DCN. GARLICK: Against the Christs of Liberalism
There are many who seek to emancipate Catholicism from the reality of Jesus Christ and subject it to the unrealities of liberalism.
Dcn. Harrison Garlick is a deacon, husband, and father who serves as the Chancellor and legal counsel for the Diocese of Tulsa & Eastern Oklahoma. He is a tutor in the great books and enjoys hunting. You can find him on Twitter (or X) @HarrisonGarlic1.
In the beginning the world was dark and without freedom or tolerance, mired in religious wars and superstitions, until our enlightened forefathers pulled humanity from the depths of ignorance by means of the liberal social contract—or so says the mythological origin of liberalism.
Liberalism is an invitation to unreality. Its creation narrative tells of how liberalism offered man peace and coexistence through the brokering of a social contract. The ancients had held that man was a political animal by nature, and that the political body bore the purpose of shepherding man toward his ultimate happiness, i.e., God. Classical liberalism, in contrast, offered a new reductionist myth of man. Contrary to the Genesis narrative, the new liberal “state of nature” presented an atomized man who only brokered a social contract to preserve his private property—the new purpose of the state.1
Politics is predicated on man’s consent. To the question of the final end of man, especially in its religious context, the liberal order adopted a guise of neutrality and deferred the question of religion to the individual citizen. Freedom, then, becomes primary, as liberalism must fulfill its promise that each citizen will have the liberty to pursue what he or she believes to be good.
The terms of the social contract promised diverse peoples the opportunity to live together under the banners of tolerance and equality. Classical liberalism or right-liberalism laid an artificial veneer upon the reality of man that promised peace by adhering less to the nature of things and not more. Politics shifted to a remedy of nature and not an institution of it.2
A great difficulty in classical liberalism is its grammar. It is a trap for the inattentive. For a shift in grammar results in a shift in logic, as the mind moves from grammar, to logic, to rhetoric. Classical liberalism, especially as presented by John Locke, has a unique perniciousness insofar as its grammar bears the varnish of the ancients but the material of the moderns. The liberal grammar of the new “state of nature” reworks the logic of man. In addition to its reductionist view of man and nature, classical liberalism redefines the common good from God to the collection of the materials interests of atomized man. Law, the teacher of virtue, is reduced to demarking the limits of man’s freedom.3
Freedom, however, becomes less the ability to choose the good and more the plurality of options one has to satiate desire. Marriage, for example, is reconstituted as a social contract between man and woman for the bearing of children—one that can be terminated once its purpose is concluded.4 Other terms like virtue, authority, power, etc. could be discussed as well. The grammar of right-liberalism is neither neutral nor aligned with the ancients, for it smuggles in its own reductionist anthropology and a nascent Luciferian freedom.5
Right-liberalism leads to left-liberalism. Liberalism sold itself to the world by claiming to free man from his oppressors. To continually prove its worth, the liberal order must find new oppressors from which to free man. Liberalism is, by its nature, progressive. Left-liberalism abandons the classical liberal pretense of adhering to nature and claims nature as a tyrant to be dethroned. God, religion, nature, history, reason, and even one’s own body are now seen as oppressive to man’s self-creative will. Liberalism promises man freedom from these constraints.
As such, under the liberal order, it becomes advantageous to claim to be a victim—to label something an oppressor to be overthrown by the liberal order. The social contract of left-liberalism offers man the provisions by which he can be emancipated, in the spirit of non serviam, from even the most intimate bonds of reality—and promises that such emancipations must be tolerated (and even praised) by others.
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Liberalism leads to relativism. The goal of liberalism is not to simply liberate the human will but rather to offer God, religion, nature, history, reason, and the body back to man as terms malleable to man’s imagination. What was formerly an unalterable term of reality is now a provision to be negotiated. The terms of the social contract are now reality. Having found the contours of the cosmos softened to his will, modern man relies upon the promise that the liberal order will allow each citizen to live as an autonomous moral universe. Each citizen a false god. Liberalism habituates the mind to relativism.
Relativism, in turn, deadens the intellect to truth and without truth the soul collapses into power struggles and emotivism. Reason is no longer a valid way to communicate. All is power and emotion. Questions of morality are reduced to questions of being offended and decided by who has the power to enforce their will upon the other.
Man, the rational animal, is unmoored from reality and becomes something less himself. The constant friction against man’s own nature in liberalism breeds deep discontent within the soul of modern man and in relation to his neighbor. Man declares reality a tyrant. The social contract, an artificiality of man’s will, is the new truth. We applaud ourselves as gods and are unhappy. Liberalism leads to relativism, and relativism to acedia, nihilism, and despair.
Liberalism is a lie. We have chained ourselves to an unreality of our own making. What was once a truce of terms to table the discussion of what is truth is now truth itself. The imagination of modern man, saturated as it is in the untruth of liberalism, is so withered and truncated that it struggles even to think outside the left (progressive) verses right (conservative) liberal spectrum. It is a false light by which we interpret all things.
To question these new realities, even in the slightest, is now a terminable offense and will swiftly demonstrate the boundaries of liberalism’s claims of tolerance, non-violence, and neutrality. Thus, our manufactured unreality has become our reality. Participation is no longer a conscious act but it is the default presumption into which we are born. It saturates our educational structures, our media, our politics, and our self-identity. All things are viewed as left versus right, and we are told that being a left-liberal or a right-liberal is a substantive choice. What is not permitted is to question whether we should be liberal.
On the Church
Catholicism is the religion of the real. The Son, the Eternal Word, the Logos, is the ordering principle of reality through Whom all things were made and by Whom all things are held in being. The Logos is the Divine Mind that “became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” And the Logos-incarnate, Jesus Christ, is the founder of the Catholic Church. He gave us His Church, His Body, so we may unite ourselves to Him: the very account of all being. Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality, and Christ, the Logos, is the truth of all things.
This is why Jesus can claim not that He comes with the truth but that He is the Truth; because to know Him is to conform your mind to the very structure of reality. Catholics are devoted to the Truth, devotees of Reality-itself. Whenever the Catholic mind encounters the unreal, it should labor to move that artificiality into conformity with the reality of Christ, the Logos. Catholics should be agents of order, beauty, and reason in the world.
Yet, many who have seen the reality of the Son choose darkness. They seek to emancipate Catholicism from the reality of Jesus Christ and subject it to the unrealities of liberalism. The liberal order cannot tolerate Catholicism standing outside the social contract. The issue here is not that all sin and fall short of the Gospel, as they always have, but rather the Gospel, including what it means to even sin, is being rewritten.
Catholicism becomes a social contract wherein faith and morals are determined by consent, and good standing is conferred by the mutual affirmation of the likeminded. The Sacred Deposit is seen as oppressive to the autonomy of modern man and must give way to new definitions and anthropologies. The ancient sensus fidei is reworked into a construct of democratic consent. New definitions are held in tension with the old, as they war over the logic of what it means to be Catholic. Liberalism has habituated us to believing all things are malleable to the imagination of man and that Catholicism should be no different.
Catholicism subject to liberalism fragments into antagonistic caricatures of itself. There is a Catholic social contract for left-liberals and another for right-liberals—each with its own pieties, doctrines, and morals. The reality of the Logos is flattened into a sordid silhouette fashioned in the name of the cultural and political norms and held aloft by puppeteers. The Jesus of the left-liberals and the Jesus of the right-liberals founding their respective Catholic Churches. Catholics clamor over each other to make obeisance to the Christ of their contract—trading in the reality of the living God for social merits of liberalism.
Who has not felt the relentless grind of those who present themselves as the new magisterium of the right-liberal Church? Who has not felt the spiritual sadness of watching our ancient traditions reworked according to the artificialities of the left-liberal Church? We make a Christ in our own image. For every new “Jesus” there is a new “Church” manufactured by consent. We watch as Catholicism is rewritten as a social contract subject to the antagonisms of progressive versus conservative liberal power dynamics.
To all of this, we have been told to applaud. The signs and rituals of our ancient faith become identity-markers for the competing Christs of liberalism. Flattened into sentimental seals of approval for actions and persons, they are used to establish the boundaries of what it means to be Catholic under competing social contracts. A man be cheered for his faith by one side because he parrots concern for the poor—though he promotes abortion. Another may be held amongst the pious because he champions natural marriage—though he profits of the perpetual grind of war.
The consistent ethic of the Catholic faith is reinterpreted according to left and right. What would have been cognitive dissonance for our forefathers is now a laudable performance. We are told this is Catholicism. We are told to cheer and clap, as the signs and symbols that communicate the reality of the Son are reduced to shadows in service to liberal ends.
We receive a faith fashioned in our own image, in our own liking. Is it any wonder that we can no longer agree on what it even means to be a good Catholic? For the question depends on the Catholicism to which one adheres – left-liberal Catholicism, right-liberal Catholicism, or the Catholicism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the garden, Christ said the world would come to know Him through our unity. Our disunity does the opposite.
On the Eternal Son
What are we to do? Man’s attempt to graft an artificial reality onto the cosmos would be comedic in its ineptitude if it were not for the ruin of souls. Here, we languish. Our pursuit of a false freedom has forged our prison. We fancy ourselves the best of our race while satiating ourselves on the muck of this world and wallowing in unhappiness. Liberalism leads to relativism, and relativism to nihilism. Our attempt to reduce reality to terms to be negotiated will continue to usher in an unprecedented dehumanization and despair.
Our desires, unhinged from their guides, will delight in dissolving even the most intimate bonds of our human nature. Our technology will continue to bring to life the perverse artificialities of our emaciated imagination. The power to act serves as a pall of approval over such acts. If we can, we do. Our happiness, we are told, lies in toppling just one more ancient boundary. To all this, we will be told to cheer. In all this, we will despair.
Christ the Son shines eternal. There is no number of falsehoods or unrealities that man may forge to hide him from the love of God. Amongst the cacophony of puppeteers and false Christs, the still small voice endures, compelling us to stand and turn away, to embrace our metanoia, and to see the false lights of this world. We must ascend. We must acknowledge the errors of liberalism and the perverse presumptions that underlie the social contract into which we are born.
Not all errors are reducible to liberalism, but liberalism is a false light that, by affecting the way we see the world, leads to a host of errors. We must seek the living God. We must emerge to embrace the Truth, the Logos, the ordering principle of all Creation, the Eternal Son. In His light, we are healed. In His light is our humanity and our happiness.
Underneath the sordid layers of our own making, chained and broken, with a mind mired in unrealities and untruths, ever-satiating but never satisfied, presented a thousand false lights and artificialities, squirming and crushed under the weight of empty promises of happiness, lies our neighbor—waiting to hear of God’s love. There, in the muck, lies our God. And at the end of days, when we see His face, He will ask, “did you visit me in prison?”
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For example, for Locke, hierarchy is not natural to man, as in the “state of nature,” man is “without Subordination or Subjection” and this is presented as “perfect freedom.” John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (Cambridge University Press: New York, 1998), 269, 283. The “law of nature” is reduced largely to self-preservation and the concern of material goods. Locke, 271. “The great and chief end therefore [of government]… is the Preservation of their Property. To which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting.” Locke, 351.
Locke, 276. Man is not political by nature, as he enters political life not by nature but by his consent apart and against the “state of nature” of man. Men are not part of a “political society” until man offers his consent, a social contract. Locke, 278.
For example, the “law of nature” or natural law is reduced to limiting man’s freedom to respect the self-preservation of others. In this manner, Locke presents a more palatable version of Hobbes’ chaotic all-against-all state of nature. Locke, 271, 274.
Incipient in classical liberalism and full-fledged in progressive liberalism. “But many there are who follow in the footsteps of Lucifer, and adopt as their own his rebellious cry, ‘I will not serve’; and consequently substitute for true liberty what is sheer and most foolish license.” Pope Leo XII, Libertas (1888), n. 14.