Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bucking the Establishment: In the Church and in the State

The last three days I have been ill.  This has given me a lot of time looking at the internet, Facebook, and the news.  This has probably not helped my illness.  However I see a thread of thought throughout the postings.  In a phrase: To hell (literally) with the establishment!  The establishment is killing us! It really does not matter whether it is a thread about politics or religion, the sentiment is the same.  The establishment has ground to a halt, weighed down with corruption and greed.  The sides in the debate will agree with this.  Their answers to set things anew really fall into three camps: the purists, the anarchists, and the compromisers.

First, to American politics:  This political cycle might well be described as the rise of the outsider.  This is true for both parties.  I am by no means a political analyst, but here is my take. 

In the Democratic party you have Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a man who is not a self identified democrat, but a self identified socialist who caucuses with the Senate Democrats.  In other cycles, Senator Sanders might well have been easily dismissed and out of the race by now.  The democrat establishment candidate, former 1st Lady and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton seemed a shoe in for the nomination.  However Sen. Sanders is tapping into the youth and others who feel that the DNC has not fulfilled their promise of utopia.  These people have been raised with an idea that life should be fair, free, and easy; that the governments job is to make life such.  Mrs. Clinton, who herself is far to the left, seems establishment by comparison.  Gov. Martin O' Malley, who might well have been a shoe in for the nomination is decades past can garner no traction at all.  I do not know who will win that DNC primary, but it seems it will be a brutal race. 

In the Republican party, you have a similar fight.  You have Donald Trump, a multi-billionaire businessman, who is seen by many as the ultimate outsider.  A man, they perceive, as the one who gets things done, beholden to no one in the party.  You have Sen. Ted Cruz, a man reviled by the establishment, who seems to be a strict constitutionalist, running second.  The closest establishment candidate, and even some would argue this, would be Sen. Marco Rubio.  The GOP field was littered with political outsiders: Mr. Trump, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, and pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.  Establishment candidates like Gov. Jeb Bush,  Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. John Kasich, and such have never really been a factor in the race.  Many in the GOP want a guy who can get things done.  Others want a guy who will adhere to the constitution, something they believe the parties have long abandoned.

In the races, both parties are contending with chunks of the population who are widely dissatisfied with the status quo.  Their dissatisfaction comes from a variety of sources, each wanting the body politic to move in a particular way.  The anger is palatable from all sides.  They perceive a country reeling from years of compromise, weakness, and corruption.  I do believe most of these people love their country and do want this country to succeed.

Next, to the Catholic Church. There has always been a division, it seems, through my life in the Church.   As with the body politic, there is real angst in the Body of Christ.  In Protestant faiths, if there be a disagreement, you simply split off and form a new Church.  In the Catholic Church, we stay in, for the most part, and slug it out.  There are many who want a Church who will return us back to what is perceived as the glory days of the Church (aka, before Vatican II) and those who see the same perceived lack of inertia and think we need to compromise further (aka Spirit of Vatican II).  They have taken to the internet and other forms of media.  I notice some, like Michael Voris, have started referring to the powers that be in the church as the establishment.

So why all the angst? Most perceive that the numbers have fallen in the developed world.  Traditions are dropped, it seems, and things watered down.  Those who are faithful Catholics are frustrated by what seems to be a litany of band aids or complete inaction as to the slide.  Their feelings about the bishops, including even the pope, is that they have failed in stemming the loss.  Empirical evidence would seem to back their claims, at least in the developed world. As before, I do believe that most of these people love Christ and His Church and want to see it grow.

I am not dismissing the feelings and frustrations people have, nor am I going to validate each and every one.  How do we deal with such dissatisfaction? There are some hard truths we will have to face.

First, this world is imperfect.  It is full of human beings who can be incredibly selfish.  So many have either ignored or dismissed the notion that our actions do bear consequences for myself and others.  The more selfish a society becomes, the more the fabric of the society of ripped apart.  If you notice, in the political arena, so often either greed, wrath, or envy are the underlying motivations to get people out to vote.  Getting any group of people to move in a unified direction is like trying to herd cats; a task that becomes more impossible as the size of that group grows.  Keep in mind that the population of the USA is over 321 million, and the members of the Roman Catholic Church is hovering around 1.2 Billion Catholics, with 65 Million in the USA alone.  Do we get the monumental task here?

Second, much of the world's imperfection comes from man's selfishness.  In Catholicism, we refer to concupiscence, a selfish desire that motivates the human soul towards sin. In essence , so many want the United States of Me, or the My Catholic Church. As pure or impure as the motivations might be, we want our leaders to cater to me and people who think like me.  I would guess that is because I feel I have figured out reality in all its rich complexity and know what needs to be done.  Inevitably, there will be monumental clashes as all these disparate like minded groups clash.  At stake, the institution they want to make better.  Oftentimes, those who do not think like me can either adapt, hit the bricks, or be eliminated.

Christ called for his followers to put God first.  Then they were to understand they were part of His people.  What was to be done was for the good of the entire Body.  This does not mean compromising the faith to suit an end; but means to allow the Gospel to transform us.  If that happens, then the anger subsides.  This is what St. Paul pleads with the people of Corinth in his letters.  This is more than just 'get along'; this is to be collectively transformed by Christ.

In the body politic, if we do not start asking what is in the best interest of this country and get away from what is in my best interest, we will rip apart this society.  Too many times we assume what is in my best interest is in the best interest of all as well.  This is not true.  If our vote is motivated by greed, wrath, or envy, the base of our vote is steeped in sin.  Nothing good will come of it.  Motivation matters.

It might well be true that the establishment has failed.  That said, what we seek to do to rectify that matters.  Not every overthrown establishment is replaced by something superior.  Witness the French Revolution, the Rise of Hitler, the Rise of Lenin and Stalin, and so on.  If we try to replace an establishment corrupted by human sin with en establishment built on another human sin, we will get the same result.  If we want a different result. we will need to take different tactics.  In the Church, that means the self-revelation of God comes first.  His teachings matter and can not be coopted to suit what we perceive to be a noble end.  The nanosecond I put myself above the need for conversion, I make myself a God.  We might well be successful in making a human government in our image, we will not be successful at all in trying to make a God in our own image.  It will be very difficult for us to positively effect the secular order if we are warring in the spiritual order.

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