It is the feast of my patron Joseph of Arimathea, and I find it fitting today to refer you to the profound words that Proph has offered us on the Orthosphere: “Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence and being”:
Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:
Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …
The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred.
Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:
Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.
60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.
My grad. school flatmate categorized a particular species of irreverence as the Dave Barry approach to the world. Its fault lies not in stupidity—Barry and his kind tend to be rather clever—but in its nonchalant dismissal of the world as absurd. The Barryist rightfully points out human follies but then stops, judging that the world does not make sense and concluding that all we can do is smugly laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
In contrast, the “angry atheist” stands a chance of coming to the truth because he wrestles with the question of meaning. Nihilism bothers him. He cares. Oddly, he is reverent in his rejection of God—reverent to being as he understands it and rejecting particular conceptions of the divine as unjust or contradictory.
The Barryist may be fun to have around, but I could never be his friend. The angry atheist, on the other hand, is much more akin to my soul.
Yesterday, I mentioned Auster’s post, “The afterlife and Christ,” wherein Auster refers to a View from the Right entry from three years ago—“The Gospels: too embarrassing to be fiction”—that concerns Frank Turek’s argument for trusting the scriptural accounts of Jesus. I remember reading the post, but I do not think that I commented on it before. It is good. Here is an excerpt by Turek:
If men were inventing the resurrection story, it would go more like this:
Jesus came to save the world, and he needed our help. That’s why we were there for him every step of the way. When he was in need, we prayed with him. When he wept, we wept with him (and told him to toughen up!). When he fell, we carried his cross. The gates of Hell could not prevent us from seeing his mission through!
So when that turncoat Judas brought the Romans by (we always suspected Judas), and they began to nail Jesus to the cross, we laughed at them. “He’s God you idiots! The grave will never keep him! You think you’re solving a problem, but you’re really creating a much bigger one!”
While we assured the women that everything would turn out all right, they couldn’t handle the crucifixion. Squeamish and afraid, they ran to their homes screaming and hid behind locked doors.
But we men stood steadfast at the foot of the cross, praying for hours until the very end. When Jesus finally took his last breath and the Roman Centurion confessed that Jesus was God, Peter blasted him, “That’s what we told you before you nailed him up there!” (Through this whole thing, the Romans and the Jews just wouldn’t listen!)
Never doubting that Jesus would rise on the third day, Peter announced to the Centurion, “We’ll bury him and be back on Sunday. Now go tell Pilate to put some of your ‘elite’ Roman guards at the tomb to see if you can prevent him from rising from the dead!” We all laughed and began to dream about Sunday.
That Sunday morning we marched right down to the tomb and tossed those elite Roman guards aside. Then the stone (that took eleven us to roll into place) rolled away by itself. A glowing Jesus emerged from tomb, and said, “I knew you’d come! My mission is accomplished.” He praised Peter for his brave leadership and congratulated us on our great faith. Then we went home and comforted the trembling women.
Turek’s article and Auster and his readers’ comments will surely bring a smile to your face.
At The Orthosphere, Kristor has posted an interesting reflection on faith: “Faith Is Not Work.” I recommend it along with the comments thread.
I think that Kristor’s account leaves out what my own experience entailed. When I wandered for years in agnosticism, it was not because of willful unbelief. Far from it! Moreover, my exile did not result from a lack of spiritual awareness of God, which I had had for as long as I could remember. Rather, I became fixated on certain problems that I had encountered during my education, which became my focus. In my post “The Faculty of Faith,” I mentioned Strauss’ philosophical-religious dilemma in his “Progress or Return.” Strauss’ impasse along with Nietzsche’s attack on religion and realism captured and held my spiritual focus for many years. During that period, I did not unlearn what I knew. I did not change allegiance. I simply became captivated with particular questions, and I did not attend to other truths of which I was once well aware.
Men are limited, and, as the Jedi say, one’s focus determines his reality. Fellow Cincinnatian Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the scientific enterprise in the West has not been one of pure progress but rather of shifting paradigms where men seek out answers to different sets of questions. Old lessons are forgotten when they are no longer useful for—or when they complicate—finding solutions to popular problems of the age. As such, natural philosophy is not comprehensive but ever specialized in addressing particular aspects of the world and of our experience of the world. I suspect that individual seekers of truth function in the same way. We set our gaze in a certain direction, and it is difficult or impossible to attend to everything that is not our current object.
I think that this quality of the human mind and of its quest for truth explains the widespread spiritual alientation of modern intellectuals. Their minds have been trained to sniff out mechanistic relations among particular beings in time and space. Entire lifetimes of genius are occupied with what Socrates calls the world of sights and sounds, though made academically respectable with formulae and accurate prediction. The best of our intellectual culture has become thoroughly earthy, and this does not even address the madness of the irrational movements in the humanities.
Kristor does write about the importance of proper intellectual formation and of preparing oneself to understand. I just wish to add that there are traps inherent in “faith seeking understanding” whereby one’s attention could be distracted for a long time in such a way that divine truth becomes inaccessible to the mortal mind.
On the Orthosphere, Roebuck continues his treatment of Mormonism about which I wrote last week in “Mormons and Jesus.” His latest post, “The Basic Case against Mormonism and Other Pseudo-Christianities,” defends the necessity of proper theology for the Christian life. I commented:
And some, seeing the bad state of current Christian culture, hold that traditional Christianity is largely a failure. These people want an institutional Christianity that appears culturally successful.
[This objection, unlike those above, is at least based on a true premise. Current Christian culture is in a deplorable state. But this is not a valid reason to contradict the teachings of Christ.]
Charlton makes this point repeatedly in condemning “mainstream” Christianity. Each time that he raises that point, I want to state, following the old saying, that the problem with Christianity is the Christians, while the problem with Mormonism is Mormonism. Charlton and like-minded individuals may respond that a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, but even a good tree with put forth some nasty crops if it is placed in a cellar with little light or if it is continually malnourished. I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Church, and I believe that the Orthodox Church is “the Church.” However, I readily admit the problems that exist among Orthodox Christians. The modern world is explicitly anti-Christian in so many ways, and its hostile, corrupting influence is a severe thorn in Christians’ sides. In the early centuries, the pagan world persecuted the Church, and the Church prevailed. Such is happening again. We often fail to remember all the compromises and the lukewarm folks who betrayed the faith in the early centuries, thinking only of the victorious martyrs. Yet, I wonder what the real numbers were. I assume that many Christians missed the mark in living out the gospel radically, but the Church eventually triumphed over idolatry and wickedness, as it will do so in the future. Every age has its peculiar temptations and occasions for apostasy, and I believe that the current age is the most insane, most depraved period in history. It should not surprise us, then, that so many of the faithful fail—and fail so miserably—at their vocations of discipleship. However, persecution also brings forth martyrs, and that bitter cup in the modern world teems with witnesses. In Orthodox lands, we have seen countless martyrs, confessors, and lifelong strugglers who lived and died for the Lord under the theomachist Communist regimes. In the West, consider the virtuous men and women who have held fast to the Good since the perfidy of modernity exposed its bloody jaws; from the patriots of la Vendée to today, there has been a strong minority of those who have maintained a view of heaven despite the clouds of modern confusion.
When Charlton points to Rome, the Orthodox, or confessional Protestants with a condemning finger due to the sorry state of their larger societies and of their nominal members, he errs in his sampling. When Mormons fail at being Mormon, they “leave the church” and become, well, Utahns (or the equivalent secular person elsewhere) due to the ostracism factor in Mormonism. That is a model of ecclesial discipline, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. And there are disadvantages—we are dealing with salvation here, and the stakes are quite high. Rome could increase its healthy piety stats if it took a different course, but such heavy handed discipline might jeopardize millions of souls by burning bridges on the Tiber, so to speak. Thus, grievous sinner O’Donnell continues to consider himself Catholic until his death, though he lives worse than a pagan. Yet, his continued affiliation with the Church remains for him a lifeline. The door remains open. What is the “recidivism” rate of Mormon defectors? Outside Mormon majority areas? I bet that Rome’s rates of return are much higher.
Besides, we are traditionalists, are we not? We are not soulless devotees of the latest fad in social science. We try to avoid tunnel vision, especially in only considering our own age. Charlton mentions fertility as an indicator of who is following the golden path. Right before the Great War, Russian Christians had one of the highest fertility rates in history. I recommend that you read “Young Russia: The Land of Unlimited Possibilities” from National Geographic in November, AD 1914. Ignorant of what future terrors awaited the empire, the writer predicted that Russia would have six hundred million people by the end of the twentieth century. However, a bloody revolution, a civil war, two world wars, including an invasion, generations of suffering under Communist tyranny and its consequent social and material depravity, and the influences of alien ideologies have reduced the fertility of Russian women to below replacement levels. Is this surprising? Are we really to blame Orthodox dogma and praxis for this? (Fortunately, that decline is starting to reverse!) Moreover, the same Churches that Charlton condemns provided centuries and centuries of healthy societies, thousands of saints, and, in summation, post-classical Western civilization! What has Mormonism given us besides good looking, clean cut blond families with a social ethic that would have been considered normal and unremarkable sixty years ago?
Everyone on this site pretty much agrees that contemporary society is mad. It is to be expected that Christians who live in this madness will be affected negatively, and we must implement and follow special survival strategies if we are to keep our good sense among the crazies. Forming and living within a counterrevolutionary subculture is one such strategy (the best option, in my opinion), and that is what the Mormons have done. The region of the country under their influence—from northern Arizona to Idaho—is a lovely land mostly populated by hearty WASPs descended from frontier stock. Their governors (their prophet and quorum of the twelve) live in this subculture and rule with its good in mind. However, if we formed a governing body from the men of any Christian group in this region, we would likely get some rather sensible people, too. I suppose that even the Episcopalians in Idaho are solid folks. Then, if these hypothetical rulers only made decisions with this subculture’s denizens in mind, they would probably come up with moral standards and social controlling decisions quite like the Mormons. Rome’s (or Russia’s or Germany’s vel alia) bishops do not have that luxury. Their flocks live in darker places, and the bishops have to keep them in mind and govern accordingly. Nonetheless, where there are counterrevolutionary subcultures among the papists (Society of Saint Pius X, for instance) or the Orthodox (say, ROCOR), you find even more sanity than what you see among the Mormons, just as traditional, healthy lifestyles and local communities are common among Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, traditionalist Lutherans, and so on. As the LDS move toward the mainstream and embrace accommodation for the larger society, they will become more like the Jones. Or, to be more precise, they will be like the Romneys and Huntsmans, only without the wealth, breeding, and industry of those elites. In other words, the average Mormon will resemble the average Methodist more and more. Of course, the Mormons’ wise men may switch course and refortify.
Rather than looking at such outward statistics, which is more a matter of how much one resists and sets oneself apart from the larger, godless culture (and such ghettoization comes with a cost), Charlton should ask where one can find Christ taught and glorified—where one finds truth, where one finds a path to holiness. In Greek jargon, we seek to unite ourselves with the Lord’s body and thus to become like God (theosis). Is that possible in the LDS? Roebuck argues no. The Church from the apostles to today has argued against heresies that resemble Mormonism in many ways (including Mohammedanism), and it seems reasonable to hearken unto such warnings.
Today is the March for Life. I intend to attend as much of it as possible, though I have other obligations that will disrupt my usual whole day dedication. May all the marchers be safe, and may the march achieve some good in their hearts and in the commonwealth.
Alan Roebuck has addressed Dr. Bruce Charlton’s recent apologetics for the Latter Day Saints on the Orthosphere: “Christian Salvation Is Not Visible to the Naked Eye.” Over the last month or so, Dr. Charlton has shown much approving interest in Joseph Smith’s children in his posts, and the Orthosphere’s resident Calvinist is not having any of it! I recommend Roebuck’s article and its comments, to which I contributed:
Mssrs. Roebuck and Jas, this is a broader problem of reference. Is the “Mormon Jesus” the same as Jesus? Is the intended object of any deficient understanding of the Christ the same as Jesus? It’s a similar question to whether the Islamic God is the same as the Christian God. I found Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics helpful in this matter [I wrote about this in “Can We Speak Truth without Knowing It?” ]. I remember reading a section on knowledge, opinion, and error, where the Philosopher uses the example of a geometrician’s and an ignorant man’s approach to the hypotenuse of a right angle. The geometer knows the Pythogorean relationship in such a triangle, whereas the ignorant man does not. As such, each man would understand the hypotenuse differently. In a way, they do not intend the same object. The object of the geometer is the real hypotenuse, while the object of the ignorant man is a faulty opinion. However, that faulty opinion does have some relationship to the real object. His poor understanding of the hypotenuse is not a skewed vision of the workers in the Agora, Athena, or Chuckles the cat. I find this helpful in the “Mormon Jesus” discussion. In a sense, Mormons refer to Jesus when they speak about Jesus, though their understanding of him is perverse, just as the Mujahideen refer to Jesus when they conceive of him as their prophet or as the hippies think of him as a proto-radical social revolutionary (Occupy Cardo Maximus!). The ultimate object of their mind is Jesus the Word, though their glass is murky, indeed. Whose isn’t?
Indeed, the Mohammedans are theologically closer to Christianity than the Mormons. For the Mohammedans understand God as the transcendent, ultimate source of being, whereas the Mormons revert to a pagan understanding of God as merely a god — another particular being like you or me who happens to be far more powerful and historically important in the formation and direction of this world (understood locally, not the cosmos).
So, are Mormons Christians? I’m fine with classifying them as heretical Christians, but I would say the same about Mohammedans, Creflo Dollar prosperity Protestants, Unitarians, Marxist atheists, Pentecostal holy rollers, gnostic Scientologists, and old school fire and brimstone Presbyterians — not to mention the Methodists (oh no, not the Methodists!). Their heresies are matters of degree, it seems, and I cannot see a non-arbitrary boundary of where to distinguish “heretical Christian” perversions of the Gospel from those that cease to be Christian.
A similar problem exists for orthodoxy. When does a false theologoumenon become a heretical opinion? I think that is why holding heretical beliefs does not make one a heretic. Rather, persisting in such rebellion when one is instructed otherwise by the Church is what makes one a heretic. Heresy then seems to be more a matter of ecclesiology than personal theological opinion. The demarcation of orthodoxy is the Church (and then where is the Church — does our quest ever end? But that would be thread-jacking!). I have a friend who likes to say that human beings are rational in the species, but not always (often?) in the individual. Similarly, proper theology is a concern for the Church — we cannot expect every pious Christian to understand, much less to articulate well, all the doctrines of the faith. However, such folks can be in the right ship, which has the proper sails, hull, and seamanship to get them through the turbulent waters.
This is perhaps why Charlton goes astray with the Mormons. As a disenchanted Anglican, whose fleet has long been lost at sea, he wants to revert to Lewis’ (another Anglican) “Mere Christianity,” hoping that simple personal piety will function as a lifesaver for one. Charlton notes that little of the daily life of piety has to do with correct theology, and he thus reckons that the Mormons, who appear quite pious in their own way, are good members of the Body of Christ. I would counter that theology (and philosophy) does have a “trickle down effect,” even to the most basic and thoughtless of daily activities. If Mormons exemplify healthy tendencies in living, it is because they hold good opinions about human nature. I wonder, however, if the transforming sanctity of a saint has ever occurred in a Mormon. Was there ever a Mormon Seraphim of Sarov or Francis of Assisi? I doubt it. Mormonism is a workable Christian heresy that has enough good sense to work for a society just as enlightened paganism has undergirt many fine civilizations. But the ocean is too big for a lifesaver to save us. I fear that Dr. Charlton comes close to the Grand Inquisitor’s reasoning in justifying a counterfeit Christ because such works well enough for the masses who cannot hope for theosis.
Again, I wish my fellow marchers a fine day. Stay warm, and please pray and work for justice (true justice, that is!).
I wish you a merry feast of Saint Nicholas!
In the spirit of the saint is a lovely account about charity in The Detroit News: “Most Holy Trinity Christmas Party crosses religious lines to help kids in need.” Read about the Ecclesiatical Shakedown Society and smile at a very American Christmas story.
And may your holidays be bright!
Happy Ascension Day to my Orthodox readers!
Among those who celebrate today are the Russkies, who have had quite a spring. Last month, thousands of Russians came out to support the Russian Orthodox Church in a massive rally in Moscow. In Forbes, Mark Adomanis registers his dismay at the retrograde Russians: “Tens of Thousands Protest in Moscow in Support of the Orthodox Church - Illiberalism Is Alive and Well in Russia.” I agree with Adomanis that illiberalism is so alive and well in the Russian heart, but I rather find that to be a hopeful sign and a cause for rejoicing.
In case you have not heard, a punk rock group named “Pussy Riot” performed (without permission, obviously) songs on the ambo of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. They were arrested, and a controversy about what they deserve has since erupted in Russia.
Adomanis notes how the Western media have unanimously sympathized with the poor Pussy Rioters, and he joins them:
Just in case anyone doubts where my sympathies lie, let me state unequivocally that, in this instance, the Orthodox Church has acted disgracefully, that Pussy Riot ought to be freed immediately, and that the ‘hooliganism’ section of the criminal code should be modified to make it crystal clear that purely political speech of the sort in which Pussy Riot engaged can never be the basis of a formal charge.
Even, it seems, if free speech involves commandeering another institution’s building without any respect for that institutions’ rules. I wonder if Mr. Adomanis would favor political signs lettered with bacon strips hung on mosques.
But it seems basically impossible to ignore the sharply anti-liberal tinge of the crowd on Sunday and the movement which it represents. Viewed from one perspective, 60 odd thousand people marched in favor of blasphemy laws in the largest and most liberal city in the country. Blasphemy! It is rather hard to square the narrative about a slowly emerging liberal-democratic majority in Russia with what happened this past Sunday. . . . As should be clear from public attitudes about Pussy Riot, which is about as cut and dry a case of freedom of expression as you’re ever going to see, stridently, almost violently, anti-liberal opinions are still incredibly common in Russia. These attitudes are not simply the cruel inventions of the Kremlin or the imaginary artifice of Vladimir Putin: they are the honestly felt positions of many millions of people. It is absolutely possible to change this for the better, Russian society as a whole is certainly more ‘liberal’ than it was 15 years ago, but this cannot be done in one fell swoop, either through holding an election or through replacing a particularly bad politician. Indeed, as I’ve repeatedly said, it is fully possible that a more democratic Russia would be a less liberal one.
Adomanis is Harvard and Oxford educated. As a Greek, he is probably from an Orthodox background. This educated young man, perhaps an apostate, finds it remarkable that people care about the public sanctity of their religion.
I wish everyone a thoughtful Armistice Day. Civilizational decline is a long process, but the First World War seems a particularly noticeable symbol of the West’s suicidal tendencies.
However, rebirth is a central idea in Christendom. The Christians adopted the pagan phoenix, the bird reborn from its holocaust, as a symbol of Christ. There is always hope for redemption and renewal for us. As such, I wish to offer a fitting video for the day. At the time of the Great War, Satanic wickedness ascended to power in Russia, and the Communists declared war on God’s people. The video below begins with early footage of this demonic behavior. However, no matter how carefully the Old Guard treats the corpse, Lenin slowly rots in his pagan tomb while the Church has blossomed forth again in Russia. Glory be to God!
My only complaint about the video is its outrageous soundtrack. At first, the background music is some bizarre mixture of liturgical singing with New Age Enya-esque synthesizing. Then, the music morphs into a 1980’s style heavy metal guitar screed that supposedly represents the climactic triumph of the Cross, which is wildly inappropriate. It is a reminder how fidelity to tradition keeps us from traveling down the same path as the Latins, with their Simon and Garfunkel “Sound of Silence” hymns, “corn god” crucifixes, and icons of Gandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. If you let anything go, poor taste and confusing liturgical corruptions would infect the Church. I imagine that the video maker, or at least the person who did the sound, could not have been older than twenty-five years and was probably a new convert from a secular family. The Lord gladly accepts the widow’s mite; so, perhaps I should not be so critical. Anyway, aside from Axl Rose’s interpretation of the One Hundred and Forty-Fifth Psalm (146 for the Wessies), the clip is worth seeing.
Хвали, душе моя, Господа. Восхвалю Господа в животе моем, пою Богу моему, дондеже есмь. Не надейтеся на князи, на сыны человеческия, в них же несть спасения. Изыдет дух его, и возвратится в землю свою: в той день погибнут вся помышления его. Блажен, ему же Бог Иаковль помощник его, упование его на Господа Бога своего. Сотворшаго небо и землю, море и вся, яже в них. Хранящаго истину в век, творящаго суд обидимым, дающаго пищу алчущим. Господь решит окованныя, Господь умудряет слепцы. Господь возводит низверженныя, Господь любит праведники. Господь хранит пришельцы, сира и вдову приимет, и путь грешных погубит. Воцарится Господь во век, Бог твой, Сионе, в род и род.
Happy birthday to my brother, Aaron!
As Aarons labors in the papio-educational complex, it is fitting for today that I offer Fr. Z.‘s insightful comments on Samuel Gregg’s recent article about il papa, “Benedict XVI: In No One’s Shadow.” Gregg writes:
Christianity, Benedict argued at Regensburg, integrated Biblical faith, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, thereby creating the “foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.” This suggests that any weakening of this integration of faith and reason would mean the West would start losing its distinctive identity. In short, a West without a Christianity that integrates faith and reason is no longer the West.
Today, Benedict added, we see what happens when faith and reason are torn asunder. Reason is reduced to scientism and ideologies of progress, thereby rending reasoned discussion of anything beyond the empirical impossible. Faith dissolves into sentimental humanitarianism, an equally inadequate basis for rational reflection. Neither of these emaciated facsimiles of their originals can provide any coherent response to the great questions pondered by every human being: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?”
So what’s the way back? To Benedict’s mind, it involves affirming that what he recently called creative reason lies at the origin of everything.
Fr. Z. notes [in bold]:
Of course none of this fits into sound-bites. “Pope Attacks Pathologies of Faith and Reason!” is unlikely to be a newspaper headline anytime soon. [But it has in the blogosphere. Thanks, Mr. Gregg.] That, however, doesn’t nullify the accuracy of Benedict’s analysis. It just makes communicating it difficult in a world of diminished attention-spans and inclined to believe it has nothing to learn from history. [Again, as part of my own liturgical reflection, I note that we are dominated by distraction,and at the root of that distraction is timor mortis, which Augustine calls our hiems cotidiana. The focus on the Cross is what cracks that distraction and brings us into touch with the mystery which both terrifies and attracts. If liturgical worship doesn’t accomplish this over time, it has failed.]
Gregg’s article appears in The American Spectator—surprising material for a political rag.
Happy Bright Friday! Christ is risen!
Touchstone Magazine posted an interesting interview of Hadley Arkes by Marcia Segelstein: “Courage & Conversion.” In the interview, the professor talks about natural law, the wayward tendencies of man, and his teacher, Leo Strauss. Unlike many of Strauss’ disciples, Arkes has chosen a more religious form of return, and he answers Segelstein’s questions about his conversion to Christianity:
MS: In the column you wrote the day after you were received into the Catholic Church, you talked about courage. As a Jew, did it take a unique kind of courage to become a Christian?
HA: I went on to explain in those comments that I did not see myself as abandoning the Jewish people.
MS: But as a Jew, was it harder?
HA: Theologically I don’t think it was. As Michael Novak [his sponsor] said, “When you’re Catholic, you’re at least Jewish.” Everything in the New Testament is predicated on the Old. As part of the Creed, we accept the prophets: “God spoke through the prophets.” It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I asked my wife how many people sitting in a synagogue in Amherst believe that God made a covenant with Abraham. And she said, “Actually believe it? Probably a third.” And I said that every serious Catholic I know does. So on one level it may not be as difficult as people suppose.
But on the level of family, it is quite difficult. I know that my parents could not have understood this. I loved my grandparents very much and I have a sense that a decision like this would have been very hurtful to them, maybe because they wouldn’t have understood it. For the most part, my family around me has been understanding and sympathetic.
Certain members of the family see it as a defection. And this is really very strange because some scoff at religion and profess to be atheists. How is it that a Jewish atheist is not thought to have left the Jewish people, but the Jewish Catholic has? Here I am affirming the God of Israel and his laws. The Jewish atheist rejects them. So which one of us is leaving the Jewish people? I’m certainly not defecting from the Jewish people and I’m certainly not even defecting from Judaism because I think Judaism is carried over into the Church. I haven’t felt less Jewish being in the Church. I think I learn more about the Jewish traditions every day at Mass.
Religious rabbinical Judaism is not dead in America, but it is ailing. It is not therefore surprising that so many of that community’s pious and wise are converting to Christianity. Not since the first century of the Great Commission have Christians been so positively focused on the rabbinical community, and their recent openness, interest, and charitable disposition toward the children of Jacob have likely made the journey easier. I suspect that most rabbinical Jews still consider Christianity through tribal lenses rather than theological ones. Such explains the reactions of Arkes’ family members and much else. Alexandrine Judaism, with its philosophical and theological emphases, readily accepted the Gospel. The rabbinical tradition, reactive against the Greco-Roman world, refused the universal messianic message as part and parcel of filthy goy corruption. Secular atheists of Hebraic lineage may appear far removed from the spirit of Jabneh, but they retain that ancient mindset, though ridiculously inconsistently. Men are always somewhat arbitrary and moved by matters of convenience when they apply their principles, especially when justifying their stance toward allies and enemies.