This column is about worldview (metaphysics and epistemology) although it touches on social justice and politics as well. It is about the greatest challenge to the Catholic Faith and gets to the very root of the polarization both outside and inside the Church. The greatest challenge to the Catholic Faith is Postmodernism, which is more commonly known as Political Correctness or PC. While there are those who have intentionally chosen to be PC, there are many others who have unintentionally become PC in whole or in part.
An excellent primer on Political Correctness can be found in the late Tom Wolfe’s article, “In the Land of the Rococo Marxists.” In the vast literature on this topic, there is also a relatively short but excellent treatment of the intellectual history that led to Political Correctness in Part I of Robert Reilly’s Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (Ignatius Press, 2014).
Political Correctness is an elaborate (i.e., “rococo”) extension of the ideology of Karl Marx – Marxism or Communism. Marx divided the world into the economically oppressed (the working class, or “proletariat”) and their economic oppressors (the ruling class, or “bourgeoisie” or “capitalists”).
Political Correctness is Marxism on steroids. PC divides the world into oppressed and oppressor, but it does so in ways that go far beyond economics. According to PC, the oppressors are not only capitalists but also white, heterosexual, Christian males with traditional values who are guilty until proven innocent of “racism”, “sexism”, “classism”, “homophobia”, “transphobia”, “xenophobia”, “imperialism”, “cultural appropriation”, “anti-environmentalism”, and other similar “injustices”. Everyone else is oppressed, excluding of course the “Uncle Toms” (traitors to the cause) among people of color, homosexuals, and females.
PC is the value system of the “hippies”, the “counterculture” and the “New Left” of the 1960s. However, PC differs from traditional Liberalism in the US in that traditional Liberals, while tending to side with workers (labor unions) over employers and preferring a governmental solution over a market solution to a social problem, nevertheless shared the same fundamental ideas and values of their political foes. The broad consensus of ideas and values shared by Americans before the ’60s was rooted in the philosophy of Aristotle as well as in the Judeo-Christian ethic of the Ten Commandments. Traditional Liberals wanted to extend the benefits of these values to all, not overthrow the system.
Political Correctness, however, is ’60s radicalism with a twist. The genius of Political Correctness was to replace dropping out of society with taking over society; becoming the Establishment rather than rejecting it; becoming the “Power Elite” and the “Organization Men” (Persons!) that radicals once despised. Sixties radicals were not only against capitalism, they were anti-government and anti-institution. Today, the way to be radical is to make businesses, government, and all of society PC. Even having extreme wealth and armed bodyguards, having a corner office and making sure your own kids get into the best schools are okay as long as you somehow show that you are against “privilege”, guns, racism, and the other unjust “-isms.”
Political Correctness has become the dominant value system in education, entertainment, and the news media, which are the formers of popular culture. It is the air we breathe. We are all hippies now. Instead of chanting the sixties slogan, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” PC just does not trust any value before the Enlightenment.
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat
In Marxism, the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” is the necessary step between Capitalism and Communism. In 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger famously warned of the “dictatorship of relativism.” The dictatorship of relativism is the new Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Relativism is the intermediate step between the dominance of traditional values and the dominance of PC values. In order to revolutionize values, Political Correctness began by espousing “dialogue”, “tolerance”, “sensitivity”, “compassion”, “critical thinking”, and the like. Once PC gains power, however, all dialogue, tolerance and compassion end. One must never think critically about “critical thinking”! When out of power, Political Correctness champions “your truth” and “my truth.” Once it gains power, both in society and in individual minds, there is no “your truth” any more. “Your (non-PC) truth” becomes “hate” and “bias”.
The ethos of Political Correctness is the ethos of Machiavelli, which states that the end justifies the means, the goal justifies the methods. Everything, including words and due process, are tools for gaining power and putting the PC agenda into effect. For that reason, PC leaders are masters of equivocation, ambiguity, and half-truths.
There is always a double standard in PC. Those who are PC should never be made to “feel uncomfortable,” yet those who are not PC need to “come out their comfort zones.” There need to be “safe spaces” for those who are PC but no safe spaces whatsoever for those who are not PC. Political Correctness focuses on the hypocrisy of its opponents; it is not committed to everyone playing by the same rules.
Heresy is a serious sin that wounds the Church called by Our Lord to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. To paraphrase the Catechism of the Catholic Church, heresy is the stubborn denial or doubt of a truth that must be believed because it is of Divine Revelation. Only a Christian can commit heresy because it requires the denial of a truth of one’s baptismal faith. Those who completely abandon the Christian Faith commit the sin of apostasy. (See also the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei,” 1998.)
Classic Catholic theology makes a distinction between formal and material heresy. Formal heresy is willful, deliberate denial of the truth. Material heresy is unintended heresy – that is, the material heretic does not necessarily realize it or want to commit heresy. Because of the generally poor religious education in the Catholic Church since Vatican II (1962-1965), there are quite a few material heretics in the Church. The intent of this column is to describe a particular heresy, not to blame those who hold it, especially those who are material heretics.
Political Correctness as Heresy
When does a Catholic or any Christian become a PC heretic (formal or material)? When he replaces the dogma that every person needs salvation from Original Sin and Hell with the view that everyone needs liberation either from oppression or from repression (particularly sexual) – and the attitude that we should not worry about eternity; when he replaces the truth that every single human being is made in the image and likeness of God with the view that everyone has a race, sex/gender, economic class, sexual orientation, or culture that makes him or her (or whatever the PC pronoun is) radically different from others and this difference is what most defines him or her and overrides individuality.
The PC Catholic believes that to have faith is not to accept Divine Revelation as it is definitively expressed in Catholic doctrine. Rather, to have faith means to be “socially just” and “inclusive”. PC Catholics are fundamentalists and literalists but only about those Scripture passages that seem to justify their ideology and politics. Prayer and worship are superficial acts which one can practice to whatever degree one wants and in any way that makes one feel good about oneself. God is the Great Whatever who (which?) wants me to feel good about myself as long as I am PC. However, I must not feel good about myself if I consider all Catholic doctrine to be objectively true.
PC “social justice” represents more power for non-whites, non-males, non-heterosexuals, non-Christians, non-Americans and even non-humans in a socialist system which will automatically make the world better, maybe even perfect! The PC cannot begin to consider that a diverse group of human beings could be more unwise and more unjust than a non-diverse group of people. Power only corrupts white, heterosexual, Christian males!
Resisting the Angel of Light
In Saint Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises (n. 332), he warns about the evil spirit, the “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), who “begins by suggesting thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his (the evil spirit’s) own.” Political Correctness is the current deceptive angel of light. In the name of “love”, “Gospel values”, “social justice”, and other Catholic terms, the devil is successfully enlisting those who have been baptized to de-construct and radically re-define Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and Catholic doctrine.
Converting others from Political Correctness is immensely challenging. Political Correctness appeals to the weakest parts of our fallen human nature. It encourages sex in any way, shape, or form as long as it is between consenting adults (for now, but how will the consensus on “adult” and “consenting” last when the consensus on sex has not lasted? “Who’s to judge?”). It encourages “being yourself” and “free thinking” as long as you reject traditional values. It approves of marijuana (for now, but what is next?). It is “non-judgmental” of anyone who goes against traditional values. In effect, one can be as narcissistic as one wants as long as one has PC politics.
A Substitute for Religion
Like Marxism before it, Political Correctness is a substitute for religion. It gives a sense of purpose and provides an explanation for all of life. It is by Political Correctness that both the West and the Church are committing suicide. And how many persons who are PC struggle with depression?
Heresies, and other mistaken beliefs, often have a grain of truth in them. Maybe the best way to respond to Political Correctness is first to recognize the grain of truth in it, to use PC terms while discussing better definitions of those terms. Yes, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are wrong, but what are they, really? Part of the challenge is to stay constructive when we try to discuss issues while being attacked with emotional ad hominem arguments. It is the same challenge we face when someone plays the “you-don’t-love-me-because-you-don’t-give-me-what-I-want” card.
Of course, it is only the real Gospel – Christ has died to atone for our sins as only He could; Christ has risen and founded the Catholic Church with its Magisterium to inaugurate the Kingdom of God; and Christ will come again to complete the establishment of the Kingdom – that provides consolation. A knowledge of Church history with all of its corruption, scandal, and heresies also provides consolation. The heresy of Arianism (that Jesus was not God) was accepted by many bishops and lasted over two hundred and fifty years (from 318-589 AD, according to Fr. John Hardon). Political Correctness might well last as long as Arianism did. Just as, in the words of Saint Jerome, “the world awoke and was amazed to find itself Arian,” today’s world and the Church, awoke and are amazed to find themselves Politically Correct.
It was the “intolerance” and “dogmatism” of the early Catholics that infuriated their pagan contemporaries and led to their brutal persecution under various Roman emperors. Since then, Catholics elsewhere have suffered horribly and continue to suffer terribly for their faith. The future of orthodox Catholics in the U.S. might be either the catacombs or the Coliseum.
Remember that fatalism and determinism are also heresies in a way. Human beings have free will, and the Holy Spirit is always available to those who will open themselves to Him. Current trends in human thinking and behavior can always change. And, ultimately, we know from Our Lord Himself that the gates of Hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18) and that the Kingdom is coming (Mark 14:62). Maranatha!