Bad Catholics and Honest Pagans


G.K. Chesterton has often been acknowledged as the master of the paradox, the apparent contradiction of two different and incongruous propositions or positions. Any familiarity with the “Apostle of Common Sense” will quickly see that paradoxes flow from Chesterton’s pen like water from a spring. Some of his most famous paradoxes include his definition of courage, which he described as “a strong desire to live manifested in a willingness to die,”(Orthodoxy) and one of his defenses of the rationality in believing in miracles was that it is just as rational for a theist to believe in miracles as it was for an atheist to disbelieve in them since the only legitimate reason to not believe in miracles is if one only believes in materialism (St. Francis of Assisi). Perhaps one of Chesterton’s greatest paradoxes came in his 1910 book, What’s Wrong with the World, in which he stated “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

As with his other paradoxes, this last one seems ridiculous, particularly to us enmeshed in the modern world. It seems much more logical to think that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well, as the more common utterance of the saying puts it. But this is forgetting the reason why paradox is so powerful, a fact which Chesterton never lost sight and which explains why he used it so profoundly and with such great results. Paradox, as Chesterton explained, was simply “truth standing on its head to gain attention.” A paradox, therefore, cannot be looked upon squarely as one does with something that is standing right end up; instead, one must look at it a little more closely before it can be seen correctly.

What Chesterton was explaining was that there are some things that are important enough to be done for their own sake. Whether one is successful at first in achieving the worth-while goal is not the question, nor is it really the goal of the endeavor. What matters is that one tries one’s best and utmost to achieve the goal, even if it takes numerous attempts to finally achieve the prize. This mode of thinking can be summed up in the Japanese idiom, “Fall seven times and stand up eight.”

One of the problems of our times, however, is that people do not want to stand back up and neither do they want to fall down. And this brings us to Tim Kaine. Since Hillary Clinton named him as her vice-presidential running mate, much ado has been made of Kaine’s Catholicism, much of the ado coming from Kaine himself, who will often speak of how his faith has influenced him in the past and how it still continues to influence him. The difficulty is that an examination of his time in public office makes these claims impossible to believe. As the Washington Post wrote, Kaine is an advocate of “gay marriage,” even though the Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only be achieved through the procreative union between a man and a woman, and though Kaine himself has said that he is “personally opposed to abortion,” he has received a perfect rating from Planned Parenthood for his support of fallaciously termed “reproductive rights,” even though the Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil and can never be sanctioned. To those Catholics who cast doubt as to the seriousness which Kaine gives to the teachings of his Church, Kaine has dismissed them, saying, ““How many of us are in the church and are deeply serious about our faith and agree with 100 percent of church doctrine? I would argue very few Catholics are in that position. We’re all working out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

Although it might seem unrelated, the fairly new Satanic temple is kith and kin to Kaine. Although the group, through its name, seems to proclaim that they are followers of the Devil, this is not really the case. Lilith Starr, the leader of the Satanic temple’s Seattle chapter said, “At our core, we are an atheist activist group. That’s why we exist.” To reinforce this point, the temple’s website declares quite boldly, “We are atheistic; we do not believe in supernatural beings like God or Satan. We celebrate the literary Satan as a potent symbol of rebellion against tyranny.” The entire point of the temple, according to Starr, is to allow people who are “fed up” with the American religious-right, a chance “to do something.”

The thread that unites so-called Catholics, such as Kaine, and Satanists who do not believe in Satan, such as Starr, is their abject dishonesty. Kaine may still be Catholic ontologically, by virtue of his Baptism, and still does claim the mantle of Catholicism and continues to hear Mass, but, by his actions and his revolt against Church teaching, he has turned himself practically into a modern, leftist Gnostic who believes that he can change reality and dogmas to fit his own temperament and personal beliefs. In the same way, the modern and self-declared followers of Satan are a sham since they do not believe in him except as a symbol of rebellion which, it turns out, fits their own rebelliousness. They do not want a master, as a proper religion is supposed to give; they simply want a mascot. In this sense, as Chesterton again opined, the so-called pagans of today are not even pagans since the real pagans of the ancient world at least believed that there was something to the world besides swirling atoms and chemicals. In the same way, as Cardinal Raymond Burke pointed out after Ireland’s marriage vote last year, while the pagan world may have practiced and tolerated homosexual behavior, they never equated it with marriage. The members of the Satanic temple are just as fundamentally dishonest as the Kaine-Catholics.

Unfortunately, Kaine’s nominal Catholicism has become the norm. In March 2013, the Pew Research Center ran a survey to find what American Catholics believed and the results were not simply sobering but terrifying: according to the poll, 76% of American Catholics believed that artificial birth-control (Birth prevention, as Chesterton rightly put it) should be permitted by the Church; 54% believed that marriage should be in-defined to include homosexual pairs, and 67% believed that homosexuality itself, despite the unbroken teaching of the Church, was not morally wrong. This nominalistic approach to religion is not confined to Catholicism: many other Christian denominations are falling like dominoes to the “dictatorship of relativism” and blatant unorthodoxy. New York’s Episcopal Cathedral, for example, will again be the host of “Christa” the nude, female Christ because, since, as New York’s Episcopal bishop, Andrew Dietsche, said, “In an evolving, growing, learning church we may be ready to see ‘Christa’ not only as a work of art but as an object of devotion…” Modern “pagans'” only rule is to do what they wish so long as it causes no harm, without any real definition of what harm is. This devolution of religion–Christian and pagan–is disastrous for ourselves, our country, and the world at large.

In the first place, it is fundamentally dishonest. Words and definitions, whether acknowledged or not, have specific meanings and cannot be changed on a mere whim to suit individual preferences. Attempting to twist the meaning of a word, which one does not own, in order to twist the reality behind that word to fit oneself is a lie of great magnitude.

Secondly, this attempt to pervert the meaning of words and realities brings about the direct undermining of the religion which one professes to hold by holding onto the title of that religion. The entire point of real religion is that there is something beyond this world–another order, another state of being and other beings–and the entire point of being faithful to the religion in question is to be faithful and attain that order and other state with those other beings. This means that there will have to be sacrifices made on our part–a Catholic must forgo sex until marriage; a Roman had to offer sacrifices to gods at certain times of the year; an Egyptian was expected to feed the hungry and care for widows. In other words, religion is supposed to change those who are part of that religion, to make them worthy to attain that other order and state. By twisting the definition of religion, what one inevitably does is make it so that rather than the religion changing us, the world changes us. Tim Kaine used to express his belief in the nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman; now he claims that pairs that practice homosexuality can also be married because his political party now expresses the new opinion. Satanists used to offer animal sacrifices to the Devil; now, it is simply a club for people who want to be “edgy” because that is the virtue which modern society promotes. Faith has ceased being alive and, instead, has merely become a set of dead rites and actions which serve to differentiate one group of people from another in superficial ways.

Thirdly, this devolution of religion has made bad Catholicism and honest paganism more scarce. Some may find this an odd observation since it would seem that weeding out bad Catholics and honest pagans would be a good thing and, because, individuals such as Kaine and Starr would seem to be the quintessential example of what bad Catholics and pagans would look like. But, to insert a paradox as was Chesterton’s want, Kaine and Starr are not bad Catholics and honest pagans. The bad Catholic is the one who knows that he is not good, who knows that until he dies and is given his just reward from God, there is still time and room in his soul fro sin and error. As such, the self-acknowledging Bad Catholic is the one who continually strives to follow his Master more perfectly than the day before. The thought of the Bad Catholic is, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The result of this is that it is the Bad Catholic who actually advances in his spiritual growth and, as such, waters the world with the grace of God. This is because, rather than creating his own version of his faith and thus making himself the measure of his faith, the Bad Catholic possesses a measure of faith and faithfulness that exists outside of himself, and, because of this, the Bad Catholic is able to measure himself accurately while the nominal Catholic cannot. As C.S. Lewis said in his Mere Christianity,

For change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged…wherever there is real progress in knowledge, there is some knowledge that is not superseded.  Indeed, the very possibility of progress demands that there should be an unchanging element…the positive historical statements made by Christianity have the power…of receiving, without intrinsic change, the increasing complexity of meaning, which increasing knowledge puts into them

Nominal Catholics, rather than moving toward a definite goal, can only float along in whatever direction the world or public opinion blows at a particular moment, as Kaine demonstrated with his shift on the essence of marriage and in his unapologetic defense of infanticide. But this drifting along in the most recent current is not even faith. As David G. Bonagura, Jr. explains faith is,

To believe is to accept as true what someone else knows and has seen for himself. The believer, not having access to what the witness knows, relies entirely on the witness’s account; he fully assents to its truth because he trusts the witness. To believe, therefore, is an act of freedom, since immediate reality does not compel his assent, as does, say, the acts of addition or subtraction. The believer wills his belief, not because he has seen the evidence, but because, in the words of Josef Pieper, he wants “to participate in the knowledge of the knower.”

This principle may be explained again with the story of Socrates. The oracle of Delphi declared Socrates to be the wisest man in Greece. Socrates, when he heard this proclamation, was puzzled since he knew that he was not the wisest man in Greece. To prove the gods wrong, Socrates began his famous interrogations, feeling sure that with his method of question and answer, he would find the man who was wiser than he. As he progressed along this quest, however, Socrates came to realize that he was the wisest man in Greece precisely because he knew he was not wise. The man who believed himself to be wise would stop seeking knowledge while the man who knew he was not wise would continue to seek and learn the truth. It was only by recognizing the standard of truth that lay outside of himself and the incomplete understanding which he had of that standard, that Socrates knew he could become wiser than he was.



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