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Showing posts from April, 2016

Quick Hitter: A Day at the Museum

I ended up with a free day (or, really, two thirds of a day) in New York City--my youngest sister who lives in New York was at work, and my work-related reason for being in the city got cancelled.  There are essentially unlimited choices for what to do in New York with a free morning and part of an afternoon, but I decided to go to the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West.  It has been a long time since I have been to the Natural History Museum--when I was ten, Mom took my brother and I all the way up to New York from central New Jersey on a snowy day to go to the Museum.  I was really curious to see if it was as awesome as I remember it from from 28 years ago.

Mostly, yes, it was.  The dinosaurs on the fourth floor are fantastic (highlighted by a 122 foot long "Titanosaur"), and the Hayden Planetarium and the associated "space stuff" is great.  There is a section of Mesoamerican artifacts, including a number of Mayan stelae, that I don't rem…

Sexuality Uber Alles

So, Ross Douthat wrote an interesting blog post yesterday.  The topic of the post is, in essence, why conservative Catholics are adrift during the Age of Francis, and he raises some interesting and thought provoking points.  But it seems to me that he doesn't really name the heart of the issue, despite orbiting it very closely.

He begins by discussing Damon Linker's piece in The Week, which I mentioned last week.  Douthat's primary argument is that Linker is totally wrong about conservative Catholics, since after all they have been willing to change on all sorts of stuff.  If we were really as reactionary and fearful of change, Douthat argues, we would have revolted long ago when they got rid of the Latin Mass, ecumenism, etc.  If Linker were really right about who we are, all of us would have joined the SSPX folks, but we didn't, so we are not afraid of change.

This position, however, raises an an issue not directly addressed by Douthat in the piece.  Douthat essentia…

Quick Hitter--Last Word, I Promise, on Amoris Laetitia

Over at The Week, Damon Linker has written a thoughtful and heart-felt reflection on his own evolution away from a more conservative vision of Catholicism.  All I can say is that his experience is almost perfectly aligned with mine in this area--where once I saw the Politics of Certainty as the primary attraction of Catholicism, now I see it as the primary problem.  As Linker says so beautifully:

The Catholic conservative doesn't want to live spiritually within a debating society or an ongoing, open-ended conversation. He wants matters to be definitive — done, settled, fixed for all time. Even if, considered objectively, the teachings of another authoritative Christian tradition in one area of doctrine appear more humane and less prone to alienating millions of parishioners. Because that's just not the way Catholics do it. We had that debate. It's over. End of discussion.

I once wanted that, too — the Catholic Church serving as the final, infallible guardian and guarantor of…

Why I Defend Pope Francis

One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me over the last year or so is that not everyone believes in the same God.  In saying that, I don't mean that Christians have a different understanding of God from Hindus or Buddhists or Wiccans, though that is certainly true as well.  What I mean is that two people who use the same words to refer to God, and even subscribe to the same formal definitions of God, can have a radically different and mutually exclusive subjective picture of who God is.  And that subjective picture of who God is is just as important, and perhaps more important, than the formal definitions that we have been handed down to us via our theological heritage.

This is the main point of David Gushee's piece from the other day.  There are people who insist on a God that they must fear, a God that is out to get them "for their own good" in some inscrutable manner.  They disdain those who challenge that picture as soft, cowardly, not worthy to b…

Quick Hitter--When You Are Right, You're Right

1.  When two people of completely different ideological orientations and convictions come to the same conclusion on something within their shared space, it is worth taking that conclusion seriously.  Such was the case yesterday, when we saw articles form Ross Douthat (the mainstream-media endorsed voice for conservative Catholicism) and James Carroll (author of Constantine's Sword and vocal critic of the Catholic Church from the progressive end) offer essentially the same analysis of Amoris Laetitia.

The analysis goes something like this.  In the aftermath of Vatican II, Catholicism developed a kind of "two track" method of operation.  On one level there was the "official" message of Catholicism, which (particularly with regard to anything dealing with sex) held tightly to essentially the same positions that controlled prior to the Council.  On the "ground," however, many priests were covertly (or, especially in the beginning, overtly) providing indiv…

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

So, it has come, the long anticipated Papal document summarizing the Synod on the FamilyAmoris Laetitia.  I should state up front that, because of its enormous length (250+ pages), I've skimmed the more theoretical sections (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 7, and 9) to focus on the parts on marriage (4-6, and 8).  I hope to come back and give those theoretical sections some time and reflection later.  I should also say that, despite its length, this is probably the most accessible Vatican document I have read.  The writing is smooth and unforced, and mostly avoids technical theological or philosophical jargon.  Laudato Si' had some of that quality, but this is far more pronounced.  It is, for lack of a better term, an easy read.

With that out of the way, how is it?  Well, it's very, very Pope Francis.  Like Laudato Si', it aspires to a comprehensive account of the topic.  So, for example, if you were curious to get Pope Francis's thoughts on "helicopter parenting," y…

Quick Hitter--Re-Sorting

The great Bill Lindsey brought to my attention a piece from yesterday by David Gushee.  Gushee is a professor of moral theology and comes from an evangelical background.  Two years ago he wrote a book called Changing Our Mind, where he discussed his change of position on LGBT questions.  I have not read that book, but I have read other things he has written and have been very impressed.

His piece from yesterday really struck a chord with me.  In the piece, Gushee gives a name to something that many people have sensed without necessarily being able (or willing) to vocalize--Christianity is coming apart:

It is not just that many Christians fail to live up to the clear demands of Christian discipleship. It’s that we can’t even agree on what those demands are. We all say we believe in Jesus, but what we make of that belief is so irreconcilably different that I am not sure that we are in any meaningful way members of the same religious community.

Certainly, disagreements are nothing new in t…

Thinking Through the Creed, Conclusion

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When you read the writings of non-religious people, especially more committed, doctrinaire atheists, you get the sense that they assume that faith is a kind of certainty about God--a person, for whatever reason or through whatever process, becomes "sure" that God exists and has certain qualities.  And, to be fair, many religious people certainly try very hard to project that vision of what faith is, and certain theologies (especially certain Evangelical theologies) try to affirm that vision.  
But I don't think that's what faith means.  In fact, that sort of certainty is a kind of self-hypnosis, a way to ward off our own doubts about our lives and their meaning.  But we shouldn't be warding off doubt, as disturbing and dislocating as doubt can be.  Faith is not the enemy of doubt; faith is a posture of incorporating doubt into our world view.  Having faith means living in the uncertain space created by our doubts, not banishing or denying the doubts but not lett…

Thinking Through the Creed, Part 7

I believe in the Holy Spirit. . .

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.(John 16: 7-12).

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember t…