Month: March 2010

Holy Week 2010 (from the Vatican)

“>Holy Week 2010

Way of the Cross 2010


So who’s read the most impressive books?

Hilarious! — The American Conservative‘s Austin Bramwell on the “Top Ten Most Influential Books” meme:

Earlier this month, Tyler Cowen posted the ten books that have influenced him the most, and “encourage[d] other bloggers” to do the same. Ross Douthat of the New York Times called Cowen’s invitation “irresistible,” which, judging by the number of bloggers who responded, it was. The Top Ten Influential Books Game gave bloggers easy material — namely, themselves — for a quick post. It also gave them a chance to prove that they are part of the club (that is, the club of influential bloggers).

Most importantly, Cowen’s Influential Books Game gave bloggers an excuse to promote themselves by composing lists designed to excite the maximum of reader admiration. Which is not to say that any lists were insincere: on the contrary, the top bloggers ended up sounding all very smart and thoughtful precisely because they really are just the sort of people whose lives were changed by reading Nietzsche. Still, as vehicles of self-promotion, some lists were better than others. To succeed, an Influential Books List needs to satisfy several competing criteria, namely: erudition (it should show how widely the blogger has read), plausibility (it should not claim that the blogger read Principia Mathematica at age 10), inventiveness (it should be unpredictable), freedom of thought or freedom from dogma (it should not unwittingly depict the blogger as an ideologue) and gumption (it should show that the blogger is unafraid to defend unpopular opinions).

Given these constraints, it is not surprising that bloggers generally agreed on what types of books should be included. I list them below. Who came up with the most impressive list? Let’s take a look!

"Stupak’s enablers?" — Edward Feser on the USCCB and health care reform

Pertinent to recent discussions of Stupak and the role of the USCCB in advancing the health care bill, he offers his reflections on Bart Stupak, the USCCB and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity:

… before the health care bill vote, the USCCB urged Congress either to alter the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion or to vote the bill down. (The USCCB also objected to the bill’s failure to extend coverage to illegal immigrants.) But the letter in which this request was made also emphasized that “for decades, the United States Catholic bishops have supported universal health care,” that “the Catholic Church teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential for human life and dignity,” and that it is only “with deep regret” that the bishops must oppose passage of the bill “unless these fundamental flaws are remedied” (emphasis added).

Needless to say, the impression these words leave the reader with – whether the bishops intended this or not – is that, were abortion (and coverage of illegal immigrants) not at issue, the moral teaching of the Catholic Church would require the passage of the health care bill in question, or something like it. In fact the teaching of the Church requires no such thing. Indeed, I would argue that while the Church’s teaching does not rule out in principle a significant federal role in providing health care, a bill like the one that has just passed would be very hard to justify in light of Catholic doctrine, even aside from the abortion question. Nevertheless, as I say, the bishops’ language would surely leave the average reader with the opposite impression. And as the bishops themselves remind us, they have “supported universal health care” for “decades,” in statements that also would leave the unwary average reader with the impression that Catholic moral teaching strictly requires as a matter of justice the passage some sort of federal health care legislation. On the day Obama signed the bill into law, Cardinal Francis George, a bishop with a reputation for orthodoxy, urged vigilance on the matter of abortion while declaring that “we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.” [Read the rest]

The Pope, the Church and Clergy Abuse – Two Roundups

The press of late has been dominated by coverage of the Church and the sexual abuse crisis. Much of this reporting has been sketchy on the facts and/or downright slanderous. Moreover, there is something in the conduct of many of the critics (secular and/or religious) that indicates they wish to exploit this tragedy to advance their vendetta against the Holy Father, whom they begrudge for other decisions of his pontificate. Following are links to two ongoing roundup of news and commentary.

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James K.A. Smith’s "fixation" with Francis Beckwith

In The Other Journal, James K.A. Smith reviews Francis Beckwith’s Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic and, predictably, and doesn’t like it. His complaint, in large part, is that Beckwith finds most appealing in Rome those aspects which engaged him as an Evangelical:

Beckwith’s project, then, is bent on justification. In particular, the book is largely written for evangelicals puzzled by such a move—though one can also hear Beckwith writing to himself, determined to convince himself, too, that despite his return to Rome he has not had to give up any of the core claims he affirmed as an evangelical. The basic gist of Beckwith’s defense is something like, “Don’t worry! I’m an evangelical Catholic.” Thus in his own little Retractationes in the opening chapter, Beckwith surveys some of his previous thinking (prior to his return to Rome) and concludes “there is nothing in these paragraphs I do not believe as a Catholic” (25). This becomes a persistent refrain throughout the book: he experiences no tension in thinking of himself “as both Evangelical and Catholic.”

In other words, in returning to the church of his baptism, Beckwith didn’t have to renounce any of his intellectual agenda up to that point. What that seems to amount to is proving that this former “Evangelical” culture warrior (the capital E gives that away) is not resigning his commission. The platform that occupied his labors as an Evangelical colonel in the culture wars—concern for “objective truth,” protecting the unborn, and a rabid defense of free markets—still drives him as a “Roman Catholic” culture warrior. In short, Rome’s not so far from Colorado Springs (or La Mirada) after all. What Beckwith gets in his return to Rome is evangelical plus: evangelical fixation on doctrine, fretting about relativism, affirming “objective” knowledge, and embracing a narrow political agenda plus tradition, the primacy of the Roman see, and liturgical adornment. The path to Rome was a straight shot for an evangelical like Beckwith because he doesn’t see any inconsistency in the core “beliefs” of Rome and evangelicalism (as articulated, for instance, in the Evangelical Theological Society’s doctrinal statement).

But is this because Beckwith has created Rome in his evangelical image? Whose Rome are we talking about here? Which Catholicism? Rome is no monolith—that picture itself is a Protestant myth. Catholicism is chameleon and we constitute, to some extent, our own Romes. Even those who convert to Roman Catholicism, especially North American academics, are always, to some extent, joining the proverbial “church of your choice.”

Beckwith has returned to the Rome of his evangelical dreams: a pure, pristine defender of truth, justice, and—not so surprisingly—the American way. No wonder, then, that he sees no tension between being “both Evangelical and Catholic.” His is an Evangelical Rome.

So what is highlighted in a former Evangelical’s personal account of his journey to Rome are those aspects and emphases of the Catholic faith which appeal to him as an Evangelical. Well, imagine that.

But is it really so surprising to find that the Catholic Church is as accommodating of our various spiritual and intellectual dispositions as it is large? I’m reminded of my own spiritual journey. Leaning a little left-of-center in the 90’s, I moved from Tolstoy’s ‘Christian Anarchy’ to Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, impressed by her discovery within the Church room for her own anarchism, pacifism and political activism . . . “plus tradition, the primacy of the Roman see, and liturgical adornment.”

Consider his feeble attempt to pit Beckwith against the Pope:

After reading Moreland a passage from an unnamed author who affirms that “the question about truth is the essential question of the Christian faith as such, and in that sense it inevitably has to do with philosophy,” Beckwith asks his colleague: “Guess who wrote this?” After Moreland reels off some favorite Protestant philosophers, Beckwith plays his gotcha: “It’s the Pope!” “He’s one of us!” Moreland replied in exuberance (78).

On a more macro scale, Beckwith’s Rome is evangelicalism by other means; that is, his is an intellectualized Catholicism—Rome as the home of the true set of Christian propositions or what Beckwith is wont to call “a Christian worldview.” Thus, he criticizes the Catholic teachers of his youth who “spoke of Catholicism as ‘our tradition’ rather than as a cluster of beliefs that were true” (36). The Rome to which he has returned is, ironically, the matrix of Christianity as an intellectual system—“ironically” because Cardinal Ratzinger (just a few weeks before becoming Pope Benedict XVI) has explicitly said that “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is instead,” Ratzinger emphasized, “an encounter, a love story; it is an event.”

Well, yes — and Beckwith would agree. At the same time, one would be hard-pressed to find one more “fixated” on doctrinal truth than our present Pope, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — who, I seem to recall, also expressed his own concerns about “relativism’, and is acutely concerned about the evils wrought when our human projects are divorced from truth.

Professor Smith’s beef doesn’t seem to be with Beckwith so much as Beckwith’s own “fixation with truth.” (I can imagine worse traits). And what passes here for a “book review” tells us more about Smith than it does about anyone else. As he admits:

[I]f I ever make the plunge, as I’m sometimes wont to do, I’m swimming across to that corner of Rome populated with cafes where “bad” Catholics like Graham Greene and Oscar Wilde rail against the formation that nonetheless fuels their imaginations. Beckwith returns to an intellectualized Rome, fixated on truth. I find it hard to share this evangelical concern (that probably makes me a “bad” evangelical). Instead, I find myself tempted by Rome’s fictions.

Francis Beckwith responds (and here as well):

Perhaps, given my own journey and academic life, I should by now have grown accustomed to the scores of insults that have been hurled at me since my return to the Church. But the insults do not usually come from those, like Professor Smith, who pretend to be the lone virtuous custodian of Christianity’s lost liturgical kernel. Since becoming a Catholic, I have a better sense of my own smallness. I know that if I died tomorrow, the Church would go on just fine without me. I would not, and should not, be missed. But if Professor Smith were to vanish from this mortal realm, the postmodern, liturgically aware, emergent, anti-modernist, radical orthodoxy Reformed Protestant movement will have lost one third of its intellectual firepower.

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Assessing the damage done

  • Republicans and ObamaCare (Wall Street Journal March 23, 2010):

    A new President nearly always gets what he wants on his top legislative priority, especially when he has such big majorities in Congress to work with. Republicans nonetheless managed to keep their Members together, turn public opinion against the bill despite nearly unanimous media support for it, and in the end came a few votes short. They would have won if Mr. Obama and Nancy Pelosi hadn’t been so willing to put so many of their Members at risk by pushing a partisan program and flouting normal Congressional rules.

    The GOP’s goal now should first be to remove some of the uglier parts of the bill in Senate reconciliation. Then they need to focus on taking back as many seats as possible this fall. Rather than publicly crowing that ObamaCare will deliver them the House—a hard task and a risky expectations game—they’d do better to concentrate on continuing to educate the public about what ObamaCare is going to do to insurance premiums, federal deficits, taxes and the quality of medical care.

    Many Republicans are already calling for “repeal” of ObamaCare, and that’s fine with us, though they should also be honest with voters about the prospects. The GOP can’t repeal anything as long as Mr. Obama is President, even if they take back Congress in November. That will take two large electoral victories in a row. What they can do now is take credit for fighting on principle, hold Democrats accountable for their votes and the consequences, and pledge if elected in November to stop cold Mr. Obama’s march to ever-larger government.

  • Pro-life Democrats, R.I.P., by Wiliam McGurn. (Wall Street Journal):

    … few accept the idea that the executive order really adds anything. In fact, on this point National Right to Life, the Catholic bishops and the Susan B. Anthony List are largely on the same page as Planned Parenthood. As are the pro-life Republican leader Mr. Smith and the pro-choice Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado.

    Planned Parenthood calls it a “symbolic gesture,” and says “it is critically important to note that it does not include the Stupak abortion ban.” Rep. DeGette, who screamed so loudly when the Stupak amendment passed, said she had no problem with the executive order because “it doesn’t change anything.” She’s right, because an executive order cannot change the law.

    Take the $7 billion in new federal funding for the community health centers. As my former White House colleague Yuval Levin points out, all that has to happen for these federal dollars to start flowing for abortion is for NARAL Pro-Choice America to sponsor a woman demanding an abortion. The center will initially deny funding, citing the executive order. The woman will then sue, arguing that abortion is a part of health care. Given the legal precedents, and the lack a specific ban in the actual legislation, the courts will likely agree.

    That is part of what makes the consequences of Mr. Stupak’s surrender so far reaching. Not only has he opened the door to this kind of mischief, he has encouraged those who want to get rid of the Hyde amendment itself, which for decades has prevented federal funds from paying for abortions.

Dorothy Day, Personalism and Health Care Reform (Faith, Fiction and Flannery March 22, 2010):

… Recently, a friend relayed a story of a visit to the doctors office with her daughter. I think it gets to the heart of the problem of health care today. My friend, Suzanne, took her daughter in for a check-up and while she was there, Suzanne asked the doctor to take a quick look at something on her arm. She was sure it was nothing, but asked anyway. The doctor told her to make an appointment with his secretary.