Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Catholicism for solipsists

posted by Rod Dreher

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An angry Moralistic Therapeutic Deist decides he can make up his own religion, call it Roman Catholicism, and demand, via the pages of the Boston Globe, that everybody else join him in his self-deception. Excerpt from Charles Pierce’s piece:

And that structure existed not only in the opulence of the Vatican itself, but also in the minds of millions of Catholics, like myself. It still exists in the former. It has no influence in the latter, not for me, nor for many others like me. The institutional Catholic Church, for me, has no concrete form, no physical structure, no hierarchy except that of ideas. Even my attendance at Mass is largely contemplative, the priest presiding in a supervisory capacity, his authority dependent wholly on the primacy of my individual conscience. For it’s not really about celibacy, or female priests. It’s about the source of the authority exercised by a hierarchical priesthood based in Rome.

He adds:

It is possible, I have come to realize, that I’ve grown up to become an anti-Catholic Catholic.

Well, at least he admits it. What he’s saying is that he’s someone who identifies as a Catholic but who hates the things that define Catholicism. He goes on to say that he remains a Catholic because “the Gospel matters.” Well, it matters to Protestants too; they have the Gospel without Catholic claims for authority. What Pierce has done is become Protestant without leaving the Catholic Church. Except Protestants, at least in theory, recognize an authority outside of themselves, namely, Scripture. Not Charles Pierce.
Here’s the stomp-my-feet-like-a-13-year-old-girl part:

As far as I’m concerned, it no longer has the moral authority to do it, because that moral authority no longer comes from ancient ceremony or historic tradition, but from the individual conscience of each individual Catholic. The Vatican can beg. It can plead. But it can no longer demand.
Which brings me to the most fundamental rule of my Catholicism – nobody gets to tell me that I’m not a Catholic.
Those of my fellow Catholics who remain loyal to the institutional structure of the Church don’t get to do so. People who talk glibly of “cafeteria Catholicism” don’t get to do so. People who seek to coin Catholic doctrine into political advantage – be they left or right – don’t get to do so. No priest gets to do so, and no bishop, either, and that especially means the bishop of Rome himself. No pope can tell me I’m not a Catholic.

Hey Charles — you’re not a Catholic! Man up and admit it. You are a Catholic by birth and cultural identification, but you have ceased to believe as Catholicism teaches. Why do you lack the courage to be what you are: a non-Catholic Christian? Catholicism is far more than a set of propositions, but it is at least a set of propositions to which one must assent to call oneself a Catholic. I am not a Catholic any longer, and I don’t call myself Catholic — even though I probably believe far more of what the Catholic Church teaches than Pierce does. If I called myself Catholic now, without qualifying it as “fallen-away”, I would be lying to myself. Look, I know it’s extremely painful to leave the Catholic Church. It was the most difficult thing I ever did in my life. But if one cannot believe, or one will not believe, why stay? I’m not talking about the Catholics who struggle with this or that aspect of the Church’s teaching. I was one of those Catholics too, and I suspect most Catholics are. That’s normal. I’m talking about people who stand there and say with pride, anger and defiance that they don’t believe this stuff anymore, but they want all the privileges of being able to call themselves Catholic.
Diogenes points out the bleeding obvious :

If the teaching authority of the Church is wholly dependent on my conscience, then the Church has no authority to teach on topics on which my conscience is not engaged. If I’ve never really given any thought to the monophysite controversy, then the Church has no right to teach on that question. Which means, naturally, that the Church can only teach me the things that I want to be taught.
That’s certainly a comfortable understanding of authority. But is it workable? Try transposing the same model of authority to other institutions. (“No, sergeant, I won’t come to attention. I don’t want you issuing any marching orders today.”) Nope; won’t work. It’s possible–indeed proper–to say that the claims of authority are limited by the demands of your conscience. But to say that authority is wholly dependent on your conscience is to say that there is no authority over you at all.

Again, I just don’t get people like Charles Pierce. What he argues is completely untenable. A Catholicism in which you have no obligation at all to believe what the Church authoritatively teaches, or to act as it prescribes, is not Catholicism at all. At all. It’s one thing to say that you struggle to accept this teaching of the church intellectually, or have trouble living that teaching out. Everyone does, even the saints. But it’s entirely another thing to say you don’t have to try, and that that’s okay, because you are your own pope. If you don’t believe this stuff, but like to come by the church for the music, or the camaraderie, okay, fine — that’s between you and your priest, and God. But to reject the Church’s authority entirely, as Pierce does, but to still call yourself a Catholic in good standing, is either hypocrisy, or insanity — the insanity of the solipsist.
But it’s the way of the world today. From Pierce’s piece:

“I think everybody does that, even if they know it or not,” says Ron DuBois, a former instructor at the Maryknoll Seminary and currently a trustee for the lay organization Voice of the Faithful, who lives in Braintree. “I have my own theology. I do have a doctorate in philosophy and I’ve done a lot of my own reading. I think it’s an ongoing process by anyone who really thinks, especially in our country, with our emphasis on political democracy and a tradition of questioning authority.”

I would guess that Ron DuBois is correct, and that most American Catholics are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, making their own therapeutic religion up as they go along. Catholic evangelist, teacher and apologist Sherry Weddell says that what sociologist Christian Smith identifies as MTD in his study of American youth is exactly what she has found in talking to Catholic adults around the country. Shoot, most American Christians are. The idea that there should be any sort of connection between theory and practice is evaporating, and has evaporated. In the old days, when people rejected the authority of a church, they at least understood that ideas — and repudiating ideas — had consequences. Now they want it all, no matter how illogical or ignoble it is.
I have been asked to contribute an essay to a forthcoming collection predicting the future of American Christianity. I’m going to say as the Catholic Church is going, so are all our churches going: into the solipsism of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. And if you say there’s anything wrong with that, Charles Pierce is going to hold his breath until you give in. Hey, I understand why Pierce is furious at the institutional church. Who wouldn’t be? But you cannot reason your way from despising the bishops and the institution to deciding that you can believe whatever you want and call yourself Catholic. The thing is, people like me can stomp our feet and point out how ridiculous the Piercean position is. But the future belongs to the Pierces. Not for the long term, because there’s no there there in MTD Christianity, and if that’s all there is to it, most people would rather do as Europeans do, and stay at home on Sunday morning. But the incoherent, irrational thing that is MTD Christianity is the last gasp before the final decline of the thing.
Anyway, based on what he tells us about himself in his Boston Globe confession, Charles Pierce saying that he’s Catholic in any meaningful sense is about as rational as him trying to buy lunch with Confederate money. In his formulation, the currency has lost all its value, and meaning, because it’s not tied to anything except the personal opinions of Pope Charles I.
“The latest Reformation is taking place in people’s minds,” Pierce writes. I don’t doubt him. Seriously, I don’t. The first Reformation was an attempt — tragic or heroic, depending on your point of view — by Christians who were fed up with the corruption of the institutional Church to purify Christianity. This Reformation, whether Reformers like Pierce realize it or not, will kill it. It is not a thing of the mind; it is a thing of the mindless.
UPDATE: One more thing. You may be wondering why this gets me so worked up. I’m not Catholic any longer, and besides, what business is it of mine what a writer in Boston thinks about the Catholic faith. I’ll tell you why. What Pierce professes and proclaims with pride is the great enemy of all Christianity in our day. If people come to believe what he believes, Catholicism is over. Christianity, in any meaningful sense, ends. His point of view on truth and authority destroys the possibility of knowing truth, as a Catholic or as anybody else. There is no truth, only opinion. It is a trap and a prison. He might believe it makes him free today, but if that sets him free, he has no grounds to tell the anti-Semite Catholic, the racist Catholic, and what have you, that there’s a thing wrong with their Catholicism, or that they are being untrue to the faith. Because he has already declared that the only authority they answer to is their own conscience. He believes in sentimental anarchy. We are fighting for the possibility of hard, but liberating, truth. That’s not nothing.



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Jam

posted July 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm


That is something I have seen in Catholicism and haven’t seen anywhere else–hordes and hordes of people doggedly holding on to their “Catholic” status while they repudiate everything essentially Catholic, only picking out the nonessentials they happen to like.
It’s not just masses of people who have fallen away; every religion has that. It’s masses of people who are ACTIVE members in their parishes and VOCAL about all their ideas and beliefs and just… aren’t… Catholic. They go to Mass, they teach and preach and lobby and politic, they do all sorts of things but refuse what they don’t like, or actively try to change it.
Is there any parallel in any other religion? I haven’t found any.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 15, 2010 at 6:44 pm


This guy probably drinks his own bathwater and calls it “bubbly”.



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Pat

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm


Well, this is a sad story. This guy apparently has to sit and meditate during services and basically ignore the priest. What a waste! At the very least, he could find a good quaker meeting where he could meditate without interruption.
As an MTD myself, I think he should find an MTD church, with a pastor who will help him seek morality and healing through a relationship with god. I don’t find that as problematic or worthless as you seem to.



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Peter

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:17 pm


Jam,
It’s because for cradle Catholics, the church and being Catholic seep into your life and soul, right down to the bones. That’s something converts can never understand. People who switch religions once a decade will never understand the pain of seeing the church they’ve been a part of for generations changing into something they no longer understand.
These aren’t people who learned to be Catholic by reading First Things or Catholic apologetics or after they decided they were looking for spiritual meaning. They learned being Catholic by being Catholic and by being part of generations and generations of Catholics. They pray the rosary not because the priest or Vatican tells them to, because their mothers, and their grandfathers, and their great grandfathers, and so on and so on did it.
Sure, they can quit and try something else for a while. But it’s not that easy when Catholicism is cultural and historic and part of your being down to your bones. It’s something converts can never understand.



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Tom

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:21 pm


This Reformation, whether Reformers like Pierce realize it or not, will kill it.
I don’t believe it will, as many heretics in past centuries (& millenia) have tried to recreate Mother Church in their own image and likeness and ultimately failed. But most of the “cultural” Catholics do see looming changes over the horizon, and believe the institutional Church is untenable and will eventually crumble. Why else would one want to break bread with a bunch of weirdos who believe in Transubstantiation, virgin births, immaculate conceptions, etc? In a sense, their just retro-men (and women), or so they believe.



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Jioon

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:27 pm


To be fair, is this really all that new? How many peasants, and yes burghers and nobles, in ages past brought all sorts of claptrap notions to church with them and maintained these ideas despite preaching to the contrary? Indeed, at the highest levels you had monarchs who billed themselves as His Most Christian Majesty nevertheless living in sin with mistresses and telling the pope to go stuff it.



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Hector

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:35 pm


Re: This guy apparently has to sit and meditate during services and basically ignore the priest.
To be fair, I’ve sat through a lot of boring homilies and occupied myself by trying to memorize lyrics out of the 1982 Hymnal.
Then again, those are precisely the ‘MTD’ themed homilies of which I think Charles Pierce would approve. When I actually hear a priest talking about controversial issues, or about orthodox theology, or actually wrestling with the scripture passage (as opposed to what they think Jesus ought to have said) then I perk up and listen, whether or not I agree with it.



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Your Name

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:43 pm


Does it ever dawn on this guy that he is critiquing an institution based on writings that were canonized by the same institution?? Why are there 4 Gospels and not 12….because the church said so.
He says he believes the gospel….does that include the part about Jesus breathing on disciples and commissioning them? or the part against lust?



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Geoff G.

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm


Jam, I think Peter nailed it. I was raised a Catholic (Catholic schools, altar boy, First Communion, Confirmation, the whole nine yards). I don’t identify as a Catholic any more for just the reasons that Rod listed. But I’ve found myself completely unable to find myself in any other faith, Christian or otherwise, for precisely the reasons that Peter listed. So I’m stuck in a kind of limbo as a result.
As for Jam’s question, I think Judaism is the closest analog to what you’re looking for, but then there’s an ethnic component to Judaism, so people tend to regard “non-observant Jew” as less of an oxymoron than “non-observant Catholic.”
Personally, the one beef I have with Rod’s line of reasoning is that the Catholic Church deliberately overinflates its numbers for political purposes based solely on baptismal records. So unless I am formally excommunicated, I still count as a Catholic and the hierarchy presumes to speak on my behalf on any number of topics.
Once they stop doing that (and accept their status as a smaller church), then I think Rod’s reasoning is on the money.



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Scrappy

posted July 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm


After Vatican II, many dissenters found it in their interest to teach the idea of the primacy of conscience in a simplistic and distorted way, often to justify the use of artificial contraception. Many of the regular folks bought it, often to justify their use of artificial contraception. It’s convenient to apply the principle to just about anything and many American Catholics truly believe that this combination of narcissism and relativism is an authentic way to live out their faux faith.



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Dharmashaiva

posted July 15, 2010 at 8:19 pm


I’m sorry. I don’t see where the author promotes Moral Therapeutic Deism — unless being a MTDeist is synonymous with following one’s conscience.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 15, 2010 at 8:26 pm


You know, I get both sides of this one.
There’s something about being “cradle” Catholic (or Orthodox) that’s baked in the bone. One doesn’t leave one’s bones behind…
But there’s also something that’s in the head, and this is where good people, including Popes and Bishops and priests and monks and nuns, “orthodox Catholics” and allegedly leftist Catholics often go awry. They create ideas which start to demand more of their assent than Jesus.
And what’s totally lost in this discussion is the faith that’s in the heart. This author no more wants a “personal relationship with Jesus” than do those who are intently making the church more pure by making it less catholic.,



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Turmarion

posted July 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm


Jam: Is there any parallel in any other religion? I haven’t found any.
Geoff is right in mentioning Judaism. It’s actually not unusual to hear of a Jew who keeps kosher and observes all the mitzvahs, but who is agnostic or even atheist. This seems bizarre, but in Judaism orthopraxis (what you do) is considered more important that orthodoxy (what you believe). Of course, the ideal is that you believe and do; but given the choice of believing without doing or doing without believing, Judaism prefers the latter. This is the exact reverse of Christianity, which is part of the reason the two faiths have trouble understanding each other.
I second Geoff in saying that Peter nails it.
Actually, for me the problem isn’t so much what the guy in the article does, but his attitude and seeming need to gripe about it. If you look at the history and letters that local priests wrote to bishops and complaints of theologians and such, it seems likely that throughout the history of the Church the number of people in the Church who were fully orthodox in their belief, understanding, and practice was probably a small minority. Churches would fission off at times when controversies became too great (Monophysitism, Nestorianism, the Great Schism, etc.), but probably it wouldn’t be unusual in a given parish to find people with orthodox beliefs, Gnostic beliefs, quasi-monophysites, monotheletes, Nestorians, neo-Platonists, semi-pagans, and the merely ignorant and confused. Mutatis mutandis, this would be equally valid for any historical period–the exact names of the beliefs would change, but the substance would stay the same (there are still plenty of people who hold beliefs that are in effect Gnostic, Nestorian, etc., without even knowing it).
I’d say that in and of itself, that’s fine. The Church is indeed “here comes everyone”. The wheat and darnel grow together until the end of time, and God will sort it all out then. Who knows, maybe some wheatishness will rub off on the darnel!
The difference in modern times isn’t so much the composition as the arrogant need of many of those holding unorthodox beliefs to trumpet them self-righteously while not having the integrity to leave or found a new Church. If the guy in the article kept quiet about his beliefs, then I’d say that it’s fine if he stays where he is. Who knows, maybe some part of him is staying for the right reason, and God can work with that. Even with him shooting off his mouth, it may be that it’s God’s purpose that he stay there; but it’d be nice if he’d just can it and realize that trumpeting how you’re oh-so-superior to the Church you keep going to anyway isn’t so much bold as it is silly and boring.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 15, 2010 at 8:42 pm


Turmarion: The difference in modern times isn’t so much the composition as the arrogant need of many of those holding unorthodox beliefs to trumpet them self-righteously while not having the integrity to leave or found a new Church. If the guy in the article kept quiet about his beliefs, then I’d say that it’s fine if he stays where he is.
That’s my view too. As I said in the post, it’s normal for everyone to struggle with doctrine and practice. I always did, and I do today. We all have to work out our salvation. The thing that really gets to me, I mean really gets to me, is the adolescent, very public whining that you’ve identified, Turmarion. That annoys me to no end. It’s the implicit doctrine that he preaches — that Catholicism is whatever you want it to be (and by extension, so is Christianity) — that worries me, because it goes hand in glove with deeper, deeply destructive trends in American religious life.



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Cannoneo

posted July 15, 2010 at 8:58 pm


I don’t like Pierce much, either. His tone grates.
But I’m really tired of the traditionalist claim that nothing exists between “authority” and “solipsism.” The entire flipping field of philosophy, not to mention most serious theology, is devoted to what lies in that gap.
The conscience isn’t some hedonistic Id, it is formed in a dense web of ongoing social relations, including, as Pierce indicates clearly, the Catholic community of his childhood and its teachings. A Catholic with a properly formed conscience is expected to exercise it, even while willing to defer to Church authority. If that authority is as badly undermined as it is now, we might expect Catholics to rely on the conscience they’ve developed and understanding it as Catholic, even while admitting to themselves that they simply cannot accept the authority.
I think the Church’s response to someone like Pierce should not be, as you suggest, “go be a Protestant you idiot,” but something more along the lines of AA’s “just keep coming, we love you and we think we’ll earn back your trust, and you’ll get the whole picture some day.”



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thomas tucker

posted July 15, 2010 at 9:31 pm


Rod- I agree with you 200%.
When I could no longer what the Chucrch teaches, I left. What’s the point of staying?
Once I learned that the Church was actually right in what it taught, I returned.
Look- why be a vegetarian who believes in eating meat, or a Communist who espouses capitalism, or a Catholic who doesn’t belive in Church teaching?



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Bugg

posted July 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm


It’s one thing to admit you’re a sinner, and while you strive to be a better person every day, you fall down. But being a Catholic means getting back up every day and trying .I don’t make it to Mass as often as should, I’ve sinned, I haven’t been to Penance in some time. But I still believe in Christ through the Church. The institutional Church will like any other church be imperfect on this earth because the institution of the Church is composed of men and women who are imperfect who fail and sin. Faith means knowing at it’s core The Church is a central part(not the only part) of your relationship with Christ that helps you every day to get off the mat and take up your cross.
It’s quite another to say you don’t agree with the Church on anything yet you still go. If you don’t believe in the institutional Church-and there are things aplenty which are understandably disturbing to only annoying-don’t go. The earth will not stop spinning on it’s axis if Charles Pierce sleeps in next Sunday.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 15, 2010 at 9:48 pm


Cannoneo, I am not saying, and would not say, that there’s nothing to be spoken of with regard to the exercise and nature of authority in the Catholic Church, or any church. It is obvious too from the catastrophic failure of the Church authorities to exercise that authority wisely and justly that they have called its nature into question (in fact, that’s why I ultimately rejected it, but that’s a long story). Pierce isn’t anywhere close to suggesting a thoughtful, considered reassessment of one’s relationship to Church authority. He’s saying flat out that he completely rejects it, and he dares anybody to tell him he’s less Catholic because of it. Well, he can claim that he’s Napoleon Bonaparte too, and dare anyone to say he isn’t, but that doesn’t make him l’Empereur. Words mean things.



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Jan Hus

posted July 15, 2010 at 9:56 pm


“He believes in sentimental anarchy. ” Nice line.
I only ask how is it that articles as muddleheaded as this one are published? I know the guy’s thinking is common, but still…he obviously has sh## for brains. Boston Globe?
Really.



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MH

posted July 15, 2010 at 10:33 pm


Well people have the right to be annoying and you have the right to ignore him.
It’s probably a character flaw, but as a heathen I find these slap fights amusing.



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John M.

posted July 15, 2010 at 10:36 pm


It seems a bit like you’re the one doing the “stomp-your-feet” 13-year old girl bit, Rod. “They’re breaking the rules! It’s not fair!”
I’ve been told that I can’t be a Christian because I’m a non-celibate gay person who does not subscribe to the idea that I am “fallen.”
Am I an MTD? Possibly, but so what? I don’t feel insulted by that label, though I get the sense you think I should. Christianity gives me a moral and ethical framework, and an inextinguishable hope through the Incarnation.
Every single Christian creates a “canon within the canon” whether they are conscious of it or not, and makes adjustments for living in the world. I don’t see why Catholics are different. (I am not Catholic.)



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john

posted July 15, 2010 at 10:45 pm


Do we really want religion to be a fixed, changeless thing based on what some people wrote 1000 or 3000 years ago under very different circumstances and knowledge? Is religion really the only human endeavor that doesn’t change in the slightest in spite of new discovery or evolving conscience? I’ve been in churches like that and they attract people with an unattractive and bunker-like mentality. Maybe Pierce is onto something.



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Jasper

posted July 15, 2010 at 10:50 pm


It was Ratzinger (prior to his ascending to the Throne of Peter) who stated that the RC Church would likely become smaller but more faithful in the future. I would welcome such an outcome, but it may take several generations to come to pass.
The children of non-observant Catholics have even looser ties to the Church than their parents. This will intensify over time. After several more generations undergo this process, the issue of Catholic self-identification by such people will become a non-issue as many of them will not even have been baptized. Until then, we must endure.



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Hector

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:22 pm


Geoff G.,
It’s not a matter of ‘deliberately overinflating’ their membership based on baptismal records, and I don’t think it has anything to do with political power. It’s based on the theory that baptism is a sacrament, and like all sacraments it’s irrevocable. That’s why an ordained priest is ordained forever (i.e. no Donatism), a married couple is married as long as they both shall live (no divorce), the consecrated host becomes permanently the body and blood of Christ (no truck with Cranmer’s idea that the validity of the Real Presence depends on the faith of the believer), an absolved sin is absolved forever, and so forth. You might or might not agree with this idea (and it’s certainly not an easy or self-evident one to accept), but it’s a consistent idea that applies to all the sacraments, not just baptism. The Catholic church couldn’t take you off the roles without calling into question the whole fundamental premise that sacraments are irrevocable. (For what it’s worth I do accept as a matter of faith that sacraments are irrevocable).



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the stupid Chris

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:22 pm


Rod et.al.,
I’d offer this: The article seems to be a venting of grievances as much as anything else. My guess is that its author is not posting a thesis to the Church door so much as expressing that he finds a Church which proclaims that he must find it perfect and its Pope infallible to be neither, yet he remains within the Church.
Demanding that such a person must either Shut UP! or LEAVE seems uncharitable to me.
Try putting the shoe on the other foot…



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elizabeth

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:27 pm


“I’m talking about people who stand there and say with pride, anger and defiance that they don’t believe this stuff anymore, but they want all the privileges of being able to call themselves Catholic.”
What are the privileges of being Catholic?
Jasper: It seems from your comment that you look forward to the universal church becoming a small cult of purists. That strikes me, frankly, as a very protestant position.



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Rick

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:33 pm


I’d like to second something Geoff brought up: According to the Catholic Church’s own canon law, membership in the Church is conferred by baptism, normally done as an infant, and severed only by excommunication or formal repudiation.
By the Church’s own law Pierce is Catholic, and would continue to be so even if he never went to Mass.
He’s Catholic even if he thinks everything the Pope says is bunk.
He may be a bad Catholic, but he’s Catholic. He’s bound by the Church’s marriage laws. He’s entitled to a Catholic burial. He’s officially on the rolls…and since many countries provide religious groups with state support based on the number of their adherents, the Church has plenty of incentive to keep him on the rolls.



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Peter

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:39 pm


By the Church’s own law Pierce is Catholic, and would continue to be so even if he never went to Mass.
But what fun would there be in that if we couldn’t just play “excommunicate” and toss out people who we decide aren’t good Catholics?



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sj

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:49 pm


I think this is the same Charles (“Charlie’) Pierce who is an NPR personality appearing on “Wait, Wait” and hosting that weekend sports show. He’s been on this topic for awhile.



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Rick

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:53 pm


It’s based on the theory that baptism is a sacrament, and like all sacraments it’s irrevocable.
I don’t think so, Hector. You are right that baptism is permanent. But not all the baptized are canonically members of the Catholic Church.
The Church I think could strike lapsed Catholics from its rolls — that is, from its canonical jurisdiction — without calling into question the permanence of baptism. But in many countries this would have large financial consequences — since the Church receives state support based on its official membership.



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Coldstream

posted July 15, 2010 at 11:59 pm


I’ve always noticed a certain percentage of people, I probably see more of them around the college campus so that’s what I’ll focus on here, that seem to bask in the glow they get when they announce (and they always will when given half a chance) that they are “Catholic but don’t practice” or “I’m Catholic but I don’t believe in X,Y,Z”.
I think that’s part of the reason many people like Pierce do what they do. They get celebrated in many circles as being some sort of “free thinker” who has “broken free of the shackles of religion etc…” and being that rebel within a group.
Some of it I think comes from identity politics, and the opinion that you have to be part of a group in order to talk about it: only women can “authentically” talk about women’s issues, only blacks can have an “authentic” opinion on black issues, so only someone who identifies themselves as a “Catholic” can have an opinion on Catholicism…and all the better if it confirms some sort of MDT or reaction against traditional Catholicism.



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WILLIAM SOWLES

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:06 am


If all the not-so-good Catholics were tossed out of the Church, there would be no Catholic Church. The Church is for sinners. All the Saints are in Heaven.



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TWylite

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:06 am


This is a recurring pattern in many areas of life: people will self-indulgently glom onto some larger established and ready-made organizational structure so they don’t have to do the hard work of building one up on their own. In the business world, “leveraged buyouts” are a good example, where a relatively small band of people can overtake huge corporations they could never create in their own lifetimes. Todd Gitlin called the Weatherman’s sezure of the leadership of the Students for a Democratic Society in 1969 “organizational piracy”, which is an apt name for this kind of thing. Detached from that very public platform, they would have been like other garden variety lefty-terrorists, good for a brief laugh in a few local newspapers. I haven’t studied the matter in close detail, but some of the goofier “Emergent Church” types seem to be people who want all the ready-made benefits of being a “Church” all about Jesus and the Bible, but hold the Leviticus, and put the Apostle Paul on the side, thank you very much. Cafeteria Evangelicals?
As far as currency goes, Confederate dollars and Federal Reserve notes are all counterfeit. The one true American currency is bank notes of the Imperial Government of Norton.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Norton



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Jillian

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:53 am


I like this article but I find the analysis applied not terribly convincing. (Yeah, surprise.)
To my thinking the Pierce article is a piece of writing of a larger regional historical genre I’ll give an ad hoc label of “New England Puritan-To-Quaker conversion stories”. It helps to see this piece through a Quaker lens to grasp it and there are a lot of motifs of the kind to be found in it. Pierce willingly subjects his beliefs to the critiques and standards which happen to be those of Quaker tradition: community and integrity both inside and outside of prayer. “Sentimental anarchy” is a critique Pierce can fend off with ease.
From that perspective it’s also quite easy to identify what Pierce claims as his Catholicism- and he articulates most of it. It’s the humanity/human example of Jesus, it’s the architecture that is a memorial to contemplative prayer and service, it’s the great contemplative prayer tradition within the Church (in form of e.g. the Trappists). Though this is unstated, he probably knows or believes his family predecessors and preferred members of his parish were/are also participants in that element of the RCC. He can obviously dispense with the orthopractical and orthopraxy-enforcing portion of the Church.
The honest reply to him is that the bulk of the Church simply does not and cannot live on those heights to the extent he does or thinks he can. Of course, that would be to admit that he’s graduated the school and ought to attend a better/higher one.



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kenneth

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:47 am


To Rick’s point: the church does have a procedure for “striking you from it’s rolls.” But not really.. There is a process called formal defection, “Actus Formalis Defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica.” Basically you write a letter to the diocese in which you were baptized stating that you no longer believe and wish to defect. They send you a polite letter acknowledging that, and supposedly make an annotation of the fact on the sacremental record. Had it done myself and they’re fairly prompt about it. HOWEVER…. they will also maintain that it does not “uncatholic” you in any substantial way. It used to let you off the hook on exactly one piece of canon law, the marriage forms. As of early this year, it no longer even does that. In their eyes, you’re still just as Catholic as you were before you defected!
So I get Rod’s point, but I also find it hard to have any real sympathy for the church’s dilema. They are simply being forced to sleep in the bed they’ve made. They assert spiritual ownership of a billion three people or some such absurd number based on a splash of water. Everybody who was born to Catholics is a Catholic, forever, whether they want to be or not or ever profess real belief or make an informed choice to do so. Well guess what? If you set up a system which forces an identity on people with no real investment in it, you’ve created a worthless brand. Most will simply drift off, but it’s also a natural reaction for others to turn the tables and define for themselves what their unwelcome label means to them. Give people a real choice and make baptism and confirmation contingent on a real informed choice, and you won’t have that problem. Yes, there will always be some loon tilting at a windmill here and there, but I’ll bet you don’t see this behaivior among adult converts who truly wanted what they signed on for…



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Paul

posted July 16, 2010 at 5:35 am


Interesting read…
I do feel compelled to point out God is Love, God is Truth, those who seek Him will find love and truth. Christ came for all sinners, for the salvation of the world, those who believe in Him will find eternal life in Him. He started the Catholic Church, which holds the truth. Now, here on earth, the Church is led by human beings subject to the human condition and to the influence of evil. Don’t think for a minute that Satan wouldn’t love for the Catholic Church to dissolve. They key for all of us is… do we believe in the truth, do we believe in love? As much as you may want 2+2 to equal 7 it never will. It will always equal 4. The same with God’s truth… you may want it to be something else, but it is the truth and it is what it is… like it or not.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 16, 2010 at 7:28 am


Ye who are making the canon law point are drawing a distinction without a substantive difference. A man who says he is still a Catholic even though he utterly rejects the Catholic Church’s teaching, and right to teach authoritatively, is sort of like someone who was born in America but raised from childhood in, I dunno, India, claiming that he’s just as American as anybody else. That may technically be true, but it’s meaningless. Except that’s a flawed analogy, because being an American doesn’t oblige you to believe anything. Being Catholic does. The idea that one can be a Catholic in any meaningful sense while completely denying Rome’s authority is absurd, and would have been seen as ridiculous by any Catholic in any time and place but our own.
Think of this analogy: Charles Pierce has been given a map that will take him from one place to another, a map that has been relied on by people wishing to get from Here to There for nearly two millenia. Yet he has proclaimed that he does not find the mapmakers reliable, that he’s going to set out on his own, and nobody has the right to tell him that the trail he intends to blaze is wrong. How much sense can that possibly make? It is possible, of course, that the map he has been given is wrong. But it cannot be the case that he can both deny the map’s reliability and claim that his alternative route is the same as the map’s.
Understand the point I’m making: if Pierce were to say he’s an Episcopalian now, and that nobody can tell him that’s a lesser way to salvation than Catholicism, that would be a debatable point, but a reasonable one. But that’s not what he’s doing here. He rejects the authority of the mapmaker, yet claims the very different map he’s drawing for himself is essentially the same as the map he rejects. That is a logical impossibility.
Chris:
Demanding that such a person must either Shut UP! or LEAVE seems uncharitable to me. Try putting the shoe on the other foot…
Uh, Chris, you do know who you’re talking to, yes? I did leave, though my beef with the Catholic Church was not the same as Pierce’s. When I became convinced that my salvation did not depend on Rome’s authority, I left, because I could not tolerate being Catholic anymore, and besides, I had ceased to believe Rome’s claims for itself. Whether I was right or wrong is beside the point; I hated to leave the only home I’d known as an adult Christian, the place and community to which I’d been intensely devoted for 13 years. It was like a divorce. Pierce has reached the same conclusion as I have regarding Rome’s authority, and boldly proclaims his rejection of same — yet says Rome has no sovereignty to set the conditions of his communion with it. It’s childish and bizarre. It’s as if he were to write a Boston Globe essay saying that he no longer feels bound by his marriage vows, and intends to carry on within his marriage as if he were a single man, but refuses to acknowledge that there’s anything lesser about his marriage than anybody else’s. He’s technically still married in that situation, but that’s not a real marriage, and the only one he would be fooling is himself.
Believe me, I know what it’s like to be so angry at the Church’s hierarchy that you’re driven to intense doubt and public outbursts of rage. I’ve been there, and people who have been reading my blogging and writing since 2002 know how rash I have been at times (sometimes justified in that rashness, sometimes not). I still maintain that if he cannot accept Rome’s authority — a different thing from being unable to stomach the behavior of the hierarchy, a position I share with him — he has already left the Church, defecting in place. What’s going on in his soul is between him and God, but I find his public position ridiculous, and even contemptible. Understand, it’s not his disgust with the hierarchy I can’t stand, nor do I fault him for doubting, especially in this crisis; my problem is his prideful declaration that he has rejected the authority of the Catholic Church — the key thing that distinguishes the Roman church from all others — yet considers himself fully Catholic, same as anybody else.
I guarantee you that I personally agree with more of what the Catholic Church teaches than Pierce does. Much more. By that standard, I am more Catholic than Pierce. But I’m not a Catholic, because I formally left. I could walk into a Catholic parish today, confess to a priest that I’d sinned by leaving Rome’s fold, and be regularized instantly. But unless I recognized Rome’s authority, it would be a lie. Pierce is lying to himself, and to others, and he’s lying about something that is hugely important.
The outrages of the abuse scandal understandably drive sensitive Catholics to rage and despair. I’ve been there. But the moment an individual Catholic decides that the Church no longer teaches authoritatively, its precepts binding on his conscience, he’s left the Church, whether he realizes it or not. He has no moral right to remain and lead others astray. If he wishes to be silent in his radical dissent, and work it out with his priest, that’s one thing. But the way Pierce has chosen to defy the Church is deeply destructive of the Church’s own identity, its mission, and ultimately the truth.
What this hinges on is whether or not one believes religion says something objective about reality, or that it’s merely a statement of one’s subjective emotional state.



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JB

posted July 16, 2010 at 8:39 am


But, Rod, the Catholic church teaches not only that the Pope is infallible and has total teaching authority; it also teaches that it is the Church universal. And in some ways, much more so than other Christian faiths, it is; geographic spread, history, and a history of making room for a wide variety of theological approaches despite the supposed veto power of Rome. If you grow up in that environment, why would you not find it plausible to find similarities between yourself and, say, Teilhard de Chardin or St. Francis (both outliers, I think you’d agree, although not nexessarily on the idea of Papal authority)and stay in place? There are, from that point of view, two threads to this “agree or leave” conversation; one points out that papal authority is the biggie, the non-negotiable demand. But the other sees a big tent, a claim (for authority) that can’t be found in the Bible, and a willingness to wait and see how it all plays out.



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Dan O.

posted July 16, 2010 at 8:39 am


Discussions like these have made me want to throw in the towel on modernity altogether – the attempt to balance the light of divinity while removing from it all authority. I think people like Pierce exist because the illusion of authority granted an institution is shattered when the illusory authority (from Pierce’s point of view) acts in ways they can’t reconcile. An illusion of authority was all Pierce ever granted the Church; scandal just pulls the curtain away from the wizard. I find a similar strain of thought among the more radical of Tea-Partiers. The very fact that the government acts in ways they cannot reconcile dispels the illusion of authority the government has for them. They never really ceded the government authority, anyway. They signed the social contract, only provisionally, so long as it didn’t tax them too much, or play to their disadvantage.
What Cannoneo said rings true:
“The conscience isn’t some hedonistic Id, it is formed in a dense web of ongoing social relations, including, as Pierce indicates clearly, the Catholic community of his childhood and its teachings.”
I assume Cannoneo refers to Mead’s generalized other – identifying conscience as our internalized dynamic images of our parents, friends, relations, authority figures, peers, and maybe God too, with whom we hold mental discussions (i.e. deliberation). I’m a pretty late-coming PoMo, a complete neophyte (to theology too), but I’m dimly beginning to see how conceptions such as these can provide a new footing for the relationship between authority and individual liberty. Always thought that dude was way ahead of his time.
So, Rod, I’d disagree with you about thinking MTD is going to be the future of religion. I think that would be an unquestioning acceptance of the dominance of the Baby-Boomers upon their kids and grandkids. Sure, young people might overwhelmingly accept a version of MTD. I am/was (struggling) an atheist in reaction to MTD’ers. I didn’t grow up with anyone who was really orthodox. I have never believed MTD’ers have a theodicy to offer (in my context that’s bound up in Jewish concerns), but traditional religion is not an option for me either. Like Pierce, I’m allergic to that kind of authority. And, as I grow older, I’m learning how common I am. So, MTD seems too ideologically unstable to be anything more than a transition point.



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Matthew

posted July 16, 2010 at 8:50 am


Here’s what I don’t understand, Rod. A few days ago you posted an entry on why Catholicism must paganize or face death. While paganism is not MTD, in most cases, its most definitely not sanctioned Catholicism either. In many cases, it crosses the border of superstition, which as our Catholic priest emphatically mentioned in a recent homily, is a mortal sin, and removes one from fellowship with God and the Church.
How are those in that post any different than Pierce? Both are holding to aberrent beliefs and both are acting on them. Both are acting on faith. Though materially different, the only difference I can see in the analysis is that one smears a bit of Catholicism on an otherwise aberrent theology or practice somehow sanitizes it.
One thing I do agree with for both the pagans and Pierce is this: “In the old days, when people rejected the authority of a church, they at least understood that ideas — and repudiating ideas — had consequences.” The reason why the likes of Pierce feel comfortable staying within the walls, and even being an outspoken critic of the Roman Catholic Church is precisely because there no longer is fear of any consequences for their behavior. Pierce wouldn’t have had the same option in the 16th or 17th century.
-Matthew



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Andrea

posted July 16, 2010 at 8:51 am


He IS Catholic. He’s a Catholic who doesn’t agree with many tenets of the Church, but he is a church-goer. He’s been baptized, confirmed and made his first communion and is on the church rolls. By every Catholic law I’ve ever been taught, he is a Catholic. So am I. There are many who would argue he’s a bad Catholic, but he’s Catholic nonetheless. Catholic means “here comes everyone” and the doctrine of the conscience that he references is a Catholic teaching. This is one of the things that I don’t know if converts or Protestants can really understand on anything other than an intellectual level. On a secular level, it might be something like being an American. Republicans and Democrats and Independents all vehemently disagree and call each other names but they are all Americans and every single person who is born here and raised here is an American and you cannot take that birth right away from them even if they commit some dreadful crime. Being Catholic is the same thing.



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Liam

posted July 16, 2010 at 9:02 am


Actually,
Charles Pierce is still Catholic. He is defending forthrightly what was once called being a Bad Catholic.
Rod’s analysis of this is classically Northern European and Protestant. Many Southern Europeans have held what amounts to Pierce’s views – though usually without the forthright defense, for appearances’ sake, and not expressly such a broad disagreement – way back to the Middle Ages. It’s hard to explain this to someone with the perspective Rod brings to it. It drives Northern European types up the wall, reeking of a lack of integrity, et cet; we like a very high degrees of correspondence between reality and ideals. Southern Europeans scratch their heads at this reaction; they know that a desire such correspondence often doesn’t come from God as such but from internal baggage that’s less noble and virtuous.
Objectively, Pierce is part of the family. He’s acting out right now. But he’s still part of the family.
Subjectively, Pierce would do well to consider some of Rod’s questions as fodder for discerning blindspots.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 16, 2010 at 9:03 am


Andrea: Catholic means “here comes everyone” and the doctrine of the conscience that he references is a Catholic teaching. This is one of the things that I don’t know if converts or Protestants can really understand on anything other than an intellectual level. On a secular level, it might be something like being an American. Republicans and Democrats and Independents all vehemently disagree and call each other names but they are all Americans and every single person who is born here and raised here is an American and you cannot take that birth right away from them even if they commit some dreadful crime. Being Catholic is the same thing.
So, to say one is a “Catholic” means only that one is formally a member of the Catholic Church. Which means, Andrea, that under your logic, the word “Catholic” is basically meaningless. No one has to believe a word of it to be a Catholic in good standing. You can deny every word of the Creed, and still be a Catholic. You can affirm the truth of, say, Islam, but according to your view, Andrea, one is still a Catholic.
If that is the case, then Catholicism has no real meaning, and can have no real meaning.
Your view that the Church’s view on the primacy of conscience gives its communicants the right to pick and choose for themselves what they wish to believe, and that no one can tell them that they’re right or wrong, is a mistake. If the Church really taught what you say it teaches — that is, that its understanding of “primacy of conscience” was a general get out of jail free card — then it would have dissolved its reason for being.
I think you are correct to say that many Catholics view their Catholicism in the same way they view their Americanism: as something that’s true no matter what they believe. But being an American is not a state of being that depends on affirming certain propositions. You cannot be a Catholic and deny that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Messiah. You can be an American and believe anything, even that the government in Washington is unjust and illegitimate.
Matthew, when I expressed some sympathy for the idea that Catholicism must paganize, I didn’t mean that it should turn syncretic. I meant that it should return to emphasizing the “pagan” aspects of Catholic faith and practice — the sacramental devotions, liturgics, and so forth. Things that remind people that Catholicism is a sacramental, embodied faith, and not a cerebral, Protestantized thing. On the other hand, if all that matters in Catholicism is the showing up for the rituals, and one is free to believe whatever one wants, that’s wrong too. Orthodoxy is as important as orthopraxy.
Again and again: what I object to is not Pierce’s struggle with Church authority; what I object to is his denial that the Church has the right to define itself, or to expect anything of him. That is the narcissist’s position. I don’t like the idea that converts are wrong because they take the Church’s teaching seriously. The fact that converts are not born into the faith doesn’t make them wrong. Of course some converts are arrogant and uncharitable in their approach to cradles, but sometimes, cradles need to be reminded what the faith teaches and expects of them.



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Andrea

posted July 16, 2010 at 9:18 am


I think my childhood priest would disagree with you. He’d say Pierce is a bad Catholic, is setting a bad example for other people in the church, and perhaps action should be taken to show the church disapproves of what he’s saying and attempt to bring him back in line. But he would consider that he has some authority over Pierce and a right to say something about Pierce’s behavior and erroneous beliefs, which Pierce himself acknowledges. He’s Catholic. Someone who says he doesn’t believe Jesus in the Messiah, someone who says he believes in reincarnation, someone who says gays should have the right to marriage or that abortion should be allowed, etc. is a Catholic in disagreeement with Church teachings. Every blessed one of them is STILL Catholic and people the Church wants back and believing the right way. Catholicism is universal. It’s a big family, with varying views, not all of them in agreement all the time. Once you’re in, it’s mighty hard to get out. Liam’s statement above is my understanding of Catholicism as well.



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Pat

posted July 16, 2010 at 9:45 am


“His point of view on truth and authority destroys the possibility of knowing truth, as a Catholic or as anybody else.”
Are you serious? I could buy that knowing a set of *moral* truths might be dependent on accepting either authority or tradition, or else those moral truths would be entirely personal — but I can only buy that because I don’t believe objective moral truths exist, and think the only sense in which you can ‘know’ them is by finding and following some group that pretends to know.
I myself think that if you are going to live by some human-created set of morals, you are better off doing the work to create them yourself and admitting that you created them yourself. But that is because my own morality values epistemic modesty and personal responsibility. And to assume that every person who creates their own morality does so in bad faith, without working hard at it, questioning their biases, and agonizing over their decisions, is as paper-thin as assuming that everyone who bows to authority puts their personal conscience in a lockbox.
But to say nobody can know *any* truth except by bowing to authority — a lot of scientists would disagree with that.
To quote a favorite bumper sticker — ‘Never question authority. What makes you think they have any answers?’



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Rod Dreher

posted July 16, 2010 at 9:57 am


Liam:
It drives Northern European types up the wall, reeking of a lack of integrity, et cet; we like a very high degrees of correspondence between reality and ideals.
Liam, let me be clear: I know that very few Christians, Catholic or otherwise, live out their lives in perfect obedience to the Church’s teachings, and without doubt about any of those teachings. In fact, I’d say that nobody does. Every American Catholic adult who uses contraception effectively denies the Church’s binding authority; that’s something like 96 percent of all married Catholics. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there’s a big difference between personally denying this or that Church teaching, either consciously or in the way you actually live, and publicly proclaiming that the Church has no right to tell you what to believe and to do, and anyone who says so is wrong.
You see? It’s one thing to know that one has fallen short of an ideal. It’s quite another to deny that there is any ideal. Pierce denies the ideal itself.



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Meba

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:02 am


I see many people complaining that Pierce is a Bad Catholic because he believes something different from what the Church is teaching right this minute. They ignore the thousands of changes in the Church over the past “two millennia”. When the Pope says “Okay, we had been telling you X, but now Y is correct, go forth and do Y” were all the people doing Y before that change MTD-ers? Were they Bad Catholics only until what they belived became Good Catholicism? “Oh, you don’t understand, being Catholic is all about Authority and we have to wait for the green light to change,” I hear you cry. How far does the moral standing of the Authority have to fall before people like Pierce can start listening to their own consciences? Also, maybe he’s wrong, but at least he’s open about it. Millions of people who call themselves “Good Catholics” (or Good Whatever Religion) carve out their own exceptions and don’t think of themseves as MTDists.



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Molly Roach

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:19 am


Hey, keep 13 year old girls out of this, it has nothing to do with them! I second William Sowles: the church is for sinners.



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Cannoneo

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:29 am


“What this hinges on is whether or not one believes religion says something objective about reality, or that it’s merely a statement of one’s subjective emotional state.”
Again with the zero-sum game. Religion, in this sense here, is just crap scientism. An early product of the Enlightenment that is frozen in time, while real science has taken concepts like objectivity to much more interesting places, places which you write about with zeal, all the time. I don’t see how you can then remain confident in this uncomplicated notion of Reality as the basis for defining religious propositions. They may tell us the deepest truth that is possible for us – but the idea that this kind of truth precedes and excludes “subjective emotional states,” impoverishes it.
The architecture of Pierce’s spiritual life (mental as well as material), he tells us, is Catholic. But the idea of Authority has fallen away from it. Maybe he isn’t the writer to take that in a more profound direction. But it’s an important concept for many Catholics to confront.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:36 am


An open question to Rod and any other current, former or ex-Catholic willing to try to answer it:
Rod, if the Church had a longstanding, formal process by which believers could question authority, challenge doctrine or (the big one) air a grievance, and further it was transparent in terms of quickness and sincerity of response, and also further demonstrated that no punishment of the believer would transpire, would you have left the RCC over the sex scandal?
Call it “paganization”, call it what you want, but to me the failures in modern, institutionalized religions is not within the scope of theology, but the mundane, very human and practical response to arbitrary authority and the perception that there is no recourse — other than self-exile — to being injured by the “system”. It should surprise no one that the vast majority of Pagans of my acquaintance are ex-Christians with the emotional scars (and too often physical scars) to prove my point. :-(



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:36 am


A man who says he is still a Catholic even though he utterly rejects the Catholic Church’s teaching…
I’ll go back and check, but I saw no denial of anything contained in the Catholic version of the Creed, in fact one could read the article as an affirmation of the last part of that. So “utterly rejects” seems a pretty gross overstatement, unless it’s your position that the Catholic faith “utterly” rests upon something other than that Creed.
And Rod both of us decamped the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy. But there’s a huge difference between walking out and being bounced. Ask any barkeeper.



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Dan O.

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:40 am


Pat,
With all due respect, I don’t think that you can believe what you believe and yet be an MTD. What you outline is existentialism – the view that God or not – moral matters are up to us. We are as-if alone. But there are consequences to being an existentialist, consequences you seem to accept. You don’t believe that if you follow your heart that everything is going to be alright, and you’re going to go to heaven. Right? It’s hard to believe that, and yet struggle as you do. That’s why it’s dangerous to be an existentialist, and being one deserves admiration (at least I think so), not the scorn shown someone who takes the easy way out. I mean, you could end up being wrong about something, and hold yourself responsible in a way that can be personally devastating. There’s nothing childish about that.
I think Rod’s criticism of Mr. Pierce is that he’s nothing genuinely. If Rod, additionally, wants to scorn genuine existentialists along with people who seem to want it both ways, then that’s not your problem. Orthodox believers do that sort of thing all the time.



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Peter

posted July 16, 2010 at 10:46 am


There are certain corners where the favorite dinner party game is “Who is a good ____________ and who should we excommunicated.” I understand the impulse, fighting the good fight and for truth and justice and all that. Yet, there’s something sad about the whole game since it really is focused on judging other people’s faith and heart when one should probably be focused on their own front porch–as my grandmother would say–before minding someone else’s.
I know, I know. If we can’t judge, everything will fall apart. And a little judgment and shame is needed to police the faith. Doesn’t make it seem any less unseemly.



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thomas tucker

posted July 16, 2010 at 11:57 am


First, there is certainly more to the Catholic Faith than what is contained in the Creed.
Second, if langauage is to mean anything then for someone to call themselves Catholic should leave us to understadn that they do in fact believe certain things ( the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, for example.) if that is not the case, then we might as well quit using words to describe things.



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tscott

posted July 16, 2010 at 11:58 am


Franklin Evans:
I do not doubt that many modern pagans are ex-believers with emotional and physical scars. I would like to know if you have ever read G.K.Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”?



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Franklin Evans

posted July 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm


tscott,
I’ve seen Chesterton quoted or cited many times, certainly here, but I’ve not read anything by him. Besides “Orthodoxy” (query: is that title apropos to the context of this thread?), would you (or anyone else) care to recommend specific pieces or titles? I have the complementary problem to Rod’s: I prefer fiction, and I have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck and branch out. Thanks.
captcha: been knitwear (done that). ;-)



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JB

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm


Re: Rod’s update. Pierce is not necessarily arguing against all types of authority. He’s arguing against Papal infallibiity and the authority of the bishops to define truth. There are many other ways to derive authority, and there are many other ways to arrive at truth. And the Catholic church didn’t have Papal infallibility, or a unified teaching magisterium, until well after the early days of the church. It is in contrast to these two (discredited, in his and many people’s eyes) conceptions of authority and truth, that he asserts his right to follow his conscience. Rod, you are quick to claim that if Christians don’t accept this type of authority, then it and truth will die; have you not felt authority and truth flow from other sources?



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:08 pm


Thomas,
Point was about language. If you’re going to “utterly reject” a faith, you should at the very least be rejecting either the foundation of the faith or the vast majority of its teachings.
I read neither in the article, not even on second reading.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm


He’s arguing against Papal infallibiity and the authority of the bishops to define truth.
I’d add that Arius was a bishop, and history demonstrates that not all Popes and bishops at all times have rightly upheld the faith. In fact, one of the things that marks history is how the faithful often maintained the faith when their Popes and bishops had strayed, and later Popes and bishops arose from those faithful civilians who did not follow their leaders off the cliff.
How many Borgias were Popes? How many Medicis? And doesn’t anyone here marvel that when there were competing Papacies God saw fit to raise up saints who supported both?



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Rod Dreher

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm


Re: Rod’s update. Pierce is not necessarily arguing against all types of authority. He’s arguing against Papal infallibiity and the authority of the bishops to define truth. There are many other ways to derive authority, and there are many other ways to arrive at truth. And the Catholic church didn’t have Papal infallibility, or a unified teaching magisterium, until well after the early days of the church. It is in contrast to these two (discredited, in his and many people’s eyes) conceptions of authority and truth, that he asserts his right to follow his conscience. Rod, you are quick to claim that if Christians don’t accept this type of authority, then it and truth will die; have you not felt authority and truth flow from other sources?
He does have the right to follow his conscience. He doesn’t have the right to call himself Catholic when he rejects the essential thing that makes the Catholic Church stand apart from other Christian churches: the authority of Rome to define truth on questions of faith and morals. I didn’t make that up; that’s what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about itself. If Pierce is right, then the word “Catholic” only describes a sociological reality, not a theological one.
Chris:
Point was about language. If you’re going to “utterly reject” a faith, you should at the very least be rejecting either the foundation of the faith or the vast majority of its teachings.
Chris, as an Orthodox Christian, and judging by the details Pierce provided in his essay, I probably agree with significantly more of the Roman church’s teachings than Pierce does. But that does not make me a Catholic. Why not? Because I don’t accept the RCC’s claims to authority. That’s what the Great Schism between Rome and the East was about: authority. That’s what the Protestant Reformation was about: authority. Pierce is saying that each man is his own authority; instead of a Pope in Rome, every man is his own Pope. That is not Catholicism. To accept that destroys the basis for Catholic particularity.



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Fr. J

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm


Any Catholic who would like to see where all of this is headed need look no farther than the Episcopal Church, my church. We are much further along down this rabbit hole and with disastrous consequences. Few if any Episcopalians today actually have a clear picture of what being an Anglican Christian actually implies. Those who do eventually leave in frustration, heading either to Rome or the East if they favor one party or Evangelical protestantism or Presbyterianism or if they favor the other. It’s enough to give me a great deal of depression, if it weren’t for one constant source of hope that is immune to the changing sentiments of the time: the cross.



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ratiocination

posted July 16, 2010 at 1:47 pm


Where to start? This comment section feels like an echo chamber.
1. The Freemasons whose idea it was to destroy the Church in this way are dancing with glee at this moment. We are doing precisely what they wanted.
2. The Pope is not considered 100% infallible. Quite the contrary, he is human like the rest of us, and, sadly, also subject to human error at times. Only on specific official pronouncements regarding the faith does he invoke infallibility. see http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/papac2.htm for more info on this.
3. We as Catholics are permitted to dissent from Church teaching to the extent that such dissent does not include these essential elements of our faith. In doing so, we must still be faithful to the core teachings of the Church. If we reject these, then all bets are off.
4. I’m as tired as anyone else of people pointing fingers and saying ‘I’m a better ___________ than you’ or ‘that person is a heretic’. Rod is doing neither, he’s merely pointing out that the dissent that this fellow is professing is beyond the limits of #3, and that it really is silly to dissent from Catholic teaching to the extent that he does while insisting that he is still a Catholic. None of us is trying to boot him out. We’re just pointing out the obvious.
5. As someone who also left the Church for a while due to my own issues with faith as it is currently practiced, I second the assertion that if you really disagree that strongly, it only makes sense to leave the Church (since, in essence, you’ve left it already). You are always welcome to come back if and when you decide you are in error.
6. Sadly, much dissent like the above is based on an ignorance of the actual teachings of the Church. A great example has to do with the offhand rejection of the old Latin Mass as ‘the priest having his back to you, speaking in a language you don’t understand.’ Yep, that’s true, but it’s only one way of looking at it. When you learn more about it, you find that what it really is, is the Priest facing the same way as the congregation–toward Jesus, and toward the Holy Land–and speaking the same language no matter where you are in the world. Apply this understanding to many of the other “controversial” teachings of the Church, and you’ll be surprised what you might find. If you still disagree, so be it, but understand what you are disagreeing with.
I suggest everyone take a moment, before posting any more identical rants, to read this well-written article explaining very clearly the concepts discussed above:
http://www.catholicplanet.com/TSM/assent-dissent.htm
captha: hobbies nay-saying. Gotta love it!



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ratiocination

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm


uh-oh, my comment got sent to moderation H-E-double-hockey-sticks because I included links. :(



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:09 pm


the stupid Chris
July 16, 2010 1:08 PM
Thomas,
Point was about language. If you’re going to “utterly reject” a faith, you should at the very least be rejecting either the foundation of the faith or the vast majority of its teachings.
I read neither in the article, not even on second reading.
****
He rejects the authority of the Church, which is foundational to the faith to say the least. There’s the whole bit about St. Peter and the keys, the binding and loosing. All that goes away due to the primacy of this guy’s musings.
And then there’s this…
“Even my attendance at Mass is largely contemplative, the priest presiding in a supervisory capacity, his authority dependent wholly on the primacy of my individual conscience.”
Even the priest’s ability to confect the Eucharist is dependant on the “primacy” of this guy’s individual conscience. If this guy comes to my parish I hope he makes a public sevice announcement as to whether or not he allows the priest to bring Jesus to the Mass.
This guy is a mental job.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm


Hmm. Only posted the first line.
He’s arguing against Papal infallibiity and the authority of the bishops to define truth.
I’d offer that church history is replete with times and places where bishops (and even Popes!) were in grave error and the faithful who persisted in calling themselves “Catholic” while not following their bishops preserved the faith. I’d also add that this man’s view is pretty exactly what I heard from “orthodox Catholic” seminarians in explaining why it was OK for them to lie to their “liberal” bishops in order to get ordained.
But let’s dig a little deeper. We live in an age in which the shepherds of the Catholic Church made a conscious decision to protect the wolves in their ranks rather than their sheep. That their sheep no longer trust them should not be surprising. But to claim that therefore the sheep are in error, and that the real problem here is the sheep are wary of their shepherds is, IMO, blaming the victims.
I know many very faithful Catholics (my own journey being unrelated to any scandal) who persist in the practice of their faith though they distrust their leaders. That someone should have the temerity to express this doesn’t remotely make him a “bad Catholic.”



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm


That’s what the Great Schism between Rome and the East was about: authority. That’s what the Protestant Reformation was about: authority.
I understand this, and yet I also understand that the conflict between Rome and the Eastern Churches existed for more than a century before Rome chose to excommunicate the East.
And I really do understand your issues with what this guy wrote. I just have a reflexive reaction to demands that people be cast out of what is supposed to be the universal Church unless they agree to absolutely everything their hierarchs say in every situation.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:56 pm


“I know many very faithful Catholics (my own journey being unrelated to any scandal) who persist in the practice of their faith though they distrust their leaders. That someone should have the temerity to express this doesn’t remotely make him a “bad Catholic.””
Not sure what the “this” is in “this doesn’t remotely make him…”
But regarding this guy, I wouldn’t call him a bad Catholic, I would call him a non Catholic.
He rejects the Catholic Church, yet calls himself a Catholic. Thus I would also call him deranged.
Bad popes and seminarians that lie don’t make this guy a Catholic.
Though I do wonder, what exactly, in your view Stupid Chris, would make someone a bad Catholic?



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Rick

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Regarding papal infallibility, I find it telling that the Catholic Church invites to Communion those who eschew this doctrine, eg, Orthodox and Polish National Catholics.
Professing belief in papal infallibility isn’t necessary to receive Holy Communion. Therefore, dissent or agnosticism on this doctrine alone doesn’t rupture Communion with the Church.
Frankly, papal infallibility as defined less than 200 years ago by Vatican I is a problematic doctrine. The Petrine office is essential, but recent Popes have shown great willingness to rethink and redefine their office — and great reluctance to define doctrine infallibly.
But the particularity of the Catholic Church does not really depend upon infallibility. Rather, it is based on apostolic succession — the continuation of the sacramental gifts Christ entrusted to the Apostles through an unbroken line of successors. Of course the Orthodox have this too; the Orthodox lack only union with the successor of Peter.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 6:03 pm


Just came back from a meeting and passed the local Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Now they are in communion with Rome, yet ordain married men, are autonomous from the Vatican, and don’t agree with Rome’s claims regarding the authority of the Pope.
So what should happen here? Were the Melkites and Rome in error when they recognized each other back in 1729, or should the Melkites have decamped when the Pope was declared infallible in 1868, or should Rome bounce the Melkites because they don’t defer to Papal Authority the way the Roman Church does?
Because it’s all about authority, and the Melkites have their own. Clearly they aren’t “Catholic” since that’s now defined by authority and only authority….
But maybe the Catholic identity isn’t about authority so much as it’s about revelation, and one remains Catholic so long as one holds true to that revelation. This would be more coherent with the long history of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and less likely to lead to schisms due to personality conflicts.



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Liam

posted July 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm


Rod,
You’re still thinking at least partly like a northern European Protestant. The Catholic Church itself would still consider Pierce Catholic in a significant, substantive (not merely formal); its foundation is the sacramental ontology, not the intellectual congruence or submission to juridical authority. Even excommunication does not render one a non-Catholic. He has not even rejected all of the teachings; far from it.
Logical conundrum for people who get stuck on this point: what kind of conscience does one have to have to accept a teaching on conscience? There’s always a bit of a feedback loop in this little corner of things; it cannot be helped, and parsing it with finer intellectual combs will never make it much neater.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm


“Because it’s all about authority, and the Melkites have their own. Clearly they aren’t “Catholic” since that’s now defined by authority and only authority…”
Whe the heck said that? Whoever said it is wrong.
Stupid Chris, I ask again, what if anything would constitute a bad Catholic in your view?



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Joseph D'Hippolito

posted July 16, 2010 at 6:52 pm


Franklin Evans, your comments about the lack of ecclesiastical structures to vet legitimate grievances among the laity are right on! It’s an issue that few Catholics want to confront because doing so would threaten their interpretation of “apostolic succession”….despite the fact that the issue has absolutely nothing to do with apostolic succession!!
Rod, James Madison’s quote is equally spot on. He recognizes (as you did in both Catholic and Orthodox contexts) that the obsession with power and prestige destroys the moral credibility of ecclesiastical leadership…and has done so within Catholicism for centuries. Read John 13. Christ’s thrust in washing his disciples’ feet was to teach them that the true use of authority in His name involves self-abnegating service, not competition for rank and honor. Sadly, the Catholic Church has ignored this lesson to its peril.
More sad, however, is the fact that Pierce never refers to Christ in the personal. He refers only to his conscience, to history, to Wills’ opinions and to the cultural Catholicism of his youth. This is not the base on which Christian faith is (or should be) built. The only base is the embrace of Christ’s atoning death for one’s own sin and the committment to Him as Savior.
Pierce might not realize it but he’s more Catholic than he thinks. Church leaders have failed miserably — and I say this as someone brought up in the Catholic Church — to communicate effectively the full meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Instead, they’ve stereotyped Him in the Eucharist while concentrating on amassing as much power, wealth and prestige as they can. Obviously, this doesn’t include all Catholic leaders (and I include Mother Teresa as one). But the tendency has ruined Catholic moral authority. As the clerical sex-abuse crisis demonstrates, one’s sins never remain permanently hidden.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 16, 2010 at 7:08 pm


Stupid Chris, I ask again, what if anything would constitute a bad Catholic in your view?
I’d say what makes one a “bad” adherent of anything would be indifference to it.



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JB

posted July 17, 2010 at 9:21 am


I just don’t see how later, human-invented doctrines (Papal authority and infallibility and the teaching magisterium) can be the core of any faith. They can be the core of the institutional aspect of a church, but not of a faith per se. There is so much more to the Catholic faith than authority that, even if the hierarchy claims that without obendience to that authority you’re not a Catholic, that claim is just weak. As Joseph D’Hippolito said.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 17, 2010 at 11:27 am


One could also say there is so much more to me than my head, and that would be true, but chop off my head and there would be no me left.
Besides JB, your description of the problem hardly summarizes this guys position accurately, which I would describe as, “I am the measure of all things.)



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JB

posted July 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm


Max, you are right that Pierce is not the best poster child for Catholics who have difficulty with the way that authority is presented by the hierarchy. There are many Catholics (including some well-grounded in theology and church history) who are more humble in their approach to this issue. But it’s entirely legitimate to question a set-up where the insistence on a particular type of authority trumps the content of the faith.



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Geoff G.

posted July 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm


Rod Dreher
That may technically be true, but it’s meaningless.
I’ve read Hector’s comment and he does have a point. Baptism, while not irrevocable, is permanent, whether you’re the Holy Father or an un-excommunicated apostate like me.
In light of that comment, I’d have to modify my argument to state that the Church is quite correct to claim any and all baptized persons (including myself and, IIRC, Rod) as members. I still think that it’s misleading to make the leap from the overall membership rolls to presuming that the hierarchy is entitled to speak on behalf of all of us on political questions.
It’s interesting to see you arguing that baptism is meaningless, Rod.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 17, 2010 at 5:46 pm


I dunno, Geoff. One could also make the argument to draw a distinction between baptism as a Christian consecration (add deific details of your choice) and a Catholic church claiming it as its personal, no others can use initiation rite into membership of its institution.
I would speculate that Rod’s objection is to the latter, not the former.
And I gotta share my captcha words: President franco



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm


“But it’s entirely legitimate to question a set-up where the insistence on a particular type of authority trumps the content of the faith.”
Unless the two are co-relative.
But, then, I’m not really sure what you mean. Let’s allow that your statement it correct. There’s still the problem that this guy holds that HIS conscience is the authority by which Mass is held.
>
And he apparently denies that the pope can excommunicate him…
>
It’s one thing to disagree with what the authority of the Church is, or even where that authority comes from. This guy denies that the Church has any authority at all unless HE allows it.
This guy demanding that he’s a Catholic is like me saying I’ve never left the city, never seen a horse, but I’m a cowboy dammit!
You know, words have meanings. This guy just doesn’t know what they are.



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