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Mon Dec 3, 2012, 04:19 PM


"To Hell With It" Award - Fr. Rutler

by Michael Sean Winters | Dec. 3, 2012

Flannery O’Connor, early in her career, famously attended a party of the Catholic intellectual elite in New York City, during which the consensus of the group emerged that the Eucharist was, whatever their doubts about the doctrine of transubstantiation, still a useful symbol, worthy of admiration if not really the assent of deeply held faith. Flannery famously confronted this faux-rationalism of the literati with the comment, “Well, if it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it.” Today, I begin a short series of commentaries – “To Hell With It” – on Catholic identity, inspired by Flannery’s quip, which is more than a quip; it is a challenge to us all to question our own capacity for a sophisticated rationale for this cause or that agenda.

I start with Father George Rutler, a man who I would like to meet because I enjoy his capacity for story-telling, but a man with whom I would argue profoundly because he has aligned the cause of Holy Mother Church, which I do not doubt for a second he ardently holds dear to his heart, with a political agenda that is unworthy, perhaps not of Rutler, but definitely unworthy of Jesus Christ. I refer you to Rutler’s column at Crisis magazine the other day on religious liberty.

One would be hard-pressed to find a single article that manages to insert more right-wing agit-prop than this. There is the equation of America’s current debate over religious liberty with the French Revolution, as if President Obama, whatever his faults, was really little different from Robespierre. I take back not a single word I have uttered against President Obama and his obnoxious HHS mandate with its narrow exemptions for religious institutions. But, he is not Robespierre, there are no guillotines, and the HHS mandate is not the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Historical analogies are meant to enlighten, not inflame, contemporary political debate.

Rutler then takes on, a propos of nothing in particular, the US bishops’ statement on the economy in the 1980s, “Economic Justice for All.” Rutler writes: “The letter’s flaws were addressed by laymen who knew about economics, such as William Simon, J. Peter Grace, and Michael Novak.” So, we must listen to our bishops, except when they fail to agree with us? As for Mssrs. Simon, Grace and Novak, they know something of a particular brand of economic thinking, a brand that has its roots in a deeply anti-Christian ideology espoused by the likes of von Mises, Hayek and Rand. Simon, Grace and Novak were early apologists for the plutocratic age in which we live, confident that the market would bring about all manner of human happiness and right living (remember the End of History?), a confidence that has been unshaken in Rutler’s mind by recent history. I guess his 401(k) must have done better than mine.


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