The Main Obstacle to Religious Freedom

This past week my wife and I had the chance to attend the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, DC. It was an interesting conference on a subject that gets the short shrift these days. In attendance were representatives of several religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many others. The fact that any kind of consensus is emerging on this topic on with this broad of an audience is encouraging.

One of those groups represented was Ahmadiyya Islam. I got to spend some time with these people. I have been intrigued with this group ever since I discovered that these people believe that the Qur’an teaches that Jesus really died on the Cross and was brought back to life. What happened to Jesus after that is where we part company, but to make this claim is a bold one in an Islamic context. Making the claim that Muhammad was not the final prophet is a bold one too, and one which has made them a stench in the nostrils of (particularly) Sunni Islam, with persecution following. Thus, their interest in religious freedom is more than academic, to say the least.

In the course of our conversation I brought up a question that should have gotten more interest at the conference: why are so many averse to the whole concept of religious freedom? My explanation of this follows.

All religion is concerned with going beyond this life. How this happens varies from one to another. In the case of Islam and Christianity, the choice is the same: it is the means that differs so sharply, and with that the results. But ultimately religious people look at life as transcending the limitations of our mortality.

Today we have an elite which is deeply corporatist and desirous to maintain control over the situation and to perpetuate their primacy. I’ve characterised their priorities as getting laid, high or drunk, and their desire is to limit those whom they feel are under them to do the same. If they succeed, then the people’s vision is limited to what they place in front of them: there is no beyond. It’s the mentality of “Imagine” imposed by this corporatist bunch, not just a bunch of superannuated hippies out for a good time.

Religious people throw a monkey wrench into all this by proclaiming that there is a beyond, there is a higher power of some kind that transcends this life. This is a threat to those who rule: it means that they are not the ones that ultimately make the rules or determine the final destiny over those whom they control. This they cannot stand. If they make an alliance with a religion, it means that they feel that its adherents and leadership can be controlled. In the old Soviet Union, the Communists did a pretty good job doing just that with Islam in Central Asia; they managed to keep a lid on things without forcing all of them to become atheists. But times have changed, which is why we’re seeing the brutal crackdown on the Uygurs in Xinjiang.

This is why religious freedom is in such a parlous state these days. Our elites do not want us to see beyond them, and as long as we do they will attempt to punish us.

Kicking the Trads to the Curb

I’ve been out of pocket most of this past week for reasons I’ll explain later, but coming back to the blog there’s one topic I’d like to comment on: the Occupant of St. Peter’s see’s downgrading of the celebration of what we used to call the Tridentine Mass, or now TLM. This has been coming for some time and now we are here.

I’m going to skip most of the back and forth as to who is “really Catholic” in this situation and make one observation: those who are devoted to this form of the Sacred Mysteries are almost to a person seriously dedicated to the Church. It’s also worth observing that many of those who oppose them are basically “box checkers” and prefer the box checker church to the exclusion of all others. Evidently the Occupant feels the same way. It isn’t the first time: his Jesuit predecessors (with the connivance of Louis XIV) beat down the Jansenists, and in nearer times the Charismatics have suffered the same fate.

The Roman Catholic Church is a large institution, ethnically and socio-economically diverse in a way that most non-Catholic churches can only envy. It’s hard to make a case that a few TLM preferring Catholics are a real threat to the unity and integrity of Roman Catholicism: indeed, as this article notes, “It is more like amputating a finger to treat a hangnail than it is anything else.” Nobody votes for the leadership in a meaningful way, so the threat of democracy, the inchoate fear of our own secular elites, is not on the table.

But the Occupant and those of like mind to him are threatened by enthusiasm that isn’t exactly their own. They prefer a church where, to use Cardinal Suenens’ quip, the laity know when to kneel, when to stand, and when to reach for their wallet, and that’s just about it. Such a church is sure to die, perhaps not in all places but in many. When institutional control is the main objective, however, institutional death is an assumed risk.

I am sure there are bishops out there who have enough sense to see this. But most, in North America at least, won’t, not in the long run and with the inevitable pressure from the Vatican and their own peers. The main beneficiaries of this will be the Society of St. Pius X (who is probably facing a rough ride of its own) and to a lesser extent the Anglo-Catholics.

Roman Catholicism’s distaste for serious enthusiasm amongst its faithful is the single most distasteful thing I find about the Church, and in my opinion has caused much of the bleed of parishioners the Church has experienced over the last half century. But any church who cannot channel the dedication of the faithful to its mission will find itself with no faithful and in the end with no church.

Elevations on the effects which the Incarnate Word produces on men immediately after his Incarnation

These elevations concern Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. It includes an exposition of Mary’s canticle the Magnificat, shown below. The elevations are as follows: Elevations on the effects which the Incarnate Word produces on men immediately after his Incarnation: 1, Mary goes to visit Saint Elizabeth. Elevations on […]

Elevations on the effects which the Incarnate Word produces on men immediately after his Incarnation

The Reformed vs. Athanasian/Nicene Approach to God

An interesting comparison by Bobby Grow:

Scholastic Reformed theologians claim to be in line with Nicene theology proper. But when you read scholastic Reformed theology, particularly their confessions, what becomes immediately apparent is that scholastic Reformed theology operates out of the apophatic ‘negative’ and/or speculative tradition for thinking a doctrine of God (and Christ); whereas Nicene theology thinks from cataphatic ‘positive’ and/or revealed theology for thinking God. By way of prolegomena or theological methodology this places Niceno-Constantinopolitano theology at loggerheads with something like we see in the scholastically Reformed Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).

First, the Reformed theologians aren’t the only ones working in an apophatic tradition. Moses Maimonides did likewise, and his contribution is certainly valued by Aquinas and myself.

Second, I am inclined to think that Grow is right on this point. As frequent visitors to this site will attest, I’m not much on Reformed theology in any form, and as the years pass I get progressively sourer on the subject. Pieces like this only justify my antipathy.

Third, I think it’s fair to say that Scholastic theology, of which I am an enthusiastic student, started to go downhill after Aquinas, which is the opposite of the narrative that, say, Francis Schaffer was so enamoured with. The idea of a “Reformed Scholasticism” is somewhere between an oxymoron and a sign of the decline that began years before Calvin and Luther.

Fourth, I wonder if this apophatic aspect of Reformed scholasticism made it easy for the Sydney Anglicans to come up with their lame idea of functional subordination in the Trinity without essential subordination. That’s just speculation on my part.

The one part I’m not so sure about is this:

But this is to our point: to think God from speculative philosophical notions, as the Arians and Homoiousions did, only leads to unbiblical conclusions, and thus grammar about who God is; indeed, it thinks of God in terms of whatness rather than whoness as a first-step. Athanasius, and the Nicene theology he helped develop, repudiated thinking God from Hellenic frames of reference, and instead allowed God’s Self-revelation in the Son, Jesus Christ, to shape the way he, and the other Nicenes, thought God.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the whole Arian controversy ran in the context of Greek philosophy. Athanasius and his homoousion colleagues simply did a better job aligning it with the Scriptures. It was ultimately beyond the ken of Greek philosophy to explain essential subordination in the triune Godhead, but I think that problem can be solved.

Ecclesia Anglicana: For What Does She Stand? by Frank Weston

Clip source: Ecclesia Anglicana: For What Does She Stand? by Frank Weston For What Does She Stand? by Frank WestonProject Canterbury Ecclesia Anglicana: For What Does She Stand? An Open letter to the Right Reverend Father in God Edgar, Lord Bishop of St. Albans by Frank [Weston], Bishop of Zanzibar London: Longmans, Green & Co.,…

Ecclesia Anglicana: For What Does She Stand? by Frank Weston

The Sad Case of Knoxville’s Catholic Bishop, Rick Stika

It’s getting complicated:

I went to Knoxville at Bishop Stika’s invitation. The Pillar reported last month that the Congregation for Bishops in Rome had received complaints about Stika’s leadership in the Knoxville diocese, and was considering initiating an apostolic visitation, or investigation, in the diocese.

The complaints, which came from both priests and laity in the diocese, focused on an investigation into sexual misconduct on the part of a diocesan seminarian. Priests alleged the bishop had an unusually close relationship to the seminarian, and had interfered with the investigation.

For me, this is more than passing interest: it was in this diocese (actually it was in the Nashville diocese at the time, the Knoxville diocese is fairly new) that I met my Waterloo with Roman Catholicism, and still have close friends there.  I’ll make a few quotes from the excellent Pillar article and a few comments:

Several priests said they are concerned that a Vatican investigation won’t look seriously at the constellation of issues the diocese is facing, or the crisis of leadership they perceive. Several expressed concern that Cardinal Rigali, who has sometimes referred to Stika as a “son,” would use influence in Rome to protect the bishop. Many expressed skepticism that, without public accountability, the Church’s process for justice would actually work for them.

Some lay people told me the same thing. But others said something much simpler: With a diocese they believed to be in crisis, they just had no idea where to go. Or with whom to speak. Or how to get help — help they said was sorely needed — for their local Church.

This is a key issue for Ultramontane Roman Catholicism in general.  When bad things happen, there are few places to turn because the famous Catholic penchant for subsidarity isn’t reflected in their own structure.  The result is that bishops and parish priests can become “little Caesars” with limited accountability to those whom they’re supposedly serving–the people of God.

“What was sold was a $25 million cathedral and a $25 million campaign, and it was going to be paid for. Well, we all knew those were fantasy numbers to begin with. But nobody asked the right question,” one priest in a senior leadership position in the diocese told me.

“If you asked how much the cathedral cost — well, the cathedral cost between $35 and $36 million. I don’t doubt that. What did the project cost? Well, because they had to buy property, they had to do site work, none of that was in the initial proposal. So the bottom line is the project is a $42 million project.”

“The diocese only approved $25 million, but you ended up with a $42 million cathedral, which basically leaves you with $17 million to fund in a diocese. I mean we are not a rich diocese.”

East Tennessee in general isn’t a wealthy part of the country, although traditionally Roman Catholicism has had an above average income demographic in this area.  But the gross overrun and inadequate planning reminds me of my own church’s disaster with its denominational office expansion.  The big difference from a numbers standpoint is that Stika’s project was larger by a factor of five than ours.  My guess is that he was trying to make a statement, but all he’s shown that, like my own church, he has champagne taste and beer pocketbook, and is no better a manager of funds than his non-Catholic counterparts.  But anyone who has followed the Vatican’s own financial scandals over the years, complete with dead bodies, knows that.

Marcy Meldahl was the director of human resources, employment services, and benefits in the Knoxville diocese from 2004 until 2014…

Meldahl claimed: “The bishop said to trustees of that scholarship fund: ‘I’m going to take that money, put in an IOU, and that IOU will pay you greater interest than what you’re getting now.’ Well, the IOU is only good if there’s going to be money to pay it back.”

“And that’s the money that’s given to help pay tuition,” she said, “for people who can’t pay for Catholic education. And it’s given for that reason.”

This is the issue that was the beginning of the end for me with Roman Catholicism, as I explain in this 2007 post:

Back in the early 1980’s, I was involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group.  We were under a great deal of pressure, some of which was of our own making and some of which came from a Church which didn’t really care much for what we were doing.  It was also the days of “if you want peace, work for justice,” the nuclear freeze, and other left-wing emphases which tended to deflect hierarchy and faithful alike from their relationship with God.

A major turning point for me took place on day when, while discussing things with one of our prayer group leaders, she mentioned that, because of the high tuition, she could not afford to send her eight children to Catholic school.  So they went to public school.

That revelation was the beginning of the end of me as a Roman Catholic.  I concluded that any church that was too bourgeois and self-satisfied not to subsidise its own needful children to attend the schools it wanted them to attend was too bourgeois to be an advocate for social justice.  So I took my leave on a course that’s best encapsulated in The Preferential Option of the Poor.

Instead of being a refuge from Blaine Amendment type anti-Catholicism in public schools, Catholic schools around here have turned themselves into private schools for those wealthy enough to send their children there.  Some dioceses actually step up to the plate and fix this problem, but Knoxville, because of the cathedral, is in no position to do so now, even if it wanted to on a large scale.

I hope that Stika’s difficulties can find a happy resolution, both for himself and especially for his diocese.  But with Catholicism’s murky Ultramontane politics, I’m not holding my breath.

Book Review: Ella Katharine Sanders’ Jacques Bénigne Bossuet: A Study

In an effort such as this blog to present Bossuet’s works in English, one thing that becomes clear is that resources about his life and works in English are rather sparse. As Sanders herself notes at the start of Jacques Bénigne Bossuet: A Study, “Yet in England, notwithstanding the widespread and increasing appreciation of French […]

Book Review: Ella Katharine Sanders’ Jacques Bénigne Bossuet: A Study

Renewing Your Faith: The Aftermath

In the last post, I gave a book review of Donald Connolly’s In a Holy Year, Renewing Your Faith: An Anthology of Spiritual Readings.  I promised I’d give some life reflections on this, and this is the fulfilment of that promise.  This book is more than just a book: the anthology compiler was my first parish priest as a Roman Catholic, and had an immense influence on my life going forward from my last year in prep school when I swam the Tiber.

Let’s start with the question I left hanging the last time: why did it take nearly forty years for me to read the book?  By the time I first sat down with Fr. Connolly and discussed the possibility of me becoming Roman Catholic, I had already read Augustine’s City of God, which is ahead of where most prospective converts are.  I had heard of The Imitation of Christ, so I read his other anthology A Voice for the Heart: The Imitation of Christ and An introduction to the Devout Life for all Christians.  But a great deal of devotional literature in general and Catholic literature in particular struck me as what I mother would call “pap.”  I guess I was afraid that I would encounter this here, and I was delving into the source material already.  (I started with Aquinas’ Disputed Questions on Truth my freshman year in college, went on to the Summa the following.)  Had I overcome my prejudices, Connolly’s book would have been nice prep for what I was delving into.

That, in turn, leads to the next question: why did I become Roman Catholic in the first place?  Put in a Thomistic context, the answer is simple.  What I really wanted was a comprehensive worldview which made the objective existence of God credible, and only Thomistic Catholicism provided that.  My years as an Episcopalian demonstrated that “man does not live by Anglican Fudge alone.”  Evangelicals were and are focused on the individual and his or her salvation, but if there’s one thing that was drilled into me from the start, it’s that it’s not all about you.  Moreover both of the latter emphasise the subjective at the expense of the objective, which wasn’t what I was looking for.

I became Catholic in what were, for me, ideal circumstances: a parish backed (literally) by a major seminary, with a seminary academic as a pastor.  Once I got through college–where the more subjective issues were dealt with–parish life was a dead end, Aquinas (or just about any other substantive Catholic thinker) were hard to find, and some kind of exit was inevitable.

Today I’m in the “mother church” of my Pentecostal denomination, and right across the street once again is the major seminary.  But it’s different now.  To start with, Pentecostals look at the reality of God differently.  Their idea is simple: the God who did the great things in the Bible is the same God and does the same great things now.  This is an improvement over the liberal (God never did any of this stuff) or the cessationist (God did it in the past, but he’s not doing it today.)  But it still is more of an individually focused approach as opposed to a universally focused one.

Even with that, for all of the great things there are two factors that have blocked any kind of replication of my first experience as a Roman Catholic.

The first is that Pentecostal academics spend too much time trying to recreate on an academic level the experience they had on a decidedly non-academic one.  Like the liberals, three sheets to the wind, who regaled Elaine Pagels with old Gospel songs, they try to recreate the experience in an alien environment.  They also frequently conflate the spiritual experience with the cultural one.  In the context of the Church of God this means Scots-Irish cultural hegemony, and right at the moment that’s the last thing we need.

The second is that (with exceptions) our ministers and academics alike have a “trade union” mentality, that thinking and speaking/preaching of the deeper things of God is “bargaining unit” work and that the laity (“scabs” in union terminology) don’t have any business delving into this kind of thing on any level.  Sometimes it’s framed as a replication of Roman Catholicism’s view of the priesthood, but that’s too high of a view of what’s going on.

The lesson from all this is simple: when you start out in life, pack well for the journey, you never know when you’re going to end up in the wilderness.  God provisioned me better than I knew, and for that I am thankful.