Pope Angelo

First, he condemned Joe Paterno to hell.

Now, Angelo Cataldi opens the pearly gates for Darren Daulton, the Phillies catcher who succumbed to brain cancer yesterday. On this morning’s show, Angelo told one caller whose mom, now deceased, had a crush on the sexiest MLB player of the 1990s, that she now had the chance to meet Dutch since both the mom and the catcher were in heaven.

I initially thought that Angelo was going beyond the creed of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism. Maybe this was a holdover from his pre-Vatican II upbringing in the archdiocese of Providence, Rhodes Island. Surely the idea of heaven and hell — eternal rewards and punishments — was harshing out his listener’s buzz of learning about car insurance discounts and dancers at “gentlemen”‘s clubs. But sure enough, heaven is part of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism’s creed:

God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn’t a part of our lives. We are supposed to be “good people,” but each person must find what’s right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn’t be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe.

Mind you, Angelo should not speculate on Daulton’s eternal fate. It’s not what sports-talk-radio-hosts should do. But if Angelo is going to create a moral spread sheet on every sports figure in Philadelphia, can he himself really stand in that great day?

Redefining Declension So Numbers Ascend

When you are having trouble with lack of resolve and dwindling numbers among the communicants (and clergy), you find a different paradigm that allows you to turn defeat into victory. For instance, David Robertson reported on efforts within the Church of Scotland to advance Christianity and extend membership:

Rev John Chalmers, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, is a good spokesman for the Church of Scotland. He is personable, warm and says some interesting things. In that vein, in the next edition of Life and Work he has made what has been termed as a ‘radical New Year’s message’. He wants the church to find 100,000 new members in the next decade. What can we say to that? Fantastic. 10,000 new Christians per year in Scotland would be a tremendous boost to us all. How encouraging for the whole Church if the Church of Scotland was to do that. I long and pray for that and I would rejoice if it came through the Church of Scotland. It won’t be easy. This year Church of Scotland membership fell below 400,00 for the first time and seems to be in free-fall. To reverse the 20,000 members per year deficit and turn it into a surplus of 10,000 would be enough of a miracle to cause even the most cynical secularist to doubt!

The Moderator is fed up with statistics (otherwise known as facts) that highlight decline, so he wants to change that. He asserts that the “truth about the number of people who belong to our faith communities is quite different”. Indeed it is, but not in the way he suggests. However it is worth quoting him more extensively: “The real challenge is to redefine membership in a way that allows us to include women and men, young and old who do not fit the post-Second World War model of membership with which we are so familiar. That pattern does not resonate with the vast majority of those who are 50 and younger and who will never buy into the kind of church that sits so comfortably with me and my way of expressing my Christian faith.

“It might pain me to say it, but it’s time for a radical change and I don’t mean a change of hymns, or a visually-aided sermon or a new time of day for traditional forms of worship. I mean something much more far reaching than that.”

He said: “I want us to explore how people might be able to belong to the Church of Scotland rooted in reality, which can interact with them in the context of an online community, but also be there for them when they need real human contact.”

Rev Chalmers thinks that because 1.7 million Scots in the 2011 census associated themselves with the Church of Scotland its an opportunity to bring them into the membership of the church. That’s why he wants to ‘redefine’ membership so that those who are not currently members can be counted as such. Social media, Facebook and twitter could be used to help this process. He was supported in this by former Moderator, Rev Albert Bogle, who stated, “there are a huge number out there who need to be nurtured and strengthened in their faith.”

It may not have the same ecclesial standing as a moderator of a European national church, but the challenge thrown down by Roman Catholic sociologists to the work of Christian Smith on the religious convictions and practices of U.S. adolescents reveals a similar use of ecclesiastical beer goggles (the statistics, like homely gals, are easier on the eyes after a couple pints) to make the best of a difficult situation:

Our studies show that pre-Vatican II Catholics learned a compliance-oriented approach that emphasized the teaching authority of the clergy, demanded strict adherence to all official church teachings, and often relied on fear and guilt to produce record-high levels of conformity.

Then, as a result of changes in American society and changes in the Catholic church, everything changed. Pre-Vatican II Catholics’ best efforts to pass their compliance-centered understanding of the faith on to their children were often mitigated by the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the implementation of Vatican II, both of which fostered a more personal approach to religion.

The three most recent generations learned a more conscience-centered approach that emphasizes Catholics’ responsibility for their own faith, including their responsibility to inform their own consciences, and to follow them as much as possible, even if this involves disagreement with church teachings. . . .

Members of these younger generations are not just “cafeteria Catholics” who “pick and choose” whatever parts of the faith they like. They continue to embrace core doctrinal teachings such as the divinity of Christ and his real presence in the sacraments; love of neighbor; and concern for the poor. But they are more selective in their religious practices, and are more likely to disagree with teachings that they consider unimportant, optional, coercive or wrong — especially those related to sexual and reproductive issues. . . .

Smith’s team draws a very different set of conclusions. What we call a shift from one approach to another, Smith and his colleagues call a story of “decline and loss.” Where we see adaptation to changing circumstances, they see the erosion of Catholicism. They tend to see departures from the compliance model of the 1940s and ’50s as a downward spiraling of the church. This is especially true in their interpretations of young Catholics’ low rates of Mass attendance.

According to Smith and his colleagues, “compared both to official Catholic norms of faithfulness and to other types of Christian teens in the United States [especially young Mormons and young evangelical Protestants], contemporary U.S. Catholic teens are faring rather badly,” “show up as fairly weak” and reflect “the relative religious laxity of their parents.”

Then there are the Callers who represent a logic all of their own.

When Logic Is Delusional

Sure, I find Bryan Cross’s grading of all my utterances for logical correctness annoying. But aside from my own mental inadequacies, I have trouble understanding how logic can be such a part of the apologetic tactic Bryan (along with Jason and the Callers) brings to the interweb. Have these fellows not heard of Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith or what this congregation said about doctrinal formulations and hermeneutics? Consider this:

First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council.[1] Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution “Lumen gentium”: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.” The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention.

This 2007 explanation, of course, fits entirely with the idea of development of doctrine even if it doesn’t fit with Bryan’s appeal to logic. Part of the difficulty on the latter matter concerns whether what the CDF said in 2007 follows logically from the premise established by Pius X roughly 100 years earlier when he required of any priest an Oath against Modernism which contained this:

Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely.

This is merely the policy that followed from Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism and the notion of evolution of doctrine (13).

Maybe someone schooled in upper level logic can reconcile development of doctrine (A) with a condemnation of development of doctrine (not A). Curious minds do want to know. But perhaps Bryan along with Jason and the Callers should consider one of their fellow converts from a semi-Reformed Protestant background who might judge their high view of logic as just one more instance of Protestant rationalism and logocentrism:

For evangelicals, things say what they mean and mean what they say. Lines are drawn, people get clear on where they stand, and clarity and consistency throughout is paramount. That is its literal, either/or, univocal approach at work again. that view also reflects Protestantism central emphasis on the word. . . . Correct words, for Protestants — particularly for evangelical rationalists — are therefore nearly themselves sacred, because Christian truth itself is presented directly in the right words.

Catholics also care very much about right words. But their approach to words is a bit different in a way that turns out to make a big difference. Catholicism, in short, recognizes a gap between words and what the words express or represent. For Protestants, the words are the truth. That is why one must get them exactly right. For Catholics, by contrast, words formulate expressions of truth. There is not in Catholicism a literal, exact, univocal correspondence or identity between words and truth. Much of the truth, especially truth that directly concerns God, is in Catholicism a mystery. Ultimately the truth is God. And God is not words. (Christian Smith, How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic, 104-105)

Tell that to Pius X.

Smith goes on to quote from the CDF (quoted above) and goes on to say:

Catholicism can thus at once claim infallibility for some of its teachings and at the same time revise the verbal expression of those teachings. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility does not claim that the verbal formulations per se that are promulgated by popes are infallible. Rather, it is the real truths which their verbal formulations express that are infallible. In short, we haven’t gotten at all wrong what we say is true, even though the way we say the truth might not be quite right or adequate. (106-107)

I for one don’t know what Smith’s hermeneutic means for the status and authority of a papal encyclical or for Bryan Cross’ love of logic, but it has all the marks of theological modernism and the way that Protestant and Roman Catholic liberals said that words and their meanings wobbled across time without needing to be pinned down. H. L. Mencken, by no means a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, like Pius X saw through the hockum of modernism and recognized its threat to all forms of knowledge:

I confess frankly, as a life-long fan of theology, that I can find no defect in his defense of his position. Is Christianity actually a revealed religion? If not, then it is nothing; if so, then we must accept the Bible as an inspired statement of its principles. But how can we think of the Bible as inspired and at the same time as fallible? How can we imagine it as part divine and awful truth, and part mere literary confectionary? And how, if we manage so to imagine it, are we to distinguish between the truth and the confectionary? Dr. Machen answers these questions very simply and very convincingly. If Christianity is really true, as he believes, then the Bible is true, and if the Bible is true, then it is true from cover to cover. So answering, he takes his stand upon it, and defies the hosts of Beelzebub to shake him. As I have hinted, I think that, given his faith, his position is completely impregnable. There is absolutely no flaw in the argument with which he supports it. If he is wrong, then the science of logic is a hollow vanity, signifying nothing.

Who's Your Bishop?

I wonder what Christian Smith is thinking today about words he wrote (published in 2011) about his conversion to Roman Catholicism:

I also worry a bit in all of this that, for all of the standard associations of apostasy and error that “Rome” evokes for some Protestants, the same “Rome” may stir up unduly romanticized visions among evangelicals who are contemplating “swimming the Tiber.” Becoming Catholic, we must remember, is not primarily a matter of venturing off “to Rome” to soak up the splendor of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the wonder of the ancient Catacombs, the endless memorials to Christian martyrs, and the like. All of that is good and fine, as long as it is not turned into some kind of “Catholic Disneyland.” But Rome is not ultimately what Catholicism is about.

That is not the impression an observer would take away from matters Roman Catholic since Benedict’s abdication (or from the Callers).

Smith adds:

Rome is certainly an indispensable, authoritative sign of Christian communion, a testimony and instrument of the authentic catholicity of the believers and church which stand in full communion with her. But Rome is not everything. Rome is one thing in one place — as central, indispensable, and valuable as it is. The Catholic Church, by contrast, is nearly everywhere, doing lots of things, in various ways.

In a footnote, Smith explains:

. . . the Catholic Church is an assembly of thousands of distinct dioceses spread throughout the world that are united through the bonds of mutual communion, especially as embodied through their full communion with the bishop of Rome and all bishops throughout the world. It is the latter view, which sees one diocese and parish as one’s true local home, which I wish to emphasize to evangelicals considering my “return to Rome.”

Smith’s brief for the local parish and diocese surely fits with the Roman Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, the idea that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority possible. I myself have always thought that Protestantism was the ecclesiological embodiment of subsidiarity and that the papacy was at odds with that principle. So while I applaud Christian Smith’s ecclesiastical localism, I am having trouble thinking that he described accurately what we have witnessed over the last four weeks. I even wonder how many of the recent converts to Rome, who are ecstatic about the Conclave and its result, actually know the identity of their local bishop. Did they celebrate when he took office? Did they notice?

Called to Call the Mother of God

No news for anyone on line who is using more than Comcast’s news updates (all about cleavages at the Grammy’s, I’m afraid) that Benedict XVI has resigned the office of pope, effective February 28, 2013. What may be news, however, is the last paragraph of his resignation:

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

It is an odd phenomenon for Protestants to think of praying (i.e., “implore) to Mary. For a recent convert like Christian Smith, Protestant discomfort is simply a symptom of evangelicals’ “allergy” to Mary. He goes on to write (How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic):

Evangelicals trust in the Bible, on which they say they base their beliefs. But, when it comes to things even only remotely and by association “too Catholic,” like Mary, the verses are read over and past and ignored. It is like Mary hardly matters, as if the verses were not in the Bible, as if Mary deserves no theological reflection. (48)

Never mind that Smith never cites any verses associated with Mary, or shows the theological reflection of the apostles (like Peter and Paul’s epistles) on the mother of Jesus. (He does get a lot of mileage in his case for Mary — wow! — out of the discovery that “Faith of Our Fathers” was a Roman Catholic hymn.) Never mind as well that even the Catholic Encyclopedia says of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, “No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture.”

Still, the allergy, if that’s what we want to call it, is the idea of praying to Mary. Praying to Mary is not something that should be surprising to Protestant observers. For instance, this is how Pius IX concluded Nullis Certe Verbis:

And so that God may incline His ear to Our prayers and yours and those of all the faithful, We ask first the recommendation of the Virgin Mary, who is our most beloved mother and most trustworthy hope and ever present guardian of the Church. Nothing is more powerful with God than her patronage. We also implore the support of Peter, then of his co-apostle Paul, and of all the heavenly citizens who reign with Christ in heaven. We do not doubt that in the light of your outstanding religion and priestly zeal, you will obey these Our prayers and petitions. Meanwhile as a pledge of Our burning charity toward you, from Our deepest heart and with a wish for all every true happiness, We lovingly impart Our Apostolic Blessing to you yourselves and all the clergy, and faithful laity committed to each of your vigilance.

And when Pius XI wrote an encyclical (Ad Caeli Reginam) which asserted the queenship of Mary over all other creatures, he closed with this:

Earnestly desiring that the Queen and Mother of Christendom may hear these Our prayers, and by her peace make happy a world shaken by hate, and may, after this exile show unto us all Jesus, Who will be our eternal peace and joy, to you, Venerable Brothers, and to your flocks, as a promise of God’s divine help and a pledge of Our love, from Our heart We impart the Apostolic Benediction.

But since Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God the Father (as in the Lord’s Prayer), the idea of praying to Mary is odd. I know apologists like Smith try to distinguish veneration from worship of saints. I also know that the CTCers have made their peace with Mary as Co-Redemptrix. But I am still wondering how praying to someone doesn’t give the impression that the entity to whom the prayer is being directed is anything less than divine. I also don’t understand why you wouldn’t simply pray directly to Christ, whose work as priest now is to intercede at God’s right hand. Is he too busy to hear?

Psychological Disorder or Simply Bad Manners?

Here is a plea to Kevin C. Rhoades, bishop of the Roman Catholic parish of Ft. Wayne/South Bend: call off Christian Smith! Please!!

Apparently, Smith is so caught up in his conversion to Rome that he has failed to join his fellow communicants in their Fortnight for Freedom. As many may know, Smith has not only joined the Roman Catholic Church, but the distinguished sociologist of American religion has also written two books that justify his move. One takes on the problems of sola scriptura, the other explains how evangelicals can become Roman Catholic. Why those books were not enough is a mystery. But here we are, smack dab in the Freedom Fortnight, and Smith has posted through Pete Enns a piece about the narcissism of conservative Presbyterians:

But for present purposes, what the narcissism of small differences very powerfully explains, I think, is the prevailing tendency among conservative Reformed and Presbyterian Christians in the U.S. to spend so much time, energy, and attention arguing over and policing and prosecuting what in reality are relatively minor—sometimes absolutely obscure—matters of doctrine.

It is not just that they were traumatized by losing Princeton to the liberals and so always feel on edge. Those who sustain the entertainments of doctrinal and biblical legalisms are also in fact so darn similar to each other, and that theological and organizational proximity makes what are often really only very small differences seem life shaking.

If you look at the fine print of this piece you will find no examples of such mountain-out-of-mole-hill making. (But even uninformed readers might connect the dots to Enns, Westminster, and the controversy over inerrancy a few years ago.)

I do not doubt that conservative Presbyterians do this, though whether we need to invoke Freud is another matter. As John Muether pointed out in a comment to Smith’s post:

This is what Neuhaus called the law of theological propinquity — one reserves most strident criticism for those closest, in part as an effort at boundary maintenance. It seems to apply to sociological theory as much as reformed doctrine.

I suspect that even in Roman Catholic circles, if Smith looked hard enough, he might find such forms of boundary maintenance, like those distinguishing Opus Dei from Call to Action. In fact, the United States is thriving on differences that might look to Turks or Japanese like small differences. Do Republicans and Democrats really differ on the economy and national defense? Do Irish-Americans really look at the world differently from Swedish-Americans?

So why would Smith go out of his way to reduce the convictions of his former friends, communicants, and family members to psychological malfunctioning? One explanation might be narcissism itself. Smith is so caught up with his own pilgrimage that he needs to justify it. As his own definition of narcissism attests:

It is narcissistic because it is driven by a quest, very real even if unacknowledged, to feed the importance of one’s own identity even at the expense of others and the church.

This is not meant to be merely an echo response. Smith’s books deserve more comment than this post, and his arguments will receive scrutiny in the forthcoming book that Muether and I are writing. What is meant here is that a smart guy like Smith should have enough intelligence to consider his own posture in these debates, not to mention the manners of an assured convert who doesn’t need to wear his faith on his sleeve and make others feel uncomfortable. Could it be that Smith is still suffering from the evangelical piety he used to defend?