Pope Francis, have you read Russell Kirk?
If a Christian “becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith.” ...
“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”
The Pope continued, Jesus told us: “You burden the shoulders of people [with] many things; only one is necessary.” This, therefore, is the “spiritual, mental” thought process of one who wants to keep the key in his pocket and the door closed: “The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”
It calls to mind, of course, Russell Kirk's wonderful text on the errors of ideology:
Ideology, in short, is a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells. I set down below some of the vices of ideology.
- Ideology is inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation through grace in death, and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution. Ideology inherits the fanaticism that sometimes has afflicted religious faith, and applies that intolerant belief to concerns secular.
- Ideology makes political compromise impossible: the ideologue will accept no deviation from the Absolute Truth of his secular revelation. This narrow vision brings about civil war, extirpation of “reactionaries”, and the destruction of beneficial functioning social institutions.
- Ideologues vie one with another in fancied fidelity to their Absolute Truth; and they are quick to denounce deviationists or defectors from their party orthodoxy. Thus fierce factions are raised up among the ideologues themselves, and they war mercilessly and endlessly upon one another, as did Trotskyites and Stalinists.
Ideology is the great moral, spiritual, and political failure of our time. Democrats have alsways been ideologues, of course, as are their fellows on the left. In contrast, conservatism traditionally was non-ideological:
For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.
In recent years, however, a false brand of conservatism--closely linked, but not limited to the Christian Right--has embraced both political and religious ideologies. This is especially true of the so-called tea party:
The Public Religion Research Institute found that fully 47% regard themselves as members of the Christian right, and 55% believe that America is a Christian nation today—not just in the past. On hot-button social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, tea partiers are aligned with social conservatives. Seventy-one percent of tea-party supporters regard themselves as conservatives.
As we have just seen in the government shutdown, these new pseudo-conservative ideologues reject compromise out of hand. And, of course, they drum anyone who dares deviate in any way from the prescribed path out of the conservative movement. Precisely the characteristics Kirk identified as the attributes of ideological partisans.
Interestingly, just as Pope Francis is calling Catholics to return to faith and give no heed to the ideologies that seek to displace it, a former pillar of the Christian Right is doing so on the other side of the Tiber, as the WSJ reported today:
For years, as the principal public voice for the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's biggest evangelical group, Richard Land warned of a "radical homosexual agenda" and pushed for a federal ban on same-sex marriage.
His successor, Russell Moore, sounded a different note when the Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. "Love your gay and lesbian neighbors," Mr. Moore wrote in a flier, "How Should Your Church Respond," sent to the convention's estimated 45,000 churches. "They aren't part of an evil conspiracy." Marriage, he added, was a bond between a man and a woman, but shouldn't be seen as a "'culture war' political issue." ...
"We are involved in the political process, but we must always be wary of being co-opted by it," Mr. Moore said in an interview in his Washington office, a short walk from Congress. "Christianity thrives when it is clearest about what distinguishes it from the outside culture."
The Religious Right made the same error as did the ideologues of the left; namely, they believed in the perfectibility of Man and the prospect of "collective salvation here on earth." But now we see leaders like Pope Francis and Mr. Moore recognizing that Christ came to redeem Man not the culture. And that we are called to faith not to ideology.
In any case, while the press calls Francis a liberal, I begin to think that--to the very limited extent those labels make sense in the ecclesiastical context--he reminds me of a Kirkian conservative. As an unreformed Kirkian myself, that makes me happy. But it's early days and papacies, in any event, are always something of a rorschach test.