A wise woman, commenting on the increasingly irrational ways of the post-Christian world, notes:
It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ. … Theologically this country is at present is in a state of utter chaos established in the name of religious toleration and rapidly degenerating into flight from reason and the death of hope.
Considering the events of just the past few days here in the United States, it’s hard to argue with her. However, the essayist, novelist, playwright, and translator Dorothy L. Sayers wrote those words in 1949, in England, and with an eye toward the Anglican Communion, to which she belonged. But, if anything, her essay, “Creed or Chaos?” (see The Whimsical Christian: 18 Essays), is more timely than ever—a searing (and often sarcastic) indictment of a Christianity that is ignorant, sentimental, and thoroughly secularized. I have in mind here those who protested yesterday in San Francisco, demanding that Abp. Salvatore Cordileone cease being a Catholic bishop and instead become a capitulating sentimentalist, like those in the emotional, moralizing crowd:
Carrying signs reading “Who Am I to Judge?” and “Love One Another,” hundreds of students, teachers and supporters marched Monday evening from the Mission Dolores Basilica to the Cathedral of St. Mary in San Francisco, where they delivered petitions opposing the archbishop’s “morality clauses” at four Catholic high schools.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has come under fire for calling on teachers and staff members at high schools within the archdiocese — Sacred Heart Cathedral, Archbishop Riordan, Serra and Marin Catholic — to accept contract and handbook language against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, contraceptives and artificial insemination.
Imagine if a group of Catholics gathered together and protested the archbishop’s stand for the poor, against pornography, against slavery, and against rape and murder. Would they treated as heroes and brave martyrs speaking truth to the face of cold, hierarchical rigidity? I doubt it. But since they are whining and wailing on behalf of sodomy, killing the unborn, and the use of chemicals and technology to subvert the natural, God-given means of reproduction, they are indeed saints—albeit in a thoroughly secular and inhumane mold.
That such a protest even took place is surreal and ridiculous (granted, it is San Francisco), but it does prove one point quite emphatically: Abp. Cordileone is quite right to think that Catholic youth in his archdiocese deserve far better teaching, catechesis, and instruction. Consider, for example, the embarrassing locutions of one young student:
Many of the demonstrators at Monday’s peaceful procession and vigil, which came at the beginning of a religious period known as Holy Week, said the archbishop’s proposals go against the spirit and teaching of Jesus.
“At the core of the religion is love, acceptance, respect and dignity,” said Gino Gresh, 18, a senior at Sacred Heart. “Whatever the archbishop is doing is completely contrary to that.”
Personally, I’m ashamed of several things I said and did when I was eighteen, but I knew—even when I wasn’t walking the talk—that the core of Christianity was the God-man, Jesus Christ, and that his love is the most challenging, daunting, and searing force I had ever known, and that it was not offered on the cheap or with a wink at my sins. On the contrary, Christ’s love was and is a call to death—to take up the Cross and to become a disciple. That means, first and foremost, dying to my sentimental, cloying notions of fairness and recognizing that I am not the first or final authority when it comes to objective truth, authentic love, and real holiness.
But, as Sayers noted decades ago, most Christians don’t really know much about the real Jesus. Many of them are “ignorant Christians, who combine a mild, gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics—most of these are Arian heretics.” That, I think, it probably an insult to the followers of Arius, who at least had some sense of what they believed, even as they rejected the Council of Nicaea and the definitions of the early Church’s Magisterium. Compare that to this:
Many Catholics in the group had no trouble reconciling their opposition to the archbishop’s position with the teaching of the Catholic Church, which does not support homosexuality or same-sex marriage.
“I can be a Catholic and a follower of Jesus without accepting what the hierarchy says but accepting what I think Jesus would have said,” said Sue Fandel, a parishioner of Most Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro who married her longtime female partner this month.
“The world already has enough hate,” said Mary Petrini, the mother of a freshman at Sacred Heart. “We don’t need any more.”
Who’s hating who here? Does Ms. Fandel or Mrs. Petrini really believe that Abp. Cordileone, in upholding the Church’s clear and consistent teaching on these matters, is promoting and fomenting hate? If so, they must take the logical step and denounce the Catholic Church, since the archbishop is simply upholding the teachings of the Church, which is part of the job description, contra the young Mr. Gresh. And, yes, they should denounce Pope Francis as well, who has spoken out against “gender theory” and “ideological colonization”, against contraception, against abortion, and, yes, against “gay marriage”.
Of course, none of that matters. Even people who should know better are pitting Abp. Cordileone against Pope Francis, as if the two men are shepherds of souls in parallel but radically different Catholic Churches. Thus, Garry Wills desperately tries his hand at channeling an emoting, angry 18-year-old teenager and, sadly, succeeds:
Some “traditional” Catholics also see the church as a battlefield; but they go out after battle to shoot the wounded. They are typified by hierarchs like Cardinal Raymond Burke, who says Catholics who remarry outside the church are like murderers, living defiantly in public sin. Or like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who issued a guide for teachers in the Catholic schools of San Francisco, requiring them to oppose—in the classroom and in their private lives—abortion, contraception, artificial insemination, same sex marriage, adultery, fornication, masturbation, and pornography. He also installed a water system in the overhang at Saint Mary’s Cathedral to soak homeless people who were trying to sleep there. Every hour or half hour, for 75 seconds, the pipes would gush down on those below and flush them away like human refuse.
Contrast that with the reaction of Pope Francis when he found that homeless people were sleeping at the entrance to the Vatican piazza.
Never mind the facts (the Archdiocese of San Francisco is apparently the largest charitable organization in the city), or more facts (the water system was not installed to flush away homeless people like human refuse, but to wash away human refuse left by homeless people), or, again, that there is no contradiction or conflict between Christ, His Church, the teachings of Pope Francis, and the actions of Abp. Cordileone.
Wills, just like the protesters in San Francisco, wants a “nice religion,” as Sayers put it, without the theology, the doctrine, or the Creed. As she noted, “if you really want a Christian society, we must teach Christianity, and … it is absolutely impossible to teach Christianity without teaching Christian dogma.” The dogma is the drama; the protests against dogma and morality are, in the end, cries of capitulation that reveal and revel in moral, intellectual, and spiritual chaos.