Eclipsing the Son: The Reflection of John Rawls on the American Catholic
By Thaddeus J. Kozinski
At a Novus Ordo Mass I attended recently, the priest gave a sermon about the Ascension of Our Lord, in which he used the following illustrative story:
Imagine for a moment Ana, a four-year old girl, whose great joy was her mother's daily, lunch-time visits. Then one day her mother didn't come. Ana cried. And her mother cried too, as she sat at home eating lunch alone, peering through the window at her crying daughter across the street. Ana’s mother knew that stopping her lunchtime visits with her daughter at the caregiver's house was ultimately for Ana’s own good. I think, my sisters and brothers, that Jesus must have felt a similar anguish when He ascended into Heaven as Ana’s mother felt, and the disciples must have felt something of the sadness that Ana felt. The disciples, like Ana, were deprived of the human intimacy of the one they loved most. Jesus knew that this was ultimately for their own good—and our good as well.Sermons such as these are commonplace today in the Novus Ordo ecclesial regime of America. Their common characteristic is the prostitution of traditional Catholic doctrine to serve anti-Catholic ideology. In this case, Christ’s bodily absence from His disciples, the spiritual gift of strengthening suffering Christ gave to His intimates to prepare them for an even greater intimacy with Him at Pentecost, is used to justify and sanctify the unnatural, debilitating, and tragic suffering inflicted upon an innocent little girl. In the doctrine of Christ’s Ascension, Christ first consoles his crying apostles before leaving them: “I will not leave you desolate. I will send you another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will be with you forever. He will abide with you and in you. I will not leave you orphaned.” In the sermon, however, the girl is presented as all but orphaned by her career-coveting mother, who immolates her daughter’s precious emotional and spiritual well-being on the altar of a self-hating feminism.
Looking around the Church, I realized that the priest and the people were completely unaware of this ostensibly obvious blasphemy. The priest surely considered himself an authentic mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, and the people in the pews certainly thought they were hearing the authentic message of the Gospel. In truth, the priest was serving as an unwitting mouthpiece of anti-Christ, as the people of God smiled approvingly at the lies of the Evil One.
In this essay, I will examine what I consider a considerable cause of this diabolical deception that has overtaken American Catholics. It is the influence of a pernicious ideology, an anti-philosophy, whose most influential mouthpiece was the late philosopher John Rawls. A prominent political theorist has called John Rawls “the outstanding political philosopher of the century,” and the great Isaiah Berlin was fond of likening him to Christ. In truth, the late John Rawls was the quintessential anti-philosopher, bearing, in his ideas, a closer resemblance to anti-Christ. A story tells that during a viva for a doctorate, Rawls the examiner kindly positioned himself in front of the sun to stop it from shining in the candidate's eyes. I think Rawls’s ideology has had an eclipsing effect on the spiritual life of the American Catholic, stopping the Son from enlightening his soul.
I. John Rawls: Anti-philosopher
"Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere" "to contemplate and to share with others the fruit of one's contemplation.” The philosopher is to use his powerful intellect in humility to ascend from the cave of illusory, material appearances to the highlands of metaphysical and spiritual reality. Once out of the cave, he is to descend back down in the hope of rescuing others, an intellectual missionary, as it were. His carefully chosen words are to serve as a finite mirror of infinite truth in which those who might otherwise only see themselves can gaze out into the real world. He is to imitate in words what Our Lady, the Mirror of Justice, did without them. The ultimate treason for the philosopher, then, is to misuse his God-given intellect by turning its light away from the being of reality to the shadowy non-being of human opinion. The anti-philosopher serves not as a mirror of expansive being unto the reflection of Being Himself, but a self-enclosed, solipsistic mirror of the nonbeing that men resemble when cut off from the image of God in their souls. As we will see, Rawls’s anti-philosophy is a flattering and imprisoning mirror for the vain communal face of godless and self-worshiping modern men.
Rawls’s incredibly influential first book was A Theory of Justice published in 1971. A nearly 600 page book, it has been translated into twenty-seven languages, and only ten years after its publication a bibliography of articles on John Rawls numbered more that 2500 entries, a veritable scholarly industry. In this work, he attempts to derive the fundamental principles of justice for a liberal, democratic political order from nothing but “our own considered judgments.” To discover explicitly what we, the citizens of a liberal democracy, already believe implicitly, we must envision ourselves deliberating under a “veil of ignorance,” that is, with no knowledge of the individuating particulars of history and biology, no knowledge of the age, sex, class, wealth, status, philosophical and religious views, etc. of our deliberating partners. In this “original position,” we would then discover the right principles of justice to which we could consent as actual free and equal citizens in the actual society in which we live.
Although Rawls’ book was widely acclaimed, it was also widely criticized because his conception of justice proceeded from a particular, comprehensive worldview, specifically, a Kantian conception of human rationality and moral autonomy not shared by all citizens in today’s liberal democracies. Rawls conceded to this criticism, and in 1993 published Political Liberalism. Here he claims to have articulated a theory of justice genuinely universal and acceptable from our present, pluralistic, political perspective; it is “political, not metaphysical,” that is, absolutely detached from any particular comprehensive doctrine, religion or secular. The “new” Rawls seems to have presented a prudent solution: the principles of justice that govern the coercive force of the government in a liberal democratic society like America are to be based upon principles of justice to which every citizen could freely consent. Since we are divided as a nation with respect to what precisely the good for man is, it makes sense that these principles are to be derived from a political not metaphysical conception of justice. It would not be a good thing, under the present circumstances, for some politically powerful elite to establish secular humanism, or utilitarianism, or Marxism, or Judaism, or Protestantism, or even Catholicism as the official religion from which the principles of civil justice would flow.
According to Rawls, with political liberalism in place, even a traditional Catholic could maintain his full allegiance to both the Church and the state, since the latter’s “strictly political” principles could be derived from the former’s metaphysical and religious dogmas. Rawls’ Political Liberalism appears to deal with the fact of religious pluralism fairly and justly. Rawls assures us that it poses no threat to the integrity of religious belief:
Political liberalism does not question that many political and moral judgments of certain specified kinds are correct and it views many of them as reasonable. Nor does it question the possible truth of affirmations of faith. Above all, it does not argue that we should be hesitant and uncertain, much less skeptical, about our own beliefs.However, I shall argue that a regime where Rawls’s ideas have been established greatly endangers the souls of its citizens. To show this I will examine in some detail the three main components of Rawls system: the “priority of the right over the good,” “reasonableness,” and “the inevitability of ideological pluralism.” These ideas are now firmly ensconced in the ethos and logos of American politics and culture, and they have done much damage to the souls of American Catholics.
II. Rawls vs. the American Catholic
Rawls summarizes what he means by the priority of the right over the good: We should not attempt to give form to our life by first looking at the good independently defined. . . . For the self is prior to the ends which are affirmed by it . . . . We should then reverse the relation between the right and the good proposed by teleological doctrines and view the right as prior. It is the possession of right to choose the good—not the possession of the good itself—that defines the good life. For Rawls, any political order that claims to be moral must give absolute priority to the right over the good in its fundamental juridical structure. Why? Because with the right to one’s own conception of the good given primacy on law, one would never have to be concerned with religious persecution, discrimination, or any other societal threat to one’s religious identity and integrity.
However, insofar as one adopts the principled priority of the right over the good as a standard for personal ethics, one’s religious identity will be inevitably lost. Could one hold both the religious identity of a loyal follower of Christ and docile son of Mother Church, and the moral identity of an autonomous self who must “freely choose” the meaning of his existence, without becoming schizophrenic? Since as a Catholic I believe that God loved me first, I am morally obliged to respond to this love—I can not choose otherwise and still consider myself a good person. My “self” as a Catholic, then, is not chosen in arbitrary freedom, but recognized in grateful love. Being a child of God is simply not compatible with being a “self prior to its ends.”
The second major component of Rawls’s system is what he calls “reasonableness.” As the primary, public political virtue, it is the necessary complement to the primary, private moral virtue of the “right over the good.” Rawls writes:
What justifies a conception of justice is not its being true to an order antecedent to and given by us, but its congruence with our deeper understanding of ourselves and our aspirations, and our realization that, given our history and the traditions embedded in our public life, it is the most reasonable doctrine for us [my emphasis].In other words, what makes a conception of justice “reasonable” is that it can serve as a mirror reflecting the communal face of a liberal democracy of free and equal citizens, not necessarily a mirror reflecting a truly just order. Rawls admits that there may very well be a God’s-eye view of things more ordered to justice than “our” strictly political [not metaphysical] conception of justice, but to establish this kind of revealed order in a religiously-pluralist society would be “unreasonable.” Even if the vast majority of citizens believed in it, it would still not be compatible with the political priority of the right. The priority of the right over the good is a political non-negotiable, and to accept this is to be reasonable.
Reasonable persons, as Rawls puts it, “are not moved by the general good as such but the desire for its own sake a social world in which they, as free and equal, can cooperate with others on terms all can accept.” He continues:
A fundamental difficulty is that since under reasonable pluralism the religious good of salvation cannot be the common good of all citizens, the political conception must employ, instead of that good, political conceptions such as liberty and equality [my emphasis].What are we to make of this? Is reasonableness reasonable? For the citizen who has acquired the political virtue of reasonableness (perhaps it is infused at the voting booth?), it would seem virtuous to proclaim the right of citizens to deny the Catholic faith, but vicious to proclaim the absolute good of unwavering adherence to it; it would seem more courageous to shout from the rooftops that the citizen who apostatizes from Holy Mother Church is still “reasonable,” than to shout the truth that outside the Church there is no salvation. Rawls might respond to my characterization by saying that one is not required to hold the priority of the right over the good in one’s private life but only in political life, reasonableness being required of a person qua citizen, not qua religious believer. These values need not have any place at all, let alone priority, in one’s sacred books or magisterium.
But we ask Rawls: Could a Catholic who believes the social reign of Christ the King to be the perennial political ideal be considered reasonable? If participating in the political order of a Rawlsian liberal democracy requires one to be reasonable, then a Catholic, insofar as he accepts Rawlsian politics as a good and not merely a tolerable evil—the former being the kind of moral acceptance that Rawls demands of citizens—would be forced by his conscience to adopt it as a primary moral virtue. But since reasonableness is the political corollary of the absolute moral commandment of the priority of the right over the good, it would follow that the Catholic’s adoption of reasonableness into his moral repertoire would eventually bring along with it the priority of the right over the good, making an authentic commitment to Christ and His Church impossible.
If the right-over-the-good is the irrefutable, theoretical first principle of the Rawlsian moral universe, and the desire for consensus on this principle the mark of the saint, then a belief in the inevitability of religious pluralism is the sign of the true believer. Rawls writes: The diversity of reasonable comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines found in modern democratic societies is not a mere historical condition that may soon pass away; it is a permanent feature of the public culture of democracy . . . . This pluralism is not seen as a disaster but rather as the natural outcome of the activities of human reason under enduring free institutions. . . . A continuing shared understanding on one comprehensive religious, philosophical, or moral doctrine can only be maintained by the oppressive use of state power. Rawls is convinced that religious pluralism is the inevitable condition of a society that is just, that permits and promotes religious and political freedom. We are not to tolerate the absence of a publicly shared conception of the good until we can produce one—for that is way of inquisitions and witch hunts. Instead, we must celebrate this absence as the sure sign of a just political order and the irrevocable triumph of the right over the good.
The corollary to this, however, is the moral necessity of excluding from political life any political prescription for religious unity; for, to effect such a prescription would require the use of arms and necessarily be unjust—even to desire it would be immoral! Suppose that a Catholic in the Rawlsian state was able to resist holding the primacy of the right over the good as a moral principle, posing as a “reasonable” man merely as a strategic, prudential measure to avoid marginalization and civil conflict; even so, his acceptance of this third component of Rawls’ political order would do him in, so to speak. Logically, he would be required to believe that the social reign of the Christ the King, the vast majority of citizens united on the religious good of salvation as the common good of all citizens, would necessarily be the result of an unjust denial of freedom. To stay “reasonable” one would have to reject Christendom—past, present, and future.
But it gets worse. It should seem obvious to a Catholic that if the Church could keep its members united on a specific conception of the good without unjust coercion for two-thousand years, a political order, if constituted by a vast majority of Catholic citizens, could do the same. But once one denies a priori the possibility of justly managed, societal religious unity in truth, it is not a far leap to assign some kind of injustice to the fact of the Church’s religious unity. Thus, to help “reform” the Church, the Rawlsian Catholic begins to demand that the Church promote the priority of the right over the good and reasonableness as moral imperatives of the Gospel! Moreover, the Rawlsian Catholic becomes suspicious of his own injustice—after all, how many times has he taken an immovable stand on ultimate questions of the good without having freely chosen his own answers—how unreasonable! The reign of Christ the King in his own soul must be unjust. “Can I remain a Catholic at all and still be a good person?” he asks. “Yes, as long as I always remember my “reasonable” moral right to be an apostate at any moment.” And, I would add, as long as one always forgets Christ’s warning that “anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Thus, we have the full transformation of the Catholic into the anti-Catholic—without violence, without coercion, without him even knowing it. His commitment to Christ has become meaningless, as he now holds a principled suspicion of the injustice of His Church; he has rejected as unjust the God-willed obligation of Catholics to help convert souls to Christ unto a new Christendom; and he has adopted the religious attitude of the perpetual vacillator, about whom Christ warned of “vomiting from His mouth.” Though the Catholic might be oblivious to what has happened to him, Rawls is not; I think he was well aware of the power of a “reasonable” society to convert the “unreasonable.” He writes:
There is no reason to deny freedom to the intolerant . . . [since] the liberties of the intolerant may persuade them to a belief in freedom. This persuasion works on the psychological principle that those whose liberties are protected by and who benefit from a just constitution will, other things equal, acquire an allegiance to it over a period of time.
III: Reflecting Rawls: Mirror of Injustice
As a whole, American Catholics have become “reasonable,” and in doing so have become ungodly. Here are three examples, but there are many more, and the number is increasing daily. We now have as the official, ideological basis of American liberty since 1992, and, I would argue, the unofficial basis since 17922, the following statement pronounced by Judge Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic member of the United States Supreme Court. In his opinion of the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey abortion decision, he wrote: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Here we have a Catholic citizen at the height of civic honor and responsibility imposing the priority of the right of murder over the good of innocent life, and using as his justification the solipsistic, satanic reasoning of the syphilitic lunatic, Frederick Nietzsche.
The recent spectacle of the majority of American Bishops not only refusing to declare the penalty of excommunication to pro-abortion politicians and rainbow-sashed pro-sodomites, but giving no resistance to their demand to receive Holy Communion, evinces the exquisite “reasonableness” of the American Catholic, both lay and clerical. In a recent survey of American Catholics, 66 percent said that American bishops should not publicly pressure pro-abortion Catholic lawmakers not to receive, and priests not to administer, Communion. After all, aren’t sodomites and abortionists the most reasonable of Americans? Haven’t they made it their moral duty to refuse the goods of marriage and children, to allow these not to be imposed upon their precious right of choice?
Catholics for a Free Choice wrote this in a recent press release:
Before, Catholics were more afraid of what the bishops and the church were saying—now they are deciding for themselves. What we see is a more mature society and a more democratic one in which the most important guide is the individual conscience, not the institution of the church.For those who think these words suggest only a dissenting, fringe Catholicism, I give you the words of George Sim Johnston in Crisis magazine, the flagship publication of Catholic “orthodoxy”:
The Second Vatican Council was a call to full spiritual maturity. It was time to take off the training wheels—to stop living “in the shadow of the Law”—and take our vocations as Christians seriously. . . . Sts. Paul and Augustine taught that the fruit of Christian conversion is a new freedom wherein the rules (important as they are) hardly matter. This is the only possible meaning of Augustine’s “Love God and do what you will.” But this was not the message of Tridentine Catholicism, and in fact, not since Augustine has there been so much emphasis in sound Catholic theology on personal freedom.Johnston, though manifestly more Catholic, Orthodox, and submissive to the Magisterium, is of the same Rawlsian spirit as Kissling, I would argue, for they both promote a gnostic “spiritual maturity,” a maturity somehow greater in their minds than the humble, childlike trust in the “shadow of the Law,” the “rules,” and the “institution of the church” possessed by “immature” Catholics during the nineteen hundred and sixty two years of “Tridentine Catholicism” that God tolerated before the second Pentecost of the Second Vatican Council.
The following words are taken from “We Hold These Truths,” a public statement of political philosophy from a group of prominent American Catholics, including the reputable “conservative” commentator on religion and public life, Father Richard John Neuhaus, and fifteen Catholic Bishops. It was written in 1996:
We reject the idea that ours should be declared a "Christian" nation [for, as Rawls assures us, this is only possible with the use of unjust force]. We do not seek a sacred public square but a civil public square [that is, the right over the good]. We strongly affirm the separation of church and state, which must never be interpreted as the separation of religion from public life [as long as the religion is “reasonable”] (my bracketed words).Contrast this manifesto of Rawlsian reasonableness with this declaration of traditional Catholic political theology by William Ward:
The Church professes to be infallible in her teaching of morals no less than of faith. If, then, Catholicism be true, and if Catholics have the fullest ground for knowing it to be true, the one healthy, desirable, and legitimate state of civil society is that the Church’s doctrines, principles, and laws should be recognized without question as its one basis of legislation and administration; and that the civil ruler, in all his highest and most admirable functions should be profoundly submissive to the Church’s authority.While the words of Ward unabashedly urge the state’s submission to the moral and political authority of the Church, the words of Neuhaus and company cry out “Christendom never again!” Such an anti-Catholic sentiment can only be attributed to an outright aversion to the perennial Catholic doctrine of the social reign of Christ the King, a sure sign of Rawlsian corruption.
IV. Mirror of Justice, Cause of our Joy
J. Judd Owen unmasks Rawlsianism for what it really is:
The irony is that the proposal of the so-called religiously-neutral state as the only way to deal with deep pluralism itself establishes a religion and a set of values. This is the religion of liberalism.The diabolical deception that has victimized American Catholics is nothing else than the secret establishment of the religion of Rawlsianism. It is hard to detect this establishment, for one is still free to go to Mass as usual, to read and publish Catholic literature, to send one’s children to Catholic schools and colleges—in a word, one feels entirely “free” to live the Catholic Faith. However, insofar as one is unaware of the diabolical deception, insofar as one has been deceived into deeming the American, pluralist, Rawlsian political order the good, the Novus Ordo Saeculorum solving not only the problem of religious pluralism once and for all, one is at great risk of losing his soul. We are dealing not with “freedom” but with the surreptitious establishment of a seductive yet tyrannical religion that transforms all other religions into its image, the image of the anti-Christ. Let us turn away from Rawls’s antiphilosophic mirror of injustice and cause of our sorrow, and toward Our Lady, the pure Mirror of Justice and Cause of our Joy, whose Fiat to the will of the Father is the Catholic’s only model for both personal and political life—and a most reasonable one at that.
1 This is not the actual words of Ted Bundy but is part of a fictional transcript created by Harry Jaffa. The entire "transcript" is to be found in his essay, "Homosexuality and Natural Law" (http://www.angelfire.com/la/jlush/natural_law.html) Jaffa's footnote to the fictional transcript reads: "This transcript was composed on the same principle as the speeches in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, attributing to each speaker the words that fit his character and the circumstances in which he spoke."
2 1792 was the year of the ratification of the First Amendment—well, it occurred on December 15, 1791, only a few days off. For an excellent critique of the principles of the American Founding regarding the relationship of Church and state, see Kenneth R. Craycraft Jr.’s The American Myth of Religious Freedom, Spence, 1999. He argues convincingly that the First Amendment was akin to a religious establishment of the “religion of religious liberty,” a civil religion that serves to prevent any effective ecclesial check on the power of the state.