Friday, 2 October 2009

Cafeteria Catholicism On The Right

The splendid Stuart Reid writes:

Is cafeteria Catholicism on the Right - that is, among people who often identify themselves as conservatives or even as traditionalists - now a greater a threat to orthodoxy than cafeteria Catholicism on the Left?

Maybe. The excellent Thaddeus Kozinski certainly believes it is. Kozinski is the young American philosopher who, as I reported a little while ago, identified "gnostic traditionalism" - the exclusivist and paranoid thinking that leads to a cult mentality among some traditionalists. (Some, please note, my dear brothers and sisters. You will find no blanket condemnations in Charterhouse [the name of his column].)

Now, in the latest issue of Social Justice Review, a Catholic bimonthly published in St Louis, Missouri, Kozinski argues that the false reasoning of Right-wing Catholics, at least on the subject of war, poses a more dangerous temptation to the pious, orthodox Catholic than the false reasoning of Left-liberal Catholics on abortion.

Kozinski does not actually use the term "cafeteria Catholicism". Instead he talks of "sophistry", and distinguishes between the sophistry of the Right and the sophistry of the Left, both inside and outside the Church. He dismisses the Right-wing Michael Novak, for example, as a "warmongering Catholic dissenter" and the Left-wing, ostensibly Christian Barack Obama as a leader whose policies and political rhetoric suggest that he is "practical atheist" with whom there can be no dialogue.

But why is the Right a greater threat to the pious, orthodox Catholic than the Left? The answer, says Kozinski, and this applies almost as much to Britain as it does to the United States, is that pious, orthodox Catholics are not fooled by the liberal Left; they accept Church teaching on, for example, abortion without reservation and are not tempted to abandon it. They might, however, be fooled into taking a thoroughly unCatholic view of the Iraq war by the sophists of the Right, not least because opposition to it has been presented as somehow liberal and subversive, perhaps even unpatriotic.

There is a lot of denial - in other words, of cafeteria Catholicism - on both sides. Just as the Left tempts the unwary to believe that no one really knows the status of the foetus, even though the position of the Church is absolutely clear, so the Right tempts the unwary into believing that no one really knows the status of the Bush-Blair war, even though the Church has decided against it, at least indirectly, in her general condemnation of preventive war (and of course the Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, held that it was unjust).

"The attempt to remain agnostic on the justice of a particular ongoing war," writes Kozinski, "especially one involving one's own country, is uncannily similar to the Catholic pro-choice sophistry; it is a manifestation of the 'Right-wing' version of the liberalism and Modernism that have seeped into the human element of the Church, especially in America." Think about it, says Kozinski: "We have an obligation to use our reason to evaluate morally acts of war as much as we do acts of abortion, and though with war, unlike abortion, we have to look at the particulars and judge the issue case-by-case, in the case of the Iraqi war the particulars are no longer so obscure. The evidence of systematic and deliberate lying about the war's origin and its purported motivation, of the non-existence of any imminent threat of violent danger to the US (ius ad bellum), and of the deliberate targeting of civilians and systematic use of torture in the war's execution (ius in bello) is there for all to see who wish to see."

I agree with much of what Kozinski says, and find it especially pleasing that he does not issue shrill or sarcastic condemnations. Myself, I'd get a bit bellicose here and describe the Catholic hawks as invincibly ignorant, perhaps because they were brought up on the legend of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, or, if they don't go back as far as the Fifties, on films like Independence Day; but Kozinski uses rather more sober language:

"I do not wish to imply that pro-life, pro-war Catholics were or are knowingly and deliberately defending an unjust war and thus murder; I shall also refrain from judging the 'pro-choice', anti-war Catholic in his support for what is objectively murder. For I think that both are victims of the sort of sophistry and propaganda that severely attenuates one's knowledge and hence one's culpability."

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