Friday, September 17, 2010

Catholicism and Western Culture

Catholics have acquiesced to a relativistic, radically-individualistic  culture creating confusion about authentic Catholicism.
Although Catholic missions dotted North and South America in the 16th century, the great influx of Catholics driven by persecution to our shores from Ireland and Germany did not occur until in the mid-19th century. An American prejudice against Catholicism was already firmly entrenched and over time Catholics, for societal harmony, attempted to assimilate into a uniquely individualistic and personal liberty-oriented culture.
This assimilation began to distort the traditional, two-millennia old philosophical orientation of the way Catholics saw authority and truth. While Marian devotion and the doctrine of Justification became the most obvious distinctions, these masked deeper foundational and irreconcilable differences between Catholicism and the western Protestant culture. The differences of premise in a Catholic world view needs to be clarified for a better understanding of authentic Catholicism. Though there are many more, only two of the premises are addressed here:
  • Authentic Catholicism does not teach certain rights are derived from God
The Bill of Rights states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” America’s founding documents claim its values are based upon “nature’s God.” Yet, historical and Biblical Catholicism cannot agree that certain American rights are established by God. This is not arguing the merit of Constitutional rights, but arguing the premise that they are also Christian spiritual rights as advanced by the US documents.
Catholicism has acquiesced to the confusing intermingling of civic and spiritual liberties. Catholics have not argued against the westernized premise that freedom to choose what to believe, how to live and worship is from Christ. This is far, far from any historical or biblical Christianity which means it is far from authentic Catholicism. 
Separation of Church and State. Often this idea is touted as if it has virtuous moral underpinnings. A high-ground is assumed when juxtaposing America’s secular government with the close associations Europe’s Catholic monarchies had with the church. This is a faulty premise. While Catholics may concede that a separation of church and state might be necessary in current situations, the concept cannot be claimed on biblical basis to be God’s preferred form of government. 
Pursuit of Happiness. Historical Christianity certainly has never taught that the pursuit of happiness is a God-given right. God calls us not to pursue happiness, but holiness. The aim of a Christian life is obedience to God, the fruits of living the gospel is peace and joy.
Equality of Scriptural Interpretation. The western philosophical right of equality has confused Christian into presumption of equality of scriptural interpretation. An unspoken premise of Protestant thought is that a sincere relationship with Jesus assures us of a suitable interpretation of scripture. This type of equality is not found in scripture nor historical Christianity. The inerrant Word of God confirms that the Church is the foundation of God’s infallible and absolute truth, not a personal reading of scripture.
Conscience-Based Religion. The civil right to live and worship as our conscience dictates fuses with the mistaken notion that God died to give us the right to live and worship as our conscience dictates. This idea is at absolute opposition with Catholicism. Though Catholic doctrine declares it is a human right to act according to one’s conscience, they also recognize that, in our fallen human nature, truth does not originate nor spring up within ourselves. We are given grace to recognize and receive truth, God’s truth is a gift that must be taught. Our consciences must be educated and formed within the body of Christ’s church so we do not live according to our own definition of sin, but God’s. The freedom given to us by the merciful blood of Christ is to follow His choices! 
Moral Autonomy.  Western culture’s moral crimes are anything intolerant, prejudice or  judgmental against anyone’s personal lifestyle choices. These “sins” are the fruit of a culture that claims moral standards are personal and relative. The Catholic Church states unequivocally that Christ commanded his followers certain unshakable, absolute truths that our society today denies. Among the timeless sins are fornication, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, infidelity and divorce. We do not as Christians have a right to engage in any of these activities, Catholics reject the idea that God gave us the right to moral autonomy. 
Catholics become confused when they attempt to defended their beliefs upon the westernized premise of God-given rights to personal morality and personalized religion. First there needs to be a clear understanding of the Catholic worldview.
Orthodox Christianity lays down its rights, even its very life for others. Christianity isn’t about freedom or rights or choices. It is about sacrificial love and obedience. It is about dying to self and living for Christ. This is where western thought fights its eternal struggle within each one of us.
  • Catholicism teaches that a God-appointed church authority requires our submission
The greatest of all abominations in our culture is authoritarianism. Power-hungry, abusive authority destroys our freedom, independence, equality, individuality and creativity. Our Constitution, our movies, our books, in fact everything about western culture indoctrinates us into the idea that ultimate heroism is found in the little guy, David overcoming big business, big government, big, powerful anything-in-charge Goliath.
The symbol of the Statue of Liberty evokes the huddle masses fleeing from religious or political tyranny. Western lifestyle is devoted to the cult of radical individualism and contempt for “the man.” It warns us to trust power to no one but ourselves. Teaching that one must sacrifice one’s rights for another or submitting to a superior is tantamount to slavery and a human rights atrocity (Galatians 5:13). 
Yet conversely, Catholics teach that God began a church and appointed authorities who we must obey. 
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. (Hebrews 13: 17)
Submit to a priest, bishop or pope? The thought bristles those seeped in post-enlightenment, secular humanism. What if they say or do something wrong? What about personal autonomy? We have so successfully demonized authority that we have usurped God’s word for the traditions of man. Nonetheless, a system of parents, teachers, preachers, deacons are clearly set up in scripture. This pernicious radical individualism has befouled our spirituality, making it an insult to our liberty when we humbly honor and obey our God-appointed leaders.  
What is lost when Catholics are not authentically Catholic?
The earth swarms with humanity enslaved in perpetual angst. A billion lifeless eyes escape into the aimless buzz of entertainment. Humanity is anesthetized because we lack truth. Within the DNA of our culture is expanding an infinite void of lies. Our politicians, parents, pastors, teachers, lovers, billboards, commercials--who can we really trust? Our gospel “propaganda” falls on calloused ears because it is based upon the sand of westernized values. Religion is numb, impotent to break through the over-stimulating white noise in our culture, because it does not claim self-sacrificing, absolute truth
The astonishing beauty--the stunning theology of God’s love and mercy shared within Catholic doctrine is the light illuminating the path out of the chaotic carnival of despair.

Catholic truth is offensive, Catholic truth is painful, Catholic truth is shocking. But while painful and offensive and shocking, it is irresistible for those wanting truth. Its loving, merciful call is recognized by the terrified depths of the human spirit. 
Why is the beauty of Divine love reaching down towards us and lifting us into His Presence and out of the retched filth of our sins being silenced, being ignored in today’s Catholicism? Tailored to be acceptable to the culture, Catholics have censored their truths to be cool.Catholicism’s worldview has slowly shifted from a foundation of humble selfless, sacrificial giving to one that demands equality, rights and the pursuit of happiness. Catholics must return to a world view that strips ourselves of the idea of rights and autonomy and radical individualism.

We certainly can be great Americans as Catholics, yet we must not live a spiritually dubious faith. We must not confuse God’s mercy with civic tolerance; pride in our country’s liberties with Christ’s beatitudes; western values with God’s values or our Constitutional rights with God’s commandments. Christians do not claim autonomy, but submit to God’s appointed leaders. Christians do not pursue personal rights, but personal sacrifice. 
If we teach Catholicism, the world will find answers that shatters all pride and contempt. Jesus Christ’s truth will burst the searcher’s heart, stripping him of self-consciousness, knocking him to his knees, arms upswept to the Father in trembling adoration and calling out “not my will, but thine.”