How Theological Liberalism Wins

First, you have the traditionalists:

I think you can see Professor Esolen’s essay as reflecting the long-term concerns of one group, in particular: Catholic faculty members who share a particular vision of the college’s mission. They assume that our Catholic identity should be at the center of everything we do, and they look to the long history of Catholic tradition, including recent documents like Pope St. John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, as crucial.

This group of faculty, in which I include myself, are worried. To put it simply, they don’t want to see Providence College join other religious universities who have moved away from their religious foundation. (Jim Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light chronicles this phenomenon.)

Second, you have the social justice warriors:

Another group immediately involved here are some of the people who tend to fall on the margins in our community-and also those supporting them. They have serious concerns about systemic forms of exclusion. (And here, too, are a number of concerns that I myself share.)

They can see, for example, that Providence College’s 100-year history includes almost nothing of the African-American experience, or of Hispanic culture and tradition. In the last few years, the college has made a concerted effort to recruit more students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups, but frankly, it hasn’t always succeeded in offering needed support once they arrive.

For all those who are part of this second group, their frustrations are also part of a larger story: longstanding exclusion and unjust mistreatment of marginalized people. And, it’s important to say, some of these folks would also note that their concerns are prompted by Catholic commitments, beginning with a recognition of the dignity of every human being.

Third, you notice that tradition doesn’t get you satisfaction social justice.

Esolen’s essay was read as opposition to individuals, and, by extension, as disregard for the specific cultural realities they represent. Unfortunately, the essay’s polemical tone contributed to that reading, especially once the editor had framed the whole piece with a headline that was pure clickbait.

When a number of people voiced criticism of the essay, the president responded with his own critique in a campus-wide email, and the executive vice president reported the impact of the essay as “implicitly racist” in another campus-wide email. In the end, these official responses then confirmed fears of that first group of faculty that questioning the way that diversity is being conceived and pursued means you’ll be cut off at the knees.

Fourth, you see that lots of people outside the faith also want social justice.

Finally, you conclude either that those non-believers are really on the side of the faith, or that justice is as or more important than doctrine for real Christianity.

That means reversing what Paul wrote. Instead of “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” you now say, “If in Christ we have hope for resurrected life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

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7 thoughts on “How Theological Liberalism Wins

  1. If anything tells us how theological liberalism wins, it isn’t Esolen case because Esolen has received support rather than reprimands from the administration at Providence College–at least that is from the latest I have read from the Administration, don’t know anything has changed.

    Rather the key example of where theological liberalism wins can be seen in the debate over SSM where many religiously conservative Christian leaders drew a line in the sand saying belief that homosexuality is sinful requires that one oppose SSM in society. This has pressured many a Christian, both liberal and conservative, to reexamine whether homosexuality is sin because they believe that the LGBT community has suffered enough marginalization and thus eliminating the marginalization is an imperative. This eliminating marginalization and the pain suffered because of it apparently moved Nicholas Wolterstorff into believing that homosexuality is biblically acceptable.

    When religiously conservative Christian leaders portray theological liberalism and concern for social justice as having nothing to contribute, they put some of their followers into a quandary because those believers know such is not the case. That dissonance causes some to increasingly reject the valid parts of theological conservatism. In the meantime, these religiously conservative Christian leaders blame everyone else in order to avoid taking responsibility for the errors they have taught.

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  2. I’ve gotten nothing but public condemnation from the administration, along with an empty, merely nominal acknowledgment of “academic freedom.” Try having no tenure and exercising that “freedom,” and then see what happens to you. Theological liberals win by ascribing evil motives to their opponents (calling them homophobes, for example), blurring categories (suggesting that if you are opposed to treating homosexual actions as justifiable, you must therefore have an animus against persons), sneering at or dispensing with the clear teachings of the Church and of Scripture, and so forth. I can ask a thousand times how you can possibly justify sodomy and at the same time maintain that fornication is one of the things that come out of a man to render him unclean — as Jesus says. It won’t matter, because in his heart the theological liberal does not really care about what Jesus says about sex. Sex is the new god, and that’s that.

    In passing: Providence College was for many decades a local or regional school for boys who didn’t have the money or the connections to go to places like Brown. It ALWAYS served what people call the “underprivileged,” and that included African-Americans, though of course their numbers would have been few, for the obvious reason that most American blacks do not live in SE New England and are not Roman Catholic.

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  3. D.G.,
    Because the lives of everyone in the LGBT community can be exhibited in that show? Or did you consider that in the majority of the states in the US, people can be harassed at work or even fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Of course, that is just a small sampling of marginalization. Yes, much of their marginalizaton is in the past, but considering that that marginalization included incarceration and beatings, they have been marginalized and, to a much lesser degree, still suffer today

    BTW, how many people from the LGBT community do you know and have talked to about what they have experienced.

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  4. Maybe Steubenville will take Professor Esolen:

    In the period after the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, most of the leading Catholic universities in America became beachheads for a reformed, progressive vision of Catholicism. In practical terms, that meant liberals knew where to go but conservatives were often adrift, not sure where to find an experience more suited to their sense of what being Catholic is all about.

    After Scanlan’s version of the place got going, Steubenville, a former mob stop-off halfway between Chicago and New York and the birthplace of Dean Martin, became something of a pilgrimage destination for what would eventually become known as the “John Paul II” wing of the American church.

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  5. Is Providence College or Professor Esolen a “prophet of doom“?

    “A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom,” the pontiff said.

    The phrase “prophets of doom” has a long history in papal rhetoric, including a famous address by St. Pope John XXIII at the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962. In the decades since, it’s generally become used in Catholic parlance to characterize resistance to proposals for reform.

    Francis said Thursday that “holy longing” draws people out of that reaction.

    (Interestingly, the Italian word used by the pope translated as “longing” in English was actually “nostalgia,” but the pontiff certainly was not lauding an attitude of nostalgia for the past, insisting that faith “has its roots in the past but doesn’t stop there.”)

    “Longing for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change,” the pope said. “Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need.”

    Though Francis was speaking in a spiritual key, it was hard for many observers on Thursday not to hear echoes of some of the turbulence Francis faced during the past year, with some critics suggesting he’s introducing debatable or doctrinally unsound changes in Catholic life himself, notably with regard to the idea of opening Communion to some divorced and civilly remarried believers.

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  6. This may come as a surprise to converts (if they have recovered yet from news about Esolen):

    Cardinal Burke, a canonist, can’t wrap his head around the fact that the church’s mission does not consist in merely repeating the Catechism. Burke repeats, endlessly, that Pope Francis’ exhortation could lead some to diverge from what he terms “the constant teaching of the Church,” although in fact the church’s teaching on what does, and does not, constitute a valid marriage changed enormously at Trent, and again with the issuance of the universal Code of Canon Law in 1917. Pope Pius XII later tweaked the teaching too. Burke and three other cardinals, since joined by a fifth, submitted five dubia, or questions, to the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Change?

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