Source: Brian Holdsworth on YouTube
Just this past week, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa made headlines when he publicly claimed that the Devil or Satan is just a symbol and not a personal reality. And this isn’t a remarkable or exceptional thing to believe – I expect that most people who don’t confess an orthodox faith in Christianity would agree with his claim.
But what does stand out is that a person who presumes to represent the Catholic faith would publicly say something that does not represent the Catholic faith. And this got me thinking about the peculiar quality of the dissenter.
Because of course, to dissent from certain beliefs is common enough. We all do that standing next to ideas we don’t agree with, but what do we make of those who dissent from a certain ethos while claiming to adhere to that ethos?
So, in thinking about that, what kept announcing itself to me is the quality of elitism that is a necessary companion to this particular variety of dissent.
So, why do I say that? What distinguishes a dissenter who remains a member of a community of belief is that where there is general consensus or something approaching consensus in a community, the dissenter holds that where he is distinct from the rest, he is right and everyone else is wrong.
Now, that doesn’t mean he is wrong. Truth isn’t a democracy. A majority vote doesn’t guarantee a depiction of truth. Virtually every invention or notable discovery was made by someone who rejected the prevailing climate of opinion.
Albert Einstein looked at the prevailing scientific consensus of Newtonian Physics which enjoyed consensus and had been confirmed by numerous successful technological advancements and he asserted that all the great minds who had studied Newton’s claims earnestly were wrong and that he was right by proposing Special Relativity.
Think about what you would have to believe about yourself to insist on that conclusion. Even if you were convinced your theory was right, wouldn’t some measure of humility invade your thinking to tell you, you can’t be smarter than all the rest of these great thinkers?
But as it turns out, Einstein was right, and everyone else WAS wrong, at least according to the NEW climate of opinion. But this is a remarkable scenario – mostly because it’s so rare. It’s exceptional because it requires an exceptional person to push back against the dominant currents and assert something different that is actually true.
Because consensus on an intellectual question is not easy to come by. Wars have been fought in the hopes of achieving such consensus. The 20th century was the bloodiest ever because of competing notions of which socialist system was best – Nationalist Socialism or Marxist Socialism.
So when the miracle of consensus does occur, it’s not something that should be casually dismissed given what it’s probably cost. But we now live in an age of dissent. It’s become fashionable to think of yourself as a rebel or even a revolutionary. For generations, we’ve been encouraged to rebel against anything that looks “traditional”.
But remember, dissidents who were right, like Einstein, were extremely rare and the reason is, not everyone can be smarter or more exceptional than the community that upholds the dominant consent. But now we have a situation where large swaths of people are walking around convinced that they are as exceptional as Einstein as they maintain their identity in their community while also harboring their dissent.
I think it’s important to notice this fact: that if you intend to reject a hard fought consensus in a community but remain a fully fledged member of that community, you should also be prepared to think of yourself as someone as exceptional and rare as Einstein. But, if instead your find yourself in the company of a current of drifters who simply happen to be floating down streams of fashionable thought, then there’s a disconnect there, because that’s not what Einstein did. He stood firm against the current of drifters and deliberately asserted something contrary.
But if you remain in your community while dissenting from it, like many Catholics do, you’re contending that where all the saints and theologians found consensus, they were wrong, and you are right – that you are somehow so exceptional that you have emerged like an Einstein in their midst.
I think a healthy approach to such questions is to study and thoroughly understand what you believe or reject before you believe or reject it. Don’t be a blind follower OR a casual rebel who doesn’t understand what you’re accepting or rebelling against.
Header image: Brian Holdsworth on YouTube