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Hollywood for Jesus and Martha Stewart

To interrupt the doom-and-gloom for a moment, here’s an interview with Catholic Hollywoodist Barbara Nicolosi that’s a good read and actually rather inspirational. It seems she’s managing to close the gap between uncultured Evangelical intensity and accommodationist post-Catholic worldliness among Christians associated with the entertainment biz.

I got the link from Kathy Shaidle’s Relapsed Catholic blog (see the sidebar). Kathy also has a link to a rather alarming article in Reason on the Martha Stewart prosecution. What the article says—that the crime of which Stewart is accused can’t sensibly be considered a crime—fits in with what I know of other celebrity securities law prosecutions.


The bishops’ priestly progeny

This somewhat rambly first-person account repeats the familiar complaint that the vocational gatekeepers in most American dioceses aren’t looking for priests of integrity and orthodoxy, they’re looking for someone who’ll fit into their feminized and bureaucratic idea of FutureChurch: If You’re Not a ‘Nice Guy’…. In a section on “The Right Kind of Guy” the author mentions something I had noticed and suffered from in the Episcopal Church, the number of priests for whom “personal crisis and confusion are the precursors to their interest in the priesthood.” Talk about “wounded healers” all you want, if you’re going to give someone pastoral authority you should find someone who’s stable, orderly, reliable and upright in the most everyday and ordinary way. I Timothy 3:1-12.


Dottiness and evil in the Church

From Newman onward, the chief sensation many converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism have had when looking back at their old communion is amazement at its utter nothingness. Converts’ views aren’t always fair, but it does seem that the habitual accusations against a serious enterprise would involve something worse than general dottiness. An recent example: the proposal from an English bishop to improve the observance of Christmas by bringing buckets of horse manure to church. Even when the Anglicans do something outrageous, as in the case of the recent Robinson ordination, it’s hard for many ex-Anglicans to take it seriously because it seems so obviously a case of something utterly insubstantial being blown about by whatever the wind happens to be.

Say what you want about Catholicism (and people do say what they want), no-one thinks it’s trivial. People are willing to reconstruct the whole of history if it helps them slander it: Pius XII becomes a Nazi, the Protestant Reformation becomes a great movement of rationality and tolerance, the Crusades become an incident in the long history of Christian aggression against Muslims, and so on. And the enemies of Catholicism within the Church don’t limit themselves to buckets of horse manure. Sade could not have been a Protestant. It’s hard, for example, to imagine a politely apostate Anglican rector, still devoted to good taste and “niceness,” painting his church with a 30-foot Jesus, naked and apparently in an state of sexual excitation, and succeeding in keeping it there for almost 20 years. The extreme nature of the attacks against the Catholic Church, and the strength of the forces behind them, is a sign of the importance of what is at stake.


Religion, tradition, and the rule of law

I pointed out a while back that the claim Islam needs a Protestant Reformation is just silly: they’ve already had their Reformation, and it gave the world Wahhabism. A Catholic professor of philosophy has taken a similar idea and developed it in connection with Hayek’s conceptions of tradition and the rule of law: Does Islam Need a Luther or a Pope? It’s well worth a read.


The intoxication of Vatican II

How the Council seemed to some at the time: Gregorian Chant Strangled in its Own Cradle. To the young monks of a Benedictine monastery in Rome, Vatican II meant that it was a religious duty to toss away everything to which they had been brought up in the Church for the sake of imitating what the world was doing. As for their elders, they felt they had no ground on which to stand in opposing it.

How do people get into such a state of mind? It looks very much like a story out of Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds. Daily life wears on people, and on occasion they become convinced that some new thing, investing in tulip bulbs or whatever, will change everything almost without effort.

There’s more to it than that, of course. The craziness was supported by interests that favored turning the sacred into a cheerleader for the secular, by “experts,” whose business it is to make the other-worldly a component of a wholly this-worldly system they can fully grasp and control, and by modern life in general, which destroys distance and puts everything on the same footing of money, publicity, and politics. When craziness is supported by comprehensive and enduring interests it can go very far indeed.

Just how it will end, no one knows. Still, crazes eventually die out, and the effort to create a self-contained human world with only notional reference to anything beyond it will fail. Some questions are permanent, and some answers are permanently better than others. Traditional Catholics—those who refuse to exaggerate what the Council did—are in for the long haul. As such, they have good grounds for hope even from a this-worldly standpoint.


A corpse as art and the death of thought

A concrete result of the destruction by the Derrida virus and related strains of the ability to think like a normal human being: Hanging Corpse Admired as Sculpture on Campus. It was for this, it appears, that the Hungarians overthrew communism.


No substitute for prudence

A correspondent envisions a

“conservative ecumenism that would bring about a revival of Christendom, with Catholic, Orthodox, and even theologically conservative Lutherans and other Protestants finding some way to join as the reunified Body of Christ.”

I think my correspondent’s remark may have been prompted by a comment I made that

“it is important for Christianity to understand what it is in its integrity. That would include the creeds, sacraments, defined dogma, the Pope and so on.”

So which is it? Or is it somehow both? It certainly seems that in public life 95% of the truth is better than 0% of the truth. Also, an orthodox Catholic is likely to have more in common materially with an orthodox Orthodox than with Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

On the other hand, it also seems to me that the papacy is essential to Christianity. Part of the reason it’s essential is that in a struggle it’s important to have a practical way of resolving disputes among the allies, and if need be determine that someone isn’t an ally but an enemy or fifth columnist. The Church needs Peter, especially in hard times.

It seems the best one can do is to avoid fuzzing the importance of Catholic distinctives, while minimizing irritants and on particular issues working with whoever is willing and keeping relative degrees of agreement in mind. Not a brilliant suggestion, but I have nothing better to offer.


Does Christianity abolish the many in favor of the one?

What is the Christian attitude toward race, ethnicity and peoplehood?

Such things do not determine human worth any more than other aspects of social position do. Nonetheless, it seems important to me to recover a Christian conception of legitimate particularism. Such a conception would necessarily include some degree of ethnic identity and loyalty and therefore ethnic boundaries. Without such a conception Christianity becomes a this-worldly universalism like Islam or the various modern totalitarianisms. It loses the recognition of the necessity and goodness of the concrete and particular that is, I think, essential to it.

The view that ethnic boundaries are illegitimate, which is implied by the view that racial discrimination as such is wrong, is radically new in Christianity. The historic church never thought it was wrong to have particular attachments or recognize differences among groups of people. To some extent the early Church tailored Christianity to fit each society and people. Such efforts have been revived today—recent Roman Catholic discussions of “inculturation,” for example, presume that cultural particularity is important to spiritual life and insist that it be respected. If cultural particularity is good, though, boundaries among peoples with distinctive ways of life—ethnic boundaries—can’t be all bad.

The Christian embrace of particularity isn’t a fluke. The story of Babel treats this-worldly universalism and the demand for a single universal people, society and law as a sort of idolatry. And Christ himself explicitly recognized the continuing existence and validity of the nations. (Jean-Marc Berhoud goes into the details in his The Bible and the Nations.)

Christianity does not flatten things out and make them all conform to a single comprehensive scheme. The doctrines of Creation and Incarnation tell us that God made the here-and-now in all its particularity, called it good, and became physically present in it with all the specificity that implies. The unity Christianity gives is therefore a transcendent unity that applies even when there are obvious distinctions of unquestioned validity. When Paul said that Greek and Jew, slave and free, male and female are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:26-28). he didn’t want to abolish Greeks and Jews any more than he wanted to abolish men and women.

In many ways Christianity is at right angles to earthly social order. Grace completes nature, but does not abolish it. The temptation of Christ makes it clear that Christianity is not about political rule, solving economic problems, or the conquest of natural necessity. Unlike Islam and Judaism it has no concrete legal code, it explicitly recognizes the relative autonomy of Caesar, and it’s said to be a kingdom “not of this world.” If it recognizes that there are kingdoms other than itself why would it want all those kingdoms to get together and create a universal all-pervasive this-worldly order of things? Why would it suddenly decide that Babel was a worthy effort?

Christianity therefore lives at ease with earthly distinctions, much more than with earthly monoliths. It was after the concrete administrative unity of the Roman Empire was abolished through the appointment of multiple emperors that Christianity became its principle of transcendent unity. And that’s what Christianity was for the following 1600 years—a principle that gave Europe an overall civilizational unity while maintaining and on the whole respecting its practical diversity.

The rejection of Christianity has led to various schemes by Nazis, communists, Eurocrats and so on to replace the transcendent unity and concrete diversity of Christian Europe with pragmatic this-worldly unity. Nationality, local and particular loyalties, variations among peoples, and this-worldly boundaries thrived in Christian Europe. They are treated as monstrosities to be destroyed in the newly anti-Christian West. So why view them as opposed to Christianity?


No transcendence through politics

Rock ‘n roll overthrew communism, says Hungary’s ambassador to the United States. According to Andras Simonyi, it was the Beatles, Cream, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix—not the Bible, Bach, or S�ndor Pet�fi—that gave Hungarian baby boomers the resolve to bring down the communist state.

The fall of communism, like the defeat of Nazi Germany, was a great historical event and the overthrow of colossal evil. Still, it’s a mistake to think that the goals or even the ideals of those who take part in great events are necessarily up to the events themselves.


The Kingdom cometh not by observation

So how can Christendom be restored? Liberals view the question as one of force—will people be forced to accept some particular religious dogma, or will they be free to follow their own consciences? In fact, of course, it’s not fundamentally a question of force, but of how the world is understood. Is equal satisfaction of preferences the highest law, or something else? If something else, what? Such questions precede law and indeed rational action, and so can’t be decided by political instrumentalities.

Christendom begins to exist when there are Christians who understand their faith as the reality in which they live and act. A political society becomes part of Christendom when its center of gravity comes to be among such men. To restore Christendom is to restore recognition of Christianity as an authoritative reality that transcends human habits and desires. It is most fundamentally a spiritual and intellectual quest, although the pervasiveness of government at present gives it a necessary political aspect as well.


Is restoration a pipe dream?

Can Christendom be restored? When something started disappearing in the Middle Ages, and has been disappearing more and more every year since then, it looks like the tendency of things is rather against it. Still, there are points that should be kept in mind:

  • The definitive public rejection of Christendom was actually quite recent, mid-to-late 20th century. Before then it was possible publicly to refer to the Western countries as Christian, and for politicians, mainstream pundits and what not to make public comments that implied the truth of Christianity. The place of Christianity might have been like the place of the Emperor in old Japan, often more notional than substantive, but that doesn’t mean it was dispensable.

A proposal for Dar-ul-Isa

La Civilt� Cattolica, the semi-official Vatican magazine, has published an important article on Christians in Islamic Countries that points out a truth that recently has dared not speak its name: Islam is an aggressive religion that aims at the acquisition of universal dominion by force and oppresses Christians (and others) who live in Islamic lands.

Those who claim to know better object to such categorical statements on grounds of antiessentialism—there is no “Islam,” there are only many islams. If you take such objections seriously, general terms can never mean anything and discussion and thought become impossible. The practical effect, since ordinary reason is inapplicable, is that no one is allowed to think anything except what certified experts tell him to think. The effect of antiessentialism, like all current academic theories, is thus to strengthen the rule of the managerial liberal expertocracy by making it logically beyond attack.


As (some) others see us

What orthodox Catholicism looks like from the standpoint of liberalism: The Crusaders. The author (a staffer at the Boston Globe) is a clever writer and doesn’t adhere to the sterner demands of honesty, but the piece is substantive enough to be useful.

Some interesting points:

  • The author seems to have no idea of principle or truth. Everything is a matter of conflicting desires and power. To propose orthodoxy is simply to “defend traditional prerogatives of the institutional church.” To say that one would leave the Church if (per impossibile) a future Pope said abortion is good, or there are five divine persons and not just three, is not to say what it means for the Church to be the Church. It is to be your own kind of cafeteria Catholic. To be otherwise, after all, would be to give total obedience to what a particular bunch of guys say from time to time simply because they’re saying it.
  • Since there is no such thing as principle or truth, the only conceivable reason orthodoxy could be influential in the Church is that it supports the interests of hierarchs and is being pushed by well-placed crazies and right-wing foundations under the patronage of a Pope with bizarre ideas.
  • Liberals do have principles, but of a specialized kind. Given that there is no truth in morality, so that the only thing that can have authority for us is our own desires, liberals think the basic problem of human life is construction of social arrangements that advance all human desires equally in an orderly way. Only such arrangements can be recognized as authoritative by self-seeking men. The author is characteristically liberal in that regard.
  • The issue of violence—of rudimentary social order—is therefore at the center of the piece, even though violence by orthodox Catholic minorities as Catholic minorities has rarely been a problem anywhere. The reason is that from the liberal standpoint rejection of liberalism is intrinsically violent and irrational. To reject the view that all human desires are equally to be accommodated is to accept the view that the desires of some people should override the desires of others by force and thus to embrace oppression and violence. Further, people basically act to get what they want, in the liberal view, so if they don’t see the liberal state as the vehicle of their desires, but rather reject it, they can have no reason to obey its laws.
  • Since people who reject liberalism are by definition irrational and violent, full adherence to liberalism defines the mainstream and therefore the limits of legitimate political discussion. The author thus adheres to his own variety of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, and sees no possibility of basic compromise with heretics and infidels. Their positions, after all, are all of a piece:

    “McCloskey is the cold stone at the heart of all the paradoxes about American Catholicism. His positions are the sharp, logical end of what Hudson believes about Voice of the Faithful and of all the philosophical filigree with which Robert George surrounds his opinions about Leon Panetta. McCloskey is the id of everything that was discussed at the Cosmos Club. He is the gleaming rock on which it’s built.”

    The author thus agrees with Father McClosley that it is unlikely that those who adhere to Catholic orthodoxy and those who adhere to liberal orthodoxy can live together indefinitely in peace.


The New York Latin Massathon

The NYC marathon put the kibosh on the Latin Mass I usually go to in Brooklyn, so on All Saints Day and Sunday I went to Mass a couple of places in Manhattan. It’s remarkable how different it can seem in different presentations (High or Low Mass, music, behavior of the congregation, physical setting and lighting).

Still, the differences brought out the special qualities of the Tridentine ritual all the more strongly. Those qualities all depend on what the Mass is. It’s not, fundamentally, a community celebration or expression of solidarity or moral lesson or performance by the priest or choir. It’s God Himself objectively becoming present. Because of that it’s always to the point. It doesn’t matter whether things are good or bad, whether you’re up or down, whether you like or dislike the setting or the music or the people. Without regard to those things the Mass itself keeps on giving you what you always need and can’t be found nearly so reliably any other way.

For that reason it seems to me much more humble, accessible and human than the revised form of Mass. The Tridentine ritual makes no personal claims whatever for the congregation, clergy or hierarchy. It treats the latter as simply instruments. It truly accepts you wherever you are, because it’s not about you or your surroundings or what’s going on in the world or your life, it’s about the one thing that all human beings need more than anything else.


Roy’s Rock goes to Italy

An Italian court has banned crucifixes in schools. As the judge points out, the crucifixes show an intent to portray Catholicism as the center of everything, even though the Vatican has accepted since 1984 that Catholicism is no longer the religion of the state. Since that’s so, the decision makes sense. The Church has already agreed that the Italian state will recognize something other than Catholicism as the final truth of things. But then why shouldn’t the same principle apply to state education?

Of course, the decision raises an issue as to just what the state will recognize—and state schools teach—as the ultimate standard. Cardinal Tonini says the crucifix should be kept as a symbol of popular religious and cultural values. The reason for having the crucifix is that people are used to it and most of them like it. The state and education, it seems, should be based on the habits and will of the people. That’s not a reasonable view, though. The people and their will aren’t such unequivocal realities that it makes sense to treat them as ultimate authorities. And there’s even a logical problem—if the will of the people is the ultimate standard, then what to standard should the people look in deciding what to do? The presence of the crucifix suggests it’s Christ, but that’s just the position the 1984 concordat rejected.

So people can squawk, but I expect classroom crucifixes in Italy to go the way of Roy’s Rock. All coherent human activities are based on some final standard. The Vatican itself has agreed that the final standard for Italian government will not be Christ but will be something else. Given the intrusiveness of the modern state, that final standard can hardly be different from the one insisted on as publicly authoritative in society at large. So the 1984 concordat was a fundamental decision regarding the status of Catholicism in Italy. How can government schools fail to reflect it?


Looking back on Vatican II

Here are some extremely interesting observations by a Lutheran observer at Vatican II. From what the man says it appears that the bishops got to Rome without any particularly pressing concerns of their own to deal with, they were asked to pass on grand issues for which they weren’t prepared, the experts argued rings around everyone else, the bishops became their pupils, and against their own preferred ways of thinking they answered the questions put to them as they had been taught. It seems an odd way to run a church.

Those who took part in the Council and favored the direction it took seem to have been intoxicated by the adventure and romance of it all, a state of mind not often helpful in governing a church or anything else. Whether romantic excitement was appropriate to the event should I suppose be judged by its fruits. This account of Yves Congar’s reactions is helpful as a reflection of what the Council seemed at the time to its fervent proponents.


It’s hitting the fan

It’s interesting that it’s moral conduct—in particular, active homosexuality—and not moral or theological teaching that puts the kibosh on communion and ecumenism: UPI Analysis: A rift worse than schism? The Anglicans have been consecrating bishops for years who think homosexuality is just great and who reject almost any Christian doctrine you care to mention. But it’s only when they consecrate an unrepentent practicing homosexual that ECUSA conservatives and Anglican primates really get serious and even Cardinal Kaspar thinks there’s a problem.

Maybe the explanation is that people today don’t really think words mean anything. A statement of doctrine can be explained or nuanced into almost anything. Someone who says “I’m an atheist” may be viewed as an anonymous Christian whose phrasing happens to be different from that traditionally used by the Church. But if substantive unity of doctrine becomes hard to pin down, then unity of practical conduct becomes a more important standard. The emphasis on practical conduct is clear in the attitude toward church/state relations currently dominant among Catholics—the state need not and probably should not recognize Catholicism as true, but it must conform to Catholic moral doctrine in what it does.

The response to the Robinson consecration suggests that such an attitude of relative indifference to belief has taken hold with regard to relations among Christian communities. To my mind that seems wrong. Christianity seems to me primarily a recognition of realities that affect the whole of life, including morality, rather than primarily a way to live. And however that may be—the parable of the Good Samaritan may suggest the contrary—goodness can’t be separated from truth. How can it be a problem for those who say “homosexuality is good” to become teachers and pastors only if they dare act on their beliefs?


A new Word for a New Age

A new religion needs a new holy book, so the German Evangelical Church is rewriting the bible in feminist language, getting rid of discriminatory expressions like “Lord” and “Our Father.” The effect is startling, but the effort is just an example of a general trend. Mainstream translations today always fudge things in a PC direction as much as they feel they can, and as time goes on what seems possible expands. Cardinal Bernardin’s proposal to revise the Gospel of John to make it more favorable to Judaism went farther than most and caused something of a fuss, but who knows where it will end up?

From the standpoint of those involved all these things make perfect sense. If religion is fundamentally an expression of man’s evolving understanding of how things should be—which from the standpoint of modern scholarship is the only possible view—why shouldn’t it keep on changing? What possible limits can there be? And why shouldn’t the people who have studied these things and know what changes are appropriate and inevitable move them along?

The view does have its problems. It makes contemporary thought and scholarship the ultimate criterion of truth. Unfortunately, contemporary thinkers are human like everyone else, and contemporary thought is much better at developing possibilities and filling in details than dealing with fundamental issues, which it can hardly touch at all. So in place of the ultimate realities that its pragmatic and scholarly methods can’t deal with progressive religion gives us a mixture of the pieties of the class to which scholars and functionaries belong. and the goals and assumptions of modern scholarship and modern bureaucratic organization.

The former gives us political correctness as a substitute for religion, and the latter backs up PC with the technocratic inclination to put all things on the same footing and make them a matter of human purposes and choice. Whether the result should be called “religion” isn’t obvious, but people—including many people in authority in the churches—insist that it is and promote it as true Christianity. To at least that extent it must be taken seriously.


A second look at The Scandal

If Commonweal, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and a consultant on sex abuse all agree on something, there must be something to it: Taking the Schiltz Challenge. Church officials who claim the recent pederasty scandals were a creation of the anti-Catholic media are wrong, since the outrageous conduct among the bishops that the scandal publicized was real and worth screaming about, but their claim has some basis and the linked article helps give perspective. The general outline of the situation was thoroughly covered by the press years ago, the specific problem of sex abuse appears on the whole to have been dealt with effectively since then, and the immediate cause of many incidents was reliance on bad advice from psychologists who haven’t been sued or even discredited. So why is it the Church rather than the profession of psychology that now has to get restructured?


Bad theology and bad art

Why so much bad religious art, architecture, music, ceremony and whatnot? Iconoclasm has always rested on theological error, and a Florentine scholar tells us that the same is true today: The New Iconoclasts Have Theology Degrees. The problem the article points to, in its Italian philosophical way, is the modern view that reduces the world to an odd mixture of atoms in space on the one hand and human feelings on the other. That view tells us that fact and value—reality and meaning—can have no real connection, and so makes nonsense of the Incarnation and the Real Presence. It also causes very serious problems for religious art—in the long run, for all art—because art, like fundamental Christian doctrine, joins meaning and being. The result of their current separation is “[p]sychobabble, pauperism, the craze for Russian icons and a horror for the Baroque.” Art today can be about feelings, it can deny itself and take refuge in absolute austerity, the visual correlate to a purely negative theology, or it can run off into the (misunderstood) primitive and exotic. What it cannot do is accept visible glory as a true expression of divine glory.



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