If You’re Wrong about War, then Maybe Sex Also

Alan Jacobs picks up slack for Jamie Smith’s argument that modern Christians should not reduce orthodoxy to heterosexual sex (about which I tend to agree). But he loses me when he seems to agree with the analogy between sex and pacifism:

the grammar of credal orthodoxy is a generative one, from which the whole of Christian ethics emerges. But it does not inevitably do this in obvious ways, ways that Christians are generally agreed about. Smith’s example of pacifism is a telling one. For the Christian pacifist, the very heart of the credal grammar is that in Christ God is at work reconciling the world to himself, and that therefore the whole life of the Church is to participate in that reconciliation, which enjoins a steadfast refusal of armed conflict. For the Christian pacifist, the Christian who believes that wars can be just has simply failed to grasp that credal grammar. And yet most Christian pacifists do not say that just-war Christians fall outside the scope of orthodoxy. And I think they don’t say this because they recognize the difference between grammatical rules that are explicitly stated and the consequences that implicitly follow from those rules.

What Bible (or Christian tradition — think popes reigning over Papal States and emperors executing justice in Caesaro-Papist manner) are these guys reading?

Since when does the religion of the Bible oppose armed conflict? Redemption in the OT sure seemed to rely on a fair amount not merely of just war but jihad. Jesus redeemed his people by shedding his blood to the emperor’s sword. Jesus will return in judgment and from reading Revelation it does not look like Quakers will be in charge. And then there is Paul’s instruction that God ordains the emperor’s use of the sword.

With friends of pacifism like this, I’m not confident orthodoxy — even limited to Nicea — has a chance.

Defining Morality Up

The word in the media over the weekend (actually, the end of one week and the beginning of another), was that the Roman Catholic Church needs to maintain its orthodoxy or else it will experience what has happened to mainline Protestantism. Ethics and Public Policy’s Mary Eberstadt expressed just such a view in an interview with Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition:

SIMON: Before Pope Francis was selected, you wrote that you’d hoped to see the new pope deploy doctrinal orthodoxy. What do you mean by that?

EBERSTADT: Well, what I meant is that if you study the history of churches, over time the churches that have tried to lighten up the Christian moral code and put forth sort of kindler, gentler version of Christian as they see it, have not done well. They haven’t done well demographically and they haven’t done well financially.

Churches that stick to orthodoxy do better over time, in part because it’s only those kinds of churches that tend to create families that can be of size and carry on the Christian tradition. So, in saying that the pope would do best to stick to orthodoxy, I was talking in part about what it would take to strengthen the Catholic Church.

SIMON: So if I were to remind you about some of these polls we’ve all seen in recent days showing 66 percent of U.S. Catholics favor allowing women to become priests, 79 percent favor the use of artificial birth control measures, what does that mean to you?

EBERSTADT: Well, it means in part that you have to be careful about what you are calling Catholic. In other words, are you Catholic if you say you’re Catholic? Are you Catholic if you were baptized Catholic? Are you Catholic if you haven’t been in church in five years? What you tend to find is that the more observant people are, the more orthodox their opinions tend to be. That’s one point.

But the other point is that for Catholics like that, for Catholics who want married priests, women priests, who want again to lighten up the Christian moral code, there is a place for people like that. The place is called the mainline Protestantism. And the point is that mainline Protestantism is in serious disarray. The pews are graying, they have few children in them.

By contrast, the Protestant churches that have hued closest to a sort of strict Christian moral code have done best. Those would be the evangelical churches and churches like the Pentecostals are thriving, and not only in the United States but around the world.

I don’t mean to be precious, but are male priests, celibacy, and contraception really part of Christian orthodoxy? I could think of matters like Christology, God’s incommunicable attributes, or even closer to Rome’s home, transubstantiation or apostolic succession. I can also think of believers who are not Christian who come close to Eberstadt’s notion of orthodoxy — such as Orthodox Jews.

In which case, what is orthodoxy for Roman Catholics in the United States and how much has Americanization polarized the church into segments that mirror the larger culture war dividing the so-called orthodox party from the progressives (both transcending confessional and religious lines)? If Roman Catholics in the U.S. reflect the larger divisions among the American people, that is an ironic outcome of Vatican II’s aggiornamento.