Welcome to the jungle, where connotation swamps denotation

December 21, 2015 § 29 Comments

One of the most common phrases I hear in Catholicland these days is ‘all are welcome’.

I suppose this could be interpreted in an orthodox manner by rephrasing it as ‘all are called’ (to repent of our sins, reform our lives, believe in the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and follow the precepts of the Church that He established).

But called just seems so much more … demanding … than welcomed.

§ 29 Responses to Welcome to the jungle, where connotation swamps denotation

  • CJ says:

    I remember reading a post by Ed Feser about how American bishops have gotten into the habit of emphasizing the parts of Catholic teaching that are acceptable to secular progressives (pro-immigration, anti-capital punishment) while burying the less comfortable teachings under an avalanche of caveats.

    So “all are welcome” almost makes it sound like you’re one of those “welcoming and affirming” churches that welcome and affirm whatever fashionable bit of progressive ideology is contrary to the gospel.

  • Andy H says:

    Should be “Many are called”.

    But that’s even less hospitable 😉

  • Chad says:

    CJ
    I don’t remember which Pope it was (Pius XI maybe?) But he denounced the idea that an emphasis can/should be put on certain parts of the faith as heresy. I think it was called Americanismus… something odd.

    But yes, an over emphasis is a distortion, and an error.

  • biplob1958 says:

    Unity of faithful is urgent to defeat the devil as devil alway harm the progress as it help them.

  • King Richard says:

    Chad,
    Yes, the ‘cluster of heresies’ that form Americanism includes the minimization of elements of Catholic teachings that conflict with American political, social, or cultural views to make Catholicism more “palatable” to Americans.

  • Dystopia Max says:

    “All are welcome” is meant to be less a call than a (((signal)))

  • Unrelated completely: I was going through your waterboarding posts, which are quite well done, and I remembered reading an argument by John C. Wright you did not address. It is here: http://www.scifiwright.com/2014/12/the-torture-and-martyrdom-of-the-apostles/

    I’m curious as to what your response would be (this is another case of his commenters, or at least a lot of them, being apparently confused by his argument).

    I want to emphasize that this has NOTHING – nothing at all – to do with any other posts I’ve written about John C. Wright. I did not bring it up to attack him or even criticize him. I merely recalled his argument when I was reading all of your responses, and as somebody who disagrees with him I was curious as to what you would say in response.

    Inquiring minds…

    It’s unrelated, but since you’ve written a lot about this topic I’d like to see how you’d respond.

  • Zippy says:

    Appeal to an incomplete definition, combined with a whole lot of bluster and a long face.

  • William Luse says:

    Not to mention a mountain of contempt for those who disagree with him.

  • GJ says:

    I found the discussion of the Catechism paragraph 2297 interesting as it can be read both ways in English. Could someone who is able to read the Latin version clarify the ambiguity?

  • GJ says:

    Specifically, “Cruciatus, qui physica vel morali utitur violentia ad confessiones extorquendas, ad culpabiles puniendos, ad adversarios terrendos, ad odium satiandum, observantiae personae et dignitati humanae est contrarius”.

  • King Richard says:

    GJ,
    I will ask Prince Jonathan this evening about the Latin to be sure (his Latin is superior to mine) but the meaning seems rather clear – inducing fear or pain through physical or moral (which includes what you might call ‘psychological’) violence is wrong.
    I rarely read Mr. Wright’s page but as someone who was actually military intelligence soldier who was part of an interrogation team in wartime that interrogated prisoners of war I was both shocked by the amateurishness of American interrogation techniques (true interrogation never requires torture and a skilled interrogation team can learn the truth both peacefully and often without the target’s knowledge) in the War on Terror and the callowness of Mr. Wright’s “arguments”.
    For example, look at this quote of Mr. Wright,
    “Then, after reading the report, I learned that the other things being called torture included: being slapped in the face or punched in the stomach….”
    This is obviously and admittedly,
    ‘the use of physical violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred’.
    He also stated,
    “But to call these third degree tactics, cruel as they are, and cruel as they are meant to be [note: he admits one of the men subjected to this died], by the name torture is a strained metaphor, an unconscionable exaggeration, or a lie.”
    I find it interesting that Mr. Wright uses the term ‘third degree’, a bit of American slang for certain tactics once used by American police to gain a confession. The ‘Third Degree’ is illegal in America as it was ruled to be torture. He is in effect saying ‘to call torture torture is to lie’.

    I do not care to read any further.

  • Zippy says:

    BAK.

    More specifically Wright’s argument that waterboarding is not torture, such as it is, appears to be this:

    Just yesterday I learned that the three terrorists who were waterboarded were each informed before the interrogation that there was no possibility of death. At which point, only the physical discomfort is present, which is the same or less as our own soldiers endure without complaint in their training to resist these techniques. So, once I knew the truth that a deceptive press had kept from me, did I realized that not only is this not tantamount to torture, it is not even close.

    This is just two of the same old long-refuted arguments. None of the vast quantity of words before or after are relevant: their purpose appears to be rhetorical effect on those whose limited reading skills do not enable them to extract the central, relevant argument from a blitzkrieg of pious sounding words.

    It should go without saying that informing the victim that he will not be tortured to death cannot turn an act of torture into not-torture. Wright depends on asserting a specific difference – that if the victim is told not to fear death, what would otherwise be torture becomes not torture – which is manifestly specious. (Argument 14: appeal to an incomplete definition).

    Wright’s second argument is just the same old ‘we did “the same thing” to Sere trainees’ assertion, which depends on an equivocal “the same thing” which isn’t really the same thing at all. Those specific differences have been covered in detail before. (Argument 3: omitting facts in an analogy, appeal to an incomplete definition). It of course also begs the question that what we did to Sere trainees was morally licit. From what I know of it, it probably was morally licit; or at least was not intrinsically immoral. But I would not be even slightly surprised to find that we use other training techniques which are not morally licit. There is an implicit assumption that because we are the good guys, everything we do is morally licit by definition without need of demonstration.

  • Zippy says:

    To bring this back around to the subject of the OP, we are welcomed called to abandon our support of gravely immoral actions like declaring war unjustly, torturing prisoners, treating people and their personal IOU’s like property, murdering unborn children, sodomy, contraception, receiving Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin, treating persons as if their favorite personal defects were their defining characteristics, and rebellion against legitimate authority.

    But maybe I am not supposed to say things like that during the year of mercy, since that whole thing about being called to hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unmerciful.

  • RichardP says:

    “… faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17 NIV)

    How can one come to understand “all are called” without first hearing the word “of Christ” and the word “about Christ”? And how can one first hear the word unless they are told that they are welcome to come to where that word is being set forth?

    You don’t bypass kindergarten and put a five-year-old directly into the fifth grade for a reason. Just like nobody is going to know that all are called without first hearing the word. And nobody is likely to go to a place where they think they won’t be welcomed. Climbing the knowledge curve is sequential. One is likely to not understand, or misunderstand, more complicated things without having a firm grasp of the simpler things upon which the more complicated things are built.

    So – welcome! Come and learn.

    Sometimes a phrase means just what it is meant to mean.

    But I’m not Catholic, so perhaps I’ve missed something.

  • Mike T says:

    And how can one first hear the word unless they are told that they are welcome to come to where that word is being set forth?

    I am not a Catholic either, but it has been my experience and observation that “seeker-sensitive” churches invariably avoid discussion of anything that would demand actual change on the part of the sensitive modern seeker. The modern, sensitive seeker doesn’t like being told that temptations are one thing to God, but concrete actions quite another. Nor does said seeker like being told that abortion is not fine with God, that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and a whole bunch of other things that society says are “just fine.”

  • Mike T says:

    The healthiest denominations are actually the ones least prone to bend the knee to the world. Heck, Islam is doing better at converting Americans than most of the mainline denominations and probably the Catholic Church (and that includes retaining members) as well because it unapologetically refused to yield to societal demands.

  • King Richard says:

    Mike T.,
    You wrote,
    “Islam is doing better at converting Americans than most of the mainline denominations and probably the Catholic Church….”
    Best estimate on the total number of converts to Islam in the US in 2015 = ~2.1 million [census and Pew Research]
    Best estimate on the total number of converts to Catholicism in the US in 2014 = ~6.3 million

  • Mike T says:

    King Richard,

    Two mitigating factors:

    1. Islam has a very recent place in American society.
    2. Much of our society regards Islam as an enemy of the US and its culture.

    The fact that it has overcome those obstacles to claim a rate that is about 33% of what a well-established denomination has claimed is highly impressive.

  • GJ says:

    It’s rather impressive given that there are ~20 times more Catholics than Muslims in the USA.

  • Mike T says:

    The best way to counter Islam’s growth is for Christians to pull back on accommodating societal demands. At its core, the accommodation is a form of weakness, not charity. Society instinctively says that if Christians really were confident in the rightness of their views, they wouldn’t be so willing to yield to pressure.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Right, it is a fitness test. Those doing the testing really do want to get their way against the traditional authority; but everyone is worse off to the extent they have succeeded.

    The truth is somewhere between the connotation of “called” and the connotation of “welcomed”. The Prodigal Son truly was welcome home and not forced to return other than by the consequences of his own decadence; but he was not welcome to come home and at the same time to continue, while home, spending his father’s money on whores and drink. Being welcome home means being welcome to return to being under authority, not to come home and still refuse to doff your cap to the king.

  • Mike T says:

    It means more than welcome to return to authority, it also means welcome to set aside his past sins and live in relation with them again. It is the “go now, and sin no more” part that is cheerfully thrown out.

    Frankly, the Pope would have been better off doubling down on remarriage doctrine and bluntly telling those offended that he doesn’t give a quantum of a damn if that offends them into leaving because he is a bondservant of Christ. I understand why leaders are reluctant to pull such stunts, but they forget that every denomination would be more effective if these people would just leave. God knows how much time has been wasted placating the hurt feelings of these people instead of doing what the church is supposed to be doing.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Many people do respond positively to being told unequivocally that no, just because it would be much easier and (for the time being) more pleasant to do X that does not mean that it is morally OK to do X. Modern people are indoctrinated to disbelieve in objective reality, to believe that right and wrong are just whatever we project onto events subjectively based on the things we subjectively value; but we can’t help ourselves.

    Nobody is consistently anti-realist, not even in the domains of morality and economic value, where modernity has relentlessly trained us to see ourselves and our subjective preferences and perceptions as the truncated measure of all things. Things like Islam, even though they are horribly false understood objectively, appeal to people mired in relativist modernity who can feel that something is just wrong with making our preferences and perceptions the measure of all things in the areas that matter most. Islam appeals to people simply because it allows what everyone can’t help but know instinctively, that a reality independent of our self-obsessed cartesian/Manichean selves exists at all, even though that external reality of Islam is just the voluntarist arbitrary Will of Allah.

    People naturally yearn for authority, despite the fact that modernity relentlessly indoctrinates us with the idea that to be human simply is to be subject to no authority, is to be self-created through reason and will and subject to no man. Islam appeals to moderns for the same reason that dark triad bad boys appeal to modern women. She becomes the bad boy’s harem whore despite being a feminist because she ultimately cannot deny her own nature.

    One of the most rabid, raging, militant feminists I know is a young Moslem woman. This is not the contradiction that other people think that it is; at least, it is no more a contradiction than any other relation between a particular liberal (a person with a strong commitment to liberalism) and liberalism itself.

    Modernity isn’t consistent anti-realism, because there is no such thing. Modernity is cafeteria realism.

  • Mike T says:

    People naturally yearn for authority, despite the fact that modernity relentlessly indoctrinates us with the idea that to be human simply is to be subject to no authority, is to be self-created through reason and will and subject to no man. Islam appeals to moderns for the same reason that dark triad bad boys appeal to modern women. She becomes the bad boy’s harem whore despite being a feminist because she ultimately cannot deny her own nature.

    On marriage and sexual matters, church leaders seem unable to grasp that women have three main choices in Christendom: Judao-Christian patriarchy, the brothel and the burqa. The sweet secular myth of the egalitarian, servant leadership-based mutual submission partnership has consistently failed every time a church has gone for it. By taking Judao-Christian patriarchy off the shelf to appease modernity, Christian leaders have made the de facto choice between the brothel and burqa.

  • King Richard says:

    I personally dislike moving the goal posts. The original statement was clearly incorrect as written.
    Also, it is unclear how many of the converts to Islam (whom are overwhelmingly Black) are now Nation of Islam, a rather different thing which is still counted as ‘Islam’ by the US.
    The fact is demographic projections show Islamic populations in the EU maxing out at about, oh, 10% and then declining and in the US of maxing out at about at 3% or 4% and then declining.
    Islam has one of the steepest ‘drop offs’ in observance after the initial immigrant population dies off and while the total number of converts seem high is it less than those who cease to be Muslim as they hit the ‘devout threshold’ age of 30 – if it wasn’t for immigrants, Islam would be shrinking with that many converts.
    In other words – it is complicated. With a higher ‘retention rate’, an increasing level of religious socialization, and higher levels of both immigration and conversion the Catholic Church in the US is growing as a percentage of the population. This resurgence is common with the Church growing in many parts of Asia and Africa. A great deal of the tensions leading to Boko Haram and other Muslim terror groups in Africa is the fact that Catholicism is displacing Islam in key areas.
    So it gets very complicated.
    Then we can talk about the differences between Sunni, Shi’a, and other sects: while they are often lumped together in many way their differences are as large as various sects of Christianity that are *not* lumped together.

  • Mike T says:

    Islam has one of the steepest ‘drop offs’ in observance after the initial immigrant population dies off and while the total number of converts seem high is it less than those who cease to be Muslim as they hit the ‘devout threshold’ age of 30 –

    Cease to be Muslim is a dubious charge since they aren’t formally adhering to something else afterward. What you are describing is really not much different than the phenomenon of “cultural Christians” in the West, a factor that describes the vast majority of “Christians” in the West as well. We are seeing numbers among young people raised in culturally Islamic parts of the West a resurgence of Islamic religion. Where this leads is hard to predict.

    I personally dislike moving the goal posts. The original statement was clearly incorrect as written.

    Converting from one flavor of Christianity to another is not an impressive accomplishment. I have formerly Catholic relatives who converted to various flavors of Protestant religion. So yes, the Catholic Church might be gaining a lot of converts in the US from other denominations, but the real question is how many people are abandoning some other alien belief system for Catholicism. That’s what Islam is accomplishing in the US.

    Also, it is unclear how many of the converts to Islam (whom are overwhelmingly Black) are now Nation of Islam

    Probably a minority now because Islamic outreach in the US is now overwhelmingly funded by groups like the Saudi royal family.

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