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Showing posts from September, 2015

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Pope Francis, Part 3

So, l'affaire de Kim Davis.  What to say?

Well, first, we should be a cautious about believing anything we hear about this story, as the timing of it is deeply suspicious.  Kim Davis's lawyer, Matt Staver, just recently had to admit he lied to the Values Voters Summit when he claimed that a 100,000 person rally in Peru was on behalf of his client, when in fact the rally occurred over a year ago, before anyone outside of Rowan County, Kentucky, had ever heard of Kim Davis.  This revelation of Davis's alleged meeting with the Pope certainly comes at the most convenient time for Mr. Staver, as it guarantees that the Peru debacle will be lost in the shuffle.  And it is now abundantly clear that Staver will make public, bald-faced lies in support of the public relations campaign surrounding his client.

There are also some details from reported story that create reasonable suspicion that this story is B.S.  Allegedly, the Pope spoke to Davis entirely in English, without a transl…

The Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 3--The Idol that is the Sexual Revolution

[Note:  The piece on Confession is in progress, but needs more work, so a detour for now.]

When we worship an idol, our love, which is in principle a good thing, is trapped into grasping onto something made in our own image. This “something”, which we of course do not perceive as an idol, then becomes the repository for all the security and certainty which we idolaters need in order to survive in the world. We are unaware that the tighter we grasp it, the more insecure and uncertain we in fact become, and the more we empty the object which we idolize of any potential for truth and meaning. And of course because love is in principle a good thing, for us to get untangled from its distorted form is very painful. Nevertheless, against any tendency we might have to blame the idol for being an idol, it is really the pattern of desire in us, the grasping, that is the problem, not the object. For just as the Bible is not an act of communication that we can lay hold of, but the written monument…

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Pope Francis?, Part 2

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Back in 2006, political pundit Matt Yglesias coined what he called the "Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics," as a way to criticize certain segments of the U.S. conservative foreign policy establishment.  Over time, this meme has expanded to include other kinds of political discussion, so for example we have the "Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency" (usually deployed as a counter to the critiques of President Obama).

In the comics, Green Lantern is a superhero from Earth that is part of what is basically an intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps.  The Green Lantern Corps's basic tool is a power ring which basically has the ability to project green energy and shape that energy into force fields, weapons of force, etc.  The trick is that the power and utility of the ring is dependent on the will and imagination of the user.  In principle, the ring can do anything, but only insofar as the user has the force of will to channel into the ring to…

Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90's Songs, #10

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I have tried in various ways to mix in some lighter content, without much success.  This time, I figured I would do a song a week on Fridays, as part of a Top Ten gimmick.  For the first series, I figured I would do my Top Ten songs of the 90s.  This is, for better or worse, my decade musically--I was 11 when it started and 21 when it ended.

I should say that this Top Ten is entirely personal--these are my favorite songs, not some "objective" attempt to go for the ten best songs of the decade (to the extent that is even a meaningful thing).  It is entirely idiosyncratic and personally-driven, and it makes no pretense either to a comprehensive knowledge of music.  It's just me.

Before getting to #10 of the Top Ten, a few preliminary picks.  I'll start with an honorable mention.


I'm not even convinced this song is very good, but it will always stick with me, as it was the song playing when I got kissed for the first time.  Which was a pretty significant moment in …

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Pope Francis?

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As I write this post, Pope Francis is here in these United States, tooling around in a Fiat.  Commentators have offered a number of angles to explain his choice of vehicle, such as the Italian connection, its fuel efficient characteristics, its small size, etc.  All of those likely have something to do with it, but I think one dimension is that Pope Francis, in a gentle way, is trolling his critics.  "Oh yeah?  You don't like the fact that I don't fit into your preferred image of the Pope as the Great and Powerful Oz?  Well, here's some more of what you don't like, courtesy of a cute Italian compact car and my smiling face inside."

If Francis is trolling his critics, it appears to be working.  About six months ago, Ross Douthat predicted in the New York Times that Pope Francis's embrace of distributive justice-oriented positions and environmental concern would be taken in stride by the economic conservatives among the Catholic commentariat.  "[T]here…

New Levels of Irrelevance

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Well, we can stop trying now.  We have officially taken the concept of the "non-story" to a new, and in my view untouchable, high.  Don't let anyone tell you that we cannot achieve wonders in our time, because the last few days have proven that we can.  As Pope Francis would certainly be comfortable saying, "Si se puede."

I am speaking of course about the guest list of people who will be present with President Obama to greet Pope Francis when he arrives in Washington.  Did you know that Bishop Gene Robinson, a known homosexual, will be there?  Did you know that Sister Simone Campbell, who is openly a member of a Catholic religious order, we be there?  Did you know that no less than two transgendered people will be present?  Well, you do if you have been reading the Catholic Right and its various publications and organs.
What you wouldn't necessarily know, because many of the articles fail to tell you, is that Bishop Gene and Sister Simone will be among 15,0…

The Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 2.1--Rethinking the Meaning of Forgiveness

One of the subtle, but powerful, dimensions of James Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong is the way in which it asks pointed questions about the notion of God's forgiveness.  The message of God's forgiveness, delivered through Jesus, is a key component of what makes the "euangelion" the Good News.  And yet, this message of forgiveness is often not experienced by the recipients as a good news, but as a kind of burden.  What's going on here?  Alison suggests that our problems with God's forgiveness have to do with the way it is framed and presented.  In particular, Alison argues that God's forgiveness is not in fact a kind of emotional blackmail, notwithstanding the fact that it is often presented in "emotional blackmail-ish" terms.

Consider this scene, one that I suspect that vast majority of you have been on both sides of at one point or another.  It's the evening, and your husband/wife/spouse/significant other/roommate/family member comes t…

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

In the last couple weeks, Pope Francis has made two announcements that have caught worldwide attention.  First, as part of his Year of Mercy, he announced that priests would be given a blanket authorization to grant absolution to those who have participated in an abortion.  In truth, this is a non-story.  While it is true that abortion (which, by the way, is not just women who have abortions but everyone who participates in the process--doctors, clinic staff, etc.) is a so-called "reserved sin" that bishops have the right to reserve absolution to themselves, in practice in most places the bishop just grants priests the right to absolve abortion-related confessions.  So, as a practical matter, this represents no change in most cases.

The other story is the change in the rules for annulments.  The changes, in essence, are designed to speed up the process and remove any impediments--dioceses can no longer charge fees for processing annulments, and the automatic appeal of the an…