Wednesday, 5/20/15

  1. Chreasters and Regulars
  2. Douthat’s spin on 6-to-1
  3. Away with silver linings!
  4. Where’s St. Ambrose when we need him?
  5. Culture, not politics


(Some thoughts that came to me while reading Ross Douthat analyzing the recent Pew religion survey.)

I sometimes forget how uncommon it is in the U.S. (15% -25%) to attend religious services every week. Not only do I do so, I attend twice per week at least and considerably more than that over the course of a liturgical year, what with major feasts (a dozen or so), Lent, Holy Week and such. Mrs. Tipsy’s a faithful attender in her tradition as well. Exceptions other than illness: only during vacations, when an Orthodox Church may not be available (or, like last summer, I showed up in “vacation casual” on a Sunday when the parish was all decked out for a visit from the Bishop and the kick-off of their building fund drive – I felt like a party crasher with “no wedding garment that I may enter”).

Were I not a bottom-of-the-barrel tonsured member of the clergy, I’d no doubt attend less often, but still at least weekly. I’ve done so all my life. I’ve never been a chreaster.

No wonder I’m a cultural oddity and off the North America scale in worldview – not just beyond the normal end, but off the scale entirely.

Considering the mess I see, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I may be wrong, but I’m wrong than our culture is manifestly wrong.


More from Douthat:

Pew’s stark graphic showing Catholicism losing six cradle Catholics for every non-Catholic who converts, compared to far better ratios for evangelicalism and even the Mainline, also may overstate the Roman’s church’s problems, since it doesn’t capture all the denominational churn within Protestantism (a Presbyterian becoming a Baptist or vice versa). If you compare Catholicism to specific Protestant churches rather than broader umbrella categories, the Catholic retention rate looks a lot better; at worst in the middle of the pack, and more likely well above average.

(Emphasis added) True enough, but I suspect know that most many Protestant “churners” perceive nothing more than that they are getting their kids into a livelier youth program or some such thing, whereas entering or exiting Roman Catholicism, even after Vatican II, should feel like much more than a mere change of denominational emphasis within common-core Protestantism – dare I call it “conversion”? I doubt that any Protestants would even consider looking at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish however lively its youth program, for instance.

Same for entering or exiting Orthodoxy, though that’s not on Douthat’s radar in his column.


Michael Brendan Dougherty isn’t having any of the happy-talk about winnowing, purification, getting read of dead weight, etc.:

Moore is right that as Christianity becomes less of a “default” religious affiliation, Christians have a greater opportunity to make a fresh appeal. But I think a case can be made for the fallen-away, for backsliders, the lukewarm, the non-practicing, the “cafeteria Catholics,” and the “cultural Christians.”

Like counterfeit bills, the presence of fake-Christians is a sign that the real thing is considered valuable. Cafeteria Catholics are proof that the Church is still serving something people feel the need to sample.

I’m inclined to agree. Others, including me, have been talking about the silver lining (whoever called my Pollyanna before?), but there really is a cloud.

UPDATE: Duh! One of my favorite aphorisms should have been alluded to in summarizing MBD: It’s worrisome when vice stops paying the tribute of hypocrisy to virtue.


I listened recently to a podcast by a conservative Priest defending the proposition that government remains under God and that preachers need to preach truth to power – not specific policy proposals, but timeless truth. He cited, among other precedents, a two-volume, 1800-page set of pre-Revolutionary War “American Political Sermons” in his library.

Considering the audience, it was mostly conservative barbs at liberals, and especially at the sexual revolution. He told of another clergyman who said it was hard to pray with Republicans because you have to think it through and write it out, whereas with Democrats he just pulls out his Prayer Book and starts in on the exorcisms. (The applause was notably more subdued at some points where “conservatives” are complicit.)

But I was stuck on his allusion to St. Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius, whose story might give pause to conservative hawks.


That’s VanDyk’s representation of the iconic (if I be allowed that term) humiliation (I love that locution: making him humble) of the Emperor Theodosius by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Theodosius had indiscriminately killed the guilty and the innocent – reportedly 7000 of the latter:

When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who—on his return to Milan—desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying “You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes. Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.

(Theodoret: St. Ambrose Humiliates Theodosius the Great)

If I’m reading this precedent correctly, we’ve had a run of Presidents who needed to be barred from Church until they were humiliated and repented of their reckless wars of choice. #1 on that list would be our last Real Christian® President, George W. Bush. Doubt it? Here and here just for current stories.

I have a real icon of St. Ambrose, who also was instrumental in the conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo and who I’ve presumptuously named as my late Father’s patron because his feast is my father’s birthday. Perhaps I should ask him to put in a word with the Holy Trinity that we be delivered from warmongers.


Rod Dreher breaks some new ground in clarifying what he’s talking about by “Benedict Option” on Tuesday: culture, not politics (and with an intriguing precedent from modern history).

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.