False Comfort Print
By David Warren   
Saturday, 09 February 2013

There are so many ways to derive false comfort from the situation of the Catholic Church today – in Canada, the USA, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain, etc. – that one becomes bewildered sometimes, trying to choose between them. Each is so easy to kick away.

False comfort may be found in circumstances that range from the small and local, to the historically vast; but there are also many pseudo-consolations to choose from at a more spiritual level.

Starting from the bottom, I derived great comfort recently from learning that, on the average Sunday in the Netherlands, there were now more Catholics than Protestants attending church. At the Orange heart of Orange, I think the proportions were now 5 and 3 percent of the population, respectively. Ive lost the link, but it isnt really needed. The numbers look plausible enough.

In the snow outside the nursing home where I visit my mama, I shared a cigarette the other day with a wheel-chaired old lady, age towards ninety, who derived comfort from learning that she had now outlived a lifelong enemy: someone she had hated since childhood. This struck me as somewhat similar to our victory in Holland.

Statistical consolations may be projected in many ways. It does not surprise me, for instance, to hear that the birthrate among “traditional,” in the sense of church-attending, Catholics is higher than that for lapsed Catholics; and ditto among Christians generally. In no time, or very little, we will be seeing the last of “them” off, by this happy reasoning.

Orthodox Jews have overtaken their variously “reformed” co-religionists in New York City, it was also reported somewhere. While not exactly Jewish myself, I took great pleasure from this news. For it seems to me the average Orthodox Jew is a lot more Catholic than most of the “cradle Catholics” I know. God give them strength, raising their children.

To my mind, the “population bomb” already exploded. The self-righteously childless may not live to see their dark visions realized, of huddled starving masses in an ecological catastrophe. They have better: versions of self-righteous childlessness have globally prevailed. We look forward now to crashing populations, throughout the West, and wherever Western bourgeois life is imitated  everywhere, when I last checked.

The consolation here is to imagine, say, a New York with a lot of unoccupied real estate, whose radically shrunken population consists almost entirely of Traditional Catholics and Orthodox Jews, with perhaps a few carriage-borne Mennonites for additional flavor, riding through the weeds along Fifth Avenue.

Ditto Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in a Netherlands partially re-flooded by the North Sea. It will be Catholic again, at least with respect to the Christian population. They will however be substantially outnumbered by strict-Shariah Muslims.

           St. Peter Preaching in the Presence of St. Luke by Fra Angelico, c. 1433

But perhaps the “population bombers” showed more foresight than we did. For in their brief moment under the sun, they successfully twisted the entire educational, cultural, legal, and administrative apparatus of every Western society – to be sure that lives like theirs would be considerably easier for the children of the future. Or more candidly: to be sure that the children of Christians would be systematically corrupted.

Thus may the “death spiral” continue through subsequent generations. In each, “the trads” lose the majority of their children to “the culture” – to Sodom and Gomorrah and the Nanny State. In each, those “trads” retain the empty consolation that they have supplied the children for the next diminishing round.

Larger false consolations build upon these. Let me point to the frequently stated belief that we are back to the challenge we faced in the first Christian centuries. The pagan world is once again collapsing around us, but a Christian remnant still carries the torch of the first Christians.

But “we” – faithful Catholics and other “backward-looking” Christians – are not anything like the first Christians. At best, we are compromised by unavoidable participation in a decadence now of our own making. We have behind us five centuries of bloodshed and division within our own camp. That, after all, is how paganism came to be restored.

From this we may derive the alternative “spiritual” false consolations. At the back of every “traditional Christian” mind is the longing for separation from the world we find around us: from Sodom and Gomorrah and the Nanny State. It is false where it is not accompanied by a specific, individual calling to the monastic life.

The attraction of retreat to Catholic hippie communes – or let us say, “Mennonitizing” ourselves – must be seen for what it is not. It is not Catholicism. It is communistic utopianism.

Moreover, even if it were attempted, the Feds would come after us. Neither in the United States, nor anywhere else in the contemporary Western world, does the State any longer leave citizens alone. All agencies of all States are now fully pro-active, and no one is exempted from regulatory command.

It is against this background – what I believe to be these realities – that I notice George Weigels new book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.

Mr. Weigel himself has developed through the last three decades into an ever more astute observer, not only of ecclesiastical affairs, but of the world situation. From what I can see his basic thesis is the correct one. We are not experiencing an historical repeat. There may be historical parallels in this feature or that, but the overall case is unprecedented. Yet it calls for the same old “game plan.”

There is no alternative to evangelizing. There never was. No rearguard defense of Catholic “tradition” or “values” can staunch all the bleeding. In crass Canadian ice hockey terms: we are going into the next period down five goals, and while better defensive play might be indicated, it is not going to win the game. More fundamentally: Christ did not send out his apostles to sit on their lead, either. 

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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