How Did We Get Here?

by Micah Murphy

Over at one of our Facebook affiliates, there is much lively discussion over the HHS contraception mandate. There are any number of questions that need addressing: what impact will this have on the faithful? Why is sterilization bad? Why don’t Catholics want to pay for contraception? How did we get here?

Some have tried to blame the state of the Church today on the current generation of Catholics and on Pope John Paul II, citing his orthodoxy as apparent proof that he was only concerned about keeping the folks in line.

How did we get here? It was not Pope John Paul II who brought us to our current state of affairs, nor was it the latest generation of Catholics. This was a long time coming.

As is so common in the Scriptures, the pitiful situation in which we have found ourselves stems from a decline in the practice of the faith. In the last century and a half, we have endured:

    • Modernism, which pushed a hermeneutic (method of interpretation) of rupture and suspicion, that viewed the Scriptures and Church doctrines through a lens of intense criticism, rather than faith in Christ and trust in His Church. This began a time of great skepticism regarding all things Christian.
    • Nietzschean philosophy, which infiltrated catechesis (that is not to say that the teachings of the Church were affected). The “death of God,” as Nietzsche described the philosophy of his time, led to a rejection of objective truth, thus leading to the “dictatorship of relativism” we see so prevalent today. In the 20th century, this philosophy slowly crept into religious education where it became responsible for an attitude that religion was not important and its doctrines were mere opinions.
    • Massive public criticism of Humanae Vitae. Need I say more? In 1968, Pope Paul VI wrote his most famous document, Humanae Vitae, which condemned the use of birth control and reaffirmed the Church’s encouragement of natural family planning (NFP). Leading up to and following this decision was an immense movement of theologians to legitimize contraception, such that most American Catholics were already using it by the time Humanae Vitae was released.
    • Charles Curran, who coined the dubious phrase “faithful dissent,” led the American charge against Humanae Vitae and papal authority. He now teaches at Southern Methodist University. Yes, you read that right: Southern Methodist University.
    • The rise of teleological and situational ethics. Well, not really the rise of them, more their acceptance by talking heads in the Church. We’re not exactly talking about new ideas. What are we talking about? Teleological ethics says, basically, that the ends justify the means, or that I can do evil in order to bring about a good: “Bank robbed, money given to orphans. News at 11.” Situational ethics says, essentially, that as long as the intention is love, then any behavior is acceptable. A woman may have an abortion if she does so out of love for her already born children. St. Augustine said, “love God, then do as you will.” This was not what he had in mind. Love should inform our actions and direct them toward the good, but love is never an excuse for evil.
    • The Dutch Catechism, an abominable mess of misinformation, speculative theology, and private opinion. It begins from a position of skepticism with a section entitled “Man the Questioner” and proceeds to ask more questions than provide answers. After a section on other world religions, it continues with its relatively meaningless, meandering path through a conscious attempt to avoid saying anything definitive. Try this one on for size:

      What does it mean to say that all this exists and grows? In the growth of life hazard and selection play a large role. But do they explain it? Is it an accident that things strive upwards through such new and wonderful phases – existence, life, feeling, thought? What has been going on? Can we see any meaning in it? … The past has nothing clear to say. Can we learn anything from the future?
      -A New Catechism (the Dutch Catechism, p. 11, Herder & Herder, 1967)

      That was the section on the evolution of the world, which was in the book despite the fact that catechesis is not to get into speculative theology. The Dutch Catechism is still to be found in many parish offices throughout the world. I also have a copy in my home, just for amusement.

    • Wishy-washy catechetical methods, destroyed by pop-psychology, replacing time-tested teaching styles with collages, guitar-praise kumbaya circles, and dream interpretation. Remember sitting around and coloring a picture of Jesus and learning He was your friend? Yeah? Great. Remember learning He sealed the New Covenant in His Blood? Nobody told me, either.
    • The rise of New Age spirituality among Catholics, which led to the widespread use of harmful spiritual tools, such as the labyrinth and the enneagram (called into question here). Spirituality should be based on God and man’s relationship to Him, not man’s relationship to himself.
    • The focus on a false sense of unity, promoting the unity of the faithful based not on the faith itself, but on the outward practice of it. There are a lot of Catholic groups that do not live the faith, but love to talk about what Catholicism the way one discusses politics.
    • John Fitzgerald “I-do-not-speak-for-my-Church-on-public-matters-and-the-Church-does-not-speak-for-me” Kennedy. Umm, *facepalm* please cue the complete separation of faith from life. What else could be the root of the Obama Administration’s numerous attempts to redefine freedom of religion as freedom of worship? The moment it became acceptable on the national stage to say that your faith doesn’t determine your actions, we lost a huge battle. Your faith, that thing you believe is truth, is what you’re saying you don’t follow? So you openly admit that you aren’t trying to act in accordance with truth?
    • The assumption among many Catholics that the Democratic Party is for the little guy, the underdog, and the Catholic. That was a position brought about by a previous generation of Catholics, when times were different. Many young Catholics today are growing up conservative because they know that more conservatives are pro-life, and that’s what it means to fight for the little guy today.

    Given an environment so hostile to the connection between faith and life and a popular culture that is an avowed enemy of any lived Christian faith, it is only by some miracle that the number of young Catholics who are now speaking up for their Church is so high. We are seeing a return to faith by many of our peers, while colleges like Franciscan University of Steubenville and Benedictine College flood the market with faithful Catholic catechists, and organizations like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students make disciples at an ever-increasing pace.

    Was it this generation of Catholics that started the mess we’re in today? Absolutely not. Is it this generation of Catholics that’s going to clean it up? By God’s good graces, we just might.

    “If then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.” -2 Chronicles 7:14

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  1. Excellent points. If I could make one clarification: it isn’t Nietzche who claimed to have killed God. The ‘Madman’ of that little passage was less a prophet of God’s demise than someone stating the bluntly obvious to the men of his time. That is, the philosophers and men of letters who came before Nietzche were the ones who ‘killed God,’ but proceeded to act (morally, ethically) as if God was still around. These are, claims Nietzche, the Enlightenment thinkers.

    The brilliant/scary thing is, if the Enlightenment was right in its rejection of traditional philosophy, then out goes ethics and morality, out goes a knowable reality, out goes any sense of purpose (beyond my will), and ultimately, out goes God. Nietzche only proclaimed the logical resolution of the Enlightenment.

    • Brother, thank you. Despite the fact that Nietzche did not claim to have killed God himself, the statement that God is dead is still considered a key aspect of his philosophy, no? That’s all I was saying. His philosophy, even though it contained some already common ideas, certainly did a lot to impact modern philosophy and catechesis.

  2. I would have liked to add another option. Liturgical reform. You might think that doesn’t have much to do with contraception but I think it does. I think that “Catholic” families will continue to sterilize and contracept until men retake responsibility for the spiritual care of their families. I don’t think this will happen unless there is liturgical renewal.

  3. How about another option? How about the US Catholic bishops stop weaseling their way into supporting a pro-abortion Presidential candidate? They supported Obama, and yet they were shocked! Shocked! when he stabbed us all in the back.

    Don’t believe me? Take a look.

  4. What is needed the most will take the longest time to fix. Catechesis within the parish community…and the home (Domestic Church). There are 1000’s of Catholics who desent because they do not know the teaching of the church and only 100’s who desent because they actually do. I had the opportunity to teach the Sacrament of Confirmation. We set it up on a two year program and required a/the parent(s) to attend at least 2 classes a month the first year. After the first year, the sponsor of the student was to attend at least the same number of sessions. There was a two fold reason for this. The sponsor was informed of what confirmation was and their responsibility in helping to form the candidate….it also helped eliminate “Uncle Johnny” who doesn’t attend church and is living with his girlfriend. The comments were most revealing. “I didn’t know the Catholic Church STILL taught that” or “I didn’t know that was part of Church teaching”. We started with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and then into the classroom. Several pulled out of the program, but for the right reasons…they didn’t believe in the teaching of the Catholic Church or they just weren’t ready to make a commitment. In tne beginning one student stated that he really didn’t want to come; but his parents told him if he went through confirmation he could then attend any church he wanted to.????? He ended up remaining Catholic because he could see the richness of the faith. In this day and age; I submit it starts with “evangelization” combined with a personal ongoing deepening relationship with God through the Sacraments (Mass reconciliation; Confession and a intense personal prayer life as well as that within those called to the Sacrament of Marriage (family life).


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