(more of) Show Me Jesus

To hear some of the recent commentary about Rome’s relationship to modern society, you might wonder about the significance of Jesus. The young journalist, Elizabeth Bruenig, whom Presbyterians baptized, Methodists discipled, and Jews educated (at Brandeis), explained her conversion as finding a refuge from modernity:

Yet the church remains firm, unmoved by this current in modernity. And while it is impossible to speak for all Protestants—and important to note there exists a vast array of opinions on property ownership within the Protestant tradition, some hewing close to the Catholic view—the Catholic Church, at least, bases its position on property in a moral universe far more stable than that which has been constructed since the Reformation. And by the time I neared the end of my time in college, I had become convinced it was the only firm ground from which a Christian could fight back against the domination of the poor by the rich, against poverty, against the destruction of families and communities at the hands of businesses and their political lackeys, against a world stripped of meaning.

I don’t know. To say that the church remains unmoved while failing to mention the about-face involved in the 1864 Syllabus of Errors when Piux IX sneered at the church making any adjustment to modernity (does she really want that?) and the 1962 Second Vatican Council where John XXIII called the church to update its relationship to modern society is quite the claim. You might think a journalist would look a little more carefully at her sources.

Then there is praise from Anthony Annett at Commonweal for the Jesuit article that condemned U.S. evangelicals and Roman Catholics together for an “ecumenism of hate”:

the basic thesis is certainly correct—that a small but vocal and influential segment of American Catholicism is now far more comfortable with the world of right-wing political evangelicalism than with global Catholicism. (Commonweal’s editors commented on it here, and contributing editor Massimo Faggioli wrote on it here.) This world is a Calvinist world, manifesting politically in the twin ideas that the United States is God’s chosen country with a unique destiny in the world’s history, which gives rise to a dualistic outlook, and that God bestows material rewards on his favored, which leads to a full-throttled embrace of capitalism. This latter pathology comes in different levels, of course, the nadir being the appalling “prosperity gospel.”

Annett too fails to mention how a church that so resolutely opposes modernity (according to Bruenig) is so susceptible to its members doing back flips to join Calvinists in the public square. If you have all that history, authority, and tradition, what happened?

For example, at the church frequented by my in-laws in New Jersey, I’ve heard homilies glorifying the military, calling for higher military spending, criticizing Muslim immigrants, and comparing the hill of Calvary with the hill of Iwo Jima. Seriously. This is horrific, but the overwhelmingly white middle-class Mass-goers seem to lap it up. It’s no wonder that they find no contradiction between Catholicism and Trumpism. It’s no wonder that Donald Trump enjoys their support while the rest of the Catholic world views with him with askance and horror.

Clearly, episcopacy has some bugs that not even papal infallibility (determined just on the heels of the Syllabus of Errors) cannot fix.

In fact, as much as Annett and Bruenig believe that real Roman Catholicism is on the side of left-of-center politics, Matthew Schmitz agrees but also notices how out of step Rome’s liberalism is with Rome’s history. The ultramontanism that sustained Pius IX’s quest for papal infallibility also supported integralism, a form of church-state relations that conservatives and liberals in the United States might find a tad overwrought:

Integralism was the system in which church and state collaborated to secure man’s peace on this world and salvation in the next. Joseph de Maistre defended it with a formula binding pope to king: “No public morals nor national character without religion, no European religion without Christianity, no true Christianity without Catholicism, no Catholicism without the Pope, no Pope without the supremacy that belongs to him.” Essential to this arrangement was the idea that the state must be subordinate to the Church.

With Francis has come a different kind of integralism:

Today a new kind of integralism operates, in which the Church is subordinated to the state as the two conspire to uphold liberal values. If one were to update de Maistre’s syllogism, it would go something like: No cheap consumer goods or avoidance of genocide without liberalism, no liberalism without true Christianity, no true Christianity without an undogmatic Church, no undogmatic Church without a liberalising Pope, no liberalising Pope without accountability to the age and freedom from tradition.

It is in this context that one must understand the Vatican’s recent sally against America in the unofficial papal organ La Civiltà Cattolica. Written by Fr Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, another papal confidant, the article is not merely an expression of anti-American spite or an attack on ecclesial enemies. It is an attempt to defend the liberal order against what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat.

Sorry, but I’m just not seeing the unity or the authority that wow converts. Plus, did you notice that all of these opinions come from the laity. What would make Roman Catholicism from Protestantism is if lay members kept quiet and deferred to their ecclesiastical superiors. I wonder what that kind of pre-modern ecclesiastical order would do to those converts who find in Rome a horse that rides even higher than the Bible or the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, do Roman Catholics actually worry about personal sins, God’s judgment, and whether they are going to purgatory?

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Dueling Videos

When you live by the image, do you also die by the moving image?

Whatever the answer, Roman Catholics are decidedly split over videos produced by the infallible magisterium.

Less restrictive Roman Catholics like Michael Sean Winters and Anthony Annett are cringing over the USCCB’s video on religious liberty.

Annett comments:

First, the video’s approach to liberty genuflects at the U.S. Constitution. From the outset, the video sets the standard for religious liberty in the U.S. constitutional order rather than the Gospel. With its tropes about our “first freedom,” it fails to appreciate the roots of this in Lockean liberalism—predicated on an autonomous individual shaking off coercion, rather than on a social animal seeking the good realized in mutual relationships. In the Catholic conception, this “common good” is the highest good in political life, and it cannot be reduced to the good of individuals, either taken separately or summed. In this Catholic framework, the role of the state is the realization of this common good, not the protection of individual liberty. And yes, by the principle of subsidiarity, this includes respecting the legitimate autonomy of the Church. But this is a very different perspective on religious liberty from the one arising from the U.S. constitutional framework.

Second, the video wallows in America-first jingoistic nationalism. The video is replete with “patriotic” images like American flags. Even worse, it goes “all in” on American exceptionalism, with one speaker even proclaiming that “the U.S. is the greatest country in the history of the world.” This derives from a quasi-Calvinist notion of America being the realm of God’s chosen people, which is completely antithetical to Catholicism and insulting to Catholics all over the world. Another speaker argues that the American approach to religious liberty should be “a model” for the rest of the world. Honestly, the slogan “make America great again” wouldn’t have been out of place in this video.

Third, the video presents a misleading and partisan view of religious liberty violations in the United States. It claims that the Little Sisters of the Poor are being “harassed by the U.S. government,” when this “harassment” boils down to filling out a form to opt out of the mandate to include contraception in health-insurance plans. (To be fair, I believe that the Little Sisters do have a valid argument on principle, but to claim harassment is way over the top). Aside from the contraception mandate, the video also refers to the legalization of same-sex marriage and even to the removal of a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma. It makes references to the rights of business, but not to the duties of business or the rights of workers. Missing is any reference to the egregious attacks on the religious liberty of Muslims, most notably with the Republican presidential candidate calling for a complete ban on people entering the country based solely on religion. Missing is any reference to local (typically Republican) government efforts to impede the Church’s ability to aid migrants and refugees—the criminalization of a basic Christian duty. And in the week that Dan Berrigan died, missing is any reference to religious-based conscientious objection to funding the great evil of nuclear weapons. And yes, the video includes Hillary Clinton, for some bizarre reason, but not Donald Trump. We know that images speak volumes.

He has three more points.

In contrast we have Pope Francis’ most recent prayer video.

To which Michael Matt (apparently not a pay, pray and obey Roman Catholic — but neither is Annett showing great subjection to his bishops) responds:

If Pope Francis really wants to do something for women, he should denounce the very idea that divorced and remarried Catholics–public adulterers who have abandoned their wives!–can return to the sacramental life of the Church. He should hold high the model of the Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth. He should consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. He should advocate for the safe return of wives and mothers to the exalted pedestals Christendom built for them a thousand years ago (so despised by the modern feminists). He should turn away from the fanatical Modernist ideology that is destroying the Church, undermining the family, eradicating Christian marriage and leaving women vulnerable to a vicious world where morality is no more, marriage contracts mean nothing, sex means everything and women are left to fend for themselves without children, husband, or God. And this wretched condition they would call emancipation?

The remarkable aspect of this contrast is not simply the significant disagreement among the laity in a communion whose apologists trumpet the church’s unity, but also the very different messages the bishops are sending despite papal supremacy and audacity.

As Annett says:

I don’t see the USCCB devoting nearly as much attention to the priorities of Pope Francis—climate change and environmental degradation, poverty and inequality, the global arms trade and the death penalty, care for migrants and refugees.

Which Roman Catholic will tell Protestants who the real Roman Catholics are?

Jaw-Tightener of the Day

So you wonder all moral theologized up about the Koch Brothers donating funds to a Roman Catholic university but your publication apparently takes a pass on the head of Planned Parenthood speaking at Georgetown University:

Can a Catholic university legitimately take money from the likes of the Koch Brothers? This is not a hypothetical question. Many Catholic universities are implicated. But none more so than Catholic University of America, which—in the face of much criticism—has just doubled down with another $10 million donation from the Koch Foundation.

The original partnership with the Kochs, and the subsequent criticism, predates Pope Francis and Laudato si’. If the university’s arguments were weak back then, they are paper-thin now.

Just consider how the philosophy and business practices of the Koch Brothers goes directly against the authoritative teaching of Pope Francis. I will make three points in this regard.

First, the Kochs are avid libertarians, defenders of the unconstrained free market as the best route to prosperity. This ideology is simply not compatible with Catholic social teaching. In full continuity with his predecessors, Pope Francis condemns the notion of a “deified market” or a “magical conception of the market.” His point is that an economic system underpinned by self-interest and oriented toward profit maximization is simply incapable of delivering integral and sustainable development. It leads instead to an economy of exclusion, and is deaf to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Pope Francis stresses that working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is a moral obligation—and for Christians, a commandment. “It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right,” he says. In other words, the universal destination of goods is a reality prior to private property. I have a feeling the Kochs would strenuously disagree with this. And this is no mere prudential disagreement. It is foundational and anthropological.

Imagine using the same moral scrutiny on Georgetown and church teaching about abortion.