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On JCW and heresy:

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Teresa Neilsen Hayden asked me to elaborate on a comment I made that John C Wright has heretical views on the nature of the Eucharist, Free Will, and the nature of the divine.
This is what he said.

“I was unaware that he [Nielsen Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised. It could happen in a moment, in a miracle. All of the last twenty years of crap that has been given awards, and all of the careers stifled or ruined by this man, all the promising books that never saw the light of day because they were shouldered aside by poorly-written uber-Leftist propaganda penned by freaks who hate our genre and despise our founding members — all that could be forgiven by heaven and not held against Mr. Hayden’s account on Judgement Day.”

There is a lot to unpack in this: and a lot of it has to do with (I think) Wright’s late conversion to Catholicism. It’s got nothing to do with his having been an atheist prior to his conversion to Christianity (at the age of 42). I think it has more to do with 1: the general nature of Christianity we see in the press. 2: that he converted to a non RC form of Christianity some five years before he joined The Church*.

Roman Catholics do not believe in pro-forma, magical, salvation. There is no certainty for any of us. In fact the baseline assumption is none of us, not laity, nor clergy, no, not even the pope, is guaranteed a place in heaven; most of us, even the most devout and observant, will still be short of the purity of spirit to get into heaven directly, and today’s sanctity is no guarantee of tomorrow.

This is at odds with much protestant (esp. Born Again) doctrine. As a general rule protestants believe those who have been “saved” go straight to heaven. Everyone else goes straight to Hell. Grace, and grace alone, is all you need. Among many of the Born Again sects, once you have that grace, it’s yours forever. Get “saved” at eight, commit mass murder at 30, go to heaven when you die.

Which brings me to the magical thinking of Wright.

“I was unaware that he {Nielson Hayden] was a Roman Catholic. This is cause for immense hope. He could go tomorrow, nay, today, to a confessional booth, receive the sacrament, and save his darkened soul from damnation. He could take the host tomorrow, nay, today, and the evil spirit of malice, greed, stupidity and sloth which had been darkening his intellect and casting such a shadow of malodorous corruption across our whole genre could be fumigated, or, to use a more accurate word, exorcised.”

What rubbish. Earlier Wright averred that Patrick was a “Christ hater”. Why? Because Patrick is not a reactionary zealot on social issues which Wright sees as horrible (things like the equality of women, and homosexuals; the use of contraceptives, choice, etc.). So Wright seems to think that if one comes to the Sacrament of the Eucharist with a clear mind. and an open heart, the mere act of taking the wafer will cause one to suddenly become a reactionary Catholic.

I can’t tell you how offensive that is to me, as a Catholic. It strips us of the thing which most shows how we are made in God’s image. We have reason. We have free will. At the risk of grave oversimplification the entirety of Doctrinal Argument, over some 2,000 years is how to reconcile those two things with the idea of a just and loving God.

At the risk of excessive digression, every time someone who is anti-religion whips out some “gotcha” question I have to laugh. I’ve yet to hear one that hasn’t been asked before. There is nothing new under the sun. If Augustine didn’t grapple with it, Aquinas did. What they glossed, Francis, and Ignatius, and Benedict, and any number of parish priests have grappled with, from the least of problems (my husband snores, my wife always undersalts the soup) to the great and terrible (why do good things happen to bad people, why to bad things happen to the good).

Some of the answers are facile. Some are subtle. Some bring cold comfort; and some uplift the soul. All of them, are the fruit of reason (filtered by belief, dogma, and doctrine). Over time those have all changed. The world is not static, and no one gets to put God on retainer†. Not only that, but Wright is arguing that if one takes the Eucharist with a properly pure heart one will suddenly be changed in a John C Wright sort of Roman Catholic.

Which is interesting, because many of John C Wright’s beliefs are in direct contravention of Church Doctrine. He has argued:

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children.

This is not what the Church teaches. 1: Birth Control is not forbidden. Contraceptive devices (in which I include hormonal BC) is a venial sin. But using rhythm isn’t prohibited (and using tools to make one’s use of rhythm more effective doesn’t count as a “device”). 2: The Church thinks sex, just for the sake of sex, is just fine. Yes, it needs to be in the context of marriage to not be a venial sin, but that’s it. Venial sin. Married people are enjoined to have sex, just for the sake of sex, because it’s good for them.

Venial sins are minor.∞ The Church divides sins into two categories. Venial, and Mortal. Mortal sins will lead one to Hell. To avoid that we have to confess our sins. We don’t need a priest (though it makes things easier). Even a Mortal sin, confessed to God, with a sincere heart, can be absolved without anyone else being involved (though the conditions in which that happens are the sort where screwing up, and not getting the confessing done are more likely, it’s a deathbed realisation one has really screwed up. Most of us have time between something like bearing false witness and our dying day, to admit we did it, and pursue making formal amends).

Moreover, what Wright is railing about are not personal actions; they are the attitudes of lots of Catholics to matters of public (as opposed to private) life. My religion prohibits all sorts of things (e.g. praying to other gods). It doesn’t prohibit other things (e.g. mixing linen and wool§). What it also doesn’t do is demand that I make my faith the law of the land. Really, it doesn’t. It abjures me to look for the divine in everyone. It enjoins me to be compassionate and merciful. It enjoins me to obey the laws of the nation in which I live. It might be taken that it commands me to be publicly opposed to some things. Even in that, the things Wright rails against, e.g. “sodomy”, aren’t things I am enjoined to persecute; even if I am expected to abjure them for myself.

The Church has some fucked up ideas on homosexuality. Not gonna argue. I think them more subtle than most outside it do; and while I understand (and sympathise with) those who, having suffered as a result are furious with Her for what She has done; and for what She has failed to do, I also know that Pope Francis has said things which should make Wright feel shame for his failure to be a dutiful son of The Church.

So, looking at Actual Doctrine, and at what Patrick has said publicly (I cannot speak to his private thoughts. I have no window to his soul**) I don’t see one damned thing to assume he is not taking communion with a pure and open heart. I have no way to know what conversations he has with his confessor. I do know that I have not seen the level of vitriolic hatred toward others of God’s creation as I have seen Wright spewing.

And the idea that God would, to make any one person happy, force the conversion of belief to some other template, that is heresy. It denies the action of free will. It tosses all of the bible out the window. It makes a mockery of thousands of years of thinking, arguing, reasoning, by tens of thousands, yea millions of people of good will.

All because Mr. Wright got his feelings hurt when he tried to rig an election. He might want to think about that, the next time he attempts an Examination of Conscience.

*I am a Roman Catholic, Forgive me my use of “The Church”, but I think it adds some context. As to my religious belief… I am a Catholic of heterodox practice. I am Quaker adjacent, an adherent of Liberation Theology, went to parish schools for portions of my primary education, considered taking orders with the Society of Jesus. Ultimately the things about my personal faith which make it useful to me, also led to my realising I have some significant differences about Doctrine, which meant I couldn’t have taken vows in good conscience. I wish John Paul I had not died so soon, that John Paul II had not been pope for so long, that Benedict has been the worst pope in modern memory (and that his effect on the Church in his role as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has done more harm to the body of the church than will be undone without great effort, perhaps taking lifetimes). I have great hope for Francis.

†That is the crux of my doctrinal difference with The Church. Ex cathedra (i.e. the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility on matter of doctrine). I don’t buy it. At a fundamental level I can’t. If it were true then the pope gets to tell God what to do or the pope loses at least some of his free will. Neither is consonant with my faith.

∞There is an argument to be made that the continued practice of a venial sin may rise to the level of Mortal Sin, but that’s a much longer issue; the fundamental question seems to boil down to, “does this harm another person”.

§NB, those are the only fibers one may not mix, per the OT. Wool/poly, not a problem. Linen/cotton, not a problem. every time that list about, “what do I tell my friend when they say” goes around to make fun of the “Fundamentalists” I cringe. I cringe for more than just that, but the thing about that line is it makes it clear it was written by someone who was mining the OT for talking points, and ignoring both the context of the Leviticus/Deuteronomy, and that some 2,000+ years of evolving doctrine have taken place on the Christian side. More than that on the Jewish side (where that restriction still applies).

**Though Mr. Wright pretends to have one into the souls of all who disagree with him: “Support for contraception tempts the weakminded to support the sexual revolution hence to support abortion; support for the sexual revolution require the normalization of divorce, then fornication, then perversion; support for abortion tempts the weakminded to support euthanasia, because human life is no longer sacrosanct, but instead merely an adjunct to human bodily pleasure. Once an otherwise intelligent and decent man is convinced all these abominations and horrors are moral, he has a visceral hatred of morality, of decency, and of honest, and he soon learns to hate decent and honest people.”

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2 thoughts on “On JCW and heresy:

  1. Thank you. Thank you.

    Reading JCW always makes me want to shout #NotAllConverts.

  2. I don’t presume to know how our instructor would have reacted if we’d had JCW in our RCIA class, though I can sort of unofficially imagine her telling him that it’s more about you improving your relationship God and your fellow human beings than it is about telling others how they’re doing it wrong.

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