All this takes a toll. And yet, I kept going back to my catechism, and to the truth that none of this undermines the truth claims of the Catholic Church. The Eucharist is still the Eucharist, no matter how corrupt the clerics may be.It is, perhaps, not entirely surprising that someone might start off with a true premise, such as this one, and draw a spectacularly bad inference from it, namely that it is a good idea to leave the Church--people draw lousy inferences all the time. It is more surprising when someone who should know better draws such an inference, but even spectacularly intelligent people can draw a spectacularly bad inference, and here is a case of it.
One must feel strong sympathy for Dreher's sense of being "broken" by all he learned. He describes in rather painful detail the psychological and emotional pain he and his family have been through as they pondered their situation, and only the hardest of the hard hearted would ignore that and insist that he should be ashamed of himself. There is even an element of his story that ought to move every Catholic:
Over time, we got to know the people of the parish. They became our friends. It was a new experience for me to be in a parish where you can be openly small-o orthodox, and the priest and the people support you in that. In "Crunchy Cons," the Orthodox convert (from RCism) Hugh O'Beirne says that Catholics new to the Orthodox Church may find it surprising that they don't have to be on a "war footing" -- meaning the culture wars don't intrude into worship. People are on the same page, and if they're not, they're not out trying to get the Church to change her position on abortion, gay marriage, inclusive language, and all that. As someone who more or less is on the front lines of the culture war every day in my job as a journalist, I found it a new and welcome experience to be able to go to church on Sunday and get built back up for the struggle ahead, instead of to find mass the most debilitating hour of the week.Although I would not leave the True Church in a bajillion years, I have to confess to having a great deal of sympathy for this line of thought. One rather striking difference between the Orthodox and the Catholic lies precisely here: the Orthodox communities are small and parochial, and everyone is on the same page because they are all taken from the same book; when James Joyce referred to Catholicism as "Here comes everybody" he wasn't kidding. It's rather amazing just how everybodyish the whole thing is sometimes--sometimes a little too everybodyish for me, in fact. But it is the truth, and the truth matters more than my own personal comfort zone.
But Dreher is talking about more than just a personal comfort zone. He's talking about a major crisis in his faith. That is one reason why it is a little disappointing to find him saying things like this:
I had to admit that I had never seriously considered the case for Orthodoxy. Now I had to do that. And it was difficult poring through the arguments about papal primacy. I'll spare you the details, but I will say that I came to seriously doubt Rome's claims. Reading the accounts of the First Vatican Council, and how they arrived at the dogma of papal infallibility, was a shock to me: I realized that I simply couldn't believe the doctrine.Talk about your wishful thinking. True, lots of other people can't believe it either, but to begin questioning how an ecumenical council arrives at its dogmatic teachings is the doorstep to heterodoxy, not orthodoxy. Granted, the Orthodox Churches don't recognize the validity of all of the Ecumenical Councils, but you can bet your bottom dollar they wouldn't tolerate judging the dogmatic pronouncements of the ones they do accept on the basis of personal, private judgments about the manner in which the dogmata were arrived at! Is Dreher going to become a student of ancient history now, and look through everything that can be known about Nicea, Chalcedon, Constantinople, and all the other Councils accepted by the Orthodox, and decide for himself which ones came up with dogmata in a legitimate way and which ones didn't? Will he discover that the doctrine of the Trinity was forced through by a suspicious vote? Will he discover that physical force was brought into play in the debates over monothelitism? Perhaps he will found his own church someday that all of the other purists can come to.
This may sound unfair, of course, and it would be if Dreher had simply given his own personal reasons for leaving and left it at that. But he couldn't do that. Precisely because he is an intelligent person, he knew that Catholicism is right, and he needed an intellectual justification for doing what he was doing, and the only possible way to get that justification would be to call into question the teachings of the Church. In short, he made a conscious decision to become a functional protestant, while wishing nonetheless to continue enjoying the fruits of the genuine Sacraments.
But what I noticed during all this Sturm und Drang over doctrine was this: we were happy again as a family, and at peace. Julie said one day driving home from liturgy, "Isn't it great to look forward to going to church again?" And it was. I was beginning to pray again, and beginning to climb out of the slough of religious despond. I began to think differently about Truth. As Christians, Truth is a Person, not merely a proposition. Here I was beginning to live a more Christ-like life as a fellow traveler of Orthodoxy, and knowing that if I went back to full-fledged Catholicism, I would be returning to anger and despair. What does it mean to live in the Christian truth in that situation? How would I feel if I approached the Judgment Seat and said to God, "I lived as a depressed and embittered man, lost my children to the Christian faith, and was a terrible witness to your goodness. But Lord, thanks to you, I never left Catholicism."Again, I have a great deal of sympathy for this. I wish the guy well, because I know perfectly well that I myself have had doubts and struggles, even times when I was tempted to leave the Church not merely for Orthodoxy but for abject atheism, and looking back I can only say to myself, over and over again, thank you, Lord, for not burdening me beyond what I could bear. Because I escaped that noose by such a narrow thread, I cannot stand in judgment of people like Rod Dreher, no matter how fatuous I find their reasoning. Judge Never, Forgive Ever. May God go with him.
I hope he doesn't find any dishonest priests in his new parish. Where will he go then?
Update: Be sure to check out the Pontificator's Trackback and Mike Liccione's post on this topic.