The Church is not your Daddy
February 16, 2013 § 86 Comments
Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which He set before her is a religious one. – [Gaudium et Spes, Second Vatican Council]
A common sentiment I encounter, especially from Protestants, is that they object to the institutional Church because the institutional Church doesn’t put enough energy into telling men how to think and what to do in excruciating detail. I’ve encountered this gripe often when discussing the kind of sometimes-useful pop-sociology and psychology frequently called “Game”.
And shouldn’t the churches be way out in front on this, instead of playing catchup to some dude from Dallas and a mid-level government bureaucrat living in D.C.? – [Commenter Deti]
I would suggest (and have suggested) that outrage over the fact that the Church doesn’t solve every man’s problems with women for him is rather like outrage over the fact that your auto mechanic never helps you do your taxes. The Church doesn’t exist to fill every hole in your life and teach you everything you want or need to know about everything. Her purpose is religious: She isn’t your Daddy, and if your Daddy fell down on the job of teaching you what you need to know, or if you were tragically deprived of a Daddy, the Church is – sadly, perhaps, but no less truly – not able to replace him. That isn’t what the Church is for, and it isn’t where the Church has its charism (its special competence and charter as an institution, roughly speaking).
My guess is that in many cases the sentiment that the Church should be every man’s personal Dr. Phil arises from Protestant positivism: from the intellectual commitments which undergird the solas, particularly the epistemically founded sola scriptura and sola fide. The epistemic solas require the Lollard’s commitment to fully autonomous textual completeness: the Scriptures are thought to be complete purely in and of themselves (sola), without reference to any authoritative outside sources of knowledge such as tradition and the institutional Church.
Now it isn’t my purpose here to argue against sola scriptura. In my experience that is rather pointless: either you get it that positivism is fundamentally irrational and therefore necessarily false, or you don’t.
But the notion that everything you need to know to work out your salvation is in this book – that you need this autonomous thing and this autonomous thing alone – leads to the more general disposition that all the answers you need to solve a particular problem ought to be found in this one place. If morality requires me to tend to the sick, then the Church is falling down on the job if it isn’t telling me everything I need to know about tending to the sick.
But in reality the Church has no special charism which makes it more competent than I am when it comes to the germ theory of disease or the pharmacological actions of various chemicals. This doesn’t mean that She has no special competence in the moral framing of how we are to care for the sick. But it is a category mistake to be outraged that I can’t study molecular biology at the Vatican.
 It is perhaps worth noting that many in-the-pews Catholics and even Catholic intellectuals also suffer from positivist modes of thought, since it is in the air that we breath.