Sexual Hangups, Reformed or Roman Catholic

Where would you be without “Calvinism” to bail you out? Michael Sean Winters blames Reformed Protestantism for U.S. Roman Catholics’ obsession with sex:

The focus on sexuality as the key indicator of Christian identity has always been one of the odd and remarkable hallmarks of Catholicism in America. Catholic cultures — Italy, Spain, France — are not known for any puritanical dispositions regarding human sexuality. But, in America, the ambient Calvinism of the religious culture combined with the Jansenistic impulses of Irish Catholicism to make a concern for sexual purity an obsession. The three Democrats discussing their faith are right to insist that any fair reading of the Gospels reveals that the Lord Jesus spent far more time urging his disciples to be generous to the poor, welcoming to the stranger, and treat people with dignity than he did discussing any sexual issues.

This is rich coming from a member of a communion which makes a common union (marriage) a sacrament, has authoritative teaching that minutely regulates legitimate sex, requires ordained officers to live celibate lives, and has bishops who need to cover up for priests who do not practice what the church preaches (actually only homilies).

The really rich aspect of Winter’s gripe with Calvinism’s mores is that Rome’s double-mindedness about sex goes way, way back, as Charlotte Allen explains:

In Peter Damian’s definition—a common one during the Middle Ages—the sin of “sodomy” encompassed “four classes of unnatural vice,” each described by him with startling explicitness and deemed more serious than the last, starting with masturbation and culminating with anal intercourse, the worst offense of all. All were forms of male homosexual activity (the other two consisted of the carnal touching of others’ private parts and intercourse between the thighs of someone of one’s own sex). Peter Damian was outraged, particularly because the superiors of clerics who committed such sins were, in effect, giving them a pass: exacting penances for monks and priests found to have committed the first three offenses but expelling from holy orders only those who had engaged in the fourth, anal intercourse.

Some of the offenders, Peter ­Damian said, had even chosen fellow homosexual offenders as their confessors so as to obtain slap-on-the-wrist treatment. “Listen, you do-nothing superiors of clerics and priests. Listen, and even though you feel sure of yourselves, tremble at the thought that you are partners in the guilt of others; those, I mean, who wink at the sins of their subjects that need correction and who by ill-considered silence allow them license to sin.” He reserved his harshest condemnation for bishops who abused their underlings by engaging in homosexual acts with them: “What a vile deed, deserving a flood of bitter tears! If they who approve of these evildoers deserve to die, what condign punishment can be imagined for those who commit these absolutely damnable acts with their spiritual sons?” Damian was not without pity for those sinners, however, begging them to throw themselves onto God’s mercy and reform their ways, but he asked Leo to expel from holy orders those who had committed any of the four categories of sodomy.

Scholars have debated whether homosexual activity among clerics was quite such a widespread “festering disease” during the eleventh century. It is indisputable, however, that the tenth and eleventh centuries were the most scandal-plagued that the Western Church had endured, and that the moral and sexual integrity of the clergy was at the heart of the issue. Hildebrand, the Tuscan Benedictine monk who became Pope Gregory VII in 1073, had to institute the “­Gregorian Reform” movement attacking simony (the buying and selling of holy offices), lay investiture (the control of bishoprics by powerful secular lords), and gross violations of the Western Church’s longtime requirement of priestly celibacy. That rule had been in place since at least the early fourth century, but by the eleventh, priests and even bishops all over Western Europe were living openly with wives and children, often passing down their churches by inheritance to their priest-sons. Some took concubines.

How does that saying go? Those in glass houses dot dot dot

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Worldview Politics

As I have come to understand it, a Reformed world-and-life-view is a hard outlook to acquire. It starts and requires regeneration by the Holy Spirit, or so it would seem since a worldview is a basic reality to a person’s existence. Seeing through the glasses of faith, accordingly, requires having faith, something that comes only through effectual calling. This worldview also needs doses of philosophy and theology so that viewers of the world have the intellectual equipment to construct the theories and apply truth to real life. A worldview goes so deep, as readers of Machen keep reminding me, that even the great Westminsterian would say that “two plus two equals four” looks different to a Christian compared to a non-believer. (Though it is still unclear whether all settings in life – from the family dining room to the halls of Congress need to bear all the weight of such metaphysical significance. For instance, does the unbelieving cashier need to admit her reliance on borrowed capital before I receive my change? I don’t think so.)

Since a worldview is such an acquired taste, I have found it unendingly odd to see people without a Reformed world-and-life-view defending those political candidates and their intellectual influences who possess a Reformed world-and-life-view. I find this particularly odd since the proponents of worldview would typically regard those without a worldview as being at odds with their understanding of total truth. I am referring in particular to recent posts by journalists and religious historians who discount the dominionist spin that is still being put to Michele Bachmann and Francis Schaeffer. (Truth be told, I talked to one of these authors – Charlotte Allen – for the better part of an hour while she was preparing her column. And I was frustrated to see that the illumination I may have offered did not make a dent in her aim of discrediting the bias of liberal journalists. She even took down the exact title of my recent book to include in her column. Oh, the missed fame! Oh, the loss of royalties!!!!!!!)

No matter what the folks without a correct worldview make of Francis Schaeffer’s ties to dominionism, it is hard to read his account of the antithesis and find trustworthy people like Ross Douthat, Charlotte Allen, and Matt Sutton who apparently do not have either the faith or the theological and philosophical training to attain to a worldview.

Here’s one example from How Should We Then Live?

. . . in contrast to the Renaissance humanists, [the Reformers] refused to accept the autonomy of human reason, which acts as though the human mind is infinite, with all knowledge within its realm. Rather, they took seriously the Bible’s own claim for itself – that it is the only final authority. And they took seriously that man needs the answers given by God in the Bible to have adequate answers not only for how to be in an open relationship with God, but also for how to know the present meaning of life and how to have final answers in distinguishing between right and wrong. That is, man needs not only a God who exists, but a God who has spoken in a way that can be understood. [81]

I wonder what Douthat, Allen, and Sutton think about the power of their own intellects as they survey the reactions to Bachmann and Schaeffer. Or have they been checking their perceptions against the pages of holy writ?

But if the non-worldviewers are a little uncomfortable with Schaeffer’s distinction between the Bible and autonomous reason, they might experience real pain when reading his application of the antithesis to the American experiment. About the Moral Majority he wrote in A Christian Manifesto:

The Moral Majority has drawn a line between one total view of reality and the other total view of reality and the results this brings forth in government and law. And if you personally do not like some of the details of what they have done, do it better. But you must understand that all Christians have got to do the same kind of think or you are simply not showing the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life. [61-62]

It does seem strange that a Reformed world-and-life-view would find its fulfillment in a political organization comprised of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews, and headed by a fundamentalist Baptist. But we are talking about the United States, which H. L. Mencken called “the greatest show on earth.”

Schaeffer did not stop there. He also argued that the United States was the fruition of the gospel:

The people in the United States have lived under the Judeo-Christian consensus for so long that now we take it for granted. We seem to forget how completely unique what we have had is a result of the gospel. The gospel indeed is, “accept Christ, the Messiah, as Savior and have your guilt removed on the basis of His death.” But the good news includes many resulting blessings. We have forgotten why we have a high view of life, and why we have a positive balance between form and freedom in government, and the fact that we have such tremendous freedoms without these freedoms leading to chaos. Most of all, we have forgotten that none of these is natural in the world. They are unique, based on the fact that the consensus was the biblical consensus. And these things will be even further lost if this other total view, the materialistic view, takes over thoroughly. We can be certain that what we so carelessly take for granted will be lost. [70-71]

Again, I wonder where Schaeffer’s defenders fall on the spectrum of the two competing worldviews, and how much they actually embrace the biblical consensus that allegedly informed the work of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin.

The problem here is not that people should consider Schaeffer to be scary. Like many of his defenders have said, either explicitly or implicitly, he really didn’t mean what he seemed to say. He was not really so intolerant as his antithetical outlook demonstrated. He did not want a theocracy. But if that is so, then just how important is this worldview thing? If it results in high-falutin’ rhetoric and pragmatic reality, then what is the point of promoting all of those books and institutions that teach a worldview?

The problem that really needs some ‘splaining is not whether Schaeffer is scary but the strange disparity between the deep-down diving nature of worldview – it is part and parcel of new life in Christ – and how easily accessible it is, and even attractive, to those without such a worldview. A high octane version of worldview should reveal and make poignant the discrepancies between the lost and the saved, between the philosophically initiated and the believing simpletons. But it does not. A worldview, even of the antitheticial variety taught by Schaeffer, is for non-worldviewers like a puppy mutt – maybe not the first choice to take home from the pound but still a cute dog. Was the antithesis really supposed to be so easily domesticated?

Of course, I understand the angles that historians and journalists have in this contretemps over Bachmann. A writer like Douthat – whom I admire greatly and read for profit – may not qualify as a Kuyperian or neo-Calvinist-lite – but he can see the value of evangelical readers of Schaeffer to electoral politics in the United States. He also sees a way to point out the bias of liberal journalists, such as when they score points against Bachmann’s spiritual influences but not against Obama’s. All is fair in the coverage of religion and politics.

But the reception of Schaeffer and the watering down of worldview sure does cheapen what was supposed to be such a distinct and unique part of Reformed Protestantism. I wonder why more worldviewers are not objecting to the debasement of their valuable coin.