Sunday, September 10, 2006

If liberals can fuss about their title, than so can I...

... because "conservative" just doesn't capture it. Right now I am reading Mary Jo Weaver's "What's Left? Liberal American Catholics," and it is clear that she and her like-minded fellows have the impression that conservatives have something against change, as such.

This strikes me as funny, because if the Church were now ordaining women, permitting contraception, abortion, and sexual license, and dropping its doctrine of liturgy for a purely democratic model, it would be the liberals, not the conservatives, who would not want change.

Undoubtedly, loyalty to the magisterium is the only criterion a liberal needs to diagnose me as "conservative." But if they are so deeply concerned that they be represented correctly, why shouldn't I (and other "conservatives")? Not that I speak for others.

For myself, nostalgia has no part of my thinking. "Old" and "new" are neutral terms, and there are some things that are "new" that I find genuinely good for the Church, like Taize (at least in the implementations I have seen of it). Sometimes prayer needs to turn the brain off for a second and allow people to have an emotional encounter with a loving God--such was part of my religious formation in the first place. The nice thing about Taize is that it doesn't feel manipulative or imposing like Life Teen does. Taize is "introvert friendly", using darkness, silence, and mostly non-schmaltzy music to let emotions that are truly ours float to the surface (rather than imposing the "happy clappy").

Part of the problem is that I do not see the negative parts of modernity as really "new". "Modernity" itself is a constellation of three things: (1) wider consciousness of the state of the world, (2) the cultural triumph of nominalism over metaphysics, and (3) ancient emanationism. #1 is new; #2 is 500 years old; and #3 is at least 2500 years old. Nominalism and emanationism are both distorted variations on the doctrine of original sin. Emanationism views particularity, matter, and plurality as evil; thus it divinizes the salvific powers of the pure rational mind, which alone can transcend the corruption inherent in material nature. Nominalism reverses this: it develops a conviction of cognitive depravity (corruption inherent in the human mind) as a reaction against the excesses of corrupt metaphysics, and thus champions a constricted epistemology as a bulwark against error or subjectivism. Nominalism having developed into refined modern science, it takes up again the Greek theme of the infallibility of the mind, and develops a new rationalism, yet still constricted, hence a constricted view of "salvation" as strictly immanent.

(Quick definition. "Cognitive depravity" is the epistemic correlate to Calvin's "total depravity" [the first of the "TULIP" doctrines of Calvinism]. Cognitive depravity says that human minds are so broken by Original Sin and prone to error that we have absolutely no natural means to know God or any religious truths; thus theology cannot be a science. Although I need to study Ockham's Razor more, I strongly suspect a spiritual affinity between these two doctrines).

My view could be considered "conservative" against nominalism, as I seek to "conserve" a cautious metaphysics from the exaggerated paranoia surrounding cognitive depravity, thus criticizing the modern sciences' claim to a monopoly on credibility. But against emanationism I am not "conservative;" I am Christian; or perhaps more to the point, I believe in the Incarnation, according to which the Universal Absolute Ultimate has sanctified particularity, singularity, and finitude, which was never a tragic "last emanation" but a willed creation with a happy destiny and a necessary and real (Imago Dei) relationship with the will of the Creator (of which things like hierarchy and liturgy are a concrete manifestation).

Thus I critique the title "conservative." Instead, let me be called an incarnationalist metaphysician, or an analogical particularist; but not a conservative.

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