The Secular West’s Impotence in the Face of Radical Islam

We are now aware that the martyrdom of a Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, has taken place in France. It was only a matter of time before ISIS began its assault on Catholicism in Europe, and eventually, the United States. Other than in the Middle East and Asia, Christians have not been the primary target of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. It has largely been secular institutions that have been attacked.  Catholicism in the West is now a target of ISIS. The difference between the attack on Catholicism and the attack on secularism is that Catholics can win this war.

The West is largely impotent in the face of radical Islam. We do not seem to fully grasp this truth. We look to our political leaders for decisive action, but all we seem to get is the occasional air strike and hollow words. We Christians watch as our brothers and sisters in Christ are slaughtered and sold into slavery in the Middle East and Asia. There is no talk of the plight of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia by political leaders in the West. Why? Quite honestly because the West has chosen to abandon its Christian roots for nihilism. (Oh, no. There she goes writing about nihilism again.) Quite frankly, we will never understand what is going on in Europe, and soon-to-be the U.S., until we understand the impotent, deadly, and destructive nature of nihilism that is the predominant philosophical influence in the West at this point in history.

Why is the West’s nihilism impotent in the face of radical Islam? Nihilism is a creed in which belief is predicated upon nothingness. I do not mean that nihilists believe in nothing, although material atheism does tend to occupy the thoughts of some nihilist adherents. Nihilism is the belief in nothing objective or concrete. This is best understood through the creed of relativism: What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you. This results in philosophical and moral incoherence. There is a reason Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke so much of the dangers of modern philosophies and relativism. Is it possible for all of us to have our own set of beliefs and not impact others? Obviously not. If relativism is true, then it is morally permissible for a jihadi to walk into a Catholic Church and slit a priest’s throat. This is the serious problem we face with secularism and its nihilistic principles. The belief in nothing results in a free for all and objective truth is abandoned. When grave evil rears its ugly head in history, the nihilists either turn a blind eye or end up committing their own evils. The problem is that this incoherence is defended over and over again in our culture. Rugged individualism tears humanity apart because it contradicts our ontological being. I hope this is blunt enough because we have got to get this through our Catholic heads. This is what we are facing in secularism.

Nationalism and democracy cannot possibly confront the grave evil and violence of radical Islam. First, nations cannot seem to come together to confront this evil, which is spreading worldwide at an alarming rate. Since we all have our own set of beliefs we cannot come together to form a solution, whether it be military or diplomatic. Although, in my mind, the time of diplomacy has ended. Nihilism and relativism destroy unity. There is no cause or good to fight for in these philosophies. This is why the West shuffles its feet while thousands are slaughtered worldwide. Second, just battles are waged for a sense of belief in the good. World War II was waged on two unified fronts because the Allies understood the dignity of the human person and the need to defend good. In the West, there is no objective good, so we cannot come together and confront the bloodlust of ISIS.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

What is Conscience?

In the United States it is a presidential election year, which means the word conscience will be thrown around in Catholic circles and in the culture. At times the use will be correct and other times it will be wrong as individuals fall victim to a desire for the subjective and an abandonment of objective truth. Conscience is an ontological reality for human beings, which means that conscience is part of our experience and nature. God has given us an intellect and a will. Our conscience gets information and processes it through the intellect and then decides on a course of action, which is the will. It’s important for us to understand precisely what conscience is and is not, our responsibilities in conscience, and our conscience as it relates to God and the Magisterium. I do not have time to give a thorough account, many books have been written on the subject and the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the topic, but I want to briefly explain this much maligned word and aspect of our nature.

The West has fallen prey to a “dictatorship of relativism”, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls it. Conscience has become a catch-phrase and excuse for all sorts of behavior including intrinsic evil. It is up to the individual to set truth according to the clarion call of relativism. The problem, besides the obvious moral chaos that ensues, is that this subjectivism ignores the ontological reality of mankind. God made human beings for goodness and truth. Internally within the very depths of our being, we are ordered to love God, choose goodness, and live in truth. That truth is set by God as the Creator of the universe and of all human beings. He has placed that truth within us, even as we battle concupiscence.

In his book, Values in a Time of Upheaval, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI composed a series of essays on the state of the world. He devotes an entire section to the topic of conscience which has taken a prime of place in moral theology. He explains and clarifies what conscience means and what it does not because he sees a great danger of relativism even within the Church. He gives a stunning and beautiful portrayal of the two levels of conscience. He refers to them as: anamnesis and conscientia. Anamnesis is the ontological level of conscience, Benedict XVI writes:

Accordingly, the first level, which we might call the ontological level, of the phenomenon “conscience” means that a kind of primal remembrance of the good and the true (which are identical) is bestowed on us. There is an inherent existential tendency of man, who is created in the image of God, to tend toward that which is in keeping with God. Thanks to its origin, man’s being is constitutively in keeping with God, is not a knowledge of articulated concepts, a treasure store of retrievable contents. It is an inner space, a capacity for recognition, in such a way that the one addressed recognizes himself an echo of what is said to him. If he does not hide from his own self, he comes to the insight: this is the goal toward which my whole being tends, this is where I want to go.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Values in a Time of Upheaval, 92.

Since we were made by and for God, there dwells deep within us the desire to live our lives in conformity to the good which is God. We are able to recognize what is from God and our own eschatological goal of Heaven. This of course can become blinded by sin, confusion, error, and our own will, but this interior reality is always present and the consequences are grave when we ignore this part of ourselves.

Conscientia is the act in response to a judgment in relation to the desire for good within us. According to St. Thomas Aquinas this act occurs in three stages: recognition (recognoscere), bearing witness (testificari), and judgment (iudicare). It is possible for an individual to not recognize a moral decision and to block their own will to the truth. The risks of doing this are great, as is evidenced by a history full of debauchery, violence, blood, and war. At times it is ignorance or disorder that leads a person to error and this can be corrected through a proper formation of their conscience and a realigning to God. A mistake in judgment is much easier to resolve than a person who has deadened themselves to their own ontological orientation to goodness.

What is the Church’s role in conscience?

Since human beings already have the natural capacity to do good within themselves, Jesus Christ the Logos, came to further clarify the truth which can be disordered within us by sin. As material and spiritual beings, we needed God to reach down on our level to fully teach us and guide us to Him. The danger of error is an ever present reality for mankind. We easily deceive ourselves and it is through Christ and His Church that we are given the clarity we need, so that we can always be pointed towards our eschatological end and our ontological desire for goodness. The conscience itself must find truth and dwell in goodness in order to retain its dignity. The Church guides us in the proper formation of our conscience. Truth is freedom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Social Media and Illusions of Granduer

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Social media is a great tool. We can connect with old friends and meet new people. It’s a place to interact and it’s nice for moms like me who are a bit isolated as they raise their children. I have observed and experienced a rather disturbing trend, however. That is, because we have our own social media pages and interactions, our opinions and feelings on a specific matter either must be voiced or must be submitted to without discussion.

When I read an article by someone who is formally trained or who works in a specific field, I take into account their expertise. It does not mean that I agree with them, but it is something I consider. Whenever I read an article or blog, I always read about the author so that I can get a feel for their background and knowledge. If I am going to disagree about something, I want to consider the source of the first argument.  This is not how most people see it, though.

I have tried to discuss articles or issues with various people and it always devolves into ad hominem attacks. I try to get people to stay on topic and they won’t or can’t. This is a universal problem. It is not just “liberal” or just “conservative” it is also throughout the Church. There is a very strong anti-intellectualism that has crept into our culture and into the Church. Instead of being knowledgeable on any given subject, we believe that we can make uneducated opinions at will based on our emotions. The evidence or arguments, no matter how sound, do not matter.

This is a break down in an understanding of how truth is conveyed to the senses and in its essence. Once mind-object agreement is no longer the norm, it becomes perfectly acceptable to live in a dictatorship of self. What I mean is that when we become the ultimate source of truth and not reality, things become incoherent and irrational. Unfortunately, what this has turned into is an inability to discuss things rationally and logically. It also creates an environment that is suspect or hostile to intellectual pursuits and within the Church creates a breeding ground for either clericalism or relativism depending on the situation.

First, we need to accept and know our own limitations. There is a vast array of subjects that I do not know enough about in order to form an opinion or share any insight. There are certain subjects, even theological subjects, in which I struggle with emotionalism. Once again that is a limitation within myself that I must accept. If I cannot control my emotions on a specific topic, then I need to avoid a discussions on it until I can. I have improved a lot in this area, but I still do it every now and then.

Feelings are not a sound reason for forming an opinion. Feelings are tied to the passions and can result in automatic, not rational, responses to specific items. When confronted with, let’s say, a theological argument that is formed by reason and that is based on acceptable theological tradition, we cannot respond with I don’t agree because I “feel” this way. No. Feelings are not a valid response to reason. In order to disagree with say, St. Thomas Aquinas (which is perfectly acceptable on certain matters, but I would do so with humility), we need to be able to provide another theological school of thought in response. Your feelings and my feelings do not change reality or a sound argument.

When feelings become the deciding factor in policy decisions, theological decisions, or other areas of our lives, things get ugly. When we are no longer ruled by reason and correct thinking, our feelings become a force of power that subverts those who do not agree with our particular emotional state. This is happening at an alarming rate in our culture. Decisions are being made that have nothing to do with sound or right judgment, but have everything to do with how people feel. This is not just a problem in our culture, it is an issue within the Church.

In the past couple of years, I have encountered a very destructive form of anti-intellectualism within the Church. People say we should move towards Protestants, well yes and no, but anti-intellectualism is something that we cannot borrow from certain (not all) Protestant sects. The Catholic Church is where faith and reason are united on their journey to God. A Catholic told me yesterday that theological study was pharasaical. I was flabbergasted, but not surprised because I left a group recently that focused on a false sense of piety in place of sound intellectual understanding within the Church’s tradition.

The problem with anti-intellectualism is that it works hard to control those who have intellectual strengths. A strange power struggle erupts. Not everyone is called to study theology or philosophy; however, we are called to respect and understand the gifts of other people. Anti-intellectualism comes with an overinflated pride and sense of self that is based on emotion and not study. It is the opposite of the person who has vast knowledge, but uses it in the service of self. Both are inherently wrong.

The individual who referred to me and another friend as Pharisees because of our theological knowledge had no business being on a thread that was discussing Thomistic thought. Rather than accept their own limitations they decided to engage in emotionalism that devolved, as it always does, into ad hominem attacks. They could not respond theologically, so they attacked the people who could. Once again, we need to know and accept our own limitations. If we do not know Thomistic theological and philosophical arguments, then we shouldn’t respond until we do. This is common on other threads as well. I see it often in comment sections.

Here’s the reality, just because we have an opinion does not meant that we should or need to offer it to people. If we, myself included, cannot add to a discussion with insight then it is better that we stay quiet. The Internet is not the place for us to share our ignorance with the world under the guise that we have a right to share our opinion. The Internet is not where I go to have my feelings validated.

I got myself into a discussion last week that I knew I should stay out of. I could not argue the position with sound reason, because of my own personal experiences that still have an emotional hold on me. I also have little patience for presumption. When we are discussing issues with people, we need to stay on topic. I do not know many of the people who I discuss ideas with on social media and that means that I cannot assume anything about them as persons. That is why it is crucial for discussions to keep to the topic at hand. The minute they go off track, I leave.

There is an amazing amount vitriol and venom that we spew at one another on a daily basis in social media. A lot of it could be avoided if we accepted our own limitations, control our emotions, and work on humility. The world does not need to know all of my opinions, especially the ones that are not properly formed by reason. This goes for me, as well. I need to accept that there are certain topics I need to stay away from at the present.  Can you imagine how our interactions would change if we focused on humility, intelligent discussion, and charity? Social media does not make us gods of our own domain. Rather, it is an opportunity to connect with people all over the world and to share sound ideas. Not everyone is expected to engage in discourse at the doctoral level, however, any person should know the difference between the topic at hand and personal attacks. Let’s all consider how we interact in social media as we go through this Holy Week. God bless.