Monday, February 20, 2017

Internal conflicts

An article at the Catholic Herald takes the line that the Church is now in a "full blown" doctrinal crisis.

I must admit, the article makes a pretty strong case.

There are two issues relevant here:   on the one hand, there's the matter of who can access the sacraments; but the bigger issue is that so much of that question is tied to the matters of sex and marriage.

But I tend to think this is all part and parcel of a slowly evolving crisis of Catholicism hitting modernity - the debatable point being when do we say "modernity" began.

Although it can be argued that it goes back much further, I'm inclined to think the really serious challenge starts with Darwin.  (And don't forget, the other big change in understanding humanity comes with knowledge of the true, vast extent of the universe, which only dates from about 1925.)  Catholicism, to its credit, somehow never got caught up in denying evolution, and it can even claim a hand in the idea of the Big Bang; but that doesn't mean that both don't present challenges to the concept of Original Sin.   Close on Darwin's heal, Freud may have been nuttily obsessed with some of his pet ideas, but he and Jung successfully set the groundwork for people assuming they have to dig deep into their unconscious to understand their "true" self, which is then perceived as essentially immutable.  By the end of the 20th century, the ubiquity of computers and the rise of the idea that everyone is a meat robot, with no free will but only the trick perception of free will, has become more pervasive and only exacerbates the role of the unconscious, and as such it's (of course) extremely corrosive to the idea of a Church, or God's Grace, having any significant role in life.

These forces, combined with the Church's over-reach in push back against modernity with it formalising the Pope's infallibility, followed up by using it in the mid 20th century for a doctrine that seems, to put it mildly, esoteric to the modern mind (I'm talking the Assumption of Mary); and then the rejection of contraception even if it's of a kind that prevents conception (yes, even a condom used by a married couple renders the sex "wrong"); the Church has been losing doctrinal credibility at a slow but steady pace over  about 150 years.

The Church's attempt to get cool with modernity, via Vatican 2, brought up its own logical difficulties, with the insistence on a "properly informed conscience" being paramount in assessing moral behaviour, while denying that any Catholic could reject the Church's teaching on what is moral.  And it was all undercut by the lack of compelling logic in the blanket rejection of contraception in the same decade.

The result is that in a very large part of the globe,  the congregations have taken doctrine, and the use of the sacraments, into their own hands, effectively:  confession and the power it implied in the local priest has almost vanished; the concept of sexual sin has been greatly diminished;  in fact the whole definitive categorisation of the seriousness of different sins is seen as improbable now;  and people with failed marriages (especially if the fault is all their partner's) resent the idea that they cannot participate in communion if they re-partner.   (Annulments are possible, but seen as an unnecessarily complicated de facto acceptance of divorce.)   Those who are living outside of the Church's teaching on sexuality will often just partake in communion anyway - they are very unlikely to hear a condemnation of their behaviour from the pulpit, and unless they want to grandstand, the priest handing out communion is not to know what they do in the bedroom.  For those in gay relationships, there has been the startling turnaround in sympathy for them amongst the laity, and many clergy.  The Church's behaviour in the child abuse scandals in many nations, as well as its less than stellar role in confronting European fascism in the mid 20th century, have further hurt the perception of the Church's moral authority.

So yes, I think the Church is facing a very difficult future.   Intellectually, I am inclined to think that some sort of schism may be the only way of resolving it, but it's not as if the Church's assets can be easily divided up between the conservatives and the more liberal elements.    So the Henry VIII approach can't be repeated.  Which perhaps means that it is really is going to continue dragging out for years yet.


not trampis said...

The problem the catholic denomination has is with the Bible or God's word.
The bible says ministers whom cannot rule their household in a godly way cannot be ministers yet their ministers are SINGLE.

Jesus made it clear the only excuse allowed for a divorce was adultery and even here forgiveness was needed.

as for homosexuality no sex is allowed. nor is it for normal heterosexuals until people are married.

Mayan said...

The Catholic church is nothing more than a transnational child abuse syndicate. The world will be richer for its passing, and indeed the elimination of Christianity and Islam in general.

Paul Montgomery said...

Surely it's too late in the piece for a schism. The next time they elect a firebrand conservative Pope, he might bring the Church elites to heel with some sort of neo-Inquisition but it's not as if he will be able to do much of anything among the regular churchgoers, the Church doesn't have that sort of power any more.

They will continue to slide into senescence. It's not as if there's any sign of fresh young blood coming through the ranks.