I sometimes read the comments on the National Catholic Reporter. It is a fascinatingly depressing exercise in raising ones blood pressure to its upper limits.
One commenter recently, a neo-con troll, ranted and railed against the evil of the LCWR (without ever substantiating allegations) based purely, it seemed, on the fact that the Magisterium didn’t like them and that was enough for him. He was assured in his right-ness and righteousness because he always aligned his opinion with that of the Catholic hierarchy. Any deviation, or questioning of the position of the Magisterium, was the sin of self idolisation and arrogance and it was his duty to bring this truth to the sinful and ignorant. The irony of his arrogant pronouncements was entirely lost on him. For someone who could quote encyclicles and cannon law, he seemed woefully ignorant of basic formative Catholic theology.
Even back in the earliest days of Christian theology, when systematic theology was in a stage so infantile as to be fetal, the primacy of conscience and the necessity of questions was recognised. The earliest church dedicated itself to holding important councils; Nicea, Chaldean, Alexandria, all these councils were held to decide exactly what was and wasn’t orthodoxy and what was and wasn’t heresy. And they did this through questioning, discussion and debate. Augustine had his “faith seeking understanding” that exhibited itself in his dialectic form of writing. Later, Aquinas and Kant spoke of the primacy of individual conscience, and the need for Christians to critically engage with their faith, if only to ensure that they were not being deceived or tempted by the Devil.
Catholics who suppose themselves to always to be correct as long as they align themselves with Vatican pronouncements are committing a far greater sin than self idolisation. In denying the primacy of their own conscience, they are denying the aspect of themselves that carries the image of God, and so are guilty of self-deicide. When they suppress the conscience in favour of conformity, when they demand uniformity over the unity that comes from free and open dialogue, they attack what is most unique and beautiful about humanity; our self reflective and self expressive conscience. They attack the very gift that God gave us that marked us as above the angels; free will. They deny the God of revelation, who continues to speak through the Holy Spirit; the God who is constantly revealing more and more about who God is. They deny the God of salvation history, who can continue to work within history today to address old and grievous social sins and injustices.
These neo-cons are prisoners to their own lack of conscience. Their entire notion of themselves as right and good is predicated in the opinions of others, and their own ability to align themselves to those opinions. They are cyphers; vampires that cast no reflection and whose entire identity would be lost were the Magisterium to do one of it’s rare and spectacular 180′s. They have created themselves on the shifting sand of human institution and fooled themselves, through historical revisionism and academic dishonesty, that they are surely founded upon an eternal rock of continuous truth. The only eternal foundation humanity has access to is its conscience. It is the conscience that is the mark of the image of God, and so it is the conscience, and the conscience alone that is eternal and absolute truth.
The denial of the primacy of conscience is often accompanied by the insistence on eternal, ethical, absolute truths; homosexuality is always and eternally “intrinsically disordered”, women are always and eternally barred from the Priesthood, contraceptives are always and eternally condemned. But if conscience is the eternal and absolute truth, as only conscience can be if it is in conscience that we find the image of God, then none of these external “absolute truths” can be absolute truths precisely because they are external and have nothing to do with the image of God and so cannot carry the mark of eternity.
Neo-cons need external absolute truths because they have severed themselves from the absolute truth within. They need the idols of external absolute truth because they have killed the internal absolute of conscience; they have killed the God within.
To live out the Gospel is not to recreate the social norms and biases of a bygone era in our own, modern world and call it eternal. To live the Gospel is to live in an ever shifting world where the only thing that can be relied on is the spark of the eternal within; the conscience. It is to live as the nuns do; to recognise that caring for and sheltering homeless LGBTQ youth is of more immediate importance than denouncing their sexuality as the Vatican would like them to do (particularly when the entire concept of sexuality as sinful is so theologically unsubstantiated and in need of free and open debate). To recognise that the time to condemn is not when a person is already on the floor, bent and broken. To recognise that their conscience demands more of them than the easy reaction of disgust and pontification and condemnation; it demands the absurd reaction of love and compassion and service. It demands the absurd conviction that the eternity of God is internally accessible to all us mere mortals, and the courage to trust that internal eternity even when the external “absolute and eternal truth” is diametrically opposed to the conclusions of ones conscience. It is all that is beautiful and unique within the human condition and evidence of Gods perverse sense of humour because, it would seem, the only eternal truth we have access to is the fact that we have access to the eternal truth, and beyond that we just need to have faith that we are getting it right and ask questions to make sure we don’t get it wrong.