Education and Reform

The education of advertising. As Neville puts it, “when the advertisement argues that you deserve to treat yourself to a silky expensive shampoo it is quite clear that there is no reason why you deserve it.” To recognize the premise at all is to recognize that it’s highly questionable and maybe even contradictory (what’s the difference between “deserving something for no reason” and “deserving something and not deserving something at the same time”?) but adversing doesn’t educate dialectically or scientifically but by directly affecting the background assumptions of thought through image, incantation, peer pressure, playing on our automatic decision making heuristics, etc.   No one could object to the way in which advertising educates, the question is about the content.

The parable of the wheat and the tares. It’s clearly a critique of Church reform. Anyone who wants to significantly reduce the number of weeds will harm the wheat. The logic of the parable points toward the wheat itself as the reformer, harming himself in an effort to purify the field.

-The wheat and the tares has to be read as a critique of our good intentions and even of our love for the Church. Corruptio optimi pessima is not just about falls from grace but about the unintended evils that inevitably attend the search for purity, utopia, or even radical justice in the face of real and horrible evils. It’s the corruption of trying to save children by sacrificing the presumption of innocence, of responding to a mass killing by setting up a surveillance state, or of thinking that honest history can only keep us from repeating evils if the historian refuses to acknowledge any cogent, very persuasive, and sympathetic reasons why the Nazis/Communists/Pharisees/Reformers/Renaissance popes/etc did what they did.

-The Church’s sex abuse scandal is nauseating and any call to acceptance or moderate reform is even more nauseating. Heads should roll, the episcopacy should be more than decimated, the whole teaching on sexuality and celibacy should be set right… All true. But all the “shoulds” are eschatological appeals. The Ascension left us with no one to whip out the moneychangers. The Apostles went to the temple everyday but it never even crossed their minds to whip out the vendors that in all likelihood returned the same day that Christ drove them out, if they ever left at all.

-But why should the wheat harm itself by ripping out the tares? What mechanism comes into play? One answer is that the focus on (again, the real and harmful) evils of others inevitably becomes a substitute for rooting out the evils in ourselves. I’m nauseated by the sex abuse scandal, but there is the small matter of how I have no rational control over how I’m eating, speaking, getting angry, using my time, etc. Another answer is that reform too often wants to change things through dialectical reasoning and policy when we are more in need of attractive examples and a new mythological discourse that directly educates the background assumptions of thought.  How many people respond to a crisis in the Church by saying “Wow, now I really have to get to being a saint” or even “Now we need beautiful art, music, and community more than ever”?


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