Sunday, December 19, 2004

More from the language police

NPR's "On the Media" has an interesting piece on the Chicago Tribune's pending revisions to their stylebook changing the term for third-trimester fetus to "unborn child." Then as if to wash themselves of the pro-life odor of the Trib's renovations, the show follows up with an idiotic conversation w/UC Berkeley linguistics prof George Lakoff, who insists that the Trib is falling prey to the right-wing truth-distorting "message machine." For him "unborn child" means nothing more than "a right-wing term corresponding to fetus." It's not that I don't believe that all language is social constructed and "framed" to a large degree. It's that these ho-humpfing academics think people care whether we call a fetus a "fetus" or an "unborn child." You can call it mud for all I care; it's human; it's sui generis; it's alive; and you can't kill it.

The host identifies Lakoff as a "prominent Democratic political strategist." No wonder they got whooped in November.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

VeHEMenTly Pro-Earth

Check it out, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. After an intital WTF? it started growing on me. I'm actually quite amused by its honest extrapolation of population control ideology. Why not just extinguish ourselves if there's nothing all that special about human biological existence except being the material cause of environmental degradation and suffering? It's almost Christian except in VHEMT's liturgy the entire human species becomes the self-sacrificial Host on the Altar of Earthly survival. The only problem is that their Credo requires valuing the Earth in a special way that requires an apriori teleological belief about the Earth and it's not clear to me from where VHEMT is pulling that except from their own sardonic, nihilistic arse.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

St. Sophia in DC at 100

Blessings upon St. Sophia on its 100th year of liturgy and ministry in DC! Just when I thought I was over my envy for the Eastern Orthodox...
All Christian churches and denominations share a common origin. But not all can say that a Christian time traveler from the 1st millennium would feel at home in a 21st-century worship service. That's exactly the assertion of Orthodox Christians, said [Archbishop] Demetrios, 76, who was born in Thessalonika, Greece, and celebrates Divine Liturgy the way he experienced it as a child and the way it was celebrated 1,500 years ago.
Why this isn't a good enough reason for American Catholics to give the traditional Latin Mass a li'l respect is beyond me.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Eliting of Catholic education

This is where I get disturbed about the mainstreaming of American Catholicism. Even the neocons in the Church are not immune--orthodox theologically on everything except ecclesiology and social ethics. As Jesuit-high school teacher, I sensed it during faculty meetings where the president and development officers of the school stood up proudly and gave us reports on expansions and other aggiornamentos. I sensed it when we patted ourselves on the back for sending kids to the Ivys. Dallas Morning News gives us a birds-eye view on how this trend is transforming the traditional role of Catholic ed in their fair city. This isn't just about Catholic schools. It's infecting Catholic health care too.

Monday, November 29, 2004


Neuhaus' online column on First Things rehashes some well-trodden insights into the poverty of Trinitarian discourse and practice in the modern Church. But I still have a problem with the late emphasis on "relationality," which seems to be the only way we moderns can get our heads around the dogma. For one thing, it sounds like a convenient spin-off on object relations theory, which begs the obvious question: so what? Why is the dogma of the Trinity so necessary if its main purpose is to teach us that our individual identities are determined by our relations? The strict monotheistic Hasidic and Orthodox Jews have vibrant communities of relationality (arguably more socially "trinitarian" in practice than Christians) without the unwieldy notion of a Trinitarian God.

My question does not refer to any personal discomfort with the dogma itself. And I've had my share of readings from the renaissance of Trinitarian reflection via Zizioulas, et al. I just think we should ease off on trying to find existential relevance for every supra-rational doctrine the Church professes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Habermasian legitimation

Haven't read Habermas since college. Amazing admission from the great atheistic social theorist on Christianity's special place in the European legacy. Amazing also that I can actually understand what he's saying.
Between the likes of Ratzinger and Habermas, naturally, the distance remains intact. Habermas defines himself as, and is, "a methodical atheist." But to read his most recent essay translated in Italy, "A Time of Transition," published by Feltrinelli and available in bookstores since mid-November, Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization:

"To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

Habermas says he is "enchanted by the seriousness and consistency" of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the opposite of the feeble thinking that pervades current theology:

"Thomas represents a spiritual figure who was able to prove his authenticity with his own resources. That contemporary religious leadership lacks an equally solid terrain seems to me an incontrovertible truth. In the general leveling of society by the media everything seems to lose seriousness, even institutionalized Christianity. But theology would lose its identity if it sought to uncouple itself from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the religious language in which the community's practices of prayer, confession, and faith are made concrete."

On relations with other civilizations, Habermas maintains that "recognizing our Judaeo-Christian roots more clearly not only does not impair intercultural understanding, it is what makes it possible."

He contests modern "unbridled subjectivity," which is destined to "clash against what is really absolute; that is, against the unconditional right of every creature to be respected in its bodiliness and recognized in its otherness, as 'an image of God'."

In commenting on "You shall have no gods but me," he writes:

"From a philosophical point of view, the first commandment expresses that 'leap forward' on the cognitive level which granted man freedom of reflection, the strength to detach himself from vacillating immediacy, to emancipate himself from his generational shackles and the whims of mythical powers."

On the relationship between theology and philosophy, he observes:

"I don't resent it at all when I am accused of having inherited theological concepts. I am convinced that religious discourse contains within itself potentialities that have not yet been sufficiently explored by philosophy, insofar as they have not yet been translated into the language of public reason, which is presumed to be able to persuade anyone. Naturally, I am not talking about the neopagan project of those who want to 'build upon mythology.' Today, in the field of anti-rational postmodern criticism, these neopagan conceptual figures are back in fashion: a broad anti-Platonism carelessly spread by fashions inspired by late Heidegger and late Wittgenstein, in the sense of a definitive repudiation of the universalism that characterizes the premises of unconditional truth. I rebel against this regressive tendency of post-metaphysical thought."

He cautions against the anti-human consequences of a relativism without theology:

"The problem of how to bring salvation to those who suffer unjustly is perhaps the most important factor keeping discussion about God alive. If all the paradigms of seeing the world were equal, if the indifference so perversely widespread today took from the yes/no response of each individual's decision the seriousness that is proper to every claim of universal validity, then there must necessarily be the disappearance of the normative dimension that serves to identify the traits, seen as privations, of an unfortunate, deformed life unworthy of man."

And on the contribution of philosophy to the meeting between the Church and other religions, he says:

"In the dialogical dispute among competing religious visions there is a need for that 'culture of recognition' which draws its principles from the secularized world of the universalism of reason and law. In this matter, it is thus the philosophical spirit which provides the concepts instrumental in the political clarification of theology. But the political philosophy capable of making this contribution bears the stamp of the idea of the Covenant no less than that of the Polis. Therefore this philosophy also hearkens back to a biblical heritage."

Saturday, November 20, 2004

RIP, Gerard Bugge (Serafin)

To know someone from nothing but a weblog still seems a highly dubious idea to me. Even the title of the blog couldn't be cheesier. Yet Gerard Bugge succeeded in communicating a real personal presence through his "Catholic Blog for Lovers" and his scrapbook dedicated to the "Praise of Glory."

How many could appreciate the raw beauty, grace, and power of Eastern Orthodoxy and remain a Roman Catholic? He showed me how to remain steadfast in communion with the theological and moral Neanderthals that dominate the Catholic Church, first by reminding me I'm one of them, then by robbing me of the orientalist fantasy I projected onto the Eastern Church, and then by keeping my sights on the true fantasies to be found at the heart of Catholicism. He always held St. Blog's to a higher standard on the way we should speak of our bishops and fellow Catholics. Most of all, he showed us that the Catholic Faith is all about heart, that pulsating Presence that keeps the world humming.

May the bells of Heaven toll for thee, Gerard.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Masterpiece Theatre in LA

Neuhaus' love for the absurd is just too funny.
The archdiocese not only announced that it would not turn away protesters but sent a message to the Rainbow Sash Movement saying that they would be warmly welcomed at the altar of the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Nobody with sashes showed up. What’s the point of going to Mass if you’re going to be denied a confrontation? I would not be surprised if some gay activists in L.A. are upset about the archdiocese depriving them of their right to be rejected. And just imagine the hurt feelings of an ever-so-welcoming archdiocese scorned. In the theater of gay agitprop, players should stick to their designated roles. In Chicago, the archdiocese had the satisfaction of being Catholic, and gay activists the satisfaction of being oppressed. It was a win-win proposition. In Los Angeles, it seems that everybody lost.

Chummy churches

Liturgies where the Sign of Peace becomes a mini-coffee hour never fail to send my eyeballs rolling towards the heavens. Neuhaus says it well, commenting on a classic warm-n-fuzzy line from America magazine:
“What can we do to show that the Eucharist is a communal activity? Greeting people at the door is a start. It alerts us to the fact that we are going to do something with others. . . . I have found some Catholics who think this whole ‘welcoming’ business is destroying our traditional sense of reverence and replacing it with some folksy, feel-good experience. This is a false conclusion. If you wish to invite a guest into your home, you must have space. To invite others into our hearts and our worship, we must make room for them. The enemy of reverence is not hospitality but arrogance.” Despite my being intimidated by the flat assertion, “This is a false conclusion,” I dare to wonder if the author, a professor of theology writing in America, might tolerate a modest dissent. Note the language: we are going to do something; our traditional sense of reverence; your home; our worship. Is there not something to be said for reverence for what God is doing in His house through the liturgy of the Church, the saints in heaven and pilgrims on earth? There are many conversion stories in which the narrator describes quietly entering a Catholic church, maybe even sneaking in, and being struck by the statues and candles, and, most of all, by the people kneeling in rapt devotion as the priest at the altar lifts the consecrated host and declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” There may be one, but I have never read a conversion story in which a person was drawn to the Catholic Church by the kind of chumminess that one might encounter at a birthday party or around the water cooler at the office. “This is a false conclusion,” rumbles our liturgist. I’m sorry, sir, but since I’ve had the temerity to go so far, I’ll go a step further and, at the risk of your wrath, suggest that it is really not so important “to show that the Eucharist is a communal activity.” That’s not the point. The point is what God has done, and is doing in the Mass, reconciling the world to Himself through the sacrifice of Christ. The eucharistic community is created precisely by our turning away from ourselves and toward Christ. The wonderful friendliness of our wonderful selves is really quite beside the point. And to think otherwise is, well, arrogance.

State of the USCCB

Fr. Neuhaus has come out with another excellent column, this time, that gives a more intimate and personal overview of the state of our nation's bishops. It strikes a refreshingly hopeful, even proud and august tone on where the Church is heading. Perhaps best is his coverage of Cdl. George, confirming my appreciation of his leadership.

What remains bothersome to me is the Church's dependence on the diocesan system to farm-raise our future bishops. In my mind, it leaves too much to the whims and winds of "the spirit" (in the modern gnostic sense of the word). The Eastern way of looking almost exclusively to the monasteries for their bishops seems to provide them with a much more consistent crop of bishops, whereas for us it remains hit or miss. But maybe there's some spiritual gift to be found there as well.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Athletes, politicians, & religious adherence

Arghh, I just hate it whenever Jews and Muslims, without even trying, show us how bad we are at being Christian.

Maybe it's because Jews still see themselves as a minority group that's never too far beyond the clutches of Mass Persecution. But Shawn Green's decision to sit out of the Dodgers' Yom Kippur game this weekend would be inconceivable if he were Christian and we were talking about a Good Friday game. Chariots of Fire notwithstanding, Christian faith rarely trumps the obligations, quasi-obligations, or even petty requests the world lays on us.

Most striking here is that Mr. Green does not consider himself to be a devout or even practising Jew. Yet even he can confess that "baseball, or anything, isn't bigger than your religion and your roots." So when Catholics who shoot from their arses about being practising, committed, or "spiritual but not religious" and then proceed to directly violate their Church's most sacred pronouncements without a blink, I have to believe that catechesis really is the problem. Now I don't know what sort of Hebrew shul Mr. Green attended, but the melamdim did a fabulous job. And I'm sure his parents weren't self-deluding buffoons about their faith either. Somewhere along the way, he learned that if a religious identity hasn't the spine to sacrifice some of the bling the world offers, then what good is it? If a Catholic Democrat can't accept the self-sacrifice required before abortion legislation, then what good is his faith? Shawn Green did not feel the need to whine or cry victim about his religious obligations, rather, he counted them as sunk costs--you just eat it and move on. It's the only honorable thing to do. The NY Times article has a nice mini-outline of Jews of the MLB who have risked World Series glory to uphold the faith of their fathers.

Cf. Mario Cuomo's latest self-rationalization over at Commonweal. The false distinction he'd make is that choosing to sit out of a baseball game does not impose Green's belief system onto others who don't share it; ie. it's a private decision versus the public ones Catholic Democrats have to make. And the analogy would fly right over their intellectual pinheads.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


So far it's always been a good day when an archdiocese decides to grant an indult to the Tridentine Mass, but what happens when it's done as a form of religious marketing, a way of keeping up with the Lutherans and Episcopalians?
Nevertheless, he and St. Josaphat's pastor, the Rev. Mark Borkowski, have been impressed by successes at nearby Episcopal and Lutheran churches, where historic buildings have been revived by suburbanites driving downtown for traditional forms of worship.
"We're bringing in antique-looking vestments, too," he said. "We've done a lot of work to make sure that this looks authentic. This church was built a century ago for this kind of mass, and we want it to look that way again."
"Authenticity," he said. "If someone goes to Greenfield Village expecting to see petticoats, they don't want to find people making do with blue jeans."
Just when you thought the traditional Mass was impervious to bourgeois commercialism. Makes me think of MacIntyre's opening hypo in After Virtue about a society born after a revolution against science & technology, trying to piece it back together with no context, no cultural glue to hold the pieces in proper perspective.

Even more disturbing are the comments of Fr. Thomas Reese, editor of America magazine:
The only thing that could spoil the venture at St. Josaphat is too much success, Reese said.

"When the pope authorized bishops to allow this mass in 1984, the idea was that this was a pastoral response to older people who still are so attached to this older mass that they need it," Reese said Monday. "The idea was never to create a new desire in people for this mass."

Maida's decision to allow it at St. Josaphat seems in keeping with the spirit of Vatican rules, Reese said. But, "It would be counterproductive if too many people turn this into a marketing strategy to fill churches. The idea behind allowing this mass was that it could help older people in the later stages of their lives. The hope is that this mass eventually will fade away."
I've come to accept this kind of condescending crap from the liberal secularist literati, but from a priest-editor of a Jesuit magazine? And St. Ignatius does another roll in his tomb. Read more here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

NRO - fair and balanced

It's taken me a while to get over my distaste for conservative political journals. But articles like Jonah Goldberg's here, voicing distate for the newborn Keyes campaign, sure make it a lot easier. What a pleasant surprise to see a conservative journal not drool over the possibility of preserving a Republican Senate seat, whatever the cost. Instead, Goldberg is quite perturbed by the trendy political MOs practiced by both sides of the Aisle.
The trends at work are complex and numerous. The cult of celebrity allows famous but unqualified candidates to drop into politics in ways that, say, scholars or economists cannot. Loopy campaign-finance rules encourage the super-rich to buy their offices, and weakened political parties are only too happy to serve as closing agents for the sale. Worse, consumer culture has infected civic culture. The push to make voting so convenient you can do it with a remote control exemplifies a growing tendency among voters to regard their "choices" as more important than their obligations. Indeed, for some reason, lots of people think it's imperative that criminals vote. Put your ear to the ground and you'll hear the bulldozer coming for the Electoral College.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Bishop Breslin of Breslinland

Saw the cover of Breslin's new book in B&N the other day and thought, "oh no not another one." Of course, it was prominently displayed in the religion section. At first disappointed to see another celebrity "Catholic" take his turn of giving the Church a cheap whack, I today took great pleasure in reading Kenneth Woodward, in WaPo of all places, peel Breslin down to the adolescent he is when it comes to his religion. Breslin is embarassingly too easy for Woodward.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Annuit coeptis, novus ordo seclorum

Said a sad sayonara to Chicago. Been moving around a lot. Now settling into my new city, with a new book on the religious dimensions of which on my nightstand (see docket in sidebar). Great book so far. Everyone moving to a great city should read an exegesis of the local architecture and urban layout. Makes for great pickup conversations.

Like: "Hey, babe, did you know that Jefferson wanted to put 'Rebellion to Tyrants Is Obedience to God" on the obverse side of the Great Seal instead of the 'Annuit coeptis' thingy?" If that doesn't work, I can always go and egg his memorial.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Here I stand...corrected

Old Oligarch's critique of Cardinal Dulles's First Things commentary on Catholic pro-choice politicians has won me over. Having taken a course w/Dulles in div school, I've got a soft spot for the American master of Catholic thought that's perhaps too soft. OO overcomes two of my previous concerns: doubts over the pragmatics of refusing Eucharist to individuals in a manner commensurate with the dignity of the Mass, and doubts over canonical precedent. He actually makes my concerns look pretty dumb. His critique may also call into question Ratzinger's distinction between "formal cooperation" and "remote material cooperation" in evil, which may be (mis?)interpreted as relieving the lay Catholic voter from having to maintain a strict perichoresis between political morality and Eucharistic discipline. Other than that, OO and Ratz seem to be of one mind.

Extreme wife-carrying

I've attended too many Korean weddings where the groom at some point traditionally carries the bride around the ceremonial wedding table a few times. But I had no idea the Finns take this ritual to a whole new level. The "Estonian Carry" is an invention of athletic genius, so intuitive too. Raise the woman's hips (center of gravity) higher to gain improved stability and ease of movement. It's right out of the backpacking textbook. Even more ingenius is the prize: the wife's weight in beer.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

When Lord, when will it end?

And the Church's honor sinks to a new low. Doesn't Scripture say something like, "The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against thee, especially if you've got Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection"? Here's the real tearjerker from the AP article: In a deposition taken before his death, Grammond [Portland's pedophile priest at the center of the lawsuits] said, "I'd say these children abused me. They'd dive in my lap to get sexual excitement." Thanks to Dante, I think we can safely imagine what's happening to Grummond right now.

Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion

I'm with Ratz. Nice to see the principle of double effect still in effect.

A good Protestant church is hard to find

From a Touchstone writer to his college-age daughters on the Scylla & Charybis choice between liberal and fundie Protestant churches:
If I lost my faith, I would skip the step of being a religious liberal, and go straight to secularism. If I believed what the liberal believes, I wouldn't waste time on church. I can do without the sanctimonious company, thank you, don't need a moralizing homily from a second- or third-rate intellect that's pretending to be Christian (I would know enough Bible to know that real Christianity would look more like "fundamentalism"), and can give to worthy causes without the added middle-person, thank you. And I would deplore the first-rate intellect in the liberal pulpit as infected with a strange weakness that, against all sense and reason, made it religious. Sunday mornings would be better spent on recreation, like writing mocking, sarcastic letters to Touchstone in which I attempted to blend the best qualities of Bertrand Russell, Bernard Shaw, Nietzsche, Ingersoll, Screwtape, and the Grand Inquisitor.
The rest of the letter illustrates the subconscious denial of Catholicism that plagues so many conservative Protestants. Minus this parenthetical paragraph of sound judgment, the letter goes to extraordinary lengths to equate fundamentalists with "legalism" and to identify Catholicism as the prototype of this legalism. Of course, in step with Touchstone's ecumenical fashion, it insists that Protestantism is just as susceptible to the liberal/legalist dichotomy as Catholicism. Well, thanks a lot. Hutchens nonetheless seems desperate to avoid the possibility that the Catholic Church might actually transcend the liberal/fundie dichotomy that his daughters find so troubling. He resorts to a cute rehearsal of Luther's law vs. grace argument to strike that classic "Here I Stand" pose. I would take his line a few steps further: "If I lost my faith in the Catholic Church, I would skip the step of being a Protestant and a secularist, and go straight to hell."

Ultrasound icongraphy

Rumsfeld has been taken to task for ignoring the gravity of the horrors at Abu Ghraib until pictures flooded mediasphere. He himself acknowledged the power of those images to drive home the truth. Similarly, these new cutting-edge ultrasound images of the fetus from 12-weeks drive home the truth. Fetuses are enwombed babies -- full human beings. How the pro-choicers and embryo-eating scientists can rationalize their way out this is the real hocus pocus superstition of our era. Be sure to click the link to more pics under the 2nd pic. From the BBC (not exactly your garden-variety extremist anti-abortion cult).

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Church of Former-Day Sluts

On why Madonna would attain to the highest expression of "reinvention" in the Catholic Church.

Hardly elementary, my dear Watson

For all the critical humanism taught in the core curriculum at UChicago's College and for all the Mary Ann Glendons, Leon Kasses, and David Brookses it produces, you still get Carl Sagans and Nobel-prize winning James Watsons who are just nuts, as in this encounter with the latter:
Watson looked me in the eye and told me he was qualified to advocate in favor of mothers choosing to abort "unhealthy" children because he wished he could have aborted his own son, who is mentally handicapped.

He went on, unprodded, to say that he was an "unbeliever," so he was sure he would have had no moral qualms about killing his own child.
...proving once again that a strong "liberal education" is hardly any prophylactic against monstrous evil, or maybe that they just needed to spend less time in Kent Hall and more in Cobb Hall. Or I'm just a fool since nowadays UChicago profs are disavowing any moral formation in the "Aims of Education."

Cardinal Dulles on Catholic politicians

What a clear, calming, judicious voice in the American church.

Catholic photo exhibit

A gorgeous presentation of images of life in the Archdioceses of Baltimore and DC by Catholic photographer Pavel Chichikov. They range from awe-inspiring (like the Corpus Christi procession), to warmly mundane (like a tombstone w/soda bottle on it), to bone-chilling (like the pro-lifers with posters of aborted fetuses)--sums up our Church. Images speak volumes indeed.

"A good war is hard to find"

Terrific article on Flannery O'Connor and her putative take on the symbolic perversions of Abu Ghraib.:
For O'Connor—whose characters are some of the most memorable grotesqueries in American literature—the grotesque makes visible hidden "discrepancies" between character and belief. Such images "connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye."
According to O'Connor, the South was not so much "Christ-Centered" as "Christ-Haunted." She believed that the most challenging images of Christ were pushed aside in the South in favor of more palatable ones, ones that would allow for the continued separation and inequality between the races. However, these sublimated images eventually return as "fierce and instructive" ghosts, to cast menacing shadows across the landscape. These menacing shadows are the raw material of much Southern literature, from the well-mannered, sober Eudora Welty to the drunken tortured genius of Faulkner. And as Susan Sontag pointed out in her New York Times Magazine essay about Abu Ghraib, "The Pictures Are Us," those same ghosts can be seen in the lynching photos of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Ut Unum Sint

You can always count on Gerard Serafin to keep our eyes on the prize of communion with the Eastern Orthodox. I can't believe he's one of the few in St. Blogs to cover the participation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the papal Mass for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The Vatican will return the gesture by sending a delegation on the Feast of St. Andrew. It's the 40th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras! Check out his site and check out the sights. He juxtaposes three pictures that beautifully demonstrate the eschatalogical nature of the Kiss of Peace between Rome and Constantinople. Moving images.

VATICAN CITY, JUN 28, 2004 (VIS) - Made public today was a note on the visit of His Holiness Bartholomew, ecumenical patriarch, to John Paul II. This year the patriarch will lead the delegation from Constantinople to commemorate the meeting of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in January of 1964.

The patriarch - who previously visited the Pope in 1995 - and his entourage arrive in Rome today and will be received by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State. They will stay at the St. Martha Residence in the Vatican until their departure on July 2.

On June 29 in the morning, the patriarch will meet with the Pope in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. During the meeting, they will exchange speeches and gifts and sign a common declaration. Then the patriarch will see Cardinal Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano and will visit the Vatican Basilica where he will pray at the Altar of the Cathedra and at Paul VI's tomb which is in the grotto.

In the afternoon, he will participate in a Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter's Square, presided by the Holy Father on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles.

On June 30, the traditional bilateral talks between the Holy See and Fanar will take place. These talks are scheduled on the occasion of the exchange of delegations for the patron feasts of the two sees, St. Andrew in November and Sts. Peter and Paul in June. That same afternoon, the patriarch will receive an honor from the City of Rome and later will be welcomed by the Community of Sant'Egidio in his patronal church of St. Bartholomew.

According to the note, His Excellency Gennadios, metropolitan archbishop of the Greek-Orthodox in Italy and exarch for Southern Europe of the Ecumenical Throne, asked His Holiness Bartholomew I to preside at the inauguration on July 1 of the liturgical use of the church of St. Theodore on the Palatine which Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, has entrusted to the Greek-Orthodox community in Rome for liturgical celebrations and pastoral care upon the express wishes of the Pope.

The patriarch will meet again with John Paul II during a fraternal luncheon in the Apostolic Palace in which members of the entourage will participate as well.

On July 2 at midday, His Holiness Bartholomew I will leave Rome.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Softie Christians Anonymous

Hi, My name is Glenn...[sigh]...And I'm a softie Christian. Or at least I was for a while there. A little too much "pastoral care" indoctrination in my Yale Div and clinical pastoral education, valuable as it was for some things. No, I'm definitely not amongst the worst offenders, but I've consistently experienced discomfort hearing the full-throttled offensives from many orthodox Catholics, even after you filter out the neo-fascists. Maybe it's a Nietzshean ressentiment over not having the wit or intellectual fiskpower to pull them off, maybe it's just my personality. Whatever the case, I no longer lean on any specious WWJD, "New Testament" arguments for a kinder, gentler polemics. This article puts the nail in the coffin for that argument:
There’s a massive contrast between the weighty and satirical, the masculine and hilarious modes of communication employed by the inspired biblical characters versus the whiny, saccharine, nicer-than-Christ, strained Gerber’s goo served up by evangelicalism and Catholicism’s effete clerics. Have you noticed?
Concerning these greatest of biblical characters, we not only see great acts of compassion toward the repentant; we also see an unapologetic verbal “gloves-off” approach with someone God wants and needs His spokesman to offend.

Liberal double standard

Found this dated Salon article by Camille Paglia on the Elephant-dung Madonna incident from years back, from Relapsed Catholic:
And I'm just as sick of "Catholic-bashing" as Giuliani himself. I may be an atheist, but I was raised in Italian Catholicism, and it remains my native culture. I resent the double standard that protects Jewish and African-American symbols and icons but allows Catholicism to be routinely trashed by supercilious liberals and ranting gay activists.
Evidence that God has not totally abandoned the atheists despite their deepest wishes.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Feast of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Bishop, Defender of the Faith and Martyr

I love sharing my birthday w/St. Irenaeus' feast day, partly because it's one saint whose memorial date is a lot easier for me to remember. But also because I think our birthdays should have a liturgical "frame;" they shouldn't be self-standing, nakedly projecting our self-significance onto the world. Irenaeus is infinitely more interesting than me and I'd much rather share gems from his Against Heresies than birthday cards. So here's one:

"The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. Men will therefore see God if they are to live; through the vision of God they become immortal and attain to God himself."

Check out the link--I had no idea Calvinists destroyed his tomb & reliquary in 1562! I hate when they do that.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

More liturgy blues

"The church feminized is not only the church demasculinized, but inevitably the church infantilized as well."

from the May04 Touchstone magazine article by an evangelical Episcopalian on "romanticized worship" in all the hip, culturally-uptodate, technosavvy nonsense that passes for liturgy.

Damn Ohhreeeyentalists

Thomas Fox, a regular columnist for NCR, has covered the Catholic Asia beat for years. Because of his persistent and sincere love for Asia, NCR has the distinction of being the only American Catholic periodical that cares a little more than a hoot about the Church in Asia.

A few years ago, one of Fox's columns on Asia pissed me off so badly I wrote a letter to the editor, complaining of his objectification of Asians and their culture as a means of furthering his ideological agenda. Since the problem wasn't restricted to Fox's column, it wasn't long before I cancelled my subscription.

Well, apparently he's still enlisting Asian Catholics in his war against Catholic orthodoxy:

"Leaders of Catholic lay organizations throughout East Asia met here for four days last week before issuing a paper urging their bishops to stay faithful to the forward-looking pastoral path they have outlined since the early 1970s." (Italics mine)

"All expressed hope that when their bishops consider issues of the family to develop pastoral guidelines that these guidelines fit Asian realities and are not simply repetitions of traditional moral principles."

"Conference participants called for an end of all discrimination within the church. They criticized an exclusively male hierarchy and said the laity needs to have more say in decision-making."

"The statement called for an end to discrimination against children, who are not allowed to receive the Eucharist until 'the so-called age of reason.' The practice of withholding communion came out of Western Europe, the statement noted. 'Children, by virtue of their baptism, are full members of the church and have a full right to Eucharist.'"

"On the subject of homosexuality, the statement called for 'pastoral openness' and guidance to parents of gays and lesbians. 'Everyone is created by God and loved by God just as they are.'"

"He and others said it is now the work of an active laity to hold the bishops responsible for their words."

The only good Asian Catholic, it seems to Fox, is a liberal American Catholic with a twist of lotus essence. He always makes Asian Catholics seem little more than a collective megaphone through which he gets to mouth off his NCR-brand of Catholicism. He invokes their experiences selectively, that is only when they make nice cannon fodder against his "conservative" enemies. I'd call it ethnic eisegesis or "proof-profiling," sorta like proof-texting.

I prefer to be ignored by orthodox white Catholics than "orientalized" by the liberal elite. At least by ignoring me, they're honestly acknowledging my "otherness," not the cheap, maudlin "otherness" embraced by liberals, who usually paint Asians as opposite of what they hate about the West.

Bad priests have rights too

Coinciding, interestingly, with SCOTUS' ruling on jury sentencing this week, Peter Jenning's ABC special report on Guantanamo, and Jack Ryan's resignation from the Senate race in IL, Cardinal Dulles has written a canonical analysis on how accused priests should be treated, reminding us once again of Catholicism's insistence that Christ ALONE is the FINAL sacrificial scapegoat. What a buzzkill.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Our Lady of Abu Ghraib???

Not very intelligent about Marian iconography, but interesting nonetheless for the comparison.

The cult of youth

It's hard to get too angry over these imbecile pro-choice Catholic politicians. Sort of like witnessing a college frosh come home enamored with his new nipple ring and then cry like a baby when it gets infected. It gets at one of my favorite quotes from von Balthasar:
The cult of youth is always a sign of the graying of a culture. Just as it is true that every stage of life has its own meaning, which resists funtionalization, it is equally true that youth is internally disposed toward maturity and formation. To praise the condition of being young as an absolute, self-contained value, or even as the highest value, gives evidence of a disjointed hierarchy of values. Further proof is given by the kind of men, produced by youth movements, who remain permanently infantile. To be a child and remain a child before God is something totally different, which indeed requires human maturity.
Over in the Diocese of Lexington, KY, a bishop is just fulfilling his magisterial obligations and 2 politicians in his flock respond with phlegm like:

"I plan to continue taking Communion and would love to receive it from a woman priest some day soon,"

"anti-abortion advocates don't have a monopoly on the faith."

"I certainly believe there are a lot of good American Catholics who believe in choice,"

"the bishop's statements would not keep me from taking the Eucharist."

"My position is that legislators do not have a right to impose their religious views on others and that's all I'm going to say,"

"I go to Communion when I want to go, and no bishop, no pope, they're not going to keep me from my religion,"

Boohoo. What's the big deal? Bishop admonishes you not to take Communion, you submit to his authority and save some face--hello, he's giving you an out! Chalk it up to the cost of doing the business of politics in the Democratic Party and you can go on worshipping yourself. In the immortal words of Hyman Roth: I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen -- I didn't ask who gave the order -- because it had nothing to do with business! A fictional criminal like Roth ends up showing more wisdom than these masturbatorial children of the Church who take their lines from Dr. Evil/Mini-Me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Brown v. Board of People w/half a brain

Good to see my former NT prof taking some stand on Dan Brown's butt brownie of a book:

"People were thinking Jesus was divine in some sense or another from the first century on," said Harold W. Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School and a translator and authority of the Nag Hammadi trove. Professor Attridge, who recently gave a lecture on the novel in California, said that while he welcomed the book as a "teaching opportunity," it "takes facts and gives them a spin that distorts them seriously."

Moonie convert from Catholicism

What do you get when you turn away from the true Church, choosing a wacko gnostic cult of personality instead? You get "Archbishop" George A. Stallings Jr. duping a bunch of our US Senators, in the Dirksen Senate Bldg no less.


Among the sensual delights of a Tridentine liturgy, smoking, unfortunately is not one of them. The closest we Catholics get is, of course, incense. Not that I think the Congregation for Divine Worship should introduce pipes into the Mass but it's nice to see the Utah Supreme Court uphold the right of Native Americans to get high with Awonawilona. Oh, what a different faith we'd have if Moses' Passover included a smoking ritual. There'd be a lot fewer uppity Catholics, for sure.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

NAACP & DC Catholicism in happier times

From McGreevy's book, p.211:
...when some southern bishops balked at the idea of issuing a statement decrying racial segregation and discrimination, Pius XII, just before his death, ordered that the statement be issued "at once."
Catholic leaders now marched in step with the liberal vanguard. "In marked contrast with Protestants," the NAACP leader Walter White explained, Catholics in the District of Columbia had achieved a remarkable "degree of integration." "[O]f course I don't prefer an authoritarian church to a democratic one," Reinhold Niebuhr told one friend in 1957, but he admitted to alternating "between a violent anti-Catholicism and a measure of respect for what they [Catholics] are doing." The Catholic authoritarianism that he found so unattractive, Niebuhr conceded, allowed Catholic bishops to discipline priests and congregations unwilling to integrate Catholic institutions. In most Protestant denominations, by contrast, no one could protect a "poor parson against the manias of his congregation. In this sad world we must pick up virtue wherever we can find it and also recognize weaknesses in our own position."
What a mixed record. The Church a century earlier was on the whole vehemently opposed to any "hasty" abolition of slavery, but for non-racial reasons, even defending the fairness of enslaving white peoples. Then there's Catholic racism throughout Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Then there's Catholic academic books, papers, and ecclesiastical statements condemning racism beginning in the 1930s, with threats of excommunication from bishops against segregationist Catholics. At times progressive, at others reactionary, the Church is tougher to pidgeon-hole than Kweisi Mfume would like. That said, Catholic University still has crappy reasons to deny the NAACP a campus chapter.

Monday, June 21, 2004

From the "Resilience of Catholic faith" file

Amazing. Isolated Catholic minority groups in southwestern China have not only maintained the faith without a priest for over half a century, but they've evangelized and grown some five-fold. They pray the Ave Maria in Tibetan! I could see Richard Gere looking confused--why would Tibetans turn to Catholicism when my Tantric Buddhism makes you feel so good about yourself and your orifices?

No Eucharist for 50 years! Well aren't we a spoiled bunch with our casual penance-free Eucharist-on-demand attitude. Maybe the bishops should just declare a Eucharistic ban on all American Catholics--few are any better than Kerry, and even fewer are such, so it sounds, than these forgotten Catholics in the mountains of Yunnan province.

Jack out of the box

Sad watching Illinois Republican candidate for US Senate Jack Ryan gettin grilled on live TV over the release of his divorce papers, peppered with more salacious sex scandal bits that we in the post-Lewinsky era enjoy in our media salad. However, it's good to see how the elephants are coming home to roost. Ryan should be so lucky to not have a Democratic version of Kenneth Starr on his tail. The additional irony of Clinton's book release today... God is funny.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Subsidiarity & the UN

From NCR's John Allen's column:
Conservatives devoted to the principle of subsidiarity increasingly wonder why the Vatican is gung-ho about handing over chunks of national sovereignty to an international authority they see as unaccountable and occasionally hostile to religious values.
Why do conservative Catholics seem to think that subsidiarity = American federalism? Just as subsidiarity upholds the good of an international theocratic bureacracy headquartered in the Vatican that we call the Catholic Church, so does it uphold the good of an international council of nations that seeks to maintain the good of a globalized humanity. Excessive contempt for the UN held by conservative Catholics only adds to my suspicion that they're just closeted "cafeteria Catholics" of the red, white, and blue stripe. And if being "unaccountable" and "occasionally hostile to religious values" were reason enough for wholesale condemnation then conservatives should be the first to renounce their US citizenship.

Desperately Seeking Relevance

Organizations like the NAACP, with an intense collective memory of more august days, feel a need to replicate the "Great Struggle" in our day even if the era of great struggles is over. Battles for legal equality have already been fought and won. What remain are the thornier problems of social and cultural reconciliation. While that may include policy and legislative advocacy, the bulk of the work rests not in voter drives or lobbying but in the transformation of neighborhoods and families from within--the one thing the Nation of Islam got right.

Unfortunately, the NAACP has found in Catholic University an easy target to reassert its dream of the "Great Struggle." NAACP sees only another big, bad, white-dominated, socially conservative institution, not a representative body of the Holy Catholic Church struggling amidst its own unique set of political circumstances to hold on to its identity. If Kweisi Mfume stirs any group of NAACP protesters into a frenzy of "We Shall Overcome" refrains on the steps of the Basilica, I'm gonna puke.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Race & Division in the One Body

I can't stand the politics of racial victimization. That said, there is a real problem amongst a large percentage of so-called traditionalist Catholics when it comes to accepting the possibility that the Eucharist includes me, not even AS an Asian-American, but simply despite being an Asian-American.

This past Corpus Christi Sunday, at my parish at which I have felt profoundly at home liturgically, yet profoundly unwelcome ethnically, one parishioner made it palpably clear to me that I am a non-entity. There I was amidst my faith family as we stood outside praying a series of stations to the Body of Christ. I was empty-handed not knowing there were programs. A woman with several programs in hand began distributing them to other parishioners around me. She first took care of her companions and then turned around to disburse the remaining copies. Practically facing me but looking right past me, she handed the last copies to the people directly behind me. A classic instance of white blindness to the ontological reality of Asians I've experienced quite often.

My first reaction was pure rage. Then the irony of ignoring a co-member of the Body of Christ while celebrating the Feast of the Body of Christ opened a pressure-relief valve. Then came the flood of questions. Was I being petty? Was I being hypersensitive? Was I falling prey to identity politics? Was I totally misreading this lady's behavior? Was I being unfair given the rarity of Latin-loving Asian Catholics? All unanswerable with any conclusiveness. Nonetheless, I left thanking God that I was Catholic, b/c I would never have put up with this treatment, intentional or not, had I remained Protestant.

Sometimes the cushy world of Asian-American evangelical churches with their ethnically-focused ministry models and familiar-faced fellowship is so alluring. Yet the noble testament of Black Catholic fidelity to the Church despite racism throughout Reconstruction and Jim Crow comes quickly to mind and I feel a kinship with them that only the resilience of Eucharistic communion could engender. It's the "long loneliness" of Dorothy Day writ onto the jagged multiethnic world of the modern American Church.

This experience has confirmed for me the weakness of Haugenesque pop hymns like "One Bread, One Body." The warm fuzzies that the melody evokes bears ZERO relevance in a church where there exists real difference. The unity of Eucharistic fellowship cannot be found in any oceanic feeling of rapturous Gemeinschaft--that's simply too static and it empties out the eschatalogical dynamism of Christ's call "Ut Unum Sint." St. Paul insists there is no Gentile nor Jew under the New Covenant but this is not a declaratory statement of a self-evident fact. Rather it is an apocalyptic statement--an unveiling of a cosmic truth that is hidden. The coziness of Asian-American churches and lovey-dovey Volkparishes is illusory. I'll take a slight against my ethnicity even during the Liturgy any day over the seductive bliss of homogeneity.

Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui!

I'm back

Maybe it was because I needed a break from the blog storm of Lent 2004 and the TPOTC aftermath. Maybe it was just the doldrums of Ordinary Time. Maybe it was the wiseass comments from my college buddies who have remained in a state of perpetual sophomorism. Whatever it was, the blog itch strikes again.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Roncalli to the rescue

Digging through boxes and boxes of my old div school books here in NY, I started leafing through Good Pope John’s Journey of a Soul and came across this lovely reflection on the prudence that bishops should maintain before the “affairs of men” (like Kerry, Bush, et al).
Faith, hope and charity are the three stars of the episcopal glory. The Pope as the head and as an example, and the Bishops, all the Bishops of the Church, with him. The sublime work, holy and divine, which the Pope must do for the whole Church, and which the Bishops must do each in his own diocese, is to preach the Gospel and guide men to their eternal salvation, and all must take care not to let any other earthly business prevent or impede or disturb this primary task. The impediment may most easily arise from human judgments in the political sphere, which are diverse and contradictory according to the various ways of thinking and feeling. The Gospel is far above these opinions and parties, which agitate and disturb social life and all mankind. The Pope reads it and with his Bishops comments on it; and all, without trying to further any worldly interests, must inhabit that city of peace, undisturbed and blessed, whence descends the divine law which can rule in wisdom over the earthly city and the whole world.

In fact, this is what wise men expect from the Church, this and nothing else.

My conscience is tranquil about my conduct as newly elected Pope during first three years, and so my mind is at peace, and I beg the Lord always to help me to keep faith with this good beginning.

It is very important to insist that all the Bishops should act in the same way; may the Pope’s example be a lesson and an encouragement to them all. The Bishops are more exposed to the temptation of meddling immoderately in matter that are not their concern, and it is for this reason that the Pope must admonish them not to take part in any political or controversial question and not to declare for one section or faction rather than another. They are to preach to all alike, and in general terms, justice, charity, humility, meekness, gentleness and other evangelical virtues, courteously defending the rights of the Church when these are violated or compromised.

But at all times and especially just now, the Bishop must apply the balm of sweetness to the wounds of mankind. He must beware of making any rash judgment or uttering any abusive words about anyone, or letting himself be betrayed into flattery by threats, or in any way conniving with evil in the hope that by so doing he may be useful to someone; his manner must be grave, reserved and firm, while in his relations with others he must always be gentle and loving, yet at the same time always ready to point out what is good and what is evil, with the help of sacred doctrine but without any vehemence.

Any effort or intrigue of a purely human nature is worth very little in these questions of worldly interest.

Instead, he must with more assiduous and fervent prayer earnestly seek to promote divine worship among the faithful, with religious practices, frequent use of the sacraments, well taught and well administered, and about all he must encourage religious instruction because this also will help to solve problems of the merely temporal order, and do so much better than ordinary human measures can. This will draw down divine blessing on the people preserving them from many evils and recalling minds that have strayed from the right path. Help comes down from above: and heavenly light disperses the darkness.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Once a eugenicist, always a eugenicist

In case you assumed "pro-choice" actually means pro-choice:
Support for neo-Malthusian ideology gives the lie to CFFC’s advocacy of “free choice.” After all, if choice were the ultimate criterion, the way a woman exercises that choice, through abortion, adoption or child-rearing, would be secondary. Not so, wrote Marjorie Reilly Maguire, one of CFFC’s founders, to the liberal National Catholic Reporter in 1995: "Various personal experiences with CFFC have led me to believe that its agenda is no longer simply to defend the legality of a woman’s abortion choice…I now see CFFC’s agenda as the promotion of abortion, the defense of every abortion decision as a good, moral choice and the related agenda persuading society to cast off any moral constraints about sexual behavior. I don’t think this is a Catholic or pro-woman agenda…."
And don't buy Ford stock or cars.

David Morrison to the mattresses

Former Navy man on the prison abuses as a reflection of civilian America here. One of the best rants I've heard in a while.
Folks, may this serve as a horrible wake up call to all of us. Because the men and women who abused those prisoners are not aliens to us, they are not monsters, they are not fiends. I predict they are going to turn out to BE us - and what does that say about how we have fallen - and continue to fall - as a people.
His rant calls to mind "The Last Samurai" which I just caught on DVD. Even among our professional military, I wonder about the existence/vitality of a code of honor, of chivalric virtue. The film doesn't do bushido enough justice; it's predictably romanticist about "eastern values." Still, the contempt Tom Cruise's character feels for American culture is identical to Morrison's. And both point to a hellish spiritual vacuum that can only be authentically filled by a "ressourcement" of Western civilization.

Kerry IS a Catholic

Just take a deep breath, folks and say it: "Kerry IS a Catholic." I know it's tough to admit, but for all his doctrinal folly, he is one of our own. Critique his abortion stance, not the man. Here's an dispassionate, measured article on the man's Catholicism from Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette. If the right-wing Catholics keep up their barrage, Kerry will really begin reaping sympathy credit, and not just from God-forsaken liberals. Wise, indeed, for bishops not to ban Kerry from communion.

Much of the disproportionate vitriol directed at Kerry derives from the fact that Kerry IS sadly the paradigmatic American Catholic. Otherwise, I really don't think we need to get this upset at the guy. Why are we sparing the laity (ourselves) and burning Kerry as the effigy of the laity? Of course, it's a lot easier to condemn one Catholic politician than 60 million layfolk.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Scalia, wouldn't wanna be ya

NY Times finds in a recent Antonin Scalia speech an occassion to summarize the Catholic justice's career in hi-strung jurisprudence. I had no idea he deems the Court wrong "to say the Constitution requires that lawyers be provided to poor people accused of crimes." Inconsistency, as they say, is a sign of genius.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Pope-envy from Constantinople

Okay, okay, after years of bearing an envy for the E. Orthodox "way" of conciliarist ecclesiastical governance among other things, I'm finally coming around to fully embracing Roman primacy and papalism. News like this both saddens me for the sake of the EOs and reaffirms in me my real allegiance to the Bishop of Rome. Papalism isn't so much superior to conciliarism, but neither is it inferior by any means.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Catholics for getting off of Kerry

Yes, there are plenty of valid arguments for why Catholics should reject Kerry. But I'm rather apathetic to the whole thing. There's no confusion in my mind that Kerry is a poorly catechized Catholic. But he's not maliciously so; more ignorantly so. That seems equally clear. And whatever stubbornness may dwell in his liberal brain comes from a lot of brainwashing by the culture most American Catholics share. In addition, he's had his head so far up beltway Democratic culture that he simply seems incapable of grasping orthodox Catholicism. Luckily, I don't look to him for any guidance whatsoever on how to be a good Catholic. Now any Catholic who does is even more poorly catechized than Kerry. Any Catholic who fears that millions of Catholics will be misled by Kerry the Pied Piper into heresy is drifting towards paranoia.

It's all very distracting, for I'd like to hear more arguments on why orthodox Catholics should actually choose Bush. That's one conversation conspicuously missing. So far the only answer from the Catholic Repubicans seems to be that Bush is not pro-choice like Kerry. If I believed that POTUS's first and foremost responsibility was the elimination of abortion, then that answer would carry a lot of weight with me. If I believed that POTUS has the power to compel or coerce women into more abortions, then that answer would carry a lot of weight for me. Neither is the case, so in the meantime, I say we get off of Kerry and eliminate abortion from our own ranks first. And let's just see how Catholic Bush is.

A contrast of cardinals

Cardinal Arinze's remarks about denying communion to any pro-choice Catholic just about knocked him out of my next pope wish list--not for his stance, mind you, but for the flatfootedness with which he delivered his judgment. Same with Cardinal McCarrick but from the other end of the issue. Read here to behold how they both are the lesser to Cardinal George.

That's my Cardinal

Francis Cardinal George once again demonstrates that there's at least one real Catholic archbishop in America. You have to read the whole thing to appreciate his method of approach. He doesn't moralize; he's totally uninterested in scoring political points or covering his political arse; he avoids the demonizing so typical of neo-con Catholics. Above all, he instructs and guides through theological and pastoral reflection, tying his directives on this political issue first with a reflection on the liturgical season of Eastertide. It's textbook. It's the way magisterial authority should be expressed. It's so JPII. Here are some gems:

Faith is a free assent of mind and will and heart to a God who loves us and who transforms every dimension of our lives (Romans 10:9). There is no area of a believer's life separate from his or her faith. A compartmentalized faith is not faith, certainly not Catholic faith, which begins with the proclamation that Jesus is risen from the dead and then works out the implications of that assertion in every area of life.

There is separation of Church and State at the heart of our faith--the king is not a priest--but there can be no separation of faith and life for either king or priest or anyone else who believes that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

Faith shapes a believer's political conscience, whether as voter or officeholder. This seems generally understood in the case of black churches, where politicians speak and invite believers to vote for them because the politicians will meet their concerns. It seems well enough understood in the case of synagogues, where no one is surprised that proponents of the PLO would not be given a platform. But drawing conclusions about the public order from one's faith is viewed with suspicion in the case of evangelicals and with alarm in the case of Catholics. This is largely because the secular litmus test for judging if faith is interfering inappropriately in the public order for the past 30 years has been the issue of the legal protection of unborn human beings. This truly is a key issue, not only because abortion is intrinsically immoral in every instance, but also because the legal killing of the unborn undermines the respect for human life that has characterized the advance of civilization and separates us from barbarians.

Pope John Paul II has explained that officeholders in democracies can be expected to uphold the law, even if the law wrongly protects immorality. But he has also explained that Catholic officeholders must work to diminish the harm that unjust laws do and make every effort to change them.

In a pluralistic society, perhaps no faith group can expect to be totally satisfied with the legal system; every faith group, however, can expect politicians who belong to it to work out their political positions in the light of their professed faith and to act accordingly. Not bishops, but the politicians' personal integrity makes this demand.

Because the U.S. courts have made abortion a "right," placing limits on its exercise creates difficulties not found in other countries. In this situation, it is unacceptable for a Catholic believer who is a politician to embrace unreservedly the status quo on abortion. Such an embrace cannot be justified because of a few theologians' opinions or even should a majority of U.S. Catholics think differently; nor can it be justified in the name of personal conscience, which is to be shaped by the faith. It certainly cannot be justified by an appeal to the Second Vatican Council, which named abortion "a heinous crime."

on the part of society, sanctions by bishops against politicians may be pastorally unwise and publicly harmful. In this culture, victims always have the moral upper hand. Blacks can be victims, Jews can be victims, American Indians can be victims, gays can be victims, women can be victims, even Muslims living here in the United States can be victims. By definition, however, Catholics cannot be victims, except for those Catholics who like to portray themselves as "oppressed" by the Church's teachings. They make the best victims of all.

Issues of basic importance to our faith make for difficult decisions in life. Fortunately for us and for the world, Christ has risen from the dead.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Silently speaking truth to power at "The March"

Amy Welborn and After Abortion have terrific coverage of the event from the pro-life side. Protests, marches, and rallies don't grab me much anymore, only because they seem to bring out the worst in people, even and especially when it's a "love-fest" or a Pete Seeger singspiel. People have forgotten that true protest, the prophetic variety at least, must be collectively, almost militaristically disciplined and quasi-liturgical, that is if degenerating into mere mob-brained catharsis session is to be avoided. I've always believed reverent silence works wonders as protest repertoire. Which is why I was heartened to read this about some pro-lifers at this past weekend's pro-abortion march in DC:
We stood, all 500 of us in the Silent No More Awareness groups, in total silence as planned, for over five hours, not replying or saying one word to anything that was said or done to us, and I do mean anything. But nothing prepared me for literally mobs of livid people screaming the most hateful vicious snide things at me personally. We were spit on, and had an egg hurled at us from the marchers. There were two groups of Satanists. And the signs. Like the guy who held a handmade sign, "BABY KILLER" with an arrow pointed downward at himself. If not for the riot police, we would have been mobbed. There was that much viciousness. People broke through the riot police's invisible line just to come up in my face and hurl insulting words. There were not enough police to form a complete line, so they would run up to me, shout out their abuse, and run back before the policeman or woman got to stop him/her. And I said nothing to anyone, just held my sign.

Hollywood respects celibacy???

Apparently, if you give the superhero genre a second thought. A great reflection at Slate that should give pause to all those celibacy-haters, Christian or secularist.

Martin Sheen striking a Catholic pose

Way to go, President Bartlett.
Actor Martin Sheen has backed out of being listed as an endorser for the pro-abortion march sponsored by leading abortion advocacy groups. Whether the listing of him as a sponsor was accidental or if Sheen didn't know the march's purpose is to support abortion is still a question.
Back in my protest politics days, I remember taking delight in an anecdote of Martin Sheen getting arrested at a civil disobedience against the "School of the Americas." A reporter asked him as he was being cuffed, "Mr. Sheen, are you here because you're Communist?!" He replied resoundingly, "No, much worse -- 'cuz I'm Catholic!" He's a loosey-goosey on several issues, but you gotta love his Catholic bravado.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Grandma & Alzheimer's

I just got back from a wedding in Atlanta with lots of family. My mom informed me sadly that my grandmother's Alzheimer's is worsening. Then I return to find this article on the dreaded disease in the latest online edition of First Things by a Case Western Reserve bioethicist.
Observers estimate, and my personal experience confirms, that 90 percent of Americans who are diagnosed with dementia pray. They are, it seems, thrown back onto whatever faith they have in the loving and beneficent purposes underlying the universe. They are shaken existentially, and many begin this final phase of their lives with a profound recovery of spirituality.
Meanwhile, Brave New World desperately wants to sacrifice more fetuses in our War on Disability, for what could be more dehumanizing than Alzheimer's? And if genetic therapies don't work, there's always euthanasia. Brave New World merely interprets religiosity in demented patients as a byproduct of neurological degeneration. I'm actually torn. I just wouldn't wish Alzheimer's on anyone, except maybe the Brave New World prophets.

Tarentino & TPOTC

Found this at Unmitigated Blatherskite. Apparently from LA Weekly
INTERVIEWER: Is there any movie around you wish you'd made?

QUENTIN TARANTINO: ...I don't think I would have the mania to make The Passion of the Christ, but I'd be proud of the results. Those are the only things playing around right now that are terrific.

INTERVIEWER: So you saw The Passion of the Christ?

QUENTIN TARANTINO: I loved it. I'll tell you why. I think it actually is one of the most brilliant visual storytelling movies I've seen since the talkies -- as far as telling a story via pictures. So much so that when I was watching this movie, I turned to a friend and said, "This is such a Herculean leap of Mel Gibson's talent. I think divine intervention might be part of it." I cannot believe that Mel Gibson directed it. Not personally Mel Gibson -- I mean, Braveheart was great. I mean, I can't believe any actor made that movie. This is like the most visual movie by an actor since Charles Laughton made The Night of the Hunter. No, this is 15 times more visual than that. It has the power of a silent movie. And I was amazed by the fact that it was able to mix all these different tones. At first, this is going to be the most realistic version of the Jesus story -- you have to decipher the Latin and Aramaic. then it throws that away at a certain point and gives you this grandiose religious image. Goddamn, that's good directing!
I knew he'd like it. See below.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Full disclosure" & Truth

Bob Serrat, host of "Chicago Tonight," last night commented on how the public broadcasting of the 9-11 commission might actually impede the pursuit of truth. He's absolutely right, putting his finger on yet another contradiction in our political culture. We equate the good and the true with "disclosure" which has no room for truth in secrecy. Catholics should not fall for it. Some truths must be held "im pectore;" truth sometimes is best served framed in the shadows of the confession booth, of the "Messianic secret" that Christ maintained throughout his earthly ministry. "Openness" is too often an invitation for political grandstanding, melodrama, and other forms of histrionic decadence--all enemies of truth. Groups like Voices of the Faithful scream for ever more disclosure, showing no regard for the veiled, eschatalogical nature of truth and justice. They assume we can all equally serve as judges of truth and of all authority figures. But truth is not democratic--we don't broadcast all trials and have people vote in their verdict; we entrust justice to a limited, semi-private group of 12 who are privy to the nuanced, tenebrous contours of the truth.

This isn't to say nothing good can come of these proceedings. It's at least interesting theatre. Families of 9-11 victims will get to feel justified in their respective adoration or hatred of Bush. The parties will use it to push their campaigns this way or that. Islamic extremists will continue to plot the demise of the West. Still, these modern inquisitions occlude the truth from view as much as they reveal.

Killing Bill & Jesus

Uma Thurman's character quips in Kill Bill, which I caught on DVD last night, "When fortune smiles on something as violent and ugly as revenge, it seems proof like no other: not only does God exist, you're doing His will."

I'm not much of a Tarentino fan, but my memory of Pulp Fiction draws attention to this repeated theme of vengeance as divine act. While most Christians today run for the hills at any hint of the "medieval" god of retribution, Tarentino revels in this god. Obviously, this isn't a theological conviction on his part; rather it's aesthetic. Only the most puritanical would moralize over Tarentino's homage to this god. Yet the squeamishness of liberal Christians over orthodoxy's anti-Marcion fidelity to a God of wrathful justice looks too much like Nietzschean ressentiment; it moves me to see a resonance between Tarentino and Catholic orthodoxy I'd never considered before.

Interpreting the violence in Kill Bill would help more theological idiots out there to interpret the violence in TPOTC. The amounts of blood spewn and splattered in Kill Bill is clearly genre-based. While the physiological realism of TPOTC has been questioned, eg., the amount of blood a truly human Jesus could shed, with Kill Bill there is no such debate over the physics of dismemberment or bloodshed. In Kill Bill, it is assumed that the violence is stylized in the tradition of anime and Japanese and HK martial arts films. The violence is depicted using aesthetic, not scientific standards. Is there some realism in Kill Bill? Of course. But most rational humans understand that it's not trying to achieve strict medical realism. Same with TPOTC. Mel's film descends from several aged traditions and genres, primarily Catholic, that treats the Gospels as theological-aesthetic portraits (not photgraphs) of Christ. It's a messianic realism. Historical or physiological accuracy is used only in service to Christological truth, not the other way around.

Tarantino should've enjoyed Mel's movie.
BTW, Uma is simply stunning. As wounded, battered, and pregnant bride, reborn after four comatose years as ass-kickin' biyatch, her character could even serve as an allegory for the Church Militant in the Book of Revelation. But perhaps her beauty just bedazzled me beyond reason.

Highstream vs. SBC Yahoo

I think I've finally regained control of my PC now. I've kicked SBC Yahoo Dial-up service off and reinstalled Highstream Dial-up. SBC Yahoo has too many software gadgetry and gimmicks attached to its service, damn wankers.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Speaking of conversions...

I'm seriously thinking about heading over to the Church of Apple Computers. Windows has been messin with me so much I haven't been able to connect to the Web. Hence no blogging of late.

Also, after attending St. John Cantius for Palm Sunday, I'm feeling re-converted to the Novus Ordo. When it's done right, that is, with a little reverence, incense, Latin, and Renaissance motets sung in their intended context, it's a stunningly beautiful liturgy.

That was me!

It's been SEVEN years since I did what 150,000 fellow Americans will be doing come this Sunday. The abundant tears and chrism that will flow in parishes across the country shall water a great harvest.

Monday, March 29, 2004

The new Catholic feminism

Stimulating Commonweal article by Cathleen Kaveny of Notre Dame Law, contrasting the new feminism anchored in JPII's theology of the body with the "more nuanced" feminism of Buffy (a bit contrived, but I'll bite).
It's worth spending some time thinking about why it seems so difficult to engage some theologians of the body in an honest conversation. It would not be wrong, I think, to say that they are too naively romantic, or too lost in the tributaries of philosophical idealism, or too fixated on church teaching on contraception. Still, the fundamental problem, in my view, is squarely theological: they make the mistake of eliding the original state of grace with the state of redemption. The touchstone for the theologians of the body is the relationship of men and women before the Fall. West, for example, chides Johnson for being "locked in his fallen view and unable to cross the threshold back to 'the beginning.'"

We are not called to retreat to Eden, but rather to move forward in pilgrimage toward the New Jerusalem. Redemption does not erase sin; it transfigures it. Redemption does not gesture distantly at brokenness; it conscripts it into the service of salvation and new life. To encourage young people to believe that with a lot of hard work and a little bit of suffering, they too can have a relationship like the one between prelapsarian Adam and Eve is deceptive and cruel. It is also the road to despair. Transfixed by the illusory promises of a return to the purity of creation, they may be blind to the possibilities for a gritty but real redemption in their own lives.

...The irony of this dogmatically metaphysical new feminism is that it is susceptible to precisely the same charge that Glendon levied against old-line secular feminism such as that of Betty Friedan: it subordinates the complexities of real women's lives to its own ideological goals. At best, the authors in Women in Christ will play quietly and unnoticed with the pretty concepts in their metaphysical dollhouse. At worst, they will lead many working mothers to conclude that the church doesn't appreciate their lives, their attempts to be faithful to their own unique vocations in Christ, because they don't fit--and don't want to fit--the metaphysical picture concocted by philosopher-theologians like Stein and von Balthasar. For these new feminists, if working mothers are working because they have to, they are to be looked upon with pity; if they are working because they want to, they are to be looked upon with suspicion.
Well taken, but she's a bit sloppy with her use of theological concepts like "redemption," "sin," and "brokenness." And that's no mere technicality. As far I know, nowhere in Catholic teaching does redemption transfigure sin or "conscript it into the service of salvation and new life." She's confusing it with nature, and even then, it sounds like she would have misinterpreted it in Niebuhrian fashion. There's a lot to be said for an unfliching realism, but I'm afraid Kaveny doesn't quite transcend the contrast she's contesting. Still, it's a solid contribution to the debate.

The subjectivism of Objectivism

How Ayn Rand is still considered a philosophical giant boggles me. Here we have an Objectivist zealot-philosopher at the Ayn Rand Institute claim concerning the Pledge of Allegiance controversy:
This so-called "Culture War" truly is a war: a war against the individual mind. It is a particularly dirty kind of war, with both sides of the political spectrum vying for the right to enslave the minds of legally disarmed victims, and to do it by means of money expropriated from the victims themselves.
The only way to end this war is to re-assert the First Amendment, with its guarantee of intellectual freedom—and the only way to do that, is to get the government out of the business of supporting ideas.
Like the 1st Amendment isn't based on state-supported and state-enforced ideas? Like it isn't an idea in itself? This guy should have his Ph.D. revoked. Could you imagine him at the Constitutional Convention crying over all the propagation of ideas by the government? "We the People?"--that's an enslavement of the autonomous mind!

Preservationists and the culture of death?

Boston Globe on the simmering conflict between preservationists of historical church buildings and the cash-strapped archdiocese. It's a curious phenomenon occuring in dioceses all over the country. Many, especially Protestants, often stererotype Catholics for having an excessive attachment to their houses of worship, to the external, material elements of faith. But the preservationists imply Catholics have insufficient respect for their architectural treasures. More curious is how the preservationists objectivize these church buildings and have the mind to isolate them from the concrete, present life of the Church. They give the appearance of advocating for religious and architectural history while simultaneously de-historicizing it. More evidence of our taxidermic culture of death, like Western Europe's conversion of the Church into a stuffed animal?

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ugandans keeping the Anglican Communion alive

From First Things, powerful words addressed from Archbishop Nkoyoyo of the Anglican Church in Uganda to the ECUSA's Presiding Bishop Griswold, regarding gay bishop Gene Robinson:

“Considering those things, we were shocked to receive a letter from you informing us of your decision to send a delegation to the enthronement of our new Archbishop in January, and your intention for the delegation to bring aid and assistance for the people who live in desperate conditions in the camps in Gulu that you have ignored for years. Recent comments by your staff suggesting that your proposed visit demonstrates that normal relations with the Church of Uganda continue have made your message clear: If we fall silent about what you have done—promoting unbiblical sexual immorality—and we overturn or ignore the decision to declare a severing of relationship with ECUSA, poor displaced persons will receive aid. Here is our response: The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale, even among the poorest of us who have no money. Eternal life, obedience to Jesus Christ, and conforming to his Word are more important. The Word of God is clear that you have chosen a course of separation that leads to spiritual destruction. Because we love you, we cannot let that go unanswered. If your hearts remain hardened to what the Bible clearly teaches, and your ears remain deaf to the cries of other Christians, genuine love demands that we do not pretend that everything is normal. As a result any delegation you send cannot be welcomed, received, or seated. Neither can we share fellowship nor even receive desperately needed resources. If, however, you repent and return to the Lord, it would be an occasion of great joy.”

Wow. Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika, indeed!

Theological societies -- what are they good for?

Peter Leithart in First Things offers some perspectives from the recent Evangelical Theological Society meeting, where a couple of prominent theologians found themselves in the gnat-seat:
Given the structure of ETS—the minimalism of its doctrinal statement and the fact that it is not a church with disciplinary powers—there was little that the Executive Committee could do. I say this not to defend the final decision but merely to acknowledge that the fragility of the Society’s theological consensus entails the structural pressure toward gnat-straining. What will ETS do if faced with “biblical” docetists, who mouth the word “inerrancy” but argue that the Son only seemed to take on human flesh in the incarnation? What will ETS do with “inerrantist” defenses of sodomy? What about “biblical” denials that the Bible actually teaches a bodily resurrection?

Warning that ETS is “potentially facing a crisis of identity,” L. Russ Bush, Academic Dean of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and former ETS President, proposed that the Executive Committee “consider and recommend to the Society appropriate ways to clarify our Society’s understanding of our doctrinal basis.” That would be a salutary exercise, especially since Bush’s adverb “potentially” seems altogether too sanguine. Perhaps the Executive Committee will produce a thicker ETS doctrinal statement—say, the Nicene Creed or the Formula of Chalcedon for starters. But it is entirely imaginable that ETS will heroically retain its commitment to the accuracy of Scripture, while slowly conceding, one after another, evangelical and catholic commitments about what Scripture teaches.

Before the discussion of Pinnock at the November 2003 meeting, the chairman prayed that the Evangelical Theological Society would not act like Pharisees. I suspect that he was praying that God would preserve ETS from legalism, harshness, and rancor. In fact, his prayer turned out to be something of a cruel irony. Pharisees, after all, were not known only for their legalism. They were also known for their marvelous capacity to strain a gnat while swallowing a camel.
And then you have the Catholic Theological Society....[cough, cough].


While no one raises an eyebrow over John Travolta and Tom Cruise's promotion of Scientology, California courts have been dealing with an "officially secret 1993 agreement with the Internal Revenue Service," privileging no other religious group. A Jewish couple has sued for unequal treatment. I'll pity the Scientologists when I see them provide some public good, and not just another floozy pseudo-religion for the rich and famous. Where's the huge public outcry against institutional secrecy? Guess that's only fun when the target's the Catholic Church.

St. Alphonsus Liguori's Stations

Last night, I was able to make the Stations of the Cross (my first in a long while) over at St. John Cantius Church. It was beautifully old school, with a thick, healthy serving of self-flagellating sin spiel. We used St. Alphonsus Liguori's Way of the Cross, a standard Stabat Mater hymn, in a three-acolyte procession (crucifix flanked by two candle bearers).

Repeated in the responsorial: "Never let me offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will."

In each station, as I chanted those lines with the congregation, the tension between the Church and the Modern World could not be more strained within me. There is something eerily "cult-like" about people chanting like this, but it's everywhere in the secular world too when you think about it. The only difference is that at Cantius, I sense the mystery of Christ boldly displayed in its full objectivity.

In the Tenth Station: "Consider how Jesus was violently stripped of His clothes by His executioners. The inner garments adhered to his lacerated flesh and the soldiers tore them off so roughly that the skin came with them. Have pity for your Savior so cruelly treated and tell Him."

But the responsorial further develops this gruesome thought (which could have come right out of Mel's film): "by the torment You suffered in being stripped of Your garments, / help me to strip myself of all attachment for the things of earth."

We ended with a moving Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I hadn't done that in ages. As the priest, shrouded in a humeral veil, exposed the monstranced Host and blessed us, a ladies choir sang in Latin the "O Salutaris Hostia":
O Saving Victim opening wide
The gate of heaven to all below.
Our foes press on from every side;
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.

Amen. To Thy great name be endless praise
Immortal Godhead, One in Three;
Oh, grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with Thee.
We then sang in Latin the Tantum Ergo:
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
With the reposition of the Bl. Sacrament, we closed with the Divine Praises and the hymn "Adoremus in aeternum." Why the post-VC2 generation finds this type of prayer so complicated or difficult is really just beyond me. I found it to be the summit of simplicity. More importantly, it communicates the divine simplicity as sublime truth without any subjective, self-conscious shellacking. I think I'll keep attending, even if I am the only non-white.

Sports & spirituality

Quickly after starting my teaching career at an all-boys high school, I realized sports would have to be my prime analogy for theology. I posted this Scriptural verse on the wall:


On this theme, NY Times Magazine has a wonderful memoir on an old coach and on growing up. (from Amy Welborn) What's true on the baseball diamond is at least as true in the Church.

Friday, March 26, 2004

If only Bush could outsource votes

"Bush isn't so smart, showing off his economic program in Ohio. He should go to places where his plan really created employment. India, Thailand or China... " - Jay Leno

Another reason I'm skeptical of "Evangelicals & Catholics Together"

An evangelical campus administrator from Calvin College comments (in the tradition of Mark Noll) on the "spasm du jour" over TPOTC among evangelicals (from CT):

"But actually, evangelicals' unequivocal embrace of The Passion is the latest indicator of a long-standing evangelical shortcoming: we don't have a context for understanding art."

At least we're seeing more self-critique.

Real interfaith dialogue

I've grown increasingly skeptical of interfaith/ecumenical dialogues and statements. The unstated purpose is usually to change one party or the other to embrace inclusivity, diversity, multiculturalism, etc. But the logic of accomodation falls ever more flat in both secular and sacred circles today. I've always believed the most productive arena for interfaith engagement is in works of mercy and justice. Let's just shut up and get some work done, y'know?

I might reject the theology of a Mormon, but if there's work to be done building houses, I'll carry the other end of a 2x4 for him anyday. Seattle Post-Intelligence has a nice article on "Together We Build a World Community," which brings together Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Notre Dame religionists to build farmworker homes. Still, lurking in the background is the alluring rhetoric of "tolerance."

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Dr. Bond, hats off

A couple of us would always chuckle every time Prof. Gilbert Bond mentioned the Civil Rights Movement in his Theology of Reconciliation class, because it was impossible for him to not also name the Holy Spirit in the same sentence. He wanted to excise from our heads the history textbook idea that the CRM was just another progressive reform movement or even a precursor to the radical politics of the late '60s. He got us to exegete MLK and the forms of collective action the CRM used--all in order to confront us with one controversial fact: the Civil Rights Movement was above all a movement of the Holy Spirit through the Black Churches--a fact completely ignored or inconceiveable in our secularized myths. For this reason, CRM cannot be included in that hallowed category of "The Sixties," for it was not ultimately about "rights" at all, but about the raising up of our human nature which had been so thoroughly disfigured by racisim and sin; it was primally about Christian reconciliation. The gay marriage advocates today when they try to enlist former leaders of the CRM demonstrate how poorly they understand what the CRM was all about. And it has heartened me to see that some of those old leaders have publicly expressed discomfort over the cooptation of their legacy.

David Brooks (via reading David Chappell) in the NY Times wonders about what that legacy has to say to us as we debate over the "under God" clause in the Pledge:
If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right, you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force.

But the more interesting phenomenon limned in Chappell's book is this: King had a more accurate view of political realities than his more secular liberal allies because he could draw on biblical wisdom about human nature. Religion didn't just make civil rights leaders stronger -- it made them smarter.

Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible and commentaries on the Bible can be read as instructions about what human beings are like and how they are likely to behave. Moreover, this biblical wisdom is deeper and more accurate than the wisdom offered by the secular social sciences, which often treat human beings as soulless utility-maximizers, or as members of this or that demographic group or class.

Whether the topic is welfare, education, the regulation of biotechnology or even the war on terrorism, biblical wisdom may offer something that secular thinking does not -- not pat answers, but a way to think about things.

For example, it's been painful to watch thoroughly secularized Europeans try to grapple with Al Qaeda. The bombers declare, "You want life, and we want death" -- a (fanatical) religious statement par excellence. But thoroughly secularized listeners lack the mental equipment to even begin to understand that statement. They struggle desperately to convert Al Qaeda into a political phenomenon: the bombers must be expressing some grievance. This is the path to permanent bewilderment.

The lesson I draw from all this is that prayer should not be permitted in public schools, but maybe theology should be mandatory. Students should be introduced to the prophets, to the Old and New Testaments, to the Koran, to a few of the commentators who argue about these texts.

From this perspective, what gets recited in the pledge is the least important issue before us. Understanding what the phrase "one nation under God" might mean — that's the important thing. That's not proselytizing; it's citizenship.

Buddy Christ maker speaks

I loved Kevin Smith's "Buddy Christ" statue in "Dogma." He's quite open, if not also iconoclastic, about his Catholic faith. So I've been waiting to hear him say anything about TPOTC. Here it is, from an NY Times interview:

CURTIS: You made a controversial movie about Catholicism, "Dogma." What did you think about "The Passion of the Christ"?

SMITH: I haven't seen it yet. I think it's funny, though, that people bring it up and ask me, "What do you think of the controversy?" I'm like, "What controversy?" The dude made a movie about Jesus in a country that's largely Christian — a very traditional movie — and it's made over $200 million in two weeks. There ain't no controversy, people. That's a hit. They took one or two Jewish leaders in the beginning and said, "This may be construed as anti-Semitic," and then spun it into a must-see movie for hard-core Christians. You've got to go see it if you love Jesus. I wish to God I had thought to do that when I was making "Dogma."