomy 24:14 says, “Do not oppress the hired man who is poor and needy…” This could easily be interpreted in the sense that Mr. Shapiro is saying: people have dignity, and thus have the right to freedom from having that dignity oppressed. Yet, Leviticus 19:9-10 also outlines certain means by which the people of Israel are to provide for the needs of the poor, and it was expected that all people would follow this. Hence, we don’t just have the duty to not oppress the poor, but also the duty to actively help them.

 

Here, I’m not implying by any means that Mr. Shapiro is a cold-hearted man who doesn’t feel empathy for the poor. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear over the course of the article. And my use of Bible verses is not me saying the classical comeback that “Bible Christians” love to say – “Hey, why don’t you try reading your Bible some time?” What I do mean to do is import some nuance into the thought of the conservative movement, just as the moral presuppositions of the left also need some nuance added to them. Mr. Shapiro’s chief concern here seems to be that people have the right to own their labor and the fruits of their labor, and thus cannot be forced by government mandate to give the fruits of their labor to another. I, as a Catholic, can in good conscience admit that much. Carlson’s chief concern is that a government should only let in as many immigrants as it can handle, and should only let in those who it knows will be able to contribute the most to society. Not really a controversial opinion. But as a Catholic I would also say that all of this is incomplete. Helping the poor, the needy, or foreigners does not need to occur by way of government mandate or overly-lenient immigration policies. But, stepping outside of the realm of what the government has the authority to make you do, or what is politically prudent, it completely overlooks the fact that people, and even societies, have positive duties, and not just the duty to not hurt others or violate their rights. Before the judgment seat of God, the excuse, “It’s my labor, I can do whatever I want with it” won’t work.

 

I’m not saying that this represents capitalism in the fullness of its philosophical nuance. What I am saying is that this is the mindset held by more capitalist-leaning libertarians/anarchists and run-of-the-mill conservatives. The problem is when this perspective takes precedence over all else. Now, I’m not asserting that programs to help the poor shouldn’t also be economically prudent. I’m also not asserting that the United States should blindly let any immigrant into the country. What I am saying is that the mindset I just descried is one manifestation of what happens when rights are held up over duties and responsibilities. Just as identity politics and the “entitlement” attitude is how it is manifested in leftist politics, what I have been just describing is how it is manifested on the right.

 

And whereas liberals have left aside Christian or Biblical values a long time ago, conservatives today are suffering from what can only be seen as a split personality. Paul Ryan, for example, is reported to be a big fan of Ayn Rand. He said he first became interested in politics and economics upon reading the works of Ayn Rand, and is still influenced by her thought today. He once said that he gave out copies of Ayn Rand’s books at Christmas parties, and tries to get his interns to read her books. You know, Ayn Rand, the same woman who said, “He cannot demand that others give up their lives to make him happy, nor should he wish to sacrifice himself for the happiness of others.” The same woman who said that a love for our fellow man that places the good of the other above ones own self-interest is both immoral and impossible. Paul Ryan is also a Catholic, which thus means that he sees as a Divine utterance such words as, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), and “Greater love no man has than this, that you lay down your life for your friends” (John 15:13), and “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Is selfishness a virtue, and empathy something noble but not required, as the ethics of Ayn Rand states, or is self-giving, self-emptying love at the core of what ethically and spiritually constitutes the good life, as Jesus said? You can’t have it both ways.

 

What I ask conservatives to do is, well, make up your mind.