Friday, October 11, 2013

Catholic Church Goes Cool

I'm an atheist (well Wittgenstenian agnostic would be more accurate, but that's more a philosophical than a practical scepticism - I believe in evolution because I read it in a book, in a culture that takes certain books as being good sources of knowledge, I assume without proof that the table doesn't disappear when I look away from it, I don't need personal proof or comprehension of how carbon-dating works for my belief in it to be rational, until I acknowledge, philosophically at least, that I've got plenty of views that rest on grounds that are at least as shaky as religion). But I do lecture in philosophy of religion, so I have some insight as one who has dealt a lot with catholicism, but isn't part of it (and thankfully didn't have the kind of upbrining that would leave me emotionally traumatised by it).

Wee need to realise that the Catholicism isn't a monolithic entity, but a collection of quite diverse subcultures and belief systems. It's easy to miss that point because of the organisation's insane political-party like insistence on presenting an 'absolute front' to the world, hiding the debate that goes on behind the scenes.

But this is an organisation that on one hand condemned 'revolutionary socialism', while on the other hand was the main instigator and supporter of revolutionary socialism in numerous pockets of South America. It's the organisation that took an appeasement stance towards fascism (I won't enter the debate on how Pope Pius should be judged - yes he did do a deal where he gave political support to Mussolini in return for the Vatican City, and yes he did arrange the smuggling of thousands of Jews out of the country - whether one justifies the other is going to be a long debated question), and it's also the organisation that had thousands of priests and bishops end up in concentration camps for deying Hitler even though their leader remained silent.

It's the organisation that gave - at best, and contrary to its far more liberal position on science pre-20th century (Galileo was largely a political dispute, with the most powerful layman in the catholic church getting shafted after a change in pope) - a very cold shoulder to Darwin's discoveries, while one of it's most famous offshoots, the Jesuits, celebrated the discovery of natural selection as providing a crucial discovery for how humanity arose (and one, which in their view, was better in keeping with their ideology of humanity as essentially an intelligent/privileged animal instead of a 'God' in itself).

It's the church that issues horrific 'official statements' about homosexuality (less offensive under the current pope, admittedly), but has inner city churches in most western cities that are proudly gay-friendly regardless of what 'Rome' might think. It's the organisation that works hand in hand with some of the most oppressive regimes, while also sheltering freedom fighters of all creeds, with many priests in East Timor and South America being tortured and killed because they wouldn't give up their beneficiaries' hiding place.

Like any large organisation, the Catholic church is heavily factional, with economic 'left and right' and social 'conservative and progressive' factions. This last came into public view at the Vatican II conference, initiated by the South American revolutionary socialist wing of the church, who wanted the church to move beyond poverty relief to tackling the causes of poverty, including corrupt governments and capitalist systems. The progressive tide reached a fairly impressive height but was then utterly crushed by the conservative factions who united with the sole purpose of opposing the movement, until the only outcome of Vatican II was minor decentralisation and that the mass is now read in english instead of latin, with the original ideological underpinnings having disappeared entirely.

Following that, the conservative factions united to try and ensure that the 'threat' that initiated Vatican II never gained political power again - they were fine with them being tortured and killed while fighting for justice in far-away lands, but taking it to the church's seat of power had been a step too far. As bishop positions became vacant, traditionally progressive seats were systematically replaced with conservatives, resulting in the anti-modern quagmire that is the 'official' Catholic ideology today.

But the church is still factional, and any analysis must begin from that. There are pro-gay factions, pro-Marxist factions, factions who want the nuns to run things (given that they've got the better track record so far), factions defined by Kantian ideology (bizarrely condemned by the previous pope - you'd think being the church of Immanuel Kant would be something you'd sell yourself on) and of course the conservative factions that dominate the official policy. A monolithic view is never a sufficient one when it comes to Catholicism.

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