THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE COUNTER-FAITH:
A Study of the Roots of Modern Secularism, Relativism and de-Christianisation
by Philip Trower
(Family Publications, 2006, 327pp, $37.50.
Available from Freedom Publishing)
To get at the 'roots' in his latest book's sub-title, English author Philip Trower cuts a swathe through more than two hundred years of the philosophy, theology and psychology which have emanated from the Enlightenment. He not only cuts to the essence of the teachings of the whole pantheon of luminaries, from Descartes to Jung, but identifies how they threatened religious truths and have penetrated theology.
And what is more important for general readers, he clarifies how the Church's teaching differs from the secular view which has put man in place of God, while providing the intellectual tools to articulate a response. However, the downside for any reviewer is that Trower's work is so wide-ranging that it defies any brief attempt to outline its scope.
In a previous work, Turmoil and Truth, Trower investigated the historical roots of the current crisis of secularisation in the Catholic Church. He announces the objective of this work as being to complete the task. However, The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith has the distinction of being both a coherent and concise outline of a complex intellectual saga and an accessible reference tool in the struggle for the future of Western civilisation.
In it we come to recognise how our thinking, even as practising Christians, has been conditioned by the assumptions of the Enlightenment and its heirs. Moreover, we see that by some sleight of hand what was meant to be freedom and equality among religions has, in Western Europe especially, been replaced with secularism as an atheistic creed in itself.
The author guides us in our reading by stipulating that we digest his first section, covering the principles of the Enlightenment, the resulting field of 'denominations' by the early 20th century, and a pithy roundup of the French Revolution, liberalism, democracy and the modern culture of rights.
We are then invited to either read on or proceed in a free range fashion, as we embark on a survey of the philosophers and others who have left their marks on the past two centuries of Western thought.
He concludes the study with several damning chapters on the influence of the theologian Karl Rahner SJ, together with his role during the Second Vatican Council and the misappropriation of its decrees and so-called 'spirit'.
Trower acknowledges the Hellenic and Christian foundations of Western philosophy, the Christian contribution, incidentally, having been outrageously ignored in the recent European Union constitutions. Then he passes over Luther as being a purely emotional sidetrack, and cuts to the heart of Descartes' idealist challenge to the realism which we associate with St Thomas Aquinas and his predecessors.
Trower condemns the subjective Cartesian starting point of 'I think, therefore I am' as 'breaking the connection between the human mind and the outside world, which it is the mind's purpose to penetrate and understand', and plunging modern philosophy into a 'quagmire'.
In succeeding chapters he traces this 'systematic doubt' into modern rationalism and to schools of philosophy such as those of Kant, Hume and Hegel, which gave way to some rather confused thinking in both Catholic and Protestant theology.
Existentialism, which Pope Pius XII described as 'a strange confusion between thought and volition', receives some of Trower's most biting comments, while Friedrich Nietzsche undergoes brusque treatment. For example, 'His main life's work É could be summed up as the demeaning of everything Christianity had built up over 1,900 years, and the exalting of all the disordered passions it had tried to tame.'
The heart of Nietzsche's message was that 'God is dead', which meant that man must rely on himself, being totally free, and bound by no laws. Trower paraphrases, 'Christian meekness must be condemned, manly pride applauded, weakness regarded as despicable, strength glorified.'
Although some other existentialists found the spirit of a Christian encounter, the author explains, pointing squarely at progressive Catholics today, that a 'faith experience' is not a superior form of knowledge, but is inadequate without doctrine, reflection and practice.
Trower points out, 'What the Church knows about human beings is far greater and always will be than anything the human sciences can tell us É because she knows from revelation and reason what men fundamentally are.' From this starting point, he cuts the pretensions of the psychologists down to size.
He not only outlines their theories but warns of the pitfalls, psychologically and spiritually, especially Freudian notions advocating liberation from repression. This has banished the sense of objective evil and sin, as well as given licence to the sexual revolution.
Jung's introduction of the occult into psychology is dismissed as 'psychologised neo-paganism', while his strongest condemnation is pronounced on the effects of Carl Roger's encounter-group treatment and his message of 'Do what your real self wants to do', rather than 'Do what you know is right'. The adoption of these ideas and therapies by some religious orders and seminaries after Vatican II is deplored especially, and blamed for much of the subsequent disintegration of the Church in the United States.
Readers may approach The Catholic Church and the Counter-Faith in toto or employ it as a useful reference tool in their studies and in the wider field of Christian apologetics. The index is invaluable, and the thumb-nail sketches of the ideas and teachings of a host of famous names, who are often treated with exaggerated respect by believers and unbelievers alike, allow orthodox readers to approach these 'giants of modern thought' with far more confidence than previously.
Philip Trower's ability to sum up their essence, and then marshal the heavy artillery of two thousand years of what the Catholic Church has had to say puts a potent weapon into our hands.
John Morrissey has taught at government and independent secondary schools.