"The Murray project is dead."
I saw that statement somewhere on Facebook some time ago, and I can't remember who said it, or I would give him or her credit. It struck me, though, and, obviously, stayed with me. The reference is to John Courtney Murray, S.J., whom I have never read, but I know that he is someone "who was especially known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, particularly focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state" (Wikipedia). He seems to have been a sort of intellectual father to the movement within American Catholicism represented by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, First Things magazine, et.al.--the Catholic neo-conservatives, in other words.
I'm still thinking about Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, and that remark about the Murray project keeps coming back to me. Murray apparently believed, in a nutshell, not just that the Church and the liberal state could and should co-exist, but that they were in some fundamental way compatible and in agreement on questions such as religious pluralism. Like I said, I haven't read Murray, so I'm subject to correction on that. But I think it's a fair assessment of the Nogelhaus project (Novak, Weigel, Neuhaus).
Maybe it would be more precise to say that Murray and his heirs believe(d) that Vatican II and liberalism were in agreement about liberalism (that would make sense, considering that Murray helped construct the Vatican II documents on religious pluralism). Anyway, whatever the intellectual lineage and precise nature of these ideas may be, I think there's reason now to question whether orthodox Christianity of any kind will be able to coexist peaceably with the liberal state for much longer. There were always reasons in principle why this might be a problem, and there has been a great deal of more or less abstract discussion of the question. But things have changed in the past ten-to-fifteen years, and it's now becoming a practical matter, with the question presenting itself as something like "To what degree will or can the liberal state tolerate Christianity?" meaning of course any form of Christianity that continues to hold the fundamental doctrinal and moral principles which have been central to it for most of its history.
The main thing that's changed, of course, is the liberal view of acceptable attitudes toward homosexuality, and sexuality in general. The ruling class in this country has pretty well reached a consensus that the belief that homosexual acts are immoral is not just comparable to but the exact equivalent of racism, and should be dealt with accordingly. This means that those who hold it should, at minimum, be pushed to the margins of society, and that actions based on that belief should be punishable by law; hence all the lawsuits involving bakers not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings, etc. In addition, that class, as it has come to be constituted over the past twenty years or so, has in general a disdain, to say the least, for orthodox Christianity and orthodox Christians, and is little inclined to listen to arguments in their defense. How this will work out over the next few decades is, obviously, uncertain, but the outlook is not very good at the moment. If you think, for instance, that there is little or no chance that Christian colleges and universities will be faced with loss of accreditation if they teach that homosexual activity is in the same general class of immoral acts as adultery, you aren't paying attention.
I wouldn't normally apply the term "Vatican II Catholic" to myself, because it generally refers to a set of progressive views which are pretty compatible with liberal Protestantism of the Episcopalian type. I am to say the least not on board with that. But if you take away all those connotations, it does apply to me reasonably well, in that I have thought that Vatican II was basically a good thing, that its celebrated opening to the modern world was a good thing, and that the manifest problems which followed it were a result of distortions, willful and otherwise, of its teachings, distortions put into the service of a program of revolution which would fundamentally alter the faith. As a great admirer of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I held to the very widespread view that they were engaged in a sort of rescue of the Council, getting rid of those distortions and repudiating the revolution while salvaging what was good in it.
In that sense they could be seen as the ecclesiastical counterpart of the Murray project: they wanted to reconcile the Church to the modern world, which is as much as to say to liberalism, as far as was compatible with maintaining the faith. And lately a troubling thought has been nagging at me: is the Vatican II project, understood as the John Paul II and Benedict XVI project, like the Murray project, over--finished, dead for all practical purposes?
And further: if the papacy of Pope Francis is in fact, as many say, in perfect continuity with the project as just described, only attempting to go further toward a reconciliation with liberalism, is it the last losing battle in a losing war? Is it possible that no matter how a pope tries to make nice with the modern world, in the end the conflict cannot be resolved? That the whole attempt was a mistake--or, if not mistaken, merely futile? And that the Church of the 22nd century (if the world lasts) will look more like that of Pius X than that of Paul VI? Are the traditionalists right in saying that much of Vatican II--not just flagrant abuses, but much of what seems to be the core of it--was a wrong turn that must be corrected?
I'm not saying that I believe the answers are definitely "yes," but I've really begun to wonder.
Speaking of Pope Francis: I decided a year or two ago not to speak of Pope Francis, not publicly. Moreover, I've made an effort not to pay much attention to the controversies he's provoked. As I've said here more than once, whatever you think of Francis, you can't deny that he has re-ignited the Church's internal war between progressives and...let's just call them anti-progressives. When I came into the Church in the early '80s the extreme progressive interpretation of the Council was still dominant, and I rejoiced that it seemed to have been definitively put in its place by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I had thought that we had put all that behind us and were now reasonably well-united, and could look outward again.
I was, obviously, quite wrong, and have been heartsick that the war has flared up again. I am reluctant to think badly of Francis, but it's impossible to deny that the war is with us and that at best he doesn't seem to mind. I will say this one thing about him now: I don't have confidence in his judgment as ruler of the Church. Make of this what you will--and I don't know quite what to make of it myself--but from the moment he stepped out on that balcony as the newly-elected pope, I felt uneasy about him. I had no reason for it; I'd never heard of him. I've tried to quash that feeling, but it has never left me, and now and then something happens to revive it. So I've decided that the best thing for me to do, for my own spiritual health, is to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the fight.
But though I haven't spoken publicly about things like the Amoris Laetitia controversy, I haven't been able to ignore them completely. Sometimes I think Francis's critics are wrong and unreasonable; sometimes I think his supporters are gaslighting us, working to change important teachings while denying that they are doing any such thing. Mostly I try not to dwell on it all, which mostly is not very hard to do: I have all I can do to try to live a faithful life in my own little milieu. To attend closely to the controversies is to take sides in it, and to take part in a factional war within the Church is precisely what I do not want to do.
Accordingly, I did not plan to read Ross Douthat's new book about Francis, To Change the Church. However, I have read Craig Burrell's review of the book, and I recommend it strongly. I think you would have to look for a long time to find a more sensible, fair, judicious, perceptive assessment of the situation. Perhaps I'll even read the book, in case it's as good as this review.
I don't expect to find interesting popular music recommendations at The American Conservative, but this column about the progressive rock band Marillion got my attention. I've heard of them for years, but never gone out of my way to listen to them. For one thing, prog-rock is not my most favored genre, although I do like some of it. For another, I couldn't help suspecting, for reasons beginning with the name, that they might be both a bit pretentious and a bit twee--I consider a band name borrowed from Tolkien (The Silmarillion) to be a bad sign. (Mediocre metal and prog bands tend to go for it.) But this piece, especially its discussion of the album Brave, makes them sound very much worth investigating. What really convinced me was the fact that Steven Wilson thinks it's a great album and put a lot of work into a recent re-mix of it. Wilson is the main brain behind Porcupine Tree, a more-or-less prog band which is very highly regarded. The PT album Stupid Dream, the only one I've heard more than once, is highly regarded by me: interesting both musically and lyrically.
I sent the AmCon piece to a friend who is a very enthusiastic Marillion fan who says that Wilson's remix "took a great album and made it a masterpiece." So Brave is now pretty close to the top of my listening list. I'll report next week.
Find the cat.