Friday, April 27, 2007

Anti-Catholic "bigotry"? Puh-leaze

Though the last post may draw little comment, maybe this one will. A Philadelphia Inquirer cartoon has drawn blood from those who claim a great anti-Catholic conspiracy (for an example, click here). Few have failed to note that the five-vote majority that upheld partial-birth abortion ban was made up of the court's five Catholics. And, surprise, some are suggesting that it was Catholic morality rather than legal logic that won the day.

That's hardly anti-Catholic bigotry, anymore than pointing out the influence evangelicals have in the current administration is anti-evangelical bigotry. There may be truth in both critiques. I don't doubt that at least some of those five were looking for a legal argument that might allow them uphold the ban. I don't see anything wrong with that, so long as the legal reasoning itself was sound. (That I'll leave to the jurists to decide, but for all the victory banner-waving among pro-lifers, this decision will not prevent a single abortion. Not one.)

But cut the whining! If we want Catholicism in the public square, that means Catholic people and ideas have to take their lumps like everyone else in the media. Roman Catholicism is by far the largest denominational group in the U.S. at about 70 million, nearly as many as the 75 or so million evangelicals of various denominations. Catholics and evangelicals voting together is a force to be reckoned with. We're hardly an oppressed minority. And there are people who have legitimate fears about what that kind of political power might mean for actual minorities. Gays and lesbians, for example, continue to feel the sharp side of Catholic politicians' tongues (Sen. Brownback, anyone?). And Catholic schools and other institutions continue to clamor for public dollars. And that's not to mention the majority of people, like it or not, who think that women should have access to abortion, especially early in pregnancy.


Physicist and prophet

After being a really bad blogger for the past week--I've got excuses but who wants to hear them?--I'm more inspired by a non-religious story: Physicist Stephen Hawking's zero-g flight yesterday in Florida. Though almost completely physically incapacitated by Lou Gehrig's disease, his mind knows no boundaries. His zero-g trip was an encouragement to humanity to keep heading spaceward.

Seems a lot more interesting than fighting over the dwindling resources of our poor planet.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A hard right from Ratzinger?

An Associated Press commentary is alleging that Pope B16 is starting the church on a new rightward course as the third year of his papacy opens up. Citing his strong opposition to any recognition for unmarried couples in Italy, his refusal to relax clerical celibacy, and the recent censure of liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, writer Victor Simpson argues that "Pope Benedict XVI is hardening into the kind of pontiff that liberals feared and conservatives hoped for."

Though I was not among those dancing in the streets when Ratzinger was made pope, I do have to admit to being somewhat more positive lately. It's true the Benedict hasn't budged on button issues like homosexuality and ordination, but that's hardly a surprise. No one expected him to. There is no doubt that he has disappointed many--those looking for a reform of ordination and gay and lesbian Catholics in particularly don't have much to celebrate--but he hasn't been as heavy-handed as he might have been. In fact, like John XXIII before him, I think his hands may be at least encumbered (if not tied) but the Curia that surrounds him, which is the true church body that needs reform--or outright elimination--with rare exception.

Take the notification on Jon Sobrino: Though it raises issues with Sobrino's understanding of the relationship between Jesus' divinity and humanity, it doesn't require his works to be withdrawn, doesn't explicitly discourage Catholics from reading his works, and doesn't forbid Sobrino from teaching. As a Jesuit, Sobrino could have been more strongly pressured, yet he refused to sign the notification, arguing, as many have, that the process is biased and unjust. Yet there has been no further action taken against him. Besides, there can be no doubt that the fundamental principles of liberation theology--the option for the poor, the demands of solidarity, and so forth--have been accepted by a large and growing segment of the people of God.

It may be true that many hoped for a more liberal pope, but that outcome was incredibly unlikely given that Pope John Paul II had chosen nearly all the electors--and he was no liberal. Those cardinals definitely went with a "stay the course" candidate, which many would argue is not what the church needs right now. At the same time, Benedict has already surprised many with his more pastoral papacy, and he may have something more up his cassock sleeve.

Time will tell.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Can't we all just get along?

A comment from Kristin (thanks, by the way, for your frequent and thoughtful comments) deserves, well, comment:

"Did you read Fr. Ronald Rolheiser's (your colleague over at US Catholic) article "Knock it off" regarding the vices and virtues of both liberal and conservative Catholics. I found it rather interesting---(I blogged on it if you want to read my complete thoughts). Was wondering your thoughts: Do you think there is a way liberals and conservatives can find common ground?" You will find another interesting post on the same interview here.

First off, everyone should check out Kristin's great post on the topic. Just a note of clarification, though: Father Ron Rohlheiser, OMI, isn't on the staff of U.S. Catholic but was just interviewed by the magazine. He's actually president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, and a syndicated columnist whose articles appear in quite a few diocesan newspapers. At the end of the interview you'll find two columns, "Three things for liberals to ponder" and "Three things for conservatives to ponder," which will give you a flavor for his writing.

My own response, as someone who approaches these issues from the left as it were, is simply that not only can conservatives and liberals find common ground, but that we must, and that there is a lot at stake if we don't. The weight of the world, and not just in the West, is leaning hard against the gospel. Consumer culture is incredibly powerful, and I think both liberal and conservative Catholics share the conviction that there's more to life than buying and selling, than youth and beauty, and, more importantly, that the gospel has the power to transform the world.

In fact, on the issues I would call "matters of faith"--the Creed, the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, the sacraments, the divine institution of the church, the canon of scripture, the role of Mary and the saints, the church's moral teaching in general (granting some areas of dispute) including its social teaching, the many forms of Catholic spirituality, the list goes on--there is not only general agreement but unanimity. The issue is usually a matter of emphasis.

As for those "disputed questions," my only point has been, and continues to be, that there have always been issues of dispute, that the church's understanding of revelation can and does develop and change, and that dispute, disagreement, and even dissent are part of that process. As a rule, I don't disagree that many "conservative" positions are legitimate positions within the Catholic tradition, only that they are not the only legitimate positions possible within the Catholic tradition.

One question I think all of us--liberal and conservative--might ask ourselves about our own "issues": Does my faith stand or fall on issues that aren't central to Catholicism?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crown prince of the church?

Pope B16 just named Bertone as camerlengo--the guy who takes care of all the papal funeral arrangements, according to the International Herald Tribune. First the pope names Bertone Secretary of State, and now this: Is someone already laying the groundwork for his predecessor? Let's hope not.

Of course, papal conclaves have proven resistant to papal planning--except for this last one? Still, it is widely claimed that Bertone was the real theological hammer at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he was secretary under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, a claim I find a little hard to believe, though it's true that Papa Ratzi has so far largely disappointed the most conservative Catholics. If Bertone was the hammer, Ratzinger was certainly the one driving the nails. I'd bet Bertone would probably be even more theologically conservative than the current pope. Of course, I'm the one who picked this rather grim-looking picture, so don't go by the visuals.

Of course, I think Papa Ratzi has at least another 10 years in him--a little to early yet for papal prognostication.

Vicar of Christ on Christ

April 16 will see the Italian release of the pope's long-promised volume on Jesus. Sneak peaks of Jesus of Nazareth, to be eventually published in English by Doubleday, perhaps surprisingly reveals some social justice themes. According to ABC News Benedict is especially critical of Western colonialism, which "plundered and sacked" Africa and stripped its people of their traditional culture and values. Wish he could recognize liberation theology as a legitimate theological response to that injustice...

Looks like it may be worth the read. Wish they could have come up with a better cover though. I mean really, does every papal book have to feature gold and white on the cover?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Talk about insulting God

Since Bill Donohue of the Catholic League was so immensely successful at preventing "My Sweet Lord," aka Chocolate Jesus, from showing up in a New York art gallery, I'd like to suggest two other targets.

The first is the 16th (!!!) and allegedly final installment of the Left Behind series, which has got to be the most verbose insult to God ever perpetrated by any human being, believer or non-believer. Left Behind authors and evangelicals Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins claim to have based their thousands of pages on the Book of Revelation (which has only 20 or so chapters), though I think most of the verbiage is the product of a disturbingly punitive and violent religious imagination. In the 15th book, Glorious Appearing, after years of the usual plagues, Jesus finally shows up looking like Jesse Ventura in full wrestling drag to drown the army of the Antichrist in rivers of their own blood (and their horses blood); he evidently didn't finish the job though, because this final book, Kingdom Come, features ongoing battles between the forces of Satan and the Tribulation Force--the good guys who didn't get Raptured out but made up for it by becoming terrorists for Jesus. Really. You can read all about it in this LA Times piece.

Dudes, have you ever heard of metaphor? Unfortunately, there's something like 40 million copies of the series in print, which means we'll never get rid of them. Burning them, which as a rule I'm against, would only contribute to global warming.

Second, the new Hilary Swank flick, The Reaping, tries to do visually what Left Behind does in clunky prose, except with the Exodus plagues. Once again, the Great Heavenly Punisher turns rivers to blood, plagues a town with locusts, kills the firstborn etc., as our heroine tries to figure out what she's supposed to do to turn Him off. Either that, or a demon girl is doing it.

Both in time for Easter. And I'm sure those publicists actually knew that it was Easter.

Now, you've got to feel bad for God in all this. How would you like it if someone kept making movies about you, only loosely based on discredited interpretations of ancient texts, depicting you as a bloodthirsty monster, hungry to punish wayward humans with grotesque and bizarre natural phenomena?

Who will speak up for God? Or deep down do we really think that's how God is? I think that's what scares me the most.