A Quick Comment on Douthat

Again, I continue to give Ross Douthat enormous credit for his honesty, particularly in this post from last week.  In it, he basically cops to the notion that he is a Catholic because of the Politics of Certainty.  As a former devotee of that school of thought, I understand very well the attraction of that view, and I will never throw stones at someone else for it.

Instead, I would like to focus on the extended quote from Richard John Neuhaus.  The short version of the quote is that if you "go soft" on the social issues of the day, then it is essentially inevitable that you will give up on traditional liturgical and sacramental practices.  In other words, the Politics of Certainty is the only bulwark against the devolution of Christianity into an undifferentiated mass of feel-good pablum.  And the example of this phenomenon is the so-called Mainline Protestant churches, who don't really believe in anything.

I used to believe this as well . . . until I started going to a Mainline Protestant church.  The Episcopal parish that I have been going to is, by Douthat's standards, very liberal.  And yet, every Sunday the Scriptures are read and the Scriptures are preached, in more depth and thoughtfulness than I have ever experienced in a Catholic parish not affiliated with a religious order.  While it may be the case that the conclusions and practical applications suggested by the pulpit are on the more liberal side than in some Catholic churches, I don't believe that any serious person who listened to these sermons would conclude that they represent anything other than "serious" Christianity.  The liturgy is right out of the Book of Common Prayer and is done with sobriety and taste.  Heck, most of the time they have communion at the communion rail!  I have experienced nothing that would suggest to me that Trinity Episcopal Church is not entirely committed to being a capital "C" Christian community, with no plans to change that any time soon.  They just have different notions of what "being a Christian community" means than Douthat does, or I used to have.

Catholics complain all the time that non-Catholics have mistaken ideas about what the Catholic Church is really about, and that is often true.  But Catholics have some deeply mistaken ideas about what Protestant Churches are like, especially the Mainline ones.  You would believe, in listening to some people talk, that an Episcopal Church service is essentially indistinguishable from a pagan gathering that happens to take place in an historical Christian building.  That's just not true, and, frankly, a slur.

My experience in the Episcopal Church belies the notion that there is an inevitable slippery-slope from, say, being an LGBT affirming congregation to becoming completely divorced from historic Christian worship, for example.  It's a myth, a myth that is a direct product of the Politics of Certainty.


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