Living In Christ
My interest was piqued by Bill McGarvey (“The Sexual Devolution”) and Christina A. Astorga (“Save Yourself”) in the July 1 issue. Both writers touch upon the consequences suffered by the hookup generation. Of course, the predominance of youthful hookups is not an anomaly, given our overall cultural context.
In combating the tidal wave of self-indulgence and sexual “freedom” promoted in the media, a central role of education is teaching young people how to live. For Catholic institutions, this means teaching students how to live in Christ. One wonders whether a distorted liberalism has caused schools to pander to pop culture and to soft-pedal the timeless truths of Christianity.
Today’s universities must have the courage to be countercultural and to help students reform and realign conscience. Through a well-formed conscience, young people will discover the positive self-image, self-respect and respect for others so absent from their lives.
The hookup crowd must realize that the answer is not “good sex” but goodness itself.
East Northport, N.Y.
When I received my June 17-24 issue of America, I thought it was a duplicate of an issue I had already received. The cause of this impression was that the cover of the May 20 issue is strikingly similar to it, with rippling water, a row of painted buildings with awnings, a rising hill beneath a blue sky. But then at the top, instead of the ornate church of the May issue, the June issue (in keeping with the lead articles) has only the silhouette of a church.
Is the similarity of these two covers just a coincidence, or is it a subtle comment on the increasing speed with which the church may become a mere shadow of its former self? Such a change in only four weeks!
Editor’s Note: “Whatever is received,” notes the Angelic Doctor, “is received according to the mode of the receiver.”
Re “American Hymnal” (6/17): I appreciated James T. Keane’s reflections on American patriotic hymns and their tendency to project a God who stands with the United States in her wars and battles. Yet I must take exception with his critique of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and his particular challenge to the verse, “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”
Julia Ward Howe, the author of the lyrics, was a fervent abolitionist. Historians give several reasons why men fought for the Union side in the American Civil War: some joined the army because they were drafted, others for adventure, others to preserve the Union, and there were those who fought to end the evil of slavery.
Howe was not conflating “God and nation,” as Keane writes. Rather, I think she was linking the redeeming action of those who died to end slavery with Jesus who died to free humanity from slavery to sin and evil. I love to sing this hymn in praise of those who died to set men free.
Boldness and Restraint
“Pursuing the Truth in Love” is undoubtedly one of the best articles I have ever read in America. If it can be termed a “manifesto” for Father Malone’s editorial orientation, then I will anticipate with particular interest the forthcoming issues of the magazine. Father Malone expressed the mind of many with just the right combination of energizing boldness and laudable restraint.
Stand Against Death
“Pursuing the Truth in Love” is an interesting article. Not only are Catholics “no longer second-class citizens” in our nation (“thanks be to God,” prays the author), but it should be noted that, sadly, Catholics can no longer be distinguished from our society at large in its beliefs and practices. Those who self-identify as Catholic voted nearly exactly the way the general electorate did last November, and they hold nearly the same beliefs as the general electorate on the major issues of the day.
Put another way: Catholics have largely embraced the culture of death that Pope John Paul II spoke against so forcefully. So, America, who are we as a church if we are not starkly and markedly different from our postmodern, secularist culture? Because in every age, Jesus Christ and his church must stand in stark contrast to “this world,” ought we not?
Editor’s Note: “Pursuing the Truth in Love,” by Matt Malone, S.J. (6/3), and the subsequent interview with Father Malone in The Washington Post (6/28) initiated a dialogue in the blogosphere. Brad Rothrock at the Daily Theology blog writes about the importance of language and labels (6/29), Matthew Shadle at the Catholic Moral Theology blog questions the usefulness of political terms in an ecclesiastical context (7/1), and Rothrock responds to Shadle (7/7). Here are brief excerpts from those blog posts.
While I appreciate the desire to find points of unity and agreement amid widespread conflict within the Catholic Church, I do not believe that it is ultimately our use of the labels liberal/conservative or left/right that create such conflict.
In reality, language is the formal expression (more or less helpful, and more or less accurate) of the material causes of the conflict, i.e., the social, political, economic and ecclesial situations that have historically developed thus far.
Proclaiming Catholic unity does not make it so; it simply hides the differences under a false congeniality. Attempting to deny the larger frameworks within which we evaluate, discern, critique, dialogue, reason, etc., is never a good idea. The Church and its members are located within the larger frameworks that make up our social, political and economic life, and in this way are subject to the values therein.
Matt Malone’s objection is not to the use of political labels, or even to the use of political labels to describe the political views of Catholics, but rather to the use of labels from the context of politics to describe points of view in the different context of theological debate on ecclesial issues. If this is the case, then much of Brad Rothrock’s critique simply dissolves away.
If we really must reflect on our faith while being critically aware of our social, political and economic context, then I would simply ask Rothrock whether the terms liberal and conservative really are adequate descriptors of that context?... Malone is right to abandon these terms precisely because they are pre-critical; they provide us a short-hand, stereotyped view of social reality.
If we as a church are going to take seriously the task of reflecting on how our social context shapes our theological reasoning, then we are better off, as Malone suggests, simply stating what we believe and attempting to fairly represent what others believe, rather than reducing one another to political binaries.
A crucial point in the debate is the claim that these terms—liberal and conservative—are devoid of intelligible or meaningful content...[and] fail to grasp the nuance and intricacy of life. Well, yes. All language fails to capture the nuance and intricacy of the world. This is not the fault of particular words, but rather part of the nature of being finite creatures.
The larger and more important concern on my part is the threat I see in attempting to carve out some space of ecclesial or faith-based neutrality. For those who have suffered under the weight of certain supposedly “neutral” doctrines, structures, traditions and practices that have been and are part of the church universal....the idea that faith itself, or the ecclesial structures and expressions of faith, or Christianity, is somehow outside of political, social or economic description is almost laughable.
I don’t particularly care whether you use the terms liberal, conservative, socialist, ultramontanist, Docetist, progressivist, modernist, postmodernist, etc. What I care about is the fact that labels provide the ability for classes of people to organize themselves to stand for their human dignity. Labels are essential for this. So, as vacuous as political labels sometimes are—and in this I am in agreement with Shadle and Malone—the underlying theory that the context of faith, theology and the ecclesial is not appropriate for political, social and economic analysis strikes me as very dangerous.