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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Perfect Storm

I'm not your typical political conservative. You probably know that. I still think George W. Bush is one of the most well-intentioned people we've ever elected president. I also think he's guilty of terrible offenses, and profoundly bad moral lapses in judgment. Maybe Dr. Peter G. Klein of the University of Missouri-Columbia is right; voting may be nothing more than an expression of identity. I do know that when one has not only tired of war, but realized perhaps that the entire rationale for a nation's entry into them has been nothing more than political expediency, national pride, and angst for about 100 years, if not longer, the peacenik starts to sound like a live option. If you've been Republican your whole adult life, and policy starts to reflect nothing more than an intra-generational culture war, rather than the real moral battles that need fighting, when abortion is just a card they play to stir up the rubes while nothing changes, when they nominate essentially a Democrat, while pretending this is The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime, like they always do, don't blame me for taking a flyer. Is Obama worse than anyone (including me) might have thought? Yes. Nor is he a peacenik, as it turns out. In fact, he begins to make W look like Henry Cabot Lodge. So fine, I was very wrong. You still can't pay me to vote for John McCain. And don't even try to make me hate Obama; honestly, I'm not capable of it.

I do think that the lines are about to be redrawn. I think we won't even recognize the coalitions which make up our parties in a few years, if not before. If I were to run for president, I want my coalition to be made up of poor people and minorities; I want to be the most environmentally-conscious president in recent memory, even as I infuriate the professional activists for that cause. I want to help people realize that while socialism is a grave evil, not every government expenditure perpetuates it. On the other hand, government is too large, in that its existence in the present form hinders rather than helps; it grows so large that it doles out the favors that are the fruit of injustice, both economic and otherwise. In general, we have an entire political class that is unresponsive to the needs of all the people they claim to serve, because that reward has grown so bountifully that they are insulated from reality, from suffering and difficulty that afflicts ordinary people.

I believe we have a Culture of Death, and it tells us to kill our children in the womb. It tells us that individual pleasure is more important than our duty to our families and to others. It tells men and women to die for "freedom" far away, when no one else has counted the cost, except them. It tells us that profit at all costs is the same thing as co-operative self-interest, and dares to name it "the market economy." It tells us to re-define marriage when we already have, and when we have completely lost its purpose in the first place. It tells us that killing people in the name of public safety when the situation makes it neither necessary or just is acceptable.

Monday, December 30, 2013

10 Points!

10. When someone says, "According to Scripture..." my favorite retort is, "According to whom?"

9. I like Protestant liberals for this very reason, because they are frank to make this challenge, even if they don't leave anything orthodox in its place.

8. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that "Losing My Religion" is playing in the background. Heh.

7. On the other hand, it eventually leads to agnosticism or atheism if you deconstruct every human structure in human history. It's an act of faith to see this as unreasonable, for the Word made flesh to allow man's corruption to taint His gospel, that is.

6. A person needs to know the content and meaning of divine revelation in the places where he lives. If he cannot know the gospel, he cannot do it.

5. An invisible Church cannot define itself, or what it believes.

4. There is an irreconcilable conflict between the fundamental principle of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura) and the invocation of ecclesiastical authority, precisely because the man ultimately submits to himself, and thus, cannot know that what he believes is in fact divine revelation.

3. Is this a bad time to mention that Anglican Holy Orders are invalid? Blame Cranmer. The riff-raff always ruins it for good papists.

2. Ecclesial deism is in direct contradiction to the biblical story, which is the story of God's faithfulness to His people.

1. One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

5 Sports Fan Dictums

5. Keep your sports "hate" confined to the field. That guy you hate inevitably gives half his salary to a children's hospital or something.

4. Win or lose, the guy who hasn't done anything all year will be involved in the crucial play. Please just trust me on this.

3. The championship teams always face adversity. Always. If your team hasn't, they're going to lose when nobody expects them to.

2. The only thing that beats a Feel Good Story is a team of ruthless dream-killers, who hate stories like that.  The St. Louis Cardinals are quintessentially this team. Don't let the fan base, smiles, and ignorance of the Eastern media fool you. Ruthless, most years. I have come to terms with this. After all, I admire the Patriots in football. Mike Matheny and the staff have started wearing hoodies. Coincidence? I think not.

1. Momentum is real, no matter what the experts say.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mark Shea, 1, Reductionism, 0.

I actually hate agreeing with Mark Shea. But what do you want me to do? I recognize that the cultivation of expertise in any one field must be ever and always against the backdrop and with the overriding consideration of the dignity of the human person. Just imagine you are the highest cleric in Argentina; you have spent the balance of your career among the poorest of the poor, in a society so stratified, Adam Smith himself would cry, "Outrage!" Now how do you feel about recent discussions concerning economics? The talking heads in this nation are playing a game, a word game, a game of "gotcha!" But the Vicar of Christ has bigger fish to fry, if you will pardon the pun. Yes, expertise tends to increase the tension between specialized knowledge and wise counsel. But that's the point: Great ideas are built on creative tension.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Heaven Help Me, I Agree With Tim Dukeman

I love Christ and Pop Culture. Me and Alan Noble are buddies on the interwebs. I told him I read the magazine religiously, and I mean that in the creepy Catholic sense. Even when they annoy me, I can't stop reading it. In many important ways, I'm still an evangelical. (You could legitimately argue that I'm still Reformed in some non-doctrinal, non-ecclesial ways, too, and I think that's good. That tradition holds a non-negligible influence over that expression of evangelical piety, and it will probably stay that way.) Every time Alan writes a post looking for new writers, I punch myself, because justification by faith alone is a deal-breaker over there, and I'm a bloody Catholic; I can't affirm it. But I want to write for them almost as much as I want to be on The Journey Home, which is a lot. I need you to understand that. I love what they do. Let me just get that out of the way.

But they are annoyingly temperate, at a time when we really don't need that. Technically, I'm not a Millenial; I missed it by a year. And maybe that's a tendency of the generation; I don't know. But I do know that this generation labors under the delusion that their fathers in faith were unnecessarily combative, mixed up in the culture wars. If we'd be a little nicer, we could win them for Christ like never before. Have you forgotten that Christ is a scandal? His cross is foolishness to the Greeks, etc. Respecting the dignity of the person does not mean making them happy. There is an holistic anthropology behind the saving message of the Incarnate Word; killing our children will not get us closer. Affirming people in their sexual sins will not get them closer. I am ever the optimist; I do not believe our nation is doomed to extinction, nor do I believe that Barack Obama heralds its end, as foolish and infuriating and reductionistic as he is. That said, it's time to fight, and fight hard. As much as none of us wants to be identified with some political movement or ideology, let's cut the mess; if you don't get life and death right, the niceties of trade and tax rates is pretty close to pointless. Where did we get the idea that non-partisanship meant "mainstream and acceptable?"

This dude is 1000 percent right. Today, that is. As much as Catholic Social Teaching (CST) may not line up with the economic proposals of the big elephant, (let the reader understand) as much as progressive ideology on certain issues may be theoretically harmonious with the dignity of the human person, enough to make me uneasily "conservative" at times, I know this: I'm sick of Boomer weariness, and the Millenial need to be liked; sometimes, you've just gotta shoot it straight. They aren't going to like us. The work of lawmaking requires nuance, cooperation, and compromise; setting a vision requires bluntness and courage. As long as we have some semblance of political freedom, as long as there is still a glowing ember of a culture worth saving, let's do it! After we have done so, they may call us alternately communists, and backward, moralistic reactionaries, but we will have split the middle with considered reflection, and not, quite frankly, with timidity. I may be my generation's James Dobson, or a new William Jennings Bryan. You know what? I don't mind.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

You're Right, Johnny

I've always loved this song. I'll take the risk of sounding inclusivist or Balthasarian or whatever horrible thing you want to call me. Because if you don't take the risk of sounding a little hippie-ish about the mercy of God, you don't understand it. We're on the eve of the Nativity of the Lord, but the Paschal Mystery is never far away. Jesus was born to die. For us. Because He loves us.

His love swallows up everything it touches. You just have to let it, let Him.

Merry Christmas, "'Cause tonight's the night the world begins again."

Love Wins, Part 8000

Are you sure you don't want to read Called to Communion? Ahem. I like being Jason Kettinger; it's generally awesome. But there have been days when I wanted to be Casey Chalk. Just sayin.'

Monday, December 23, 2013

Not For Me

A resonance
shaking the soul
like I have not known,
nor could have seen,
has taken place.

What sort of music
is this?
What kind of reply
must I make?
I only know
that I heard it,
and it was beautiful.

There is a song
I desire to sing,
the words come ready to mind,
but I do not sing in haste;
I do not sing
of my own accord.

I long to hear it again,
to listen closely,
that I might sing well,
that I might find my place
in the chorus.

It is not for me
to write the song.
The melody, the time
are not mine,
and they will never be.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I Don't Care What The First Lady Thinks About Stuff

No, not just the current one. I mean, in general. If she is a recognized expert on something, OK. But are we forgetting that the First Lady is the president's wife? That's a big job, but it's not a public one, or at least it shouldn't be. It's a horrible liberal innovation anyway, that the First Lady should do stuff. If she does, it should be things no one on Earth with a soul would be offended by, like a librarian encouraging kids to read, for example.

I was never offended by Michelle Obama's "For the first time in my life..." comment, because I know what she meant when she said it. Sue me. But then again, call me old-fashioned, but I think the First Lady should smile, decorate the White House, and make the guests feel comfortable.

And actually, no, I've never had cause to remark on Mrs. Obama's physical appearance, except to say that she is beautiful. Because she is. If she were not a progressive, and her name were still Robinson, (I think) I'd probably ask her out.

But none of this alters the fact that President Obama is generally a terrible president. Even borderline tyrannical at times. Why discussing that has to be so intensely personal, though, I don't understand. And why it ensnares those who are not involved, I don't get that, either.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Well, yeah, supporting and facilitating the murder of children makes you unworthy of the Body and Blood of Christ. That should be rather obvious.

4. How sad are we here in the US, that the faithful shepherd who is willing to deny Communion to such sinners--as canon law and true mercy require--is "controversial"?

3. The only reason this is "political" at all is because people don't believe that the spiritual realm with its eternal consequences actually exists.

2. If you believe this, please leave. There are thousands of social clubs who'd be happy to have you. I prefer my atheists honest.

1. With all due respect, I don't care what John Allen thinks about anything.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

That Mourns In Lonely Exile Here

It's the third line of, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". We've probably sung this 18 million times. We might even know that we should be preparing our hearts to receive Him there in just a few days on the great feast of Christmas.

But do you realize that this one line in the title of this post perfectly summarizes the context into which Christ came? A faithful Jew of the first century would know exactly what this line means. If Exodus 12 and the events surrounding the first Passover were the great salvation event for the people of the first covenant, and the giving of the Law was the setting of the terms, then the Exile was the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:15-68. The siege of Jerusalem in 586 BC was awful. They starved to death. Parents ate their children in desperate attempts to stay alive. And for the next several hundred years, God's People were trampled by foreigners, by vicious men, who cared nothing for God and His Law. Jeremiah the prophet tells us more detail about that suffering than we probably would want to know. After the exile, prophets like Amos and Joel, while saying that Israel still had ways to amend, started to speak of a new covenant, and a new day when Israel's reproach would be removed. A king in the line of David would lead his "armies" in "battle" against the Gentiles, and they would convert. The kingdom was long gone by that time, but the line persisted.
Have you ever wondered in the Gospels why Symeon, Anna, and the Blessed Mother talk so funny? So Jewish? Because this is the story they are telling. The New Covenant is a Jewish story. Those are the three faithful people you meet right away. They have been waiting and hoping a long time. Look at Luke 19:41-44. Jesus didn't want to speak these words of judgment any more than Jeremiah did. Taking nothing away from the Church Fathers, (obviously) who give us many applications of a spiritual nature as the Church age moves along, there is so much in the literal sense we can miss, because we (Gentiles) are so fortunate and blessed. We say Jesus is prophet, priest, and king, and this is right. But in your mind at least once before Christmas, put "Jewish" before each one of those. Read the Gospel narratives as if you were Anna, who had heard and lived all the stories of trial her whole life. If your buddy Phillip came by and spoke the words of John 1:45 to you, how excited would you be? How fast would you leap out of that tree?

It's easy to miss, because we struggle ourselves--maybe mightily--with the life that the Lord is calling us to live. Or the life of the Church seems common and boring. But the next time you walk into that confessional, think of all the patriarchs and prophets, how they hoped and longed for Him you know by name. Every time you rejoice, you rejoice with them, and for them. If you're longing for Him, go back in your mind to their longing. Share it with them! In some way, we owe it to them.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stellman: JK's Take

I watched the whole interview, and I have a few general comments. First, we're talking about Jesus Christ, and what he does. Being sons of the Catholic Church is not a matter of waving a flag, or wearing a pin on your lapel. If you accept her authority, the only defensible reason to do so is because what she guards and protects has been revealed by God. Catholicism isn't so awesome in the practical living out that "smells and bells" would be enough without this. Please pause and reflect on the inanity of what you are saying before you accuse any convert of doing this for an aesthetic reason primarily. [climbs off soapbox] Are our liturgies rightly executed beautiful? Of course. But they are precisely that because they are true. God, who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty has revealed Himself.

If you make the effort to claim that the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited to the Catholic Church, but is invisible, including all true believers from whatever tradition you want to name, you must be willing to explain how this is not an innovation that is unknown to our ancient brothers and fathers, and wrestle with the dogmatic implications; no believer would have access to what God has actually said on any matter of any consequence. Whether we could legitimately claim any one person was guilty of ecclesial consumerism, we can clearly see that this state of affairs would fuel it.

What struck me about Stellman's telling was how he found some thread of truth at every place. The next step in the journey was not a negation of the last, as such. This is the reason we call the Church the "fullness of truth," and also because Christ dwells within. What if those elements of sanctification and truth (undeniably) outside the Catholic Church really do belong to the Catholic Church, as LG, 8 says? What if we belong to the Catholic Church? Trying to love Christ without being Catholic would be like stealing your mom's car to go to Disney World with your friends, while telling them you bought the car yourself. [You just compared Heaven to Disney World.--ed.] It's an imperfect analogy. [Very imperfect.--ed.] OK. [So invincible ignorance would be like sleepwalking/driving all the way to Disney World in your mom's car, and she's not mad, because the whole family was supposed to meet there, anyway, and they all know you were just excited.--ed.] I'll go with it. But the question for the rest of you is, "Why are you trying to go to Disney World without your mom?" Father told you they don't like your "friends" many times. They're arrogant, disrespectful, and more importantly, wrong. I digress.

You made sense to me, Stellman. You made sense to me.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

I'm not saying there's no good in reading fiction; I just don't have an infinite amount of time in which to read the things I must read, the things I'm inclined to read anyway, and anything else. And I just flat-out don't agree that fiction is superior, anyway. They're all stories; at bottom, human stories, so I don't see the difference, myself. You need imagination and creativity to make a difference for God and people in this world, in any case. And I'm telling you, if you don't think you can get it from reading non-fiction, you need to read better non-fiction.

And there's no merit badge at the end for having read Middlemarch. It's true I don't trust people who willfully don't read anything at all; it's quite another to tell people what they must read, and why. You can't possibly know that.

I'm only insistent about this point because I am but a mortal man, and because "for pleasure" has no meaning in my universe at all. I do absolutely everything for a purpose. Even my "leisure" serves that purpose. And I've got to work around my "crazy". I'm physically disabled, and whether it's medical or not, I absolutely cannot focus on one thing for longer than 15 minutes. Even when I pray, it's insane. This is why I prefer Eucharistic Adoration to other prayer, because at least when I become distracted, I am distracted with Him. Also, in the quiet, others don't realize you are insane.

This is why I told Bob to take a bunch of little breaks when reading theology and doing our stuff; we're similar people; if we burn out from forcing ourselves to focus too intently for too long, we'll blow 6 days thinking about the anatomy of flying purple unicorns, and miss what we're supposed to do entirely. Keep your deadlines firm but broad, and keep your diversions semi-relevant to the major tasks at hand.

My Ten Books



The Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me:

10. Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella

9. War, by Sebastian Junger

8. Dead Man Walking, by Sister Helen Prejean

7. Anthem, by Ayn Rand

6. Radical Son, by David Horowitz

5. Congress: The Electoral Connection, by David Mayhew

4. The Days Of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Jim Bishop

3. Upon This Rock, by Steven Ray

2. Dune, by Frank Herbert

1. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee


I could easily do another 10, and perhaps I will. But these were the 10 I first thought of, and my basic criteria are:


1) I say, "This book changed the way I think and feel about the world," or 2) Someone else said I needed to read it, and I finally did. I didn't put any books up that I haven't finished, and I won't. So, there are dozens and dozens more books I have yet to finish, so I can't mention them. Also, if I read a book, and I feel I can't articulate the main theme or purpose, (that is, understand it) you won't see it on a list like this.


Recently, others who have read more fiction have critiqued it for lacking some of the great works of fiction. Well, I have two great interests (other than sports): Theology and politics. Even when I read fiction, these are the lenses I read it through, because I am me. In other words, too bad. Some are called to read the great works of fiction, and others think about humanity and its destiny. It's probably not fair to those great works if I did read them all, because what we owe to any author is to connect with his purpose, not our own.


By the way, I suppose I should comment on sports for a moment. There is a segment of intellectuals for whom sports is a little too common, a little too "Average Joe." You know what? If you were a real intellectual, you'd at least be conversant with sports. Stupid people may love sports, but brilliant people definitely love sports. This is different than being a fan, though those aren't mutually exclusive. The games we play and watch, even in all their intricate details, are a big, giant human interest story. As are the people who watch them. If you have no desire to get inside that in some way, well, you're beyond my help.


I used to say that I lived and died with the St. Louis Cardinals, and perhaps once I did. Don't get me wrong: I am a huge fan. That community, love, and passion is a real thing. I saw on the social media that a friend of a friend from Chicago remarked that watching a baseball game with Cardinals fans is very special. He said there was a "reverence" for the game and the people who play it that is rarely duplicated. Some of us surely are idolators. Even so, I don't think it's a coincidence that one of the most religious cities in the world has among the most devoted baseball fans. The pinnacle of human achievement, community, and interest points at the transcendent, even when it goes wrong. Sports doesn't build character; it reveals it, as they say. This must be at least partially true.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No Principled Difference, Again

Today, a Reformed person said this: "The 2nd commandment means something. But the idea that it prohibits absolutely all images doesn't add up. As Brian pointed out with the carved cherubim. But recall that those cherubim were not at the focus of Israel's worship. When a church sets up an image of Christ or the saints in a central spot to where you can't help but look at it during worship, and then you have people kneeling, engaging in prayer, bowing etc, that's a problem. "You shall not bow down to them or worship them" means the 2nd commandment has a liturgical context to it. God is warning us away from vain liturgy that forsakes the Word and tries to capture God in a picture."

This is why we have ecumenical councils, my friend. No one really cares what you or I think about what the 2nd Commandment means. Any dude with a Bible can pick it up and attempt to tell someone what it means, in any place. And an ecumenical council isn't one unless it's recognized as such by the authority of the visible Church that Christ founded. Otherwise, I not only have to sit through some opinion as to what the Bible means, but I have to listen to some dude's revisionist history with respect to what a true Council is. The first revisionists were called "heretics" and "schismatics." He might even be a learned dude. Who cares? If the historical-critical method and the tools of lexical analysis were what it took to be right about the Bible, Bultmann would be the immortal Vicar of Christ.

Practically speaking, you are wrong. We are Catholic. We have images of everyone, and everything. You're not going to be distracted by any one thing. And, this is why there are principles to sacred art and architecture: to train the human heart to put things in right order. "Right order" is not the negation of art and beauty, nor the natural human instinct to give to mere persons the respect they are due. Fun fact: We have statues of angels and saints to remind ourselves that when we participate in the liturgy, Heaven and earth are connected, and those holy ones are worshipping God also! God is so gracious, He shows up.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

They Went Out From Us...

A little note on this new propensity for people to call themselves, "Reformed Catholics". It's dishonest. If you believe that the Catholic Church has distorted the gospel (and in all fairness and sympathy, this is what the children of the Reformation believe) then separation from a false 'Church' is an honest and principled course. In fact, if I may make a brief digression into Catholic moral theology, it is a sin to act against certain conscience, even if that conscience turns out to be badly misinformed. This is why a person who grows up in what was a schism is not a schismatic, properly speaking. If a person knowingly persists in schism, knowing that it is one, that's a different story. That's why Lumen Gentium, 14 is so carefully worded, with respect to knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ: If you know that, and refuse to enter or stay, you're rejecting Christ, not some guys calling themselves the 'Catholic Church'. If I were to leave, I give you permission to fear for my soul. What the Church does with the motives of credibility--that is the reasoned reasons to trust Christ and His Church--is question the credibility of those witnesses who believe other than what she teaches. That's what she did to me. If Leithart honestly believes that his differences with us are not significant enough to live in doctrinal and ecclesial contradistinction to us, then don't do it. If they are, then do. But you're not Catholic until you are.

Behind all the discussions I had about what 'catholic' really meant, (and actually, the whole time, we were discussing the disputed meanings of all 4 of the traditional marks of the Church), eventually, I heard God's voice in a certain way, saying, "This is the faith of My House; take it or leave it." (But more love, for sure.) Mother Church doesn't question anyone's earnestness or zeal; only God knows hearts. But she does question your authorities.

This is why I do not 'hate' the Reformed faith I once loved. I must vigorously protest this charge. I only questioned and do question those authorities from which we learned it, in this respect: their capacity and authority to speak for Jesus Christ with respect to what has been revealed. This is why a good Catholic can say to everyone in the world: "You are right in what you affirm, and wrong in what you deny."

Another quick note: There are lots of denominations, it's true. I've heard Catholic apologists mention this before, and it's not altogether invalid. But it's important to recognize what the true point of that is. It's not, "Stupid Protestants, HA, HA!" No, the point is, "How do I know where God has spoken, and what has He said?" The Noltie Conundrum is only a true crisis when you presume that the other guy is closer to God than you are. It becomes a theological problem in the strict sense. We can wax eloquent about the fallibility of man, but you kind of want to say, "OK, the Humility Cards have been played. Now, what did God say?"

Kenny Loggins, Redux

Granted, I like Kenny a lot. I've been hanging out with his music a lot, as a result. One song I really love by him is called, "Forever". I was thinking about this song recently, and it came to me: Change the gender in the second verse, and this whole song verse corresponds to Song of Songs 3:1-3. Stew on that for a while. And in general, the song captures that theme throughout the book: "Love is as strong as death."

Have I said this before? I don't know. But alas, here are the words to that verse:

Once, I dreamed that you were gone
I cried out, trying to find you
I begged the dream to fade
Away, and please awaken me
But night took a hold of my heart
And left me with no one to follow
The love that I lost to the dark
I'll always remember...

[Me again] I'll bet you don't read the text or hear the song the same way again. You're welcome.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Unity And Life In Christ

One of the things that I appreciate about holy mother Church and our deepening understanding of the implications and the depth of the riches of Christ is that we don't have to choose between unity and truth, for Christ is the fullness of those things; that unity and truth is defined in Him, and by Him. Some people think that Vatican II fundamentally changed the way Catholics understood the manner in which the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded. They see the conciliatory words toward especially Protestant communities as a concession to a modern ecumenical reality. We have to reject this, even as we are aware that many groups within the Catholic Church had explicitly or implicitly adopted a(n) hermeneutic of discontinuity in their thinking about the Council. But let's define "ecumenism" first. Ecumenism is dialogue for the purpose of establishing agreement in the truth concerning God. Ecumenism is not a passive acceptance of mutually exclusive dogmas or principles; indeed, it cannot be, for dogma pertains to that which has been revealed by God; to allow it would call God a liar, or say that He is not one, but many.

If that is the case, then an unavoidable feature of ecumenism is disagreement, discussion, and even polemics concerning the sources and content of dogma. We'll come back to this.

Consider this section from Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in its eighth article: "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity."

This part acknowledges truth outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church, which it identifies as the society governed by the successor of Peter, and the bishops in communion with him. Many non-Catholic Christians are fond of thinking of the "church catholic" as including the Catholic Church possibly, but not synonymous with it, which is fine, as far as it goes, but for the fact that, in a dialogue concerning the nature of the Church, this would constitute begging the question. Moreover, were this claim of the Catholic Church completely unsupported by evidence, that would also be begging the question, that is, assuming the very point in question. So, if it were an open question, I could say, "I needn't accept what the Catholic Church says at face value, but I can see that they believe themselves to be the Church that Christ founded." I could also say, "Suppose the Church were not visible fundamentally. That is, it cannot be strictly identified with one visible community. What are the implications of this, and what would be the means of its self-delineation?" It doesn't take long to see that the Catholic Church has a means of delineating itself. What really caught my attention during my search/exploration/etc. was how an invisible Church had been assumed by me, taken for granted as true. It was the wholly intolerable implication of this assumption--the loss of identifiable dogma--that caused me to question it in the first place, from within my theological system. Had this not been the case, I could not, and would not have even looked seriously into the Catholic faith at all. So, I must reject the notion that I assumed the truth of the Catholic faith first. It could not have been so. Pardon the personal digression.

One potential problem with holding a looser view regarding the Catholic Church and its claim to be the Church Christ founded is that it fails to do justice to the final line of the very quoted paragraph. How could the many elements of sanctification and truth existing outside the Catholic Church impel toward catholic unity if that unity has already been achieved? Good question, no? And what are people being impelled toward, at least according to these bishops, if not the Catholic Church?

Much confusion with respect to this has been caused by an incautious reading of article 16 of the same Constitution. The passage in question is this: "Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience." This is what I like to call, "God's escape hatch." Allow me to explain. Rather than this be an acceptance of other religious systems as such, or an unwillingness to preach Christ and His Church exclusively, it is rather a recognition that God is alone and finally the judge of all things. It is He who decides culpability and imputability, praise and blame. A strict universalism would posit that all were saved by the mere fact of Christ having died for them. This is not in view here. But, fair to say, a standard Protestant evangelicalism or fundamentalism finds this abhorrent. But did you catch the "moved by grace" there? This would be troubling for several reasons, not least for those who believe grace to be irresistible, and to be only of one kind. But for the Catholic, grace is always resistible, unless it's an individual, personal grace that isn't, (if I stopped to explain this, we'll get off-track) and it is not tied by necessity to the will of God in some deterministic sense, such that grace and faith fall out consequently from an irrevocable act of predestination before the world began (Calvinism). There are, in the main, two kinds of grace; one kind is for the purpose of doing a particular thing, and the other is for salvation, properly so called. This latter one is called "sanctifying grace." A person in a state of grace, as we call it, has sanctifying grace as a habit of the soul, through which faith, hope, and charity (love/supernatural agape) are infused as theological virtues. The grace to do something particular is called "actual." You can see working or doing in the root there. Every person receives actual graces in some measure all the time. We may refuse any, or all of them. This would make it much harder to receive sanctifying grace if it isn't already possessed, and a general lack of receptivity to grace makes one vulnerable to those sins which destroy charity in the soul (mortal sins). If we die without charity in our souls, we will be damned. In general, the Church sees every person as inhabiting one of a series of concentric circles, closer to Christ in the Church, and progressively further away. And yet, it is possible to be a member of the Church, and be damned, because one does not have supernatural charity. Indeed, it is also theoretically possible to be outside the Catholic Church, and be very much alive! Those who are alive, in fact, stand a very good chance of being impelled right to the heart of the Catholic Church, if time and breath permits, and quickly, at that! No one is damned for what they do not, and could not know. They are rather found culpable for what they do know, should have known, and did not do.

Consider this text from LG, 14: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." This chilling sentence, following upon one affirming the necessity of faith and baptism (and the Church) for salvation, could not be clearer. Even before I knew that the Catholic Church was the source of the truth about Christ, and quite literally the dwelling of Christ in a sacramental mode, I had this powerful desire to know Him truly, more deeply, and to see the truth about myself and my place in this world. It is indeed possible to read the Church Fathers and not conclude that the Catholic Church is the Church. But absent a prior commitment that it could not be so, which depending on its strength, can even dismiss an overwhelming preponderance of evidence as irrelevant, this position is hard to maintain. As I said, I had a problem, a problem such that I had no overweening loyalty to the Reformed. I argued the points from that system, insofar as doing so was in defense of Christ, as I understood Him. We should celebrate whatever unity we do possess as Christians, but if Christ in fact is the one Savior of the world, we should expect that the examination of history--really and truly the outworking of the of the dominion of the Son of God--implies the abandonment of principles that (intentionally or not) imply His abandonment of us. I could not posit a Great Apostasy in 200, 500, or 1200, because He promised us it would not be. My community was either organically a part of the Church He promised to protect, or frankly, it is an aberration, created and subsisting on the premise that Christ had in fact failed in that promise. If there could not be a Great Failure, there is no need for a Reformation, or a Restoration, or whatever you wish to call it. Now, men may sin against God in all manner of ways, but that which He has given as truth, as dogma, cannot be false. This is the real meaning of "Let God be true, and every man a liar." So, it's a question that demands an answer: Do you protest the moral failings of the leaders of the Church, or the doctrine of the Church? The latter, like it or not, presupposes that Christ has lied. The doctrine concerning the Eucharist is not one in 529, and another in 1570, no matter the wickedness of those charged with defending it.

That's why the organic continuity with what Christ established, and that specific community's authority and capacity to transmit dogma, becomes the most important consideration. That which we must hold for salvation, is dogma, the content of our highest end, rejoicing in truth with Him who is Truth. Some charism of infallibility must be present, else there would be no way that fallible humans would know what they need to know to reach that end of communion with God.

Friday, December 06, 2013

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Some call it "whitewashing"; I call it perspective.

4. I only care marginally about the teachings of the Puritans, anyway. That is, to understand them well enough to refute them, quite frankly.

3. You have a curiously defensive reaction for a person who is supposed to believe that we're all wicked worms who do nothing of value before God, anyway.

2. I don't always agree with Dr. Anthony Bradley of King's College, NYC, but when I do, it's enthusiastically. Stay questioning, my friends.

1. Have mercy on us all, O Lord. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

5 Thoughts For Today

5. No, that's not what I'm saying.

4. In fact, it's not even close.

3. Yes, I agree with you that I am a terrible communicator.

2. But you have an obligation to ascertain what I am saying (accurately) before you destroy me. Granted, I have not always had the discipline to do this, but I am trying.

1. RIP, Nelson Mandela.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. I find it odd, and yet classically me, that I can overlook tons of things if I like a person. O Lord, give me the grace to love everyone as You do, so that I may not turn them away from You.

4. It really isn't our place to "call down fire from Heaven." Sometimes, a clinical "that's not correct" with a citation better serves than passion.

3. [Take your own advice, Sparky.--ed.] I know.

2. In ecumenical dialogue, we should expect that we have different conclusions, but also different sources and methods. If we cannot critically examine those sources and methods, even simply to see them (our own) in contrast to others, we simply aren't ready for that dialogue.

1. Actually, Mr. Dukeman, I don't question anything in Matthew 24. I question your authority to give the definitive interpretation of that text, in light of CCC, 100, and the prudence of being the arbiter of the soul of Benny Hinn, even in light of his error. Anything else is outside the provenance of what I was trying to say.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Thinking Out Loud

This merits some reflection. On the other hand, before the anti-"capitalism" forces get too pleased with themselves, how much is too much? Who gets to decide? What gives the social teaching its reality, its practicality? What keeps the social teaching from being a bunch of platitudes, spouted by amateurs, determined to appear "above the fray?" If you think that sounds harsh, just keep in mind that 1) I'm a Catholic, determined to keep the teaching so far as I'm able; and 2) the questions will be just as direct from the economists, and the non-Catholics. Paging David Anders!

The science of economics was created to try to deal with the problem of scarcity. We have to assume several things because of the social teaching as I understand it at this point: 1. the right of private property is real, but not absolute; 2. there is such a thing as "distributive justice," such that massive inequities of wealth are an injustice to him who has little; 3. socialism is wrong. I'm already inclined already to agree with (3), but I guess I need to know more about why, beyond the snarkily obvious point that loads of people tend to end up dead. Because it certainly seems that someone with charge of the common good could, in the name of that good, simply decide to dispossess Bob the Banker and whomever else in the name of "distributive justice," and get a pat on the back while they do it. We're right back where we started.

Thankfully, that raving socialist, F.A. Hayek, (full sarcasm on) said that a system of social insurance was not incompatible with markets. OK, then. Let's take a step back, and recall that the construction of that system here in the US gains its explicit sanction from "promote the general welfare" in the preamble to the US Constitution. Just for fun, I'm gonna take the whole preamble as an affirmation of Natural Law, and the specific quoted phrase to be synonymous with "common good." If you have any intense objection to that, let me know. But it would seem that without that, we can't define the salutary words. Look at the plain meaning: They established this Constitution and nation to secure those salutary goods, which must have been in existence before this nation existed. And they couldn't name them if they derived their existence from the government itself. So, right there, some kind of positivism is dead on arrival. On the other hand, look at the other obvious implication: A law is presumed just as long as it's consistent with the Natural Law, and in accord with the Constitution, even if it's a horrible idea that has tons of really unpleasant side effects no one saw coming. That stings a bit, eh? But I guess we'd better decide whether Social Security does what its name says, or it's a reward program. (in other words, an entitlement) My view: It's a program for the general welfare. As such, means-test it, yes. I don't care if that's "liberal." If you're gonna use government coercion, make sure you're not wasting it. Everybody should have understood that it really was a wealth-transfer program. Are people so massively dumb that they need to be dispossessed for a mandatory savings program? Of course not. One word: Lockbox. And if we do allow younger people to eventually invest a portion of their Social Security taxes, it must be with the explicit understanding that they do so at their own risk, and with instruments and a program that is distinct. Common good is common good; Uncle Sam doesn't owe you squat. I digress.

It seems to me, therefore, that the first duty of a public official is to preserve the means of social insurance, to see that the system of free exchange is just for the participants, and is conducive to the good of all, and uphold morality for the good of all. A big responsibility, and not exactly conducive to simplistic characterization.

The Realness And The Tension

This is rather interesting. Jon Stogsdill, thy wife posted this on Facebook, so I assume you'll read it, one way or the other. You made the blog again! WOO! I bet you're wondering why I said, "thy." Because it sounds awesome, that's why. I digress.

There's no accounting for taste, really, but my favorite Jesus music by a landslide if we're talking pop is Rich Mullins. And this essay tells us why. He was unflinchingly real. I hope he made it to the Big Show, because he seems like my kind of guy. I promise you, if you didn't know he was a Jesus freak, the music will not give it away by itself, like this guy says. And when you sing to me, I have to believe you. If I don't, who cares what it's about? This is your official Digression Warning.

I have been on a Kenny Loggins kick for a week now. Leap Of Faith. Remember when I said I'd listen to it multiple times? Yeah, about that...I'm obsessed. I am on a quest to figure out why. This is the best I can do: whatever that hippie is singing about, I believe him. He could be singing about the glories of pineapple chunks, and I'd be like, "Darn right, Kenny! I love pineapples!"

Derek Webb, by contrast? I could care less. Why? Because he's preachy, in that prideful, possibly secretly guilty of something sort of way. Theological Rant Warning.

"I am a whore I do confess/I put you on just like a wedding dress and I/Run down the aisle..." Remember that? In fairness, let's say, he doesn't view this as a good thing. But frankly, this is imputed righteousness in a nutshell. As soon as you desire to actually be holy, because something inside of you knows you should, (even if this is already affirmed in your theology) you're on the road to Rome. The only consistent thing to do in Reformed theology is to ignore your sinfulness. If you are declared righteous for the sake of Christ, God can't even see your sinfulness, much less require you to change it, under penalty of damnation. The whole section in Chapter XV of the WCF is a waste of breath, if imputed righteousness is true. But if the subjective experience of sin actually points to a real conflict with the holiness of God that demands satisfaction, then Chapter XI is false. And that'll lead you right out of the Reformation, I'm telling you. Because either your feelings are lying to you (Satan accusing you falsely, in which case, ignore them) or not, in which case, TE Johnny-Bob was wrong to go on and on about the "finished work of Christ" yadda yadda. Historical Continuity Bonus: What if the original people who came up with the idea of justification by faith alone were not actually the Church? No, really. Try not to die. In terms of that deposit with which someone has been entrusted, would the doctrinal content itself change, depending on the holiness or lack thereof of the one who proposed it? [No, but it makes it harder to accept.--ed.] Amen, I hear you. So here's the upshot, though: corrupt authorities have nothing whatsoever to do with the truth value of doctrine x. It either came from Christ, or it did not. A moral protest of lament over sin does not become a doctrinal revolution unless someone is pulling a fast one, or the Church's doctrine had always been false. In which case, Christ has failed us. (Let's piously rule that last one out, shall we?) What is the Church? Where is it? Are you sure you're in it? How do you know?

The Opposites

I had this coming together in my mind before the wise priest confirmed it all for us, but the two most opposite things in the entire universe--besides God and the devil, which is fittingly obvious--are prayer and sin. That itself is fitting, I suppose, because I have great difficulty in praying at times. Some people are aided by formal prayers, and that is good. But I very well could be one of those people who can pray without really praying, to paraphrase Pope Francis. I will always need the freedom to simply talk to God. Maybe the greatest challenge is honesty with God and ourselves. If you're anything like me, (yikes!) you find within yourself that you don't really want the things you ought to want. But if you do in the smallest measure, start with that. Ask God to increase that desire.

One thing that never stops is our smallness. One truth that will never fade is our need for Him. I keep stupidly waiting for this to change, and I am reminded--usually after I make a huge mess of things--that it won't, ever.

Maybe that's why He made me the way I am, as a graphic, visible reminder that we're all helpless without Him. I keep fighting against this, in more ways than one, but it's here again, surely as you read the words on this page.

We all want to be happy. The trouble is, in large ways and small ways, we have the wrong definition of happiness. I feel like our society makes these circles of affirmation, where we gather around each other to tell each other we are happy, when we might even know we are not, or even if we know we shouldn't be, with one situation or another. Or is that just me? It feels like the whole culture is one big lying group hug. Please don't mistake me: I'm only a culture-warrior in the most indirect sense. But someone should say it.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Good Way To Irritate Me

Start pronouncing heresy on everyone who does not agree with you. Better still, remain blissfully unaware, not only that this is the most blatantly obvious violation of the "arbiter/receiver" rule that could be conceived, but that, frankly, you don't have anything close to the credibility to actually pull this off. Leithart may be in Catholic denial; he may be, with respect to the arbiter/receiver rule, "Rob Bell with a bigger bookshelf," but say this for him: he actually has things on that bookshelf. With what do you come? A Coke and a smile?

You're young and passionate; I get that. I like that about you. But wisdom is counter-intuitive; it actually consists in knowing when you're in too deep, rather than in knowing what you know. Every single day, I meet people who know more about what I claim to know than I do. That's humbling. The question is, do you have the courage to recognize it, and become a learner and a listener, rather than a talker? We are not always in that position. Whether we earn listeners and learners in our own time depends on how well we handle it when we are.

Just as a practical matter, I think the pope knows more about his own theology than you do. I think he knows more about pastoral theology than you. I will even allow the distinct possibility that he could speak and has spoken imprudently on matters of consequence. Reams of books will be written about this, when it's all said and done. I'm not an apologist for the pope. He doesn't need me; he's a big boy; he can take care of himself, with the sure aid of the Holy Spirit. But here's the thing: You really aren't equipped to make the judgments in this case.

And please feel more than free to take a contrary position on something, owing to a broadly Reformed commitment. But recognize, that came from somewhere. It's not yours; someone gave you that. You are as bound to that heritage as I am to mine. No one cares what you think; they might care about what you have learned, depending on its source, and the quality of its content. But it's not about you, and it never will be.

The rest of you, who may have been inclined to make judgments about the content of my character based on a few vague, ill-considered expressions of frustration about something that isn't about you, either may now "cool your jets." If you have a general objection to my tone,--even given the fact that you haven't been in on the conversation, and don't know the context--write me privately. I admit, I don't take kindly to sweeping generalizations about me that have no context themselves. Call it a flaw.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

I'm Not "Winsome." And You Know What? I Don't Care.

I'm a pretty easy-going guy. I get along with most people. I've even been hilariously described as "patient." Ha! The truth is, though, I get annoyed. Even angry. I couldn't deny it. I'm issuing a blanket statement here: I've probably said a mean thing or 5 to some of you. If we know it, you know what I intend to do to make it right.

The internet is a cruel partner. It amplifies personality. I've been told variously that my online personality comes off kind of strong. Fair enough. Some of that is intentional. Would you believe, if you are not like other people, they ignore you? If they don't like what you say, they put you on the outside of the circle, even if they are nice outwardly? I hate that I notice this now.

I both love and hate my Christian formation from the time before I was Catholic. I loved learning about Jesus, and learning to love Him. I loved all the wonderful people who poured themselves into me. I loved that so many of them weren't afraid to get dirty to bring me closer to God.

You know what I hate? Your words. I hate the words you use to silence the voices in your head, the ones that get louder in the moments when your realize that this particular Bible text doesn't fit in your little box. I hate your insularity; what really bothers me is that it masquerades as a broad-minded catholicity. But we know the truth.

You know what else? I'll read whomever I want without fear, because when one knows the truth, one is not afraid to find it where one didn't look. You make a mistake to think that I'm afraid of you, or that I feel persecuted by you. I don't need anything from you. But here's the tough part: you do need something from me.

So, I can be tough, and insistent. When truth and goodness and true peace is at stake, I do not serve you with politeness and niceties. Kindness binds me to tell you the truth. If you believe love is lacking, feel free to say so. But you'll look in my eyes, as far as possible. If you can do that, I'm happy to take a rebuke. But "winsome" is a coward's word; it's the scarlet letter for the one who reveals that the circle is too small.

I'm not speaking of anyone in particular here, but to paraphrase a popular meme from this week, if the shoe fits, feel free to lace that SOB up, and wear it.

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Peyton, throw it to Wes! Honestly.

4. Baseball. Old pizza. Clint Eastwood. America's best gifts to the world?

3. The Aflac commercial is still sexist. I used to think it was no big deal to shame men by calling them "ladies," but woman is not the negation of man; she completes him. True, it's a little thing, but a lot of little things makes a big thing. Rape culture is made of things like this. Let me once again remind you that I'm as anti-feminist as one can get. That said, let's tell the truth.

2. More than once this week, someone apologized for the "drama." Don't. "Drama" is something on The Real Housewives. People who need help are not being dramatic; they are being human. If you need help, you have nothing for which to apologize.

1. Happy Advent!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

JK And The False Choices

I just didn't expect the evidence to be that strong. I fully admit it. I'm not that weak-willed; Catholic apologetics does not simply consist in saying, "We're the true Church!" over and over. It's not crazy to conclude that the Catholic Church is the church Christ founded. But the floating husk of what is left of Reformation ecclesiology wants to spend its energy trying to nuance what was a series of very stark choices at the time, for both its ardent defenders and detractors. Sooner or later, you gotta pick a side.

I think most of the false middle positions arise from historical ignorance. You have to do an inadvertent injustice to the Reformers, or to the Catholic Church, in order to engage in this warm, winsome, Leithartian nonsense that passes for ecumenism today. Either the Catholic Church is the Church, or it is not. Either there is theological-sacramental significance to Holy Orders via apostolic succession, or there is not. Either the Bishop of Rome has primacy, or he does not. A "primacy of honor" is not a primacy; it's a false middle position made up by people who can't think clearly. I digress.

A few of my friends are simply confused. They're mad about Rome's exclusivity, but also her supposed infidelity. If she has usurped the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and made herself a whore, you shouldn't care what she thinks about you. I have never understood this. I'd rather talk to a biblicist fundamentalist all day long instead of these "too catholic to be Catholic" people.

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. Nerd Alert: Menger's Principles Of Economics is in my Amazon cart.

4. Kansas loses; JASON WINS!!!

3. It's good to be Coach K. Two losses to top 5 teams is forgivable for almost any other team. At Duke, it's a crisis.

2. "If it isn't love/Why do I feel this way?/Why does she stay on my mind?"

1. I'm not nearly smart enough to be innovative. If people find me "tiresome," my purpose is fulfilled. The truth is often dull, and hucksters are exciting.

Friday, November 29, 2013

It's A Slippery Slope

It's not a fallacy to make a "slippery slope" argument. If you said it more articulately, you'd say, "In my view, you have removed the basis upon which we make a principled distinction." That's a perfectly reasonable argument to make, no?

You could, I suppose, question the premises which led to this claim in particular; it might even be a non sequitur. But in itself, it's not a fallacy.

I saw this on a chart of fallacies yesterday, and it got on my nerves. I speculate that those who take a dim view of the relation of morality and law would be tempted to classify "slippery slope" arguments as fallacies.

In other news, I received this argument in basic form the other day:

No intelligent person believes in the supernatural.

You are an intelligent person.

Therefore, you must have some other evil reason to believe what you do concerning the supernatural.

[Me again] Um, your first premise is absurdly false. How you could say this with a straight face, I don't know. I'd like to think we could do better.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. I certainly believe that it's possible to be thoughtful, engaging, and intellectually curious...and an atheist. Paging Penn Gillette! So why do I get stuck with the, "I will emotionally bludgeon you into submission, because I am wounded and scared" atheists? Thy will be done, O God...

4. We were both young when I first saw you...nah, that's not true.

3. True: "So now I'm back to what I knew before you/Somehow, the city doesn't look the same..."

2. "But it's cheap!" is not germane to the question, "Do I need a TV?"

1. Lonesome Dove, on Netflix.

Access Points And Ends

Even if we grant that the pope may have been speaking inexpertly and hastily in paragraph 54 of his recent letter, as some have suggested, (and elsewhere) charity suggests a more favorable view. I, for one, do not believe in unfettered capitalism; I don't know anyone who does. We don't live in a country that has it, and I can't think of anywhere in the First World that does. Elsewhere, there may be nations with inadequate safeties for the poor, or insufficient rules for the conduct of business. But this is a key point: if we take the pope at his word(s), he is attacking a position that is not under serious consideration (even theoretically) by the leaders of wealthy nations.
Also, we are in agreement that extremes of income distribution are not only undesirable, but unjust, especially so long as profound poverty remains a reality. So the free market advocate can in fact convincingly argue that the continued persistence of such extremes points to a market that is not free. Whatever we term it, the voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange of goods or services can only exist within a society ordered to the common good, which is the sum of all the conditions necessary for each person to reach the end for which they were made. It seems to me, then, that the main task of those who govern is to protect the access-points to the system of free exchange, and to ensure that the results of those exchanges is not contrary in itself to the common good.
It also seems to me that the architects of the innumerable assistance programs and entitlements have not cared about whether those programs function as intended, or what adverse impacts it would have on other economic arrangements; the politics of concern is the politics of self-congratulation.

I do not doubt the right and duty of the civil authority to intervene for the common good; I question both the means and the ends for which they have done so. I do not doubt the goodness and justice of government as such; I question the ongoing relevance of government as constituted and empowered, to actually be an instrument of the common good.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Christ died for everyone. I am not a universalist, and correctly so. Therefore, something is wrong with your theology of the Atonement.

4. Far from being the far-off boogeyman, universalism is the optimistic version of Calvinistic notions of the Atonement.

3. Pope Francis took a shot at "trickle-down" economics, AKA, supply-side economics. [Because manipulating demand via government spending works so well.--ed.] In fairness, no economic theory functions at all in the presence of injustice.

2. No, I haven't finished reading it yet. Darnit, Jim, I'm a theologian, not a cruise ship captain!

1. I love Papa Francis.

Monday, November 25, 2013

We Don't Have A Choice

We either build something called "Christendom," (again) or we destroy ourselves. Why? Because Natural Law is real. Theocracy is not in view, and it never truly was. Yet I cannot think of a reasonable basis for a free society besides Christianity. Has there been a greater force to elevate the dignity of mankind than the gospel of Jesus? He is apparently so powerful that His appointed shepherds and followers convict themselves when they fail Him.

Isn't it slightly amusing to hear the New Atheists put the Christian communities in the dock with indignation and moral standards given to the world by the very God whose existence they deny? And even while we fully acknowledge that a 'Christian' society without true conversion of heart will fail, by whom or what will Sam Harris or Dawkins set the world on fire with self-sacrificial love?

While it may be prudent to acknowledge the post-Christian context in which we find ourselves, acknowledging a reality is different than consenting to it, as if the lack of piety is somehow conducive to the gospel. The pietism that apologizes for Christendom creates the "post-Christian" society we now have. Any putative minister who thinks this is a good thing is deluding himself at best, and is a coward at worst.

For the moment, I don't care what you believe or disbelieve. Ask yourself if you want to live in a society governed by the will to power. Does being a subject of a polity whose only limitation is the whim of a majority sound like your cup of tea? Cleanse the world of Christ and Christians, and you'll get your wish.

This Just In: Christ Actually Died For Everyone

...Yes, even those in Hell. That's the point of Hell, no? To punish those who definitively and finally reject God's love. They say that this makes too little of Christ's atoning death. I say they make too little of human freedom, and of the dignity of man in general. They say we make too little of grace; I say, no, it is they who make too little of it, by overlooking the little tragedies of grace unheeded each day. Didn't John Murray write Redemption Accomplished and Applied? It's a pity that no Calvinist anywhere actually makes a real distinction between the two. If you exhort people to make the gospel real in their lives, you must concede the real possibility that they will not. If faith is required, faith cannot be compelled. But would not a salvation willed by God irrevocably from the foundation of the world therefore fall out necessarily from it? If that is so, no matter how much emotionalism and affirmation you give to people in the exercise of that faith, it doesn't matter. Any pastor who says otherwise is either doing Jedi mind-tricks to avoid seeing it, or does not see the philosophical implications of what he affirms, or both.

It does not follow from the premise that God owes man nothing that God has in fact given some men nothing, and justly. I do not understand how this carries so much weight, or why I believed it for so long. If He could say, "I played a dirge for you, but you did not dance," does this sound like a God who does it all Himself? Why would He say this? Why would He weep over Jerusalem? God incarnate is either manipulative, or you have the wrong idea about the Atonement and salvation. I know what I'm going with.

And none of this is to say that there are no genuine mysteries about predestination and the like, or that God must treat everyone equally. On the contrary. But He must treat all fairly. And that is why I'm not a Calvinist, among the other 8000 reasons.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You Shall Know The Truth...

"The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it's scientific truth, historical truth, or personal truth. It is the guiding principle upon which Starfleet is based!" Thus said fictional captain of the USS Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, in rebuking young Ensign Wesley Crusher for his role in an Academy training accident cover-up. We'll have to forgive the captain for not saying "moral truth," but obviously, the German idealists had not been purged by the 24th century. But the statement holds; there exists one Truth, ethically, scientifically, and theologically. Another way to say this is, there is one reality, not many. The right and most human thing to do is to take one's proper place in reality. There is so much we see that is contrary to reality.

Injustice is a denial of reality. Bound up with reality itself is the concept of justice; that is, to give every person what s/he is due. True liturgy is the worship of God in accord with the truth about God, and about ourselves.

The truth in all spheres finds us, and demands to be acknowledged. Even in those areas where human finitude hangs an impenetrable fog over that which ought to be known, we know that the whole of reality is there, just beyond our grasp.

Don't be afraid to take a second look. Things are not always what they appear. We must be seekers and doers of justice, "no matter how cleverly she may hide herself," as the fictional lawyer Lucien Wilbanks said.

Today, in the smallest measure, justice was done. And any time justice can be done in this hard world, it should be. I daresay that those who witness it when it is are bound to celebrate.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Easy For Me To Say, But...

I realized something profound in a new way today. I spend a lot of time talking to people when I'm not reading theology or writing. And the most important thing I have ever done is encourage others, and pray for them. And frankly, the thing I pray about most often is suffering. Doesn't matter if it's theirs, or someone else's. It's just there, all the time. Large or small, it's probably the most obvious thing you see from day to day. We're not going to escape it, and here's the key: we shouldn't try. Because even though Heaven will be the absence of suffering, amongst all the glories, He came down here to suffer not only for us, but with us. God with us.

How do you feel now about your suffering? If we're supposed to find God, find Christ, then the truth is, He's right here, in our suffering, and we will find ourselves in His. What are we doing, trying to escape it? That's our key. Recall it was written, "My power is made perfect in weakness." But before you just let it pass, like so many Bible verses we've heard before, take a minute to think: Power to do what? For what? To be with Him. That is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. The good, the bad, has but one purpose: to bring us to God. Trying to be with God without suffering is like trying to fly. By all means, let's groan and cry together. The person who tells us to suck it up is as bad as the person who's trying to pretend it isn't there. But we cry because God made a good world that is not good right now, at least as we find it. The people who laugh at horror we call, "crazy," not spiritual. But that we laugh in joy and cry in sorrow is proof that we matter. We matter immensely.

There's a philosophy called existentialism, and as I understand it, it's the idea that the world is absurd, and we must make our own meaning. That's just it, though: the world is not absurd; it makes perfect, painful sense. God loves us so much that He is shouting at us, trying to find us. If we could only feel our pain, instead of hiding it, we'll find Him right there with us. God with us.

This is why I could only pray the Sorrowful Mysteries for so long; this is why I seemingly cry all the time. You'd cry too, if you saw it all the way it is. Somehow, I'm also the most optimistic person I know. Figure that out. On the other hand, I was before the Blessed Sacrament 2 weeks ago, and I was given these words, not only as words, but like a feeling you know at the core of yourself that never subsides: "His love never stops." It was overwhelming; I wondered if others saw me falling apart. Yet if I fall apart with Love, so be it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Thoughts For Tonight

5. Coke actually goes good with anything.

4. OK, I know that she is actually extremely attractive, but seriously, the music of Susanna Hoffs is really good.

3. I am thankful for new friends in Christ, no matter how distant, or how divergent the paths of our lives.

2. God, pour out your loving mercy on our former president, George W. Bush, and we thank You for his service to us.

1. God shows his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


What's The Question? And Have I Understood You Correctly?

I had to look up "begging the question" for seemingly the millionth time, because A) I'm not Bryan Cross, and 2) I've used it wrongly in that informal sense of "raising a question" at least 72 trillion times. It means assuming the point in question in dialogue, and using that assertion to prove a further thing. It's a type of circular reasoning. Fascinating stuff. I wonder how many times I've gotten angry in a discussion because I begged the question, or failed to ask my partner if I had recapitulated his statement or point accurately? (And listened for the reply) I don't have time to argue much anymore, so it probably seems as if I'm calming down. At least on my social network of choice. But it isn't so.

You can see why the informal usage of the term would come about. The prudent way of phrasing a question in this type of setting would be "Whether..." and in such a way to produce a yes or no answer, if you get that far. And that lends itself to, "This begs the question whether..." Arggghhh!

I didn't come here to tell you that. I wanted to talk about music. I was listening to pop music again like always (or almost always) and it's as if the ghost of Kevin Bacon lurks everywhere, because I started with the Eagles, and I ended with Edie Brickell last night. What? Anyway, I find it humorous that music critics like to suck up to semi-obscure bands and artists that supposedly blazed the trail for a much more popular person that they feel the need to diminish. It's so predictable. On the other hand, they inexplicably tell you when the height of that person or band's popularity was, as if it should matter. If Dan Fogelberg was doing music that he loved in 1997, and he had the freedom to keep doing it, it doesn't matter who else likes it or not. On the other hand still, we're not obligated to hate something because it's popular. I've told you that there's a special bond between the artist, and his or her true fans. Once you trust them entirely, your taste is of secondary concern. You ride along just to see what the music means to the person or people. In short, you are friends. It matters to you, because it matters to them.

Take Garth Brooks, for example. I'm one of his friends in this sense. He took a big risk in 1999 with the "Chris Gaines" thing. (It only takes a little bit of effort to understand that he was to play a movie character, and the album was the character's greatest hits.) But it was a huge commercial failure, especially in light of the fact that Garth is usually trading the all-time best-selling solo artist in the US with Elvis on any given week. But I'm telling you, the Chris Gaines album is the best one he's done. Yes, it's literally a pop album by the universe's biggest country singer. I understand that it's jarring. But I stand by it. I sing every word on that album. If I had the chance in Vegas to talk to Garth, that's exactly what I'd have told him.

I listened to a bit of Kenny Loggins this morning, from the Leap Of Faith album. I will eventually listen to the entire album, and probably multiple times, because that's what I do. "Conviction Of The Heart" is a great song. It's catchy, it's earnest on a grand scale, and lyrically, it's one of the most profound songs I've ever heard. It's almost a let-down when you realize toward the end that it's advocating environmentalism. In any case, what do I care that this album was the beginning of the end of his commercial fortunes? Nothing. If Kenny is being Kenny, I call that a win.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Book Doesn't Answer Follow-Up Questions

That's the other thing. Even if you completely ignore the "arbiter/receiver" problem, (at your peril) the Catholic interpretive paradigm is superior on its face. That is, it claims and does more stuff. Whether it's true is something you have to seek out yourself. But if the Christian quest is to distinguish in a principled way between divine revelation and human opinion, we'd have to admit, the Catholic IP actually does it.

This wouldn't mean anything in itself, but for the fact that the Reformers claimed that the new way of finding and receiving doctrine would be clearer. The failure of the Protestant IP (Sola Scriptura) to deliver on its own terms is the reason why Newman says the burden of proof is there, not on the Catholic Church.

Every Christian desires to know the will of God, and do it. The Protestant communities have no way to tell anyone what it is. Their authority is contingent upon the consent of the individual, and their concurrence with him. If he doesn't agree, he just leaves. The communities themselves have not ever decided whether "heresy" means, "You don't agree with us" or "You have no part with Christ." And they can't, because an invisible Church is a(n) hypothesis to deal with a difficulty: the difficulty of the fact that the individual is the final arbiter of orthodoxy. This is the reason why Leithart was found not guilty, and no other. He held the trump card, and he played it. The prosecution stated up front that they would not attempt to prove the truth of the Westminster Standards. Leithart called their bluff, and dared them to try. How did I phrase it last week? "Prove to me from the Bible (according to me) that I'm wrong!" He figured out what everyone should already know: Your community and its purported authority is a paper tiger. Disagree with the Westminster Standards, or your presbytery's version of them? Big deal. Whoop-de-doo. Disagree with the Council of Nicea? You're risking Hell. Why? Because, when it comes down to it, TE Johnny-Bob would rather plagiarize and rely on the authority of the Catholic Church in that case--no matter what else he says--than not have it be there at all. If he's an honest man, he'll begin to wonder why he's so ad hoc about it all. If not, well...

At bottom, all the separations between Christians boil down to a liturgical dispute. God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, desires to bring us into deeper communion with Him and with each other. There is but one "reasonable service" that can be offered in response. That's liturgy. That's even the exact word. We either 1) don't agree precisely on what He said, or 2) what to do about it. That's why unity for unity's sake is stupid: it violates the freedom and conscience of people. But that's also why "Who sent you?" is exactly the right question to ask in terms of authority. The various communities of Christians are liturgical societies in conflict, and that's to be expected. But we may find that many should not exist at all. Food for thought.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Liturgy, Community, And Ecumenism: Why An Invisible Church Destroys The Gospel

I'm just gonna say it: There is no principled distinction between Sola Scriptura and "Solo Scriptura". Protestants, like Dr. Anthony Bradley of King's College, NYC or Keith Mathison, or Peter Leithart, or whomever can attempt to make one, but it doesn't exist. If Scripture is the final authority, then man must be the final arbiter of what it says. The principle arose in the context of a Church whose received dogmas, practices, and jurisdiction were believed to be fraudulent. If you reject ecclesiastical authority, you reject it. Even if you try to be cool about it, and start a rival community, you can't get that back. You've made the individual the arbiter of divine revelation, and set up a scenario of unremitting, irreconcilable hostility between the man and the ecclesial community to which he belongs. This is the real reason why there are so many denominations. Sola Scriptura should really be called, "The Principle of Ecclesial Fallibility," because that's what it is. A fundamentally invisible Church goes right along with it; after all, you're saying that no visible manifestation of Christian community has the final right to bind my conscience if I firmly believe that Scripture teaches otherwise.
The good-faith version of this is what we call "The Noltie Conundrum." You're sitting there with your best shot at what the Scriptures say (or a part of them), talking it over with some brethren from another community, and you say, "What makes him wrong, and me correct?" And, if I disagree with my community, how would I know if I was wrong? Frankly, aren't I the judge and jury?
Say it with me now: "One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time."

Dr. Bradley said in response to this article: "Ryan, the problem with your entire article is that you have wrongly defined what "sola Scriptura" meant from the Reformation. It in no way at all means what you was. "Sola Scriptura" was the idea that Bible is the final authority for matters of discerning faith. It does not mean that there are no other sources of formation in the Christian life." 

I say, I dare you to make this distinction real. I dare you to try. Mathison couldn't. Leithart seems to think his dizzying intellect will make one out of thin air. But sooner or later, if the man does not lay down his trump card, he has no way to prove he's not submitting to himself. And in fact, he is.

  • Saturday, November 16, 2013

    5 Thoughts For Today

    5. "Scandal" is a great show. [You're only saying that because Kerry Washington is hot.--ed.] Not so. It never hurts, though.

    4. Note to Shonda Rimes: I will watch whatever you create, at this point.

    3. Kettinger Brothers Approved Chili, for the win!

    2. Can we officially say that the ideologue academic, who spent too much time reading books about problems instead of solving them, is in over his head? If you think that's too harsh, just think: I actually like Obama.

    1. Happy Birthday, Mom.

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    Listen To Dr. Liccione, Children!

    This guy has mental refuse better than books I will publish. I'm not kidding. He and Captain Jack talking theology would create a quantum singularity of some sort. I don't know, Pete. I'm not seeing a difference. It's sounds nice, kind of like "student-athlete," but it doesn't exist. You're either with the Reformers and their dogmatic-ecclesial assumptions, or not. You decide. But you ain't Catholic.

    Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Missing The Boat

    Unless we deplore what's actually deplorable, we're missing the point. Or the boat, if you like. We must distinguish between revelation and human opinion. We must be able to say, "No matter who fails and how, this is the doctrine of God." The very heart of the Protestant revolt makes this impossible, because Sola Scriptura makes the individual the arbiter of divine revelation. It not only rent the Western Church, but it dooms all those rival communities to eventual irrelevance, first, by dilution of cultural influence by pluralism, but more insidiously, because the individual submits to himself. Ecclesial fallibility is the only true gift of the Protestant revolt, and it eventually destroys all orthodoxy.

    I see little point in celebrating historical developments in Protestant theology, as though 500 years stacks up against 2000. Unless "we were wrong the whole time" is a live option, you're not going to bridge the gap. To borrow Devin Rose, if Protestantism is true, the Church was wrong in every age, not just that one. We've got to come to terms with the difference in paradigms, and realize,--contra Leithart--that the unfortunate anti-ecclesial and anti-historical trends in evangelical theology are not the result of ill-tempered bomb-throwers, but the logical outcome of Reformation principles consistently applied. A Christian severed from the living memory of the Church is exactly as bad off as he sounds, no matter how desperately he longs to maintain that Tradition while refusing to return. Perhaps like many of us before, he does this in ignorance. But the earnest heart demands he pull the threads of truth together until he finds himself at the foot of Peter's chair. There is no orthodoxy without the Catholic Church.

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    5 Thoughts For Today

    5. I am terrible at waiting.

    4. I am terrible at praying.

    3. I am terrible at obeying.

    2. God still loves.

    1. Happy 21st Birthday, Joshua Bryan Cross.

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Reading The Church Fathers Doesn't Matter

    Yeah, you heard me. It doesn't matter. There is a veritable army of patristics scholars who aren't Catholic. You've probably read more Augustine than I have. Or whomever you'd prefer. Completely irrelevant. Did you know that St. Augustine was wrong about stuff? True story. Reading the Church Fathers won't necessarily make you Catholic, or anything else. It depends on what you're looking for, and why.

    The fathers are not a norm in themselves, unless they agree on something, which (almost) never happens. BTW, don't we need a Church to have Church Fathers? That's what you should be looking for. You've just expanded your bookshelf if you read patristics without asking the question about the nature of the Church. You might even begin to think you're better than Brother Johnny-Bob at The Sticks Bible Church, because you've read "City of God." That's kinda dumb, don't you think?

    Anybody can comb through whatever sources you like, looking for what they already believe. The only question that actually matters is, "Where is the Church?" We can reason that it has to be visible fundamentally; otherwise, our visible communities become useless as conveyors of dogmatic truth, because they: A) believe mutually contradictory things that cannot be adjudicated by any reasonable person, and B) have no necessary and obvious connection to one another. Why this isn't obvious, I don't know.


    Common Grace Is Not A Thing

    Yes, it's true. Usually, you hear this phrase "common grace" when a Reformed seminarian is attempting to articulate the mind-blowing experience when a non-Christian does something incredibly nice or heroic, often to a greater degree than he would do himself. This must be explained. Of course, he can't explain it in such a way to lead one to think that good deeds could lead to salvation. He also can't attribute it to the goodness that flows from human nature as such; he's committed to the idea that human nature is corrupted in every part, such that a person cannot do anything accompanying salvation. But what he fails to realize is, this is true anyway, even if we reject total depravity. Human nature as such, even if we had not fallen, is not capable of reaching God.

    If we say anything different than this, we are Pelagians. Reformed theology is so focused on human life post-Fall that it conflates nature and grace. Catholicism isn't semi-Pelagian, either, because Reformed people misunderstand semi-Pelagianism in the first place. Semi-Pelagianism proper is the idea that man makes the first move, and then God assists, not the other way around. But true Christian doctrine is clear: Man cannot ascend to the supernatural absent a gift of God which is called grace. Semi-Pelagianism is as impossible as Pelagianism.

    Friday, November 08, 2013

    I Love This Guy

    The honesty is refreshing. And he's right, you know. Leithart is the biggest Reformed "heretic" there is, but for the fact that the word is meaningless in the hands of a visible body with no binding authority by its own admission and confession. The only reason he didn't get convicted--and I mean the only one--is that the relationship between that visible body and the church catholic (conceived of as fundamentally invisible) has never been established. He's the perfect Neo to The Matrix that is this whole Protestant paradigm. As long as he can say, "Prove it from the Bible that I'm wrong!" no court could chain him. Let me translate: "Prove it from the Bible (according to me) that I'm wrong!" Good luck with that.

    Speaking of the Reformers, Dr. Clark said: "They accused Rome of becoming a sect because she, for the first time in the history of the church, in council, anathematized the holy gospel. In so doing, she cut herself off from the broad stream of the church universal (which is all catholic means)."


    If I may, could not the Arians say the same thing after that Council? Couldn't anyone anywhere say this, having arrogated to themselves the right to define "Church" and "holy gospel"? Why I'm Catholic, in two sentences.
    By the way, did he not read Origen's commentary on Romans? Doesn't seem like Trent's soteriology was terribly innovative. Hmmm.


    The Tyranny Of Intellectualism (Or, Too Many Books Makes You Stupid)

    Here's this. But then, the same argument is here. Believe me, I sense the attractiveness of these arguments. But ad hoc is ad hoc. What is the principle by which these distinctions are made? If you find it, let me know. The Reformed world is opting for a "Magisterium" of expertise to hide the fact that this is the same Protestant paradigm offered by the Reformers, the same individualism at the heart of it, with respect to this question: "Who is the final arbiter of divine revelation?" If it's me, I can set up any number of appreciations and bookshelves to cover up the fact that I decide what counts as orthodoxy, in this paradigm. This is what Mathison couldn't see, and didn't want to acknowledge. Who decides what Scripture says? There are only two choices, ultimately: Either I do, or someone else does. If that someone else is a church of some kind, yet I still retain the right to decide when that body has gone wrong, it's still me. Dress it up any way you like. Write 20 books on history, wax eloquent on the Fathers, live in Idaho, be cultured. Doesn't matter. You're a highly cultured, highly credentialed fundamentalist. And if the Reformers were right about faith alone, perspicuity, and an invisible Church, own it. But let's cut the mess. The basic contours of the paradigms haven't changed, and you haven't changed them. Either "councils may err" or "I may err, but mother Church does not." Pick one.

    Look, I understand that Darth Hoodie is terrifying. He walks on to the field, leading his team with their proud, now dynastic name: "Patriots". They beat most teams on pure fear. But the battle was the true test, and Baltimore was not afraid, even with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. New England came out with tricks and flash, but it was an open secret by the second quarter: Baltimore had the goods, and New England didn't. Peter Leithart is like Bill Belichick. He'll put on a good show, and if they cower, we can still pull this one out. But there's nothing here but trick plays. Don't fall for it. (I actually like the Patriots; it's just an analogy.)

    Thursday, November 07, 2013

    I'm Not Happy For You (Sorry)

    One of the great blessings of living on this rock is that sometimes, people fall in love. Yes, I get it, it's not like the movies, and blah, blah, all the usual things evangelicals always say to prevent themselves from actually enjoying anything.

    Anyway, love is awesome. I think I know this, even though I haven't tricked some poor woman into marrying me yet. Did you know that, barring death, we only get one crack at this? Let me take a deep breath...I beg your patience...THERE IS NO DIVORCE!

    There, I said it. Better said, there is no re-marriage. Look, I get it, that little snippet about "except for marital unfaithfulness" can trip you up. But if you read all the passages on this together, it becomes very obvious that the papists are on to something.

    And it's not that I want all people who happened to screw it up some way to be lonely forever on a technicality. It's just that, well, sex is a huge deal. HUGE. If you marry someone and share your whole self with them, you aren't the same, and neither are they. When did this pretending it's just sex become normal? I don't mean for the heathen; I mean for us. (Nothing personal, heathen.)

    Sigh. My bad, "re-married" people. I actually hate causing a fuss. I don't judge anyone's soul before God. But we gotta think through this.

    Reason #47,772 Why Star Trek Is Awesome

    This. For you, Jon Stogsdill.

    It's That One Guy

    Haven't I said this 47,000 times? Sooner or later, everyone sees the problem. There is an irreconcilable dilemma between the individualism inherent in Sola Scriptura, and ecclesiastical authority. Or, in the delightfully direct way I posed it to my own soul, "derivative authority is a sham." It's still a sham after we throw Keith Mathison under the bus, because it's another way to say it, my favorite sentence: "One cannot be both the arbiter of divine revelation, and a humble receiver of it at the same time." Dr. Greg Perry and Dr. Michael Williams both did their best to nuance it re: the canon, but the radicals carry the implications of Sola Scriptura to its (principled) logical conclusion. I realized very quickly: If I want the orthodox Christology of the first two ecumenical councils, I must submit in a principled way--that is, without qualification--to the authority which promulgated it. Guess who that is? I hate it when that happens. Anything else is ad hoc.