Friday, May 4, 2007

Rationalization

"It is appropriate here," writes Romano Amerio in his magisterial book Iota Unum in addressing "The deviations of the Middle Ages", "to formulate the law of the historical conservation of the Church, a law which also constitutes her ultimate apologetic criterion. The Church is founded on the Word Incarnate, that is, on a divinely revealed truth. She is also given sufficient energies to conform her own life to that truth: it is a dogma of faith that virtue is always possible. Nonetheless, the Church is only in danger of perishing if she loses the truth, not if she fails to live up to it. The pilgrim Church is, as it were, simultaneously condemned to imperfection in her activity, and to repentance: in the modern phrase, the Church is in a continual state of conversion. She is not destroyed when human weakness conflicts with her own teaching (that contradiction is inherent in the Church's pilgrim condition); but she is destroyed when corruption reaches the level of corroding dogma, and of preaching in theory the corruptions which exist in practice" (pg. 18).

Before proceeding it is important to point out a flaw in Amerio's reasoning on this matter, namely that because the "Church is founded on the Word Incarnate, that is, on a divinely revealed truth," who promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against her (Matt 16,18), she cannot forsake the truth and perish. Despite this easily discernible flaw, Amerio is quite right in insisting that institutional rationalization is just as damaging as individual rationalization. If the Church fails to insist on the truth, despite the failings of her children and even her ministers, then rationalization goes unchecked and uncorrected. Just as an overindulgent parent hinders a child's development as much, or even more than, an overly strict parent, Mother Church fails us, fails to love us, when she indulges our weaknesses, or accepts our rationalizations. To rationalize is to attempt to bring into accord with reason something that is unreasonable. Morality is rooted in what is true. Truth is logical and, therefore, is constitutive of reason. So, to rationalize our moral failings is to seek to make something reasonable that is objectively opposed to reason.

When a one year-old is denied something s/he wants, inevitably the child makes a fuss. In such cases parents are typically sympathetic. Why? Parents are sympathetic because the one year-old does not understand why s/he cannot have what is desired. Despite being sympathetic, the parent knows the child will never understand if s/he is not taught. Often, even though the child is too young to grasp it, the parent will comfort the child and explain why s/he cannot have the object of desire (i.e., it is dangerous, breakable, etc.). As the child grows and understands, far from being sympathetic, the parent does not get why the young person does not understand, why s/he is being so unreasonable.

Let us take a prevalent example as paradigmatic of our moral confusion: too often we seek to rationalize unchaste behavior, either within or outside of marriage. We demand, like teenagers, not be bothered about our "private" behavior. We insist, again like teenagers, that we are fulfilling "needs," that we be indulged, that our Mother not tell us the truth about these matters, that we know perfectly well what we are doing and (here's the kicker) it is good for us, or at least not bad for us- How can something that feels so good be wrong, the rat asked himself as he pressed the metal bar for another crack pellet? Such corruption increasingly finds support in teaching and preaching, in either explicit deviations, or by a deliberate failure to address the issue at all. The effects, both ecclesiastically and on society, are deleterious. Just as in the lives of individuals, it is not so much a matter of being perfect as recognizing and acknowledging our imperfections as imperfections, as deviations; recognizing our own need for on-going reformation and conversion. Put a bit more simply, it is alright not to be perfect as long as we do not seek to call what is evil good and what is good evil, or worse, old fashioned.

It would give the sexual libertines of the 1920s a laugh to hear twenty-first century young people say that chastity is old fashioned. At this point in time, as Dawn Eden points out in her book The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, there is nothing more old-fashioned than seeing so-called sexual liberation as a new way of living that will free humanity and usher in a new age! Mary Beth Bonacci shows the lie in this idiotic claim in her recent article entitled, Viagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore, in which she points out the conclusions of an increasing body of social science studies "on sexual satisfaction [that] consistently reveal the same results. The most sexually satisfied people in America--the ones who apparently have the best and most frequent sex--are highly religious married people who saved sex for marriage." Sex is best, she observes, when it speaks its authentic language, which is the language of self-donating, self-giving, selfless love. "And so it only stands to reason," she concludes "that it would be the most pleasurable when it takes place in that context."

However, it seems that in our pride we insist on thinking ourselves perfect. The trouble occurs when we seek to define morality down, either collectively or for our own sake. Sadly, the results of such pride and its resulting errors are not merely theoretical, but all too real.

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