Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sentimentalism and Violence

When dogmatic belief dies all that is left is subjectivism, and when subjective belief (which is never more than mere opinion) dies all that is left is sentimentalism.

Our society now is awash in sentimentalism. Most every argument is now a sentimental (or utilitarian) argument. Here is an example: Slaughterhouses kill animals so we can eat them. Vegetarians feel bad about this. Not only do they want to not eat meat themselves, but they don't want us to eat meat either.

Most of them have no philosophical or logical reasons for banning meat. They might have moral arguments--that factory farming and slaughterhouse practice is un necessarily cruel and barbaric--but mostly their argument is sentimental. Killing animals makes them feel bad.

Sentimentality lead to violence when sentimentality becomes an ideology. An ideology is a single driving idea that sweeps every other consideration aside. Those who follow an ideology are always self righteous, and they will use every means possible to enforce their ideology. The ideologue may attempt to argue logically or philosophically, but this will only be a tactic--it is not because he believes that logic, philosophy or theology have any real weight. These disciplines will serve the ideology--the ideology itself may never be questioned. Not only logic and philosophy are subject to the ideology, but all things are subject to the ideology. All other considerations are subject to his ideology--including moral considerations.

So the sentimental ideologue will eventually force his opponent to conform. He will use any means possible--political legislation, financial pressure, social pressure, shouting more loudly,  imprisonment and persecution and finally bloodshed if necessary.

This is why the Catholic faith is the sworn enemy of every ideology: because the Catholic faith insists that there is a higher truth, that there is an objective truth and that it is revealed by God--not made up by human beings. Every ideology--whether it is economic or political or sentimental or erotic or ecological or social--every ideology will find the Catholic Church to be an obstacle.

The ultimate irony is that every ideology (like every heresy) is partially true, and it would find it's fulfillment within the fully expounded Catholic faith.

The way, therefore to counter the ideologies is not for Catholics to be better ideologues, but for Catholics to be better Catholics.

Update: The Anchoress writes here some further thoughts on Sentimentalism. She contributed a chapter on this awful "ism" for the book Disorientation.



    "This is why the Catholic faith is the sworn enemy of every ideology: because the Catholic faith insists that there is a higher truth, that there is an objective truth and that it is revealed by God--not made up by human beings. Every ideology--whether it is economic or political or sentimental or erotic or ecological or social--every ideology will find the Catholic Church to be an obstacle."

    Every ideology that is not based on Truth must necessarily be weakened, and thus will founder.

    Excellent and succinct analysis, Fr.!

  2. Thank you, Father!
    May I post this to facebook, please?

  3. Great post, Father!!! You have nailed it!!!! Our society is riddled with relativism and defies anything that smacks of absolute truth. Too restrictive, not fair (a four-letter word to me), or damn the consequences are mantras that resonate in a plangent cacophony in most every arena of societal interaction. The truth is muted or overwhelmed by disorder and mayhem, often masked as a sensible alternative.

    The Scriptures plainly reveal in the time our Lord walked on this earth that doubt pervades humanity's DNA. Matthew 11:20-24 illustrate that even Divine works visible to people who should have known the truth, still rejected Him. Luke 19:41f acknowledges how Jesus cried over Jerusalem and forewarned them of their deliberate rejection of His words.

    My only question is how do we find "the fully expounded Catholic faith."? This is a serious question to me. Thank you and Peace.

  4. You are wrong, Father, about vegetarianism being based merely on sentimentality. I am an orthodox Catholic and a vegetarian because I believe that, by denying myself meat (the eating of which is almost entirely due to a craving, not to any reasons of nutrition and health), I show mercy to God's creation. If this is sentimental, so is the outrage about Auschwitz.

  5. I forgot to add that, other than the unfortunate example of vegetarianism, I completely agree with your analysis, Father. Nowadays it is more important to be nice than to be right - to the detriment of human thinking and human justice.


  6. Hieronymous, your statement about vegetarianism is precisely what I'm talking about!

    By denying yourself meat you believe you are showing the animals mercy. This is not a logical argument, but one based on sentimentalism.

    This is not to say that your vegetarianism is wrong or that your sentimental argument is unworthy.

    The problem is, if this is the only argument you use for your vegetarianism. There are other arguments which can be used which are not sentimentalist, and these should be used to bolster your otherwise laudable vegetarianism

    1. A moral argument: modern factory farming is unnecessarily cruel to animals.
    2. The economic argument: our hunger for meat is expensive and distorts our global economy
    3. The ecological argument: the intensive farming of animals for meat destroys and distorts the natural order of ecology--great portions of land are used to feed cattle for our meat and so ecosystems are distorted or destroyed.
    4. The moral argument re. poverty: our hunger for meat distorts the world economy and deprives the poor of ordinary food.
    5. The natural law argument: meat is expensive and should be local--we should raise our own beef, pork and poultry. We would then value meat properly and treat it as a rare commodity.

    All of these arguments help the vegetarian case and deliver it from the kind of sentimentalism you declared--that you used sentimentalism is proven by the use of highly emotionally charged language comparing the slaughterhouses to Auschwitz.

    The slaughterhouses may be horrible, but they are not the same. Animals are not the same as people.

  7. The tenderhearted Fuehrer of Germany, Adolph Hitler, was very sentimental, and a vegetarian; apparently it bothered him to kill animals for food. On at least one occasion while his dinner guests were having consomme, he asked whether they were enjoying their "corpse tea".

  8. Father,

    My argument is not sentimental but Christian in nature. I am very well aware of other pro-vegetarian arguments but since this is a religious blog I chose not to use them. Mercy is certainly a Christian virtue, isn't it? Animals don't have souls, therefore they don't head for an eternal life; isn't this reason enough to spare them in their only (i.e., earthly) lives? Please note that many great saints showed mercy to the lower creation. As for my comparison with Auschwitz, you are right, Father, it is wrong - many people survived Auschwitz while no animal has ever survived a slaughterhouse.
    God Bless,

  9. To CharlesM,

    It only shows that Hitler has had something human in him (to prove Sat. Augustine's dictum that pure evil is impossible).


  10. As a pastor you must run into this all the time. I know I do. It has taken the place of faith and obedience in the pews.

  11. Regarding Vegetarianism.

    It is only Vegetarianism if the reasons for embarking upon it are heretical. In this way, a Carhusian is not a Vegetarian because he does subscribe to the heresy of Vegetarianism, despite his almost never ingesting anything but perhaps a sliver of cheese or part of a sardine when he is on bed rest in the infirmary.

    Thank you Fr. Longenecker, as a man who spends his days and weeks killing animals for a living. I think I can say this: Killing animals humanely and mercifully and with firm purpose is a sure anti-dote to sentimentalism and subjectivism. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the school of immolation way back when atop those mountain altars. In order to be able to take a cute, friendly, lively lamb for instance, and turn it into a lifeless corpse requires a lot of man-power (if you will). It is not something that one should ever do arbitralily.

    I have a lament I have almost entirely kept private until now. Perhaps more men headed for the seminary should know how to at least gut a fish or fetch a warm egg from underneath a mother-hen. There is such much disconnect, it is little wonder that not just Sentimentalism but other vipers like Febronianism and Jansenistic tongue-flipping, hip-gyrations, cemetary-style spirit-slaying oeuvre des convulsions haven't yet died out!

    Just my two-cents from a guy who gets covered in blood, vomit, salivia, snot, and feces.

  12. To James Joseph,

    Could you explain, please, why do you call vegetarianism a heresy? As far as I know, meat-eating is not commanded in Christianity (if it were, abstaining from meat on special days would be heretical.)


  13. Let me add two other examples, which I think will illustrate the same principle.

    The first is opposition to the death penalty. It's pretty clear that many people are opposed to it not because they can coherently argue that it is in all cases unjust, but because they are uncomfortable with it. Mercy is a virtue, but squeamishness is not. It is much, much harder to acknowledge the gravity of certain crimes and the punishment due them and STILL extend them mercy or forgiveness.

    The other is pacifism. It doesn't take much of an argument to show that war is undesirable, and there are just war criteria that make a moral argument against most wars. In spite of that, it seems to me that pacifism as such is a pure act of sentimentality.