To quote Winnie the Pooh, “I am a bear of very little brain.” I am bounded by my own intellectual limitations, my education, my family, my culture, my biases, my preferences and desires (both ordered and disordered), my will, my profession (we are, I think, a profession of rationalizers), and this particular and very short moment in history in which I live my life. As a bear of very little brain, I must rely on the authority of others to help guide me through life, even (and maybe especially) life as a practicing intellectual.
For most of my life, I thought that I had placed my trust in the Church and looked to it as the authority for my life. In reality and unbeknownst to me, as regards the intellectual areas of my life, I had given authority (for the most part) to the high priests of secular liberalism as filtered through a reductionist version of Catholic Social Teaching. In a way, how could I have escaped this authority? After all, it is part of the cultural air we breathe, as Jean Elshtain has said. And, although I was raised Catholic in faith and concern for social justice, I was not raised in the Catholic intellectual tradition (most who went through CCD in the 1960’s and 1970’s can identify with this).
Once my eyes were opened a little over a decade ago (thanks in large part to a prominent law professor who is not Catholic), I could think freely and openly (at least to myself) about these questions of authority. One of the first things that I noticed was that secular liberalism, like communism and fascism, had an inadequate anthropology – an inadequate understanding of the human person. Using my limited reasoning powers, I refused to give any of these ideologies conscious authority over me or my intellect. The Catholic Church, however, seemed to have a more complete, a more reasonable, and more coherent anthropology. And, I consciously placed myself under its authority.
Do read his entire post as well as the several other thought provoking pieces here, here, and here.