I love liberalism in its most general sense. The thing about liberalism is that it is fearless. A liberal is not afraid of change. This probably explains why political conservatives are so effected by fear. It also explains their jingoism and the belief that America must spend as much as the rest of the world combined on its military. This isn’t the thinking of the brave; it is the thinking of the coward. So it just makes sense that God would be very liberal. After all, the universe is constantly changing. And we would have to assume that God is brave.
So when Pope Francis beatified the very liberal “Vatican II” Pope Paul VI, he said, “God is not afraid of new things.” (It was Pope John XXIII who started Vatican II, and Pope Paul VI who completed it.) It’s sad that he had to remind believers about this. But then, let’s face it, it isn’t God that is conservative; it is churches. People get those things mixed up. Churches claim that they have their holy documents and they can’t be questioned, because they don’t want the churches’ authority questioned. It has little if anything to do with what the people in those churches actually believe about God.
Right now, there is a big dust-up in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis just sent the conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke packing. Basically, he made him retire. He moved him from the very important and powerful position at the head of the Holy See’s highest court and put him in a ceremonial position that is normally given to retired cardinals. It was expected. Francis is trying to make the church less hostile to everyone and Burke has been running around saying, “There is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder.” Burke, you may remember, was the American archbishop who was denying communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians. He’s a real charmer. And humble too!
My great concern is that Ross Douthat be on a suicide watch. Over the last year, the conservative Catholic who (in yet another example of conservative affirmative action) writes for The New York Times has gotten more are more shrill in his concern about schism in the church. Two weeks ago, he wrote, The Pope and the Precipice. What I find interesting is that people like Douthat just take their conservative approach to the church as given. And in Douthat’s case, that’s understandable. He was born in 1979 — a year into Pope John Paul II’s reign. So he’s only known conservative popes. But that isn’t all there is to the Catholic Church, or it would still be burning people at the stake.
Tom Gallagher at the Nation Catholic Reporter call this bunk, Contra Douthat: We Are Not on the Edge of a Precipice. He even asked the rhetorical question, “Is Douthat really threatening the pope and calling for both an insurrection against Pope Francis and a schism?” Well, yes; he is. It isn’t the first time, either. Douthat has made it abundantly clear that the dedication of conservative Catholics to the church is dependent upon the church doing what the conservative Cathlics want.
This is entirely typical of American conservatives in a general sense. We see that political conservatives are patriotic only to their conception of “America.” When it comes to the actual America, they are more interested in talking armed insurrection if their fabled “America” is not honored. It is even more bizarre to see this in religion. But I think it really all comes down to this idea that The Truth™ is defined at some point in the conservative’s life — normally in childhood. And they never get past that and to the mature understanding that all things in life are fluid. (And a brief look at history will show that it is for the best!)
What’s sad and funny is that Douthat approves of Vatican II. Yet there were lots of conservative Catholics just like him who left the church because of it. But Douthat noted that Vatican II was approved overwhelmingly. The problem, as usual, is that Douthat has “a little knowledge.” Shortly after his article appeared, John O’Malley schooled Douthat on the matter:
If you are interested in the Catholic Church at all, I recommend reading O’Malley’s article. I also suggest reading it if enjoy seeing an immature upstart thwacked up side the head. O’Malley noted that Douthat was equating “conservative” with “orthodox” and that he was implicitly equating “liberal” with “heterodox.” That’s an excellent point. That is exactly what he is doing. Because as usual with American conservatives, Douthat thinks that he defines The Truth™. O’Malley is a different kind of conservative:
But I’m still worried about Douthat. I thought a lot of stupid things when I was 34. I would hate to lose him. If we are very lucky, he might mature into someone more like Garry Wills.
Update (10 November 2014 11:56 am)
Charlie Pierce has a few choice words for the young Douthat: