JUDGES 21:25

Monday, March 12th, 2012 | Uncategorized

Roman Catholics will be interested to learn that Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame and someone who claims to be a Catholic, recently discovered that the Reformation is finally over and that the Protestants won:

What interests me as a philosopher — and a Catholic — is that virtually all parties to this often acrimonious debate have assumed that the bishops are right about this, that birth control is contrary to “the teachings of the Catholic Church.” The only issue is how, if at all, the government should “respect” this teaching.

Good question since Gutting thinks that Catholics have pretty much plowed it under and sowed the furrows with nuclear waste.

As critics repeatedly point out, 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women practice birth control, and 78 percent of Catholics think a “good Catholic” can reject the bishops’ teaching on birth control.  The response from the church, however, has been that, regardless of what the majority of Catholics do and think, the church’s teaching is that birth control is morally wrong.  The church, in the inevitable phrase, “is not a democracy.”   What the church teaches is what the bishops (and, ultimately, the pope, as head of the bishops) say it does.

The bishops aren’t the boss of us!!

But is this true?  The answer requires some thought about the nature and basis of religious authority.  Ultimately the claim is that this authority derives from God.  But since we live in a human world in which God does not directly speak to us, we need to ask, Who decides that God has given, say, the Catholic bishops his authority?

Who died and made the bishops religious leaders?

It makes no sense to say that the bishops themselves can decide this, that we should accept their religious authority because they say God has given it to them.  If this were so, anyone proclaiming himself a religious authority would have to be recognized as one.  From where, then, in our democratic, secular society does such recognition properly come?  It could, in principle, come from some other authority, like the secular government.  But we have long given up the idea (“cujus regio, ejus religio”) that our government can legitimately designate the religious authority in its domain.  But if the government cannot determine religious authority, surely no lesser secular power could.  Theological experts could tell us what the bishops have taught over the centuries, but this does not tell us whether these teachings have divine authority.

Out: cujus regio, ejus religio.  In: vox populi vox dei.

In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer. It follows that there is no alternative to accepting the members of a religious group as themselves the only legitimate source of the decision to accept their leaders as authorized by God.  They may be wrong, but their judgment is answerable to no one but God.  In this sense, even the Catholic Church is a democracy.

You know that joke I like to make about how in the future, everybody, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, will be an Episcopal bishop for fifteen minutes?  As far as Gutting is concerned, every single Roman Catholic is a bishop right now.

But, even so, haven’t the members of the Catholic Church recognized their bishops as having full and sole authority to determine the teachings of the Church?  By no means.  There was, perhaps, a time when the vast majority of Catholics accepted the bishops as having an absolute right to define theological and ethical doctrines.  Those days, if they ever existed, are long gone.  Most Catholics — meaning, to be more precise, people who were raised Catholic or converted as adults and continue to take church teachings and practices seriously — now reserve the right to reject doctrines insisted on by their bishops and to interpret in their own way the doctrines that they do accept.  This is above all true in matters of sexual morality, especially birth control, where the majority of Catholics have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them.  Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops.

So you can take all those cafeteria Catholic, cultural Catholic and CINO blasts and stick ‘em where the sun don’t shine, pal. 

The bishops and the minority of Catholics who support their full authority have tried to marginalize Catholics who do not accept the bishops as absolute arbiters of doctrine.  They speak of “cafeteria Catholics” or merely “cultural Catholics,” and imply that the only “real Catholics” are those who accept their teachings entirely.  But this marginalization begs the question I’m raising about the proper source of the judgment that the bishops have divine authority.  Since, as I’ve argued, members of the church are themselves this source, it is not for the bishops but for the faithful to decide the nature and extent of episcopal authority.  The bishops truly are, as they so often say, “servants of the servants of the Lord.”

You get the idea.  The blithering idiocy of Gutting’s claim should become patently obvious by asking yourself a simple question.  Is it immoral for a Christian to own a slave?  Most, and hopefully all, Christians would say of course it is.

But according to his own proposition, Gutting can’t honestly answer the question, at least not directly.  Because there was probably a point in this country’s history where the majority of American Catholics, while they would never have owned a slave themselves, had no moral objections to other people owning them.

So according to Gutting, if a Catholic bishop of that time decided that he agreed with the abolitionists, he would have been derelict in his ecclesiastical duty because he read the Scriptures, prayed and listened to the Spirit rather than listening to the voice of the people, most of whom probably would have thought he was going Protestant on them. 

Gutting apparently believes that morality can be determined by majority vote, a concept which would greatly interest all the adulterers in Roman Catholic pews as well as take a great deal of pressure off any surviving Germans who enthusiastically supported Adolf Hitler in the early 1930′s.  So Gary Gutting’s “morality” is nothing more than societal convention and is correspondingly worthless.

Or take that draconian anti-homosexual law proposed in Uganda, a measure which would severely criminalize homosexual activity.  If the vast majority of the Ugandan people are shown to be enthusiastic supporters of that measure, should that country’s religious leaders either change their minds and support it or keep their mouths shut?  If he wants to be consistent, Gutting would have to say yes.

The fact that quite a few American Catholics ignore church teachings is completely irrelevant.  It’s quite true that there are Catholics who are Catholics because they were born into it, it’s a family tradition or they married someone who was and didn’t feel like contesting the issue because to them, one Christian church is the same as another.  The same is true for Protestants, Orthodox, Muslims, Jews and everything else.

On the Christian end of things, there are very few people who take this stuff seriously, who investigate it, who read and pray about it, who don’t reject church teachings because they get in the way but try to observe them as best they can, who repent when they fail and try again and who refuse to appeal to theological crack whores liberal “theologians” to help them find loopholes around commandments that they’d really rather not have to observe because, well, three-ways are fun.

But I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know

Actual leadership, particularly actual spiritual leadership, occasionally involves sticking your neck out, telling people what they don’t want to hear, taking them places they don’t want to go and accepting whatever consequences might result.  Anyone who thinks, as Gutting seems to, that Christian leadership necessitates that Catholic bishops bow their reading of Catholic doctrine to suit the whims of the laity should really avoid reading the Gospels or the entire New Testament, for that matter.

We already have one Episcopal Organization.  We don’t need another one.

23 Comments to JUDGES 21:25

Arnold
March 12, 2012

I for one do not believe that the Reformation has won the overall contest but it certainly did with Gutting.

Truth Unites... and Divides
March 12, 2012

“We already have one Episcopal Organization. We don’t need another one.”

That’s what the Liberal Catholics look like they’re trying to do!

And these LibCat dissenters aren’t disciplined.

But if you are a faithful priest who denies Holy Communion to a lesbian buddhist? You get disciplined by being suspended by the archdiocese!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post_now/post/gaithersburg-catholic-priest-suspended-for-intimidating-behavior/2012/03/11/gIQAF4lk5R_blog.html

Go figure.

Gilbert
March 12, 2012

In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer.

Where do I apply to get tax exempt status?

Smurf Breath
March 12, 2012

In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer.

This is “rolling your own theology” this isn’t Protestantism. Protestants hold to Sola Scriptura. Catholics may not agree that this is workable, but it’s not the same thing as this blatant admission that he is making up his own religion.

This is above all true in matters of sexual morality, especially birth control, where the majority of Catholics have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them. Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops.

He’s trying to make virtue of necessity here. The fact on the ground is that many Catholics are disobeying the moral authority they claim to follow. Gutting tries to spin this as an “essential constraint”.

I wonder will B16 do to this guy what he did to Hans Kung?

Katherine
March 12, 2012

There’s hope for Catholics. Paul Rahe, who wrote the essay “Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil” to decry where the bishops’ involvement with government has led says here that this weekend he heard the first homily on chastity in at least thirty years. So many Catholics don’t understand the Church’s teachings because the Church failed to teach them.

Truth Unites... and Divides
March 12, 2012

“I wonder will B16 do to this guy what he did to Hans Kung?”

Hans Kung got off light.

Elaine S.
March 12, 2012

“Because there was probably a point in this country’s history where the majority of American Catholics, while they would never have owned a slave themselves, had no moral objections to other people owning them.”

While the Catholic Church didn’t take a strong “official” stand against slavery prior to the Civil War as did some Protestant denominations, that may have been more due to the fact that the Church had a lot of other things on its plate, like the rise of the anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement, convent burnings, serving an exploding immigrant population, etc.

It appears, however, that the Church did teach slave owners to treat their slaves with dignity and to respect their marriage and family ties (by not selling children away from parents or spouses away from one another).

Some Catholic slave owners allowed slaves to enter sacramental marriages and have their children baptized. One such slave was Augustine Tolton, born in 1854 in Ralls County, Missouri, to a Catholic slave couple. (The remote country parish in which he was baptized still exists and his baptism is recorded in its register.) During the Civil War he escaped with his mother and siblings to Quincy, Illinois; he later became one of the nation’s first black priests, and is now in the early stages of the sainthood process.

The subject of how the Church’s approach to slavery in the 19th century contrasts with its approach to abortion and gay marriage in the 20th and 21st centuries would make an interesting essay, or even a book — which I would write if I had the time or resources or inclination to do so.

Rondon
March 12, 2012

Have hope, Professor Gutting. Surely, after this Ratzinger fellow leaves the stage, the next pope will provide you with a Catholic Church which meets your every desire. If not the next pope then most certainly the next. Or perhaps the next. Or the next. Or the next. Oh, heck. You’re never going to see it. So, for the sake of your sanity, please remember this. The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.

Diane
March 12, 2012

Gutting is confused: the existence of authority is not dependent upon acceptance of said authority.
God gave authority, period, whether laity respond to it or not.

LaVallette
March 13, 2012

So Mr. Gutting:

Since: “Most Catholics — meaning, to be more precise, people who were raised Catholic or converted as adults and continue to take church teachings and practices seriously — now reserve the right to reject doctrines insisted on by their bishops and to interpret in their own way the doctrines that they do accept. This is above all true in matters of sexual morality, especially birth control, where the majority of Catholics have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them. Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops.”

So why bother having a Catholic Church or any Church at all for that matter. All its functions can be taken over by the civil government: The Head of State becoming Pope, the Ministers or State Secretaries the Cardinals, heads of Departments, Archbishops and bishops and all the way down the line. When the people chnage their minds they can deprive them of authority and vote them out.

NOthing new under the sun here: this is another of those “democratising” the Chuch agenda’s, most recently supported by the quasi defunct “Voice of the Faithful” movement of about ten years ago: Why they even devised a “Democratic Constitution for the Catholic Church”, specifying not only the organization AND THE nominating and voting process, but stipulating the “Fixed Terms” for holding office at each level.” Of course all based on the Most Divine Document ever devised by MAN, The Consitution of the USA.

The punchline: No Divine Authority, no one will have any standing on matters religious. There can be no genuine Church memberships if one holds to the principle of “no one is the boss of me” in matters theological or moral.

PPS: If 51% of the followers refuse to accept a bishop’s directions/teaching on certain issues and the other 49% do not, what is the obligation of the bishop regarding his teaching authority?. If the Bishop preaches a directive from Christ himself (let us say Christ’s injunctions against divorce “Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.) and only 20% of his followers agree with him, but the other 80% support divorce, is his authority to teach Christs’s message diminished and is he consequently obliged to preach divorce since deriving his authroyt from the 80% of his purported followers. After all this is what “Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops” means.

[...] here to read the brilliant [...]

Michael Berry
March 13, 2012

“In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer.”

Unless they are pharmacists who won’t deliver birth control or antiabortionists for sale, or doctor’s opposed to abortion. It seems that for the liberal/progressive freedom of conscience only applies to them and their agenda. Once they win then everyone better get with the program. Hypocrites!!

Chris M
March 13, 2012

Because US Citizens break the law, the legislative and judicial branches have no authority to make or enforce laws.

Dale Price
March 13, 2012

Contraception is the polestar of the progressive Catholic. They’d chuck social justice into the woodchipper without a second thought if it was a choice between the two.

Truth Unites... and Divides
March 13, 2012

Why don’t these liberal Catholics do the Canterbury trot?

Mark Windsor
March 13, 2012

“Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (attributed)

Dale Price
March 13, 2012

“Why don’t these liberal Catholics do the Canterbury trot?”

Because can you imagine the Times giving column space to an Episcopalian professor waxing flatulent about birth control? Nobody would give a rat’s ass, and rightly so.

The defectors-in-place don’t place a significant value on intellectual integrity. They do burn plenty of incense at the altar of Tenure, however.

Ed the Roman
March 13, 2012

They also imagine how cool it would be if they *won*. If they ever DID get Hans Kung elected Pope.

Kathleen Lundquist
March 13, 2012

Spot on, Chris.

And, what Michael Berry said.

Fuinseoig
March 13, 2012

If it comes to it, 100% of Catholics past, present and (presumably) future have lied and/or will lie at least once in their lives.

So does that mean we chuck out the commandment about “Thou shalt not bear false witness”? Do away with the crime of perjury in giving evidence in court?

Tom
March 13, 2012

Smurf Breath, thanks for the clarifying comment about this NOT being Protestantism. We do take the Bible very seriously and (at least in the faithful denominations such as Southern Baptists or Presbyterian Church in America) don’t constantly reinterpret it to fit the zeitgeist.

However, in studying the Bible, we do find that His burden is easy and His yoke is light. It is a delight to serve Christ as He directs us to, in His power.

Tim D
March 13, 2012

My 2 cents on the laughable statement: In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer.1. What does the nature of political system of a given state have to do with one’s moral conscience and its duty of obedience to God and his delegated authority?2. Plenty of consciences are perfectly capable of chucking every command and implication of the Decalog and the Sermon on the Mount. This only proves that our consciences are fallen and need both rigorous disciplining and humble submission to authority.3. The bishops (in unity with the Pope) have authority because Jesus, who has been given all authority in heaven and earth by the Father, conferred it on them.4. How did Gary Gutting ever obtain a degree in philosophy, much less get an academic appointment at ND?

SouthCoast
March 14, 2012

“98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women practice birth control…” Except for the fact that they don’t. As “critics” who have actually read the “report”, and who have at least a marginal understanding of polling and statistics “”have repeatedly pointed out”, a process that is, regrettably, stronly akin to micturating into a typhoon in the current media climate.

Support The MCJ

Search

Links

Meta