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Showing posts from February, 2015

Adventures in Theology--Making Sense of the Hebrew Scriptures

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Catholics have a very specific way of reading the Hebrew Scriptures (a/k/a the Old Testament).  No one really talks about it, but it certainly there, and it is definitely something that I picked up.  The method is this--pick bits and pieces that you can make sense of, and ignore the rest.  The structure of the Catholic Lectionary has one O.T. reading per Sunday (well, plus a Psalm--one narrative reading), selected on the basis of its relevance to the Gospel reading for that Sunday.  The result is that you get bits and pieces of the Hebrew Scriptures that mesh nicely with the themes and concepts from the New Testament, and you can safely leave it at that.

I actually think this is, more or less, the right way to read the Hebrew Scriptures if you are a Christian, so I am not criticizing this method.  But it does have the effect of shielding from view the challenging nature of the O.T.  Many Catholics are simply not aware of some of the stuff that you can find in the Hebrew Scriptures.  P…

Adventures in Theology--Tutu's Wager

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I am about 90% finished with a post on the Hebrew Scriptures seen through the Girardian lens.  In the course of writing this post, an idea that has been percolating in my head came into focus, and idea that I call Tutu's Wager.  It's a bit of a riff on Pascal's Wager, coined by the French thinker Blaise Pascal, but in a sense it is also the opposite of Pascal's Wager.  It goes something like this.

Consider Huitzlopochtli.

Huitzlopochtli is the god of war in the tradition of the ancient Aztecs of Mexico.  As can be seen in the picture, the proper way to worship Huitzlopochtli (and many of the other gods of the Aztecs) is to sacrifice human beings to him by cutting out their hearts.  At least, that's what the Aztec priests believed, so let's assume that, to the extent Huitzlopochtli exists, he demands the sacrifice of human beings.

Suppose for a moment that you are concerned about the question of whether Huitzlopochtli is real.  Or, rather, you are concerned with…

Another Theology of the Body, Part XVII--Real Talk About Celibacy

Celibacy has a very long and prestigious pedigree in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  The vast majority of saints in both traditions were celibates.  All priests and bishops in the Western Church are required to be celibate; all bishops in the Eastern tradition must be celibate.  As a result, by definition, everyone who has ultimate leadership in both traditions is a celibate.

In the face of this tradition, I have come to what, for some, is a controversial position--I think celibacy is a bad idea.  I believe, based on my experience, that adopting celibacy is more often harmful to the spiritual development of men and women than supportive of that development.  I believe celibacy is more likely to poison one's view of God than to illuminate it.  Celibates are more likely to do damage to the People of God than to lift them up.  I believe that it would be better, not simply to allow non-celibates to be priests and bishops (though, that would be good, too), but to make married men (…

Ash Wednesday

I was very fortunate in high school to have, in my junior and senior years, two wonderful English teachers.  They introduced me to Shakespeare, and Donne, and Faulkner, and Tennyson.  And T.S. Eliot.  Especially T.S. Eliot.

Something about Eliot got its hooks into me, and never let go.  It was so complex, like a vast puzzle, but there was something simple and real and profound underneath all of the allusions and references.  I wrote my senior English paper on Eliot's "Four Quartets."  I have no idea what I said in that paper, but it was probably something stupid--who knows anything as a 17 year old?  Nevertheless, I tried.

For Ash Wednesday today, I reread Eliot's "Ash Wednesday."  I was struck by this section at the end of Part I:

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the…

Another Theology of the Body, Part XVI--Moving Beyond Complementarity

Christians, and all Christian churches, going to need to have a serious conversation with themselves (and, I hope, with others outside the church as well) about gender.  Some folks don't think such a conversation is needed, and that the old formulas can be trotted out without much updating or analysis.  Some seem pretty desperate not to have the conversation, fearful of where such a conversation may go.  Nevertheless, the conversation is needed, otherwise the conversation is going to occur exclusively on the outside of Christianity, and Christianity is going to be left out in the cold.  The conversation will either occur with us, or it will occur about us--"be there or be a topic" as the Boyle family says.  We are not going back to "a moist south wind."

The problem, it seems to me, is that the conversation has gotten stuck.  On the one hand, we have people who are saying that the old, binary, rigid, prescriptive models of gender need to be overcome and broken. …

A Quick Hitter--Postscript on 50 Shades

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I saw two reviews this morning for 50 Shades of Grey.  Grantland's Wesley Morris, who has become my go-to movie reviewer with the passing of Roger Ebert, says that it is conventionally terrible.  In other words, it is bad, but probably not entertainingly bad in the way I hoped.   So, no reason to see it.

Amanda Hess's review in Slate has a different, and potentially more interesting, take.  She claims that the film is actually very self-aware, in the sense that it knows that many people "hate read" the 50 Shades books, to use Hess's phrasing.  The film approaches the material in the book, Hess claims, from the point of view of someone who is attempting to read the material from the perspective of ironic distance.  [Ed: Will Leitch says something similar]  The story is crap, the characters are crap, the situations are crap, and the movie knows this as it is portraying the same story, characters, and situations.  It is as if the movie is giving you sideways glances …

A Quick Hitter--The Importance of Reading Carefully

The interwebs are abuzz with a study by a Catholic University of America researcher Donald Sullins entitled "Emotional Problems Among Children with Same-Sex Parents: Difference by Definition."  In it, cultural conservatives hope to find the Holy Grail--some scientific evidence that letting gay folks raise children is bad for the children.  Thus far, such evidence has been, well, non-existent.

Have they found the Grail?  Not exactly.  First, it is worthwhile to note that, while this is a peer-reviewed study, we have seen "peer reviewed work" by folks like Mark Regnerus turn out to be, well, bogus.  But, for our purposes, let's assume that the study is accurate.  It is true that, per the study, the overall emotional health of children in opposite sex marriages (according to the metrics they used) is about twice as good as same sex marriages (Table 3, page 9).  But the key lines are found on page 11:

Model 4.7 tests the effect of biological parentage. Including thi…

Another Theology of the Body, Part XV--HOT TAKES on 50 Shades of Grey

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As you are aware if you consume even the slightest bit of media, the 50 Shades of Grey movie will soon be upon us.  To gear up, the Catholic blogosphere has been quite active with its think pieces, or jeremiads, most of which reflect the view that the existence and popularity of the film is a sign that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.  As examples, you could look to Jennifer Fitz, or a pair of offerings from, you guessed it, our old pal Dr. Popcak.  Rest assured, to use the lingo of sports writing, they are HOT TAKES.

Before turning to their hot takes, a brief digression.  I have this weird love for terrible movies.  Not "so good they're bad" movies like, say, the early work of Arnold Schwarzenegger; I love those movies, too, but I am talking about thoroughly terrible films.  I'm talking about the kinds of movies where you ask yourself questions like "why did they think this would be a good idea, or even an idea that had a prospect of working?" …

Adventures in Theology--Obama, the Crusades, and the Myth of Sacred Violence

In the last post, I talked a bit about Rene Girard's theory of memetic rivalry.  Conveniently, yesterday provided an excellent example of this process in action.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama was talking about ISIS.  ISIS is, of course, very bad, a fact that the President was clear to state.  However, he pointed out that those of us in the Christian camp live a in glass house with regard to religiously-motivated violence.  In particular, he pointed to the Crusades as an example of the same kind of religiously motivated violence seen in ISIS appearing in a Christian context.

Religious conservatives lost their minds.  How dare you compare the Crusades to ISIS's jihad?  Certain kinds of Catholics, notably the dangerous lunatic Bill Donohue of the "Catholic League," argue that the Crusades were a "just war," and thus nothing like the violence of ISIS.  Said another way, "our violence in the name of God was totally justified, but your vio…

Better the Disaster You Can See that the One You Can't

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The Vatican Pontifical Council for Culture is putting together a program entitled "Women's Culture: Equality and Difference."  To kick-off that project, they chose the following image for the cover for their program:


I cannot fathom why they thought this was a good idea.  The argument half-heartedly offered by the Vatican--that this represents "woman as a subjugated sex object, but also as a creature who rises above men’s depictions" only makes the situation worse, insofar as the actual decision-making of the conference will reside entirely with men.  So, I suppose one could argue the description is on-point, though not in a manner the Vatican would celebrate.

This is only the latest of a series of farcical missteps associated with this conference.  The spokeswoman for the conference, an Italian actress named Nancy Brilli, was used in a promotional video so strange and tone-deaf that the English version was officially removed due to protests.  You can see for y…

Adventures in Theology--The Lottery

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In the last two years or so, I have been in the process of digging deep and trying to figure out this religion thing and how I fit into it.  It has been disorienting in many ways, but finding that the standard traditional Catholic apologetics have not been working has been an impetus to seek out other voices.  And, as it turns out, there is a ton of interesting stuff out there, things that have changed the way I look at Christianity.

There is a ton of good stuff to be found, but the biggest revelation has been the work of a French literary critic/anthropologist/theologian Rene Girard.  I tried reading Girard a couple of times in the past, and it never really "clicked" until about six months ago when I finished his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.  His ideas are not easy, and his works are in translation from French, but it is worth the effort to dig through it.  In the next couple of posts, I am going to try to work through how I understand Girard's thought, and it&…

Another Theology of the Body, Part XIV--We Need To Stop Being Terrible To Each Other

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One of the criticisms that always comes up when you want to re-evaluate or challenge Christian sexual morality is that the real goal is laxity.  "You just don't want to have to follow all those rules; you just want to be able to do what you want," these folks will say.

I think it is precisely the opposite.  I think the focus on rules is a way to let ourselves off the hook from dealing with the real problem with relationships.

Christian sexual morality, as currently constructed, is an acts based system.  There are a list of discrete behaviors that you must not do.  But that's basically it.  Outside of the bounds of the prohibited acts, there is no real moral guidance on how to behave in the context of a romantic or sexual relationship.  Sure, one can apply generalized principles (don't lie, etc.), but the take away that many people get from this system is "as long as I am not fornicating, I'm OK."

I believe this system tacitly endorses, or at least f…