Russell Shaw has an article at the Catholic World Report on Vatican II with the title Did We Really Need Vatican II? I think the question is a good one, and I wish I had time to ruminate on it at length. Unfortunately, I am on a research trip, and all I have time for at the moment is to post it and lament how lame and stereotyped his answer is. Contrary to many conservative Catholics, his answer is yes—for the opposite opinion, just read the comments on his article. His reason, however, is the evils of modernism and he summons four bogeymen to make his case:
The Church faced a grave problem then—indeed, it still does—and an ecumenical council was required to address it. What problem? No less than the crisis of modernity itself, especially the comprehensive undermining of humankind’s self-understanding and its disastrous consequences for faith, underway in the West for at least a century or more before the council.
This process had many sources, but three especially stand out: Darwinism—popularized evolutionary theory reducing the human person to no more than a higher animal; Marxism, whose deterministic account of history eliminated free choice; and Freudianism, no less deterministic, which explained human behavior as the acting out of sublimated impulses from libidinous realms of the psyche.
Capping it off was Friedrich Nietzsche, who boldly announced the death of God—the bourgeois deity of 19th century Christianity, that is—and predicted that a new morality of power vested in a superman (ubermensch) would soon emerge. Hitler apparently took that to heart.
Ordinary people were understandably slow in absorbing all this, but it was gospel for the Western cultural elites of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In due course it filtered down to the masses—a process speeded by the horrors of two world wars. Here, then, was the crisis of modernity that Vatican II needed to confront.
I have read three of the four (for some reason I have never gotten around to reading Nietzsche) and have found a great deal of value in Marx and Freud, even when I disagreed with them. And Darwin laid the foundation for the modern theory of biology with a theory as encompassing as General Relativity was to modern physics. So I simply reject out of hand any simplistic reading of history that lays all the manifold problems of the world at their collective feet.
But moving on from this, I want to start a discussion on the original question: did the Church need an ecumenical council in the early 1960′s? If so, why? If not, what was the problem? I will tip my hand and say I think the Council was timely and important, but that is in many ways a visceral reaction: I know this is the case, but am having a hard time articulating why. So I am very anxious to read your thoughts.
I’m not usually a big fan of Nicholas Kristof, but he has written a perceptive New York Times column on the symmetry of the rhetoric on either side of the Israel-Palestine conflict and its latest flare-up. Perceptive, that is, in a way akin to pointing out the emperor’s nakedness: stating the obvious, which is less obvious than it should be.
Here are his counterpoints to three of the “oddly parallel” clichés of the cycle of violence being thrown around yet again.
This is a struggle between good and evil, right and wrong. We can’t relax, can’t compromise, and we had no choice but to act.
On the contrary, this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off.
Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings. And Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.
Both sides have plenty of good people who just want the best for their children and their communities, and also plenty of myopic zealots who preach hatred. A starting point is to put away the good vs. evil narrative and recognize this as the aching story of two peoples — each with legitimate grievances — colliding with each other.
Without disagreeing with Kristof’s fundamental point here, I would nuance it to say that it is about good and evil, just not in the way we’re tempted to think. That is, it is not a struggle between good and evil people, but between good and evil in people – in thoughts and words, doings and failings. As Solzhenitsyn once said, “The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Read more…
In terms of their general experience, African Americans exist in an economic and social down-draft; white Americans exist in an economic and social updraft.
If I have been largely silent on the subject of contraception, it has been for two main reasons.
Firstly, while I am comfortable with Catholic teaching on the matter, I tend to see it as a secondary issue. Or to say it another way, I am personally uncomfortable with artificial birth control – much as I am with artificiality in general, or with the drive to control every aspect of our lives, including life itself – and I see its connections to some disturbing social trends (which will be explained more below); and yet it does not disturb me at the same level as, say, abortion, or any other direct violence.
The other reason is that it is simply difficult to find something substantial to say when so few statements on the subject, whether for or against, manage to get past the level of superficial and excessively confrontational “culture wars” that only serve to galvanize the convinced and unconvinced alike in their respective positions.
Because of this, I’ve sometimes thought of myself as a secret believer in Catholic teaching about artificial birth control. Call it cowardice if you will, and perhaps you will not be entirely wrong. But a variety of women at Catholic Sistas have provided reasons worth sharing, which go well beyond culture-war rhetoric and are not accompanied by a crusader’s battle cry. They explicitly state that they are providing their own reasons for not using birth control rather than trying “to force others to follow what we believe.” And the reasons they give are disarmingly substantial.
“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.”
I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE IN THIS SPACE that I have been worried about the long-term prospects for the survival of the United States as a unified and cohesive political entity. I still am.
Before I get to the specific reasons for my concern, it is worth pointing out that countries and empires have been breaking up, merging with one another, annexing territories, granting those territories independence and so on since the first farmer planted the very first crop 10 or 12 millennia ago and the whole project of human civilization began. Recent world history suggests that the breakup of the United States into a sort of commonwealth of independent countries need not be violent or otherwise ruinous, at least in principle. The breakup of the old Soviet Union was accomplished with relatively little bloodshed.
Go back a few decades, and we have examples in our own history — the Philippines, the Panama Canal Zone and various scattered atolls and islands in the Pacific were all once U.S. territory or colonies, and all gained (or regained) sovereignty through peaceful negotiation and treaties.
There are, of course, counter-examples of breakups that went much more badly.