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Is Totalitarian Liberalism A Mutant Form of Christianity? by Tracey Rowland

Is Totalitarian Liberalism A Mutant Form of Christianity?

by Tracey Rowland 
September 20, 2012
When the Obama Administration began its Kulturkampf against American Catholics my husband suggested to me that if the Church is forced to pay for its employees’ contraceptives then there should be an option clause for practicing Catholics. An equivalent amount of the Church’s money spent on other people’s recreational sex should be given to faithful Catholics to cover whatever they do for recreation—for example, golf, tennis, fishing, or weekends at the beach house with hot rock massages.

In a post-Christian world gods don’t disappear. Christ is simply replaced by the apparatus of the nation-state. Political leaders assume to themselves the powers and prerogatives formerly associated with deities, above all, powers over life and death and reproduction.

The very same politicians who feign moral outrage over the Church’s moral advice to Catholic couples use coercive state power to venture further into bedrooms than any encyclical. If a woman chooses to use the pill in defiance of three popes who have said it’s morally wrong, then it is still her choice. The worst outcome for her is that she is left with an uneasy conscience. She won’t be sent to prison, she won’t be named in public and she won’t be forced to pay higher taxation. But if a woman happens to be Chinese and conceives a second child and is marched off to an abortion clinic then that is not her choice. That is state generated oppression.

The attempt to use the powers of the state to control human reproduction did not begin with Barack Obama and his friends at the Planned Parenthood Federation. It goes at least as far back as Joseph Stalin and his Bolshevik comrades who wanted more Soviet babies for more Soviet cannon fodder, and like a lot of Soviet practices it had an analogue in the Nazi regime. In 1936 Heinrich Himmler set up a network of copulation camps to make genetically sound women available for fertilization by SS alpha males.

These kinds of policies tend to see-saw between those designed to promote the birth rate and those designed to reduce the birth rate.

Just last week the Singapore government decided to embark on a baby boom program. This followed a scary report in which Singapore came in last on a fertility table listing 103 nations. Singapore showed a fertility rate of 0.78. The response of the government was to engage the mint sweets company Mentos to sponsor a “National Night” commercial to persuade Singaporeans to conceive. On August 9, (the Singaporean national day) Singaporeans were exhorted to “manufacture life” and “make the birth-rate spike.” The three minute hip-hop commercial included the phrase: “Just don’t wake the kids: cos they’ll be appalled by the stuff we gon’ do up in that bedroom.” The commercial addressed its human subjects as though they were rutting reindeers.

When a culture ceases to be Christian, human dignity becomes an alien concept. We no longer “make love” and “have a family,” we do “appalling stuff,” we “manufacture life.”

Meanwhile, across the globe, social engineers have decided that the next great human problem to be addressed is circumcision. Everywhere from Germany to the tiny “Apple Island” of Tasmania politicians are either banning the practice of male circumcision or promoting legislation to do so.

I can remember asking my grandmother about this tradition when I was a child. I thought it was painful for baby boys and wondered why people did it. My grandmother’s reply was that it makes a lot of sense in hot climates. It’s much easier to be circumcised as a baby then to have more radical surgery later on if the boy keeps getting infections. As far as she was concerned it was not a theological issue, just a common sense practice in places like outback Australia and the Middle East—places that can be hot, humid and sandy. For Jews and Muslims however it is also a religious rite.

As one trawls through the news reports one can easily find examples of politicians playing god and trying to solve the problems generated by the human exercise of free will by fettering its exercise. They are aided and abetted by teams of social engineers employed by their various departments. The people who pay for these public servants are mostly the professional members of the middle class who are unable to hide their income and thus supply the lion’s share of national budgets. They end up paying the wages of the very people who are trying to control the most intimate aspects of their lives.

One can of course spend hours debating the legitimate limits of human freedom—where it begins and ends—with reference to the fact that we are social beings, that we live in communities, that no man is an island. However, wherever the lines are drawn, it should be far from the sphere of marital intimacy and the state regulation of religious practices.

A Deeper Theological Question

One of the deeper theological issues raised by politicians who behave like gods is what is their motivation? Why do so many spend their energy promoting a culture of death?

Perhaps once we achieve the Nietzschean paradise of life beyond good and evil we acquire new spiritual pathologies? There is an inverted association of eros with death, the attractive with the vulgar.

How do we deal with this?

First, I think we must recognize that the liberal tradition can take a totalitarian form. (Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas have been making this point for some time). Second, when it does, it usually tries to offer us a state apparatus as our new savior—our replacement for Christ. (William T. Cavanaugh has done some excellent historical research on this point). And third, an anti-Christ never arises without him and his culture being parasitic on the Christian tradition. (Cardinal Scola has emphasized this). Mutant forms of Christianity are always our worst enemy!

Perhaps the policies of the Obama regime represent the logical outgrowth of a mutant form of Christianity where Christ is replaced first by “Christian values,” then “Christian values” are replaced by concepts like justice and freedom and equality de-coupled from any connection to Christ, Christian culture or even Stoic natural law; and then finally these secularized concepts are re-coupled to the will to power of politicians and social engineers.

As David Bentley Hart has noted, when people reject Christ they have a tendency to reject everything that Christian civilization ever baptized of pre-Christian civilization. All the treasures of ancient Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem get thrown overboard in the manic attempt to snuff out the last trace of the Lamb of God in human culture. At present this seems to include the notion that human dignity is linked to the capacity for love and freedom and rationality.

Above all our new political saviors want to liberate us from the idea that we have been made in the image of God. They do this at the same time as giving themselves god-like powers. If we start to believe that we really are just rutting animals this will give them even more power. The Nietzschean nightmare will be complete—there will be one great herd of animals and a few Übermenschen to govern them, direct their wills, determine when they will reproduce, and how often, and an intermediate class of social engineers running the Health and Education departments, policing reproductive information and the compulsory national curriculum. And this would be different from Fascism how?

Professor Tracey Rowland is Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne). She earned her doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge University and her Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. She is the author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003), Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (2008) and most recently, Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010). Reprinted with the gracious permission of Crisis Magazine.

Democrats Walking into “War on Women” Trap of their Own Making by Ed Morrissey

Democrats walking into “war on women” trap of their own making
August 30, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Do Democrats still plan to feature a “war on women” theme at their convention?  If they do, I argue in my column today for The Fiscal Times, they may well find themselves hoist with their own petard, after a week of watching accomplished Republican women speaking from the dais in Tampa.  Not only does the emphasis entirely miss the issues about which voters care most in this electoral cycle, the entire argument diminishes women to, well, to exactly what Code Pink reduced them in protests at the GOP convention:

The message from the Obama campaign and Democrats in general seems to be that women are somehow incapable of finding birth control on their own unless some paternal entity dispenses it to them, despite all evidence to the contrary.  They’re so incapable of this task that employers and schools have to hand it for them, no matter how much income they derive nor how much tuition they manage to pay otherwise.  This has already backfired during Team Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign, which offered a creepy, solitary vision of a woman’s life approaching that of the song “Eleanor Rigby.”  Former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown wrote in The New York Times  that “Julia” was “a silly and embarrassing caricature based on the assumption that women look to government at every meaningful phase of their lives for help.”

But it’s even worse than that.  The strategy segregates women from other issues as if they only have deep concern in this election over the status of their genitalia.  This theme came to ludicrous fruition in demonstrations by Code Pink at the Republican convention in Tampa, when activists showed up dressed as gigantic labia.  The scene provided an unintentionally revealing portrait of just how progressives see women in modern American society.

That is the true risk for Democrats who pursue this strategy.  After three nights of watching successful and accomplished women in the Republican Party discuss economic policy, job creation, and reform of the federal government for deficit and debt reduction, viewers will tune in the following week to see women considered as interested in little more than sexual reproduction.  Voters might well conclude that there is a “war on women,” but that it’s not the Republicans who are waging it.

Here’s a case in point — the HHS contraception mandate that Democrats will be hailing as liberation for women in the workplace and in universities.  Sandra Fluke is already scheduled to deliver a major speech at the convention on this topic.  But contraception isn’t difficult to find, nor is it expensive to purchase on an individual basis.  Almost six months ago, US News researched the individual cost of contraception for all of the options — and found that nearly all of them fell between $150 and $600 per year.  Sterilization costs more up front ($4,000-$6,000), but over a 20-year period, the costs are at the lower end of the same range.  (In my column, I note that oral contraception can cost as little as $9 per month.) That’s probably why the CDC discovered in its 20-year study that 99% of all women who wanted to avoid pregnancy while being sexually active accessed birth control on their own, and that lack of access didn’t even figure in the reasons for unintended pregnancies.  For those who qualify for Medicaid, the federal government already subsidizes contraception through Title X, and has for nearly 40 years.

Democrats argue with their “war on women” strategy that modern women in the workforce can’t figure this out on their own, nor pay for it without the paternalistic mandate that employers and educators foot the bill.  Is that a winning argument?  I guess we’ll soon see, because this is the contrast that will take place during next week’s convention.  Republicans will have presented women as strong, independent, and focused on issues like economics, jobs, national security, education, and fiscal discipline.  Democrats will have presented a vision of women like this, solely focused on one thing:


Which approach actually respects women?  Voters will get the chance to make that choice, and Democrats might be surprised at the answer.

Ryan, Rand, and the Catholic Angle UPDATED by Thomas L. McDonald

Ryan, Rand, and the Catholic Angle UPDATED

August 13, 2012 By
Even though I misspent about a decade calling myself a Libertarian and paying party dues, I was never suckered in by that nasty old witch Ayn Rand and her cult of personality. Objectivism is a philosophy for college students and people who don’t have kids. A modest sense of enlightened self-interest is not necessarily an evil when it’s part of a more well-rounded philosophy, but it when it’s neither modest nor enlightened, it has no role in civilization. And when it is the sum total of one’s outlook on the world, it becomes downright dangerous. I wrote a bit about the end-point for this view of the world in my review of Bioshock. Since I returned to the Church, I’ve come to more fully appreciate that Objectivism/Libertarianism and Catholicism cannot coexist. (Politically, I now consider myself a Distributist.)

Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan for his VP unleashed a wave of vitriol, misinformation, and ready-made memes from the left, much of it focused on his alleged worship of Rand. Since noise pollution can actually have an effect on people’s perceptions, this kind of propaganda is a very real concern. If enough Facebook friends and Twits share cleverly-made memes suggesting that Ryan wants to end Medicare (a lie), cut food stamps (another lie), and sacrifice your children in a ritual to Moloch in order to exalt his Wall Street paymasters (probably a lie), you eventually get some impression that this is an unpleasant fellow who needs to be stopped by any means necessary.

Part of this stems from the emotional and creepily-quasi-religious element that’s developed around the Democratic party in general and Obama in particular. It’s a simple fact that more Democrats identify strongly with their party than Republicans. It becomes bound up in the liberal self-image, in which they see themselves caring very deeply about people while the other side cares not at all. The idea that people can care equally and differ on approaches and solutions seems lost on many of them. Although there are obviously exceptions (most notably among the more unhinged members of the anti-Obama faction), for the most part conservatives think liberals are misguided, while liberals think conservatives are evil.

I don’t really have a dog in that fight, since my place on the political spectrum (classical conservative: think Russell Kirk, Belloc, Eliot, Chesterton) isn’t represented at all. The left’s fealty to the suffocating state and their tendency to approach every problem with the magical healing power of massive amounts of extorted tax dollars is no more grounded in concern for the human family than the right’s passion for military adventurism and fealty to Wall Street oligarchs. If you proudly and without hesitation identify yourself with either of our major political parties, I think a little less of you. Sorry, but there it is. You may well side with one or the other because their goals and values appear to be closer to your own among a limited roster of options, but to claim membership in one of these disgusting and corrupt institutions is absurd. They are both merely representatives of a moneyed elite: a Ruling Class drunk on their own power. They need to be smashed, not encouraged.

All of this brings us back to Rand and Ryan. The image of Ryan that’s being nurtured by the left–fed by talking points from the Obama campaign and grotesque propaganda efforts from various PACs–is that he’s some kind of fire-breathing Objectivist monster looking to snatch food from children’s mouths and sell it in order to gild the toilets at Goldman Sachs.

For example, if you’re a member of “Catholics” United, you’re treated to this nauseting bit of casual slander and raw mendacity:

Propaganda for Soros-funded PAC “Catholics” United

I have problems with the Ryan budget, but they’re in the details, not in the big picture. And, say what you will about it, at least it’s reality-based, unlike the catastrophic fiscal policy of the Obama administration. We will spend years digging out of the hole dug by Obama, and while Ryan’s budget does not get us out of that hole (he still runs a deficit, albeit half of that run by the president) at least it doesn’t dig us in any deeper.

The left can shout all it wants about how Ryan is gutting Medicare, but under Obama’s plan Medicare is dead in a decade, unable to be funded any further. We’re heading for another crash (possibly driven by the popping of an “education bubble,” when all that student debt comes crashing down), and we’re not going to address it by printing money (the Obama solution) or borrowing it (ditto) or confiscating it and letting the government spend it (ditto). Money removed from the private sector in the form of taxation is lost money: it’s not capable of generating wealth or growth. Some of this is necessary to maintain society and the social safety net, but we’ve long since passed that point of expenditure.

And thus we come to a key part of Ryan’s outlook that will never get a fair hearing, partly because it’s complex and nuanced, and partly because it doesn’t fit the false narrative create by the elites. Ryan repeatedly states that his perspective on economics is shaped by his Catholicism. Catholic social teaching turns on two points: solidarity (the need to aid and uplift the poor) and subsidiarity (the fact that a problem should be addressed by the smallest practical political entity: the one closest to the problem being addressed).

This is not the way he is being portrayed by the media and the left (but I repeat myself). Yes, he’s admitted that Rand was a formative influence and that her emphasis on “individualism versus collectivism” remains important, but the image of him as doctrinaire Randian shouting “every man for himself!” is misleading.  When inquiring into someone’s beliefs, it’s a good idea to listen to what he says. Here’s Ryan addressing the question quite clearly (emphasis added):

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

Anything anyone else says about his beliefs needs to be considered against that statement. (And by the way: Yay for a politician who correctly and casually uses the word “epistemology.”) You think he’s lying? Prove it. The burden is on you. He said what he believes. Unless someone has a proven track record of bald-face lies, their statements about their own beliefs should be the final word. Simple charity demands that.

Ryan defended both his budget and his Catholic principles in an article for the National Catholic Register (disclosure: I write for the Register). It doesn’t get much more clear than this:

The debt is weighing on job creation today, closing off the most promising avenues for the poor to rise. As a result, more and more of society’s most vulnerable remain mired in public-assistance programs whose outdated structures often act as a trap that hinders upward mobility. And this economic stagnation and growing dependence fuels the growing national debt — a vicious cycle that calls for bold reforms equal to the challenge.

We cannot continue to ignore this problem. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has rightly termed this attitude “living in untruth … at the expense of future generations.” In approaching this problem as a lay Catholic in public life, I have found it useful to apply the twin principles of solidarity (recognition of the common ties that unite all human beings in equal dignity) and subsidiarity (respect for the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groups such as families, businesses, schools, local communities and state governments).

When applied in equal measure, these principles complete and balance each other. But when one is applied exclusively, the result can be harmful. For example, in a misapplication of solidarity, politicians in both parties expanded big government for decades. These policies have had dismal results. One out of every six people in the United States is now living below the poverty level — the largest number of poor people on record.

We need a better approach to restore the balance, and the House-passed budget offers one by reintroducing subsidiarity, which the Holy Father has called “the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” Our budget builds on the successful welfare reforms of the 1990s, using federal subsidium to empower state and local governments, communities and individuals — those closest to the problems of society. Our budget promotes opportunity and upward mobility by strengthening job-training programs to help those who have fallen on hard times.

Our budget ends welfare for those who don’t need it, but strengthens welfare programs for those who do. Government safety-net programs have been stretched to the breaking point in recent years, failing the very citizens who need help the most. When solidarity and subsidiarity are in balance, civil society is revitalized, not displaced. We rightly pride ourselves on looking out for one another — and government has an important role to play in that. But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.

There’s far more, and I urge you to read every bit of it. He’s already said–repeatedly–that he welcomes disputes and disagreements on the details of his budget, and that he’s open to discussing any points. He wants to get into that discussion and start working out solutions, and has an obvious mastery of the data. The current administration, however, has rebuffed his overtures. Rather than discussing the details, they’ve rejected them out of hand, and both sides are playing politics with the issue. In the long run, the Republicans are helped politically by Obama’s failures, and the Democrats are helped politically by maintaining their false narrative of Evil Republicans Who Just Don’t Care.

I don’t have any illusion that Ryan is part of a real solution to the disease affecting the body politic. He’s voted time and again for things I find repellent (TARP, the GM bailout, war) and is a Washington insider. He remains part of the problem because he’s part of a system that is horribly broken and dysfunctional. However, he seems like a reasonable person, not an ideologue.

Because the stakes are so high in this election, I will almost certainly be voting for Romney-Ryan, albeit reluctantly. I really don’t believe we can survive four more years of Obama. In any case, as a Catholic I could never vote for him due to his unnecessary and provocative attacks on the Church with the HHS mandate, and his full-throated support (not tolerance: support) for abortion.

Catholics who try to wave this away need to look long and hard at what they really believe. There are many solutions offered by both the left and the right to the problems of poverty and want in America. (Only a mindless zealot believes the right is completely unconcerned for the poor and disadvantaged.) All those airy pronouncements about the poor, however, mean nothing without life itself. One side believes there are various ways to lift up those in need, but that the most vulnerable of all (the unborn) need to be protected. The other side believes there’s only one way to lift up those in need, and doesn’t worry itself too much about the most vulnerable of all. In this horrible political system of ours, with both sides almost indistinguishable on issues of military adventurism, it really does come down to that.

UPDATED: Mark Shea is unpersuaded. Fair enough, but I’m willing to take the man at his word. Unlike Shea, I was a Libertarian (and an agnostic and an anti-Catholic ex-Catholic gnostic what-have-you) at one point, and I’m sure all kinds of daffy quotes can be summoned to convict me. (In my early 20s, I wrote a horrifying piece about the transubstantiation that will certainly cost me a few thousand years of rolling boulders uphill in purgatory.)

I get no sense from Ryan that he’s some kind of slippery snake oil salesman trying to put one over on the rubes by embracing … St. Thomas Aquinas? Ayn Rand is hot right now, and has plenty of Tea Party appeal. Catholics? Meh. Not so hot.

For many years Rand stood as a strong voice for limited government. She was also anti-human, anti-religious, and contemptuous of those very people Christians are called upon to love the most: the weak and the poor. Consider her a nasty-tasting ipecac for the poisoned body politic, forcing it to vomit out the creeping statism of the post-New Deal era. As The Prophet said: “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

And Mark is certainly aware that Ron Paul (whom we both like) has never even made an effort to disavow Ayn Rand. A person’s intellectual and moral development is a complex thing. I embraced and rejected a great deal of Gnosticism, Jungianism, paganism, Buddhism, Taoism, New Age spirituality, and more on the way to becoming who I am at 44, but all of those false paths informed who I am and how I think as a completely orthodox Catholic. I’m willing to cut Ryan a great deal of slack on this one.

UPDATED II: Glenn Greenwald offers a dissent from the left.

I know I only said this once, and some people tend to scan overlong posts like this, but let me just say again: my vote for Romney-Ryan  will be a reluctant one. I disagree with a great deal from both of them, and as I pointed out (which Greenwald also points out) Ryan has a lot of crappy votes for big government and military intervention to his name. When all is said and done, however, I know for a fact what to expect from 4 more years of Obama: horrible economic policy, stupid foreign policy, anti-life and anti-religion policy, and general creepiness. At least Ryan is making a pleasing noise about debt reduction and life issues, which is more than can be said for the Amateur-in-Chief.

To get back to the original question that prompted this hideously long wad of text: Is Paul Ryan an Objectivist or a doctrinaire Randian? I’m satisfied the answer is no.

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