Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rationalism & Liberalism

Your assignment today is to read "Rationalism...the heresy of modern times.", Which is actually a chapter from R.J. Meyer's The Science of the Saints, published in 1907. (You can find the full text online if you like - Google Books.)

Here below is a synopsis along with some questions for you to answer.


Rationalism is detrimental to a life of faith because it sets up "unaided reason" as the ultimate standard of truth or falsehood, right and wrong.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that "Grace builds on Nature". This means that human reason, which is a natural human ability, is aided or "built upon" by God's Grace. Rationalism strips away the role of grace - and ultimately the role of God - in human affairs.

Rationalism is usually veiled or disguised as another, seemingly beneficial, ideology. In the author's case, he deals with Liberalism. He laments having to use the term because it is so often misapplied or misunderstood, (and I lament having to use it as well, because it immediately calls to mind "liberal" politics, which are certainly related to, but by no means the extent of liberalism in our culture today.) However, since the term was used by the Church to label the popular system of ideas that oppose Christian teaching and moralit, in the end the author uses the term as well.

Liberalism Defined: it is literally "a system favorable to liberty". Being in America, we all have a fairly high opinion of liberty or freedom. If Mel Gibson taught our culture anything in the 1990's it was that Freedom is Good and the British are Bad. (While I take issue with the latter, the former is spot on.)

The problem is that liberalism demands freedom not only so that one may do good without being coerced, but so that one may also do evil - as though we have a natural right to do so. An example would be the issue of abortion. One would think that if there are two rival or opposing groups and one of them is Pro-Life, then the opposing faction would be Pro-Death. However, those who oppose the Pro-Life movement consider themselves to be "Pro-Choice", knowing that most people, particularly most Americans equate choice with freedom and freedom is good. (Likewise, they can then portray the Pro-Life movement as an "Anti-Choice" movement, a restriction of freedom.)

Meyer (the author) then looks to the origin of the Rationalist mindset, and points to the Protestant Reformation. (I wish that we had an extra month to study the Reformation, but alas, we must gloss over it and move on.) He points out that the Reformers established private judgement as the ultimate arbiter (decider) in all religious matters, and that one should have no external authority (or Magisterium) to guide personal decisions.

Martin Luther, for example, rejected some books of the Bible and didn't include them in "his" teaching. If Luther was free to go this far, what would stop someone else from rejecting other books? And why not reject the entire Bible itself? or Natural Law? or anything else. This is essentiallly what happened, and Western Europe began a slide down a slppery slope that lasted half a millenium. (We will explore these historical events later.)

Like a series of dominoes falling we have the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, Industrialization, Fascism, Communism, and ultimately the relativist nihilism which is our cultural atmosphere today.

Meyer points out that in the midst of this historical development we have come to demand respect for the rights of man while ignoring, if not denying the rights of God. We don't often think of God as having rights. He is, after all, omnipotent, and has no need of being protected by a Bill of Rights. But God does have natural rights - meaning they are part of His very nature. If God is truly God, the supreme Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Universe, then is He not entitled to our worship and adoration? As evidence of this disregard for the Rights of God Meyer lists a number of things that have in fact happened or continue to happen in the name of liberty and progress.

Most liberalists, Meyer contends, don't think much for themselves, but rather depend upon self-interest, popularity, and a number of other factors to determine what it is they believe. This leads to a great diversity within liberalism, but their common thread is a rejection of the principle of authority, which is the foundation, he says, of faith.

Ironically, while liberalism hangs its hat on the idea of freedom (or tolerance) it is rather strict and intolerant for those who oppose it. Give an example to illustrate this idea:

Meyer cautions against drawing conclusions based on a man's words, when he may in fact mean something else, such as:______ give examples here as well.

Just as liberalism is a disguised form of rationalism, so to is liberalism often prone to disguise itself, appearing under the banners of: Progress, Patriotism, Philanthropy, et al. "It always follows thetendency of the age and floats along upon the tide of public opinion...."

What then, do Catholics need to be "liberated" from in the view of liberalism? From Creed? From the teaching authority of the Church (Magisterium)? From The liturgy and ritual of the sacraments? These things exist only to protect, provide for, guide, and support the people of God.

The arguement is made that Creed should be interepreted by the individual, who is free to reject what he dislikes, and embrace what he likes. (today this is commonly called "cafeteria catholicism"). The argument continues that the Church should be governed by democracy rather than a hierarchy. They see the liturgy as a theatrical performance rather than a sacred encounter with divine mystery, and they look down their noses at popular or traditional expressions of devotion. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are chains that bind the will, and the religious orders of the Church are seen as warts, or worse, tumors on the body of Christ.

The author admits that the Church is in need of continual reform, but it is her Human element, not her Divine, that is subject to correction.

Finally, the liberal or progressive movement wants to set aside the past and place its loyalty at the feet of science. We have studied extensively how misguided this approach is, and will touch on it in class.

So the question remains, "is a liberalistic Catholic really a Catholic at all?"

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