Monday, April 14, 2014

Cafeteria Catholics without a Cafeteria

"Hell is where nothing connects"- T. S. Eliot

Reader Howard (pictured, left) commented on a recent post pointing out that the philosophy of the day, materialism, makes any case against same-sex "marriage" impossible for Catholics to argue effectively.  He writes ...

The materialist considers all universals to be merely convenient names we use to sort through a complex world; the materialist considers mathematics to be a manifestation of how the human mind works, not of some independent truth. If universals are fuzzy at best, what good are categories like "male" and "female"? If mathematics does not express independent truth, how can the Natural Law?

He's describing nominalism more than materialism - but if you think about it, nominalism and materialism are the same thing.  In both philosophies, there are no universals: everything is individual, atomized.  "Nothing connects".  Which is a kind of hell.

We see this culturally in the radical individualism of our culture and in the increasing isolation of people from one another, even within families, even within marriages.

We see this also as a thread in various popular heresies.  Protestants, for all their sincerity and occasional sanctity, partake in a general movement that is founded upon the principle of radical individualism.  Jettison external authority, and nihilism takes its place - though (as Orestes Brownson pointed out) it may take a few hundred years fully to arrive.  Not only does the atomization of radical individualism lead to increasing fragmentation - more and more denominations - but also, from individual to individual, the Protestant spirit typically leads to an understanding of Holy Scripture that is based on a kind of proof texting, where individual quotations are known by heart, but the context, the wider meaning and the overall picture of the Bible are things often not even glimpsed or imagined.

But many Catholics suffer from this same atomization of thought and action.  It is maddening, for instance, to argue the plain sense of, say, the Catechism of the Catholic Church with a man who refuses to see any connection between individual sections.  Indeed, a deacon who has been banned from commenting on this blog, kept insisting here and elsewhere that the Catechism was far from a whole, and that various and particular parts of it could therefore be safely ignored.   Most heterodox Catholics (left wing and right wing) are "cafeteria Catholics" in this very sense.  Far from having "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) or anything approaching a whole or unified concept of the Faith, the heterodox approach the Church not as the single Body of Christ, but as a collection of various chunks, as bits of matter, atoms, not united, not cohesive, arbitrary and thus susceptible to change.

For nominalists, for materialists, for atomizers, it's not really a question of being a Cafeteria Catholic. It's worse than that. It's eating what suits you and denying there's a cafeteria at all.  It's not so much as "not seeing the forest for the trees" as it is denying that there is a forest or that there's even "trees": there's just this blind dumb thing in front of you that has leaves and bark - or green soft things and hard brown stuff - or something that you call green and soft and something that you call hard and brown but that are nothing more than meaningless impressions upon your senses, here today and gone the moment you look away.

And in this state of intellectual anarchy, as in a state political anarchy, might makes right and the strong man prevails.  When nothing is connected to any other thing in any meaningful way whatsoever, then the only thing left is the strong man.  And in our personal lives, when we have no philosophy beyond the dumb thing in front of us at the moment, that strong man is our lust, or our sentiment, or our passing fancy.  It can't be anything else.

There is nothing else.

Welcome to hell.

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