Posts Tagged ‘Left vs. Right’

Two Unsustainable Political Illusions

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

One point of view of this Sanity and Social Justice blog is that both the public policy program of the Left and the program of the Right present unsustainable illusions. Both distort economic reality with partisan propaganda and spin. Both engage in wishful thinking. The same intensity of criticism should be focused on both the Left and the Right, but rarely is.

When completely victorious, as in the one-party rule of Chicago and Illinois, the Left descends into inefficient corruption and factionalism, fulfills few of its economic promises, and produces disorder if not financial and social ruin. When completely victorious, as for a time in the Reagan Era, the Right similarly lacks the discipline to fulfill its own economic commitments, engages in wishful thinking such as Jack Kemp’s (joined by Democrats) over-extending home ownership to an unsustainable percentage of the population, and descends into cronyism. Neither partisan platform ever fully realizes its economic vision. Each over-promises to critical, if not tragic, proportions.

It thus is something of a puzzle why people continue to believe that politicians can achieve economically what they say they will, when history perennially demonstrates that they consistently do not, and why people continue to treat political belief with a passion that surpasses religious devotion to the point of idolatry.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that our political beliefs do not represent historic or economic fact so much as they represent our own concept of ourselves, our own “identity maintenance,” as I have long called it. Also, since both the Right and the Left have consistently descended into cronyism, one can conclude that political passion depends in the end on that group of political cronies with which one wishes to throw in one’s lot. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in unrealized and probably unrealizable political ideas, but in our own self-concept and self-interest, framed as the public good.

Against a world of illusory political discourse, one can respond with competence and effectiveness, the Aristotelian Ergon and Arete of Work seeking Excellence. The teacher acts as a good teacher, the doctor or nurse as a good doctor or nurse, and by extension the school or university is a good school or university, the hospital is a good hospital, etc., and it is to be hoped that the society is a better society as a result.

For centuries, heady and trendy intellectuals have tried in vain to transcend Aristotle only to confirm him. I’ve said before that Stanley Fish has labored mightily, and brought forth in the end a few two-thousand-plus-year-old lines from Aristotle. Modern political thought has bypassed Aristotle to its peril.

Political economy is grounded on the variable strata of the physical world of natural resources as moderated by meteorological forces, of long-wave demographic trends, of cultural tectonics, of shorter-term markets, of sudden and disruptive innovation and disease and disaster, and of shifting public policy interventions. To a certain extent, politicians must practice the art of taking credit for the weather and for the prosperity that comes from the occasional financial bubble as their own personal artifacts. To do so, they must artfully lie with consistency about both economics and history.

Political partisanship, however, does sometimes fulfill its promises on non-economic issues. The Germans voted in politicians who did in the end kill Jews, and the West has voted in politicians who did in the end kill babies.

For a Catholic like me, the present political choice is sometimes falsely cast as the choice between social compassion (the Left) and Pro-life (the Right), as if the Left could actually deliver on social compassion, or the Right could actually carry through on Pro-life. Both promised political products are highly unlikely.

It is however very likely that the Left will continue to kill the unborn, so in this particular regard the Left must be vigorously opposed. But it is not likely that the Right will endure in consistently defending the unborn, either. Killing the unborn is based upon selfishness, which is an enduring human constant.

My political critique is not naive cynicism, but is grounded in history, science, and common sense. Against the political illusions of both the Right and the Left, I suggest that we concentrate our resources on building a society based instead upon professional and institutional competence and effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability imbued with human compassion, and informed by science. This approach is based upon trust and hope in what truly endures in human society.

Morally-committed and scientifically-informed professions and institutions promulgate order, and outlive politics. I pity the partisan true-believer, who presently lives in a spinning, self-referencing Twitter-cloud-dream uninformed by history or by economic science, or, for that matter, by perennial philosophy and theology.

The first step away from this illusory world-view is to consistently direct one’s critique in one’s own direction to the same degree that it is directed toward one’s adversaries. This is an ancient Christian principle (Matthew 7:3) that extends well to politics.

For more on my analysis of the commonsense propositions that underlay political discourse, please see chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Saving Father Pfleger

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Fr. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was suspended on 4/27/11 in a letter from Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago.

Several writers have seen either power, personality, politics, or a simple difference of opinion between Cardinal George and Fr. Pfleger. These writers have followed the beaten path of previous conflicts regarding Fr. Pfleger and his bishop on race, or Left vs. Right, or conservative Catholicism versus a more liberal Catholicism.

But few writers have outlined the predicament of Fr. Pfleger as set down by Cardinal George himself, who presented Fr. Pfleger with a clear choice, and asked for a declaration: Did he either choose to remain a Roman Catholic priest, or did he not? Did he, Michael Pfleger, believe as a Catholic believes?

The first time I saw Michael Pfleger in public action was one Sunday evening early in the 1970s, when he brought the Precious Blood parish choir to our alma mater, Niles College Seminary, then the college seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Clothed in a white turtle-neck, Pfleger accompanied and directed from the piano an enthusiastic and happy group of young people. I recall that one of the songs performed by the choir was “O-o-h Child,” written by Stan Vincent, which had earlier hit the charts in a recording by the Five Stairsteps. If I’m not mistaken, others among the songs may have been the gospel song, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” and also the song “Everyday People,” popularized by Sly and the Family Stone.

In 1976, a year after Fr. Pfleger’s ordination, I was providentially asked to direct this same wonderful choir, and did so for the better part of two years. This work took me in and out of the Rockwell Gardens public housing “projects” in Chicago, and into friendship with some beautiful young people and their families. Many of these children maintained a deep admiration for Fr. Pfleger, although in some cases, their parents took a more cautious, wait-and-see approach toward him.

In 1990, with several hundred others I marched with Fr. Pfleger around Cardinal Bernardin’s home over the issue of the closing of Quigley Seminary South. Fr. Pfleger was already then the Chicago media’s favorite priest. He drew attention, he divided opinions, and he was, in the eyes of at least one Chicago op-ed writer, very good looking in his own blue eyes and vestments on a Sunday morning.

Over the years, Fr. Pfleger became something of an institution. Like his mentor Fr. George Clements, he learned to play the press as a foil against the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago. With St. Sabina’s parishioners and supporters, the parish and school have become a forceful presence in the community. Fr. Pfleger grew close to national civil rights figures, politicians, and figures like Louis Farrakhan Muhammad, whose antisemitic statements have been well-established. But Fr. Pfleger lost much of his political standing after his controversial mockery of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Several times during Francis Cardinal George’s tenure as Archbishop of Chicago, public discussion arose whether Fr. Pfleger should step down as pastor of St. Sabina parish in Chicago, in keeping with the pastoral term limits established and agreed in the 1970s by Chicago’s presbyterate and its Archbishop.

Here is the original text of my earlier letter published on this subject:

February 18, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editor:

It’s understandable that Catholics would like a good pastor to stay a few more years, but it’s not possible, or fair to others not so fortunate.

People who say they can’t go to church or contribute any more if a Rev. Mike Pfleger or Rev. Jack Wall stop being their pastor don’t realize how much they have weakened their pastor’s credibility. After two decades of pastoring, if Frs. Wall and Pfleger have a majority of parishioners who give and pray and do good works because of them personally and not because of Jesus Christ, they have indeed failed as religious leaders, and should not remain in any case.

The Good Lord said, “One man sows, another reaps.” This saying conveys something of the mystery of the Church’s endurance throughout the centuries. By holding on to a pastorate, a Catholic priest risks weakening the meaning of his own ministry, risks encouraging a cult based upon his own personality, and can lessen the sustaining power of the Gospel itself to guide his people.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

While Fr. Pfleger has differed with the Catholic establishment, he has apparently never, ever, publicly bucked the civil rights establishment, even to the point of refusing to rebuke the Rev. Jeremiah Wright when Wright invoked the malicious lie in 2008 that HIV was invented by the US government to destroy African Americans.

Then Sen. Barack Obama’s unequivocal 2008 rejection of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s HIV-US government conspiracy theory was not joined by Fr. Pfleger, who somehow laboriously reasoned at the time that both the Senator and the Reverend could both be simultaneously right.

While known for his opposition to handguns, Fr. Pfleger did not in 2008 rebuke the more deadly HIV-US government conspiracy theory, shown by scientific research to prevent HIV victims from seeking treatment. No one should be taken seriously who spouts such harmful and nonsensical demagoguery as Wright did about a deadly disease, misinforming some of the public who then avoid medical help. Wright’s HIV conspiracy theory deserves every bit of opprobrium that comes its way. But on this point in 2008, Fr. Pfleger was substantially silent, and refused to be drawn into criticism of Wright’s spreading of this divisive, vicious, and hurtful HIV-US government blood libel.

Neither has the press reported any significant public statement from Fr. Pfleger against abortion in the African American community. Had Pfleger ever spoken such a condemnation, his friends in the media, in government, and in politics would have dropped him completely. If a single, dramatic pro-life, anti-abortion statement ever passed Fr. Pfleger’s lips, there would be no more microphones for Fr. Pfleger (except perhaps on Relevant Radio or EWTN), no more cameras, no more Tavis Smiley interviews.

Robert McClory has likened Fr. Pfleger to Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand. But Hillenbrand publicly defended Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, losing many of his friends in the process. Fr. Pfleger has done no such thing.

To the chagrin of the Right, Cardinal George has taken his time with Fr. Pfleger. But the Cardinal’s long journey toward suspending Fr. Pfleger is best explained in light of the Cardinal’s concern to “save the soul” of Fr. Pfleger.

Our history teacher back in the day at Niles College, Fr. Martin Nathaniel Winters, STL, MA, used to say that it took brains to be a heretic, and that most so-called heretics were actually too dumb to effectively frame an heretical position. It appears that Fr. Pfleger is no heretic.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the sin of heresy is a sin against faith, but that the sin of schism is a sin against charity. Fr. Pfleger may be in schism.

Cardinal George framed with his typical clarity the question for Fr. Pfleger: Is he willing to be a Catholic priest? —

Now, however, I am asking you to take a few weeks to pray over your priestly commitments in order to come to mutual agreement on how you understand personally the obligations that make you a member of the Chicago presbyterate and of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal George’s question, demanding a clear choice in an age founded on equivocation, is both unheard of, and truly unheard to the point of being completely missed. He asked, in effect: Take your time, but answer me clearly, Are you a Catholic, and a committed Catholic priest willing to live out that commitment in obedience to your bishop?

The word “obey” here has a biblical, theological meaning over and above that of the notion of authority as power. This difference most commentators have likewise missed.

Jesus, the Son, obeyed the Father and carried his cross. As bishop, as “head,” Cardinal George is asking for a similar kind of obedience. This obedience is the key to Catholic Christian identity, and especially to priestly identity. It is this very obedience that leads to salvation. Cardinal George’s intent therefore appears to be the saving of Fr. Pfleger:

Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 5:8-10)

Without such obedience–the obedience of Christ–despite a thousand laying on of hands, there is no Catholic identity, and no Catholic priesthood.

© Copyright 2002, 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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