Complying with increased enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, Archbishop Valery Vienneau has limited the celebration of Mass to those who have been vaccinated. Although “fewer than 50 people have died from COVID-19,” and imposing mass segregation clearly violates the rights to freedom and equality, both church and civil authorities thought it would be a prudent move to coerce people into taking the jab and presumably slow the spread of the virus.
In other news, Pope Francis took issue with an unnamed Catholic television network (reportedly EWTN), calling it “the work of the devil.” Evidently, the station produced programming critical of the pope and even received official complaints from the Vatican.
That said, the station has also been a powerful tool for evangelization and a great resource for Catholics to learn more about the faith. One wonders how the pope is comfortable condemning a Catholic TV network in the harshest terms while complimenting a brutal and murderous regime like the Chinese Communist Party.
So what do these two news items have in common besides having to do with the Catholic Church? They are both a result of the same phenomenon that has plagued the church and nearly every other political and cultural institution in the developed world: deadly indifference.
I take this term from the new book from Catholic writer and editor Eric Sammons who explains how the church went from being a large, influential community of practicing Christians to a hollowed-out cultural relic run by out-of-touch Boomers. In short, he argues that church leaders in the 1960s took radical measures to “open up” to different viewpoints and practices. In effect, they became “indifferent” to frequently incompatible systems of thought.
As Sammons points out, Catholic teaching itself stayed the same, but the emphasis of that teaching changed in important ways. No longer would Catholics proclaim their faith to the world; they would now foster two-way dialogues with everyone.
No longer would they set themselves apart from other faiths and things of the world; they would now seek common ground in the interest of world peace and mutual understanding. No longer would they insist on being disciples of Christ to attain salvation; they would insist on following one’s conscience and trust in a loving (and remarkably indulgent) God.
Like clockwork, this emphasis shift precipitated a relativistic mindset that continues to corrode the Catholic Church more than six decades later. If any religious practice basically leads to heaven, every person is basically good, and all religions are basically true, then there is really no point in changing one’s behavior or even taking a serious position on anything. Consequently, religious vocations and missionary activity has dwindled, church attendance has plummeted, and the majority of Catholics who actually do practice are often misinformed about much of their own faith.
As it stands, the Catholic Church is hardly different from most generic philanthropies and nongovernmental organizations. Its leaders and representatives raise money, parrot leftist globalist narratives, and pursue the nebulous goals of being nice and “making the world a better place.” Like most modern philanthropies, it tends to enable more than empower the victims it seeks to help.
Thus, we’re left with an obsequious archbishop all too willing to treat the unvaccinated Catholics like lepers and a dyspeptic pope who worries more about personal criticisms than a whole church in dangerous decay. Needless to say, it’s been a demoralizing time for faithful Catholics.
For those who write this off as a Catholic problem, this dynamic of deadly indifference has happened everywhere, and it all started around the same time. Haunted by two World Wars and the ongoing Cold War, political and cultural leaders all took the bold step of building bridges, breaking down walls, and pushing for some kind of universalist system where all views were acceptable and any controversy (read: dissent or disagreement) was neutralized. Paradoxically, the ideals of relativism gradually became increasingly absolute over time.
Although this approach succeeded in minimizing outward conflict (and maximizing internal conflict), it has also led to a complete dissolution of identity. Being perpetually open-minded sounds nice until one realizes that it prevents the mind from closing in on anything meaningful or substantial. As G.K. Chesterton said nearly a century ago, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
This is how a stance of conciliatory indifference becomes deadly. After so much dialogue, tolerance, and compromise, the majority of people now lack the capacity to defend themselves against oppressive systems. Any radical who is loud or powerful enough can tell them to act against reason and morality, and they will obey because they have never known a time or occasion when it was okay to do otherwise. After saying yes and adopting so many clashing ideas, they don’t know how to say no and close the door.
In order to restore the wherewithal to resist, it becomes necessary for individuals and institutions to recover a certain degree of exclusivity. They must adopt ideas that accord with the good, the true, and the beautiful while they explicitly reject ideas that do not conform to those standards.
Not only will this work require effort and intelligence, but it will also require courage. We have been conditioned from an early age to conform and avoid confrontation, but this will inevitably happen when we decide on one set of beliefs over another set.
An assertion of one’s beliefs and values today increasingly comes with greater burdens, particularly with widespread censorship, fake news, and indoctrination. But, it should also be understood that these acts of silencing dissenting views do so out of insecurity and ignorance. Yes, this even includes esteemed clergy Pope Francis and Archbishop Vienneau who use their great moral and spiritual authority to chastise cable television networks and punish unvaccinated Catholics.
This means a more confident, better informed conservative side can win this battle if they decide to take a stand. This is the moment, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. For people of faith, fighting this battle could save their immortal souls; for people everywhere, fighting this battle could save civilization.