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Monday, December 05, 2005

Fundamentalism is the theological equivalent of a fever.

Think of it as the Body of Christ's attempt to fight off an infection. It's a sign that there's a deeper problem. You shouldn't celebrate the fever, but it's better than no temperature at all.

Or at least that's what came to mind while reading this ho-hum bath of lukewarm modernism passed off as "biblical scholarship" in the latest issue of U.S. Catholic (Motto: Helping the People of God Coo Into The Mirror Since 1963). Not to put too fine a point on it, it's the usual crap, tarting up, warming over and serving leftovers of Renan and Loisy covered in a generous frappe' of semi-ass-covering ambiguity. The crust long ago formed over the jacuzzi's contents, but people still like to cavort in the scuzzy water.

Oooh, the scandal: Joseph could have been Jesus' biological father! The Resurrection is not historical (which is what the "verifiable" tack boils down to)! Matthew cleverly cobbled together the story of the Virgin Birth!

In addition to helpfully pointing up how moribund Catholic biblical scholarship is (Quick: Name a significant Catholic biblical scholar under age 60 whose last name does not rhyme with "Ron"?), there is another helpful observation (emph. added):

Because historical-critical scholars try to get to the historical base of the text and the intent of the author, they begin to call into question some long-held beliefs. For example, are virginal conception or Resurrection things you can prove historically? How are we to understand this material? Are gospels biographical statements or are they theological statements?
When historical criticism began to raise these kinds of questions, the reaction was fundamentalism.

There is a real insight here, albeit wholly unintentional. You'll often hear progressives talk about "reception," the concept that if the "People of God" do not "receive" an irritating magisterial teaching, it is null and void. E.g., the ordination of women, non-affirmation of Pelvic Issues 1 through Infinity (inclusive), etc. More often than not, the "People of God" tend to be coterminous with the chancery staffs and Catholic university faculties of North America, but no matter. What's interesting is that "reception" does not apply when the prerogatives of the establishment are at stake. So, when the laity barf up the expired headcheese of biblical scholarship, the reaction is not "hmmm...maybe there's something wrong with what we're doing here."

Instead, the Inner Sadistic English Schoolmaster takes control and tells the benighted pupils that they will not be getting any pudding until they eat their "beef." After all, "We Catholics are not fundamentalists." Never mind the fact that that popular empty catchphrase is usually said with a preening self-regard worthy of the most accomplished Pharisee.

Given the choice between the baptized agnosticism of the scholars and fundamentalism, it's not surprising lay people choose the latter--better to be staggering around with a fever than on your deathbed.

Remember that the next time your bishop, chancery or episcopal conference gets worked up about "fundamentalism." They are concerned about the symptoms, not the underlying illness.

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