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Thursday, July 29, 2004

What's wrong (and right) with those pictures.

OK, time's up:

The issue is seen right smack on the covers of the books, and is not a problem with the content.

Look at the first one--written by Darrell Bock. Who he? Fine, fair point--Bock is an evangelical professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary. He's not a lightweight, either--in addition to heavy lifting on the book front, he's probably most familiar as a voice of reason in the semi-annual "Who's This Jesus Guy, Anyway?" specials the networks run, playing off against the wacky ravings of folks like John ("He's dead! Dead! Dead! Dead!") Crossan.

But when faced with a best-seller causing a crisis of faith amongst the laity, Bock employs his knowledge to assist the perplexed laity in a "popular" work. In fact, that's one of the great things I admire about evangelicalism--their scholars remember they, too, are part of the Body of Christ, and not some academic clerisy set apart from the vulgar unwashed.

I've noted this before, if you're interested.

More to the point is that the Foreword is written Fr. Francis J. Moloney, the dean of the theology department at the Catholic University of America. The Foreword is pretty lackluster, essentially a regurgitation of the received wisdom regarding the textual formation of the Gospels, but ultimately critical of Brown's opus, ending with a rah-rah for Bock's work.

Again, who he? Fr. Moloney is regarded as one of the top drawer Catholic exegetes in the English-speaking world. But he doesn't think much of "unscholarly" popular piety. Consider his condescending take on TPOTC, where he managed the impressive feat of finding it at once laughable, too-violent, silly, ridiculous and sleep-inducing. But fortunately, Fr. allows that it's OK for ignorant vulgarians to be inspired by it--after all, not everyone brings multiple degrees and historical-critical apparati to the table, leaving them unable to see through the "errors":

Moloney said his views reflect the general consensus among biblical scholars. He acknowledged that many people do not bring what scholars bring to the film, and "we've got to respect that."

How very white of him. Exhibit A for demonstrating the complete disconnect between most Catholic scholars and the rest of the Church. Be that as it may, liking or disliking the most controversial film of 2004 (I'm not giving the Flint Blimp/Davison Dirigible credit for anything) isn't a benchmark for orthodoxy. But it does raise an interesting related question no one in the disconnected world of academia has even bothered to ask: why was the film such a phenomenon among average Catholics? Maybe there's something lacking in your own endeavors....Naaaah. Just voyeurs lining up for a snuff film, I'm sure.

The fact that Fr. Moloney wrote the Foreword should be a credit to him, but it isn't upon further review. After all, if he found the book so problematic and was willing to sign on for the Foreword, why didn't he write this himself? Why didn't he use his learning to help struggling sisters and brothers?

Is leaving the academic orbit that hard for the degreed elite (ordained or no)? N.T. Wright does it all the bloody time (and, to be blunt, there's almost no one in Catholic biblical scholarship who can carry his jock) without harm to his prodigious reputation.

But our boys and girls don't. And they never will--it's unscholarly, don't you know? Doesn't count toward the "Publish or Perish" Quota. Would hate to be regarded as a vulgar popularizer.

Which leaves you with this reasonable query: what use is "mainstream" American Catholic scholarship, anyway? They won't answer to the hierarchy (the mandatum) and they won't serve the laity. Existing to protect your own privileges is a sure sign of irrelevance.

I don't often quote Puritan dictators, but Cromwell's advice to the Rump Parliament in 1653, backed up by scores of armed veterans, fits here:

You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

Thank God for Protestants like Darrell Bock: he's done more for Catholics made confused and anxious by Brown than the entire Catholic academy in the United States.

Ponder that for a moment.

Which brings us to the good news--the laity are picking up the slack, as the other two books show. They have to--waiting around for clergy and scholars "in the Catholic tradition" to respond is waiting for Godot. Nothing will happen otherwise.

It should be painfully evident that the crises of the Church in this country will not be solved by anyone other than an educated and motivated laity. Sure, there are good bishops out there--but even where you have one, it's not like the guy can be everywhere at once, a one man fire brigade responding to every whiff of smoke. It can't be done, and it's a recipe for sure disappointment (and a reservation at the Rubber Hilton for the ordinary).

The bishop's not coming to your rescue if your liturgy involves beachball-tossing spandex-clad women in brushcuts interpreting the sacred scripture of Deepak Chopra. The Roman Cavalry is not riding over the hill, trumpets blaring and carbines firing, to save you from catechists who insist the Church no longer believes in the Real Presence. The tenured aristocrats at your local CINO university don't give two shineolas about secular or religious fundamentalists of any stripe roiling the consciences of mere layfolk.

If you want anything done, your workforce can be viewed in the mirror.

There's your situation report. Back to the fight.

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