Undiscriminating bishops

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has issued some Diversity and Equality Guidelines on the relationship between antidiscrimination law and the mission of the Church and its agencies. The Guidelines have drawn some unfavorable comment because of their positive treatment of “living together” (including homosexual) situations. Beyond the specific issues, however, they include a Policy Statement that’s short and provides an occasion for thinking about general principles and whether common attitudes of Church officials today toward “social justice” issues are really consistent with an intelligent understanding of Catholicism.

The Policy Statement takes Gaudium et Spes, 29 as its point of departure:

“All human beings are endowed with a rational soul and are created in God’s image; they have the same nature and origin and, being redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the same divine calling and destiny…”

From that it infers that “the dignity and equality of all human beings” is one of the “fundamental truths of Christianity, in common with other faiths.” I think that’s true in general, at least as to Christianity, but it’s worth noting that the equality has to do with ultimate matters and not social organization. It doesn’t mean that the distinction between bishop and layman or prime minister and imprisoned convict have to be abolished, so that all those people are treated exactly the same and have the same rights and obligations in all respects. So I’m not sure why it means other social distinctions, sex roles for example, have to be abolished. The issue, I would suppose, is whether the distinction has a function in the general scheme of human life.

Continuing with Gaudium et Spes,

“[F]orms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”

From this the statement infers that the antidiscrimination law of the EU and UK is a very good thing, so much so that “witness to the Gospel” involves “striving always to be inclusive … and in tune with the spirit as well as the letter of the law.”

The conclusion doesn’t follow. The statement in Gaudium et Spes, apparently taken from documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a tautology. If something is a basic personal right, so that people have it just by being persons, then one has it regardless of what kind of person he is. If the right to life is a basic human right then stamp collectors, lesbians and bigamist Nazi heroin addicts have it just as much as English bishops do. The conciliar statement says nothing about the content of the rights, and therefore doesn’t give anyone a right to the enforcement of a particular conception of equality. In particular, it doesn’t say that basic personal rights include eradication of the social significance of distinctions like marriage and community affiliation that world markets and rationalized value-free state bureaucracies would like to ignore. And it is the function of EU and UK antidiscrimination law, by rooting out discrimination based on such things, to eradicate that significance. Antidiscrimination law says, in effect and among other things, that marriage and related institutions (e.g., traditional sexual morality) can’t have any bearing on anything serious, because if they did that would be discrimination. The net practical effect of such rules is that everyone has to be treated as an unconnected individual (who therefore can rely on no-one other than the market, if he has money, or the state). That avoids discrimination, and incidentally makes people easier to manage and control if you’re an employer or bureaucrat.

The Church decided at Vatican II that the purely secular state is OK, apparently because religion and the Church are part of cultural life and cultural life is to be free in the secular state. I would expect therefore that the Church would like it to be possible for cultural life, which includes things like particular cultural affiliations and standards, to have an effect on something that matters to people in day-to-day life. Suppose, for example, someone wants to have a small business, a garage say, that treats work as spiritually and morally valuable, a matter of comradeship and life together as well as specific narrowly economic functions, and so prefers to hire Catholics who attempt to live by a common conception of the good life. He even gives a preference to Italian Catholics, since common background facilitates comradeship and a common mind. I would have thought that the Church would say that’s OK, at least in general, because that sort of thing would be part of the free development and expression of cultural life. It seems not, though. Through its whole-hearted approval of antidiscrimination law the Church in England and Wales has joined the Blair government, the EU, and big business in agreeing that such things have to be rooted out, and even identifies rooting them out as witness to the Gospel. The independence of cultural life from the state has turned out to be fictional. The point of multiculturalism is that no particular culture is allowed to be authoritative anywhere, so the state and its standards has to step in to fill the gap and order the whole of social life.

So why does the Church go along with this? The policy statement ends with a sort of credo that may give a clue:

“As we take up this challenge, we must remain true to our own faith and traditions. We expect the freedom to live according to these, just as we recognise the same rights for other faith communities. Above all, we are called to be neighbour, friend and partner to all men and women, as we struggle together to create a more just society.” [Emphasis added.]

I’ve gotten the impression that Western bishops today, certainly their staffers who draft documents like this, often believe that universal comradeship without regard to religion in the struggle to create a more just this-worldly society is the supreme purpose of the Church (with “just” understood as the secular Left understands it). It’s helpful to see the point made explicitly.

9 thoughts on “Undiscriminating bishops”

  1. “The independence of cultural
    “The independence of cultural life from the state has turned out to be fictional.”

    Would you agree, or not agree, that this error is similar to the error made by the churches in response to fascism in the 30’s?

    The bishops’ final emphasis on collectivism (pluralistic utopia populated by meaningless “faith communities”) is also suggestive. “True to our own faith and traditions” apparently means the dilution of those traditions under the auspices of a state bureaucracy that delineates acceptable behavior and beliefs.

    • I think the Church decided to
      I think the Church decided to accept the liberal claim that liberalism respects a sphere of freedom that includes religion and cultural life so in general it’s good for religion instead of dangerous to it. They also decided that evolving common public values are consistent enough with the practical public demands of Catholicism that Catholics could go with the former for the most part rather than insisting on the latter. To what extent those mistakes are similar to mistakes made regarding fascism I don’t know.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • The “liberal claim” is what i
        The “liberal claim” is what is at issue here. That liberal claim is bogus, and, as you have argued, it has to be for liberalism to be at all consistent. There is no “sphere of freedom” outside liberalism. Liberalism is the only “sphere of freedom,” and it defines the sphere and it defines the freedom according to its own principles.

        Thus, the conflation of culture with the state.

  2. Discrimination by Bishops
    The tautology I see is stating discrimination based on basic personal rights on “the grounds of basic personal rights” (sex, race, color, social conditions, language, and religion) “must be curbed.”

    More troubling than the logical tautology is the idea that discrimination based on the said basic personal rights must be eradicated. It seems the imprecise Vatican author is attempting to profess the idea we must eradicate discrimination based on “basic personal rights” (sex, race, color, social conditions, language, and religion). This can never happen as far as I can tell if the author is Catholic; so the author is fantasizing it seems. A Catholic cannot anywhere or at anytime fail to distinguish his religion from other religions.

    The religious statement is so stupid it is hard to believe Pope Paul was acting as the author rather than as an extremely busy editor. It was once said about Governor O.K. Allen of Louisiana that one day a leaf blew in and he signed it. In other words, Governor Allen signed anything Senator Huey P. Long put in front of him; this is a historical fact, absent the leaf. The Vatican issues reams of statements, and if I issued as many reams, I would be burned at the stake. This is not an excuse to avoid criticism of the Popes. It is an elaboration on Mr. Kalb’s comments.

    Let us use the example of sex. Homosexuals are evidence sexual relations are unrelated to gender. If we are “curbed” from distinguishing (i.e., discriminating) on the basis of gender, we are prohibited from advocating heterosexual marriage or condemning homosexual unions. I do not think Pope Paul in 1965 envisioned our decadent culture 40 years later. These British Catholics, it seems, are using errors in a former Pope’s routine. I’ll bet Pope Paul made plenty of statements critical of antidiscrimination ideas.

    • “Must be curbed” is of course
      “Must be curbed” is of course a euphemism for state coercion. It doesn’t say “must be condemned” or “must be proclaimed as unjust.” Presumably, therefore, the bishops are calling for the eradication by the state of any social or cultural discrimination within the Church itself and in its teachings and catechism, although one could read their statement as simply incoherent (the Church for some unexplained reason is exempted from the authorized coercive state campaign to eradicate social and cultural discrimination wherever it finds it).

      The bishops have apparently adopted the secular definition of a human person, that is, a collection of abstract legal “rights,” and implicitly elevated this definition above the traditional definition of the human person as made in the image of God. This is consistent with the tendency to import secular values into the Church and declare those values preeminent over the message of the New Testament. These secular definitions, based upon “rights,” have now become part of “God’s design.” Thus, marriage is no longer part of the natural order of God’s creation; it’s an arena of legal rights, negotiation, and state supervision.

      Of course, the “God’s design” language is both hubristic and ludicrous. Someone should tell the bishops that, when the French revolutionaries were drafting the Rights of Man and inaugarated the Enlightenment project of erecting a panoply of abstract legal rights to be defined and enforced by the state, they were explicitly rejecting religious understandings of the human person and his/her place in social and cultural life. They didn’t think that their project was part of “God’s design,” and they would have laughed at the bishops for attempting to appropriate their liberal project for God.

    • Gaudium et Spes is one of the
      Gaudium et Spes is one of the documents of Vatican II. The whole Council voted on it and adopted it. A lot of people have criticized the V II documents as confusing. To my mind as a lawyer it’s extremely odd to have all the world’s bishops get together and collectively compose general theological and policy discussions, which is what happened, rather than settle particular points that have become the subject of longstanding serious dispute, which is more what councils have usually done. The Council fathers and the Pope were no doubt able to keep actual error out of the documents but there was no possible way for them to know what they were signing on to. That doesn’t seem a good way to meke law.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • I agree, most councils have b
        I agree, most councils have been convened to address heresy or crisis, and limited themselves to those specific issues. In this sense, they were acting much like English common law courts, adjudicating the specific matter before them and developing through time an organic law.

        Vatican II is what I call the “Zeitgeist Council.” It didn’t convene to address heresy, or a particular crisis (other than modernity generally). And, of course, now we’re being told that modernity is over and done with, and therefore presumably Vatican II is one large bag of irrelevance. So, maybe, we’ll have Vatican III to address the new zeitgeist of postmodernity, under which we’ll have multilingual liturgies in which each individual in the congregation will participate in their own native tongue and the priest will preside over the vast multicultural and linguistic confusions; or perhaps they’ll decide that the use of any language is an arbitrary, exclusive power-trip preference, and therefore the entire liturgy must go forward in a respectful multicultural silence. Or maybe they’ll decide that the Church’s exclusive claims made for Jesus of Nazareth were all just a Eurocentric pathology, and issue a sullen apology with heartfelt promises to repent. Or, maybe all this has already happened and I’ve missed it.

  3. Gaudium et Woolly Headed
    Concerning fundamental rights, the document is so poorly reasoned that it seems to have been written by a woolly-headed person or a committee. Repeatedly the author refers to fundamental rights but fails to define them (except in one instance), which makes the use of the phrase fundamental rights, if not the writing, incomprehensible.

    The only fundamental rights explicitly mentioned are the rights of a woman to “choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.” “State of life” and “cultural benefits” are undefined and therefore useless expressions.

    So we are left with the only explicit fundamental rights being that of a woman to choose an education and a husband. This is a curious proposition, considering that it is questionable whether the Blessed Virgin, as opposed to an angel, chose St. Joseph as her husband.

    To further call into question Gaudium et Spes, let us reflect on a statement made by Pope Paul himself to the effect that the smoke of Satan had entered Vatican II.

    • I believe “state of life” mos
      I believe “state of life” most often means “married or unmarried.” It also means “ordained, lay or religious.” It’s a recognized expression in Catholic-speak with a fairly definite meaning. “Cultural benefits” in contrast is human rights-speak and so far as I can tell is quite open-ended.

      Dunno about Mary and Joseph. Presumably she had to consent, so she certainly had a choice in the matter even if it was Anne and Joachim, a matchmaker, some angel who happened to be passing through or Joseph himself who took the initiative.

      I think Paul said that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church, not Vatican II specifically.

      To my mind the issue with G & S is that it’s really odd to call together 2,600 very busy mature-to-elderly men from all over the world who don’t know each other and have never worked together, and who have never been involved in anything similar, and ask them to write a library of grand theoretical dissertations to govern the Church into the indefinite future in a way that breaks with the past. Whatever comes out of the process isn’t going to be focused, it’s not really going to reflect the accumulated experience and wisdom of the group in the way (say) a tradition or even the growth of general practice can, and it can be manipulated by men and groups who know what they want.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

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