Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

I cannot shake my own sense . . . that this tiny step [of the pope’s towards moral responsibility], measured against the consensus that people of good will and many Catholics had long ago reached on this issue of condom use, is far too little and far too late. As Rome dithered, people have been dying, after all. I cannot shake my own sense that there is really precious little to celebrate today in the way the Catholic church responds, at an official level, to situations in which there is an imperative need to give better and more humane moral leadership to the faithful (and moral witness to the world at large).

I cannot escape my sense that there’s tremendous irony in hearing centrist Catholics who little more than a year ago bent over backwards to parse and defend Benedict’s statements about how condom use is making the AIDS crisis in Africa worse, now praise the pope fulsomely for his humanity in conceding that using condoms to prevent lethal infections may save lives, and that that goal may be morally preferable to its opposite. What kind of ecclesiological universe must these fellow Catholics live in, when every word that falls from the papal lips is to be venerated, celebrated – and defended, even when the defense tortures reason and calls into question our credibility as reasonable, and more to the point, humane and caring persons?

I place the grateful outpouring of praise for Benedict’s small concession about condoms against the backdrop of the church we were on our way to becoming after Vatican II – the church he and his predecessor John Paul II stopped dead in its tracks – and I wonder if those now celebrating this tiny step in the right direction, particularly well-educated centrist Catholics in dialogue with contemporary culture, have any concept of how strange we have come to seem, as a church. A church that only a few decades ago encouraged lay people to read, learn, study, enter fruitful dialogues with contemporary culture, now finds its moral voice in the world so caged that we sit around waiting for the man at the top to make a tiny statement suggesting a more humane approach to a serious medical-moral issue, and we go wild with joy.

What kind of people are we now? What kind of people behave this way? What kind of community of faith that expects to have moral credibility engages in such uncritical, entirely defensive adulation of its chief spokesperson, while systematically bridling and then removing from its midst almost any and all voices of moral insight and conscience that do not run in approved channels?

Not an admirable community, I would propose. And not a very humane one.

– William D. Lindsey
Benedict and Condoms: Shift Occurs, I Remain Underwhelmed
November 24, 2010

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Pope Embraces an Acceptable Form of Relativism
The Pope’s Latest Condom Remarks
Thoughts on Relativism
Vatican Considers the “Lesser of Two Evils”

Recommended Off-site Link:
Vatican Tries to Clear Confusion Over Condom Use – John Hooper (The Guardian, November 23, 2010).


Mark said...

"moral insight and conscience"

Bill asserts this is what is being offered. Is this true and how do you know?

If the pastors of the Church are wanting, the why should I (or anyone) listen to anyone else, whether "anyone" is an individual or a group?

I am not playing a word game. If I, as an individual believer, am spiritually & intellectually equipped to be my own final arbiter of faith and morals, then that's that, isn't it? When a primacy of conscience is asserted, isn't individual autonomy the final expression of that primacy?

Its hardly Catholic to give such short shrift to the believing community.

So, if community is important, am I to consult the entire community for assistance in moral decision making? Maybe, but that's not very efficient or practical.

How about scholars, the "doctors" as Newman calls them? Scholarship is not synonymous with pastoral decision support; scholarship can aid that process, but it doesn't replace it. Unless you know of scholars who delight in aiding the confused and in answering the question "What should I do?" My experience of scholars is that their pastoral roots don't run very deep. They quickly become exasperated with the unwashed, telling them "Go figure it out for yourself."

There seems to be a space for the prophet, who reflects the communities collective experience and wisdom back to itself, out to the world, and also to the individual believer. Much is made of the phrase "Speaking truth to power." Who will speak truth to the power of Almighty Individual?

If Benedict is not acceptable, I sure don't need a theologian telling me what to do.

Paula said...

Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks, Michael, for posting William Lindsay's heartfelt lament and thanks, Marky, for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you, Marky, that the almighty individual is not on his/her own spiritually and intellectually equipped to be the final arbiter of faith and morals. The community of scholars, pastors, faithful people, all have wisdom that has to be listened to. I hear you saying that it is Benedict's job to be the spokesman for that community to us as individuals and you depend on him for that. Do I understand you correctly? I never thought of it just like that before, but it sounds like what I believe too.
But the problem that William Lindsay points out, I think, is that this particular spokesman and John Paul II before him, have not listened to the community well enough or discerned the fundamental moral point clearly enough or quickly enough to be lauded as spokesmen. Can you say that isn't a just criticism?

Joe said...

Bill is one of the most articulate critics of Vatican sex-discourse, and he always assesses it in a very thought-provoking way.

Freedom of conscience means that while we listen to the wisdom of the most qualified and the guidelines of religious authority, it is up to our conscience to decide how to proceed. Any situation that prompts us to moral questioning is likely to contain complexities that are not easily resolved in a black or white way. People imagined that the Church had black and white answers on the sexual front, but Benedict's murky remarks and the hugely complex interpretive commentary they have already generated has suddenly thrust on us the realization that this realm is as complex as any other. Will Catholics now grow up and assume their freedom of conscience?

Mark said...

Joe and Paula, thank you both for your comments, but is there no distance between, no difference between, "freedom of conscience" and "doing what I want?" The flips side of freedom is responsibility, yes?

I am not a Biblical literalist (sic) and I am not fond of proof texts. That said, I found the interpretation of Matthew 7:1 - "“Do not judge, or you too will be judged." - used in common discourse to be eisegetical (sic). Today the phrase "don't judge" is a typical response when I say I am acting according to my informed conscience, and somebody challenges my information, my conscience and my actions. The way this phrase is used today is not the way it was used by the community Matthew was writing in, too and for 2,000 years ago.

The reverse must also be considered, that whatever Matthew's community was dealing with, it is not necessarily true that we are dealing with the same thing today, or that "don't judge," the way the ancients said those words (or something like them) and heard them, applies currently, but I digress.

I assert that primacy of conscience must be questions - constantly. Why? Because human beings can and do find ways to justify selfish, harmful behavior under the cover of the "informed conscience."