There is a tremendous comfort in uniformity. In the natural realm, it permits enormous flocks of birds or fish to fly or swim in the face of predators. A few get caught. Most get away. The group continues as before.

If one specimen is a little scrawnier and slower than the rest, the eagle or lion or shark will catch up more easily and have a meal. On the other hand, a member might be a little more plump, a little more flashy. That might draw some notice from the chasers.

Catholics are not fish. (Well, some call us sheep, but that’s wool for another post.) We do not profess faith in a “uniform, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” We are one. We are not uniform, nor was it the Lord’s intention that we be so.

Some people on both sides of the ideological divide–mostly conservatives, but not always–suggest uniformity is a good thing for the faith. Everybody should kneel. Every newcomer needs a school year in RCIA. Every Catholic should oppose the CCHD, the president at ND, and support EWTN, santo subito JPII, and the GOP.

I dissent.

We are human beings, not animals. Our survival does not depend on our blogs having the same posts and opinions. Our parishes will not thrive if everyone thinks the same way. Our Church was instituted to reflect the unparalleled creative diversity made by God. In a phrase: we are not fish.

When our political pro-life efforts come to naught, it is time to listen to new ideas from people who don’t think with the pack. When Mass attendance drops below 40%, it’s time to cease repeating the same tired memes and get to work on many fronts: people alienated by cover-up scandals, people who desire more reverence, as well as those offended by sexism.

Put the motto on your bumper sticker: unity does not equal uniformity.

When human beings are unified, they put different talents and approaches together to achieve a goal. A football squad of fifty quarterbacks will lose every game. A Church of all conservatives will wallow and flail. Extremists of any flavor might well prefer the company of like-minded persons. But it’s a lazy, unimaginative, and uninteresting approach to life. This is my main criticism of the blogosphere. It’s one thing for a unitary blogger to offer a drumbeat. When a group blog or an entire community offers the same old stuff, are they being men and women with God-given gifts? Or are they just a school of fish?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Uniformity

  1. Robert says:

    “mostly conservatives, but not always”

    I disagree. Liberals will appeal for diversity, but my experience is that they will do so in order to justify a break with the uniformity imposed by conservatives. Once the break is accomplished, however, and liberals are in charge they will impose uniformity as rigidly as any conservative. If conservative insist everyone must kneel, liberals will insist everyone must stand.
    In my opinion, the bottom line is that legalism is carved deep into the Catholic soul. Whether you are liberal or conservative, there is a good chance you will be legalistic about it.

  2. Todd says:

    One might also say that legalism is deeply part of the American soul, much as we would want to tout our independence and self-determination. The American-Catholic combo isn’t always a good one for original thinking.

  3. Liam says:

    And there are often few things as pontifically absolutist as an alienated Catholic. Which makes outreach them particularly vexing for active Catholics who instinctively shy from absolutism.

  4. Liam says:

    One helpful place to start:

    Watch carefully for the places, times, and circumstances where you tend to cultivate expectations — and, therefore, resentments.

  5. Michael says:

    I know very few active Catholics who shy away from absolutism.

  6. Liam says:


    How unfortunate. I do.

  7. R.C. says:

    Legalism is part of the HUMAN soul. It is not American or Conservative or Catholic, it is human.

    Beyond that, of course rebels create their own legalism. They sometimes impose it within their own group long before they’re empowered to impose it on others.

    And sometimes each individual imposes his own conformity in order to “belong” to the rebellion, which is why rebels tend all to look alike.

    They start by rebelling against the same status quo; some symbology or social movement becomes emblematic of that rebellion; they wear the symbols and participate in the social movement, and, hey presto! …they’re suddenly as homogeneous as a pasty-faced crowd of 1980’s goths rebelling against Izod-wearing preppy high-school normalcy. Both groups are homogeneous…but only the goths went to a special effort to remake themselves that way.

  8. Michael says:

    I’m glad to hear it, Liam.

  9. Sean says:

    I appreciate the post. Thank you.

  10. Jimmy Mac says:

    Absolutism is authoritarianism, and authoritarianism is authority that has ceased to struggle to become leadership.

    Richard A. McCormick, SJ

  11. Jim McK says:

    Fish are not any more uniform than Catholics. If we lump them together as “uniform”, it is because we are not fish and do not care about the differences. It is the way of God that each part of creation is unique and treated as special. God knows the number of the stars, and calls each by name; the seemingly countless grains of sand have been numbered by God, who knows each individually.

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