Sunday, January 15, 2006

Taxonomy of Conservatives, cont'd...

Taxonomy of Conservatives, Part II

[I've been writing this across several days. It might be worthless, but I might be able to extract some more unified insights by looking at it later.]

Since I'm all coffee'd up for class, and there's just appended discussion going on now, so I'll just be typing away here while the questions are going on. Hey, it's not like I'm browsing the Web or anything, right?

In my last post about Conservatives, I ended on the note that, once we get down to "religious/assenting conservative," we're talking about people who have a 'fundamental option' (much abused as that phrase is) for assent to the Catholic Church. But in spite of the fact that Catholics of this sort are a small minority in the world population at large, yet still among them there a substantial variety in approaches, basic assumptions, and taste. I've often been of the mind that the most bitter and violent personal conflicts occur not between diametric opposites, but between people who have _almost_ everything in common.

Since I am not quite sure yet about how I can systematize the differences between conservatives, let's just describe certain differences in terms of pairs:

1. Patriotic vs. Apolitical: It was once remarked to me by a friend that conservative Catholics basically fall into two groups. There are those who entertain hopes for a basic harmony between Catholic belief and governmental practice (typically, but not exclusively Republican), and those who emphasize more the other-worldliness of the Kingdom. Both assent to the Magisterium in full. And moreover, to be apolitical does not mean that one does not participate in political life or strive for government fulfillment of Catholic values. But apolitical types look at the history of sinful humanity and thus have a profound, theological distrust of all human institutions and philosophies, almost indiscriminately. More patriotic types hold hopes that human history can tend toward more and more Godly societies, and they more-or-less cautiously hold that, at least eventually, the United States government might adequately embrace a Catholic society.

Obviously, both styles here have illegitimate extremes. They can fall into their respective errors of, on the patriotic side, a presumptuous, ideological, 'realized eschatology' utopianism; or on the apolitical side, a skittish, spiritualized, dualistic, non-participatory 'gnosticism' on the other. Also, apolitical conservativism can sometimes be confused with liberalism because it will tend to stress (and sometimes exaggerate) the separation of Church and State. But since we are talking strictly about people who are already assenting to the Magisterium, the point is moot.

There is a subset in this discussion that might be considered a sort of a compromise: monarchists. They join apolitical types in being cynical about the United States government; but they join patriotic types in holding that a worldly government would be reflective of God's will. (I might write about monarchism later).

2. Jansenistic vs. Jesuitical: I use these terms descriptively, of course, but I believe they are the best ones. That they both arose in the modern era is intentional--they represent not merely orthodoxy, which is ancient, but two styles of orthodoxy's reconciliation of worldly plurality. Because I am describing two styles of _orthodoxy_, here, however, it must be emphasized that I do not imply that either kind holds any condemned propositions or liberal opinions--quite the opposite.

Fundamentally, the distinction involved here is between attitudes toward the whole intellectual dimension of faith. Thus this distinction, more than any other I am treating here, cannot be dealt with satisfactorily. It suffices to say that a Jansenistic conservative, positting a sharp disjuncture between grace and nature, therefore posits a sharp disjuncture between the wisdom of the world and special revelation. He or she therefore strives to live strictly according to the dictates of current Magisterial authority, whose words light up with a golden credibility in the midst of a worldly 'cognitive depravity'. The Jansenistic conservative will be especially concerned that no "jot or tittle" from current or past ecumenical councils or encyclicals is diminished, dismissed, forgotten, or relativized. He or she will also suspect elaborate attempts to apply reason to established doctrine in order to produce new insight. Jesuitical conservatives, while certainly not confounding nature and grace, nevertheless understand them as interwoven in a manner such that human activity is not in vain (see Trent). They have a greater confidence than Jansensistic types that Providence remains active in the development of doctrine.

Interestingly, the extremes of either style both lead to a kind of "Protestantization" of the faith--just to different styles of Protestantism. Full-blown, non-orthodox Jansenists are the Catholic fundamentalists par-excellence. And the flirtation of Jesuits of the post-Vatican II era with soviet and feminist/sexual liberation ideology represents the depravity of liberalism.

3. Affirming vs. Skeptical: What is being distinguished here is not fundamentally one's degree of critical intelligence nor one's degree of being captivated by the glory of the Holy Spirit (considering that the greatest spiritual athletes are gifted with both). But within Catholic orthodoxy there is a range of legitimate attitudes toward phenomena not ruled upon by the Magisterium nor by the human sciences--Marian apparitions, supernatural gifts of the Spirit, particular activities of demons or angels, appearances of the dead, etc. People will be more or less persuaded by Medjugoria, by accounts of possession, and so on, not because they possess or lack adequate knowledge of science or communion with God, but because of how they weigh the options of belief.

Difficulties come in when orthodox Catholics of these two styles have problems tolerating one-another. The temptation of the empirically inclined Catholic may be to scoff at the seeming child-like credulity of other Catholics to speak seriously about Marian apparitions, gifts of the Spirit, etc. Likewise, those of a more believing stance may be tempted to doubt someone else's Catholic faith on the basis of their disbelief in certain private revelations. Both temptations are erroneous. An openness to belief in paranormal phenomena is perfectly compatible with an intimidating intellectual acumen; and the inability to give credence to certain apparitions--even significant ones like Our Lady of Guadalupe--is itself compatible with vigorous faith in all of the Christian mysteries and a profound depth of relationship with the Lord and all the saints.

4. De Miseria vs. De Dignitas: I had a hard time thinking of the proper words to describe these two styles. Pessimism vs. Optimism, Tolerant vs. Admonishing, blah... I settled on these Latin words for a couple of reasons: first, because they are not common and therefore escape the prejudicial attachment of unintended connotations; second, because they refer to Innocent III's "De Miseria Humanae Conditionis," which exemplifies one of the two styles and implies the opposite style.

This is basically an attitude toward people. Any human being is going to have his or her own mechanisms and inclinations which are employed in meeting new people and for understanding the motivations. One may be of the De Dignitas style, and expect or suppose that people are generally good and have the will and capacity to do the right thing; or else one may be of the De Miseria style, and expect that people are usually mired in sin.

But this distinction can become very complex. Motivations, and all the causes of human behaviors, come in multiple layers. This not only makes it virtually impossible to pin down an individuals true motivations and responsibility for some behavior; it also allows that one's presuppositions regarding others may be extraordinarily complicated. Someone will at all times have immediate desires, conscious and subconscious habits, long-term goals, experience-conditioned abilities and presuppositions, addictions and attachments, unusual strengths, dreams and goals, a network of relationships, a material situation, and in it all, vastly unequal distrubitions of grace and the providence of God in their lives.

But of course, we can't always mentally examine all of these things before we interact with people on the day-to-day basis. Instead, we simplify. Whether one imagines that people are generally well-intentioned or ill-intentioned is a function of one's basic presuppositions about human nature; and it issues forth in how one treats others and deals with their failures and accomplishments.

Someone who is an orthodox Catholic, however--especially one in tune with the dogma of original sin--will have a part of this equation of human motivation already done for him. We can know even by nature that the most fundamental ground of any human being is good (the Greeks needed no special revelation for that!), and we know by faith that we have been corrupted by a universal disease of the will: the sin of our first parents. We also know that grace interacts and that there is a cooperation with grace that is operative in sanctification.

For this reason, it is basically unorthodox to hold any individual corrupt to the core; similarly it doesn't mesh well with the faith to expect angelic sanctity.

(Hmph, I'm hitting a wall here. I need to give it a rest for now.)

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