I've had to leave another Facebook group where one group of Protestants has started declaring Roman Catholics Hell- bound and not-really-Christian. I am not a Roman Catholic only insofar as I do not hold to the idea of the existence of a "Bishop of bishops" other than God, nor that Papal Infallibility can be inferred from the Doctrine of the first milennium. However, these niggles notwithstanding, I find myself standing proudly with the Roman Catholics against these unfounded Protestant allegations. I left the group because I simply cannot be bothered with the same old spiel from those who will not actually read Holy Scripture with the Holy Ghost but rather dissect it for proof-texts against all and sundry who do not share their views. It all sounds a bit Fascist!
Hang on a minute! That word gets bandied about a lot. Does it really apply here? Really, we need to determine three things. What really is Fascism? Is it necessarily evil? Is the traditional understanding of the Church Fascist?
The word Fascist seems to be used a lot by people to mean the opposite of Liberal and especially in the pejorative sense. The mainstream philosophy is Liberal and centrist. We'll have to make sure that we know what these terms mean too.
What I understand by Fascism is
1) the exaltation of the Nation and State over and above the individual;
2) the existence of a centralised autocratic government;
3) the presence of a dictator;
4) severe economic and social regimentation;
5) the forcible suppression of opposition.
Is this an evil idea? I don't think that it's hard to see that it could ( and indeed did) lead to great evil. The trouble with working out whether it is an evil idea depends especially on what we mean by Good and Evil in the first place. Now that's a problem, especially in a morally relativitic mindset. This isn't quite what is meant by Liberal in a theological way, but rather part of the political meaning of the word. It is this confusion that causes problems.
Moral Relativism is, of course, in the strict sense self-defeating. If the individual is responsible for his own morals, then how can he object to the atrocities of ISIS if they are only following their individual morals? What is it about the Strict Moral Relativist's moral code that makes it any better than that of ISIS? If one relaxes in one's strictness of Moral Relativism, then one still has to deal with the arbitrary nature of one's morals.
Those who insist on tolerance for their beliefs must also insist on tolerance for those who object to those beliefs. The principle must be applied because, if there are no moral objectives, then all moralities are interchangeable.
Since I believe in objective moral values and duties, I can only really judge Fascism with respect to the Christian morality that I love. Am I therefore being just as arbitrary as the Relativist? I don't believe so. Objective morality is good evidence for the existence of God and, despite people trying to show otherwise and failing miserably, History shows the existence of the person of Our Lord Jesus and bears witness of His claims to be the Son of God as authentic. There will be those who believe the modern scholars' attempt to deconstruct this view as a myth, but they are not convincing in their arguments that the Historical record be changed largely because they perform an eisegesis on a naturalist assumption that has not been proved. Thus Christian Morality is a good candidate for the objective morality. It's also worth pointing out that British Law is founded on Christian principles. While that might not be overwhelming evidence that I am not being arbitrary in my choice of morality, I think that at least makes my position reasonable.
If I assume Christian Morality is the objective morality, it may appear, then, that I will automatically acquit the Church of Fascism if Fascism turns out to be intrinsically evil. However, we know that churchmen are far from morally perfect! The beauty of Christian morality is that we are able to tell when churchmen are being far from morally perfect. It holds everyone up to the same objective standards. There are no exceptions just a rigorous scrutiny of acts, their contexts and their motives. This is how someone like Christopher Hitchens is perfectly able to call the Church into question against the standards She preaches. Under the Christian morality, atheists can be seen when they act morally and Christians when they don't and vice versa.
Let's make a start.
Is exalting the state or nation above the individual morally wrong? Christian Morality starts with loving God first, then the neighbour. The greatest exaltation has to be for God alone. It is when Christians exalt the Church first and then God that she begins to satisfy Fascist Criterion 1. Loving one's neighbour should form the basis of the community and the beginning of the Nation or State. The needs of the individual should not be ignored by anyone, whether in government or not. When the Church fails to do this, then She is satisfying Criterion 1. Thus, from a Christian point of view, Criterion 1 could be seen to be immoral if that exaltation of Nation and State supercedes the proper worship of God which has the consideration of the individual as its main byproduct. I don't believe that the Church does exalt herself above God, though some priests and prelates do go that far, but it is an important indicator of her spiritual health.
I suppose Criteria 2 and 3 do go together. An autocratic government will essentially be a dictator as a body. The crucial aspect of the autocrat is their motivation. There are good kings and bad kings in history, good emperors and bad emperors, good popes and bad popes. Absolute Monarchism is very much like a dictatorship, and the concept of benign dictatorship does exist. Moses, David and Elijah could be seen as such. I strongly accept the Pope as the first Bishop in the Church with all the honour and veneration that affords. Is he a dictator? Is the Sacred College an autocratic centralised government unaccountable to noone?
"In the realm of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." If the dictator is such a one as possesses a quality of sight or intellect that noone else possesses, then he is eminently qualified for the position. Yet if he is unaccountable to the people, even the most qualified dictator runs the risk of immorality. While unaccountability is not necessarily immoral, it is practically a near occasion of sin. A Synodal church in which the voices of the bishop, clergy, and laity can be heard is less likely to become a Fascist government.
It is Criteria 4 and 5 that are the most morally problematic as they stab at the heart of the freedom of the self to live a life of one's own making. Coercion and oppression may be apparently for the individual's own good but if this restricts their choice, then the ends of that coercion do not justify the means. Any regimentation must be morally justified. A prison is more regimented than a school, but both are regimented appropriately for their inmates. What makes regimentation severe? I would say that it prevents one from freely forming and working towards one's own goals in life.
Is the Church like this? A Church has laws based on Christian Morality. This includes prohibitions and regulations. The 10 Commandments explain these regulations which are expounded and clarified by Christ. In becoming Christian, we accept the kingship of Christ on His terms. This acceptance is the contract by which we may be prohibited from certain actions and required to do others. Yet, the Church has no police to enforce this law. Excommunication is possible but rescindible and, for many sadly, no hardship. Salvation is the reason why people should be in the Church, but people are now largely free to come and go as they choose. The Church should promote both corporate and personal relationship with God, but not by forcing God down people's throats in such a way as to make His Kingdom a torture.
It is probably good that the Church and the State are separate so that the Church does not get engaged in power struggles any more. Nor do we have any military strength. We must remember that the Inquisition was called by a king, and that it was the military power of kings which led to the abuses in the Crusades.
I do agree that the Church tends to authoritarianism but only legitimately possessing only the authority given to Her by Christ. The Church is not coercive enough to be Fascist nor does She forget the individual.
However, the Church is not Liberal. She possesses a morality which does not change because each human being is held to the same standard by God. Attempts by Liberals in the Church to relativise Her teaching cause people to fall away from seeking and striving for that standard of living. We do not reach the standards by our own effort but we are assisted by the Grace of God.
If the Law of God scandalises us, perhaps we are trying to hold God to a different morality from the one that really exists. Perhaps we should use that scandal to examining ourselves before charging the Church with Fascism.