Progressivist John Haplin at the Center for American Progress had some provocative things to say about conservative Catholics and Catholicism within a recent chain of leaked emails. In these emails, Haplin said that conservative Catholics like to “throw around ‘Thomistic’ thought and ‘subsidiarity’ and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.” Haplin also said that Catholicism has “severely backward” gender relations.
Here I briefly explain the principle of subsidiarity so that Haplin and other people can understand what we crazy Catholics are talking about. I’ll also rant about gender relations.
The principle of subsidiarity is just that, as a matter or justice and right order, governance and decision-making should occur with the lowest level possible (say, individuals, families and communities) rather than more centralized, higher level institutions or persons. Some motivation behind this principle is that it helps secure the natural rights of individuals, families and communities to rightly order their own lives without subsuming tyranny from higher level entities. Within Catholicism’s history, this principle has been applied to resist Soviet communism as well as some cradle-to-grave welfare states that prefer or insist upon government control and oversight, diminishing the role and importance of the family and community (see paragraph 79; see here, paragraph 73 and here, paragraph 48). Some arguable violations of the principle of subsidiarity might be in those cases where the state acts as the primary educator of children, not the parents. Other examples might occur with some national childcare initiatives, Obama’s contraceptive mandates, Obamacare, and so forth.
Now, contrary to what some people might say, there is no guarantee that those aforementioned examples violate the principle of subsidiarity, it’s only arguable, because higher level involvement, direction and interjection is not prohibited per se. Indeed, the principle of subsidiarity is not itself a principle for just-stay-out-of-my-way libertarianism or small government, for the state is obliged to actively help attain the common good and it can morally interject within the relations of lower level institutions if those institutions fail to function properly toward the common good. But again, these interjections subsist only if they’re necessary—the goal, if possible, will always be the restoration of lower level control and the restoration of natural rights to individuals, families and communities (see paragraph 188).
And that’s the principle of subsidiarity, briefly put. So what’s up with Haplin’s snark about conservative Catholics and subsidiarity? If I had to guess, I’d say that Haplin encourages a big, central government, one to meddle in affairs rightly ordered for lower level institutions. But, sadly, for his ambition, the principle of subsidiarity continuously demands that such meddling justifies itself, always pushing, if at all possible, for the restoration of those lower level institutions and their natural rights. Hence, the principle of subsidiarity is a shackle or an obstacle to Haplin’s ideal of a more subsuming state. That’s likely the source of his snark–he wants people to be content and complacent with the state’s subsumption, but the principle demands otherwise. So, with that said, let’s move on: I want to start my rant about gender relations.
Haplin says that Catholics have “severely backwards” gender relations. But the way I see it, Catholicism’s ideas on sex and its relations are beautiful and ideal. For on Catholicism, both man and woman are divinely created, in His image, for each other. Our created natures are thus complementary and good. And by the necessity of our created nature, no one sex is greater than the other. Instead, each sex has different roles, those predicated on real sexual difference and legitimized by God Himself. On Catholicism, then, our sexual being and difference is objective, good and intended, and our relations are properly ordered by nature, imprinted with the hand of God. So what then is our task in as men and women? Part of our task is to be mothers and fathers, not just in the genealogical sense, but in the spiritual sense, bringing ourselves, others and our progeny closer to God.
Now, compare Catholicism to the secular and liberal progressivism so prevalent in the West. The most plausible secular anthropology is that we’re an unintended result of (near?) blind evolutionary processes. Our lives, though valuable to us, are of no consequence to anything or anyone else in the known universe. Men and women are not created for each other, but, instead, have evolved to exist in ways beneficial to survival. Our sexuality, in these progressivist times, has no proper object—homosexuality is thus just a variation of sexuality, not a deviation. Sex is divorced from its marital context, leading to babies born out of wedlock, too often without a father (that creates problems). Sex is also divorced from its procreative and robustly unitive end, leading to recreational sex, the mass commodification of sex (e.g., the Internet porn industry) and the thingification of women, particularly from men. Divorce rates have skyrocketed. STDs are commonplace, and so are teen pregnancies. And if all of that weren’t enough, we don’t even know what women and men are anymore. Our ideas on sex and gender are so muddled that a person who has fathered 3 children with a woman from the natural sex act can win awards for the “woman” of the year. You couldn’t make this stuff up–it’s like its own reductio ad absurdum. It’s madness, I tell you. Madness. And so the recent history in the West is thus a history of mad rebellion. Its battle cry: I will not serve (non serviam).
So how did we get to this point? Here is how I see it. With our slow departure from God, we lost objective grounding and standard, but we can’t live that way, so we anchored ourselves in human nature and reason. But the rise of empiricism, naïve nominalism, scientism, and the demise of metaphysics led to the abandonment of natures. Hence, the refuge for grounding and standard then became the individual, his freedom and will—the only thing left that most of us have in common. But here, then, the individual’s sovereign will is the grounding and standard, we thus become like gods. So what follows? Liberty becomes license. Societal norms oppress of individuality. Private virtue replaces public virtue. Bodies become obstacles to the will (transgenderism, transhumanism, etc). Personal offence becomes blasphemy (PC culture). The list goes on and on—autonomy has gone wild. But, of course, these ideas have consequences, many of which I described above. These sorts of consequences happen when we unchain the earth from the sun. That‘s how we got to this point.
Thus, readers will have to excuse me if I balk at Haplin calling Catholic gender relations “backwards”. Consider the source.
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