Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mark Steyn On The Catholic Church in America

I don't agree with everything Mark Steyn says in this piece, but he's right about a lot (and he's done his homework--how many commentators can quote Henri de Lubac's The Drama of Atheist Humanism?). Excerpts:
Discussing the constitutionality of Obamacare's "preventive health" measures on MSNBC, Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post told Chris Matthews that she reasons thus with her liberal friends: "Maybe the Founders were wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, but they did..."

According to that spurious bon mot of Chesterton's, when men cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything. But, in practice, the anything most of the West now believes in is government. As Tocqueville saw it, what prevents the "state popular" from declining into a "state despotic" is the strength of the intermediary institutions between the sovereign and the individual. But in the course of the 20th century, the intermediary institutions, the independent pillars of a free society, were gradually chopped away — from church to civic associations to family. Very little now stands between the individual and the sovereign, which is why the latter assumes the right to insert himself into every aspect of daily life, including the provisions a Catholic college president makes for his secretary's IUD.

Seven years ago, George Weigel published a book called The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, whose title contrasts two Parisian landmarks — the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the giant modernist cube of La Grande Arche de la Defense, commissioned by President Mitterrand to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution. As La Grande Arche boasts, the entire cathedral, including its spires and tower, would fit easily inside the cold geometry of Mitterrand's cube. In Europe, the cube — the state — has swallowed the cathedral — the church. I've had conversations with a handful of senior EU officials in recent years in which all five casually deployed the phrase "post-Christian Europe" or "post-Christian future," and meant both approvingly. These men hold that religious faith is incompatible with progressive society... private many Democrats agree with those "post-Christian" Europeans, and in public they legislate that way. Words matter, as then-senator Barack Obama informed us in 2008. And, as president, his choice of words has been revealing: He prefers, one notes, the formulation "freedom of worship" to "freedom of religion." Example: "We're a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses." (The president after the Fort Hood murders in 2009.) Er, no, "we're a nation that guarantees" rather more than that. But Obama's rhetorical sleight prefigured Commissar Sebelius's edict, under which "religious liberty" — i.e., the freedom to decline to facilitate condom dispensing, sterilization, and pharmacological abortion — is confined to those institutions engaged in religious instruction for card-carrying believers. This is a very Euro-secularist view of religion: It's tolerated as a private members' club for consenting adults. But don't confuse "freedom to worship" for an hour or so on Sunday morning with any kind of license to carry on the rest of the week. You can be a practicing Godomite just so long as you don't (per Mrs. Patrick Campbell) do it in the street and frighten the horses...

The Catholic Church is the oldest continuously operating entity in the Western world. The earliest recorded use of the brand first appears in Saint Ignatius's letter to the Smyrnaeans of circa a.d. 110 — that's 1,902 years ago: "Wherever Jesus Christ is," wrote Ignatius, "there is the Catholic Church," a usage that suggests his readers were already familiar with the term. Obama's "freedom to worship" inverts Ignatius: Wherever there is a Catholic church, there Jesus Christ is — in a quaint-looking building with a bit of choral music, a psalm or two, and a light homily on the need for "social justice" and action on "climate change." The bishops plead, No, no, don't forget our colleges and hospitals, too. In a garden of sexual Eden, the last guys not chowing down on once-forbidden fruits are the ones begging for the fig leaf. But neither is a definition of "religion" that Ignatius would have recognized. "Katholikos" means "universal": The Church cannot agree to the confines Obama wishes to impose and still be, in any sense, catholic.

If you think a Catholic owner of a sawmill or software business should be as free of state coercion as a Catholic college, the term "freedom of conscience" is more relevant than "freedom of religion..."

The Obama administration's "freedom to worship" leads to the same soulless destination: a church whose moral teachings must be first subordinated to the caprices of the hyper-regulatory Leviathan, and then, as on the Continent, rendered incompatible with public office, and finally, as in that Southampton homeless shelter, hounded even from private utterance. This is the world the "social justice" bishops have made. What's left are hymns and stained glass, and then, in the emptiness, the mere echo:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar . .
Go read the whole thing.

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