Saturday, September 07, 2013

Well, That's Interesting

There's something oddly existential about this. It resonates deeply, but not as much as it might, because I don't think we get a choice to make our meaning, or to imagine our audience. Whichever one we have, we may not even know all that much about them, unless they choose to interact with us, or us vice-versa. But I really don't know much about literary criticism. What I do know is that the indomitable Alan Noble of Christ and Pop Culture said he was leery of critics becoming artists, presumably because it was yet another derivation from that which was created. That, or artists don't like others making a buck off of them. In fairness, all kidding aside, I think Alan simply wants to recognize the distinction in what the artist and the critic are doing, and that's fair enough. (I'd quote you, Alan, but I can't find it. I hope you trust me.)

In broad outline though, Hirsch's analysis here is amazing, because it hits upon the central resonant truth of the whole discussion: Creativity and the conversation about it, along with whatever impact it has on us, is a culture. A good culture puts truth into the world, just as a good person puts truth into the world. What makes it a culture is that two or more people define the terms of that goodness in a similar way.

Here, Hirsch is lamenting the loss of common terms, a language that defined an earlier existing culture of literary criticism. I can certainly sympathize with that. But let us notice how the loss of a culture only truly matters if that culture, subculture, et cetera is good. What makes something good? This is where it gets interesting. Something is good if it corresponds with reality--the world as it was intended, or as it is being renewed (oh, fine, I'll be overtly Christian) by God.

So, here, he's got two apparent goods in conflict: the good of self-defined meaning, and the good of a shared culture. In truth, it is three: the third good is the fruit of a shared (good) culture, which is constructive mutually beneficial dialogue. One of the goods has to die: self-defined meaning, the heart of existentialism, which is lurking in this otherwise glorious essay.

Sooner or later, someone says, "Actually the David is superior objectively to your tin-can sculpture of a pig," and that's the way back to real truth, goodness, and beauty in all culture. To Alan: do we need to make a firm distinction in what they do, if the artist and critic share a culture that is oriented to the good?

Friday, September 06, 2013


5 Piquant Thoughts About That

5. Normally, John Kerry and John McCain entirely agreeing on anything should either cheer or terrify any person, depending. "How odd!" I say. And then I remembered why I called McCain the "Republican John Kerry." Both of them are entirely convinced of their own righteousness in any cause, irrespective of the evidence. Harsh, but true.

4. It'd be hilarious to point out to all these Obama supporters just how much they sound like Bush supporters, circa 2003, (and I would know) but for the fact that our nation itself teeters in the balance, pushed to the brink by the ill-considered deployment of unilateral executive authority and military intervention over many decades. No, I do not consider that exaggeration. Not even close.

3. An absence of principles in the presence of power means tyranny, whether from oneself in imposing it, or in acquiescing to what is unjust. As a nation, we have been without clear principles for a long time.

2. Not "My country, right or wrong." Truth, whether we are right or wrong. And in that way, I understand why Michelle Obama could say it was the first time in her adult life she was proud of her country. The record isn't all that sparkling, in the light of justice. We must say that, even as we may be proud of its fine qualities.

1. Curses! I hate it when they make me sound like a bloody progressive!

Truth, Straight Up, No Chaser

Read me. Right at the beginning. I'll accept the charge that I was biased from the beginning, in this one sense: If you don't actually live in the intellectual space where you could be wrong in protesting the Catholic Church, you could read every Catholic book known to man, but you didn't truly consider it. Seeking God is a whole self sort of endeavor; if it doesn't scare you, if it doesn't drive you to prayer, then there is something you have left of yourself on the table. Some of you are out there saying, "I looked into it, like you have, and I just didn't reach the same conclusion. Fair enough?!" That'd be fine, if it were true. But some of you never really step out of your paradigm and into the other. Any person who does inevitably gets his pronouns confused; the Catholic Church is a live option. It's a mind that straightforwardly says, "If this were true, what would it mean? What's different? How then do I test this claim? What evidence exists to support it? Is there evidence against the claim? Is there a viable counter-claim to be the Church Christ founded?" (Yes, there is. I'm happy to answer that one for you.) But let's do what Westley suggested, and list our assets and liabilities, shall we? First, if you are a Christian, you are at least hoping in the promise of eternal life in Christ. That's a pretty huge asset. When we all agree that the One we seek is "God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!" believe me, really the whole thing is gravy. All you have to do is figure out why you know that. Sounds simple, but it's slightly more taxing than it appears. God is Love! The main liability? Not knowing something about Him that you need to know. At the risk of stating the obvious, if you actually ask about the Catholic Church, more than likely, you have some kind of problem or question that has prompted the inquiry. Most normal people don't ask such monumental questions for sporting fun. Not everyone has to be an intense, emotional, living, breathing, crisis like I was. But if it didn't matter, you wouldn't ask.
You hear it a lot from people, "Oh, those Catholic converts, especially the ex-Reformed ones,"--they seem to have a momentary bit of uncharity in failing to notice that you're sitting right in front of them--"they have an inordinate desire for certainty." Why, yes! I'll accept that charge as well. You know what we call that? "Communion with God, who is Truth." If you call that "inordinate," or otherwise inappropriate, I have to ask if you've noticed your historical amnesia on this very point. And to be quite frank about it, if you didn't read books that re-packaged skepticism as some glorious treatise on humility and the Creator-creature distinction or some such, you wouldn't give this lunacy another thought. Let's get something straight: A fundamentalist isn't wrong for desiring certainty; a fundamentalist is wrong because he asserts that God is preserving him as a conduit of truth for the rest of us without any evidence. Put it another way: If a guy says he's from the police or the government, the next obvious thing you say--you're thinking it even before you read my words--"I'm gonna need to see some ID." Hitchens said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and he was right, in a sense. Only problem is, he and the other atheists stopped using reason (there, I said it) and so, dismissed the most ready evidence a priori. Of course the truth of God seems like a leap. It's like Vizzini cut the rope, and you still think you can reach the top. David Hume, call your office! Wait, never mind. I digress. The point is, Kant and Descartes are also both lurking, and that's problematic. It's not a very long trip from dogmatic agnosticism necessitated by ecclesial deism and pluralism to actual skepticism and atheism, because that skepticism about reality itself is rooted in the belief that man's conclusions are untrustworthy on account of his nature. If they are committed atheists, we call them "misanthropes," if they are Christians, we call them "Calvinists." With due respect, either way, it all ends up the same. Sooner or later, someone is going to say, "If we're all hapless sinners who have no hope of getting it right, why are we gathering into communities of hapless, hopeless sinners and asserting things we cannot possibly know, given the premise?" If you don't need certainty, you don't have it to say Johnny-Bob is wrong and you are right. Why this isn't obvious, I don't know. One of our problems theologically was, we didn't care enough about our assertions in their particularity to ask from whence they had come. The only reasonable answer in theology is God. Interpretation or hermeneutics in community doesn't amount to anything unless that community is vouchsafed by God. The alternative is fundamentalism or individualism. Those terms mean the same thing.

Authority And Fullness

As I think back over the journey from Reformed seminarian to Catholic theologian impersonator, one of the hardest and best questions concerns the nature of the Church. If we say that the church catholic is fundamentally invisible, we then essentially eviscerate the visible community as a means of discerning divine truth, because the concept necessarily includes both what my visible community holds, and presumably its opposite held by someone else, provided that I have concluded this variance is permitted, and is not damnable heresy. Why I have the right to conclude anything concerning the true doctrine of God, and thus the contours of the community which declares it is a question I had avoided for too long. You either have to be a true-blue evangelical and say we lucked out, that the evangelical "consensus" (whatever that means) emerged context-less and chaotically--paging Mark Galli!--or you are duty-bound to submit to whomever and whatever you find that actually produced that consensus. So, we're actually asking twin questions: "Who is the actual arbiter of divine revelation?" and "What is the necessary function of my visible community, given that we are committed to a fundamentally invisible Church?" Man alive, you get hit with those two questions together, and your Protestant life will be over faster than "Firefly." Because it's really the same question/problem considered from two slightly different angles. The fundamental posture of any believer in the context of revealed religion is that of a receiver. Depending on one's dialogue partners, you could be discussing either the content or the means of reception, but if it is supernaturally revealed, that posture will not change. When my band-mates and I say, "There is no principled distinction between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura" what we essentially mean is that the believer is not, and cannot be simply a receiver in the Protestant paradigm. If he is the arbiter, he cannot give unqualified assent to what has been revealed, because that arbitration is the qualification. You can lodge whatever objections you want to the fundamentalist, who explicitly states that he needs no help, no witness from history, but do you think you escape the same charge by coming up with a clever phrase ("derivative authority") and paying lip-service to "historic orthodoxy"? If I may stand in judgment of the epochs and heroes of Christian history, I do not kneel to them. Eventually, this becomes evident to all of clear mind, even if the alternative(s) seem fearfully unpalatable.
This is why the alternative is what I called, "Incarnational Exegesis." The dust had barely settled on the hill where Our Lord suffered, and He had already given Peter and His other apostles his own authority to bind and loose.
It has never been true to say that the Reformation gave us redemption accomplished, in contrast to Catholic error. All Christians openly confess that the ministrations of the New Covenant utterly rely on the person and work of Jesus Christ. This has always been about the application of that redemption. In the same way that a person who claims not to need "liturgical" worship really means, "You have the wrong liturgy," the person who says, "I have no need for further mediation between myself and God" really means, "You have the wrong mediator."
You can call it "ecclesial deism" or a "hermeneutic of rupture" or countless other things, but our hearts and minds ring out against it when we simply ask, "Would the God who gathered His people who were not a people, who wove a tapestry of truth with the threads of time over centuries until the coming of Christ, would he leave that Church, its gospel hidden for nearly as long?" Yeah, nothing personal, but it sounded pretty silly to me, also.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


It's cool to be Catholic/catholic (see what I did there?) because we use words other Christians use, but the meaning tends to be different. One of these words is "conversion." For us, conversion does not refer to only the moment of initial justification, though it certainly includes it. Rather, any time we willingly correspond with the grace of God that makes us more and more conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29), we call it conversion. We could say that one may not even lose friendship with God in undergoing conversion. Indeed, we should desire never to be outside of God's friendship because of mortal sin. But even if we have gravely sinned, we can be renewed in our baptism by confessing our sins, (1 John 1:8-9) because St. John says just a couple verses later that Jesus is our righteous advocate before the Father (2:1). It's so nice to finally understand St. John in his letter here! There's so much to discourage the reader/hearer if we don't make a venial/mortal sin distinction. (Our biblical overlords at the Revised Standard Version are helpful in translating what is often translated "a sin that leads to death" straightforwardly as "mortal" in 5:16-17.) Then again, my own pattern of life is a bit discouraging in itself. But that's why we confess our sins. You'll notice I have a new poll, asking you how often you use the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Someone once said that conversion was taking sides with the truth (er, the Truth) against yourself. It's so true. As long as we call sin what it is, we'll be OK, even if we have to get back up again a million times.

Praise the God who forgives!

Once More

I hear the stories
but I'm a bystander here
to your sweet, old pain.

Haiku: The Legend Continues

I have foolish hopes
of walking along the sand,
on the edge of time.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Joy Of Logic

I'm now starting to get a sense of why so many people like it, and philosophy in general. It gives people tools to seek truth, and to evaluate arguments dispassionately, or so we hope. There is a mathematical quality to it. And the thing is, you can't get mad at a correct math equation; you just have to deal with it.

Not that I know anything about sound arguments, but it makes me wish I had studied philosophy. Alas...

Off to read the Psalms. In one sitting. On purpose.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

If I May

5. I say what I think, and hopefully what's true, in a charming combination.

4. Don't like getting rebuked? Don't violate the Catechism blatantly.

3. Gay sex can land you in Hell, but hating those Jesus loves will get you there even quicker.

2. If you whine about what I said, I've no qualms about tagging you in a post.

1. A good intent alone does not establish the moral rectitude of any action.

It's Not Weird To Be A Traditionalist

Apparently, there's a spat going on between faithful Catholics concerning this. Catholic Answers has been going back and forth with The Remnant newspaper about the use of the word "traditionalist," because more than a few apologists have used the term "rad-trad" for a certain subset of people they consider weird or strange. If you hadn't noticed, I'm a theology buff/aspiring theologian, so as tempting as it is to tag people as a kind of cultural shorthand, it must be avoided. A few brief points:

1. The Tridentine Mass was never suppressed. Ever. The fathers of Vatican II and Pope Paul VI never intended the Novus Ordo to replace the Mass that had served us in the West so well for so long. Dissenters misled the people on this very point.

2. There is now no permission required to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, AKA the Extraordinary Form. If a stable group requests to celebrate it, a priest must take steps to accommodate them. If he ignores you, he's sinning against you.

3. More than likely, even your faithful parish is not properly celebrating the Novus Ordo. Read the General Instructions on the Roman Missal if you want to freak yourself out.

4. Because of the confusion and misunderstanding, a hermeneutic of rupture has been created among the faithful concerning the Mass. (Surely the Council did not intend to say that the liturgy celebrated for 8 centuries give or take was wrong!) This is why Pope Benedict XVI removed the last restrictions on the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. As we are challenged to celebrate the liturgy more faithfully in either case, we'll be much less prone to casting aspersions in either direction. And traditionalists will be less prone to move from faithful practice to outright dissent once we all realize that what has been done with the Novus Ordo is not what was intended.

I hereby declare a truce.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Vatican II: The Pastoral Council

What does it mean to be "pastoral?" In a few words, it means to shepherd and to lead. When we say that Vatican II was a "pastoral Council," what do we mean? Well, let's say in summary that various new ideas, events, and the sins of mankind had so confused mankind, had so much taken their toll, that man no longer spoke the spiritual language with which Mother Church had grown accustomed to speaking. Somewhat distressingly, you could say that man, and even a large portion of the Church's children, were not spiritual people. Part of being a spiritual person is to believe and act as though God really has spoken and acted in Jesus Christ--also that it matters for my life--and to accept those whom Christ has sent.
It goes without saying that the successors to the Apostles, including the successor of Peter, can't give up on their mission, even when the "sheep" don't know who you are, won't listen, and are not even convinced or aware that we're supposed to go somewhere! You've got to go back to the beginning. Do you remember my 3 basic questions that everyone asks at some point? "Who is God? Who am I? What am I doing here?" When you study Christian anthropology, you are in essence trying to answer these questions. At the risk of being pedantic, anthropology is the study of what it means to be human. Christian anthropology is the study of what it means to be human in the light of God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word.
To skip ahead a bit here, it came to be discerned that things are so bad that we've got to start with the middle question: "Who am I?" Man still experiences his life, his feelings, his self-awareness. But on the whole, he isn't stopping to reflect on any of it; as has been said a few times, he's bouncing from thing to thing, looking for something, but he knows not what. But we were made for God. If you walk with a person, and guide him in examining himself in the hope of discovering his purpose, you'll bump into God sooner or later. Probably sooner. It does no good to say, "God says..." when people have no idea who God is, or why it matters. You don't discuss Plato with a man out of his mind; you have to keep him from hurting himself and others. That's pastoral. To do or say anything else is a waste of time. It's not as though the truth of Plato or John's Gospel has gone anywhere; it isn't helpful in the moment.
But to step out of the analogy for a second, people generally know that they are unhappy. They also know, even if they deny it or can't articulate it, that they need meaning and a purpose. To inquire about that isn't to waste time; it's to actually help the person who doesn't know. Has the truth changed? No. We've simply approached it from the person's perspective. That's pastoral. That's Vatican II.
Some people say that Vatican II is unclear as to its pastoral objectives, and that this lack of clarity has led to myriad problems in the Church. They say that clearer distinctions between dogmatic things and pastoral things would greatly help us. Some of them stop just short of the infidelity of rejecting the Council. I sense an inclination in that hope of clearer distinctions a desire to discover which parts of the Council one is free to ignore. I agree entirely that the dogmatic reaffirmations of Vatican II (for there was no new definition of dogma at Vatican II) are enmeshed with its pastoral thinking. That was the point. You need only read the first sentence of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to realize that the overriding concern of the bishops--and by extension, God--is to break down the wall between faith professed and life lived. A wall that should not actually exist. The truth that various ideologies and behaviors that culminate in what we call "modernism" are false is not in question. We are thankful that God in His wisdom chose to communicate its danger(s) to us in time past. In fact, once we learn to again speak the spiritual language with which our mother often speaks, we will be able to discern those things as well.
But let us realize that charity compels us to speak in the language of man, to befriend him, to understand his hurts, his concerns, indeed, his very life. It also compels us to help him find his better desires, to ask what they mean, and to follow them back to Christ and the Church. When our hearts are big enough to see the image of God in the people we know, we'll be wise enough to see the pastoral wisdom of Vatican II. It has been said that when a man looks inside himself truly, he finds God speaking to him and waiting for him. This is true.
Let us not waste time questioning the motives of our bishops and questioning their faith. Let us not chatter on about the factions of men who came into the Council, and speculate what nefarious influence they are exerting. Let us recall that the heart of the Council was the universal call to holiness, and this must include us as well. Do we understand the love of Christ? What does it mean for us? How must I be different because it is real and present to me in the Church by the Eucharist?
As troubled as we are, I do not say these are the worst days. Some desire to seek suffering, to proclaim these as the darkest days. I say that as long as Christ is with us, these are the brightest days we could know.