instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Crisis of Agreement

I suspect that the Church in the United States is in the midst of a crisis of faith.

That's not to say the Church elsewhere isn't, or elsewhere wasn't, nor is it to say my suspicions are shocking or extraordinary.

But the nature of the crisis I have in mind isn't that people are rejecting the Faith. It's that people are disagreeing with the Faith.

The Faith is, after all, a matter of faith. Which makes it a matter for faith. My suspicion, to put it more precisely, is that a lot of American Catholics regard the Faith as a matter of opinion -- as, in fact, a matter of any number of discrete opinions held more or less firmly for any number of reasons.

Thus the well-known phenomenon of "dissent," a term that gives away its object. You can't dissent from what I know. You either believe that I had macaroni and cheese for breakfast, or you don't; it's not something you can disagree with.

But I think it's also true of a certain sort of "loyal to the Magisterium" phenomenon, one which treats the statement, "What the Church says is so, is so," not so much as a matter of faith as the major premise of a whole series of dogmatic syllogisms.

The problems with this approach, which winds up expressing the whole of the Faith as a multi-step rational argument, are many. Chief among them is that the Faith is not a multi-step rational argument. This means that attempts to defend the Faith devolve into attempts to defend something that is wrong, and that's always a bad sign. It is unconvincing, often scandalously so, to non-believers, and it leaves believers -- who may, perhaps, more properly be called agree-ers -- susceptible to a sudden loss of faith -- if, again, "faith" is the right word.

Also, it's dumb. Christianity ≠ Christian apologetics, and the sooner Catholics realize this the better. As Daniel Mitsui put it in a comment at open book in a different context, "Worrying about what Protestants will think sucks all the fun out of being Catholic." It's pretty silly to understand yourself in contrast to a movement that understands itself in contrast to you.

This line of thinking suggests that reforming catechesis had better involve more than teaching facts better.

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