There is an episode of the original Star Trek called “Ultimate Computer”. The premise is that the genius Dr. Daystrom has built a revolutionary supercomputer that, he claims, can run a starship more efficiently than any human captain and obviates the need for a human crew at all. They install in the Enterprise for a test run, and at first it seems to work; it makes better decisions faster than Kirk and effortlessly triumphs in an initial simulation.
But then problems start showing up. It fires on a passing drone ship. It begins shutting down ship functions to power itself. It accidentally vaporizes a crew member and creates a shield to prevent itself being turned off. By the end, it’s firing on other starships, killing hundreds.
All the while, Dr. Daystrom (played with great pathos by William ‘Blacula’ Marshall) keeps insisting that things are fine; that these are understandable mistakes that can be corrected, that the computer will work, has to work, because its purpose — eliminating the need to send people to war — is that important. And also because he’s staked his entire career, reputation, and self-image on this one project.
That episode functions as something of an allegory for Modernity. Take an existing, functional-but-imperfect system (the Enterprise), note its very real flaws, and propose to replace it with a new, man-made system designed specifically to correct those problems. The system is brilliantly designed, and at first it seems to work perfectly, outperforming the traditional form in key areas. But then, as time goes on, more and more issues begin to arise that simply did not exist under the old form. The new system begins to behave erratically and unpredictably, it cannibalizes more and more of the old structure, and takes increasingly stringent measures to keep itself going. In the end it becomes far, far more destructive than the imperfect system it was meant to replace while simultaneously doing all it can to perpetuate its own existence. And all the while those who created it refuse to acknowledge its patent failure by continuing to point to the original purpose as being that important, despite the fact that their system is acting directly contrary to what they intended.
This pattern, it seems to me, plays out again and again. Feminism has made women more miserable and embittered than ever and left tens of millions of dead children in its wake, but it’s still being imposed because “it means respecting women”. The sexual revolution has gutted human relationships and, again, left millions dead from AIDs and other highly-preventable diseases, but we’re still celebrating it and pushing it because “it’s the only sensible way to think of sex”. Marxism devastates every single nation it ever gets imposed upon and again leads to tens of millions of dead bodies (are you noticing a pattern here?), but we’re still insisting that it somehow means justice for the poor and pretending that it was ever remotely rational.
Then there’s Vatican II.
Vatican II was supposed to be a new springtime in the Church, to make the faith more relevant and attractive to the people. It has, by any objective measure, done more damage than anything since at least the Protestant Revolt. The Church has never been more irrelevant, anemic, and unsure of herself. It’s really rather impressive; perhaps the most resilient, effective, and vibrant organization in human history, and the council fathers actually managed to hamstring it with only a few key monumentally bad decisions. There was a time, and not long ago, that that would have been considered impossible, but they found a way.
Of course, that’s not the only reason for the current state of affairs (Modernism was infecting the Church long before), but I don’t think anyone looking at the state of the post-Vatican II Church can honestly deny that it has been an utter disaster unless they are specifically trying to avoid that conclusion.
Of course, since this has only resulted in tens of millions of dead souls rather than dead bodies, it’s disastrous failure is not quite as noticeable, though since many of the same people who are most apt to defend and celebrate Vatican II are also the ones liable to heap praises on Red China, feminism, and all the rest of it, I have to conclude it would not have helped.
(Apparently, pretending not to notice mountains of corpses is a feature of Progress.)
I really wish the Bishops would get this through their heads and admit the obvious, but until then the only thing for lay Catholics to do is to simply ignore it as much as possible. Seek to live as if it never happened, at least in your own lives. If you want to learn about the faith, turn to pre-council documents and books. If you want to live it, seek out the devotions and practices from before the council.
The short version is that, until those in charge of our institutions wake up and realize they have to rip the damn computer out, we as individuals should at least stop doing what it says.
2 thoughts on “Sunday Thoughts: Failed Systems”
Given my memories of John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s pontificates, I don’t think it’s fair to blame Vatican II for the present state of Church affairs – at least, not directly. I think what we’re dealing with here is the straightforward curse of God – that when Benedict, with the implicit approval of at least half the Church and the silent acquiescence of most of the rest, chose to treat the papacy as an ordinary worldly position from which one could resign on mere grounds of ill health, God looked down from Heaven and said, “Okay, then. If you want a pope and an episcopate who behave indistinguishably from any group of worldly professionals, that’s what you’ll get.” And I also think that, in pronouncing that sentence, God determined the absolute maximum length of time the Church could stand this without the gates of Hell prevailing against her, and that the Francis pontificate will last exactly that long and not a minute longer.
Now, would all this still have happened if Vatican II hadn’t happened? Got me. It might have, and then again, it might not have – and, anyway, as Aslan says, no-one is ever told what *would* have happened. But, in any event, Vatican II *did* happen, and it *was* an Ecumenical Council of the Church, and I don’t think it’s really responsible to encourage people to dismiss one of those as a mere regrettable error. If you want to argue that it was utterly vacuous and inconsequent, that its only value lies in illustrating the old theological principle that just being infallible doesn’t give one any special wisdom or compel one to actually say anything, and that this made it particularly easy for an unscrupulous gang of clerical critical theorists to impose their own heterodox meanings on its deliberately empty verbosities, then that’s another matter; I don’t absolutely know that I’d agree, but the thesis is certainly defensible. But to treat the Council itself as an actively malignant influence within the Body of Christ… no, I think that’s going too far.
I can certainly respect your view, and looking back I think perhaps I might have phrased that differently.
The trouble is, the present rot in the Church long predates Benedict’s resignation, and much of it, I think, very clearly is a direct result of the council, whether directly or through implementation (e.g. the collapse of the religious life, the gutting of the liturgy, the decline of private devotions, the destruction of the sanctuaries, the over-emphasis of the present world, and so on). Not all of it, of course, as I said above, but the point is that whatever the Council was intended to do, what actually *happened* was a major break between the pre and post Vatican II Church and the large-scale collapse of the latter. The pre-council Church was undeniably (it seems to me) the more vibrant, successful, fruitful, and holy of the two. Therefore I think the best thing Catholics who want to help the Church can do is to try to imitate the pre-Vatican II practice as much as possible and learn from pre-Vatican II sources (and I don’t believe that doing so goes against anything actually commanded by the council).
Simply put, until the present confusion is straightened out, the most sensible thing, to me, seems to be to take refuge where we *know* it is safe.