Why Mencken Matters

He is a reminder that belief is not normal (to fallen human beings).

The reason for that aside is Regis Martin’s article about the stupidity of atheists (trigger warning for the w-w deniers):

…people do not arrive at atheism as a result of hours heuristically spent perusing the philosophical journals. That is because it is not a matter of the intelligence that compels one to choose disbelief, but a movement of the will. One would have to be pretty witless if, on the strength of a syllogism, one were to conclude that there is no God. An atheist can no more eliminate God’s existence by his refusal to believe than a blind man can by his inability to see expel the sunlight. “The essence of God does indeed lie beyond the scope of intelligence,” Fr. Murray freely concedes, “but his existence does not.” And not to know at least that much, “is to nullify oneself as a man, a creature of intelligence.” Because belief in God is, very simply, the bedrock truth upon which everything else depends. To think otherwise, he argues, amounts to “a miserably flat denouement to the great intellectual drama in whose opening scene Plato appeared with the astonishing announcement that launched the high action of philosophy—his insight that there is an order of transcendent reality, higher than the order of human intelligence and the measure of it, to which access is available to the mind of man.”

In which case, we should never trust an atheist or unbeliever with any sort of responsibility (and we should live in a Christendom because only God-affirmers have the bedrock for truth).

But what if faith is not natural? What if philosophical inquiry and logical deduction still don’t make a man or woman believe? What if, get this, Paul was right?

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1)

Imagine that: Reformed Protestants take atheists more seriously than Roman Catholics because of the doctrine of total depravity. If you start with the reality that all people are lost in their trespasses and sins, that their minds are “darkened” as a result, you set your expectations of unbelievers accordingly. But if you look at faith as the bedrock of understanding the world (think w-w), and you need to trust your neighbors not to do irrational things, then you are going to attribute belief in God to them (and meanwhile deny total depravity).

Mencken matters because he’s proof that unbelievers are smart, and that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than reason in giving people faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.

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.”

When You’re In the Business of Righteous Politics, It’s Hard to See the Beam in Your Own Eye

The BeeBee’s don’t seem to care for Kenneth Woodward’s complaint about the Democrats’ politics of righteousness, but the former religion editor for Newsweek and ongoing Roman Catholic makes a lot of sense. Who knew the Democrats were the Moral Majority before Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority?

The party’s alienation from the white working class began in the streets of Chicago outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. There, antiwar protesters and activists for a host of countercultural causes fought the police of Mayor Richard J. Daley while the nation watched on television. As President Bill Clinton later observed in the first volume of his memoirs, Vietnam was only one point of contention in what was really a wider clash between generations, social classes and moral cultures:

“The kids and their supporters saw the mayor and the cops as authoritarian, ignorant, violent bigots. The mayor and his largely blue-collar police force saw the kids as foul-mouthed, immoral, unpatriotic, soft, upper-class kids who were too spoiled to appreciate authority, too selfish to appreciate what it takes to hold a society together, too cowardly to serve in Vietnam …”

The 1968 convention marked the end of the New Deal coalition that had shouldered Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to the White House. It wasn’t that white working-class Americans turned away from the party so much as that political reformers representing the young, the newly wealthy, the suburban and the higher educated deliberately cut party ties with them. “Boss” Daley, the authoritarian Irish Catholic mayor from the blue-collar Bridgeport neighborhood, became the poster boy for all that was “bigoted” and socially regressive in neighborhood-based, white ethnic America.

The new era

Over the next four years, a commission on party structure and delegate selection, with Sen. George McGovern as chairman, introduced a series of reforms ensuring that, culturally as well as politically, the delegates to the 1972 Democratic convention would resemble the young activists who had battled the police in Chicago more than delegates who had been seated inside. The McGovern Commission, as it came to be called, established state primaries that, in effect, abolished the power of the old city and state bosses, most of whom came from white ethnic stock. The commission also established an informal quota system for state delegations to assure greater representation of racial minorities, youths and women that by 1980 became a mandate that half of every state delegation must be women.

The 1972 Democratic platform formally introduced the party’s commitment to identity politics. Rejecting “old systems of thought,” the platform summoned Democrats to “rethink and reorder the institutions of this country so that everyone — women, blacks, Spanish speaking, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, the young and the old — can participate in the decision-making process inherent in the democratic heritage to which we aspire.” There was also this: “We must restructure the social, political and economic relationships throughout the entire society in order to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth and power.” The delegates put flesh on these lofty moral commitments by adding a plank commending the forced busing of students in order to achieve racial balance in public schools. Blue-collar Boston exploded.

McGovern naively took for granted the traditional party loyalty of union leaders and the white working class. But these pillars of the New Deal collation recognized that McGovern’s creation of a new “coalition of conscience” built around opposition to the war, identity politics and a redistribution of wealth excluded some of their own conscientiously held moral convictions. McGovern went on to lose every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia — and with them the party allegiance of blue-collar workers, union leaders and — what often amounted to the same voters — conservative Roman Catholics.

Jimmy Carter was not a member of McGovern’s coalition of conscience: He had his own powerful sense of moral righteousness, one he derived from his Southern Baptist heritage of personal rectitude rather than McGovern’s secularized Methodist heritage of moral uplift and social reconstruction. There was much in that mix that was admirably righteous, especially the instinct to protect racial and sexual minorities from social oppression. The problem is that pursuing righteousness by expanding individual rights at the expense of communal values often creates greater social conflict. As sociologist Robert Bellah argued in 1991, “rights language itself offers no way to evaluate competing claims.” One side wins, the other loses.

Shazzam! You mean that entering the public square with the certainty that you are pursuing holiness and your opponents are depraved is bad for The Union? You mean “I’m right and you’re wrong” is divisive? Who knew? (Actually, most married couples do.)

Make It Stop

Yet another conversion account with these un-Francis like asides from a former Dutch Calvinist:

I also realized that there was actually no real Protestant faith in itself. The Protestant faith was founded on a protest against a faith, the Catholic Faith. Why would I ever want to part of a “church” that was actually no church at all; one that was racked by division and founded on protest!

The blindness that had always covered me was now gone. I saw that there were countless Protestant denominations, and that they all disagreed with each other on at least one important point of doctrine. This defied the very nature of Truth itself, and rendered all of them imperfect. I finally saw that there must be an authority to clear the air, which I now understand is the See of Peter.

But these questions soon evaporated into joy:

Towards the end of the Vigil, when I saw a number of people receiving their First Sacraments, I knew God was calling me to do the same thing. Mother Church was opening her arms out to me, and even though I knew many crosses would come my way if I ran to Her, I could not resist Her love. Family members of mine would shun me, professors would shake their heads as I had received prestigious scholarships in the Reformed Theology department, my future would be so uncertain, and friends would laugh, but it didn’t matter anymore.

Why doesn’t the fine print of conversion include mention of a stop in purgatory?

Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.

The faith of the Church concerning purgatory is clearly expressed in the Decree of Union drawn up by the Council of Florence (Mansi, t. XXXI, col. 1031), and in the decree of the Council of Trent which (Sess. XXV) defined:

“Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, “Enchiridon”, 983).

Further than this the definitions of the Church do not go, but the tradition of the Fathers and the Schoolmen must be consulted to explain the teachings of the councils, and to make clear the belief and the practices of the faithful.

Temporal punishment

That temporal punishment is due to sin, even after the sin itself has been pardoned by God, is clearly the teaching of Scripture. God indeed brought man out of his first disobedience and gave him power to govern all things (Wisdom 10:2), but still condemned him “to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow” until he returned unto dust. God forgave the incredulity of Moses and Aaron, but in punishment kept them from the “land of promise” (Numbers 20:12). The Lord took away the sin of David, but the life of the child was forfeited because David had made God’s enemies blaspheme His Holy Name (2 Samuel 12:13-14). In the New Testament as well as in the Old, almsgiving and fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 17:3; 3:3). The whole penitential system of the Church testifies that the voluntary assumption of penitential works has always been part of true repentance and the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, can. xi) reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin together with the guilt. God requires satisfaction, and will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so not be cast off eternally from God.

Venial sins

All sins are not equal before God, nor dare anyone assert that the daily faults of human frailty will be punished with the same severity that is meted out to serious violation of God’s law. On the other hand whosoever comes into God’s presence must be perfectly pure for in the strictest sense His “eyes are too pure, to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). For unrepented venial faults for the payment of temporal punishment due to sin at time of death, the Church has always taught the doctrine of purgatory.

Can you really be so happy about the uncertainty that awaits 99.9% of those who have to make, grace-assisted of course, satisfaction for their sins? If perfection is necessary, how can the imperfect ever be perfect? Protestantism may seem like a legal fiction. But Rome’s fiction is moral. Alien righteousness matters and this convert doesn’t seem to know that her welcoming mother church not only rejects but condemns such teaching.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5 ESV)

Giving Credit Where It’s Due

Sure, we’ve heard lots about how evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump and then the after-doom and gloom of evangelical leaders considering turning in their born-again credentials. But it turns out the really decisive demographic in the election was Roman Catholics (from one of our southern correspondents):

You only think you know what won the election for Donald Trump.

Hillary’s corruption? The betrayal of the American Dream? Vladimir Putin? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Let me tell you the real story, and the person behind it.

Elections are won by the marginal voter, the swing voter, the guy right at 50 percent. And in American politics he’s generally a Catholic. That’s the story this time, too.

It wasn’t the white Evangelicals. They went overwhelmingly for Trump, but that was also true in 2012 when they weren’t even sure Romney was Christian. They aren’t the swing voters.

Catholics, on the other hand, were plus-2 for Obama in 2012 and plus-7 for Trump this year. Evangelicals helped Trump in states he was mostly going to win anyway. Catholics? Now we’re talking about Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. And that was the election.

It nearly didn’t happen. Trump’s outreach people were tone-deaf about Catholic voters. They were putting their eggs in baskets marked Evangelicals, African-Americans and Hispanics. Catholics were of secondary importance.

But one Catholic leader, Deal Hudson, didn’t believe this, and he single-handedly organized a big-name Catholic Advisory Committee, a conference call with state campaign directors, a conference call between Trump and Catholic leaders, a tweet and video from Trump when Mother Teresa was canonized and an interview with Trump on the Catholic EWTN television network.

Meanwhile, the liberal press ran stories about how Catholics hated Trump and bishops condemned Trump’s immigration rhetoric. As for the Catholic intellectuals, they mostly went full-bore NeverTrump (with some honorable exceptions, such as Jim Piereson and Roger Kimball).

You mean all those stories about evangelical voters were fake? The wrong narrative?

Fundamentalist Controversy Redux

John Allen explains how Roman Catholicism has come along side Protestantism. The Left and Right aren’t even on the same page of what constitutes truth:

… at this point most defenders of Pope Francis haven’t accused critics of being dissenters, nor have they suggested that people who uphold contrary positions on the substantive positions associated with the pontiff, such as opening Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, are thereby committing heresy.

The implication seems to be that fans of the pope are more generous, less vicious, and less inclined to question people’s bona fides as Catholics. There is, in other words, often a presumption of moral superiority in the observation that “we don’t talk that way.”

Simply as a descriptive matter, that proposition seems a bit disingenuous. Many in the pro-Francis camp don’t invoke concepts such as “heresy” and “dissent,” because frankly, it’s not the worst insult they can think of with which to slur an opponent.

Instead, they use terms that Francis himself also regards as abhorrent, such as “rigid,” “inflexible,” “legalistic,” “clerical,” and, of course, worst of all, “anti-Vatican II.”

In effect, what’s on display here is one of the defining differences between the Catholic left and the Catholic right over the last fifty years.

For the right, “heresy” and “dissent” are about the worst things imaginable, so when they want to say “x is terrible,” that’s the language that comes naturally. For the left, the equivalent horror is “rolling back the clock” on the Second Vatican Council, so when they want to call something or someone awful, that tends to be the verbal packaging in which the complaint comes wrapped.

Someone trying to remain objective about today’s debates would probably have a hard time concluding that either side has a claim on the moral high ground, since both are charging the other with virtually the vilest crime in their respective vocabularies.

At the same time, gatekeepers like John Allen don’t see when modernism is part of the warp and woof of church life:

Despite challenges intolerance brings, Camilleri stressed that religion, Christianity included, has an endless capacity for good, not only for individuals and communities, but for society as a whole.

The Church, he said, “does not pretend…to substitute for politics. Nor does the Church claim to offer technical solutions to the world’s problems since the responsibility of doing that belongs elsewhere.”

What religion does, then, is offer specific guidelines to both the community of believers, and to society as a whole.

Religion by its nature “is open to a larger reality and thus it can lead people and institutions toward a more universal vision” and a “horizon of fraternity” capable of enriching humanity, Camilleri said.

The Holy See, then, “is convinced that for both individuals and communities the dimension of belief can foster respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, support democracy and rule of law and contribute to the quest for truth and justice.”

Dialogue and partnerships between religions and with religions, he said, “are an important means to promote confidence, trust, reconciliation, mutual respect and understanding as well as to foster peace.”

If religion did all that, I’m sure President Obama would have gotten on board. Wait. He did:

Holy Father, your visit not only allows us, in some small way, to reciprocate the extraordinary hospitality that you extended to me at the Vatican last year. It also reveals how much all Americans, from every background and every faith, value the role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America. (Applause.) From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago, to my travels as President, I’ve seen firsthand how, every single day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, laity are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, educating our children, and fortifying the faith that sustains so many.

And what is true in America is true around the world. From the busy streets of Buenos Aires to the remote villages in Kenya, Catholic organizations serve the poor, minister to prisoners, build schools, build homes, operate orphanages and hospitals. And just as the Church has stood with those struggling to break the chains of poverty, the Church so often has given voice and hope to those seeking to break the chains of violence and oppression.

And yet, I believe the excitement around your visit, Holy Father, must be attributed not only to your role as Pope, but to your unique qualities as a person. (Applause.) In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, in the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds. (Applause.)

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concerns. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized — (applause) — to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity –- because we are all made in the image of God. (Applause.)

You remind us that “the Lord’s most powerful message” is mercy. And that means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart –- (applause) — from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. (Applause.) It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, to those who have suffered, and those who have caused suffering and seek redemption. You remind us of the costs of war, particularly on the powerless and defenseless, and urge us toward the imperative of peace. (Applause.)

Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people — (applause) — which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater cooperation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people. We thank you for your passionate voice against the deadly conflicts that ravage the lives of so many men, women and children, and your call for nations to resist the sirens of war and resolve disputes through diplomacy.

You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely. (Applause.) Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty. It was the basis for so much of what brought us together. And here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty, but around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith. Believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship. The faithful are imprisoned, and churches are destroyed. So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation. (Applause.)

And, Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet, God’s magnificent gift to us. (Applause.) We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to changing climate, and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations. (Applause.)

Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example. And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency. All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right. But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better. You shake our conscience from slumber; you call on us to rejoice in Good News, and give us confidence that we can come together in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free. Here at home and around the world, may our generation heed your call to “never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope.”

For that great gift of hope, Holy Father, we thank you, and welcome you, with joy and gratitude, to the United States of America. (Applause.)

Where Will Converts Send Their Children to College?

It probably won’t be Providence College where the conservative Roman Catholic professor, Anthony Esolen, is down for the count:

… when Prof. Esolen authored an article arguing, in his own inimitable style with his usual exuberant and evocative prose, that his institution had adopted a wrong-headed attitude toward “diversity,” one might have hoped that anyone who disagreed with his position would respond in a way worthy of the deepest traditions of any academic community: a thoughtful written response, laying out evidence, supplying facts, adducing arguments, contesting premises, disputing inferences, or perhaps merely appealing for a different set of perspectives.

Instead, Esolen’s argument was greeted with the academic equivalent of a loud, disapproving grunt, expressed in its commonest contemporary form: the planned creation by a faculty member of a “totally spontaneous” mob to march across campus, disrupting classes with chants and a bullhorn, until they reached the president’s office where they ceremoniously presented “their demands.” I say “ceremoniously” because representatives of this group had met with the president the night before to discuss their grievances, so he was quite clear on their wishes already. The march to present “demands” was simply a bit of planned political theater to make noise during classes the next day.

Why doesn’t the vaunted intellectual tradition of the western church prevent episodes like this? After all, lots of Roman Catholic intellectuals have rallied to Esolen’s side:

George, himself a faithful Catholic who writes from an orthodox perspective, contrasted Esolen’s treatment at Providence with Princeton hiring him, granting him tenure, installing him in one of its most celebrated endowed chairs and allowing him to create the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

Wrote George, “If Princeton University — a secular institution the vast majority of whose faculty and administrators and many of whose students are ideologically on the left — can welcome the contributions of someone whose convictions are in line with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church (even when those teachings fly in the face of left-liberal orthodoxies) why can’t Providence College — a Catholic institution — welcome the contributions of an exceptional Catholic scholar such as Anthony Esolen?”

Meanwhile, Notre Dame professors Francesca Aran Murphy and Patrick J. Deneen have written a letter to Father Shanley, calling upon him to reframe the discussion of diversity in such a way that Esolen’s individuality as a scholar is respected and honored.

“Professor Esolen’s attempt to open a dialogue about the meaning of diversity and of its place within a Catholic and Dominican college has been greeted with a formal defense of his academic freedom, but a deeper implicit repudiation of the legitimacy of the questions he has raised,” wrote Murphy and Deneen, who added that they found it “alarming” that Esolen had been treated “in a dismissive manner by the administration.”

The letter has been signed by more than 100 scholars and observers across the country, including Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School; R.R. Reno, editor of First Things; and Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Situations like this make a lot more sense if you conclude that the church’s institutions have accommodated themselves to modern academic standards (read modernism) and fail to uphold church teaching. This is what happens after the Land of Lakes Statement and university officials (some of them bishops) don’t pay attention to papal directives. What doesn’t make sense is all the hype of Bryan and the Jasons. Why don’t the converts reflect on the parallels between Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant higher education in the United States the way James Burtchaell did?