Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
For those interested in the intersection of religion and politics, the last few weeks have provided a wealth of topics upon which to ponder and opine.
After Paul Ryan's selection as the GOP VP nominee, we saw mountains of commentary about his budget proposals. Beyond just discussion of the pragmatic, opposing Catholic opinions blared from every digital bell tower both commending or condemning Ryan's proposals. We alternatively listened to those extolling the budget as a reasonable first step in budget control in-line with Catholic teaching or excoriating the same proposal as profoundly un-Christian and in direct violation of Church teaching.
Remarkably, both sides in the debate cite "Church teaching" as backiup to their claims.
They both can't be right, right? The Church can't teach two contradictory things, right? So what does the Church really teach?
For many on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the Church teaches whatever you want it to. You simply need to find someone somewhere in the Church who has said something seemingly agreeing with your conclusion and then cite that source as definitive. You just need to build your own Magisterium.
The beautiful part of this practice is that you can have different Magisteriums for different issues. Say for instance, a Bishop on a subcommittee of a Bishop's conference with no canonical authority single-handedly issues a letter suggesting that it is immoral to ever cut a government program that ostensibly serves the poor regardless of efficacy or affordability; you need only triumphantly bellow "Boom! That's my dogma! The Church has spoken ex cathedra punks. Read it, weep, and pass the IRS forms!"
But, consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds, you can then reject the words of that same Bishop, the whole conference, or even 2,000 years of uncontested teaching on (insert matter of human sexuality here) if needed. That stuff is not binding because when it comes to that magisterium, you didn't build that. Somebody else did that.
And don't for a second think that this BYOM phenomenon is limited to the left. Oh no. This phenomenon can substitute as a modern form of clericalism as well.
When Cardinal Dolan made the decision to invite President Obama to the Al Smith dinner we got to witness polar opposite sides of the debate come to the same conclusion using the same method.
Even though Cardinal Dolan made the point himself that this decision was a prudential one (utilizing his own personal judgment), people on both sides made it dogmatic. For some on the left the spittle flew when proclaiming "Jesus ate with sinners!! You people are NOT CATHOLIC" and some of those on the right screamed with neck veins bulging, "How dare you question a Cardinal?!? You are NOT CATHOLIC."
Boy, I was excommunicated by two different magisteriums in one day! Booyah!
Fortunately, for me, that's not my dogma.
So all y'all do me a favor. When it comes to the myriad of prudential decisions where Catholics can legitimately disagree such as budgeting and invites, quote whomever you like but stop promoting it as gospel. You are only creating heat and no light.
Moreover, if you decide not to heed my prudential advice, remember this. My magisterium can kick your magisterium's dogma any day of the week.