Egopapism and the Arlington Five


Over at The Catholic Thing, Francis Beckwith reflects on the “egopapism” of five Arlington diocese catechists who refused to sign a profession of faith in the catechism they teach:

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia has recently drawn national attention because it has asked its catechists to sign a profession of faith that asserts that they believe the catechism that the Church has commissioned them to teach and are committed to the Church as the guardian and custodian of that faith.

In short, they are being asked to admit that they are Catholics and that they believe in Catholicism. This, apparently, is so controversial that five out of the 5,000 diocesan catechists (including parochial school teachers) have resigned over this request. Five, by the way, is the number of popes that have served the Church over my lifetime.

At least one of the five catechists, Kathleen Riley, who is 52, is, like me, a Catholic child of the 1970s (I am 51), which means that we were part of the first generation of Catholics who were spiritually and intellectually formed “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

All that the Church is asking the Arlington Five is that they treat the Church’s theology and its development with as much respect and deference as Ms. Riley expects others to treat the knowledge tradition about which she is an expert.

Just as she and her peers correctly require those who dissent from the dominant understandings in computer science to offer their case within the confines of practices, an established body of knowledge, and methodological constraints that have developed over time for the good of the profession, the Church requires those who dissent to offer their case within the confines of practices, an established body of knowledge, and methodological constraints that have developed over time for the good of the Church.

So what are the Arlington Five’s arguments? How do they ground their dissent, and how is it consistent with, and a natural development of, the deliverances of the Church’s theological tradition?

To simply say – without any regard to argument, precedent, or established norms of theological engagement – that “the Holy Spirit gives us the responsibility to look into our own consciences,” as Ms. Riley asserts, is in fact to embrace an anti-intellectual and fundamentally irrational position.

The Arlington Five, like many American Catholics and Protestants, have assimilated a contemporary understanding of theology that is intrinsically hostile to the faith they claim to embrace. It is an understanding that sees theological beliefs as irreducibly personal, private, preference driven, and non-cognitive.

This is not intellectual freedom. It is solitary confinement in an egopapist prison.

I’m not Catholic, so I don’t have a dog in this particular hunt. Nonetheless, it raises an interesting question: Is the Christian faith public knowledge or private belief? That question applies equally well to Catholic and Protestant Christians.

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