The Bigotry of Progressive ThinkersRICHARD BASTIEN
Anti-Catholic bigotry was described by Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. as “The deepest bias in the history of the American people.”
Peter Viereck of Yale once described ant-Catholic bigotry as “the anti-Semitism of liberals.” Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. regarded it as “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.
It has almost become the trademark of Canadian media feature writers, whose liberal progressive creed calls for regular doses of contemptuous remarks against the Catholic Church's moral teaching and historical record. This creed also has the likes of an addiction: the dosage is growing month by month.
What realty makes the media angry is the Church's refusal to accommodate the spirit of our time by softening its notion of contraception, fornication, adultery, sodomy, abortion and divorce as “grave sins.”
Such a deception, it is usually argued, shows how “far behind the times” the Catholic Church remains and betrays a lack of compassion, understanding and intelligence on the part of the “boys in Rome” who govern it.
There are three points to be made on such commentaries. The first is that they assume the Catholic Church is alone in teaching that adultery, sodomy, abortion, etc., are evil. Yet. while there are many things in Catholicism that at unique to it, those items are clearly not.
The sexual ethics of Catholicism are not very different from those of other religions. Most people brought up in the Judaic, Muslim or Buddhists traditions believe things such as adultery, homosexuality and abortion always have been and will be wrong. Moreover, some Protestants, Anglicans and Presbyterians notably, still believe such things are wrong. Why single out Catholicism?
The second point to be made is that anti-Catholic commentaries assume the leaders of the Church are somehow free to define what is moral and what is not. Their authors usually fail to acknowledge in even the slightest way what every faithful Catholic takes for granted—that the moral teaching of the Church is prescribed not by man but by God.
Occasionally, they will refer to the need for a bona fide religion to remain true to its “founding principles.” But they understand the latter as “directives for daily conduct” such as help to the needy and forgiveness of wrong-doing. Yet, while such prescriptions do correspond to Catholic teaching, the fact they are common to most religions makes it clear they cannot constitute its founding principles.
This brings us to the third and most important point, which is that anti-Catholic commentaries in our media tend to confuse religion with ethics. Certainly, all religions include a system of ethics. But they also embody a metaphysical system in which their ethics are grounded. There cannot be any ethics without some metaphysics. This is as true of the ethics of progressive-liberal thinkers as it is of Catholics.
For example, progressive-liberal thinkers believe any idea, especially one that has to do with sex, to be better just because it's new, (a mirror image of Conservatives, who believe a thing to be better for being old). Yet, acceptance of what the Church teaches has nothing to do with whether it is old or new.
It has to do with the fact that it is eternal. Catholics, as indeed all true Christians, believe that truth and goodness are rooted not in time but in eternity. Progressives and conservatives hold the opposite view, which is why they are more alike than they think. Both believe that good and evil is a function of time and has nothing to do with anything that might stand above individuals. Progressive-liberal thinkers also hold firmly to another fundamental belief that people are pure undivided goodness. This belief is contrary to the entire Judeo-Christian traditions as it constitutes a denial of original sin, for example, the inclination in each of us to act against the laws of human nature.
There are many things that flow from this progressive liberal faith in the pure goodness of man. One of them is that the source of evil does not reside in a person's free will, as Christians believe, but rather in inappropriate social and economic structures. That is why progressives tend to ignore the importance of character formation in education. They see government programs rather than the virtuous life as the way of building a better society.
That is why they tend to blame inanimate objects such as guns (too many) and condoms (too few) rather than people. That is also why they consider Christian detachment and chastity to be absurd remnants of days gone by. No wonder they do so much proselytizing. They have a metaphysical agenda of their own!
It is not the progressive-thinkers dislike of Catholic sexual ethics that makes them bigots. Rather it is their emphatic denial that Catholic ethics can be explained by anything else but the whims and caprices of “the boys in Rome.” If progressives and liberals were content with noting that they cannot accept ethical rules based on Christian metaphysics, nothing could be held against them. But what they do is express contempt for ethical rules that do not accord with their own metaphysical beliefs.
As G. K. Chesterton once said, there is no worse dogmatist than he who is unaware of his own beliefs. He constantly runs the risk of falling into the very intolerance that he claims to abhor.
Richard Bastien, “The Bigotry of Progressive Thinkers,” Ottawa Citizen, 24 November I992.
Richard Bastien is a senior official in the Canadian Department of Finance and a contributor to various journals.
Copyright © 1992 Ottawa
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