Competing Magisteriums

Thursday, April 29, 2010 \PM\.\Thu\.

I give an incredulous salute to the liberal Commonweal for publishing a magnificent column by Kenneth Woodward where he discusses the New York Times Magisterium:

No question, the Times’s worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But that is not unusual with newspapers. What makes the Times unique—and what any Catholic bishop ought to understand—is that it is not just the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church. And the church it most resembles in size, organization, internal culture, and international reach is the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the Church of Rome, the Times is a global organization. Even in these reduced economic times, the newspaper’s international network of news bureaus rivals the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The difference is that Times bureau chiefs are better paid and, in most capitals, more influential. A report from a papal nuncio ends up in a Vatican dossier, but a report from a Times correspondent is published around the world, often with immediate repercussions. With the advent of the Internet, stories from the Times can become other outlets’ news in an ever-ramifying process of global cycling and recycling. That, of course, is exactly what happened with the Times piece on Fr. Murphy, the deceased Wisconsin child molester. The pope speaks twice a year urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world), but the Times does that every day.

Again like the Church of Rome, the Times exercises a powerful magisterium or teaching authority through its editorial board. There is no issue, local or global, on which these (usually anonymous) writers do not pronounce with a papal-like editorial “we.” Like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the editorial board is there to defend received truth as well as advance the paper’s political, social, and cultural agendas. One can no more imagine a Times editorial opposing any form of abortion—to take just one of that magisterium’s articles of faith—than imagine a papal encyclical in favor.

The Times, of course, does not claim to speak infallibly in its judgments on current events. (Neither does the pope.) But to the truly orthodox believers in the Times, its editorials carry the burden of liberal holy writ. As the paper’s first and most acute public editor, Daniel Okrent, once put it, the editorial page is “so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.” Okrent’s now famous column was published in 2004 under the headline “Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” and I will cite Okrent more than once because he, too, reached repeatedly for religious metaphors to describe the ambient culture of the paper.

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Using Religion To Defend Slavery

Friday, April 16, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

My second post using clips from the Birth of Freedom video produced by the Acton Institute.  As historian Susan Wise Bauer, justly popular in home schooling circles for her superb The History of the Ancient World  and The History of the Medieval World, indicates in the video above, defenses of slavery based upon the Bible often confused descriptive passages of the Bible, written in ages where slavery was as common as complex machines are in ours, with prescriptive commands that slavery was right and just.   Additionally, defenders of slavery using the Bible did not work out fully the logical implications of their position.  For example, if Saint Paul’s comments regarding slavery meant that slavery was just, would absolute monarchies also be just based upon Paul’s statements to obey the authority of the Roman Empire?   If slavery was good based upon Saint Paul’s statements, did that mean that enslavement of whites was good since the vast majority of slaves Saint Paul would have had contact with would have been white?  Using the Bible to defend slavery leads to endless questions of this type as the abolitionists at the time pointed out.

Perhaps one of the more elaborate defenses of slavery using religion was that of Richard Furman in a letter to the Governor of South Carolina, John Lyde Wilson, in 1822.  A Baptist pastor, Furman was born in Esopus, New York in 1755.  A preacher of unusual power, he was appointed as the Baptist pastor of the High Hills of Santee Baptist Church in South Carolina at the age of 19.  An ardent patriot during the Revolution, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston in 1787.

A strong believer in education, he founded literary societies, academies, literacy campaigns and local Bible and tract societies.  With his leadership, Baptists in South Carolina founded Columbian College in 1821, now known as George Washington University.

Furman began his career viewing slavery as an undoubted evil.  By the end of his career he owned slaves and had enlisted the Bible in defense of the “peculiar institution”. 

It would be easy to simply view Furman as a hypocrite and a monster.  However, such is not the case.  He was a highly educated man and a convinced Christian, and his life contained many charitable works, some of which were for blacks, slave and free alike.  The truly depressing fact while reading the very well written defense of slavery below, is the recognition that Furman in many ways was a very good man working very hard to defend the indefensible.  The attempted slave insurrection of Denmark Versey prompted Furman to write the letter.  Furman’s letter to the Governor of South Carolina:  Read the rest of this entry »


Cardinal Newman Development of Doctrine, Fourth Note, Logical Sequence

Sunday, March 21, 2010 \AM\.\Sun\.

Continuing on with my series on the Seven Notes, I would call them tests, which Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman developed for determining whether some aspect of Church teaching is a development of doctrine or a corruption of doctrine.  We began with Note Six-Conservative Action Upon Its Past, and I would highly recommend that any one who has not read the first post in the series read it here before reading this post.  We then proceeded with an examination of the First Note-Preservation of Type here,  the Second Note-Continuity of Principles here and the Third Note-Power of Assimilation here.  This post will deal with the Fourth Note-Logical Sequence.

It is possible as an idea develops during the history of mankind, to logically trace its development.   Afterwards, however, this logical character which the whole wears becomes a test that the process has been a true development, not a perversion or corruption, from its evident naturalness; and in some cases from the gravity, distinctness, precision, and majesty of its advance, and the harmony of its proportions, like the tall growth, and graceful branching, and rich foliage, of some vegetable production.

Newman notes that in the political history of states, it is often easy to see development of ideas at work.   It is illustrated by the words of Jeroboam, “Now shall this kingdom return to the house of David, if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem … Wherefore the king took counsel and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, Behold thy gods, O Israel.” Idolatry was a duty of kingcraft with the schismatical kingdom.

Newman concludes:  A doctrine, then, professed in its mature years by a philosophy or religion, is likely to be a true development, not a corruption, in proportion as it seems to be the logical issue of its original teaching.

Newman on the Fourth Note.

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President Kennedy Was Wrong

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

Hattip to Sandro Magister. On September 12, 1960 John F. Kennedy, running for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to assuage the fears of many in the country that his loyalty would be to the Pope rather than to the Constitution.  (The irony of course was that JFK took his faith quite lightly, to put it politely.)  The text of the speech is here.  On Monday March 1, 2010, Archbishop Chaput, at Houston Baptist University, gave a reply to this speech.

The core of the speech is that Kennedy was wrong:

Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He had one purpose. He needed to convince 300 uneasy Protestant ministers, and the country at large, that a Catholic like himself could serve loyally as our nation’s chief executive. Kennedy convinced the country, if not the ministers, and went on to be elected. And his speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.

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A Question About “Culture Wars”

Thursday, December 10, 2009 \PM\.\Thu\.

In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, C.S. Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as “that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation.” For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, “could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure.” Instead, thanks to the prevalence of recent invention of the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.

Is Lewis’ claim valid? If not, why not? I, for one, think there is something to his claim. This point is applicable to an extent, despite the obvious differences, to fundamental political differences. What do we find in political discourse: gross generalizations, demonizing the other size, presuming the worst of the other side, reducing people to their political views, assuming others’ intentions for them, projecting the words or actions of one person within a greater movement onto the whole movement, and the list goes on. Is such an analysis valid; if, no, again, why not?


Religion and Narcissism

Sunday, November 15, 2009 \PM\.\Sun\.

I had an opportunity to read part of a fascinating book recently titled The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. This book, authored by Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Keith Campbell, is not just a book about a psychological disorder, but often a sociological study as well.

What particularly interested me was the chapter in the book on religion and narcissism. In an age in which Hollywood, popular intellectuals and a growing number of average citizens have come to think of religion in general, and Churches especially, as the “root of all evil”, it is refreshing to see an objective approach to social and psychological problems that cite the decline of religion in society as a part of the problem instead of a process to be welcomed by all right-thinking people.

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The New Religion

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 \PM\.\Tue\.

This is from my personal blog – an exploration of what I think is the new secular religion. I took the gloves off for this one, and I’m sure more than a few people will take offense.

But if Larry David can pee on Jesus, I don’t mind returning the favor for the new religion.