There is a certain irony about so called Liberal Catholics’ impatience with the liberal Pope Francis (Magazine 21 Oct). They complain that the Pope’s reform programme is “rapidly becoming overdue.” In the 19th century, John Henry Newman predicted that the emerging choice for Christians in Europe would be between “liberalism and its antidote Catholicism.” He stressed repeatedly that liberalism is the most dangerous enemy of the Catholic faith. Yet now we have liberal Catholics!
Newman wrote: “The tendency of the age is towards liberalism. But truly, religion must be based on authority of some kind – not upon sentimentality. It is the church which is the only legitimate guarantor of religious truth. The liberals know this and are in every possible manner trying to break it up.”
If Newman thought there was a pervasive mood of sentimentality in his day, he should see us now. In our touchy-feely age, feelings rule. No one asks us what we think, but only how we feel. The television reporter enquires, “How did you feel when your mother was burned to death when your house caught fire and you discovered you’d lost everything?” And the awful thing is that the emphasis on feelings homogenises every experience into an equal seriousness – or rather a lack of seriousness: “How did you feel when you scored that winning goal?” or “How did you feel when you won that Bafta?” Well, we know how she felt – because she was emoting all over the place.
The trouble with feelings, especially in the all-important important subject of religion, is that they have no connection with truth. In fact, in the multifaith culture promoted by our liberal diversity-mongers, it is thought indecent to speak of truth in the matter of religion. Instead, it is regarded as enough to be sincere. But sincere about what?
Newman outlined what he called “the Principle of Liberalism” and it is, “…that truth and falsehood in religion are but matters of opinion; that one doctrine is as good as another; that the Governor of the world does not intend that we should gain the truth; that there is no truth; that we are not more acceptable to God by believing this man than by believing that one; that no one is answerable for his opinions; that they are a matter of necessity or accident; that it is enough if we sincerely hold what we profess; that our merit lies in seeking, not in possessing; that it is a duty to follow what seems to us true; that it may be a gain to succeed, but can be no harm to fail; that we may take up and lay down opinions at pleasure; that we may safely trust to ourselves in matters of Faith and need no other guide.”
In our times we might say that the pervading cultural spirit or atmosphere is a sort of decadent Romanticism or narcissism. When it comes to evaluating any experience, it is all a case of enquiring how it makes us feel. But I can produce desired feelings in myself by taking a pill. As Aldous Huxley demonstrated in 1954 in The Doors of Perception, he could simulate the profoundest mystical experiences by taking mescalin or LSD. But the foundation of genuine mystical experience is truth. Huxley’s psychological experiments into hallucinated pharmacology produced only a counterfeit spirituality.
In our weak-kneed culture of sentimentality, we have no place for truth. People regularly speak of “my truth” and “your truth.” But unless there are objective truths, the word “truth” can have no meaning. In its entire history, until comparatively recently, the Church understood this. And, when I last looked, The Catholic Truth Society – founded by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan in 1868 – is still going strong. And it has not changed it title into The Catholic Feelings Club.
Our touchy-feely times have no room for dogma or true doctrine. “Dogmatic” is now a dirty word. And, if doctrine is mentioned at all, it is only with a negative connotation, as in “indoctrination.” But Catholics need to be indoctrinated today more than ever. Some specific, objective truths have to be put into us. The Catholic faith rests upon the revealed historical truths concerning what God has really and actually accomplished in Christ and upon the definite moral truths which this revelation prescribes as our response.
As Newman saw, liberalism is the disease for which Catholic truth is the cure. Use of the word “liberal” should be confined to that party which talks a lot about proportional representation.
I have a personal attachment to the CTS from boyhood, and still have a large number of their attractively covered pamphlets including their then first-class Studies in Comparative Religion. I first encountered them on a family visit to Buckfast Abbey where I came across two on the existence of God. I was impressed by CTS intellectual quality and the refutation of various anti-RC prejudices, so much so that I spent some Saturdays bus-riding to Victoria and visiting the CTS bookshop, Burns Oates and the Catholic Central Library which was then an Aladdin’s Cave of apologetics. Who could forget Fathers Thurston, Martindale, Knox, Rumble, &c? I was led on to NT scholars like Felder, Grandmaison, Prat, Butler &c and popular apologists like Belloc, Chesterton, Lunn, Sheed &c. I used to attend Mass, but never then or since have had any positive religious experience or recognisable response to prayer. The Church seemed to suffer from gradual decomposition not long after Vatican 2, and I myself have gradually moved towards atheism. My discussions with priests have not helped. The last Mass I attended was the Tridentine celebration which was given for Cardinal Mindszenty decades ago. The CTS is a shadow of its former self.
To lose faith in religion is no fun; it is a grief comparable to the death of my beloved parents, the racial ruin of my old grammar school and its locality, and the damage to my English homeland by alien immigration, wokism and decadence. As the Jewish atheist libertarian Ayn Rand said in a related context, “There is tragedy in the spectacle.”
I remember when I was much younger, before the Second Vatican Council. Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons would come to your door seeking to proselytise for their pagan cults. A sure defence was simply to say ‘I’m sorry. I’m a Catholic’. Today, they seek out Catholics! They know that the average Catholic today is un-catechised and knows absolutely nothing about the Truths of his Faith. Easy pickings for cults of every sort. The fruit of liberalism! As Don Sarda y Salvany said, ‘Liberalism is a sin’!
The right ethical starting point is the basis for the political. Freedom is not obtained without it. Our Lord and Savior provided that starting point in a peerless way, along with a few other things of course. One is not actually “free” to refuse the Church, although God does not coerce the will. Unfortunately, the wolves have exercised control over the sheep since the death of Pius XII and a pseudo-Church promotes a totalitarian spiritualized communism.
If religion is the only truth then you still do have individual liberty, you have the choice to accept or reject the truth.
I have a question: Does the Salisbury Review believe in individual liberty? I ask this because articles like this deny liberty, deny rationality, deny freedom. What Mr. Mullen means when he talks of “truth” is actually absolutism. In this he is no different than the mad mullahs of islam, or the Jewish crazies, or any of the other peddlers of religious superstition. Fortunately enough people, many of them, particularly in times past, incredibly brave, have challenged the priests and refused to bend and kneel before the liars. Whatever the faults of our secular societies no sane person would want a return to rule by priests.
Priests have never ruled any country in the west.
That has been the job of politicians and/or militarists – and, looking at our present situation, a rather poor fist they have made of it.
As a nation, we are today more ‘secular’ (a polite word word for heathen) than ever before and yet we kneel lower and before bigger lies than the Devil could ever invent.
Hello, roger in florida!
I don’t think the Salisbury Review is required to believe in “individual liberty” or any other abstract concept. This admirable publication claims to be “wrong-headed, politically incorrect, reactionary and conservative”; a list of adjectives that implies a wide range of interesting attitudes, including, but not necessarily limited to, the two principal strands in modern conservative thinking: libertarianism and authoritarianism. Both libertarians and authoritarians sometimes express “what most sensible people believe”, because most sensible people’s beliefs are a mixture of the vaguely authoritarian and the vaguely libertarian. Undiluted libertarians will read articles here by undiluted authoritarians which they hate, and vice versa, but most of us will find that we agree with some of what both sides have to say.
Incidentally, Dr Mullen’s article ends with “Use of the word ‘liberal’ should be confined to that party which talks a lot about proportional representation.” Does he mean UKIP?
Hello, Peter Ross!
Certainly the Salisbury Review is not “required” to believe in “individual liberty”, I merely asked a question. The fact that the question has gone unanswered suggests to me that the Salisbury Review does not believe in individual liberty, it is, as you say, a reactionary, conservative magazine. “Individual liberty” is only an abstract concept if you don’t have it, which, if you are living in England, you do not. If you disagree with that statement I suggest you ask the greatest living Englishman; Tommy Robinson, just what is the current status of “English liberty”. Libertarianism may be a “principal strand” of modern conservative thinking, however, as expressed by its most vocal enthusiasts as something akin to anarchy, it is also a fantasy. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it abhors a political vacuum more than any other. Power will be assumed or seized because power is coveted and those who can seize it, whether they be priests, generals or politicians will seize it. That leaves us with a greater or lesser degree of authoritarianism as the only viable political system, the question then becomes how to construct and control authority. Christians would have us base our political philosophy on belief in the virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, the afterlife, the holy trinity and other such nonsense. Skeptics, such as me, would base our system on natural justice, rationality and a realistic assessment of the human condition as described to us by our experience and historical observation. It is a truism that liberty cannot exist without law, but how is the law to be derived? Take a look at those societies that have, and do, base their politics on religion; they are without exception backward, squalid, tyrannical, ignorant and poverty stricken, I will take the secular society any time thank you.
As for “proportional representation”; the Liberal & SDP parties were for PR for many years before UKIP showed up. PR tends to encourage single issue parties, thus splintering the political scene, probably not a bad thing in my estimation: I wonder if a single issue; “3rd world immigration” protest party (without the baggage of the BNP) may have been able to save England, it is too late now of course.