Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Is this Catholicism or liberalism?

The Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, has given a speech urging American Catholics to support the legalisation of millions of illegal immigrants.

What is particularly disturbing about the speech is that it is framed almost entirely within a political liberalism.

The archbishop breezily advocated the creation of a new America via immigration:
“Immigration,” he emphasized, “is a question about America.”

During his remarks, Archbishop Gomez addressed the root of the immigration debate by asking the questions that underlie the issue: “What does it mean to be an American? Who are we as a people and where are we heading as a country? What will the 'next America' look like?”

“What should the next America look like?”

Talk about a fast and loose attitude. There is no concern at all for upholding a people and a tradition, just a casual embrace of change from one America to the next.

Can such a fast and loose attitude really be confined to issues of national identity? If you're willing to throw out your nation this casually, then why not change your church or religion while you're at it. Why not ask "What should the next religion look like?"

To put this another way, most people don't compartmentalise the different strands of their own tradition. If we value our tradition, and see the good in it, and want to uphold it, then we are likely to want to hold to the different aspects of it, including our national identity and the religion associated with it.

But Archbishop Gomez wants us to be so careless of our tradition that we will throw away our national identity in favour of the next one - whilst still caring about the fate of the historic Western religion. He advocates that we adopt an attitude that is both careless and caring - a contradictory impulse that is unlikely to hold.

The archbishop then appealed to a liberal civic nationalism:
The archbishop noted G. K. Chesterton's comment that the U.S. is the only nation founded not on a material basis such as territory or race, but on a belief – a vision.

The Founding Fathers – the writers of the Declaration of Independence – envisioned a nation “where men and women from every race, religion and national background could live in equality.”

But these days all the Western nations hold to a liberal civic nationalism. It is not distinct at all - it makes America no different to Australia or Sweden or Canada. It is a mere pretence that such a nationalism makes America unique.

And here's another problem with basing a national identity on liberal values of equality and non-discrimination. Because every traditional society did discriminate in order to uphold its particularity, then they all failed the test of these values. Therefore, the past is looked on negatively in terms of how morally tainted it was. The archbishop himself has adopted this liberal mindset. He said,
The American Dream has always been “a work in progress...not fully delivered,” Archbishop Gomez told his listeners. Slavery, nativism, and race discrimination have always been blights upon that dream, the reality of which has been both “painful and partial.”

How can you maintain a sense of continuity and a love of tradition if you adopt this liberal understanding of what a nation should be? What does it mean if the word you use to describe the history of your tradition is "painful"?

And how would the church fare if it were held to the same standards? Should American Catholics turn their backs to the historic church because the church discriminated to maintain its sense of itself and of the good that it embodied? After all, the church did not ordain women. It discriminated against homosexuality. It did not see polygamy as being equal to monogamy. You might argue that the church would not be the church if it accepted everything as being equal; that, in fact, it would be pointless to have a church that accepted everything as equal - that it would no longer be meaningfully a church. And you would be right. But the same thing can be said of a nation. If a nation is universal then can it really be a nation?

Which brings me to a final point. Archbishop Gomez peppers his speech with appeals to liberal moral terms, such as diversity and anti-discrimination. This is unfortunate as these are the very moral concepts that are likely to increasingly impact on the church itself in America.

Why? These concepts derive from a liberal idea that what can be truly and definitively known about individuals are their wants and desires. These wants and desires therefore constitute the good that individuals seek, and so what matters is that they can be pursued equally without impediment. Therefore, if there is a morality, it is based on qualities of non-interference, i.e. on concepts of individual rights, of tolerance, inclusion and non-discrimination.

And so when the Catholic Church makes a different kind of moral pronouncement, one based on the idea that something is inherently right and wrong, and that it is so for all people (a non-relativist moral position) it is condemned by liberals as fundamentalist. What is more, it is thought to be judgemental and to violate principle of inclusiveness.

In a liberal morality, for instance, it makes no sense at all to oppose the idea of gay marriage. If that is what people want to do, then to respect their expression of desire equally means allowing them to do what they wish to do. It would be thought mere bigotry or a phobia or prejudice or discrimination to think otherwise. So why shouldn't the church be forced to agree to gay marriage or else face legal sanctions? If, that is, such a liberal morality really is legitimate.

But if it's not legitimate the church should not be using it to justify amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is a dangerous thing for the church to be supporting the use of liberal moral concepts when it wishes to do so, but then to suddenly swing around and object when these concepts are used against the church itself.


  1. American Catholics tend to be different from other type of Catholics.

  2. And Archbishop Gomez was born in Mexico and educated there and in Spain.

  3. "But Archbishop Gomez wants us to be so careless of our tradition that we will throw away our national identity in favour of the next one - whilst still caring about the fate of the historic Western religion. He advocates that we adopt an attitude that is both careless and caring - a contradictory impulse that is unlikely to hold."

    That is very well put. I'll have to remember that.

  4. The last time you discussed immigration and Catholicism, you invoked the traditional Catholic doctrine of the "ordo caritas", which struck me at once as both true and false. I just couldn't put my finger on it well enough to comment.

    I think I can now:

    The ordo caritas is true in a generic way, but often false when it comes to specific people and relationships, particularly the outliers and "misfits" of a society. It ends up alienating these people and, quite unintentionally I think, giving them no righteous way to live as themselves, forcing them to choose between self-realization and righteousness. We end up making enemies of our ugly little ducklings, so to speak. Is that really God's plan for diversity?

    You quoted the Church's formulation of the order, "The precedence is plain enough...Regarding the persons alone, the order is somewhat as follows: self, wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, domestics, neighbours, fellow-countrymen, and all others"

    But Jesus, for example, had no wife. Indeed, this is what he said about the greatest love:

    "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Friends clock in all the way down at number 7 on the Church's list, though; He also said,

    "For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother," (Mark 3:35) which potentially moves someone at spot number 11 up to 4.

    I wonder sometimes if the excesses of liberalism are partly reactions to the excesses of Christian traditionalism, which created too rigid and regimented an understanding of life, exasperating misfits and giving birth to rebellion, aka "liberalism". There is a reason Paul warns fathers not to exasperate their children. I suppose the advice applies to the Father State as well. If it was the Bohemians, the fringes of society, who were the most ardent liberals, isn't it partly because the Church's rigid order left no room for them and didn't bother to try?

    Wouldn't Jesus' own loves have had a hard time fitting into the "ordo caritas"? But it's His Church!

    I agree with your overall points about mass non-white immigration, feminism, homosexuality, etc., etc. Their destructive effects are plain enough for anyone with eyes to see.

    When it comes to defeating the excesses of liberalism in immigration or elsewhere, I just don't think reasserting the excesses of the past is going to work too well. What if the various "liberation" movements which we so revile are working to our good after all, as a rebuke to a pharisaical over-systemization of life that Jesus Himself wouldn't recognize and that, in the end, isn't much life at all?

    We've got to be principled without being pigheaded, rational without being heartless. I think we have to focus far more on the person of Jesus to get it right.

    He built the West. Why do we think we can rebuild it without Him (not His "principles", but Him)?

  5. One last point: Archbishop Gomez is a case in point.

    On a general, policy level, our government would be better advised to ignore him and follow the ordo caritas, safe-guarding the historic, Anglo-European nation that once defined America.

    On a personal, individual level, we everyday Americans would be better advised to treat him as Jesus would: as a misfit who is going to have a hard time fitting into our historic nation. If we did that, we would look for ways to help him live his unique life most fully without, as you rightly point out, endangering ourselves or others for whom we're responsible.

    I guess my objection to your discussion of the "ordo caritas" is that it provides the misfit no way to live out non-conforming loves and attachments in a righteous way that does not harm the society around him. It is good to help him live life fully. I think it's part of the way we keep him from turning his life into a human wrecking ball that harms the rest of us.

  6. These concepts derive from a liberal idea that what can be truly and definitively known about individuals are their wants and desires.

    That idea is false. You cannot truly and definitively know anyone's desires. All you can know is what they say they want, right now. They could be lying, and they could change their minds one second from now. And, of course, anyone with a child can tell you that as often as not you cannot, for their own good, give them what they say they want.

  7. These wants and desires therefore constitute the good that individuals seek

    The idea that the desires of the moment are "good" is obviously absurd on the face of it.

    Moreover, liberals don't even believe that. Tell them you desire a cigarette... or fast food... or to cut down a forest... or to expel non-whites from the neighborhood... they will NOT tell you that these desires are "good" and society should work towards them.

  8. Nah,

    You're right in your second observation, that liberals are willing to oppose desires that hurt no one but ourselves on health grounds. You could see that particularly in the early 1900s - it was thought legitimate to talk about "hygiene" when taking a moral stance. It's interesting to consider why: perhaps again it is thought a neutral, scientific, observable, expert limitation rather than an attempt to impose one self-defining concept of the good on someone else.

    As for your first point, the way liberals would respond is that we ourselves are the only ones who really know our desires, therefore we should be left alone as individuals to autonomously pursue them.

  9. Bartholomew,

    I'm not suggesting that we follow the ordo caritatis in a legalistic way, putting people we know in a kind of numbered queue. I mentioned it because it shows that the Church did not historically pursue a hippy like abstract universalism, but knew that individuals were situated within particular relationships from which derived particular responsibilities. A clear message in the Bible is that these responsibilities do not abruptly end with those we are most closely related to, but nonetheless they still exist.

    I don't think liberalism arose because Christianity was too rigid in its concept of life. There were perhaps different reasons why liberalism appealed to people - there were intellectuals who wanted to try to understand human consciousness "scientifically" - along the lines of the natural sciences - and this project pushed toward radical forms of scepticism and nominalism.

    There were also powerful economic forces in the early modern era which wanted to undo traditional sources of authority. The routines of anonymous, urban life also seem to foster a certain degree of individualism.

    And people rebel for lots of reasons. Being a spirited teenager and having a bad relationship with your father can bring about rebellion. You don't need to be a misfit.

  10. the way liberals would respond is that we ourselves are the only ones who really know our desires, therefore we should be left alone as individuals to autonomously pursue them.

    Yeah, I guess that would explain why the Left won't leave anybody alone, rabidly tries to shape people's desires in the "correct" direction, and violently strives to suppress the expression of "incorrect" desires.

    Because they want to leave people alone to pursue their desires.

    And you still believe a word these liars say?

    Incidentally, liberals do NOT believe we really know our desires. That's why they invented the concept of the "false consciousness" -- to advance the notion that you don't really know what you want, and you should trust them (the liberal elite) to know what's better for you than you do.

  11. I don't doubt the Archbishop's integrity, but it would be naive to ignore the fact that the Catholic Church in the United States would have shrunk even more dramatically over the last fifty years if not for the constant influx of illegal Mexican immigrants. By and large the American Church has failed miserably at passing on the faith to the native born flock. Importing a new flock helps them prop up their sagging numbers.

    An anecdote from my time as a seminarian: Mexican parents would bring their children with them to the parish office and request that their sacramental preparation classes be in Spanish, even though the kids knew English as well as we do. Even Father let his exasperation slip occasionally.

  12. Somewhat off-topic, but relevant to OzConservative's recent threads on education and liberals:

    Professor Ed Byrne, vice-chancellor of Monash University - in other words, as complete and typical a representative of New Class left-liberalism can be imagined - confirms what I said in a comment only recently about the laughably low academic standards of Australia's schoolteachers, en bloc.


    Coming from the vice-chancellor at a college which (non-Australian readers might not know this) has ever since the Vietnam War been as complete a leftist bughouse as Berkeley ("Berserkley") or the London School of Economics, this complaint is interesting. Of course I have no doubt that Mr Richardson's own teaching colleagues - by contrast to those whose marks Professor Byrne deplores - are among the greatest geniuses since Descartes, among the greatest humanitarians since Mother Teresa, and so forth.

  13. Mr. Richardson wrote,

    " And people rebel for lots of reasons. Being a spirited teenager and having a bad relationship with your father can bring about rebellion.

    Are you really denying that liberalism is a rebellion against the traditional order? And are you unaware that liberals themselves explain their liberalism as a moral crusade to stop the suffering of the Other, i.e. the misfit?

    Do you really think the likeliest reason for Gomez' liberalism is...a bad relationship with his father?The man is a Hispanic; of course he feels out of place in traditional American society.

    Your own analysis demonstrates that liberalism is a revolt against the established order because that order impedes individual freedom, therefore it's the enemy. But why would people well-adjusted and happy with the traditional order overthrow it? They wouldn't.

    Liberals themselves freely admit they're liberals because they don't fit into mainstream society. Columnists like Leonard-look-a-little-funny-Pitts to author and law professor Kenji Yoshino the point of whose book "Covering" was that liberalism frees you from having to cover up your otherness (i.e. Misfitness) to Peggy Mac Intosh's infamous knapsack, which pity partied blacks' otherness as an extension of her own pity-partying femininity, were social misfits first, leftists later.

    Yes, liberals value individual autonomy. But why?

    You can (and already have!) disprove liberalism. The misfit won't care. Liberalism gives him something traditional society apparently does not: the chance to realize his non-mainstream desires and still feel good about it. Until we can offer an alternative that can bring him back into the mainstream and tradition, neither the misfit nor his sympathizers (who are legion) are ever going to give up liberalism.

  14. But Bartholomew,

    Liberalism is the philosophy of the mainstream. It could never have triumphed with the support of the misfits alone.

    I grew up in a homogeneous, Anglo middle-class environment and it was wall-to-wall liberalism. It was like a marker of belonging to a tribe. The problem is that the chosen marker of the tribe was also fatal to the tribe's existence.

    But there weren't the intelligent voices to point this out.

    And, yes, the misfits seize on this weakness to push their own agendas, but we can't build our society with the misfits.

    There are always going to be misfits. What matters is what those who ought to be upholding a society and a tradition believe. That's the group we lost - we need to get back some of them.

  15. Robert,

    It's true that ATAR scores are too low for teaching. But at my school there are up to 100 applicants for each job. The principal is in a very strong position to select a capable person.

  16. it would be naive to ignore the fact that the Catholic Church in the United States would have shrunk even more dramatically over the last fifty years if not for the constant influx of illegal Mexican immigrants.

    I agree, but this can't be the whole explanation, as significant figures within the Church are also pushing for large-scale Muslim immigration to Western countries. One of my local Catholic parishes seems to be mostly dedicated to this aim.

  17. Mr. Richardson,

    You are right to say that liberalism never could have triumphed without the support of the mainstream. You are also right to say that winning back that mainstream is key to defeating liberalism.

    But why adopt liberalism as one's tribal marker in the first place?

    Liberalism won upper-middle class Christians over because it did a better job of being Christ to the outcast than stodgy old traditional-types did.

    Think about the example of Jesus Christ. Whom did Jesus choose as His disciples? The "mainstream"? Those who "ought to be upholding a tradition"? No. Jesus chose and elevated blue collar workers, prostitutes and crooks.

    In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same." Luke 6:32-33.

    Love for the least of these is the heart of Christian and liberal morality.

    It is crucial to whites' sense of morality that others think we are Christ-like in our treatment of the least of these.

    To defeat liberalism and to win back the support of the elite whose patronage you rightly say we need, we are going to have to demonstrate that ultimately, a traditional world is a better world for everyone, including the misfit.

    People think that the traditional Christian order of the past turned its back on the outcast, and liberals came along and fixed that.

    When I pass this objection on to you, the response I get back is that you don't care about the misfit. Don't you see how devastating that is to our cause in their eyes? It makes us look like the devil incarnate in their eyes. We'll never win going about it like that.

  18. That should have said,

    "Love for the least of these is the heart of Christians' and liberals' morality".

  19. Bartholomew,

    I have points of agreement and disagreement with your comment.

    I don't think there is any single way that liberals came to liberalism. Early on, in the earlier days of classical liberalism, the motivation was often not an altruistic concern for the misfit, but the idea that people ought to be able to pursue their own self-interested desires.

    Even in the mid 1800s a prominent liberal like Herbert Spencer was happy to think in terms of survival of the fittest.

    In fact, the harshness of classical liberalism explains in part the rise of a new liberalism, what we now call "left-liberalism" in the later 1800s.

    Why did liberalism prosper early on when it had such a low natured view of things? I suspect part of the answer is that a philosophy of acquisitive individualism suited the nascent capitalism of the urban dwellers in the early modern period.

    Where do I agree with you? I do think that secularised Christian values have had some influence in shaping liberal modernity.

    I think you go too far in claiming that "love for the least of these is at the heart of a liberal morality" - I wouldn't say it is at the heart - a certain concept of autonomous freedom based on a certain concept of an abstracted individual is - but as much as liberals would want to deny it, it's likely that the Christian value has had some influence in shaping the liberal culture.

    Bartholomew you wrote:

    People think that the traditional Christian order of the past turned its back on the outcast, and liberals came along and fixed that.

    I'm not sure that's right. The traditional Christian order of the past was rejected because it didn't fit in well with the new scientistic test of knowledge - a liberal epistemology (theory of knowledge) is fatal for religious belief. And the final blow for the religious belief of the Victorian elite came from Darwin.

    I'm not sure either that Christianity was widely perceived as stodgy or exclusive.

    My own memory is that the influence of Christianity on Australian culture was to create a sense of "goodwill amongst men" which had a positive effect on community feeling.

  20. Bartholomew,

    Where I do agree with you is that liberalism has established a powerful moral narrative that has become part of its strength. This moral narrative does base itself on the idea of a struggle of the victimised against oppression in a fight for equality and rights.

    To attract some people you do have to appeal to their moral imaginations.

    I suspect that at the moment though what we really need to do is to attract a layer of quality intellectual types - thinkers rather than emoters. That's because the non-liberal right is growing but is in too confused a condition intellectually. We need some intellectual leadership from those who are able to put forward a coherent world view. The appeal to a moral narrative should ideally come after this.

    And what about the misfits? First, I don't think it's great to be a misfit. It often represents a disordered condition. So when we are urged to extend our love in Christianity I don't believe it means that we happily accept the "mifittedness" itself. In loving the prostitute, for instance, we are not obliged to accept prostitution itself. We don't have to make a place for prostitution in order to love the prostitute.

    Would a traditional order be better for women who are oriented to prostitution? Not in the sense of accepting a choice to become a prostitute. We would want the fewest women possible to do so. I would like to think we would help these women by discouraging the choice in the first place, for instance, by having a more stable family life; by having a less permissive morality; by combating drug use more effectively and so on.

  21. Bartholomew, you wrote:

    It makes us look like the devil incarnate in their eyes.

    Here I disagree. We look like the devil incarnate in their eyes because we still believe that predetermined qualities like our sex and our race should be asserted in ways that might limit the choices of some other people. For instance, we believe sex should be a determinant of who is chosen to be employed as a combat soldier in the army. We believe that in order to uphold distinct ethnies that race/ethny should be a determinant in who gets to choose to migrate to different countries. That's what puts us beyond the pale in terms of a liberal morality.

  22. Huh. Apparently Australian liberalism has diverged sharply from the US variety. Concern for the Other is the driving force here of the morality of liberalism.

    Auster put it memorably this way. In the liberal moral script, there are two actors and an object: good whites, bad whites and non-whites. Good whites distinguish themselves from bad whites by practicing non-discrimination on non-whites. Bad whites do the opposite. It doesn't matter what non-whites do. They act as a kind of judge, providing feedback to whites on how well they're practicing non-discrimination (usually not well enough).

    That formulation only covers race, though. If we substitute "outcast" for non-white and "mainstream" for white, then we can pretty well explain every other division in the US including race too.

    As for the idea that liberals have a positive view of Christianity as having created "good will toward men", I have no idea what you're talking about. Surely, you must be aware of pervasive attacks on the Church by academia. Just a few weeks ago, I listened to a US National Park officer's complain several times during a guided tour of old Spanish missions about the Catholic Church's evil treatment of the natives. I am glad to hear that liberals so respect the Church in Australia. In the US, as any American commenter here can confirm, the situation is very different.

    Also one minor but noteworthy point, I did not say that loving the least of these was at the heart of liberal morality. I said that it was the heart of liberals' morality. In other words, loving the least of these is what pumps liberals' blood so to speak and adds a religious fervor to their otherwise dry and academic creed.

  23. Bartholomew,

    We don't seem to be understanding each other's positions. I thought you were arguing that Christianity was historically too rigid in dealing with misfits and that this brought about a liberal rebellion against the traditional order.

    I was sceptical that Christianity was, in fact, rigid in this way - in Australia its influence was to encourage a warm communal feeling.

    Liberals in Australia are not as anti-clerical as in some other countries, but that's possibly because the churches do not have as much of an influence here.