Tonight I attended a “Catholic Media Ethics” talk at my church. This was my comment and question during Q&A:
Using abstract nouns like “society”, “community”, and “humanity” seems to disregard the important fact that, in reality, there isn’t some perfect consensus; individual persons are divided on every single political, economic, social, and moral question. Do you think there is a ‘media party’ with a consistent ideological bias because of the idea that there is (or can be) a homogenous, social consensus on things when no “shared story of collective humanity” actually exists?
The speaker (from The Catholic Register) shouted, “Satan!!!” and pointed at me while stepping back to distance himself from me. Then he said, “You are a dangerous person. You are giving us an individualistic, neo-liberal view that I don’t think is at all compatible with the Christian concept of community.”
An audience member said with outrage, “Just like Margaret Thatcher!”
The speaker then argued that the neo-liberal view is mainly an economic one and that its adherents have the wrong anthropology.
“What if the ‘neo-liberal’ anthropology is actually quite truthful and ‘Catholic’? I mused.
He said, “Try to make the case sometime.” Then he noted Father Raymond de Souza as an example of a ‘right wing’ Catholic who gets published in The Register.
Nice to have one token conservative.
Given how relevant economics and politics is to our lives, shouldn’t we be able to discuss these controversial topics in the light of faith and from a plurality of perspectives?
I think this is why Father Sirico founded the Acton Institute. And I’m thankful he did. Acton University is the first place I ever learned the term “philosophical anthropology.” Michael Matheson Miller told us that JPII had said, “The fundamental problem of socialism is anthropological in nature.” What he meant is that socialists give an incorrect account of the human person.
That experience at ActonU was one of the most illuminating and memorable moments of my life and has influenced me personally, academically, and professionally. Who we are and what it fundamentally means to be human persons is a debate that is, of course, not “settled.”
I don’t think that all my fellow Catholics and, more broadly, fellow citizens should think like me. I do hope though that we would be able to think about things together without excommunication from the conversation on the basis of different political and economic perspectives.
It’s the Creed that’s universal among a particular faith community.
Is it not some form of idolatry then to elevate policy opinions (and, dare I add, social doctrine) to the status of dogma?
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Those “abstract nouns”, what Edmund Burke called “abstract ideas and generalities” in his Notes on the Revolution in France, are in fact idols. St. Augustine wrote of them that way. He called them the “natural idols, such as philosophers use”. They are based on Plato’s forms, which were themselves based on the classical idolatry of the old testament. Plato simply replaced the statues and named gods with the ideas they stood for: Athena = Wisdom and so on.
As another Catholic who is a Classical Liberal, I get this reaction all the time. The new Pope is unfortunately not helping matters any. We Catholic Classical Liberals clearly have our work cut out for us to articulate the correct philosophical anthropology that supports both correct morality and correct economic and political philosophy. But Classical Liberalism traces its roots back to the Spanish Scholastics, if not to Aquinas, so the task is surely not impossible!