To the one, a Down syndrome child (for instance) is a genetic scandal, one who should probably be destroyed in the womb as a kind of oblation offered up to the social good and, of course, to some immeasurably remote future; to the other, that same child is potentially (and thus far already) a being so resplendent in his majesty, so mighty, so beautiful that we could scarcely hope to look upon him with the sinful eyes of this life and not be consumed.
Obligatory throughout Holy Week
- The 7 Sacraments (The Holy Mysteries)
- The 7 Corporal Works of Mercy
- The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy
- The 3 Eminent Good Works
- The 7 Gifts of the Holy Ghost (& the Charismata)
- The 12 Fruits of the Holy Ghost
- The 3 Theological Virtues
- The 4 Cardinal Virtues
- The 7 Capital Sins & Their Contrary Virtues
- The 6 Sins Against the Holy Ghost
- The 4 Sins That Cry Out to Heaven
- The 3 Conditions of Mortal Sin
- The 9 Ways We Participate in Others’ Sins
- The 10 Commandments
- The 2 Greatest Commandments
- The 3 Evangelical Counsels
- The 6 Precepts of the Church
- The Holy Days of Obligation (English)
- The 3 Powers of the Soul
- The 4 Pillars of the Catholic Faith
- The 3 Pillars of the Church’s Authority
- The 3 Munera (Duties of the Ordained)
- The 3 Parts of the Church
- The 4 Marks of the Church
- The 12 Apostles
- The 12 Tribes of Israel
- The 8 Beatitudes
- The 14 Stations of the Cross
- The 7 Sorrows (Dolours) and 7 Joys of Our Lady
- The 7 Sorrows and 7 Joys of St. Joseph
- The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary
- The Order of Creation
- The 9 Choirs of Angels
- The 3 levels of reverence
- The 14 Holy Helpers
- The 7 Last Words of Christ
- The 4 Last Things (The Novissima)
No. In fact, it is not the case that every Catholic “should” be familiar with these things. I’m not, not with each and every single one anyway. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t endanger my eternal soul. Cheerio.
I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.
But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. Instead, we have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas, the invocations of the “spirit of free expression” from a school that’s kicking a controversial speaker off the stage.
And with the pretense, increasingly, comes a dismissive attitude toward those institutions — mostly religious — that do acknowledge their own dogmas and commitments, and ask for the freedom to embody them and live them out.
It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B.Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.
I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.
When I saw University of Iowa English professor Adam Hooks bemoaning “relatable” on Twitter, I asked him what his experience had been with the word in the classroom. “‘Relatable’ is a sign of a failure to engage with the work or text, a failure to get beyond one’s own concerns to confront the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable,” he wrote to me in an email. In other words, the quest for the “relatable” circumscribes the expansion of empathy that you can gain through exposure to new things. When the word “relatable” really means “relevant to me,” as it often does in the classroom, anything outside the purview of “relatability” looks like it’s not worth examining.
Hooks teaches Renaissance drama, and thinks that the unfamiliarity of that form provokes the use of “relatable” more frequently in his classroom: “Language is a factor,” he writes. “Students often find it very difficult, and so grasp for something to make it more comprehensible and familiar.” The problem arises when “relatability” becomes the sole interpretive lens.
Three brief points in response to PEG, with thanks for his continued efforts to converse in good faith:
First, insofar as I have failed to pay sufficiently close attention to the ways PEG uses non-Catholic authors in developing his own thought, I am sorry and will earnestly try to do better.
All fair enough. “I think at last we understand one another, Frodo Baggins.”
In order to try to expand this into a more productive direction, I think this poses an interesting question for every confessional Christian, which is that to be a Christian is already to be a “dual citizen”, a Christian and a citizen of whatever country they are in. And if we are honest with ourselves we know that this is very hard to navigate for all of us; perhaps particularly for Catholics, given the particular contours of that citizenship. But perhaps to be a Christian in the 21st century pluralistic world is to be a triple citizen: citizen of a country, citizen of one’s confession, and citizen of the broader Christian “oikumene.” This adds another layer of complexity and part of me fears that the complexities multiply instead of merely adding up.
I would say this, though:
I keep saying, “Hey, if we serious Christians work and think together we may be able to make great progress on this intellectual issue or this practical political problem,” and almost always they say to me in return, though perhaps not quite as straightforwardly as PEG says it here, “That is simply not what I’m interested in doing.”
One aspect of this is that this really depends on a case-by-case basis. If you’ve followed my writing Alan you may have noted that when I broach, for example, sexuality, I am much more likely to be talking about “generic Christian” sexuality than “Catholic” sexuality—even though Catholic doctrine on the topic is as robust as anything.
This is in part because, relative to the secular-materialist world, orthodox Christians of various stripes agree a lot more than they disagree, and that the core things they want to transmit to “the Gentiles” are the same. (By the way, many Catholics would dispute this. They would say that the “original sin” of the sexual revolution is contraception, and that a Christian doctrine which accepts contraception is self-contradictory and therefore a doomed challenger to the postmodern doxa.) On economics, there is much less of such confluence.
Another, more important point here, which might be more generic. I’ve alluded to the “Francis Option”, which basically sounds like a “plus” version of Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option”: a greater emphasis on building alternative identities and communities, but also a greater focus on using the strength found in these communities to then serve the world. This dynamic is fractal. The Christian cannot serve her sister until she has gone into herself and recognized herself as a sinner saved by sheer grace, and it is this recognition that then propels her to see her brethren as beloved children of God.
Similarly, I want to go into the meeting hall and build things there, but I can only do so from the raw materials that I’ve gathered from my own room. But to do that, frankly, I need good material. I think the sexual doctrine material in my room is really good. I think the economic doctrine material in my room…needs work. Before I can go out into the meeting hall and show it to everyone, I need to go in there and hammer at it a little bit (and maybe add some stuff from the other rooms too). And it’s in the interest of everyone in the meeting hall that I show up with the best raw materials.
I don’t think there’s an easy answer to when you should go “confessional first” or “ecumenical first.” I would say this: with regard to the general status of what you might call “the Neuhaus Project” (which I support), whatever the electoral swings, I think the theological status is sound. I haven’t noticed increased anti-Evangelicalism from my own side. I keep being pleasantly surprised by the non-anti-Catholicism of my Evangelical brethren (as they endure my merciless trolling with sanctity). On “culture war” issues I still see unity (the Hobby Lobby/HHS Mandate case being a great example). On economics less so, I think probably partly because of a kind of “Mere Christian doctrine” (gimme some time guys!), and partly because of politics—wiz, Catholic bishops don’t want to look like Republicans, and Evangelicals don’t want their flock to think they sound like socialists. But I may be wrong about that stuff, because I’m not “inside” that world. Things could always be better, but I’m not feeling alarmed.
More generally, Alan, believe it or not I think this concern of yours is not misguided at all. I’m curious: what are some practical steps that you think we could take to move forward in what you see as the right direction?