MAN IN THE PLURAL
The influence of sociology and anthropology on Catholic thinking and the development of neo-modernism has not been proportionate to that of psychology, but it has been significant nevertheless. The clergy have probably felt it most. For instance, in July 1999, John Paul II told a group of visiting Irish bishops that "a sociological rather than a theological concept of the Church" was responsible for calls in Ireland for an end to priestly celibacy. Basically, this means losing sight of the Church's supernatural dimension.
Sociology and anthropology, unlike psychology, are relatively new sciences whose rise in the later 19th century can be partly attributed to loss of the idea, after the end of the age of reason, that it is natural for men to live together in society, or indeed that there is such a thing as "nature." If God made men and women for each other, along with the power to generate new human beings with a need for food, shelter, companionship and the exercise of their faculties, then social living and everything that flows from it — the tribe, the nation, government, agriculture, architecture, crafts, etc. — become self-explanatory. But if there is no God, no nature and no ultimate reason for things, if nature is a football field of interacting faceless physical forces, a whole host of questions arise which hitherto hardly seemed worth asking. Why do men live in society? Why do societies vary? What keeps them from falling apart? Is one form as good as another? Are fundamental forms like the family necessary, or can we organise ourselves in any way we please? What are the main causes of social change? Are there discernible laws of social change? 147
The destruction of traditional social forms which started with the French Revolution, or their transformation by the Industrial Revolution, also contributed to the rise of sociology. What was to replace the institutions that were, one after the other, being swept away or found no longer socially useful?
Some of these questions had already been addressed by thinkers not usually classified as sociologists: men like Montesquieu, Rousseau, Saint-Simon ("the science of man is the new religion"), his one-time assistant Auguste Comte (who coined the name "sociology" for his science of man which, in his "positivist" religion, was to take the place of theology), Herbert Spencer, and, of course, Marx and Engels. The Catholic thinkers de Maistre, de Bonald and de Tocqueville are also included among the forerunners. But all these men were more social and political philosophers than sociologists in the modern sense.
Sociology as a science in its own right begins with the attempt to study social life and institutions with all their variations and changes as though it could be an exact science like physics or chemistry, beginning with the amassing of sociological facts, then seeking to explain them as far as possible in terms of non-rational causes and general laws. 148 Also included were the study of collective thinking and collective behaviour. If chemicals could be put under the microscope, and physical bodies rolled about on inclined planes to discover the laws determining their movements, why could not men in the aggregate be treated in a similar way? I am talking about an attitude of mind, rather than an explicit agenda. The term "social physics" had already been suggested as a name for the new science.
The amassing of facts can be seen in works like Frédéric Le Play's study Les ouvriers européens (1877-99) and Booth's Life and Labour of the People of London, (1892-7). However, the Germans Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936), Max Weber (1864-1920), and Georg Simmel (1858-1918), the Frenchman Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), and the Italian Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), an economist as well as a sociologist who relied heavily on mathematics, are generally regarded as the true founders of sociology. 149
In his Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887) Tönnies distinguished between societies and communities. All major social problems were due to the shift from the communal, status-based, concentric societies of the past to the individualistic, impersonal large-scale societies of the industrial period. Communities, whatever their faults, have a human quality. They are "natural." Societies, which are artificial, tend to be inhuman. The lament finds echoes in Weber, Simmel and Durkheim. Not that any of them thought a return to the past possible. But somehow the impersonal modern industrial society must be made more human and communitarian. Simmel stressed the relative helplessness of the individual in modern society. Weber, who opposed German foreign policy during World War I and helped draft the Weimar constitution, had earlier favoured imperial expansion in the hope that it would make the German middle classes more responsible. For Durkheim the ultimate aim of sociology should be directing people's behaviour towards "greater solidarity."
And here, right at the start, we come on the dilemma at the heart of sociology. If it was to be a pure science, it had to confine itself to providing facts and explanations of facts, leaving it to other authorised or more or less competent bodies — governments, industrialists, manufacturers, social reformers, even, if need be, churches — to decide in what way the facts and explanations should be applied in order to remedy evils or promote the good, which is how many sociologists have always seen their task. The extent to which legislation to improve working and living conditions has been made possible by accurate social studies hardly needs stressing.
In a different field, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw Catholic sociologists beginning to raise questions about the wisdom of some of the liturgical reforms from a sociological standpoint. 150 Down-playing the Catholic character of Catholic institutions (universities, schools, hospitals) by certain Diocesan bureaucracies has been criticised from a sociological standpoint too. According to sociologists, in order to survive and flourish over a long period, every community needs a "plausibility structure" — the technical term for a network of organisations and practices embodying the community's particular beliefs or convictions, which together make up the community's cultural and spiritual "home." This is above all true of religious communities. They cannot live permanently in a cultural vacuum, or, without radically adapting it, in a culture of someone else's making. In other words, the assault on the "Catholic ghetto" (the dissenting theologians' term for the Catholic "plausibility structure") violated a fundamental sociological principle. Pope John, it will be remembered, had merely asked for the windows of the "home" to be opened a bit wider.
However, a much larger number of sociologists, including the fathers of the discipline as we have just seen, have believed that it was up to them not only to provide explanations but to have the final say in how their findings should be used. More than that, as believers in progress and evolution, many of them had strong views not only about particular social problems but about the way society as a whole should be organised, or its direction pointed. Human behaviour and institutions may be largely determined by extra-human factors, but they are very definitely not to be left as they are. From its first appearance, sociology has been the most "prescriptive" of the sciences. In other words, what in the name of "value-free" science had supposedly just been pushed out of the front door (metaphysics and ethics) almost immediately came in again through the patio windows at the back in a different form.
Thus, with the advent of sociology, there came into being an awesome new force for good and ill not unlike atomic energy — its rise and existence being itself a sociological fact as much in need of analysis and discussion as social class or class conflict, and not a little of its attraction lying in the sense of power it gives. When it comes to applying their "values," sociologists have always had the advantage over the ordinary citizen of being armed with information and techniques that make it far easier for them to win the ear of the authorities or people of influence. To such an extent is this the case that political conservatives have often seen sociology as an instrument of revolution. Sometimes it has been. Revolution apart,"social engineering" is now a recognised activity indulged in by governments and by pressure groups like NGOs, mostly with only an appearance of public consultation. As far as the changes themselves are concerned, each has to be judged on its own merits.
It is not possible or necessary here to describe the different schools and approaches (at least a dozen) which immediately appeared once sociology had established itself as a recognised science, but they tended to fall into one of two classes: those which focused on societies as stable self-regulating systems, like the human body, adjusting themselves gradually to irregularities and new conditions (organismic or structural functional sociology); and the social action schools preoccupied with change and conflict. Both types. have run side by side throughout sociology's now roughly one hundred and fifty years of history, fluctuating in fortune according to events in the outside world.
The majority of sociologists in the United States, which dominated the field from the early 1920s to the early 196th, in spite of sociology having initially been a European product, favoured the functionalist approach. The Chicago school, and later that of Talcott Parsons at Harvard, promoted a deterministic, positivistic (only observable facts exist), supposedly "value-free" sociology, which chimed with the pragmatic side of the American temperament and the relative stability of American institutions. Neither school was of course really value-free, but the members at least paid deference to the idea of scientific objectivity.
In Europe, the political upheavals of the inter-war decades (1918-1939) restricted interest in the new discipline, but it revived with the return of peace in 1945 under socialist and Marxist influences, which invaded American sociology in the 1960s. This and other social-action currents like feminist sociology, a product mainly native to America, were unashamed in declaring that, for them, objectivity was subordinate to ideology. Sociology was to be a tool for advancing causes higher than that of any science. Largely because it suited them, their approach was also less deterministic than that of hitherto mainstream American sociology. This was true even of the Marxists, whose Marxism derived more from Frankfurt than Moscow. They made more room for human free will and individual initiative as causes of social change and handmaids of revolution.
The main thing that both sociological approaches had in common was an almost exclusive preoccupation with advanced Western societies.
Meanwhile, anthropologists had been studying traditional, tribal or primitive social groups. This more or less fortuitous division of labour persisted until after World War II. Anthropology was also, originally, more truly "value-free." Societies were studied for what they were. One might be more interesting than another. But all social forms — except perhaps eating enemies, burning widows, and things of that sort — were regarded as equally legitimate, and worthy of conservation. Anthropologists might believe in evolution, but they were against social change for primitive societies or cultures. It was like preserving coelacanths and other threatened species.
The anthropologists' approach, in other words, was descriptive and explanatory, rather than "prescriptive." The studies of South Sea islanders by the American anthropologist Margret Mead (1901-1978) are typical examples. But these raise the question of whether even the descriptive approach can always be value-free. Her account of some of the islanders' easy-going sexual habits was long taken as proof that marriage is just a man-made construct, and promiscuity a harmless social alternative. On some issues, to be ethically "neutral" can itself be the announcement of a "value." 151 185
However, after World War II the boundaries between sociology and anthropology began to dissolve, their fields of study became more alike, and psychology (under the name "social psychology") was called in to throw light on the obscurer social motivations.
The study of social groups, whether primitive or advanced, also of course includes the study of their cultures; not just the way the members organise themselves so as to live together in harmony, but everything they think, make and do. On this topic, sociology and anthropology today give conflicting messages.
On the one hand, there is a tendency to present each civilisation or culture as a fortress, whose members can barely communicate with the inhabitants of other fortresses. We can call it "cultural compartmentalisation." Each culture, Hindu, Arabic, Confucian, Native American, has its own private way of thinking and expressing itself. The best its inmates can do is shout basic messages across the intervening space between fortress and fortress. Anything but basic messages will be unintelligible. Cultural compartmentalisation is the result of defining man in terms of what is accidental to him (his tribal habits), instead of what is essential to him, and is the same everywhere. We have already met it at the time of early modernism in the supposed opposition between the Greek and Hebrew minds — an idea that still finds advocates in spite of the evident accord between both types of mind in the later biblical Wisdom literature.
Contrasting with cultural compartmentalisation is "multi-culturalism" or cultural pluralism the notion that, even over the long haul, a single state can embrace a variety of different cultures without serious strains and stresses and without an overarching master culture. Cultural pluralism is proposed as the sociological ideal for Western societies with large immigrant populations. It is promoted partly in the interests of social harmony, and that is where its appeal lies. But it would be naive to think that was the only motive. For dedicated Western secularists, cultural pluralism is seen as a way of clearing away the surviving remains of Christian thinking, practice and legislation throughout the once-Christian West.
But can a society survive if the component cultural groups retain enough spiritual vitality to maintain what must often be conflicting viewpoints? Deliberately to foster cultural differences would seem to be a recipe for creating social problems. The notions of pluralism and community do not sit easily together, in spite of so often being promoted by the same people. The essence of a community is that the members think and feel alike to a large degree on what matters most to them. A nation made up of communities thinking and feeling differently will therefore not itself be communal.
An example from England will illustrate the point. Arranged marriages have long been a part of Pakistani culture (and, of course, of many others) and quite a number of English Pakistani parents still decide who their children shall marry. This can include sending a son or daughter back to Pakistan to a pre-chosen spouse there. Meanwhile, English feminist groups are agitating against the practice. Whether they are right or wrong is not here the point. What the feminists are saying, and it is what Western liberalism as a whole is saying, is that we approve of your culture provided it does not conflict with Western liberal principles; or, in other words, as long as its expression is confined to trifles and externals — like headgear or special foods. The doctrines of the Enlightenment are to be the informing principles of the overarching culture in Western societies.
In fact, neither cultural compartmentalisation nor cultural pluralism in their extreme forms stands up to examination. All the evidence suggests that cultures can only remain fixed and stable where there is a degree of isolation, a truth recognised by Chinese governments over a period of 3000 years: members of alien cultures were "foreign devils," Indeed without some kind of isolation it is difficult to see how distinct cultures could come into existence in the first place. But this does not mean that the "structure" of the human mind is not the same everywhere, or that, given time and good will, mutual comprehension remains impossible. Indeed, once cultures come in contact, cultural borrowings are the rule rather than the exception. They may be superficial (like the adoption of tea-drinking by the English in the 17th century) or profound (like, say, the influence of transcendental meditation in the 20th). If profound, they will eventually give birth to a new culture, in the way Byzantine culture emerged from the Graeco-Roman.
In these cultural transformations, cultural "pluralism" seems to be a transitional state owing to foreign invasion or mass immigration. Here, unless one of the cultural components is strong enough to predominate, giving some kind of shape to the whole, the body politic is likely in the end to split apart, or the dominant culture, in absorbing large elements of the lesser culture, will once again be transformed into a new culture. 152
How has sociology influenced Catholics? Its main effect since Vatican II, one regrets to say, has been to "secularise" Catholic thinking to a degree even greater than did deism in the 18th century. By "secularise" I here mean creating a frame of mind which looks at the Church and the faith from a primarily natural standpoint, tips it overwhelmingly towards a concern with natural things, and relies mainly on natural means to achieve spiritual ends. 153 Sociology has this effect more than psychology, if only because the human psyche is of its nature more mysterious than human society. It is much easier to think of the latter as a piece of machinery to be operated by levers.
That some such result was likely unless sociology was humanised and Christianised, had already been seen by the far-sighted group of American Catholic sociologists who in 1938 founded the American Catholic Sociological Society, a body sufficiently effective to influence figures as eminent as Pitirim Sorokin at Harvard. Since the 1920s, "thousands of sociology courses," mainly secularist and deterministic in outlook, had been taught to "millions of American students" throughout the States, with an impact on its culture at large which was bound in the end to affect American Catholics unless countermeasures were taken. 154 These pioneers had recognised what had in fact been apparent from the beginning, that a sociology not embodying a philosophical or anthropological standpoint is an impossibility. Unfortunately, their efforts to get this fact across were aborted in the wake of Vatican II. To the new Catholic "knowledge class" opposed to the magisterium — ranging from certain Church bureaucrats and social activists to various teachers of theology and philosophy the idea of a specifically Catholic sociology, that is one based on a Catholic view of what human beings are, had become taboo. They embraced mainstream American secular sociology as though it were a pure science. In the process, the Catholic Sociological Society died for lack of support.
Today, we are told, "the sociology departments of both the major and minor Catholic colleges and universities in the USA do nothing more than reflect and propagate an anti-Catholic world-view on the family and all other aspects of social existence." 155 Even in a school or college where the catechetical instruction or theology is orthodox, the work is often partly undone by a secularised sociology course.
Outside the educational world, the secularising influence of sociology is best seen, I think, in the reliance of Church bureaucrats on sociological surveys and the relish with which they apply them.
One example out of a multitude is the Australian bishops' costly 500-page survey, Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus, published in 1999, purportedly the results of an attempt to discover what the faithful think about the role of women in the Church. Leaving aside its aspect as a piece of attempted social engineering — it aims at creating the impression that the majority of Australian Catholic women feel "pain and alienation ... anger marginalisation ... powerlessness, irrelevance, and lack of acknowledgement in the Church" — all it actually revealed after three years of labour was what had been manifest for thirty years without any resort to statistics. The vast majority of church-going Australian Catholic women do not feel the way the church bureaucrats want them to. 156
Underlying the whole project, moreover, is a theology or mindset completely at variance with that of Vatican II, namely that, unless you have a Church-funded job of some kind, you are not "participating" in the Church. To which one could add that any Catholic woman, or man for that matter, who feels aggrieved at being "powerless" has missed the whole point of Christianity. To be powerless is to be blessed. What such people need is not church jobs, but spiritual guidance and religious instruction.
The deference paid in certain American Episcopal circles to the opinions of the American Catholic sociologist, Fr Andrew Greeley, is another example of the de-supematuralising effect of a secularised sociological outlook. In 1987, Father Greeley in collaboration with Bishop William McManus published a volume called Catholic Contributions: Sociology and Policy. The purpose of this statistical survey was to discover why Catholics were giving less money to the Church. The best answer the authors could come up with was dislike of Humanae Vitae. For a sociologist like Fr Greeley, opposition to Humanae Vitae, it appears, constitutes an irremovable sociological datum which can only be circumvented by submitting to its opponents' demands. One would have at least expected the bishop to see that the reasons for declining financial contributions were supernatural not sociological in origin. The Catholics opposing Humanae Vitae had begun to lose their faith. The Catholics who had kept their faith were not going to give money to a priest or bishop they considered heterodox. 157
In so far as the parish clergy have been affected by the secularised sociological mindset, it will have been through mandatory courses on updating the Church, radicalised Justice and Peace commissions, or the teaching of pastoral theology in liberal seminaries. 158
Owing to Pope John's statement that Vatican II was to be a mainly pastoral Council, pastoral theology has received much greater emphasis than in the past, with, in liberal seminaries, a heavy psychological and sociological input not excluding a knowledge of some of their manipulative techniques. The secularised sociological mindset may not have been the principal cause of the vanishing "sense of the sacred" leading to the vandalisation of churches and indifference towards holy things, but it has unquestionably contributed to it. Where it prevails it is as though a steel shutter had come down, not just hiding the supernatural world from view, but rendering it largely unreal.
The conflicting messages of sociology and anthropology about culture have chiefly affected missionaries. There have been two tendencies. Those influenced by the "compartmentalist" approach have tended to attribute a kind of metaphysical substantiality to each culture which must remain untouched as far as possible.
This has given rise to the idea that each area of the world must have its own special theology or version of the Catholic faith, its own completely distinct liturgy, and the preservation of any pre-Christian practices deemed essential to its culture. At more than one Synod in Rome there has been pressure for the Church to allow polygamy on the grounds that polygamy is a fundamental expression of the African soul.
This is the reverse of "inculturation" as the Church has hitherto understood and practised it, and can lead to the faith and liturgy being submerged in the local culture and transformed out of recognition in the process. It is, of course, right that missionaries should love the people they have come to evangelise and appreciate what is good in their culture, but not that they should conduct a love affair with it. Successful inculturation is not something likely to be achieved either rapidly or by Church bureaucrats according to a plan.
Addicts of cultural pluralism, on the other hand, tend to be cultural egalitarians. There are no higher or lower cultures, or if there are, it is rude to mention the fact. This can lead to denigrating or undervaluing the cultural achievements of the Church's past, above all the fact that ancient Jewish culture and Graeco-Roman culture must always have a pre-eminent place in any authentic presentation of Christianity because they were the vehicles chosen by God for divine revelation and its earliest explication in the teaching of the Fathers. 159
Seeing that, until the present century, religion has been the heart of every known culture, the pluralist and egalitarian cultural mindsets have also contributed to the spread of religious syncretism (i.e. the notion that all religions are valid vehicles of salvation).
Fr Karl Rahner laid the foundations for this particular deviation, whose implications have since been more fully developed and expressed by the Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya, who objected to the idea of Jesus as "unique universal redeemer" and by the French theologian, Jacques Dupuis SJ.
In his Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, (Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books, 1997), Fr Dupuis argues that religious pluralism is "part of God's plan," that all religions are valid paths to salvation, that all are directly willed by him and all are converging towards the same end. They exist "de jure and not merely de facto." To make his point he quotes Fr Schillebeeckx. "The multiplicity of religions is not an evil which needs to be removed, but rather a wealth which is to be welcomed and enjoyed by all." Is Christianity the one absolutely true religion? "Talk about absoluteness" should be avoided, Fr Dupuis tells us, because "absoluteness is an attribute of the Ultimate Reality of Infinite Being which must not be predicated of any finite reality, even the human existence of the Son-of-God-mademan. That Jesus Christ is 'universal' Savior does not make him the 'Absolute Savior' — who is God himself' (p. 282). The words "universal" and "unique" can have a relative meaning. There are other "universal" saving figures. "The principle of plurality" rests "primarily on the superabundant richness and diversity of God's self-manifestations to humankind" (p. 387). One is left wondering about Baal worship and the Aztecs. 160
On 28th January 2000, John Paul II intervened personally. In an address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the end of a four-day meeting of the plenary assembly, he insisted that the Christian revelation is "definitive and complete" and spoke of the "errors and ambiguities" regarding the uniqueness and universality of Christ's salvation, which, he said, were spreading. "Therefore," he went on, "the theory of the limited character of the revelation of Christ, which would find its complement in other religions, is contrary to the faith of Christ ... it is erroneous to consider the Church as a way of salvation equal to those of other religions, which would be complementary to the Church, although converging with her toward the eschatalogical Kingdom of God" (Tablet, 5th February 2000). On 6th August 2000, these strictures were confirmed and reinforced by the important document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the uniqueness and universality of Christ's salvific office, Dominus Jesus.
Coming back to cultural egalitarianism, in contrast to religious egalitarianism, there is no reason, I believe, for anyone to take offence at the idea of there being higher and lower cultures, if they think seriously enough about it. The Germanic and Scandinavian tribes from whom most northern Europeans today are descended had little if anything to boast about in the way of culture before they met Rome and Christianity. This did not prevent Tacitus from recognising that they had virtues which the more cultured Romans lacked, or hinder God from choosing the "least of all peoples" to be the cradle for the salvation of the nations.
150. See Victor Turner, The Ritual Process, Structure and Anti-structure, Ithaca, 1969; Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols, Explorations in Cosmology, London, 1970; David Martin, Two Critiques of Spontaneity, London, 1973. By the 1990s they had been joined by Anglican theologians of the "Radical Orthodoxy" movement.
152. The two principal blind spots of Western liberals are their reluctance to face these obvious cultural facts and their refusal to recognise that they themselves represent a powerful all-engulfing culture demanding general assent to its fundamental premises, whether expressed in good activities like famine relief, evil ones like abortion, or absurdities like prosecuting people for not being kind enough to bats.
153. The word secular (belonging to the present world or age in contrast to the world to come) and its derivatives secularise, secularism, secularity, can have a neutral, an a-religious, or an anti-religious connotation. Secular humanists reject God and the supernatural. A secular or secularist state refines to give public recognition to a particular religion or the existence of God. Secularise can mean seizing the property of religious orders and turning out their members. But it can also have the meaning I have just given, and the terms "secularity" or "secular realities" are today used in an orthodox Catholic context to mean things and activities belonging to the natural order, or not having a directly religious significance. The natural or secular world or order obviously cannot exist apart from the supernatural order. But a distinction between them is dictated, among other things, by common sense, and recent attempts to do away with it have ended in pantheism.
154. See "Secular Sociology's War Against Familiaris Consortio."Joseph A.Varacalli, in Proceedings of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars' Convention, 1992. Dr Varacalli is a founder member of the recently inaugurated Society of Catholic Social Scientists which has taken up again the work of the earlier Society, and publishes The Catholic Social Sciences Review. Ironically, according to Varacalli, the situation for Catholic sociologists has improved since the arrival of the more ideologically oriented schools, whether Marxist, feminist or "post-modernist." Realising that the idea of a "value-free" science of man has to be self-contradictory, they are more willing to recognise the possibility of a specifically Catholic sociology than their older mainstream counterparts are.
156. Catholic World Report, October, 1999.Tbe US. bishops had earlier embarked on a similar project. In 1992, after 13 years, and the consultation of 75,000 Catholic women, they wisely abandoned the project. The fact that objections are often raised to spending money on enhancing the beauty and dignity of divine worship (silver instead of pottery chalices, for instance — the money should be given to the Third World) but not to expenses of this kind, is further evidence, I suggest, of a general de-supernaturalisation of outlook.
158. Pastoral theology is not theology in the normally understood sense. It could be called "applied theology" or how to get the Church's message across in practice. It includes learning how to administer the sacraments, prepare people for marriage, visit the sick, comfort the dying, and so on.
159. The point appears to be better appreciated in Africa than in Europe. In 1990. a Senegalese bishop told the Episcopal Synod in Rome on Priestly Formation that in his seminary the students learned Latin and Greek in order to get as near as possible to the mind of the Fathers to whom, as recent converts, they felt especially close.
160. Archbishop D'Souza of Calcutta has expressed his support for Fr. Dupuis, his regret that Rome is investigating his theology, and his belief that "those who still build walls around the faith" will "rob it of the rich insights which it can get from the sharing and interchange with the Spirit's presence outside" (The Tablet, 21 November 1999). For Balasuriya, see TheTablet London, 11 May 1999.