Fr. Jape, one last time
Perhaps it is worth pursuing a little further my conversation with the pseudonymous Fr. Jape (which, rumour has it, is actually pronounced "yappy"), although my past experience with such dialogues is that they eventually reach an impasse in which the parties begin to retrace old ground, as I suspect is happening now after reading Fr. Jape's post of 1 July, "Who's the Boss
Short of that, however, there is a bit more to be said on the subject of liberalism and the public witness of the christian community. Fr. Jape's last post
on the subject is illuminating for more than one reason, and he makes a number of observations to which thoughtful response is due.
First, "Fr. Jape":
I believe on a number of specific points I have already indicated what I would prefer, and Prof. Koyzis and others are welcome to peruse my past writings.
Fair enough, but when referring to his own past comments on an issue, he would do well to provide specific links. Continuing:
In the realm of generalized and abstract theorizing, otherwise known as daydreaming, I would offer as a model the decentralized city-states of the Middle Ages. But, of course, it does no good, nor does it make any sense, to suggest that now. It is possible to gesture weakly in that direction by advocating certain policy positions — the reforms suggested by Allan Carlson come to mind — and these I heartily support.
Indeed, there is a long tradition within political philosophy favouring decentralization, on which I published an article some years ago: "Reclaiming the Polis: The Anticosmopolitan Vision and the Quest for Genuine Political Community
." Given that I have long been fascinated by this vision, as propounded by Aristotle, Rousseau, Hannah Arendt, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and many others, I can easily resonate with those championing local communities in which face-to-face intimacy encourages the sort of civic friendship (to use Aristotle's famous phrase) necessary to the doing of justice. So far so good. However, lest this be seen as wholly opposed to the modern centralized state, one should point to the related notions of federalism and subsidiarity capable of harmonizing unity and diversity. An exploration of these might keep "Fr. Jape" from despairing so quickly after offering his decentralized model. And then this:
But in the main, I do not think there is any real hope for "reform" of the late-liberal state. I think the best answer is to resist disorder personally, and if one is truly successful at this, it will spill over into one's family and one's immediate community. Hunker down and wait for the big crash per MacIntyre and Eliot. See what's salvageable from the rubble.
Ah, now we're getting somewhere. "Fr. Jape" is not just rejecting the spiritual direction of liberal ideology; he appears to be abandoning the state and politics altogether, an oddly anabaptist move for even an invented tridentine cleric to make. By contast, I question the propriety of speaking of the "liberal
state," as if a destructive ideology is capable of so tainting one of the key authoritative institutions in society as to render it irremediable. This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Marxian tendency to disparage concrete societal structures by prefixing them with bourgeois
, as in the bourgeois
marriage, &c. This sort of thing is no more persuasive jumping from the jesuitical jaws of "Fr. Jape" than it is meandering from the mouths of Marx and his minions.
One of the things I came to appreciate about the neocalvinist vision when I first came into contact with it three decades ago is its strong view of creation as a normative order which continues to shine
even amidst the disordering impact of human sin. Abraham Kuyper referred to this as common grace. Not too long thereafter I learned that Roman Catholicism embraces something comparable under the rubric of natural law
. This emphasis on the goodness of creation is considerably weaker in many subtraditions within Christianity, which is why, in my estimation, Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity nearly uniquely have the resources to enable us to articulate something approximating an holistic worldview consistent with the faith — one which is capable of addressing the diversity of human life as lived in all its fulness. Despite the impact of the idolatrous ideologies in their various manifestations, one cannot speak in an unqualified way of the "liberal" state, the "socialist" state, or what have you.
Now, of course, "Fr. Jape" could be correct in his estimation of the spiritual condition of the larger culture in which we find ourselves. Perhaps we are in a situation similar to that of Jeremiah during the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet, even if our civilization does collapse and we find ourselves to have survived into the new era, we will still be faced with the task of restoring just governance within whatever conditions emerge out of the cataclysm. Reflection on the normative task of government will always be needed, and Christians are well equipped — better equipped than most people, I would argue — to engage in this task.
The question thus remains: is it the normative task of the state to encourage religious uniformity among its citizens or even to favour one confession over another? Although Fr. Jape's compelling anticosmopolitan vision does not appear immediately relevant to this issue, there is good reason to assume that it would oppose
a centralizing state arrogating to itself such powers. Indeed, most Christians I know would quite sensibly shrink from permitting a government to reach beyond its normative field of competence to set an official religious confession for its citizens. Yet this does not stop "Fr. Jape," who appears not to fear such a measure being used unjustly against himself, from arguing the opposite, and seemingly contrary to his own church's magisterium.
It is at this point that I draw attention to a revealing Freudian (or perhaps "Japian") slip. In his comment
left on my blog "Fr. Jape" writes:
"Regarding DH: that unfortunate document, is, thankfully, being consigned to a quiet death through the rather Cromwellian interpretation given it by the Holy See and the Holy Father."
The apparent implication is that his church has erred, since Dignitatis Humanae
is rather obviously located right on the Vatican's website
and is an approved document of the Second Vatican Council.
However, when this remark reaches his own blog, he draws back, evidently alarmed at the implications of what he has just written for his claimed obedience to his church's teachings. Here is his revised version:
"With regard to Dignitatis Humanae, that document contains some unfortunate language which, in the hands of the hermeneutically uninitiated, dangerously suggests a rapprochement between the Church and the modern liberal state. Fortunately, this aspect of DH is being permitted a quiet death by the rather Cromwellian interpretation of that document given by the Holy See and the Holy Father, much to the chagrin of those liberalizing elements of the Church.
Now the emphasis is no longer on an "unfortunate document," but on "unfortunate language" subject to misinterpretation by the "hermeneutically uninitiated." Hmm. I'll leave others to draw their own conclusions as to Fr. Jape's real convictions. Assuming, of course, that it makes sense to ascribe real convictions to a fabricated priest.
It seems evident, however, that for him the alternatives boil down to two alone: (1) the confessional state, which professes and encourages true belief in its own citizens, or, failing this, (2) a general withdrawal of Christians from the larger society to maintain small-scale, local communities in which God is explicitly honoured. The rather large middle ground, wherein we might — short of the Final Consummation — come to a modus vivendi
with our unbelieving (or perhaps other
-believing) fellow citizens through political means, is spurned as necessitating a hopeless compromise with liberalism. Ordinary politics in a multiconfessional polity would apparently become impossible in the Japian vision. Yet Thomas Aquinas understands
that not all evil — even, I might add, the evil of idolatrous individualism — is capable of being repressed by political authority and its laws. Both neocalvinism and neothomism understand that among the proper tasks of the state is not that of executing the last judgement, a task belonging to God alone. In the meantime, as Augustine puts it, the two cities inevitably live intermingled in the institutions of the larger society.
So, yes, we must indeed live and work with our liberal, socialist &c., fellow citizens when and where we are able, despite their regrettable tendency to flatten the genuine pluriformity within human society. We shall have to live with laws which only imperfectly, if at all, protect the unborn, marriage and family; care for the commons; nurture political community and the plethora of other, nonstate communities; and undertake to address poverty, homelessness and other social ills. In the meantime we shall continue doggedly to push for something better within the public square, which we would be ill advised to abandon simply because it is deemed to be tainted by a liberalism which, in gnostic fashion, has been improperly ontologized.
Ultimately the central flaw in Fr. Jape's position can be summarized as follows: Without thinking through the normative jural task of the state in a differentiated society (why should the state, of all institutions, be responsible for setting the confessional direction of its citizens' lives? we still don't know), any effort to articulate and identify the character of an ideological distortion of this task, whether under the rubric of liberalism or something else, will be singularly unpersuasive. After all, in
justice can be understood only against the backdrop of justice. One does not begin with sin; one must begin with the created structures which sin has perverted. Otherwise liberalism becomes little more than an empty cuss word, as it has evidently become on the lips of "Fr. Jape."
This will likely be my last post in this conversation. "Fr. Jape" is welcome to the last word, if he likes. (In fact, I cannot imagine him declining it when offered!) I will leave others to continue the dialogue, if they are so inclined.