Friday, 2/7/14

    1. Press doesn’t get it #1
    2. Press doesn’t get it #2
    3. What’s sacred at Chez Madonna
    4. Donald Miller’s just not that into love songs to God
    5. David Gans misprognosticates


Wow! Maybe it’ because we’re hunkering down in this weird, bitter winter, but several of my favorite bloggers have been on a roll. First, there is Father Stephen Freeman with his beautiful Christian insights. But Patrick Deneen has been no slouch either.

Thursday, he waded into  what he (and I) considers  truly interesting debate within Roman Catholicism today: that between the neoconservatives and the radical traditionalists:

The real action does not involve liberal “Catholics” at all. Liberal Catholicism, while well-represented in elite circles of the Democratic Party, qua Catholicism is finished. Liberal Catholicism has no future—like liberal Protestantism, it is fated to become liberalism simpliciter within a generation. The children of liberal Catholics will either want their liberalism unvarnished by incense and holy water, or they will rebel and ask if there’s something more challenging, disobeying their parents by “reverting” to Catholicism. While “liberal” Catholicism will appear to be a force because it will continue to have political representation, as a “project” and a theology, like liberal Protestantism it is doomed to oblivion.

The real battle is taking place beyond the purview of the pages of Time Magazine and the New York Times. The battle pits two camps of “conservative” Catholicism (let’s dispense with that label immediately and permanently—as my argument suggests, and others have said better, our political labels are inadequate to the task).

On the one side one finds an older American tradition of orthodox Catholicism as it has developed in the nation since the mid-twentieth century … Its basic positions align closely to the arguments developed by John Courtney Murray and others. Essentially, there is no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Catholicism. Liberal democracy is, or at its best can be, a tolerant home for Catholics, one that acknowledges contributions of the Catholic tradition and is leavened by its moral commitments. While liberalism alone can be brittle and thin—its stated neutrality can leave it awash in relativism and indifferentism—it is deepened and rendered more sustainable by the Catholic presence.

On the other side is arrayed what might be characterized as a more radical Catholicism … The “radical” school rejects the view that Catholicism and liberal democracy are fundamentally compatible. Rather, liberalism cannot be understood to be merely neutral and ultimately tolerant toward (and even potentially benefitting from) Catholicism. Rather, liberalism is premised on a contrary view of human nature (and even a competing theology) to Catholicism …

Because of these positions, the “radical” position … is deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, is deeply suspicious of America’s imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government. It is comfortable with neither party, and holds that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of liberalism …

While the New York Times (and Fox News) focuses on the theater pitting “liberal” vs. “conservative” Catholics, it has been altogether ignorant of the significant and, arguably, increasingly vociferous dust-ups that have been taking place between these two schools of thought.

I have quoted at greater length Deneen’s summary of positions of the radicals both because they are less familiar and because my head tells me they’re right. My heart, on the other hand, keeps telling me that liberal democracy can work and that we can all just get along – that “liberalism is … a ‘shell’ philosophy that allows a thousand flowers to bloom,” which the radicals (Deneen says) deny. Those ellipses eliminate a lot of good stuff, including the representative authors of both sides.

I quote more from the neoconservatives most days because they publish more “popular” pieces that I encounter (partly a function of press bias, partly a function of something more, which I think I intuit but will not yet utter).

Note that both sides are religiously faithful; neither is slowly falling away from, say, Nicene Christianity. But the stakes are high anyway, and although the battleground could be  characterized as political, the radicals are not aligned with either of the major parties as the neoconservatives tend to be aligned with the Republicans.

But just as with religion and science, the press would like to have a dumbed-down debate between left liberal Nancy Pelosi and right liberal Rick Santorum.


Q. So it doesn’t matter if man descended from animals?

A. What matters is the divine origin of man and his relationship to God, namely that God created us, not how He created us. And also, the danger is not that man descended from the animals, but rather that we end up like them: “People, despite their honor, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:12). While our purpose is to be like God, we are trying to prove that we are animals?
The problem therefore is not the scientific confirmation of evolution, but the commitment to the sick interpretation of it. The latter does not prove the non-existence of God, but affirms the impassioned nearsightedness of man. To exchange the divine purpose with an unwise degeneration to an animal! Not even animals would like this.

Q. But we have important similarities with animals and need to find their importance.

A. The interest in our likeness with animals surprises me. If there was similar interest in our affinity with God, how different things would be. We should discover the significance of this affinity. As for the animals, there are certainly similarities. Our body in one way or another resembles the higher primates. We can even teach animals instinctive virtues. There are so many examples that exist in Holy Scripture. Christ Himself says in the Sermon on the Mount to “look at the birds in the air” and in what way we can imitate them.

But what matters is our differences from the animals. Man is psychosomatic. This is the source of his value. It is time to turn our attention away from our similarity with animals and towards the possibility of our likeness to God.

(Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, italics added)

I had picked up on this before Rod Dreher blogged on bit of science versus religion bloodsport (Ken Ham versus Bill Nye) that I mercifully missed (but which may explain why Ken Ham has been showing up unbidden on my Facebook page). Dreher also commends the BioLogos website; they have a Twitter feed, too. BioLogos contributors have their own distinctive thoughts on the Ham/Nye circus.

To make a long story short, Ken Ham, Creationist, versus Bill Nye, Scientist, makes a long and rich story way too short, even if it makes for galvanizing TV: one “choir” rooting against the other as two guys preach to their polarized choirs.


“I’d like to thank Pussy Riot,” Madonna said, “for making the word ‘pussy’ a sacred word in my household.”

Got that? “Madonna” is a commercial moniker for an artiste known for unchastity, for picking a guy from her dance troop to inseminate her, and other contributions in pop culture’s race to the sewer.

“Pussy,” on the other hand, is a sacred word, because Pussy Riot stands for a “right” of free expression whenever and wherever one wants, including provocatively performing unbidden in a sacred space.


Donald Miller (presumably he of Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) has a confession to make:

I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

Fr. Andrew Steven Damick can relate to that, although he (and I) would not recognize Miller’s experience as “a traditional church service,” but has a number of qualifications:

It seems to me that, even though Miller is essentially rejecting the modern Evangelical worship mode, he still accepts its basic premise, i.e., that worship is about learning. Now, I have no problem with learning in church, but this is an assumption that I think is worth at least questioning: Is learning what worship is supposed to accomplish?

What I’m going to say next might come off as triumphalistic or “advertisey,” though I don’t mean it that way: Has Donald Miller ever heard of Orthodox Christianity?

For one thing, Orthodoxy engages every element of what Miller is talking about here: It is auditory, musical, rhetorical, kinesthetic and visual, all to a degree that would probably be bewildering to the average Evangelical. As soon as one steps into an Orthodox church, he is bombarded with images, with sounds, with smells, with words, with things to touch and even to taste. There are icons, incense, architecture, the sermon, chant, holy oil, holy water, the Eucharist and a good bit more, and it all comes at you often without much apparent order, especially to the newcomer.


Slate article by David Gans makes much of the fact that business groups haven’t stood up to support Hobby Lobby’s religious exemption claims:

This spring, the Supreme Court will decide — for the first time in our nation’s history — whether secular, for-profit corporations are entitled to invoke the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion….

(Eugene Volokh)  After skimming the brief of Douglas Laycock, I don’t believe that the Supreme Court will decide that question. Rather, it will decide that Hobby Lobby  and Conestoga Wood Products  have a claim to exemption under the statutory meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is a somewhat more modest proposition focused on Congressional intent rather than on risible notions about the constitutional free exercise of religion by profit-making corporations.

Sorry to split hairs. It’s what lawyers do.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.