82 Chapter 6
ONE MODERN SILLINESS
departments of theology and religious education in Catholic
universities both in the United States and in Europe nowadays, they
also seem to be quite enthusiastic about doing so.
The argument that New Class Catholicism has no possible
intellectual or scientific project, by its own standards, is meant to be
decisive. New Class Catholicism lacks, even by its own standards,
anything intellectually or scientifically real to do. It is therefore doing
an awful lot of work, and for nothing, even by its own standards, even
if it hides this from itself. The question therefore arises, is all that work
simply for nothing, or does New Class Catholicism accomplish
something, by its own standards, but in other realms besides the
intellectual and the scientific?
Here is one guess -- it is only a guess. I have established that New
Class Catholicism has no real intellectual or scientific project, and I am
now guessing that it might yet be doing something "serious," at least
by its own standards, but in some other realm. To understand my guess
as to what "serious" project New Class Catholicism might actually be
involved in, we need to understand, much better than New Class
Catholics do, what modern sciences such as "anthropology, sociology,
and psychology" are really telling us.
We begin by noticing that a truly modern
framework finds nothing
at all challenging in "Man's Perennial Need for Religion." The need of
most men to 'believe' in something may perhaps irritate 19th-century
science, but is completely untroubling to late 20th-century scientific
paradigms. For modern scientists, the need to 'believe' is probably
genetically based, the product of adaptive selection, evolution. It is
therefore nothing we can deny, or, by and large, talk ourselves out of --
even if we are scientists. But that does not make a real object of 'belief'
necessary, or even possible. All it means is that we are as likely to
avoid 'believing' as moths are likely to avoid circling a light bulb.
Moths may circle light bulbs because it was evolutionarily adaptive
for them to keep a strong light, such as that of the moon, "over one
shoulder." That would orient them in space at night. And what happens
to the flight of a moth, trying to keep a light bulb source "over one
shoulder?" Circling about the light bulb, of course. The behavior,
genetically programmed, unavoidable, and adaptive in certain
circumstances, proves to be maladaptive in a 'modern' environment --
though the behavior is no less unavoidable for all that.
1. Simply being alive now, or even being
some sort of scientist now, is not a sufficient
proof that you have "modern scientific
ideas" about the matters I am discussing
here. I am discussing them in terms of the
findings of the sciences Fr. Marthaler says
that the Catholic catechetical movement has
"borrowed" from. By and large, a physicist's
theory about how he himself thinks is as
likely to be modern and scientific as the one
proposed by the taxi-cab driver taking him
to the airport. We all have home-made
theories of how we and other people think.
If the person with the home-made theory
happens to know a lot of physics, does that
make his idea "modern and scientific"?
The truly scientific answer must be no.
The physicist's theory has no special status.
His theory will have to be compared to the
theories of other people. These comparisons
of theories are called "experiments," but
obviously, the "experiments" are done only
to help make the comparison-making easier
to get right. Doing comparisons of theories
about how men think, and keeping records
of the comparisons, so that we don't just
keep making the same comparisons over
and over, is one of the principal projects of
"modern cognitive science," which is both a
branch and an extension of psychology, one
of the sciences Fr. Marthaler says the
Catholic catechetical movement has
"borrowed" from. It is only fair, then, to
deal with New Class Catholicism on the
basis of the real implications of what it has
This would roughly be the modern scientific understanding of
"Man's Perennial Need for Religion." We are moths, with an evolved
tendency that was formerly adaptive, now foolishly but unavoidably
compelled by that same tendency to circle a light bulb. The fact that a
lot of 'modern' men still circle a lot of light bulbs does not prove that
N.B. This is an html-ized copy of a page from the pdf file, The Knucklehead's Guide to Covenantal Theology.