Thursday, May 05, 2005

Darkness at Noon

One is encouraged to love the sinner but hate the sin. That’s pretty much how I feel about Catholics and Catholicism. The laity is infinitely better than the secretive and tyrannical institution that routinely abuses them financially, intellectually, and sexually. Outside the hierarchy, one often encounters a tolerant and modest spirituality that understands the church as a community of loving people rather than a rigid, exclusionist organization in which a self-perpetuating priesthood lords it over a passive flock. Inside, in the service of the paramount goal, the sheer survival of the divine machine, even thoughtful and cultivated men become toadeaters and tyrants, cutting endless dishonorable deals with secular thugs and crushing internal dissent.

During the Cold War it was a commonplace to claim that Communism was a religion. The reverse analogy also holds. Just as the commissars always decided that the humane and universal goals of Marxism had to be sacrificed to maintain socialism in one country, the popes will always decide that the needs of suffering people are not as important as the survival of the church itself. Unlike the Reds and their own predecessors, the current batch of men in red hats can’t simply murder heretics but they can still humiliate them after secret ecclesiastical trials—the new Pope’s former job was to supervise these invisible, bureaucratic pageants. And over the centuries catholic intellectuals have found themselves again and again in the position of leftist writers, trying to defend the indefensible and remain loyal to an ideal that has no real presence in the visible church. When I read Cardinal Newman or Lord Acton or Hans Kung submitting to Roman discipline, I’m reminded of the way the French Communist party routinely vilified its non-proletarian supporters as second-class radicals and potential traitors to the cause and how all those academics and novelists willingly participated in their own abasement.