Cult or idolatry?
I probably mentioned it before, but a few months ago I received emails from a local church-lady pro-life activist defaming a local deacon and parish-workers, as well as a local priest in good standing with the Catholic Church, currently incardinated in another diocese. Apparently these people weren't pro-life enough for her. This woman gained a little bit of fame as a wistleblower early on in the pro-life movement, wherein she more or less hit her stride for singular dedication to pro-life activism - to such an extent that it seems to me that her sort of pro-life obsession verges on the cult-ish. It's dangerous to suggest such things however, lest people accuse you of not being sufficiently pro-life.
To some extent, the pro-life cause - more or less strictly focused upon eradicating abortion, sometimes to the exclusion of other pro-life issues such the abolition of the death penalty for instance, may be like any cause people passionately dedicate their lives to, sometimes to the point of excluding the duties of their state in life. Interestingly, Fr. Pavone insists that pro-life is a spirituality in and of itself. Perhaps he is right.
Cardinal O'Connor founded the Sisters of Life - whose spirituality is said to be based upon the "Gospel of Life" - or is it? Their apostolic work is pro-life - but their religious life, indeed their spirituality is formulated along the lines of the traditional religious vocation. The foundation of their religious life is the vocation of being a sister, a bride of Christ. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that vocation is first and foremost a call - activated in and through the response and consent of the one called. It is in effect, an obedience - to a particular state in life. Hence the nun is first a nun, a priest is first a priest, and so on.
By way of another example, there are those who believe there should be in the Church an exclusive 'gay spirituality' - either for Catholic gay people who think homosexual behavior is not sinful, and/or by those who struggle with SSA and seek to live in accord and in fidelity to Church teaching, yet seem to be convinced that there needs to be a special spirituality just for them. I don't think Courage advocates that however, and I certainly do not. When we advocate for a special spirituality within the Church, it seems to me we are attempting to make a sort of cult out of a particular condition, circumstance or particular concern.
I'm not including here the issue of new lay movements or new religious foundations approved within the Church, and guided by the proper ecclesial authority. I'm really talking about the personal/political crusades which seem to tend toward a cult-like behavior or the establishment of a sort of self-appointed personal prelature, sometimes centered around a particular charismatic personality. Old fashioned social justice activists demonstrated similar behaviors based upon personal agendas. Nothing wrong with good old fashioned activism and protest, but sometimes it overtakes a person's life - and faith. Activism is not in itself a spirituality, nor can it replace authentic worship in spirit and truth.
Anyway - I'm not sure my personal opinion makes as much sense, or is as well stated as what Mark Shea has written in his essay, Prolife Idolatry:
People with a cartoonish view of idolatry often tend to talk as though idol worship is something stoopid heads just get up one morning and start doing out of a perverse desire to prostrate themselves before a rock or something..
But, in fact, idolatry is typically born out of the deep love of something that is genuinely good and great. It is the best things in the world that become idols, not the worst. Nobody idolizes the band that opened for the Beatles (whoever they were). People idolize the Beatles, because they were really good. Nobody idolizes the mediocre ball player, the second-rate artist, or the guy who lost the race to be the first from New York to Paris. They idolized DiMaggio, Leonardo, and Lindbergh.
For just this reason, one of the tricky things about the Christian Faith is that we must always be on guard, not against loving creatures per se, but against loving them more than we love God. Keep God as your first and greatest love and you are free to love creatures (especially human beings) as much as you like. But get those loves out of order and, no matter how worthy the creature, and you are an idolater.
The devil has lots of ways to tempt us to idolatry, of course. One of them, paradoxically, is to get us to crack up and go sappy about the sheer adorable goodness of the Idol. In short, Satan *loves* Love, so long as it's disordered love.
So whether it's a PETA idolater fawning over the big brown eyes of a puppy (while wishing humans and their Judeo-Christian God of Dominion over nature would all die), a lover of one's country putting the glory of the Fatherland above all, or, in our case, pro lifers who love babies as the most important things in the universe, the problem is the same: Second things are put first.
Even adorable innocent babies? Yes. Especially adorable innocent babies if that happens to be your weak spot and the place you can be tempted to place the creature before the Creator. And for a significant number of people in our particular time and place, it is the weak spot, precisely because our culture is so hostile to the unborn babe. We start out defending babies for the sake of Christ and wind up worshipping babies instead of Christ.
With all due respect, the worship of God the Blessed Trinity is even more important than life. That's not me talking. That's Jesus Christ: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Declaring that there is NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT than life, particularly for a priest, is idolatrous. It places the second greatest commandment (love your neighbor) before the first (Love God). That is not, I repeat, bad because the second greatest commandment is bad. It's bad because the second greatest commandment is second, not first.
The pro life movement is a great and good thing that addresses the paramount moral issue of our time. But it is, at the end of the day, still only creaturely and is not more important than God. Healthy Catholic faith sees love of the unborn springing out the Eucharist as a fruit of the kingdom of God. Unhealthy, diseased pro life idolatry sees the worship of God, the Eucharist and the priesthood as prisons and obstacles to "THE MOST IMPORTANT Issue". - Mark Shea
Mark says what I wanted to say.
Art: Solomon's Idolatry - Master MZ from the Rosenwald Collection – circa 1501.