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Friday, January 30, 2004

Weapons of Mass Deconstruction: Nuking the New Apologists, Part II.

Let me be clear about one point before I continue: I don't think the New Apologists are making a hash of it. Unlike Bill, I've read a good many of them. My personal experience is that these men and women are doing good work. I lead our parish bible study. I use the Ignatius Catholic Bible Study written in part by Scott Hahn (eek!--and make sure to ignore the imprimatur). What else would an ex-Methodist dupe of fringe Reformed fundamentalists use, anyway? As can be expected, questions about Catholicism and Catholic responses to challenges are a frequent topic for the 10 or so of us who gather every Monday. I've sent people to materials by the New Apologists, and lent them on occasion (as well as works by C.S. Lewis--apparently triumphalism works slowly like arsenic, or something). One case in particular stands out--a baby boom generation member who admitted to be holding on to the faith by the fingernails. The Catholic religious education the member had been given was a nullity, and no help in challenges posed by other Christians. I lent a book that offered a Catholic answer on a particularly troubling subject. The result? Finished and returned two weeks later, the relief almost palpable. Why? Because one of the NAs provided a coherent Catholic response, that's why. By now, I really wish I had a buck for every time I heard "I had no idea there was a Catholic teaching on" issue XYZ.

Feel free to ignore this anecdote, and resume shooting the wounded unsophisticates.

2. Bill's Second Defense of Gaillardetz.

Some bloggers (and the denizens of their comments boxes) have been quite eager to trash Rick Gaillardetz's "America" article, mostly in knee-jerk defense of their favorite Super Hero Apologists; in doing so, it is clear that most haven't read what he wrote, nor do most acknowledge the validity of any of his criticisms.

"Some bloggers" would be Amy Welborn and Mark Shea, if you're keeping track at home. I qualify as a "denizen." While I appreciate a lot of what Bill writes, he quickly flips the switch into Dismissive Mode in this post, and never turns it off. "Super Hero Apologist" is a nice turn of phrase--it certainly helps caricature those who fail to acknowledge the irrefutable brilliance of the Professor's Exsurge Domine as pimply fanboys--but it doesn't do much to advance the discussion. I wonder how he'd react to a characterization of those Catholic scholars criticizing the Gibson film as "Super Hero Theologians"?

I suspect I wouldn't have to wonder long.

As it turns out, Bill has his own "Super Hero Apologist," too, and I admit to having mine. Unfortunately for Bill, Captain Marvel can beat up Superman.


But there are problems with the so-called "New" Apologists. I mention these frequently, citing their combativeness, proof-texting use of Scripture in a fundamentalist fashion, triumphalism, and the creation of a personality cult around these folks.

He does mention them frequently, but he doesn't do much other than repeat the formulas, I'm afraid. "Combativeness" is another Emily Post complaint, and is largely in the eye of the beholder. I'll admit it applies to some of the NAs, who can clamp on like a terrier on a hambone. But across the board--to, say, Fr. Pacwa? Profs. Kreeft and Hahn? Not by my reading, listening, or viewing.

"Proof-texting" is another ambiguous gripe. Frankly, any discussion with people sharing common scriptures (i.e., other Christians and Jews) is going to involve a discussion of differing scriptures which the varying traditions tend to emphasize, and different interpretations of those scriptures. Frankly, you're not going to get very far in any discussion, regardless of how "eschatologically modest" you are, without offering up the "Catholic" verses. It's the tone that determines whether it's productive or an exercise in one-upsmanship. Not all the cited (or uncited) NAs are guilty of this--not by a longshot. This indiscriminate broad-brush approach is one of the fatal flaws of the America article. It also strongly hints at a Cliff-Notes familiarity with the work of those being criticized.

Then there's that word again--"Fundamentalist."

Elk. Lasix. Time to put on a poncho.

It's a substitute for thought, and a particularly parochial one at that. It could mean "preferring the 'four senses' medieval exegesis to use of the historical critical method," or "insufficient genuflecting to the Catholic exegetes du jour who employ historical criticism," then it's unbelievably parochial. Fortunately, Catholics are allowed a much greater amount of freedom in interpretation and interpretation methods than Bill allows.

"Triumphalism?" Presumably closely related to "anti-ecumenical." It certainly would apply to Matatics, who's borderline Feeneyite, if not full-blown. The rest? In spots, perhaps, but hardly consistently, and some virtually never. In fact, for some it is grotesquely false to accuse them of being anti-ecumenical (e.g., Kreeft, Fr. Pacwa). Once again, the "argument by trowel" cuts the legs out from itself.
Unless a full-throated love of the Catholic faith is now somehow off-limits.


Let me underline one important point: Gaillardetz acknowledges the need for apologetics. So those who are spending their time defending "apologetics" as such are missing the boat completely. The issue is how to do it; most of the "New" Apologists have brought in a methodology from the fundamentalist edge of the Reformed tradition which is problematic.

The first two sentences are fine. The last needs to be answered. Of the apologists named in the article, three are cradle Catholics (Keating, Madrid, Fr. Pacwa) and only two could be accused of bringing in a "Reformed fundamentalist methodology" based on background alone--Hahn and Matatics. These days, Matatics sounds more like Frs. Rumble and Carty with a better grasp of koine Greek (not a bad thing, just not that winning), and whatever Reformed approach he brought with him, he's since dropped. Hahn certainly has used Reformed covenantalism in his work, but we have that troublesome "fundamentalist" word spattering down again. Finally, Dr. Kreeft was a convert from the Reformed tradition in 1957, but I challenge anyone to find Calvin in his methodology.

Frankly, this criticism sounds more like it's coming from one of those bloody Lutheran-Reformed knife fights--particularly the disdain of the former for the latter--than from any analysis of the NAs.


Apologetics is not about proof-text battles with Protestants. It is simply about explaining your faith. This, I suggest, is best done (whatever the context) by listening to the other person, learning what their deepest hopes and fears are, listening to their questions and objections, and framing a presentation of the Catholic faith which is not belligerent but which is attractive. Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulists, did that in an admirable way.

See the above note about prooftexting. This is unobjectionable, and probably the first approach that should be employed, especially in individual witness.

But such a method does not exclude the possibility of offering examples from Scripture, Tradition, and so forth. Might I also offer up the counter-example of St. Francis de Sales, and The Catholic Controversy? I wonder how St. Francis' method would be regarded by Prof. Gaillardetz and those readers of America who agree with the article....

Moreover, there's an unacknowledged weakness to the softer Gaillardetz approach, too--it can devolve into a whole lot of good feelings, but not much Good News. Without substance, it's not going to get very far. And that substance will likely return to a discussion of the evidence found in scripture, alas.


I didn't read the works of these "New Apologists" before I became a Catholic--they wouldn't have attracted me if I did.

Many would regard this failure as a serious liability in attempting to reason with those who have read and profited from them. I happen to be one of them.

They seem to be most attractive to insecure Catholics and fundamentalists.

Maybe I should start wearing a tarpaulin.

Remember what I said about "dismissive"? We've reached the nadir. As the Aussies say: good on ya, mate! Glad you've grown beyond all that and can climb into the heads of your lesser brothers and sisters. I find it strange that you could do so without reading much of it, but when we insecure/fundy types grow up, we'll probably understand better.

Please.


I was impressed, however, by writers like Thomas Merton and John Henry Newman--and Richard McBrien.

Memo to self: Install sneeze guard on computer desk.

Merton and Newman both grace this insecuritate's bookshelf, although I tend to give the later Merton a wide berth. For his part, Newman was not averse to slinging the occasional verse around, and Apologia isn't the most "ecumenical" thing you'll ever read.

But....McBrien. Oooookay. Time for a little compare and contrast.


His Catholicism does do a remarkable job of explaining to theologically educated non-Catholics both magisterial teaching, how it developed, and where the discussion points are among theologians today.

I count myself a great admirer of Dr. Peter Kreeft, the philosophy professor at Boston College. I own several of his books. Not coincidentally, I own a copy of the Study Edition (1981) of McBrien's Catholicism.

That Gaillardetz includes Kreeft on his hit list is proof of the fundamental silliness and inaccuracy of his analysis. Again, it suggests the Professor had a rather shaky grasp of the material he criticized. Consider Prof. Kreeft's own catechism-based survey of the Catholic Faith, entitled Catholic Christianity. Flipping through the early pages, one notices something striking. While Kreeft's book has both a nihil obstat and an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Catholicism contains a two-page statement by the then-bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, William McManus, explaining his decision to withhold an imprimatur.

Remember, Kreeft's the wild card here.

Leaving aside Bill's caveat that Catholicism could be useful for theologically educated non-Catholics (not the most common specimen the average man in the pews is going to run across), let's address instead the contention that it does a "remarkable job of explaining magisterial teaching...and where the discussion points are among theologians today."

In 1996, after fifteen years of wrangling with Fr. McBrien over his book, the USCCB disagreed with this assessment (read footnote 1 for Fr. McBrien's attempted spin on the dispute).

The problems? Oh, just a couple/three/dozen areas where the Bishops' Committee found McBrien made inaccurate/misleading statements or employed otherwise problematic methodologies (be sure to read the footnotes, which are essential to the analysis):

1) The Impeccability of Jesus Christ;
2) The Virginal Conception of Jesus;
3) The Perpetual Virginity of Mary;
4) Overemphasis on Plurality Within the Catholic Theological Tradition;
5) Describes as mainstream what are truly "fringe" positions;
6) Insufficient Weight Given to Magisterial Teaching;
7) Doctrinal Minimalism ("reducing to an absolute minimum the church teachings and beliefs that are to be considered essential to the Catholic faith and to which one must adhere in order to consider oneself Catholic");
8) Overemphasis on Change and Development ("The text is at times quite harsh in its criticism of patristic and medieval thought. From the perspective of Catholicism, modern thought has definitively superseded ancient and medieval thought").

Rather surprising for one renowned as a defender of the bishops and their teaching authority, Bill shrugs off this criticism.

That's his prerogative. For my part, I'd recommend Catholicism only to non-Catholic friends in need of a doorstop. I'd have to issue too many caveats, make sure they read the Bishops' review first, explained the lengthy nature of the dispute, what the lack of an imprimatur means, McBrien's refusal to get a mandatum and what that means, etc. But if the friend's sofa is unbalanced, I've got just the thing.

Now, shifting gears, let us examine Prof. Kreeft in light of the complaints regarding ecumenism. Well, one counter-example will suffice: The Handbook of Christian Apologetics, co-written with Jesuit Father Ronald Tacelli for IVP, the evangelical publishing house. Written deliberately as an ecumenical, "mere Christian" work intended for a broader Christian audience, Kreeft also gives a surprising tip of the hat to Does God Exist? , by one Hans Kung (see p. 394), as a recommended book.

Oh, and he was a signatory to the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project, too. That should be considered "ecumenical" by even the strictest of standards.

Unless, of course, ecumenical outreach to evangelicals, rather like the evangelicals themselves, doesn't count. Apparently not in Prof. Gaillardetz' world. This demonstrates once again that common Catholic malady: incomprehension of evangelicals. Sometimes, reading Catholics talking about evangelicals, I get the impression that lurking behind the analysis (or lack thereof) is a puzzlement: "Now, which group of snake-handlers does that guy belong to again?"

Again, Gaillardetz' handling of Kreeft suggests more reading about him than actually reading him. So much for the analysis.

Bill can have his Superman. But Captain Marvel wins by a knockout.

I'll omit the last paragraph, which reiterates the same objections, fanboy jibes, begs questions (e.g., just what is "mainstream biblical scholarship" anyway?) and proceed to his last point
.

We need apologetics--but not this kind.

Anathema sit, eh? I disagree: Catholicism is easily big enough to embrace most of it--especially in light of the flimsiness of the objections.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Weapons of Mass Deconstruction: Nuking the New Apologists, Part I.

I have profited from reading Bill Cork's blog over the past year or so. That even includes occasional tidbits on The Film That Shall Not Be Named, and his passionate advocacy for Christian unity is a model that should be emulated more often.

Those of you sensing an impending qualifier are spot-on.

I also am compelled to say that his work suffers from some obvious flaws--the most obvious of which is his penchant for dogmatic anathemas, through which he seems especially willing to read fellow Catholics the riot act, employing a tone and terminology he wouldn't imagine using on non-Christians.

There's that, and his irritating tendency to spray the term "fundamentalist" around like an elk on Lasix.

Both traits were on display in his touting of University of Toledo Prof. Richard Gaillardetz' America article deriding the New Apologists. Frankly, his posts on it read like medieval bulls in defense of the often-inaccurate, not infrequently silly and very frequently condescending piece, which advocates a diet Coke apologetics as a substitute for that being practiced by the likes of Pat Madrid, Karl Keating, BC Prof. Peter Kreeft, Jesuit Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Prof. Scott Hahn, et al.

You know: the Catholic Axis of Evil. A veritable Borg cube of uniformity, if I've ever seen one, but I'll get to that later.

In the 1/13/04 issue of the Christian Century, there was a disarming admission by a self-described "liberal Christian" and seminary professor named Barbara G. Wheeler in an exchange between her and evangelical Richard Mouw. In it, Dr. Wheeler candidly confessed that great failing of liberal Christians:

We are pretty sure that we are advanced and others outmoded. When everyone else grows up, we believe, they will look and think like us.

While I would not call Bill a liberal, the same smug dismissiveness toward more conservative Catholics is a feature of his writing, and definitely wafts up in hair-drying gusts from the article he fervently defends. For example, look closely for the political labels used in the piece, and who gets what. Reading Gaillardetz' piece, I was left with the distinct impression of someone who, standing in front of a burning apartment building with trapped residents, chooses for some reason to carp that the firemen are brusque, use rough language, don't shave enough, and really need a Carnegie course. Add to that a fundamental (!) incomprehension of evangelicals and evangelical converts to Catholicism (in all their bewildering diversity--Reformed, Arminian, Pentecostal, Wesleyan/Holiness, Baptist--which is not acknowledged by Bill or the Professor), and you have a deeply flawed article and a deeply flawed defense.

1. The Gaillardetz Article and the Initial Defense.

With that in mind, let's look at the article and Bill's first statements on behalf of it. First and foremost, the balance in Gaillardetz' piece is at best pro forma. Bill references the four recited compliments (detailed here), but come on--each is of the "Hitler-was-a-powerful-speaker" variety. All for style, none for objective substance--with the partial exception of the damning with faint praise "they're OK for refuting the Swaggarts of the world" statements. Even that boomerangs back, as Gaillardetz turns it into an attack on--wait for it--Catholic "fundamentalism," a beast so fearsome, it must be regarded as the gravest of threats and tilted at with all due haste--much like your average modern liturgist has to expunge every last scrap of "devotionalism" from the eucharistic community celebration (f/k/a "the Mass").

Count me among the unimpressed with the purported "balance."

On to the weaknesses, which are far more serious in Gaillardetz' and Bill's minds, inasmuch as they require a complete replacement of the fundies currently laboring in the fields with nicer people. The evils seen in the NAs are as follows:

1. Prooftexting fundamentalism;
2. All Catholic doctrine is presented as equally authoritative and binding (citing the much-loved (and even more abused) "hierarchy of truths" reference from Unitatis Redintegratio;
3. A triumphalism which finds error in other religious beliefs, thereby undermining ecumenism;
4. An ahistorical understanding of doctrinal truths;
5. (Near as I can tell--it's a lot more abstract) the failure to understand that the Church is a sinful pilgrim.

In other words, the East German judge finds the technical part of the long program to be entirely wanting, even though he's willing to give you a 2.5 for the artistic presentation.

The first substantive problem with Prof. Gaillardetz is that, if I didn't know better, I'd swear he'd been living in a bubble for the past twenty five years. That "many" are not well-catechized is something of an understatement. In fact, if the USCCB's most recent report is accurate, the American Church is in the process of raising up its second such badly-educated generation since the end of Vatican II. We can argue all day about who dropped the ball--letting parishes substitute Glitter Aplenty! for God Almighty in the catechism classes--but you might expect the Hammers of Apologists to be slightly thankful that at least someone has tried to pick it up and give the faithful something they are clearly starving for. It's not like Surprised by Truth and Rome Sweet Home sold by the bushel because of the slick TV ad campaigns.

Are they thankful? Well, of course not. In my experience, nobody shoots the wounded and the medics treating them quite like a Catholic.

No, instead there's much fretting about triumphalism, the damage to ecumenism, and so forth. The critics prefer to give the laity who have stood in the gap a patronizing and savage kick in the teeth. "You've got spunk and all, but you're doing it wrong, you fundy twit."

A more appropriate response might be for those in Catholic academia to climb down from their lofty towers, take a break from PlauditQuests in non-Catholic circles, the secular world and their own amen corners, and actually do the dirty work of feeding and teaching their brothers and sisters. Including--gasp!--doing "apologetics." Like those dreadful evangelicals are wont to do--notably in the world of biblical studies.

Especially if these far right, prooftexting, unacademic, anti-ecumenical, out-of-the mainstream, mackerel-snapping Elmer Gantrys are making such a hash of it, as Prof. Gaillardetz suggests.

[Honesty compels me to acknowledge that Prof. Gaillardetz appears to be one who puts his money where his mouth is, having written a number of books on Catholic issues (marriage issues mainly, although he has a book on the magisterium called, interestingly enough, By What Authority) for the average man in the pews. Unfortunately, that makes him a rare exception among Catholic academics of a moderately to fully progressive bent. I'll be over here--not holding my breath for the rush of volunteers.]

Speaking of "damage to ecumenism," I'm still agog at that claim. It's not like the real reason ARCIC derailed was because someone slipped Rowan Williams a copy of On Being Catholic. In reality, the complaint about ecumenical damage is pure Emily Post--an objection to the tone employed by the insufficiently refined. I mean, a grounded faithful Catholic is compelled to say that, compared to the Faith, other religious groups are in some respect "fundamentally erroneous." You have to acknowledge this, otherwise you wouldn't be a Catholic in the first place.

Right? So, again, it boils down to a style objection.

Finally, in response to the ahistorical argument. Well, history is a funny thing. Responding directly to his example of Scott Hahn's misuse of Dei Verbum--well, actually the drafting history and not just the text (!) supports his position.

I recommend the article--truly fascinating. If, like me, you're into fundy rags like Homiletic and Pastoral Review, that is.

On to Part II.
Why intra-Christian "dialogue" on the issue of homosexuality is DOA.

A very worthwhile and thoughtful article by a Lutheran pastor, Jonathan Sorum, entitled "Why We Can't Talk." It is especially good at analyzing the comparison to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and finds it wanting.

The homosexual rights movement equates a minority that faces discrimination and moral condemnation because of its members’ physical appearance with a minority that faces discrimination and moral condemnation because its members act in a certain way. Just as no moral judgment should be made based on race, so also, they say, no moral judgment should be based on sexual orientation in its expanded definition that includes both experienced desire and acting on that desire. In other words, sexual orientation—always including the implicit justification of acting on that orientation—is outside the realm of morality. The only immorality involved is bringing it within the realm of morality.

But this move overthrows morality as such. As soon as an action that springs from a desire, and not the mere experiencing of a desire, is exempted from moral consideration, then there is no morality. Morality, by all accounts, appeals to some authority to decide which desires should be expressed and which desires should be suppressed and to what extent. To declare a desire “natural” and good and
rule out ahead of time any moral evaluation of the expression of that desire in action short-circuits morality. Desires are not the source of morality but that which morality evaluates and regulates. Morality is what intervenes between the desire and the action. The sureness and skill with which persons now restrain, now express one desire or another in accord with their moral training just is “the content of their character.”

Christian morality appeals, finally, to the Scriptures as the external source of moral norms. This appeal does not mean that the Scriptures must be interpreted as a law code whose every precept is directly applicable to us today. The Lutheran tradition, for example, insists that the Scriptural Law can be discerned only from the perspective of the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. From that perspective, the tradition insists, the Scriptures provide a coherent view of the basic shape of a human life consistent with God’s redeeming work, which also reflects God’s work as creator and sustainer of the world. For example, the tradition clearly teaches that, according to the Scriptures, marriage is rooted in God’s creative intention (Matt. 19:4–8) and finds its final fulfillment in God’s redemptive work (Eph. 5:32). From such a Christological perspective, it is possible to evaluate all the Biblical texts related to marriage, including some we may find problematic, and construct an authoritative Biblical answer to the question about how we should conduct ourselves with respect to this area of life. Our needs, desires, prejudices and preferences do not have any authority in this process. Of course, we can’t fully escape such things and inevitably they color our interpretation. But the constant work of Biblical interpretation, under the power of the Holy Spirit and aided by the communion of saints in space and time, aims precisely at eliminating such factors from the Church’s teaching so that the Church may discern the will of God. The Church’s moral debate is internal to the tradition. If we are to revise our moral teaching, we must do so on the basis of the Scriptures themselves within the context of our tradition of interpretation.

The homosexual rights movement, however, insists that the discovery of a “homosexual orientation” in and of itself demands a revision of the Church’s moral teaching. Some people, they say, experience sexual desire for persons of the same sex as “natural” and its expression in actions is therefore in
principle good. But here the moral judgment is made before ever consulting
the Scriptures or the Church’s teaching of the Scriptures. The desire is declared
good ahead of time and whatever the Scriptures say will have to agree with
this judgment or else be rejected. Advocates of homosexual rights in the
Church may believe they want to change only one plank in the Church’s moral
position. But in reality they reject the authority of the Scriptures and the
Church’s teaching altogether.

Indeed, they reject morality as such, for if desires are their own moral
justification, then all values are overthrown. Of course, most advocates
of homosexual rights in the Church do not consciously intend to overthrow
morality as such. In church circles the pro-homosexual argument usually
maintains that homosexual relationships should be morally evaluated by the same
standards as heterosexual relationships. Such relationships ought to be loving,
faithful, mutual, compassionate, and so on. What is not legitimate, according to
this position, is to pose the question of whether homosexual activity is right or
wrong simply because it is between two persons of the same sex. But why does
the homosexuality of homosexual desire have such a privileged position? If the
expression of homosexual desire as such cannot be morally evaluated, then by
what right, for example, do we morally evaluate the desire to have impersonal
and promiscuous sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual? If desires
are their own justification, then such values as love, respect, and commitment
must also give way to any desires to the contrary. Any restriction on desires they
might imply is an attack on a person’s identity, “the core of who they are.”
This, in fact, is the position of the homosexual rights movement outside the
Church, and it is the basis of the whole sexual revolution. So the basic position
of the homosexual rights movement within Christian circles requires that the
values its members may want to retain, such as love, respect, and commitment,
are deprived of all validity. Morality as such is overthrown. While King’s
struggle was for the purification of moral discourse, purging it of an alien element
that distorted it, the homosexual rights movement is an attack on moral
discourse itself, making any evaluation of behavior or character logically
impossible.


RTWT.

Link via Mere Comments.
Blog alert.

Thoughts on Prof. Gaillardetz' Unam Sanctam against the "New Apologists" and their vulgar behavior will be going up later today.
Fr. Rob Johansen's "Empty Chair" homily and its discontents.

Father's moving homily can be found at his blog here. Dissenting opinions can be found here.

The pious outrage from dissenter Jim should remind you why homilies like Fr. Johansen's are hen's teeth rare. The prospect of the perennially-offended bleating "how un-Christian!" (read "not warm and fuzzy!") is not a pleasant thing to face so much as once a year.

Should a controversial topic be touched upon, it's done so in a way that inverts it (think of those passages from Ephesians and Colossians you almost never hear), or at most offers the "collective guilt" interpretation--"yes, but we're all to blame...." While it may be true in a sense, it's also profoundly false: when everyone is guilty, no one is guilty.

Instead, it's easier to focus on topics that won't singe the consciences of the flock--consumerism, or intolerance, or suchlike. Almost no one ever sees himself in those discussions, or if he does, he isn't going to approach the priest in a huff about it.

Instead, the path of least resistance: Even easier still to focus on the importance of singing Kumbaya while practicing your penmanship, being nice to springer spaniel puppies or other affirmingly non-controversial topics. Be thankful for the priests like Fr. who put themselves on the line in their homilies.

Not so BTW, we expecting our third child in September, which explains in part the dramatic pause and prayer request (no need to stop, for a myriad of obvious reasons) two weeks back. FWIW, we think it's a girl.
SAM...examines...Salon's hatchet job "review" of The Passion.

In much the same way a slaughterhouse examines a particularly choice Black Angus.

Go. Read.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I thought I was going to be Kosh, but I'll take it.

Yes, it's been quiz-heavy lately. Heavy duty fiskings will resume shortly. Plus, any time I can thump for my favorite TV show, I will. Speaking of which, Season Four is now out on DVD. Season Five is due in April.

"When I grow rich," say the bells of Shoreditch.


Congratulations, you're John Sheridan, war hero, commander of Babylon 5, and president of the Interstellar Alliance.
Which Babylon 5 Character are you?
Take the Babylon 5 Quiz by Paradox.
Weather Morons: The Sequel!

DS2004: WMITT! has produced a thin coating of easily removed ice and about an inch of snow thus far.

Batten down those hatches. I listen to them....why?

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Shortest fisking to date.

When I am looking for insights into biblical accuracy, authenticity and fidelity to Christian tradition, the first person I consult will not be an Episcopalian.

Fastidious ordained ECUSA ninny sniffs disparagingly, and at wearying length, about the Gibson film for the soon-to-be-shuttered Salon Magazine.

Quelle suprise.

I'm not going to excerpt this at length--go read the link if you want that. I'm just going to give you a couple of samples.


I could see how it would work on an unsophisticated audience.

At this point, your septum should start deviating as a result of the derisive snorting. This is what the hoi polloi think of you, folks. They're the sophisticates, you're the extra y-chromosome types who blather on endlessly about your Bronze Age Palestinian sky god.

OTOH, it also helps you understand how VGeR got elected, now, doesn't it? Now, one last point:


I don't see the point of magnifying the violence of his arrest, torture and death. I find it perverse and strange and really vulgar. As Ray Brown says, the Gospels are pretty straightforward. They arrive at Golgotha, and then it says, "Then they crucified him." They just say it in a little short sentence.

This criticism, reasonably common, makes no sense after a little reflection. For someone who likes to tart up and trot out his half-remembered historical criticism, he's missing the point--ever hear of sitz im leben? When the accounts were written, there would have been no need to explain crucifixion in any detail--the readers would have known it instinctively. And shuddered.

Two thousand years later, we, who have no crucifixion frame of reference, need to be educated.

I also love the "Ray" reference to Fr. Brown. On a first name basis with the late scholar, were we?

Ultimately, the Rev.'s spleen venting review says more about the author and his attitude to the untermenschen he was forced to share the room with than the film.

It also demonstrates that the Cross is still folly to the Gentiles.
Deathstorm 2004--"No, we mean it this time!"

We're supposed to be getting a major winter storm today, with a significant component of freezing rain (they're not saying ice storm, but draw your own conclusions).

Blogging could be...tricky.
Thank the Lord it wasn't Cooter.

Roscoe P. Coltrane
You are Roscoe P. Coltrane. You do have morals,
they're just easily forgotten. If your boss
tells you to do something, you jump to it. You
are kind to animals, especially basset hounds.


What Dukes of Hazzard Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla


Actually, I always liked Roscoe (gyuh gyuh gyuh!), and I watched the show religiously--every Friday night. Everything from the Waylon Jennings theme song, to the cars, to Catherine Bach (!) was perfect.

Beats all you never saw/
Been in trouble with the law/
Since the day they was born/


Thanks to SAM for this find.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Apropos of nothing.

For those laboring under the misapprehension that papal encyclicals on economic matters begin with Atlas Shrugged and end with The Fountainhead, I offer the following:

Rerum Novarum.

Quadragesimo Anno.

Laborem Exercens.

Centesimus Annus.

For grins and giggles, here are quotes from the last two documents.

1. LE, Nos. 7, 12.

[T]he danger of treating work as a special kind of "merchandise", or as an impersonal "force" needed for production (the expression "workforce" is in fact in common use) always exists, especially when the whole way of looking at the question of economics is marked by the premises of materialistic economism.

A systematic opportunity for thinking and evaluating in this way, and in a certain sense a stimulus for doing so, is provided by the quickening process of the development of a one-sidedly materialistic civilization, which gives prime importance to the objective dimension of work, while the subjective dimension-everything in direct or indirect relationship with the subject of work-remains on a secondary level. In all cases of this sort, in every social situation of this type, there is a confusion or even a reversal of the order laid down from the beginning by the words of the Book of Genesis: man is treated as an instrument of production, whereas he-he alone, independently of the work he does-ought to be treated as the effective subject of work and its true maker and creator.

* * *

Obviously, it remains clear that every human being sharing in the production process, even if he or she is only doing the kind of work for which no special training or qualifications are required, is the real efficient subject in this production process, while the whole collection of instruments, no matter how perfect they may be in themselves, are only a mere instrument subordinate to human labour.

This truth, which is part of the abiding heritage of the Church's teaching, must always be emphasized with reference to the question of the labour system and with regard to the whole socioeconomic system. We must emphasize and give prominence to the primacy of man in the production process, the primacy of man over things. Everything contained in the concept of capital in the strict sense is only a collection of things. Man, as the subject of work, and independently of the work that he does-man alone is a person. This truth has important and decisive consequences.


2. CA, No. 35.

The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied. But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm's condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people ? who make up the firm's most valuable asset ? to be humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm's economic efficiency. In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.

So much for proof-texting. This is intended to be my last post on Electrolux and its sledgehammering of Greenville, Michigan. First, continued kudos to the superb work by David Morrison, who pretty well sums it up for me in his most recent post.

What has been most disturbing about this whole bruhaha is the reluctance of Electrolux's defenders to acknowledge that Catholic teaching has word one to say about this event. From the outset, Electrolux's critics have not said that the manufacturer has to operate as a nonprofit or run itself into the ground. If such were the case, then the issue would not be close--Electrolux's critics would not have a leg to stand on.

For the last time, that's not the case--Electrolux's Greenville facility is profitable. Electrolux itself is in the black, and is actually doing better over the last couple of years than it did previously. More significantly, Michigan, Greenville, and Electrolux's own soon-to-be-former employees stepped up to the plate to help the company save money. The corporate response?

Buenos dias, Greenville.

From Electrolux's defenders, we hear the following arguments:

1. What problem do you have with Mexicans working? (1)

2. What problem do you have with the 21st Century? and

3. What problem do you have with economic liberty?

As David amply notes in his second post to Fr. Jim, the responses simply avoid the question and evidence an unwillingness to engage Catholic social and economic thought. Apart from the fact it is more than a little irritating hearing Catholics sound more like John Galt than John Paul, I wonder why the defenders can't see the greater danger: this is the grotesque focus of modern global culture, namely, the preference for things over people. Rightly decried when the subjects of euthanasia, abortion, porn, drugs, etc. come up, why pull up short, hemming and hawing, when the same thing happens in the economic sphere?

This reductionism is the one of the most appalling things about communism--the elevation of a theory over the people who have to live with it. You can't make a revolution without scrambling a few kulaks, etc. The proponents of unbridled capitalism sound much the same to these ears. Likewise, the pursuit of maximum profit as the lodestar of economic activity is mandatory. Because the invisible hand will linger behind to bind up all the wounds of those 2700 and their families the heedless pursuit leaves in its wake.

Except, of course, that it won't:

I grew up in a town loaded with textile factories. My Dad was a foreman at a few of these over a period of several years. Most of these jobs were eventually moved to South American countries as the corporations hiring these independent factories wanted cheaper labor and my Dad was left with nothing, and with relatively little skills. He couldn't find any other job within the textile industry, and due to necessity, took a job at a chemical plant. He died some years later of cirrhosis of the liver, and several of his coworkers were diagnosed with and died of the same as well. But he took the job to survive, 'cause he lacked other skills. I get angry every time I think of it. But then again, I also wish my Dad had had other skills, as I believe that that would have ultimately saved him.


------------------
Footnotes

(1) I can't imagine voting for Pitchfork Pat at gunpoint, but thanks for the "Buchananite" label.

[Update, 1/26/04: The second and fourth paragraphs below encyclical quotes have been modified, in response to a decent argument inserted in a comment. The modifications soften the original dogmatism of the paragraphs arguing the issue was not remotely close, instead substituting a related observation questioning the silence of Elux's defenders concerning whether church teaching has anything at all to say about this matter.]
An American Tradition, RIP.

In the comment thread below, Mark Sullivan brings our attention to the demise of Levi's jeans as a product made in America.

At his own invaluable blog, he posts a timely fistful of distributist links, which are well worth your time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Electrolux Redux.

Welcome to the firestorm!

A few points, before I get around to answering the comments. First, I am generally in favor of the free enterprise system, and I am doggedly opposed to socialism in all its forms--be it national, international, or the sclerotic European state/corporate hybrid.

The American economic system, for all its flaws, is probably the best thing currently going. Nor am I remotely opposed to a guy making a buck, or two, or even a billion, utilizing his God-given entrepreneurial skills within the boundaries of the law and morality.

Secondly, I vote Republican about 70% of the time--exclusively so in the upper state and federal races. On the primary social justice issue of our times (abortion), the national Dems are bent on doing everything possible to repel me, so I let them. You can't worry about housing, education, wages, etc. if you're dead. Other problems include the party's dissembling on marriage, goofiness on national defense, pandering to the balkanizing forces in American politics (e.g., Sharpton) and overall developing hatred of traditional religion (e.g., Schumer). Barring a Damascene conversion (the rise of a lot more Robert Caseys and Zell Millers), I can't see myself voting for a national Democratic candidate in my lifetime.

But that doesn't make me entirely comfortable with the Stupid Party, either. On economic issues, the libertarian line is disturbing--except, ironically, when the President does something like impose steel or textile tariffs, bails out airlines, or more generally, the idea of "compassionate conservatism." These things might freak out the libertarians, but it doesn't bother me particularly at all. Whatever else can be said for the works of Hayek, von Mises and Smith, they don't make for particularly good eating.

I imagine the fiber content's good, though.

In other words, I object to the bottom line as the bottom line. Especially where, as here, the bottom line before the closure of the plant was still profitable, and 2700 jobs are being tossed aside over $7 million--by a company that had $13.6 billion in sales last year. Something tells me the total compensation of every Electrolux exec whose job title involved a permutation of "vice-president" or better is on the order of several multiples of $7 million. Belt tightening by the higher echelon? Naah--the 2005 Volvos are going to be suh-weet.

I find it especially daunting to see Catholics chucking aside a worthy heritage of social teaching on this point, wondering aloud whether there is, indeed, any sort of problem with what Electrolux is doing here.

I'm tempted to let Jack do my fencing for me in the comment boxes, as we share the same perspective, and ditto to David Morrison, who rightly points the finger at, well, us. Likewise to IB Bill. But since at least some of it questions my emotional equilibrium and/or raise other rebuttal points, here goes.

PS to Peony Moss--if you are interested in a refrigerator, ask the salesman if Electrolux makes it--they don't make all Kenmores, Gibsons or Kelvinators. Many of these will not be made by Elux.

1. I'm so torn over this issue it makes me sick. Visit the poor in Mexico and you know they need jobs, too. our neighbors in chihuahua, mexico -- the poor villagers (unskilled laborers who can find work in factory jobs near Chihuahua, Mexico -- need to eat as much as our neighbors in Michigan.

I can empathize with this one, but I'm in agreement with Victor--The only reason the jobs are appearing in Mexico is because labor is cheaper. They'll be getting less money and benefits for the exact same work, with far fewer protections. And who's to say how long ELUX is going to be in Mexico, when China beckons?

2. No one has a right to be employed.

I've re-checked my post a few times, and I never said anyone did.

Nor, according to our faith, is the employer's sole obligation oriented only toward profit.

Not so by the way.


3. Or should we still be compensating buggy-whip makers?

I agree that no employer has to keep employees toiling at producing an obsolete/undesired product. But, since that isn't the case here--they'll be making the same stuff in Cuidad Juarez, and not, for example, Edwardian wooden ice boxes--the analogy doesn't fit.

4. And I must point out that Electrolux never made a vow to love, honor, and support the city of Greenville, or even its employees: all it set about to do was run a business. The gulpy New-Deal emotionalism that Americans invest in jobs and companies just sets up these feelings of betrayal. What Electrolux is doing may be morally wrong, but this sort of overheated rhetoric ("pulling a Michael Schiavo on an entire community!") is as destructive of useful debate as it is embarrassing to those who engage in it.

We agree on a couple of things here. First, what Electrolux did is (ignoring the "may be" waffling) morally wrong--my entire point. Second, I have to confess to bouts of gulpy New Deal attachment to such things. Even to the New Deal itself--my late grandfather credited the CCC jobs he and his brothers got with helping the family survive. I suppose I could call them deluded emotionalists and swat them with copies of The Wealth of Nations, but I'll pass since that would be a decidedly weird and one-sided dialogue, inasmuch as they have all passed on. That, and the fact I expect my grandpa's long memory to be enhanced in the hereafter.

I also think we should be especially indulgent toward the good people of Greenville for their "gulpy emotionalism," as well. After all, they were making refrigeration equipment more than a half century before the advent of the New Deal, and long before they ever met the profit-conscious Swedes at Electrolux (who bought the original Greenville employer).

That makes a nice bridge to where we part ways, namely the role of a business as a member of a community. True, the business doesn't swear marital oaths (As an aside, I question whether the Schiavo marriage is valid and sacramental, but that's for another time). At the very least, however, such employers do partake of the benefits of the community--schools, safety, houses of worship, cultural activities, commercial opportunities, the infrastructure, the favor of local government and government representatives and so forth. Moreover, the longer the association and the larger the employer is relative to the community, the more that relationship places a special responsibility upon the employer to behave responsibly. Such "company towns" deserve nothing less. A marriage? Maybe not. But there is something more than vaguely covenantal about it. A social contract, perhaps?

In other words, such an employer shouldn't be regarded as though it rode into town from heaven to the tune of Flight of the Valkyries; a sort of Randian colossus gracing the untermenschen and their piddling thorp with its wondrous presence. The reality is--especially after a century, and especially when the employees are still holding up their end of the enterprise--that it is much more akin to a marriage than Electrolux's defenders are willing to admit.

In light of such realities, it seems odd to give Electrolux the license to behave like a john leaving the cash on the night stand, or, perhaps more analogously, a cad husband who trades his 40 year old wife in for a couple of 20s.

We wouldn't be so sanguine about the hypothetical husband/john above. But, since "market forces" or "competitive factors" are at work, Electrolux gets a free pass to treat 2700 people this way? Afraid not.

Finally, re: the Schiavo reference. Got a couple of complaints on this one. First, if you think this is "overheated rhetoric"--Welcome! You're obviously new to these parts. "Overheated rhetoric" is a stock in trade at this heckler's stump. :) And no, I'm not embarrassed by it. The rare stuff that embarrasses me almost never gets published.

More seriously, I think it fits. Schiavo, too, is in a relationship that he deems is no longer sufficiently profitable to him, so he is ending it. And, as the formidable Michelle notes, devastation will be left in its wake.

Montcalm County has about 62,000 people. Moreover, the unemployment rate runs to the high side of the state--8.3% as of the end of August 2003, placing Montcalm in 65th place out of Michigan's 83 counties. In the past three years, it has gone over 10%

In 2005, the unemployment rate will soar. With a lousy job market, you can expect the employees to find it difficult to get replacement jobs, and just about impossible to find comparable wages and benefits. With mass unemployment and underemployment come the attendant ripple effects--all the retailers and other businesses who served Electrolux employees will be taking it in the shorts. The real estate market will plummet as ex-employees try to unload their homes to go to greener pastures. With the loss of business and real estate tax revenue, local government services and schools will suffer. Oh, wait--that's government employees. Well, screw 'em, then.

Then there are the social cascade effects--substance abuse, broken homes, crime, etc. All because we excuse corporations from breaches of the social contract in the name of free enterprise because, when it comes down to it, $660 million in profits are intolerable when you can have $670 million--2700 people and a community be damned. Maybe those who reject it have a point--the Schiavo reference may be unfair. But I'm not entirely sure anymore which party should find the comparison more offensive.

Still, if you prefer, change it to "pull a V. Gene Robinson." Similar idea, but I suppose that maybe since VGeR didn't make any effort to physically harm his wife, the analogy will go over better.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Let us all praise the free market!

Or, The Invisible Hand As Clenched Fist.

Electrolux, the company that probably made the refrigerator in your home (think Frigidaire, White-Westinghouse, Gibson, Kenmore, Kelvinator) just rewarded 2700 workers in central Michigan for their productivity, loyalty and decades of hard work.

With a pink slip.

What was the problem--rapacious union contract? Lazy workers? Unprofitable, outdated factory? Local/state government unwilling to make concessions?

Ixnay on all four. As it turns out, you can just make even more money by employing lower-wage workers outside the U.S. to do the same work.


Don Oetman, a UAW regional director, said the company rejected a union offer to make changes to their labor agreement that would have saved the appliance maker $31.6 million annually had it chosen to keep the plant open.

"Electrolux never claimed they weren't making money here," said Don Oetman, a UAW regional director. "They just told us they weren't making enough money to suit their corporate strategy."

All but 200 of the factory's 2,700 employees are production workers represented by UAW Local 137. They officially learned Friday morning that Electrolux will close the 1.7 million-square-foot plant.

The factory, Montcalm County's largest employer, will continue operating into 2005. Company officials declined to provide a more specific closing date.


Everyone but Electrolux made a wrenching effort to keep the facility open:

The Stockholm, Sweden-based appliance maker said Oct. 21 it was considering shuttering the Greenville plant and moving production because it would save the company $81 million annually. Almost immediately, a task force of local, state and federal officials was assembled to look at ways to persuade Electrolux to remain.

This month, the task force presented officials at Electrolux Home Products North America in Augusta, Ga., a package of proposed incentives it said was worth $42.8 million per year. The package featured tax breaks, money for job training and an offer to help develop a new plant in Greenville.

Meanwhile, the union local was developing its own proposal.

As calculated by their proponents, the incentives and labor concessions offered to Electrolux would have saved it a total of $74.4 million annually -- less than $7 million [below] the amount the company said it could save by closing the factory.


Electrolux's response? Sorry, but everyone else is doing it:

Keith McLoughlin, president and chief executive officer of Electrolux North America, said his company has been at a competitive disadvantage because all of its major competitors have production facilities -- or plans to establish them -- in Mexico.

Do I sound like I'm taking this a tad personally? Good--you've picked up on the subtle vibe.

I grew up in Gratiot County, immediately to the east of Montcalm, and one of my best friends was involved in the herculean state/local efforts to keep Electrolux in Greenville. This sort of thing has been happening for a good long time in the region for the past twenty five years.

Central Michigan has been Republican country since the birth of the GOP. The area sent her willing sons by the trainload to fight for the Union in the Civil War (50% of Michigan men of fighting age donned the blue), and being anti-Democratic is an article of faith in those parts. People whose beliefs would otherwise incline them to be Dems run for the Republican nomination, recognizing that the Democratic side of the ballot is a surer ticket to defeat than campaigning in the buff. Trust me--I know two examples personally.

All those years of rock-ribbed Republican loyalty are increasingly being rewarded with savage kicks.

Historically, farmers, small businessmen and light industry dominated the region. The latter two, however, which promised a middle-class lifestyle in return for hard work, good service, and loyalty, have all but evaporated. In my hometown, the refinery which dominated the eastern skyline is being mined for scrap, and the previous "largest employer," an auto parts plant, shut its doors in the late '80s. Oh, and downtown is being slowly hollowed out by the chain megastore built outside city limits.

The available jobs? Minimum wage track positions, no benefits. Speaking of benefits, the remaining mid-wage employers are ratcheting back on those. Have to remain competitive and profitable--in the most grimly Darwinian sense--don't you know.

And because it's not profitable enough, 2500 people and their families are being tossed aside by men who get golden parachutes under the same circumstances.

Lest we forget, brothers and sisters of a libertarian bent:

A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order.

A system that "subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production" is contrary to human dignity. Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. "You cannot serve God and mammon."


What Electrolux did--and other corporations that do the same damn thing year after year--is an obscenity. It is a cavalier utilitarianism toward human beings distinguishable only in degree from the latest biotech lab horror, partial birth chop shop or push for euthanasia.

Indeed, Electrolux just pulled a Michael Schiavo on an entire community that is now inconvenient to it, leaving a few thousand shattered lives in its wake. The corporation found someone else more interesting and able to give it what it wants--ka-ching--right now. At least until it discovers that labor costs in Bangladesh are even lower than in Monterrey.

Lest we forget, there is a social dimension to the Gospel. Satisfying the shareholders and stock analysts at all costs isn't it.
Thanks.

For the prayers, kind thoughts and occasional e-mail on the family disruption. No, it hasn't been resolved yet, but the kindnesses are welcome.

I hate to keep being cryptic, but this ain't Oprah. Feel free to email, and I might be a little more forthcoming.

I've also come to the conclusion that the concern will not be resolved by a blogging embargo, so--back to cluttering cyberspace with my assorted substitutes for thought.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Prayer request.

I don't much like doing this, but here goes: A slow-motion family crisis reared its ugly head over the weekend. I'm not prepared to go into the details at present. .

Any prayers, thoughts, etc. you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

On the bright side: At least the kids have been saved from the horrors of "triumphalism," "rigorism," "rote learning," and can wield glitter with the best of them....

The bishops examined the books used in Catholic religious education throughout the U.S. The results? Let's just say the catechetical establishment appears to have more than a few staffers with Mean Nun Stories, and are taking it out on the rest of us.

In other words, a couple-three problems were noted, according to Archbishop Alfred Hughes:

Some Examples of Deficiencies:

Some of the texts found to be inadequate are relativistic in their approach to the Church and to faith. Students, for instance, are easily led to believe that one religion or church is as good as another and that the Catholic Church is just one church among many equals. There is often a blurring between the Catholic Church and other Christian ecclesial communities. Our young people are not learning what it means to say that the sole Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church or the true ecumenical teaching of our Church.

Our young people are not learning what we know and believe is based on objective truth revealed to us by God. In many of the texts we have found that there is an effort to state clearly the doctrine and Church teaching. Unfortunately, this doctrine is sometimes introduced with a formula such as "Catholics believe this or that...." This tentative language gives the impression that the teaching is just one legitimate opinion among others rather than a matter of truth. Unfortunately, we find numerous instances of this problem.

The sacramental theology which our young people are being taught is also often seriously flawed. In some texts they are taught that the sacraments were instituted over an extended period of time, with the implication that they can still be changed. Often the sacraments are presented as a way to celebrate special moments in life and not as a privileged moment of encounter with Christ.

The distinctive role of the priest may be sidelined or even ignored. Our young people are sometimes being taught that it is the community who baptizes or who confects the Eucharist.

They may be told the various ways in which Jesus is present during Liturgy without a clear statement that He is present in the Eucharist in a unique and special way.

They may be taught that the sacramental power to forgive sins and anoint the sick was once shared by all the faithful.

In some texts the teaching about the Church's prohibition on the question of the ordination of women is ambiguous or even misleading.

In some lessons on the sacrament of marriage, they are being exposed to language which makes reference to "partners" rather than "man and woman" or "husband and wife".


Troubling Concerns about Moral Teaching

Since the Catechism Committee first identified common deficiencies in presentations on morality, there have been evident strides. Topics such as grace, sin, conscience and the formation of conscience now appear in almost every text dealing with moral issues. However, there are still some troubling concerns.

For instance, there seems to be a reluctance to name premarital or extra-marital intercourse as sin. The students may be encouraged to avoid premarital intercourse in order to escape consequences such as pregnancy or disease, not because such actions are sinful. Similarly, practices of virtue and goodness may be encouraged in order to make the world and one's life better. The relationship between the moral life in this world and the life to come is not often treated. Moreover, moral teaching, like faith teaching, may be presented using tentative language, implying that morality is a matter of opinion and personal choice.

Other problems which commonly recur include a studied avoidance of revealed proper names or personal pronouns for the Persons in the Blessed Trinity. This leads to an inaccurate understanding of the divine nature of the Persons of the Trinity as well as their unity with each other and their proper relations. Some of the texts, in trying to avoid masculine titles or pronouns for the Persons of the Trinity, speak of the Father only as God and then speak of Jesus without noting His Sonship or divinity, creating an implication that Jesus is somehow different from God or even somehow less than God.

The Christology in texts may be unbalanced with an overemphasis on the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His divinity. Sometimes the treatment of the Holy Spirit is either missing or flawed. We have seen numerous instances in which the third Person of the Trinity is referred to as "the Spirit of God" or "God's Spirit", which could suggest that the Holy Spirit is somehow less than God.

The interpretation of Sacred Scripture tends to rely almost exclusively on the historical-critical method and does not generally draw on the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church. The implication is that the Scriptures are to a large degree merely human texts. The divine role is usually stated, but often then obscured in the way in which Scripture passages are treated. In some instances miracles are explained away as ordinary phenomena, not of supernatural origin. We have even seen some of the miracles of Jesus explained as a result of lucky timing!

The approach to the Church often overemphasizes the role of the community. The ideal Church is sometimes presented in such a way that the student would be led to believe that we should live without reference to the role of the hierarchy in the Church.

In general, the high school texts are strong in their emphasis on the social mission of the Church and the moral responsibility that Catholics have in this area. The social teaching, however, is not always grounded in the divine initiative of the Holy Spirit of related to personal moral teaching or to eschatological realities.


Whatever else can be said, it appears that the publishers are trying their best not to be more Catholic than the Pope, and have succeeded brilliantly. OTOH, the materials had the coveted National Catholic Reporter Seal of Approval™. No Marian "maximalism," "ultramontanism," "devotionalism" or other "ultraconservative" flaws that bring out the Inner Savanarola in SixtiesChurch folk to be found in these texts, no, sir!

Er, ma'am!

How serious are the deficiencies? Archbishop Hughes ordered the nonconforming books pulled from his archdiocese pronto. Good for the Archbishop and the other members of the Committee. If I wanted to raise my kids as mainline Protestants, I'd go back to the UMC.

So, has your diocese responded yet?

Friday, January 09, 2004

Why We Fisk, Part I.

Because secular smarm peddlers like Aussie blowhard Stephen Crittenden walk the earth, and would otherwise go unchallenged. Crittenden hosts something called The Religion Report for Australia's equivalent to NPR. In the semi-competitive world of American corporate news, he'd have topped out at guest host for a local PM Magazine-style show, or maybe--maybe--weekend news anchor. In the Australian public sector, since he parrots the party line, he gets a national platform and the opportunity to feel superior at taxpayers' expense.

In one of the more surreal explorations of the issue of gays and Christianity, Crittenden has E. Michael Jones and Marcus Borg on to address the topic. Yes, he predictably sniggers at the former, but Jones being Jones, it's at least slightly warranted. Equally unsurprising, he fawns over the Borgster, batting his eyelashes coyly and heaving up hanging curveballs my grandma could knock out of the yard. This first post will address the Jones interview.

Before we get started, I'd like to pose the following hypothetical: would he adopt the same tone and position he does toward Jones if he were questioning a Wahhabi imam on the same topic? If, for some reason, your answer is "yes," I have a follow up: Can you say "fatwa"?

Let the caning begin.

Homosexuality was one of the biggest religious issues for 2003; it almost split the Anglican Church, and indeed the Uniting Church. Back in June, the vatican published a document concerning homosexuals and marriage, in which gay people were described as "seriously depraved" - a small improvement on "intrinsically evil".

I hate to start off with a medical diagnosis, but I have no choice. Mr. Crittenden suffers from a frightening syndrome that is spreading throughout the media world. This syndrome allows men and women to appear in public media and spout the "progressive" worldview when their only ability consists of either possessing looks that do not frighten advertisers or offering a voice that doesn't sound like that belonging to a love child of Rosie Perez and Gilbert Gottfried after a three week cigar bender.

The Syndrome Crittenden and a growing number of others suffer from goes by the abbreviation "N-TC", which is short for "No-Talent Clown." Perhaps the most tragic aspect about N-TCS is that its effects on the ability to reason cannot be distinguished from that of the brain being deprived of oxygen for no less than five minutes.

His is a sadly advanced case, which will require much snipping in order to prevent you, Gentle Reader, from experiencing Cartridge-Monitor Impaction (a/k/a the Ol' Elvis Channel Changer).

Contra news "man" Crittenden, with respect to each quote Das Vatikan did not either (1) use the language to describe persons, or (2) actually use the language.

Good thing for the Critter that being smarmy means never having to say you're sorry.

[Rest of Steverino's observation about how the American political process works, involving certain temporal impossibilities, for starters, brain donor commentary about Cardinal George and so forth, snipped. If you really want to view the verbal bowel movement, follow the link.

Also snipped: misstatement of medical knowledge; skull/rectum fusion-inspired commentary about Courage; transcript of confrontation between Courage member and totalitarian bent on stifling uncelebratory speech; and touchy-feely exchange about how Catholicism can best surrender to the zeitgeist ASAP.]


Homosexuality has become a touchstone issue for many conservative Christians. Some say they're engaged in a culture war, that Western society is in deep decline, and that the rise of the homosexual is symbolic of that decline. The term 'culture war' was made popular by hardline American neo-conservatives in the years when President George Bush senior, and President Bill Clinton were in the White House.

"Neo-conservatives" in both the Bush 41 and Clinton White Houses? Well, the Protocols say those Juuuuuuuuuus are nothing if not clever.

E. Michael Jones is the Editor of the ultra-conservative American Catholic magazine Culture Wars, formerly Fidelity magazine. For years now, he has written about the scourge of homosexuality in the church, and what he calls the "culture of appetite".

He hasn't held back from writing highly personalised attacks on liberal American bishops, and one of his recent articles is entitled 'The Unanswered Question behind the Rembert Weakland Scandal: Was the Implementation of Vatican II a Homosexual Fantasy?'

Michael Jones spoke to me from his home in Indiana.


Oh, dear Lord. Jones.

The perfect foil for the Critter, and no doubt deliberately selected for the role. Jones, who has been and still occasionally is quite perceptive, has basically fallen prey to his own metanarrative: IT'S ALL SEX! RIGHT DOWN TO THE ARCHITECTURE OF OUR BUILDINGS AND SUPERSIZING AT MCDONALD'S!

Followed by screams of "Why can't you see it?!?"

[Reasonably good points by Jones about the cultural conflicts gripping the country snipped. There's nothing really wrong with them, but I don't want this post to be as long as a Torah scroll.

Oops...]

[Also snipped: Crittenden in preening pseudo-intellectual mode. In my experience, people who use "neo-" more than once in a five minute period without reference to The Matrix need Taser therapy to help break them of this particularly damaging substitute for thought.]


Stephen Crittenden: Why has homosexuality become such a symbolic issue in this culture war?

Michael Jones: Because it's the cutting edge of the sexual revolution. Basically, they won every other battle up to the homosexual battle, and the homosexual battle is in many ways the last frontier. In other words, we are now being subjected to a huge media blitz, in which the homosexual is now being portrayed as a cultural hero for the entire world, and we are all expected to go along with this. The reason is, because if homosexuality is OK, that means that there is no such thing as nature any more. OK? That means the Catholic church was completely wrong in saying that there was a natural order of sexuality. In other words, if these people win this cultural battle, there will be no such thing as nature. And I think that is really the type of world they want to create: "we're masters of the universe, have complete control over everything", everything is what they say it is, and if you say there's a natural order, you're wrong.


Not half-bad by Jones, although it's incomplete. Still, it's a decent point--the issue, at its heart, centers on whether there is a natural order. If not, then what order exists is a human construct ("anthropomorphized," to borrow the derisive term) and infinitely malleable. Most especially the people who have to live in that order.

Fear not: you will be re-educated.

Sadly, Jones almost peaks here. The Critter will derail him momentarily.


Stephen Crittenden: You've actually written an essay in which you pose the question of whether the Second Vatican Council was a homosexual fantasy.

Michael Jones: Actually, I said "was the implementation of the Council a fantasy?" I do not think the Second Vatican Council was a homosexual fantasy. I do think, though, that the implementation of the Council documents on the liturgy in America were a homosexual fantasy, because they were implemented by Rembert Weakland -


Jones is right to correct him--the Critter recited the correct title in its entirety approximately a minute earlier, making him dishonest, an idiot, or more likely a dishonest idiot. Still, it avails Jones little because no matter how the premise is stated, it's ludicrous. I defer to no one in my disdain for Weakland and his supposed liturgical and pastoral brilliance, but come on.

Stephen Crittenden: -- who I need to tell listeners in our country, is the just-retired Archbishop of Milwaukee, a Benedictine who was also a leading musician.

"A renowned scholar in Gregorian chant," his feverish admirers are ever-hasty to remind us. Frankly, he might has well have been an expert in Sanskrit for all the opportunity you had to hear Chant in his archdiocese.

Michael Jones: Right, right. Studied at Juilliard, just retired in disgrace, because it was revealed that he paid blackmail money to some homosexual who was blackmailing him. We're talking about 1965, now, when Weakland is head of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. We're talking about a thing that was called then the "Hootenanny Mass"--to show you how dated the concept is--of basically folk songs during the liturgy. And Rembert Weakland is the man who carried the day with the liturgy committee, first of all to get this on an experimental basis, and then simply the whole idea that it was experimental just was forgotten.

Note Crittenden's chirping cricket response to Abp. Weakland's...regrettable...funding...of the christodrama artist.

Stephen Crittenden: Where does homosexuality come into that?

Michael Jones: Oh, well, it was his impassioned plea to the committee that carried the day, and what he talked about in the committee was him at La Trobe, Pennsylvania-- at the Benedictine Boys' School there, where he was the Rector--the boys all singing "He's got the Arch Abbot in his Hands'. That's a homosexual fantasy. I mean, you know, a homosexual would feel one way about that, a normal person would feel another way. And I think that he was so swept away by that vision of all these guys singing this folk music, you know, just like the type of thing you'd hear at a hootenanny, that he gave such an impassioned speech that he carried the day, and that became the norm for American liturgy--much to the detriment of the sacred, I would say.


Ye gods. The train has left the tracks. Elvis has left the building. An anecdote does not a metanarrative make.

Find another idée fixe.


Stephen Crittenden: You know, I once interviewed Rembert Weakland and asked him who he thought the two most significant religious composers of the 20th century were, and he said Igor Stravinsky--which maybe plays to your argument-- but his favourite and the one he regarded as the most important was the great French Catholic composer, Olivier Messiaen. It doesn't necessarily all stack up to the Hootenanny Mass, does it?

Michael Jones: No, why didn't we get Messiaen then in our liturgy? Why did we get this sort of deracinated folk music? That doesn't add up. I mean, I can understand why we didn't get Igor Stravinsky, but why not Messiaen?

Stephen Crittenden: Too hard to sing, I suspect.


Meeeoooowww! Remember: N-TCS. Crittenden likely doesn't know Messiaen from the Messiah himself.

Nevertheless, it helps if you think of Crittenden as a brain-damaged dilettante Who Once Read About Something Similar In The New Yorker Or Some Other Magazine Like That. When he can't answer a rebuttal, he gets catty and snorts into his glass of flat Veuve Cliquot.


[Critter:] Michael, you argue, don't you, that the homosexuals in the church want to in a sense sort of wipe the sacred out of the Mass and so on, and you also draw a link between that and the way that black popular music enthused popular culture in general in America, from the 60s on.

Michael Jones: Yes, it was basically the importation of black Dionysian music into liturgy, which was in effect the sexualisation of the Catholic liturgy. So in effect, when Catholics were going to Mass, they were getting this cognitive dissonance, they were getting two completely different cultural messages. In other words, the message of the Mass itself, the sacred raising the mind and heart to God; at the same time you're listening to Dionysian music, which is about what goes on below your belt. That's where you move when you hear Dionysian music, it's below the belt.


I imagine it would be gruesomely fascinating to watch a train barrel-roll after derailing. Horrific, but mesmerizing. Pray God this is as close as I get.

There are many problems with the music at Catholic liturgies, but Jones hasn't hit on a single one here. One, you almost never hear such music at the liturgy. Why? The lyrics promote a radical dependence on God, acknowledge His transcendence, and otherwise fail to affirm the Gathered Community As God. Which is why we get saccharine megadoses of the St. Louis Jesuits, Haas, Haugen, Dufner....

Suuuure, spirituals are the reason Catholic liturgies have gone into the crapper, developing into the worship equivalent of an Eyes Wide Shut saturnalia. Indeed, I can clearly recall those times Heather and I frantically scanned local hotel signs for "Hourly Rates" tags after hearing "Amazing Grace" or "Were You There?" at Mass.

Then there's the effect of all those Winans CDs on the airwaves. Gives a disturbing new meaning to the word "uplifting."

"Dionysian" hymnody probably explains the breakdown of the family in minority communities, to boot. Not to mention cavities and ELE comets.

In other words: Please.

Lord, let this wreck roll to a stop....

[Rolling to a stop snipped.]


[Jones]: I mentioned in that article on Weakland that the Catholic bishops held a meeting at St Mary's College, the college I got fired from, about the upcoming Synod of the Laity in 1987, and during that meeting, Father Bryan Hehir stood up, and he said 'America has something to teach the Catholic church when it comes to sexual issues.' That was a complete reversal of what the Gospel is all about, and it's had catastrophic effects on the Catholic church in the United States. [Father J Bryan Hehir is Professor of the Practice of Religion and Society, and Chair of the Executive Committee of Harvard Divinity School. He worked for the US Catholic Bishops' Conference from 1973 to 1992].

Stephen Crittenden: And so you're of the view that actually America has nothing to teach the Catholic church?

Michael Jones: No, the church is there to teach America.


Jones regains some equilibrium here. Although, I think he's much too dismissive: America has plenty to teach the Church on moral issues.

Think of it as a continent-sized cautionary tale....


Stephen Crittenden: The Catholic church is just a perfect society that doesn't change?

Michael Jones: The Catholic church is the infallible arbiter of the moral order.


Good answer to a loaded question.

Why do I find it so easy to picture the Critter saying "Hath not God said...?"


Stephen Crittenden: Some people might say that in view of what's happening, not just in America but in Europe and Canada and Australia, it's not a culture war that you can win--that governments all over the Western world are continuing to strengthen antidiscrimination laws; gay marriage has been introduced in The Netherlands and Belgium; and is certainly on the cards in many other countries. You know, in New Zealand, you've got a trans-sexual Member of Parliament now. Here in Australia, we're starting to see the beginnings of a campaign to take away the right of the church to discriminate against gay teachers in church schools. You know, I know that Cardinal George in Chicago, and Archbishop Pell here in Sydney, talk about the liberal agenda being exhausted - but isn't the truth that the juggernaut is just rolling on and on?

The Wehrmacht looked pretty unbeatable in June 1941, too. We all know that one turned out. Call me in 1945 (e.g., a few years after mandatory re-education from K-Ph.D. has been instituted, speech codes enforced, rights to worship and witness publicly curtailed and a real run at crushing traditional morality has been tried).

I have to admit, though, the mention of the transsexual was a deft touch. Vaguely biblical, too: "I became all things to all people, so that I might get elected by some...."

Jones' reply is creditable:


Michael Jones: I think both statements are true, they're not mutually contradictory. The liberal agenda is exhausted, and that's why you're seeing this regime imposed by force now, with the government, vis-a-vis the Catholic church, because that's what we're talking about here. We're talking about a conflict between state and church, in which state is trying to impose its views of sexuality on the Catholic church.

The Critter will not be denied the last word, of course:

Stephen Crittenden: E. Michael Jones, the Editor of the American Catholic magazine, Culture Wars. And listening there, it's interesting how homosexuality almost seems to have become a thread that draws together a whole range of conservative phobias.

"Phobias," eh? Classic projection.

We need a telethon for people like Crittenden, and can use this quote to gin up sympathy.

"N-TCS is much like Tourette's in its symptoms. Consider the sad case of Australian Stephen "Critter" Crittenden, where the Syndrome has frozen his intellectual and emotional development at the college sophomore level, leaving him wallowing in a sty of self-adulation and firing verbal snot rockets at those whose worldviews he will never be capable of understanding. [Clip plays.] While there is no cure right now, we're racing to find one. Won't you please help?"

Crittenden isn't alone in fearing theocrats under every bed while he and his friends re-enact Cabaret without the catchy tunes. The irony is, he's right to fear them. Unfortunately, he's looking in the wrong direction. Pay no attention to the imams waiting in the wings....

In the next installment, we examine the theological stylings of Bible scholar and noted Jedi Christian, Marcus Borg, who is the recipient of a rhetorical tongue bath from the suddenly considerate host.

Yes, I'll say it for you: Torah scrolls are shorter.
Speaking of busy men...

Lane Core continues to chronicle the self-destructive spiral of entirely too much of the Democratic Party, in a series that promises to reach "M" by Election Day.

As an aside, I count myself fortunate to live in a part of the country where a Catholic can vote Democratic without a twinge to the conscience--at least at a local/state level--so I do. The local Democrats actually brag about being pro-life on their campaign literature, and put their money where their mouths are.

Would that they would give me that opportunity at the national level.
Mark Sullivan is on a roll.

Posting virtually every day of late. Two days ago, Ed Wood. Yesterday, Ty Cobb and a kind reference to the Rose brewhaha in these parts. Today, he has some material on a man who sends me into near-idolatrous hero worship: Winston Churchill.

Tolle, lege!
Thank you, gentle readers.

Sometime yesterday, the blog broke 30,000 visits since mid-May, and is fast closing in on 40,000 page views.

More than half of the visits/views have occurred in the last 90 days.

I'm really going to have to think of something to sell one of these days.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George, to this humble ranter's stump.

He's been reading the blog, if this account is accurate.

"The thing that really irked me was this list of the grand masters of a lodge that never existed," he said, referring to Brown's Priory of Sion. "There is a document in the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris, where they talk about a Grand Priory of Sion, but it's been exposed as a fraud. It would be like using the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as if it were a historical document. That's what really irks the heck out of me."

Why, yes it's time to take my meds. How did you know?

You have to admit, though--at least my timing is good.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

What The Da Vinci Code is.

This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

--American writer and critic Dorothy Parker, offering the greatest book review of all time.

I've been puzzling over the inexplicable success of fictologist Dan Brown's DVC for the past month or so, trying to figure out precisely why it is a runaway bestseller.

I think I may have an answer.

Consider the core of the book. Underneath the cardboard characters and romance novel plotting you have the audacious claim that it is based on "impeccably researched" fact, "transmitting several doctorates' worth of fascinating history and learned speculation," according to two of the more oxygen-deprived reviews.

To the contrary, actual research reveals DVC is nothing of the sort. Instead, it's a pastiche of historical errors, unlearned speculation and flat-out paranoid conspiracy-theorizing.

It is in the last point that the key to DVC's success can be found. Documented research from many different sources does exactly squat to deter DVC's true believers, who will not hear otherwise.

Remember the book claims that Christianity, especially its Catholic manifestation, is entirely a grotesque fraud, maintained by a fearsome bodyguard of lies and the occasional albino assassin. Jesus of Nazareth was the Alan Alda/John Stoltenberg of first century Palestine, a married feminist guy who said and did some nice things, preserving what Brown calls the Sacred Feminine ("SF"). The SF is a loosely defined concept, but essentially functions as the counterpart to what can presumably be described as the Sacred Masculine, thereby keeping the bisexual yin-yang of the cosmos on an even keel. When he died, he wanted Mrs. Barjoses--Mary Magdalen--to run the family counseling center. Instead, Peter the Penis Person instituted the world's first hostile takeover and renamed the center Catholicism, Inc., driving the pregnant Mary into hiding.

Bye-bye, SF. Hello, patriarchy [cue hissing]. Catholicism Inc. used Jesus as a goodwill figurehead for its nefarious aims, foremost of which is keeping the SF and, by extension wombyn, down. The official writings of CI were selected with this in mind, and the previously-mortal Jesus was elected God by a "close vote" at the Council of Nicaea. Apparently it was not "close" enough to demand a recount, or perhaps the fathers at Nicaea didn't use butterfly ballots. In any event, back to the wombyn.

Reacting to the takeover, Mary M. went to France and gave birth to Jesus' child. In doing so, she founded The Church As Jesus Really Intended It, the guardian of the SF. In time, this evolved into the Priory of Sion, and included such eminenti as Leonardo, who used the Grail Legend and encoded "symbology" to convey the SF, including such in the Mona Lisa.

Meanwhile, CI strove diligently to eradicate every vestige of femininity from religion, including such subtle, nigh-unto-unnoticeable methods as albino assassins.

Understand, not of word of this is based on so much as a scrap of actual historical fact. Tired yet?

Let's briefly recap: Fictional work masquerading as demonstrably-bogus "fact" about a monster conspiracy theory involving secretive, despised group accused of holding the truth and the bulk of humanity in chains through nefarious global methods for millenia.

Does The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion ring any bells?

DVC is Protocols for the Marin/Prince George's County set--the key to everything, as this "interesting" letter writer demonstrates. Change one word--"women" [sic]--to "white," "Christian," "Muslim" or whatever and it could have been written by a Protocols fanboy.

For them, DVC is "proof" that Christianity, the cornerstone of Western civilization, is an oppressive fraud keeping women (and men, in a different way) enslaved to a false idea, and that those calling the shots know it and are willing to do anything to keep it this way. Likewise Protocols fans and the Joooooooos.

If someone asks me whether Brown's fictology threatens my faith, my gut instinct is to laugh out loud and say "Nooooo." When it comes down to it, Brown is what my dad calls a "Fifty Percenter." As in, "50% of what he says is lies, and the other 50% is bulls--t." Like a reasonably well-grounded Jewish layman confronted with the Protocols, the claimed authenticity fails to persuade or otherwise shake my faith.

But in another way, it is threatening. The fact so many otherwise educated people are not just willing, but are actually eager to believe this nonsense about my faith in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary--all on the word of some previously-obscure novelist with an axe to grind--is the cause of profound disquiet. I don't know if it provides an opportunity so much as it mandates a duty to respond. However, based on the response of DVC fandom, I am not convinced that it will be an enterprise crowned with more than a few successes.

No, faithful Catholics are not threatened by such crappola in the same way the far tinier and more vulnerable population of Jews is threatened by the vicious persistence of the Protocols. Jews have had to, and still are forced to, put up with far greater horrors, slanders and calumnies.

But, in its own way, DVC is also marginalizing, pernicious and vile, another bucket of urine giddily tossed into the worsening cultural pool Catholics are forced to swim in. History demonstrates that the ideas in it will persist and become part of the cultural and spiritual fabric long after Brown becomes an obscure footnote.

Unless we evangelize first, which at a bare minimum requires reminding the culture that objective truth exists and means something.