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Isn't something odd about this picture?

During the Middle Ages Europe was loosely organized politically—there was no conception of state sovereignty—and it recognized a universal Church that in principle was superior to political authorities and in practice could sometimes influence and so limit them. In early modern times Europe moved from that state of affairs to one in which the state was supreme.

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The nature of rationality is the most practical of all issues

Canadians mostly oppose the same-sex revolution, but it appears that none of their official leaders are willing to stand up to it. In fact, recent events on Ontario, which involved pushing radical redefinition of marriage through the Legislative Assembly in three days, with all-party collusion and without a single recorded vote, suggest they’re all eager to make the issue go away through total mass surrender to gay activists.

Why is that? Part of the problem, I think, is a general unwillingness of people in responsible public positions to discuss basic issues. If you function by doing deals and getting to “yes,” you won’t like issues that can’t be compromised. Your inclination will always be to smudge things like the definition of the national community and the family as much as possible. So you’ll try to avoid taking a stand on issues like immigration and “gay marriage,” but if forced you’ll choose the alternative that fuzzes the definition. In the case of the family, that means “gay marriage.”

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The attack of the Gnostics!

More theorizing about the Episcopalian pathology, which is the same as the pathology of mainline religion today: Griswold’s Sermon is Revival of Gnosticism. What the writer means is that the religion that has become dominant among leading Episcopalians and many others has to do with acquiring a higher consciousness that dissolves all oppositions, including sexual and moral oppositions.

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John Courtney Murray reflects on America

I just finished reading John Courtney Murray’s We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition. Along with most of the other things Murray wrote it’s available online. He was a serious, intelligent and reflective man, and he deals with important issues, so the book’s well worth reading. I don’t have time now for a full-scale discussion though, only for a few notes.

To give a very brief summary of overall impressions, it seems to me that overall Murray’s positions are much like those of Catholic neocons except less pro-capitalist. Like the neocons he thinks liberalism, Americanism and orthodox Catholicism are a good match. It seems to me things have moved on and demonstrated serious problems with that view, although it’s natural to resist that conclusion because it puts contemporary American Catholics in an uncomfortable position. Murray is particularly concerned with the problem of religious diversity and religious freedom. To my mind, different religions and whatnot can often co-exist peacefully and productively through some sort of modus vivendi, but there’s no super-principle that can stand above the strugggle and guarantee a modus vivendi can be found and specify its proper content. Murray and other liberals seem to me to exaggerate the extent to which something like a super-principle is possible. The result is that substantive judgments get smuggled into the law on the pretext that they stand for neutral principles governing the relationship among differing substantive views.

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I hope this grows

This does seem encouraging, although there’s a long way to go. One of the ‘ulema is putting it on the line and debating imprisoned radicals as to the Islamic correctness of their understanding of jihad:

“If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle … But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence.”

He seems to be making a great deal of headway.

The usual line is that “Islam needs a Reformation.” Taken literally that doesn’t make much sense, since it seems Islam has already had a Reformation—it’s shucked off centuries of man-made traditions and cultural accommodations in favor of direct appeal to the words of scripture—and the result has been Islamic radicalism. What’s really meant, of course, is that Islam, like the whole of respectable Christianity, has to recognize modernity and liberalism as the public truth of things, and understand itself as a subordinate private pursuit. Like everything else, it has to submit to the Enlightenment. More concretely, the fact that some Wahhabi engineering students murdered 3,000 people 3 miles from where I’m sitting is taken to mean that both the Muslims and I have to convert to the faith preached by The New York Times. That’s the sole road to world peace in a multicultural world.

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Pious Pius and the Pope

I don’t know how to interpret anything, the Pope, sanctity and Vatican politics least of all, but it still seems interesting from several perspectives that the Pope reportly intends to hang on long enough to canonize Pius XII.

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Undiscriminating bishops

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has issued some Diversity and Equality Guidelines on the relationship between antidiscrimination law and the mission of the Church and its agencies. The Guidelines have drawn some unfavorable comment because of their positive treatment of “living together” (including homosexual) situations. Beyond the specific issues, however, they include a Policy Statement that’s short and provides an occasion for thinking about general principles and whether common attitudes of Church officials today toward “social justice” issues are really consistent with an intelligent understanding of Catholicism.

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Catholicism and freedom of thought

A common objection to Catholicism is that it imprisons the mind by substituting authority and dogma for free thought and inquiry. The objection restates the modern rejection of revelation and tradition as authorities, and from that point of view is important and should be answered.

One response is that experience doesn’t support the claim that Catholicism is bad overall for intellectual achievement. “The West” is simply the countries that form, formed, or descend from Catholic Christendom, and for centuries it’s been the most culturally productive part of the world. And within the West, Protestant societies don’t out-produce Catholic ones. Further, the decline of Christianity in Christendom—post-French Revolution secularization and the expulsion of religion from public discussion after the ’60s—has gone with a radical decline in cultural achievement. (See Charles Murray on the sharp decline 1850 - 1950. To see the post-’60s situation just look around you.)

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More on Buttiglione

The outlook of one of the Pope’s closest friends and advisers is of interest, so a little more about Rocco Buttiglione’s views, as set forth at Zenit and in a speech he gave at a conference, seems in order. So far as I can tell, the basis of his position is that modernity and in particular liberalism can be wholly accepted consistent with Catholic orthodoxy (one might call it a Catholic “neocon” position). In particular, he apparently believes that:

  • Particular culture is unnecessary for social order, at least its formal public aspects, which can apparently be founded on reason alone: “multiculturalism is all right if grounded on the natural law, where we all have rights and duties.”
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Is the EU the consummation of Christendom?

There is a strain of right-wing thought, especially in Europe, that holds Christianity responsible for the collapse of the West into rationalized egalitarian mass society. Christian monotheism and emphasis on the equality of souls before God, it is said, undercuts particularity, diversity, and hierarchy. And in the absence of some admixture of those things all you can have is social and moral chaos ordered at most by some combination of force, fraud and money.

The implications of such claims aren’t altogether clear. It’s as if someone said it’s been bad for my character to have the ancestry and upbringing I do. What sense can that make, when so little remains of me apart from those things? The West is simply the group of societies that were once part of Catholic Christendom, together with their overseas offspring. While Western culture is said to be composed of classical and Germanic as well as Christian elements, it’s not easy to separate the three. Christianity began in the Roman Empire, it spread, developed and grew up there, its formative languages were Greek and Latin, and the Roman Empire converted to it in accordance with its own needs. So why is Christianity foreign to Classical culture any more than Platonism? As to the Germans, they too became Christian without external compulsion—presumably because of weaknesses within paganism—and didn’t have much civilization before then.

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An age of fighting faith

Who says we live in a secularizing age? I say it’s an age of conquering faith. You may think the faiths are stupid, but if “secular” has to do with observable reality they’re not secular, and if strength has something to do with the will to tranform all things then they’re not weak:

  • Here’s an unusually clear discussion of the working theology of the Episcopal Church, all other mainline denominations, and (at bottom and at least implicitly) all respectable Western thinkers who retain a streak of idealism: God is love, therefore we’re already saved and justified just as we are, therefore the only sin is exclusion because it suggests that someone isn’t saved, justified and loved just as he is. The most admirable thing about the theology is its absolute simplicity. Once you get the basic idea the right answer to every question becomes obvious. Another is its ability to unite clergy, laity and the society at large. It appeals to the administrators who run Episcopal and other bureaucracies, because it means that universal multicultural expert bureaucracies and world markets are the only social institutions that can be allowed to exist and function (all other institutions are exclusionary). It also appeals to the self-satisfied consumers and careerists who do the work, buy the products, watch TV, sit in the pews, and see nothing wrong with giving up personal moral agency in favor of comfort and perpetual self-celebration.
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Notes on subsidiarity

“Subsidiarity” is a basic concept of Catholic social teaching. according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” Catholic social teaching, some interpretations of social justice to the contrary notwithstanding, promotes decentralization. The idea, it seems, is that man is active, moral and social.

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Why did Vatican II kill renewal?

Longtime Catholic Workers Mark and Louise Zwick look back in puzzlement and sorrow: What Happened to the Tremendous Renewal Possibilities after the Second Vatican Council? They don’t really answer the question, except by going off on a ramble through post-60s history that ends in a harangue about Michael Novak, heartless capitalism, and John Allen as the running dog of the neoliberals. Still, they give an inspirational—I mean that seriously—account of the pre-Vatican II spiritual and intellectual movements that in the end annihilated themselves, taking much of the Church with them, through their institutional triumph at Vatican II.

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Is this-worldly universalism really a good idea?

Where the Polish Pope’s support for all international organizations has come out: U.N. Demands Poland Overturn Laws Against Abortion.

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MacIntyre, Catholicism and social justice

Someone sent this to me yesterday: The Only Vote Worth Casting in November, a statement by Alasdair MacIntyre on the presidential election. The statement is no longer quite topical, but it’s still worth comment because MacIntyre is a distinguished thinker and his views are in line with those of many Catholics who try to see things whole independently of current political preconceptions.

What he says is that we (meaning Catholics) shouldn’t vote in the election. Bush and Kerry are both intolerable, and we shouldn’t try to choose the less intolerable and so lend the system that offers such alternatives the legitimacy that comes from participation. He then goes on to say:

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All that is Anglican vanishes into air

At bottom, the “culture war” is a war between subjectivism and realism: does the world we experience get its order and significance from human thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions, so by choosing our thoughts and actions properly we can bring about a new Creation, or is it what it is largely without regard to those things, so we should recognize its nature and adjust ourselves to it? The point pops up everywhere, but I was especially struck by a couple of things I ran into in connection with the current druidical turn in the Episcopal church:

  • The comment of a liberal Episcopal priest that liberals have a “nurturing” God while conservatives have a “punishing” one. It seems to me that behind that comment is a view that everything is a matter of relationships among subjective perceptions and desires. From that perspective, the idea that God and the moral order are real, and we can do serious wrong with serious consequences, becomes indistinguishable from the idea that God is punishing rather than nurturing us. It’s as if “hot stove” is just a game mother and child are playing, so when child touches stove it doesn’t hurt unless mother decides to make it hurt as a punishment.
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The persistence of faith schools in England

“Faith schools”—those with a definite religious orientation—have been something of an issue in England the past several years. The issue comes out of the secular and multicultural commitments of the British state. The problem is that secular multicultural education is always bad, at least on any large scale, because schools of that kind can’t have educational goals that are more sustaining than pliability on the one hand and the effective pursuit of self-interest on the other. If the moral world consists solely of the conflicting purposes of various people, then you either teach children to do what they’re told or you teach them to get what they want. The results of such an outlook applied to education are fundamental aimlessness, aggression, manipulation, boredom, stupidity, and general bad conduct. Everybody hates everybody, and nobody learns anything.

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Catholicism and social justice in America

Here’s some background on how the American Catholic bishops came to sound collectively like standard-issue leftists, except on the issue of abortion: Social Teachings at Risk in the American Catholic Church.

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Political modernity and Vatican policy

Here’s an interesting analysis of the outlook behind recent Vatican policies regarding Church, state, democracy, human rights and whatnot: What Kind of Caesar?. According to the author, Russell Hittinger, traditional Catholic teaching assumed that the state has a necessary sacral dimension—all authority, after all, is from God—and naturally wanted that dimension to be Catholic. The post-French Revolution state attempts on the contrary to abolish that dimension. Until Vatican II, the Church objected to the attempt on the ground that if the sacral dimension were lacking it would be impossible for state authority to remain both real and limited. In the absence of a superior principle that justifies it and puts it in a definite setting, government would end up anarchic or totalitarian.

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The Passion is still with us

This is an interesting story, given the sensitivity in the American mainstream media to concerns about anti-Semitism in general and to complaints that things are “run by Jews” in particular: Will Oscar Listen? The article, on the Academy Awards, is quite forthright on the point that Hollywood’s “Jewish roots” are the reason The Passion of the Christ won’t get nominated for Best Picture. Some quotes:

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