Friday, July 31, 2009

Hilaire Belloc, Red Flags, and Those Catholic Bones

Something Hilaire Belloc wrote about the great heresies brings to mind "Red Flags" - a topic I've not written about for quite some time, but which is addressed at length in my books on Catholic home education (the Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guides).

Originally, the "Red Flag List" was intended to assist Catholic homeschooling parents, who buy their curriculum at conferences or via "educational catalogs." However, "Red Flags" in books, television shows, movies, etc. (as in ad nauseum) abound for Catholics everywhere and in every state of life (single, married, young parent or grandparent, priest or nun). Now, unless we live on a desert island, we must be on guard against "the spirit of the world" which is much worse than "The Blob" (in the old "B" movie), a dangerous and seeping entity that literally consumed everything in its path.

At any rate, the primary reason for constructing the "Red Flag List" was a simple but important one: Dangerous novelties (in the form of books) were quickly becoming the "fashion" in Catholic home education, and the alarm had to be sounded.

The main problem began oh-so-innocently, of course, and for a variety of reasons. It started with allegedly "Christian" books that were, in fact, of heretical origin. Much could be said, and has been, on tolerating a few such sources within the home study curriculum (under certain circumstances), so that issue won't be discussed again in this article.

As time passes, the "novelties" become even worse with "fashionable" resources that present themselves as Catholic, are even "hailed" as Catholic (though they are chock-full of subtle phrases or ambiguous terminology), and are then found in Catholic catalogs (for homeschoolers or of general interest to all Catholics).

The problem continues with "catholicizing" heretical books and implementing new or "resurrected" educational methods (Dewey comes to mind, but there are many other educational 'reformers' to avoid). Too, many people still refuse to believe that educational method is simply the means of bringing a philosophy to life.

It is only because we tolerate such errors that such "novelties" are still with us and grow even stronger as they are thus passed onto the next generation. The basic formula to error, which must be recognized in order to avoid its use (especially in Catholic education), might be expressed this way:

"Novelties" + "Fashions-in-contemporary-thought" = "Errors" (Heresies)

A "Red Flag" is (and always has been) the Catholic instinct alerting us that something we've read or heard or are urged to do is not quite right. We may not yet be able to explain the uneasiness, but it is - to paraphrase Hilaire Belloc - something we know in our Christian bones.

Feelings, of course, cannot be trusted, since they are not the same as the Catholic instinct, that sensei fide that makes us wonder about the why's and wherefore's to the questions arising in our minds. Sensei fide keeps nudging at us to pay attention with our reason, illuminated by Divine Revelation. That "sense of the Faith" is what is meant by a "Red Flag"...and when the instinct is particularly strong, the Red Flag is waving!

As for Hilaire Belloc (and to conclude this purposely brief post), ponder - if you will - this observation from none other than the famous Catholic historian and apologist himself:

"Now against the great heresies, when they acquire the driving power of being the new and fashionable thing, there arises a reaction within the Christian and Catholic mind, which reaction gradually turns the current backward, gets rid of the poison and re-establishes Christian civilization. Such reactions begin, I repeat, obscurely. It is the plain man who gets uncomfortable and says to himself, 'This may be the fashion of the moment,
but I don't like it.'
It is the mass of Christian men who feel in their bones that there is something wrong, though they have difficulty in explaining it. The reaction is usually slow and muddled and for a long time not successful. But in the long run with internal heresy it has always succeeded; just as the native health of the human body succeeds in getting
rid of some internal infection
-Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies