Catholics should be aware that Amnesty International, which once did admirable work on behalf of prisoners of conscience, primarily by organizing letter-writing campaigns, has become a rogue entity. It is now an “advocacy” organization with a specific political agenda. This agenda includes the promotion of abortion. It now also discriminates between human rights and “women’s rights,” reserving a special interest in the latter. It also firmly opposes the death penalty. I do too—but this is surely a matter on which reasonable people can differ, and well beyond their original mandate of defending prisoners of conscience. Indeed, Amnesty ought to allow others their conscience on this matter, if they are to practice what they once preached.
This tends to happen to such organizations:
First, an organization becomes significantly successful, through their sincerity and idealism.
Then, their resultant prestige and reputation for fearless honesty makes them extremely attractive to those who have hidden agendas, or to careerists, or to hypocrites. For them, it becomes the perfect vehicle.
And so they are over a fairly short time perverted into something more or less the opposite of what they were intended to be. It is almost the normal progression.
George Orwell traced the process in his novel Animal Farm, not to mention his non-fiction accounts of the Spanish Civil War. His classic phrase expressing this perversion of principle: “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”
Craine Brinton traced the process in his brilliant Anatomy of Revolution. All revolutions follow this same script. The French Revolution, born in idealism, calling for equality, democracy, and brotherhood, ended in the ultimate careerist, Napoleon, in eternal war, and what amounted to a doctrine of radical inequality. The Russian Revolution, born in idealism and calling for democracy and equality, ended up with Stalin. Born in internationalism, it became the epitome of nationalism. The Chinese Revolution, born in idealism, ended up with Mao. The English Revolution got Cromwell. The second Russian Revolution is getting Putin. And Marxism as an intellectual movement got Lenin.
Some other examples: Harvard University was founded by the Puritans as a theological college. How comfortable do you suppose a Puritan minister would feel there today? For that matter, how comfortable would a Puritan feel in Massachusetts?
The ACLU used to be a model of non-partisanship; it once defended the right of neo-Nazis to march through a Jewish neighbourhood. Now it supports liberties only for the left, and for the secularists against the religious. It is rather less supportive of the right to free speech, freedom of conscience, or the right to bear arms, for example, than it is, say, of the right to privacy.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and most other recent “human rights” codes, similarly invert the original human rights doctrine of Locke or the US Constitution. Originally, human rights restricted governments by reserving certain areas to the individual. Now, they restrict individuals by reserving certain areas to the government.
The civil rights movement of the Sixties, which called for an end to quotas and for judging people, in Martin Luther King’s fine phrase, “not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character,” has also been co-opted into the opposite: a system of racial preferences in employment and education. And these quotas have mostly been in aid of middle-class white women, rather than blacks.
The Canadian foreign service up through the Fifties was justly celebrated as a collection of the best and the brightest, doing much with little, selfless and idealistic; Lester Pearson’s Nobel Prize was the seal. Nowadays, most Canadians with experience abroad complain of how much harder it is for them to deal with their embassy than it seems to be for Americans, Brits, Australians, Filipinos, and so on.
So too with religion. The same process can be traced in almost every Protestant denomination. Once upon a time, the Congregationalists split off from the Anglicans as a ginger group who took their religion more seriously. They are now part of the United Church. Somewhat later, again, the Methodists split off from the Anglicans as a ginger group who took their religion more seriously. They are now also part of the United Church. Meanwhile, the Pentecostals have split off as a ginger group who take their religion more seriously. Again and again, enthusiasm and doctrinal consistency lasts a generation, then the new denomination falls away into dull respectability as another “mainline Protestant denomination,” their theology, ritual, and even ministers, interchangeable. If anyone cares.
The Buddha, for his part, made no bones about predicting that his teaching would be hopelessly corrupted within 500 years. He was, indeed, a wise man. As John Powers, a Buddhist and Buddhist scholar currently with the Australian National University, cheerfully pointed out to me, Chinese "Zen" Buddhism teaches more or less the opposite of everything in the Pali Canon.
So it goes with nearly everything fine and noble in this fallen world.
With, it seems to me, one uncanny exception: the Catholic Church. Alone among all organizations, it seems to have managed to preserve its essential principles and essential good name for almost two thousand years—longer than any other organization has even managed to exist. (Some would argue the United States has done pretty well too—but if so, only for two hundred years or so).
Yes, some allege there were periods in the past when it did not keep to its better nature; perhaps so, though Catholic historians can argue quite convincingly that it is not so. We are not talking here of individual failings, mind, which are inevitable, but failings of the organization.
But even if we allow this claim, it surely does hold to its principles now. The proof is that this is the very criticism laid against it even by its enemies, that it has not changed course to suit the times. And what other organization of any kind in history has managed to do even this much, to fall completely away from idealistic founding principles, and then restore them without any break in organizational continuity?
This seems almost impossible; it would almost by definition require a Napoleon to surrender power voluntarily.
But it is as promised by Jesus himself in the Bible: “I name you Rock (Peter), and on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Two thousand years is pretty good for testing the truth of that statement. By contrast, AI, and most of the other movements cited, held to their guns for no more than a generation.