Drawing a comparison

There could be an international banking collapse Monday, I gather from this morning’s perusal of “the news.” This because the Greeks have now pushed it, not only to the limit, but somewhere beyond. We offer no investment advice, up here in the High Doganate. Nor do we prognosticate from Saturday to Monday: much might happen in between. We only note what the Greeks themselves are doing: taking every last euro on which they can get their hands, in cash out of their banks.

More interesting than any banking crash to me is the nature of their behaviour. In the technical sense, it is schizophrenic. They voted for a Left government that would put an end to “austerity,” and get their creditors — simplified to “the Germans” — off their backs. This would make everyone happier, and they could go back to living as they did before: which is to say, like Germans, but on a spree. That they didn’t believe for a moment that this was possible, is evident in the run on their banks, which began even before their last election.

People are considerably more sensible when acting directly on their own behalf, than when voting. Events in Greece exaggerate this disconnect, so well that anyone can see it. The Greeks believe in magic, at the level of the State, but closer to home they do not believe it.

This problem goes beyond “democracy,” I should perhaps mention. It arises wherever the people entrust public institutions with powers that are larger than their human agents could possibly master. They might believe in unelected dictators, for a season; or in the wisdom of legislating through courts. It is a common disorder of the irreligious mind: to put “faith” in things that are unworthy; to trust men and machines, in place of God.

North Americans are just the same. Politicians like Barack Obama flourish, because they promise magic, just like Greek politicians. Suspend disbelief, at the behest of some spellbinding, charismatic politician, and one can actually imagine that the laws of supply and demand do not apply to government measures; nor that any natural law could pertain to sovereign personal responsibility. For an electoral moment, one enters into the narrative conceit that pigs can remain airborne. The government may simply pass a law to abrogate nature. If it has failed thus far to do so, the only explanation can be ill-will. “Conservatives” are mean, and  lack compassion, and are preventing “the people” from getting what they want. They must be evil men. “Boo, boo, bad man!” as my little sister used to say (at the age of four).

But the people themselves do, actually, understand gravity when it applies to them, and only in the most clinical cases will they climb on the roof to see if they can fly.


Now, there was other news this morning, including an item that inspires not a retraction, from me, but an important qualification.

Gentle reader may have perused recent Idleposts, in which I appear to question the pope’s secular opinions on subjects such as “climate change.” I did not dwell on the admirably Benedictine (sextusdecimus) connexions he is drawing to large moral facts: for instance, that people who wish to save endangered animals might start with human beings in the womb. Or that, those who worship some “ecological” order might acknowledge that the “traditional” human family exhibits all the requirements for one.

There is more, equally astute, in the encyclical of Pope Francis, and good Catholics have pointed to several edifying passages, while trying to defend it from the opprobrium cast by other good Catholics, who think it wanders recklessly off divine message, into areas of unnecessary secular controversy. (I use the term “good Catholics” loosely.)

A popular position is that this longest encyclical I have ever read has a “dialectical” purpose: that it is trying to engage with the “progressive” types who do not themselves see obvious connexions between A and B and C — by bringing the connexions to their attention. “If you believe this, then you must also believe that,” and so forth. That is why, for instance, we see from the word-cloud generated by the document that the word “Jesus” has so little place; why instead words like “human world development economic social new change must resources” are so prominently represented, and the general term “God” is so much preferred, as a means to avoid trinitarian precision. For the pope is not only writing to the converted.

To my mind, and I think in established Catholic practice, a pope writes specifically to the converted, but too, over their shoulders to anyone else who can read. He does not write from an “evolving” position, but from a settled doctrinal position, which he must be at pains to vindicate, constantly. The worldlings may have other views, but when they’re listening to the pope they should be aware, or be made aware, that the Pope is Catholic.

I do not accept this “dialectical” suggestion, however, not only on such absolute terms, but also because I claim to know how the “progressive” mind works. It is not dialectical. It does not argue, nor respond to argument, nor to “inconvenient truths.” Rather it suppresses, and demands the suppression of, whatever it does not want to know. I was not even slightly surprised that progressive media put the whole encyclical “below the fold” in their coverage; that they hardly mentioned any of the pope’s “Christian stuff,” and then only by way of contemptuous dismissal. The important thing to them is that he’d surrendered to “the science of” global warming, in a big enough way that they can hope he’ll soon abandon the rest of his quaint beliefs.

For, to capsulize this media view: “Who is he to judge?”

Yet the Christian stuff is there, if one looks for it. (We shouldn’t have to look quite so assiduously.) And this is what makes it so comfortable to read, when compared with, say, yesterday’s majority judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court, enacting same-sex marriage, nationally. Or for that matter, the big judgment from the day before, imposing Obamacare provisions in the majority of American States that were trying to resist them.

Read Justice Scalia’s dissents from both judgments, or Justice Alito’s dissent from the latter. Note that not even these intelligent Catholics question the root presumption of positive law, to stand prior to natural law — in the course of arguing that the Court has overturned specific provisions of positive, written law, in defiance of the Court’s own constitutional responsibility. In the end they, too, are arguing on ephemeral technicalities; on words words words, and not from the nature of things.

Example: marriage is being accepted as an institution of two persons. Even opponents of the “redefinition” implicitly accept this in their slogan, “one woman, one man.” While they do not omit to mention the children, elsewhere, the very fact is that marriage involves, not only in doctrine but in the natural order of things, “three or more.” That is normative, and when what is normative is replaced by the abnormative, certain ecological results follow. The glib view that marriage is reducible to “love between two persons” has been allowed to slide by. It is dangerously wrong, it has terrible consequences that can be foreseen, and surely to his immortal credit, Pope Francis has repeatedly explained why.

We have, to the south of our border, as well as up here in the grand vacant North, a new political order that is positively lawless. This has consequences that go far beyond “gay.” And we have reasoning both for and against this cancer that is inadequate at best. We are going to Hell, in other words, not in a handcart but in an aeroplane.

In this context, and by this comparison, Laudato si’ looks pretty good.