Saturday evening, I read then-Father Joseph Ratzinger's treatment of the line in the Creed about the descent into Hell, contained in his masterful "Introduction to Christianity." (I will be writing more about that book in the near future.) Everything he wrote was powerful, it struck home, but it was a bit abstract. The next day, yesterday, I drove back to DC from Connecticut and discovered the non-abstract definition of Hell: I-95 on the last Sunday before school starts.
American political history is shaped, in large part, by the essentially non-ideological character of the national psyche. We are a practical people. We respond to politics as we do to technology, with a desire to fix it. While divisions between the parties have always been highlighted at campaign time, as soon as the election is over, the ideological divisions within Congress and between Congress and the White House have generally receded as our political leaders look for solutions. Only at a few key times – the Civil War, and the New Deal being the most obvious – was there a clear ideological division in which the political parties could not come to agreement because they were at odds over first principles, and in the case of the New Deal, the GOP eventually came around.
The other day I called attention to Cardinal Timothy Dolan's post about his reasons for inviting both President Obama and Governor Romney to the annual Al Smith dinner. Cardinal Dolan was kinder in explaining his reasonings than I would be. Have a look at the comments on his blog, almost all of which are still critical, some nasty. I encourage everyone to write a comment in support of Cardinal Dolan.
Over at the website Renew America, David Cassidy explained that he understood the cardinal's motivation:
Thanks to the candidacy of Paul Ryan, we are about to see religious voices in Wisconsin come into conflict. Indeed, it has already begun.
Bishop Robert Morlino posted a column about Ryan's candidacy that has some interesting claims, for example, the idea that violating the right to private property is an intrinsic evil. I had never read that before - not in Aquinas, Augustine, or any more recent Catholic ethicists. In fact, it is a fairly well-established principle of Catholic social teaching that the right to private property is not absolute at all. Absolute and intrinsic are not the same thing, and I honestly can't think how an issue regarding property rights involves an intrinsic evil. Ditto his lumping religious liberty into the category of intrinsic evil.
More disturbing was Morlino's comment in an interview with the National Catholic Register. He said:
Peter Singer is not someone one would call a natural conversation partner for a Catholic moral theologian. He supports abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, to cite only a few glaring differences of opinion. But, Fordham’s Charles Camosy is not your typical Catholic moral theologian. He is one of a new breed of Catholic scholars, one of the founders of the Catholic Conversation Project about which I wrote Wednesday, who responds to the Second Vatican Council’s call to discern the signs of the times without making two obvious fatal mistakes: first, conflating discernment with adoption of the norms of the ambient culture and, second, discerning the signs of the times and concluding that engagement is a fool’s errand. Camosy’s engagement is critical and learned, there is not a whiff of defensiveness nor of triumphalism, and the results are surprising. That engagement has issued in a new book, "Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization."
As a metaphor, "when lightning strikes" indicates rarity. As an actual fact, when a real bolt of lightning makes a direct hit on one's house, it is more of a pain in the neck. Especially when you are in a part of rural America where one's internet connection is a dial-up!
I am taking this rare event as a sign from God that I need another day off from blogging. Besides, I find it well nigh to impossible to write while sitting at a noisy Starbucks. But, I will call readers' attention to three articles that should not be missed.
First, Maria Mazzenga has a post up at Religion & Politics contrasting Paul Ryan and Msgr. John A. Ryan. Full Disclosure: Maria is a fellow Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at CUA and I am on the editorial advisory board at R & P, so I admit an affinity for both author and publisher. But, the article is a learned and thoughful essay that I would recommend if I knew neither.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has responded ably to those who have begun criticizing his decision to invite both President Obama and Governor Romney to the Al Smith dinner. In addition to Dolan's call for civility, I would add the concern that conservatives - of all people - should recognize that events like the Al Smith Dinner demonstrate, in a concrete way, the limits of politics. Dolan hints at this in pointing out that the event is about raising money for charity and promoting civility in our national life. I would go further and recommend readers consult Jean Bethke Ehlstain's "Augustine and the Limits of Politics." Even a politician does not exhaust his humanity in his politics.
I am quite sure Cardinal Dolan has not heard the last from the parallel magisterium at LifeSiteNews, the America Life League, et al. I am waiting to hear Cardinal Burke suggest Dolan is acting at the behest of the father of lies!
This story is a couple of days old, but it is a perennial really. Conservative champion David Barton - a best-selling evangelical author and frequent guest of Glenn Beck - published a book called "The Jefferson Lies" in which he contended that Jefferson was a sort of closet orthodox Christian. Now, his publisher, a conservative Christian publisher obviously, has nonetheless pulled the book because it is - surprise, surprise - filled with inaccuracies. The effort to baptize the American Founding is a deeply misguided project (so, too, the effort to deny the religiosity of many if not most Americans at the time of the founding) and while Barton's book may be the most egregious example, there are others.
The National Catholic Register's Pat Archbold has a post up that is at least more forthright than Cong. Paul Ryan's efforts to invoke the social magisterium of the Church even while undermining it. Atchbold writes, "The Bishops Were Wrong." Okay then. Archbold gets points for clarity, but his reasoning is ridiculous - is it really the case that our nation can't afford to keep programs that assist the poor going, yes with increases necessitated by inflation and population growth, to say nothing of the fact that we are in a recession, or is it the case that wealthy men like Archbold don't want their taxes to go up to pay for it?
Just back from the Catholic Conversation Project, a gathering of young theologians who started meeting at Fordham three years ago with the hope of transcending the facile and unproductive categories of left v. right that have unhappily migrated from the political sphere into the Catholic world. The shrill histrionics on all sides that surrounded Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to receive an honorary degree prompted the formation of the group, which started with young theologians at Fordham and has grown to include theologians from across the country. They now meet through the generous support of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, and the meeting is held at a retreat center owned by BC, the former St. Stephen’s Priory in Dover, Massachusetts.