Saturday, May 4, 2019

Truth vs. Perception

While I’m in the hospital doing rehabilitation from a recent amputation, I have the opportunity to do a lot of theological study. One of the things I’ve been doing is reading the post-Vatican II writings of St. Paul VI where he implemented the Council teachings into the practice of the Catholic Faith. I find his writings demonstrate a solid theology that reflects The Lord’s parable of the head of a household (Matthew 13:52) who “brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” He understood and respected the timeless teachings of the Church and the need to make them intelligible to the modern generation that thought the Church archaic and irrelevant.

I contrast that with all the horror stories critics bring forward about the rebellion within the Church with all the banality and dissent. In comparing the two, we discover that the Church never condoned these things. Rather there was a second movement within the Church—one predating Vatican II—that balked against certain disciplines and obligations. When the rebellion of the 1960s happened, this second movement identified with it and its call for radical change.

Unfortunately, some of the Catholics (rightly troubled by this rebellion) committed the non causa pro causa (“non-cause for a cause”) and post hoc fallacies in response. They assumed that since these rebellions came after Vatican II, Vatican II caused the rebellion and since these rebellions did not immediately vanish, it meant that St. Paul VI and his successors approved of the rebellion. Combine this with an ignorance about what the Council actually taught and you have a false perception that people believe simply because they can see problems exist in the Church and can see things they dislike in the Church.

This result was understandable but false. Since the Church was perceived as stable before the Council, but was now facing chaos, it was easy to link the problem to the dislike. Groups like the SSPX grew by claiming that the Council taught “errors” and the only way back from the “error” was to go back to the way things were before the Council. The problem is, there were no errors.

It’s remarkably similar to the anti-Catholics who see things they think of as error. They assume that the Church needs to “go back” to a time before the “errors” (a fictional time when the Church was allegedly guided by the Bible alone). Like the anti-Vatican II crowd, they assumed that the Church went wrong where it taught what they dislike. But there were no errors in teaching. There was corruption when members of the Church failed to live according to that teaching.

And, of course, we have the same problem today with anti-Francis Catholics who assume that the Pope is teaching “error” and insist that we must undo what he did to “save” the Church. These critics overlook the fact that the problems we have now were problems we had under his predecessors. 

In all these cases, reform had to happen or will have to happen where wrongdoing happened. But the reform that was needed was not the reform the critics demanded. The reform was not needed because of the teaching. It was needed because of people acting in opposition to the teaching. The truth and the perception were different.

Ultimately we need to beware of the “obvious solution” that matches the preferences of the person making it. If we want to correct problems, we need to look at the problem and not assume cause and effect intersect at the point of our dislike.

1 comment:

  1. - - - Paying attention to and thinking about cause, effect, history and all: it's not easy. But I think it's a good idea.

    And agreed, about reforms and 'obvious solutions.'

    On a somewhat-related note, I suspect that a few centuries or millennia from now some folks will look back on the 'Ideal Church' that existed in the 20th and 21st centuries: when we acted exactly as the Apostles did. Which we are doing, sort of. And that's another topic. ;)