Why I Cannot Be Catholic (In a Nutshell)

I had another topic on my mind… but, after hearing a remark made on Greg Gutfeld’s show last night, I lost my original train of thought. This is more important to me.

Gutfeld had assembled three representatives of major world faiths on his cozy stage: a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and an Islamic imam. The segment was more shtick than discussion—more SNL than Firing Line. (Actually, I recall now that my original intent was to explain why I just can’t adapt myself to “tweeting”—the electronic trail of splattered bodily fluids left after careless collisions. The Gutfeld Show is to William F. Buckley what Twitter is to The Critique of Pure Reason.) In a dangerously close approach to seriousness, Gutfeld dared to inquire of the priest if Pope Francis were… um, maybe just a shade… um, naïve. The prelate (whose name I cannot recover from the Internet, for some odd reason) responded, “Well, what’s so bad about that? What’s wrong with being a little naïve? Would you rather he be bitter and cynical? Isn’t it a good thing to have a world spiritual leader who believes in the possibility of peace?”

I paraphrase, but the response was of this nature. I wanted to tear my hair out.

No, Father! It’s not a good thing! Naiveté is not productive or benign! It’s unbecoming in an older man of any station in life; but in an international leader—and especially a spiritual leader—it is grotesque and potentially lethal on a massive scale. Gandhi was with some justice faulted in certain quarters for staging “peaceful” demonstrations in places and at moments when he ought to have known that a match would ignite the whole ammunition dump. Fools who naively “believe in peace” have a pronounced tendency to draw us into war. They underestimate the duplicity of the Machiavellian tyrants with whom they negotiate. They exhort their followers to overlook alarming signs of imminent hostility in deference to “keeping the faith”. They may even end up offering themselves (and a host of others) to the slaughterhouse in a conviction that their martyrdom will blaze future trails to conflict resolution.

At some point, such reckless gambling with innocent lives and insouciance to the dark side of human nature becomes a squalid ego trip. “Sure, you have your martyrdom, Holy Father. Great. I wish I had my two sons back that were killed in the invasion you declined to notice as it massed on our borders.” I can imagine many a believing Catholic having some such thought at key moments throughout history.

I almost became a Catholic myself in my youth. I worked at two different Catholic schools (one Jesuit and one Benedictine). I was disturbed at how the bad actors on campus were always able to shift into confessional mode and convince a priest that they were just little lost lambs… but I was naïve myself at the time, and I would psychically smack the back of my hand for having bad thoughts.

What really bothers me about the Gutfeld interview is not the Pope’s personal naiveté, but its public and energetic defense by a prominent member of his clergy. The Catholic equation of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses with spiritual elevation is a potential life-ruiner. How does it differ, may I ask, from lighting up a joint or having a lobotomy? Or permitting a chip to be inserted into one’s brain with CorrectThink Update 3.4? For that matter, as we approach a world where lasting peace might really come to pass—because we will all be computer hybrids, and our programming will preclude violent behavior (as defined by the programmer)—how will the Catholic braintrust resist that Nirvana? For doesn’t it offer everything that the rose-tinted glasses foresaw?

The first words out of the mouth of Sophocles’ Teiresias when he appears on stage are, “What a frightful thing is thinking, when thoughts are of no profit!” And Oedipus does indeed pay a fearful price for his pursuit of truth… but Sophocles eventually celebrates him as a hero, I believe, precisely because he chooses the anguishing misery of full truth over the flattering delusions of ignorance. Doesn’t God demand such dedication to truth of us?

Final word: yes, I know that the Protestant denominations have mucked up their glasses and decided to call the color “rose” in much the same way as has Catholicism. There’s nothing much to separate them any more. The name of the only real church is in your heart, not in your checkbook.

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Author: nilnoviblog

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Latin/Greek) but have not navigated academe very successfully for the past thirty years. This is owed partly to my non-PC place of origin (Texas), but probably more to my conviction--along with the ancients--that human nature is immutable, and my further conviction--along with Stoics and true Christians-- that we have a natural calling to surmount our nature. Or maybe I just don't play office politics well. I'm much looking forward to impending retirement, when I can tend to my orchards and perhaps market the secrets of Dead Ball hitting that I've excavated. No, there's nothing new (nil novi) under the sun... but what a huge amount has been forgotten, in baseball and elsewhere!

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