Tags: Religion

Christianity and Marxism


In Léon Bloy, a Catholic author whom Pope Francis once quoted, Andrew Stuttaford sees hints of what for many readers of NRO is undoubtedly the most salient aspect of Marxism — the totalitarianism, the gulag, the Cultural Revolution, the Khmer Rouge. That’s some disagreeable company for the Catholic Church to have to keep. Of course, she denies that she keeps it except insofar as she runs a hospital for sinners, including bloodstained Communists.

Andrew stresses that he doesn’t think the pope is a Marxist, so the picture he draws by associating those dots — Francis, Bloy, Marxism — is a bit ambiguous and only suggestive, rather than descriptive, of how Marxism and Christianity do compete over a large swath of common ground. It’s pretty well mapped. Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a book about it thirty years ago, for example. Before him, Paul Tillich thought that “important elements of the Marxist method of thinking are merged with theological thought to such a degree that they are not recognized any more as taken over from Marxism.” But the original and, in that sense, primary influence has been in the other direction.

Just because a Christian rejects Marxism doesn’t mean he has to close his eyes on those passages where it flatters Christianity through emulation. In the December 5 issue of the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton integrates into his essay on Denys Turner’s new book on Thomas Aquinas some nice observations about how much Thomas, the greatest doctor of the Church in the second millennium, actually thought like Marx. That is, Eagleton finds in Marxism a good deal of Thomism, which he admires. “Like Marx,” Eagleton writes,

Aquinas got into hot water with the authorities for being a materialist. It was not that he held the boring view that there is nothing but matter. His materialism was not some kind of brutal reductionism, any more than Marx’s was. On the contrary, as Denys Turner points out in this superb study, he understood that ‘there is a lot more to matter itself than meets the eye of today’s average materialist.’ His criticism of the materialists with whom he was acquainted was not that they were bad on the subject of mind or spirit, but that they weren’t very good on the subject of matter. . . .

He has, then, a typically Catholic belief in the power of reason, as against a Protestant scepticism of the intellect as darkened and corrupt. But though without reason we perish, and though reason goes a long way down, it does not go all the way down for Thomas, any more than it does for Marx or Freud. In the end, what sustains reason is faith, which is a kind of love.

Tags: Religion

The U.S. Media Just Can’t Understand the Vatican


From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

When It Comes to the U.S. Media, the Vatican Might as Well Be Speaking in Latin

Dear mainstream media: No, you were never going to get a liberal Pope.

You don’t have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to figure out what the U.S. media thinks are most important issues before the Pope:

Francis’ ascension, however, will not be without its controversies. Francis firmly opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception, the last being a particularly significant position as the Church continues to expand in Africa, where contraception is seen as a vital tool to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Was there any Cardinal in the mix who, upon assuming the Papacy, would step out onto the balcony, and declare, “Oh, hey, abortion, homosexuality and contraception are cool now”?

A couple times a year, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne writes a column that says basically, “the Vatican has a big problem, because lots of American Catholics don’t agree with the Pope.” It never seems to cross his mind that each Pope and the Vatican collectively don’t really care that lots of American Catholics don’t agree with them. Or, more specifically, they would like American Catholics to agree with them, but they’re not willing to change what they teach as right and wrong based upon what the Gallup organization says American Catholics think. They think they get that material from the Man Upstairs. You may or may not agree with that assessment of Divine leadership, but the point is that the Pope and the Cardinals believe it, and they’re not going to be talked out of it by some pundit.

This is an institution that weathered the storms of the schism with the Orthodox and the Protestant Reformation. They’re not going to suddenly abandon their positions in the face of criticism from Chris Matthews or Andrew Sullivan.

Dave Weigel: “Just a hunch here, but based on headlines it seems like members of the media are more liberal than Catholic church leaders.”

Peggy Noonan calls it like it is:

Right now every idiot in town feels free to tell the church to get hopping, and they do it in a new way, with a baldness that occasionally borders on the insulting. Whatever their faith or lack of it they feel free to critique loudly and in depth, to the degree they are capable of depth. I have been critical of the church over the sex scandals for longer than a decade. Here’s one column—but I write of it because I love it and seek to see it healthy, growing and vital as it brings Christ into the world. Some of the church’s critics don’t seem to be operating from affection and respect but something else, or some things else.

When critics mean to be constructive, they bring an air of due esteem and occasional sadness to their criticisms, and offer informed and thoughtful suggestions as to ways the old church might right itself. They might even note, with an air of gratitude free of crowd-pleasing sanctimony, that critics must, in fairness, speak of those parts of the church that most famously work—the schools that teach America’s immigrants, the charities, the long embrace of the most vulnerable—and outweigh a whole world of immediate criticisms.

But when they just prattle on with their indignant words—gender, celibacy, irrelevant—well, they’re probably not trying to be constructive. One might say they’re being vulgar, ignorant and destructive, spoiled too. They think they’re brave, or outspoken, or something. They don’t have enough insight into themselves to notice they’d never presume to instruct other great faiths. It doesn’t cross their minds that if they were as dismissive about some of those faiths they’d have to hire private security guards.

If your beef with the Catholic Church is the role it gives women, well . . . there’s another big global faith with about a billion adherents that you may want to examine, too. I mean, whatever you think of the role of nuns, they are allowed to drive themselves, you know.

Tags: Media , Religion

The World Stops and Watches a Chimney


I don’t write about religion often, but I’m getting some positive feedback for this section of the Morning Jolt . . .


I’m going to strike a dramatically different pose than most political reporters when it comes to the selection of the new pope: Admit that I don’t know that much about Vatican politics, the contenders, or what to expect under the next papacy.

On this, I defer to Kathryn, reporting from Rome:

St. Peter’s Basilica this morning was beautifully solemn as the college of cardinals gathered in prayer. I watched each one as he walked in, so many of them praying in front of the altar, above the tomb of St. Peter, the Apostle, and first pope. I noticed that the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Tagle, looks even younger than I heard he did. I watched as a subdued Cardinal Dolan tended to older brothers. I couldn’t help but notice that nothing was going to distract the prayer of Raymond Cardinal Burke, the American in the Vatican court. Quebec’s Cardinal Ouellet gently fixed the miter on the cardinal in front of him. Cardinal George looked pained from his battle with cancer.

The Mass was a prayer that the Holy Spirit might truly guide the hearts and minds of the men now in the Sistine Chapel. The expression of gratitude for Pope Benedict XVI was palpable; the basilica seemed to rock with the applause, as if Bernini and Michelangelo were expressing theirs, too. . . .

Love and mercy. Knowing our roles. Living the will of God in truth. If the cardinals lead by that, shepherding a people in love with the Gospel, the world will have great gift.

One aspect of all this that I think resonates deeply, well beyond the boundaries of Catholicism, is the experience of witnessing an institution that follows tradition going back two millennia.

We live in a world in which newer is considered better than older, and the definition of “old” seems to get younger every year.

The world changes fast. Walk through your old neighborhoods, and you see buildings torn down and built upon and replaced, beloved hangouts long gone. On one level or another, most of us have had our childhood homes turned into Ultimarts. The older generation passes away, old friends move away and we lose touch. A time and a place, a mood and relationships, preserved only in a dusty photo album full of Polaroids.

Each day brings us some ephemeral distraction, sometimes pleasant, often less than that, rarely built to last or to stand the test of time. Suddenly we’re supposed to care what the Harlem Shake is, when we know that in a couple months almost everyone will forget about it. Toss it next to the other forgotten fads, next to the Macarena and the Cabbage Patch dolls.

Our political scene is a rapidly spinning wheel of rotating, rapidly replaced flavors of the month. Would you believe Tom Vilsack once ran for president? Faces come and go, burning white-hot one moment, easily forgotten the next: Howard Dean, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Bill Bradley. John Kasich ran for president. Pat Buchanan. Ross Perot. Jerry Brown. Tom Harkin.

And then, in the middle of all this, there’s the Vatican and the cardinals. Somehow they combine immense theatricality — there’s a reason that all of the networks have sent their anchors to do live shots from St. Peter’s Square — with a methodology that is from another time and place. They don’t issue a press release, they don’t release a YouTube video, or send a tweet. All around the world, people watch for smoke from a chimney.

And barring some massive leak, we never hear how it went inside. No declared candidates, no campaigning, no vote totals. The past few weeks you’ve heard the easy jokes projecting American ideas of leadership selection — attack ads, debates, super PACs — onto the conclave.

The Church is not a democracy, and that factor probably exacerbates some problems — a sense of not enough accountability, or a leadership that feels distant and out of touch with the daily life of the faithful Catholics around the world. But it is stirring to see an institution that places something above popularity. We’re a world that revolves around public relations, job-approval ratings, television ratings, page views, and so on, and here’s an institution that says, “sure, we want to be popular and reach every soul . . . but we’re not going to compromise our principles to do it. In fact, we’re not going to compromise on any of our most unpopular ideas. We focus on being morally right, and we have faith that everyone else will come around to our way of thinking.”

And then, of course, I also had this serious and insightful contribution to the public discussion:

Tags: Religion

New York Times Columnist Mocks Romney’s ‘Magic Underwear’


Dear management of the New York Times,

I hope you’re proud.

Mr. Blow may attempt to delete that Tweet, but it can, for now, be found here. Of course, this is the Internet. Nothing ever goes away completely.

One of your columnists hears a comment he does not like, from a Mormon presidential candidate, and responds, “Stick that in your magic underwear.”

(Lest you are unfamiliar with this particular practice of the Mormon faith, see here.)

We just witnessed ESPN firing an employee for using the phrase “chink in the armor” in a headline about the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin. While no one could prove a desire to mock Lin’s ethnic heritage, and the employee expressed great regret for what he insisted was an unthinking lapse, it was deemed unacceptable even as an honest mistake. Regardless of what one thinks of ESPN’s reaction, one is left to marvel at the contrast before us. Would the New York Times find it acceptable if one of their columnists chose to mock Muslim religious practices? Jewish faith practices?

But mocking some religions is okay? Doesn’t run afoul of any standards of the paper?


Tags: Media , Mitt Romney , Mormonism , Religion

Keep Your 3:16 Off of My 1040


From the final Morning Jolt of the week:

Obama Insists His Tax Hikes Are Simply Divine!

Look who’s now insisting upon pushing his religious values upon everyone in America: “And so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

I’m sure that ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ is precisely what Obama was thinking when he urged his Latino supporters to “punish our enemies.”

Honest-to-God (pun not initially intended, but kept) headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Obama cites Jesus as inspiration for his economic policies

So, you Satanic conservatives, how do you feel about tax hikes now, huh?

Tina Korbe: “It surprises me to encounter the president using this tactic. In the first place, the specific example he cites above is misapplied. When the president establishes a policy direction — and Congress follows it — his decisions don’t just affect him. When he promotes increased taxation of ‘the rich,’ he’s not merely giving up his own tax breaks as he implies — he’s also suggesting the government should be able to forceothers to pay more in taxes, as well. That’s just obvious — and to say otherwise actually makes the president look more confused than anything. Here, we seem to have an out-of-water Obama who wants very desperately to pander but doesn’t quite know how.”

Ace summarizes the Democrats’ about-face about citing religion when they think it will help them win arguments:

The Absolute Separation of Church and State and Elimination of Religious Impulse from Government Policy

The Constitution demands no less.

Three out of every four years.

Tags: Barack Obama , Religion , Taxes

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