Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Mercedes Principle
There is a debate going on at HMS Weblog about what Greg Popcak calls the Mercedes Principle. This is a principle from sociology that holds that people are more attracted to things if they are more costly. In applying this to Catholicism, Greg makes the point that in America we often softpedal the demands of the faith in order to get or keep people in. (I see this happening all the time in regards to young people, especially the Church's teachings on sexuality and abortion.) Amy Welborn is concerned, however, that such a principle is often used to punish misbehavior on the part of marginal people.

A extended meditation on the Mercedes Principle in action is Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. In this story a wealthy English family struggles with the hard (but ultimately compassionate) demands of the Catholic Church. Each member of the family must reconcile what he has made of his life with what he knows the Church demands of him, often leading to very messy and traumatic events. One gets the impression that if it weren't for the Church and her demands, the family would have simply imploded. Or would have been a shell with a rotten core. One of Waugh's side themes, by the way, is that this is precisely what those who do NOT cling to the Church do. They either become beasts or hollow men. This is a kind of sideswipe at Anglicanism, I believe.

I especially think of the deathbed scene when the family brings a priest to the father who has been estranged from the Church for years because he has been living away from the family with a mistress. The, you'll just have to read it.

I'd say in the end that the Church must be true to herself in her efforts to transform individuals. So, yes, there are some demands that many people, though people of good intent, will not be willing to make. As long as the Church acts with compassion (and compassion is part of the message), she has to leave with the Triune God always active in the world the kind of response people will make to her overtures. Not all will enter. Not all will stay in. Those that don't will not be denied the grace necessary for their salvation, should they choose to cooperate with it.

Note: I know many people who are in irregular situations in regard to the Church. One thing I find difficult is challenging them to return to the Church when at the same time the pastors of the Church are giving them Church Lite. So I say "Start going to Church again, but you'll have to regularize your marriage and start going to confession before you can receive communion," but that is NOT the message they get from the pastor, who seems to have a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy about people's personal lives.

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