Free-floating theology

Many regard as unobjectionable the changes in church discipline to allow civilly divorced Catholics who have remarried to regularly receive communion. It seems to them a reasonable accommodation to the unfortunate reality of widespread divorce. But this change disrupts the logic of penitential preparation, which maintains the truth that union with Christ delivers us from our sins. Under the proposal, marriage is not permanent and a remarried person is not committing adultery. Or adultery is not a serious sin. Or Christians have always misunderstood the gospel, and we need not renounce our sins to unite ourselves with Christ. The logic forces us to affirm at least one of these fundamental changes in Christian doctrine. We can’t evade this unpleasant prospect by saying that “we’re all sinners” or that the Church is not the “Church of the pure,” as Pope Francis has on many occasions.

The proposed pastoral approach does not purport to solve theological problems by clarifying which of the three prongs is being decisively altered. It simply muddies things sufficiently to obscure the contradictions. This evasion of explicit change follows a post–Vatican II pattern, which has been one of ad hoc accommodations to contemporary sensibilities, undertaken in the context of the collapse of an older scholastic theology that supported precise analysis and clear conclusions. The theological culture of today’s Catholic Church lacks rigorous philosophical discipline. A great deal of theology now runs on evocative and free-floating concepts. Pope Francis uses “mercy” in this way.

R. R. Reno, “Sacramental Realism,” First Things, August/September 2018.

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The coming festival of our redemption

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AND THERE SHALL COME FORTH A ROD OUT OF THE ROOT OF JESSE: AND A FLOWER SHALL RISE UP OUT OF HIS ROOT. AND THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD SHALL REST UPON HIM: THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND OF UNDERSTANDING, THE SPIRIT OF COUNSEL AND OF FORTITUDE, THE SPIRIT OF KNOWLEDGE AND OF GODLINESS.

(Is. 11:1-2.)

May we receive Thy mercy, O Lord, in the midst of Thy temple, that with due reverence we may prepare for the coming festival of our redemption. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

Postcommunion prayer for First Sunday of Advent, New Roman Missal (Fr. LaSance) (Benziger Brothers, 1956).

A humiliating confession

The Hallmark Channel recently had the top-rated show on a Saturday evening with 4.6 million viewers. The show was the movie “Christmas at Graceland.”

I didn’t see this particular movie but I’ve watched quite a few of the Hallmark Christmas movies over the past few years. Frankly they’re bad. Corny and just bad. Usually not well written and not very well acted, although it’s hard to fault the actors given what they have to work with. You have to laugh at the constantly recurring themes:

A city woman returns to her home town, often called Christmas Village or something; she meets a guy and they butt heads at first, but eventually see the good in each other; the family home is about to be sold but she decides to buy it and move back home; it’s a lifestyle downgrade, but she takes a job at her father’s company or takes over running the family business. Sometimes it takes place in the big city, but it still involves a big city sophisticate of some kind, who realizes she needs to shed her tough outer shell, stop being so ambitious, and let Christmas soften her heart. There’s never a scene that doesn’t include Christmas decorations, whether indoors or outdoors, and no matter what room in the house. And there’s always a climactic kiss near the end.

So why do so many people watch them?

I have a nephew who is a partner in a Big Four accounting firm, and he says he loves them, simply because they’re clean and wholesome and always have a happy ending. I started watching them because my wife enjoyed them and they were fun to watch with her, but I have to admit that I started to enjoy them too. They’re not my favorite thing and they can get monotonous. But my nephew is right, their clean-and-wholesomeness is appealing.

I think the nub of the matter is that they take Christmas seriously. Granted, the vast majority of them make no mention of Jesus. Some do mention God and prayer, and they don’t shy away from explicitly Christian carols like Silent Night and O Holy Night. Characters often wear crosses around their necks. But apart from the religious aspect, they take Christmas seriously in the sense that they don’t treat it ironically. It’s not the generic “Holiday,” nor is it Santa and His Elves Day. They don’t wink at Christmas, as though assuming that sophisticates like us know better than to take it seriously. It’s Christmas straight-up, imbued with power and beauty and goodness, a thing we need deep down in our souls.

A lot of people are tired of the constant barrage of irony and cynicism with regard to Christmas. We’ll put up with corniness because we crave earnestness.

What’s wrong with this picture?

[Note: This was originally posted on December 14, 2016. See below for an update.]

This is a map showing alleged “incidents of hate” that have occurred since the November 8 presidential election (from the website ThinkProgress.org):

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A couple of interesting things that I noticed:

1. The two states with the most incidents are New York and California — notoriously the two big states that the candidates never bother to campaign in, since they are a lock for the Democrats, i.e. states with large liberal majorities. There have been a total of 36 incidents in those two states.

2. The states in green are those which have no reported hate crimes since the election. Many of these are notoriously conservative states. What stands out to me in particular are the Southern states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, all of which have zero reported incidents according to this map. Louisiana has one reported hate incident, Georgia two, Tennessee three, for a total of six incidents in the entirety of the Deep South.

I wonder, if you asked random liberals who hadn’t seen this map, which states they predict would have the most reported “incidents of hate”, and which would have the least, how many would predict that California and New York would have six times as many incidents as the Deep South.

You might say that this is due to the larger populations of California and New York. Let’s look at this: California and New York have a total combined population of 58 million, and there were 36 incidents in those two states. Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee have a total combined population of 37 million, and there were six incidents in those six states. If you do the math, you will see that California and New York have an average of 6.2 incidents per 10 million people, while the Southern states have an average of 1.6 incidents per 10 million people; or in other words about four times as many incidents per capita in the coastal, liberal states compared with the Southern states.

Remember, what is supposedly fueling this “wave of hate” is that Trump supporters are being “emboldened” by his election to act out their hatred. If that’s the case, how is it that people living in states that voted Democrat by wide margins are emboldened to act out their hate, while those living states that voted for Trump, are not?

When you consider that the Deep South states are purportedly those with the highest concentration of haters (read “white conservatives”), and the large majorities by which Trump won those states, why aren’t they going absolutely hog-wild with hate, letting their hate flags fly, burning crosses left and right, confident in the approval of all their friends and neighbors?

There’s something wrong with this theory….

[UPDATE (November 12, 2018):]  There were (purportedly) 150 “incidents of hate” as of December 14, 2016, about a month after the election. Since then there have been 111 more. So, 150 in the first month after Trump’s election and about 5 per month since then.

In New York and California we now have a total of 60 incidents, for an average of 10.34 per 10 million people; and in the Southern states listed above there have been 13 incidents, for an average of 3.51 per 10 million people. So about three times as many incidents per capita in the liberal, coastal states as in the Deep South.

Note that no incidents at all were reported in Mississippi or Arkansas; and one each in Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. So evidently, the thing to do if you want to escape hate is move to the South!

Random quotes

“I’m a married man, as you know, Peter. A comic figure, the married man kept by his wife.”

“We all have to be kept by somebody, you know. Better one’s wife than a person of low character.”

Lord Peter Wimsey in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers, BBC production, 1973.

The statistics on crime and guns are often confounding. Nationally, guns account for 60 percent of all homicides; and yet gun violence has been declining for the last decade. The murder rate in Texas has dropped from 16.9 per 100,000 in 1980 to 4.8 in 2015 — an astonishing decline. In California, the most restric­tive state in the country for gun ownership, the murder rate is exactly the same as in Texas. The states with the lowest homicide rates are North Dakota and Wyoming, which have very permis­sive gun laws; and lowest of all, at 1.6 per 100,000, is Vermont, which has ‘constitutional carry’ — i.e., anyone over the age of sixteen can carry a gun. (Vermont is one of thirteen states where permits to carry concealed weapons are not required.) Chicago, which has highly restrictive gun laws, also has one of the high­est rates of gun homicides in the country, but it doesn’t compare with the District of Columbia, which tops the charts in both restrictive gun laws and gun homicides.

Lawrence Wright, God Save TexasAlfred A. Knopf (2018), pp. 150-152.

I once tried to explain the problems faced by faithful Catholics to my good friend Eric Metaxas. [author of good books on Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce] “Imagine you felt your salvation depended on staying inside a Church with apostolic doctrines, which is run by liberal Protestants.”

John Zmirak at Stream (quoted by Fr. Z).

 

How the news distorts reality

It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross (1909), Chapter IV.

Confused by liberalism

Sullivan & Cromwell partner Francis Aquila deleted his Twitter account after he posted a response to presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in which he told her to “Rot in Hell You B!tch.”

The ABA Journal reports that the tweet was “a sarcastic response to the White House press secretary after she praised Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had attacked Democrats motivations during a spirited defense of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.”

In an email to his firm colleagues, Aquila wrote: “Last evening, I responded to a tweet from Sarah Sanders in an inappropriate and hurtful manner. Clearly my emotions got the best of me, but equally clearly neither Ms. Sanders nor any woman should be subjected to such animus. I take full responsibility for my ‎actions and I sincerely apologize to Ms. Sanders.”

General Counsel News, 10/3/18.

No woman should be subjected to such animus? I’m confused. Is the implication that it’s OK to subject men to such animus? Isn’t it insulting to women to imply that men can handle it but women can’t?

Or did they usher in a new era of chivalry when I wasn’t looking?