I linked to an article yesterday, without having fully read it, because it was a top hit when I Googled “Flannery O’Connor ‘to hell with it’.” But the title — “To Hell With It” – Reducing Religion to Ethics — stuck with me and I returned to read it. It was rewarding both for how it expressed what I believed already and for how it challenged and stretched me, too.
First, in linking to it yesterday I did far better than I knew. This is what hyperlinks are good for. It really expanded my “to hell with it.” Second, although Michael Sean Winters writes as a Roman Catholic, what he says is mostly applicable to Orthodoxy as well (we don’t have our own explicit “natural law” tradition, but many of us borrow Rome’s). Third, some of his comments expand my appreciation of why our wonderful arguments mostly get looks of blank incomprehension.
I commend the whole article, and I’ll spare you pulling out the many snippets I though super extra special.
But where Winters writes:
You almost never hear someone say: I like coming to Church because I believe that worshiping the Lord is what makes us truly human,
I would substitute something I haven’t said recently. I go to Church both to do and to learn what it means to be human.
I mostly “like” Church, but sometime dread it or weary of it. It’s hard work, and “besetting sins” make me feel like Sisyphus at times.
I’m glad I’m in a position where I must go anyway, because it would be tempting to skip if I wasn’t.
It has been decades since I wasted time debating whether “we can be good without God” except to say “that’s a stupid question and you don’t really care about God if mere goodness (or niceness) is what you’re ultimately after.”
(There are goals arguably beyond becoming fully human, but one thing at a time is enough.)
Dana Gioia’s Thursday poem at The Writer’s Almanac starts with “The world does not need words.” Since Gioia’s a poet, he takes that back later, though. Since I’m a blogger, I’m glad he did.
Rod Dreher on Thursday first commented on “Post-Christian Fundamentalism” of the sort that tries to forbid expression of dissenting views, saying he’s astonished how widespread that’s become and predicting a huge backlash at some point.
A reader and friend of mine who is a prominent secular leftist writes in response tomy American Mutaween post (I’ve slightly edited this to protect his privacy):
Of course, I’m entirely with you and Freddy DeBoer. If anything, I think he understates the problem. That said, I don’t see any reason to think (as opposed to in a certain sense wish, even if only out of schadenfreude) that there will be a fierce counter-reaction sooner or later. I say this because a) it seems to me that the idea that not giving offense is such an essential part of consumer capitalism, and b) liberalism’s genius is that it is the only secular ideology ever to claim (and I think believe sincerely) that it is not an ideology, makes resistance increasingly difficult. And why shouldn’t cultural and moral repression succeed for a long period of time? It has before, indeed, it has been the norm rather than the exception in human history. And what better sort of repression than a secularized version of the religious hunt for error, heresy, and paganism, which is what the phenomena and trends you and DeBoer are correctly describing in fact amount to?
(Emphasis added) I’ve suspected something like that first point – that consumer capitalism more or less requires muzzling anything that might give offense (I notice, for instance, that the Chambers of Commerce and big business are on the “progressive” side, or at best on the sideline, of thing like HJR-6/8 in Indiana this year) – for a couple of decades now. That liberalism thinks it’s neutral (“not an ideology”) is one of the deepest and most ineradicable of myths that are in the saddle riding traditionalist mankind today.
While Francis has decidedly moved the church back toward the social justice Catholicism with which Obama connected as a young man, Francis’s worldview is plainly not American. Efforts to shoehorn him into our debates have a distorting effect. And the Vatican — itself divided into factions — has other things to think about besides the contention within the U.S. church.
From everything he has said, Francis is, in our terms, a social conservative. Yet the issues about which he feels a genuine sense of urgency involve the hundreds of millions around the globe who suffer from extreme deprivation and oppression. From this standpoint, the political and theological skirmishes that consume so much energy among believers in wealthy countries might seem a form of self-indulgence.
Francis didn’t leave conservative U.S. bishops out in the cold in their contraception battle, as the Vatican statement after the meeting made clear. But it’s difficult to see the pope joining them at the ramparts.
(E.J. Dionne, emphasis added.) True, and helpful. But then this:
The veteran Vatican correspondent John Allen has documented attacks on religious liberty from state-sponsored persecution, including the outright murder of Christians. In light of this, the U.S. uproar over a requirement that contraception be subsidized in health insurance policies seems disproportionate. That’s especially true since the government-led health systems in many predominantly Catholic countries routinely cover contraception.
The first sentence is true. The second and third are nonsequiturs, implying, respectively, (1) that we have nothing to complain about absent state-sponsored persecution or murder, (2) that laws in secularized nominally Catholic countries are the measure of what’s right and good, and (3) that the epicenter of our ACA employer mandate rumblings is contraception rather than abortifacients (as Protestant Hobby Lobby’s cheerful coverage of most contraceptive methods illustrates, that’s not exactly true).
Continuing the blogosphere’s discussion of Patrick Deneen’s provocative Hobby Lobby observations, Scott Galupo suggests that
this is an unfortunate, ahistorical, heretical bedrock belief of the conservative base: the American economy is God’s economy. Any attempt to regulate it is contrary to the God-breathed Constitution. It is atheistic, humanistic, and tyrannical.
He suggests that this may be “the greatest trick the devil ever played” when “[t]hinking holistically of the human person.”
I first encountered unhinged “Christian economics” almost 50 years ago, expressed by my then-girlfriend’s fundamentalist grandfather. It hasn’t gotten much better in the interim. Put some lipstick on the status quo and vilify those who demur:
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“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)