Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

The Exotic Liberation Theology of Fr. Neuhaus & Dr. Hitchcock

Enlightenment Ideology At War with Faith, Reason & The Remnant

(The Remnant, November 15, 2007)

Dr. James Hitchcock, in a recent article in the Human Life Review, argues that a "Catholic Right" which is really "Leftist" in character is doing great damage to the pro-life movement. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, writing online, cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Both men identify the writers of The Remnant as belonging to this destructive leftist force, which, as Fr. Neuhaus informs us, is composed of a number of "exotic varieties of Catholicism".

No one should be surprised that Fr. Neuhaus claims to find The Remnant and a wide range of other Catholic journals and writers "exotic". He is obliged to do so by the One Thing that all of his First Things really boil down to in the long run: Liberation Theology. His is a Liberation Theology based upon the idea of the unique, profound transformation wrought in the individual and society not through Christ but through the political and economic freedom taught by the British Enlightenment and through the American System. This Liberation Theology he spreads with the prophetic zeal of the Abbe de Lamennais (1782-1854) and a Sophism worthy of the greatest of the ancient Greek opponents of Socrates.

Fr. Neuhaus' British version of the naturalist Enlightenment advances at a more conservative pace than its radical naturalist counterpart in France; hence its more subtle approach to dealing with that troublesomely supernatural pest which The Remnant and several other exotics call Christianity. Such "common sense" naturalism does not see why anyone should go to the trouble of murdering the Christian Beast when this can be convinced, through a quiet campaign of intellectual and spiritual seduction, to become a willing accomplice in its own corruption.

One Thing, its formidable editor, and close collaborators like Michael Novak and George Weigel, have worked hard and openly to apply this strategy of conservative seduction to Roman Catholicism. They have consistently sought to persuade Catholics to accept the British Enlightenment and the American System allied with it as though their precepts were the obvious end product of all Christian doctrinal development. Novak assures us that shopping malls are modern cathedrals, corporate leadership an icon of the Trinity, and liberal capitalist man a New Adam. Neuhaus explains that America has become the contemporary Church, the first country in history which is itself a universal religion, seeking adherents and offering them its grace everywhere throughout the globe.

Fr. Neuhaus and his allies are certain that God's creation as a whole lies in melancholy slumber, groaning to become like unto Enlightened Britain and the United States. This compels them to a twofold effort. On the one hand, they must seek to ridicule the anti-Enlightenment character of the true Catholic message as something now totally surpassed by history and meaningless to the New liberated Adam. On the other, they are obliged to deconstruct the entire Catholic past, in order to rediscover in it "seeds of the Enlightenment" to be brought to fruition by the complete teaching of disordered freedom entering the world with the eighteenth century naturalist Word. Hence, their treatment of the "Peter to Benedict Catholicism" of The Remnant as something just too exotic for a member of the stock exchange or Blackwater to take seriously. Hence, also, their attempt to make Thomas Aquinas into the obvious forbear of that John Locke whose orthodoxy is apparently displayed by his belief that there is no such thing as human nature and that "toleration" (and not the Trinity, Incarnation & Redemption) is the essence of Christianity.

Fr. Neuhaus' work of seduction is immensely aided by a sense of Prophetic Mission recalling the figure of the Abbe Felicite de Lamennais. Lamennais was the priest-apologist who became the great conduit for transmitting the message of Rousseau to the Catholic world in the early 1800's. Filled with love for The People as the Voice of God, Lamennais at first thought that the legitimate monarchy was the vehicle for translating its sacred wishes into reality. When the monarchy failed him, he turned to the Pope as the God-People's agent. With papal rejection of the notion of the People as the source of Truth, Lamennais then looked to a purely secular democratic system as an infallible guide to God's will. But since even the democratic People did not seem much interested in taking up the sacred task he had identified for them, Lamennais realized that it fell to him, as Prophet, to raise their spiritual consciousness and reveal the new and higher stage of political democratic development to which the history of Catholicism was inevitably leading them. In union with many of the other religious syncretists, nationalists and utopian reformers of the first half of the nineteenth century, he spent the rest of his life preaching the final realization of the Catholic spirit through its rebirth in secularized, anti-Catholic form.

I mention the dear Abbe in conjunction with Fr. Neuhaus because the first time that I encountered the latter was when he sponsored a lecture in praise of the glories of that Prophet at the Lutheran Church at the Citicorp Building in New York City some twenty years ago or more. It was obvious to me at that time that Fr. Neuhaus shared the lecturer's conviction that Lamennais was the modern Catholic model, a fresh Joan of Arc who had suffered to give birth to a new, more godly, democratic Church. And it became clear to me afterwards that Fr. Neuhaus saw himself as possessing the same prophetic, consciousness raising, Faith altering, Liberation Theology mission. What distinguishes him from Lamennais is not the fundamental secularism and enslavement to the democratic political system ----he fully shares these leftist goals---but the pace of destruction, the role of capitalism and America, and, last but not least, his greater organizing and fund raising ability.

One more other factor has to considered when meditating upon the success of Fr. Neuhaus' Liberation Theology: a master sophism reflecting his acceptance of the guidelines for avoiding discussion of substantive Truth and for ridiculing those who seek it devised by Plato's greatest opponent, Isocrates (436-338 B.C.). Would that people might actually read the books of both sophists, Isocrates and Neuhaus, to see how much the methodology and the substance of the arguments used by the two of them are almost exactly the same! Isocrates, like the editor of One Thing, also saw the world as the playground of naturalist wills struggling freely and pointlessly with one another for domination. He also called upon the services of an "exalted vision" to disguise the horror of his jungle polis--- obviously not Christian Revelation, but the concept of a sacred Greek Mission, backed by the authority of the divinized Founders of Hellenism, and given over to the imperialist strong men of his day for execution. Isocrates, again like Neuhaus, used silence and ridicule rather than reason to dismiss the defenders of eternal unchangeable Truth, waving off the Socratics as exotic losers, envious of their betters, whom the flow of history had passed by and who needed to "get a life".

Certainly Fr. Neuhaus has also learned Isocrates' lesson that the true task of the philosopher is not that of identifying the inner essences of things and then correcting individual and social thought and action to fit their message. On the contrary, he, along with his Greek ancestor, understands that the sensible philosopher does nothing other than facilitate the satisfaction of the free desires of the powerful through the use of "appropriate words"; i.e., words that "work" at any given moment. These appropriate words allow the strong, self-reliant free man to achieve a "success" (which can never be accurately defined) under the masquerade of accomplishing some (ultimately equally irrational) noble deed. Once he discovers such appropriate words, Neuhaus drills them into the dull public mind with repetitiveness worthy of a Joseph Goebbels. And the Catholic public swallows and parrots them.

Anyone who wants to explore such sophism from the standpoint of Isocrates can read Werner Jaeger's great work, Paideia, or my infinitely more humble article on The Ancient Roots of the Anti-Catholic Mentality (jcrao.freeshell.org). The student who wishes to investigate it from the perspective of Neuhaus & Co. should merely open any one of their books and stick a finger in it at random to emerge with a pro-Enlightenment, Liberation Theology argument dressed up in appropriate words for the benefit of the strong few and the confusion of the weak many. Once he does so it should be easy to understand One Thing's sympathy for the equally sophist, elitist Straussian community.

"The Catholic Moment" is, perhaps, the most clear example of "appropriate words" used to effect both disfiguring change and confusion among the faithful. Neuhaus employs this phrase to indicate the moment for Catholics to embrace the liberation offered by the British Enlightenment and the American System sadly rejected by mainline Protestant denominations that have opted for more radical, socialist forms of Liberation Theology. But he gains sophistic benefit from it because believers, captivated by the image it evokes, take it for granted that it means something quite different: i.e., the moment of victory for the Catholic notion of transformation in Christ over the emptiness of modern life.

"Peace and harmony for all religions living under American freedom" is another example of the same beast. These "appropriate words" masquerade the fact that the freedom all religions are guaranteed is one that requires abandonment of "divisive" doctrines, their replacement with the unifying principles of the naturalist Enlightenment, and, therefore, peace and harmony for those who have lost their souls and would be totally unrecognizable to their ancestors. Such peace and harmony, which destroys the ability of religions to function as they ought, then allows the naturalist strong man to do whatever it is he pleases, limited only by his own continued and quite quixotic subscription to certain "moral values".

I have to admit that I do not follow current events in the conservative Catholic world as much as I perhaps should. Therefore, I do not know when Dr. Hitchcock became a fellow traveler down Neuhaus' Yellow Brick Road to a liberated Oz governed by an Americanist civil religion passed off as the Faith of the Apostles. The structure of Dr. Hitchcock's anti-Remnant polemic demands that I first say something about his claim that our criticism of the war and of the Republican Party is tantamount to abandoning the pro-life cause.

Let us ignore the fact that in excommunicating The Remnant and its writers from the pro-life movement Dr. Hitchcock also casts into the outer darkness many friends of this newspaper who have done much time in jail for fighting abortion and are as horrified by his support for the war as we are. What intrigues me much more is his (and Neuhaus') conviction that he can push us up against the wall by accusing us of supporting the "seamless garment" argument.

Yes, this term--- "the seamless garment" ---was indeed first put to use by progressive, leftist Catholics seeking "appropriate words" to justify a tempering of pro-life fervor. But dare I point out that Dr. Hitchcock and Fr. Neuhaus chastise us precisely because we do not go along with their own argument for a "seamless, Americanist, Republican, Capitalist, British Enlightenment Catholic garment"? Is this not the whole thrust of their anti-Remnant school of political wisdom? No Republicans, no fight versus abortion? No Capitalism, no freedom? No America, no True, Good and Beautiful? Outside of the British Enlightenment no salvation? One Thing, now and forever?

In point of fact, none of us can get away from some form of the  "seamless garment" argument. The basic question is whether or not the form that we rely upon is correct and meaningful. The error in the first seamless garment lay in its willingness to equate the innocent life of the unborn with the guilty life of criminals facing possible capital punishment. One of the many, many errors of the second, that of the Neuhaus-Hitchcock Romano-Republicans, lies in its presumption that the defense of innocent unborn life requires either indifference to or enthusiastic support for the slaughter of innocent born and unborn life in an unjust war.

We at The Remnant stand by the argument for a seamless doctrinal garment that we learned in catechism class; the one that taught us that no Catholic Truth may be pushed aside without threatening the survival of all of the others. Moreover, it seems to me that we apply this argument correctly to the present debate, when we claim that our Faith teaches us that all innocent life, both born and unborn, is precious to God, and that a willingness to write off butchery in the one realm cannot help but rebound to the detriment of those fighting it in the other. All I can do when I think of pro-life Hitchcock and Neuhaus being in the same camp as pro-butcher Dick Cheney is to lift a word from One Thing's description of our very limited alliance with all those opposed to the Middle Eastern crusade: "bizarre".

Now both Hitchcock and Neuhaus would, of course, emphatically deny that the war in Iraq is an unjust slaughter. For them it is a perfectly respectable massacre, and this for a variety of reasons. Let me note at this juncture, once again, only that their denial of the injustice of this conflict is founded upon their stripping of Catholic teaching on the Just War of all practical application whatsoever. If we were Germans in the 1930's and 1940's and resorted to the kind of argument that I regularly hear from their circles about the need to follow our leader in the inevitably neutral realm of political decisions, we would have been pushed into an untenable position. We would all have had to admit that abortion was indeed bad, but that Hitler's war could in no way be criticized. At least until such time as the pope intervened and a contemporary Neuhaus or Hitchcock could have so deconstructed his statements as to split the seamless garment of our Faith and Reason and complete the annihilation of our sense of moral responsibility.

Dr. Hitchcock says that I personally have hurt the pro-life cause by condemning as hypocritical all Catholic political and social action until the Second Coming, with participation in democratic elections at the top of my hate list. (Ironically, he follows up this criticism by evoking the authority of men like Matt Anger, who actually make the exact opposite claim; namely, that our camp is much too steeped in a secularizing political activism.) What Dr. Hitchcock really meant to say was that by regretting activists' attendance at such events as the National Catholic Prayer nosh I ipso facto proclaimed the total impossibility of fighting abortion until Kingdom Come. That really does make breakfast into the most important meal of the day!

Yes, it is true that I did suggest that some of those applauding everything said by "our first Catholic President" might actually have been drawn there more by excitement over the prospect of being close to His Majesty than by concern for lobbying for a good cause. Perhaps that was detraction, and, if so, I apologize for it. But in my defense, I noted that excitement over rubbing elbows with celebrities was not my central concern. The real problem with the Breakfasters was, and still is, their blindness about the teaching that their adoring presence offers to a world, the overwhelming majority of which---including the pope and the vast bulk of non-American bishops and laity---is openly and correctly anti-war and anti-Bush; their blindness over just how easily their adulation and their appearance of indifference to the suffering of innocent people in the Middle East can and will inevitably be manipulated by anti-religious forces to aid in the battle to promote abortion.

In sum, my criticism of Dr. Hitchcock's branch of the pro-life movement is that it lacks the basic common sense and recognition of historical and practical realities that we "exotic Catholics" are supposed to display. No pressure group should ever sing hosannas to its supposed agents in the depressing manner that the Catholics present at that National Prayer Breakfast do, and then be so naïve as to expect to be treated as a serious lobby to be feared and respected. No member of the Breakfast Club should clap his hands black and blue and then express astonishment that some of its own members are ready to go that extra mile for the Grand Old Party; even to the point of welcoming the coronation of an openly pro-choice King Rudi I. To quote Fr. Neuhaus yet again, "bizarre."

Far from insisting that Catholics lament such things and then go home and barbeque until Christ comes in glory, I have repeatedly given precise indications of what they could do: that which saintly and dedicated activists have done in analogous adverse situations in the past. Examples from my articles have ranged from the successful "lobbying" undertaken by St. Boniface and the monks of Cluny to the massive educational project mounted by the Opera dei Congressi to awaken Italian Catholics to the full horror of their late nineteenth century liberal capitalist Kingdom. All such saints and organizations digested the lesson that Dr. Hitchcock and the Breakfasters have yet to learn: that Catholics must always maintain some distance from, and use their Faith and Reason to judge and correct, the actions of every State, every political system, and every political leader.

Moreover, movements like the Opera dei Congressi made the same point about elections which I do---not that you condemn them in toto, but that you must not put your faith in them when the cards are stacked against your victory (Presumably even Dr. Hitchcock would not have chastised Catholic Soviet citizens who did not wish to vote for Stalin as cowardly whiners waiting for the Second Coming); that you cannot win a solid battle against any moral evil through them when they have degenerated into sophist and money dominated carnivals; that you must never give the impression that Truth infallibly emerges from their all too easily manipulated results.

Dr. Hitchcock's other assertions regarding the writers of The Remnant---lobbed out like hand grenades by the newly-enlisted at basic training, without any care for where they might come to rest, whether in an empty field or one's own bivouac---are misleading, disconnected and downright erroneous, both historically and philosophically. Hence, for example, his statement concerning our rejection of the legitimacy of the American System, tossed out without noting to his readers that this does not involve our urging people to rip up the Constitution or take up arms against the police and the army.

Those who examine what we really argue---a work that does not take but an honest Catholic moment---will find that it is the dominant principles that lie behind the outward shell of the Constitution that we reject. We at The Remnant believe that an acceptable set of foundation principles involves recognizing the need to build a political and social order on a classical natural law theory that is also open to correction and transformation in Christ. This, unfortunately, is precisely what our American foundation principles and the Liberation Theology of Fr. Neuhaus and Dr. Hitchcock either directly prohibit or essentially subvert.

Yes, once again, there is much in the outward shell and language of 1787 that could look traditional to Catholic eyes in 2007. But the words "God", "nature", "natural law", "freedom" and even "order" ultimately meant different things to America's Founders than they did to St. Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent---not to speak of the First Vatican Council and the Social Teachings of the subsequent Popes, both of which sought to make those fundamental distinctions all the more clear to contemporary Catholics. However much some of the Founders may have "willed" their society to remain bound to older traditions that they "chose" and which still "look good" today, the intellectual and spiritual background out of which they emerged worked logically to build the much more formless and [Christ less society] we see around us today. It simply did so in a different and less violent way than did the background shaping a Robespierre and other Deist French revolutionaries who praised God and nature every bit as much as our own Founders.

Proving this should be a very simple matter. One need only read the Founding Fathers, study both the thinkers to whom they make constant reference as well as the historical environment in which they lived, and then compare these to Catholic statements on political and social matters through the ages and the history of Catholic Christendom. But this is precisely what Fr. Neuhaus' sophism aims people away from doing (Why bother? One Thing has explained it all to them already!) and Dr. Hitchcock also will not allow us to do. Shocking for an historian, the latter expressly ridicules investigations of the past, taking me to task for thinking that the actions of an eleventh century Catholic German Emperor who was dedicated to the Faith might have something more to say to fellow believers than the will and choice of Founding Fathers who considered Catholicism to be an insane superstition. "Bizarre" yet again.

Dr. Hitchcock claims that our fight against American legitimacy involved our supposed conviction that George III was chosen directly by God to rule over us. Whence he fished this absurdity I cannot imagine. Divine Right of Kings---as opposed to the Catholic idea that all power, whether wielded by a monarch or a republic, must be used as a trust from God---is an invention of an anti-Catholic legalism and a Reformation secularization that we at The Remnant abhor. In fact, the only Americans whom I personally know to believe in Divine Right in Dr. Hitchcock's use of the term are those who insist that our System comes directly from the hand of God: Fr. Neuhaus and a number of those activists who regularly attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast being prominent among them.

Even more baffling to me is Dr. Hitchcock's apparent conviction that Chris Ferrara and I can be discredited merely by mentioning our identification of the Enlightenment and Masonic background of many or most of the Founding Fathers, and the nefarious consequences flowing therefrom. Why should such statements drive us cowering from polite society? This historical information did not come through some esoteric revelation. Once again, it emerged simply from reading the writings and the correspondence of the men in question, and then comparing them with the writings and the correspondence of the heroes whom they praise. Moreover, no sudden illumination gave to Chris and myself the belief that the eighteenth century Enlightenment attacked the very concept of human nature and classical natural law, or that [it its naturalism] led some of its supporters to argue that man was a pure machine possessing no real freedom and others to claim that moral good and evil were based upon whatever custom and prejudice might decree or human power, will, or feeling might wish them to be. All this is available for anyone to digest in the works of John Locke, David Hume, La Mettrie, Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams.

The great scholars of the Enlightenment, both non-Catholic and Catholic, from Peter Gay to the authors of Histoire du Christianisme  (the recent set of volumes on Church History released by Desclee in Paris), know these facts. So did the vast bulk of the writers of the nineteenth century Catholic revival, who repeatedly predicted that the Enlightenment, both in the violent form handed down on the European Continent, as well as in the more pietistic, syncretist, but equally leftist manner passed through the Anglo-Saxon world, would, indeed, lead to many, many new evils: global imperialism, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, racial engineering and genocide among them. Why is it that conservative Catholics cannot consult such sources for just one moment? But here I prove once more that I am continuously surprised by the obvious. One Thing has freed conservatives from the onerous and un-enlightening task of learning the truth by providing them with its prophetic, sophistic dicta.

Dr. Hitchcock also takes it for granted that simply noting my contention that America has played a central role in destroying the remnants of Catholic Europe should immediately send readers rolling in the aisles with laughter and bewilderment. After all, he argues, everyone knows that Americans are more moral and religious, their church going and the size of their pro-life movement being two of the proofs in point.

What bothers me the most in this offensive assertion of our incredible spiritual superiority is the reduction of judgments concerning moral excellence to the church going and pro-life realms alone. This leaves American Catholics blind to just how much the dangerously immoral, Protestant-and-Enlightenment-shaped individualism which is today being promoted in Europe through Liberation Theologians like Fr. Neuhaus, Michael Novak and George Weigel (not to speak of the still more exotic missionaries from the Acton Institute and other American organizations inspired by Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard) leads ultimately to abandonment of church attendance and abortion as well. Heeding the lessons of the divinized American System has caused Roman Catholic church going in our own land to collapse quite significantly in the last forty years, while appeal to the logic of the principles of "freedom" worshipped by Fr, Neuhaus and Dr. Hitchcock has produced the problem of legalized abortion giving birth to the American pro-live movement in the first place.

American Liberation Theology missionaries, whose European activities I described in general terms in one of the articles excoriated by Dr. Hitchcock, are totally indifferent to man's social dimension and, thus, to the individual's greater vulnerability to temptation when left completely to his own socially unaided devices. They open the human person to an easier enslavement to his materialist self-interests and the creation of exactly the sort of atomistic environment in which the social-consciousness of the "exotic" Catholic past is forgotten and the anti-life mentality then thrives.

How am I to approach yet another of Dr. Hitchcock's  arguments, that wherein he treats the suggestion of an alternative to American Liberation Theology as some strange, innovative position, requiring a "direct" theocratic submission to the "Lordship" of Christ and unacceptable criticism of Pope John XXIII to boot? I certainly consider myself obliged personally to submit to the Kingship of Christ, and I think that the social order that plays an essential role in my pilgrimage to God is bound to do so as well. But social submission to the Kingship of Christ means exactly what the Magisterium has taught that this means through the ages, involving all sorts of distinctions concerning the precise spheres of Church and State activity, the central significance of the natural law, and the practical consideration of greater as opposed to lesser evils. Does Dr. Hitchcock really believe that our understanding of the Kingship of Christ is the same as that of Puritan theocrats of the Massachusetts Bay Colony? Once again, the only people whom I know to share that view are Fr. Neuhaus and many those attending the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Their Liberation Theology melting Church and State into one monstrous and dangerous civil religion inevitably links together what exotic Catholicism tore asunder.

As for respect of papal teachings on this subject, when did the Statute of Limitations come into effect on those pontiffs living before 1958 who spoke at length on Christ as King of man and society? Who decided when they were no longer valid? Which comments of John XXIII and his successors are we speaking of that contradict them?  And does the need for uncritical acceptance of every papal statement since 1958 mean that American Conservatives are now willing to take Mater et Magister seriously? Or Popolorum Progressio? Or John Paul II's critiques of capitalism? Or, as noted above, John Paul and Benedict XVI's teaching on the Iraq War?

Allow me to end with one suggestion that Dr. Hitchcock, as a proponent of the "reform of the reform", might want to take to heart. I now formally urge that we end this debate and make our peace by just chucking, once and for all, references to all those anachronistic saints and the readings honoring them which still litter the new liturgy and divine office with their bizarre understanding of Catholicism. Let us, for once and for all, rid ourselves of praise for absurd German Roman Emperors like St. Henry II, religious founders such as St. Ignatius Loyola, and popes of the St. Pius X ilk, with their incomprehensible, outdated, "loser" call for the transformation of all things in Christ. Let us, once and for all, replace them with references to, and forthright readings from, the works and biographies of their much more suitable Catholic heirs: John Locke, David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ludwig von Mises, and maybe Mickey Mouse. 

But, then again, on the other hand, perhaps we ought to follow the spirit of the motu proprio and establish an Ordinary and Extraordinary Rite. The Ordinary Rite can sacralize Supply and Demand and offer excerpts from Murray Rothbard. The Extraordinary Rite can continue to treat St. Boniface seriously and present St. John Chrysostom's admonitions against our following the inclinations of a purely materialist free will. Maybe then Catholics would finally see exactly where One Thing sophism is leading them and what, exactly, it must destroy along the way. Maybe then they would finally grasp what is truly bizarre in Catholic life today: not the age-old message of The Remnant but the exotic, seamless garment, Liberation Theology argument preached with prophetic zeal by Fr. Neuhaus, Dr. Hitchcock and their allies, to the detriment of Faith, Reason and the human spirit in general.

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