Tuesday, April 16

Carl Olson of Envoy Magazine helps me out once more:

I really enjoyed (OK, I'm being sarcastic) this line from Clueless:

"Religion without justification is dogma, and dogmas decay and die because they cannot adapt. "

[now, Carl...] is truly clueless. Everyone has dogmas. The statement: "Religion without justification is dogma" is dogmatic. It makes a truth claim. That's all dogma is: a truth claim. In Catholicism these claims are backed up by the Church and her authority, granted by Christ. They do not change. They adapt" only to the extent that they are articulated in a way that people
can understand without contradicting or shortchanging the truth they express.

USS Clueless Expounds on the Pedagogy of Moral Education.

It's fascinating to watch a guardian of reason jump to conclusions. Hmm.

A couple of days ago I posted an anecdote about using the question "why not" as a conscience-clarifier. That's all. Clueless evidently misunderstood, thinking that I was proposing a comprehensive schema for moral education based on "Why Not?" He pounced in a moment of glee, knowing that he had the irrational Christer by the - well, ovaries, I guess.

When you are a teacher in a religious setting, and you proclaim to a kid, "You shouldn't have sex before marriage," (or some equivalent moral teaching) then the kid is entirely within his rights to ask you to justify that. You're the moral authority, you're the one making the statement, you're there to teach them what is right and wrong. And if you can't explain it, there's something deeply wrong.

Religion without justification is dogma, and dogmas decay and die because they cannot adapt. If the believers in a religion not only know its teachings but understand them, then that religion will remain vital. But for that to happen, then its moral leaders must not only be able to answer the question, "Why?" they must encourage it being asked. When their followers encounter a new moral problem, they'll be able to return to first principles and derive a new moral judgment.

Because I neglected to run through my classroom syllabus, my textbook choices or offer synopses of my lecture/discussion notes, Clueless has assumed somehow that none of the activities he described took place.

Yeah. That's it. That's what Ms. Welborn did in Morality Class. Walked into class on Day 1, said, "Non-marital sex is wrong" and then stood there, speechless and befuddled, as her inquisitive students asked "why?" and then turning gratefully to the likes of Clueless when all their teacher could muster was a "rhetorical trick.."

Let me assure all who are concerned about the education of those who were under my care that such was not the case. Further, such is not the case with any good Catholic educator or catechetical writer of whom I'm aware. Our faith is rooted in plenty of good reasons, and our tradition is full of people who never stopped asking, "Why?"

The story I told in this post was of one little technique to assist in clarifying one's conscience and motivations. It's a handy tool, as I call it, and one of the handiest. There are plenty more, such as trying to see the present moment in retrospect. But they are not the centerpiece of Christian moral reasoning. The center of our moral decision-making as Christians should be our relationship with Christ and all that entails. God's grace is what strengthens us to do the right thing. Reasoned moral precepts play their role as well. But you know, there are times, not only for adolescents, but for all of us, that the pressures of the moment make it difficult to access all of that. We know, but we don't know, or we choose to forget. It's those moments that perhaps a sharp little question like I propose would clarify things and help us clear the way back to our principles. That's all.

The "why not" question, as I said, isn't offered as a foundation for moral decision-making, but as a tool to use in the moment of decision-making when you're having a hard time deciding if it's worth it to let your actions catch up with what you know is right.

Let me also offer an apology to all Christians out there who have come under the scorn of Clueless because of his reading of my post, and his subsequent assumption that Christian morality is based on sand and that Christian teachers are incapable of communicating the grounds for what they're saying.

Why is so blamed hard for Catholics to teach religion to their kids?

Musings on that question were inspired by my husband's impassioned blog on a Diocesan Director of Religious Education's comments on the Crisis, and my own memories of dealing with the same person. You'll have to come back later for that, though. It's peaceful, quiet, and it's time to write a column.

Later, I will also respond to a discussion of a reaction to something I wrote that's at the most unlikely place : The USS Clueless blog, a site I've visited exactly once in my life. I feel about his post the same way you'd feel if you walked into a room of strangers and everyone suddenly fell silent: Who are these people? Why were they talking about me? What do they care?

Status report:

For the past three weeks or so, I've been averaging about 1,000 hits per weekday on this site - around 500/day on the weekends, which tells you....what...about American workplace productivity??

Anyway, I'm still processing the growing reach of my little blog, and still trying to figure out how to use the space. I don't want to be All Scandal All the Time because there's more to Catholicism than that, and there's more to my intellectual life than that, although it does tend to dominate of late. I use the space to reflect, process and vent. I justify the time I spend here by the true fact that much of what I write ends up, in some form or other, in a printed column or article - the blog replaces the scraps of paper and clippings I used to have scattered around my desk with "COLUMN FODDER" scribbled on top.

More than anything else, though, I appreciate the way this blog has connected me to the outside world. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy my life very much, and like the gift of being able to work at home. But it does get isolating sometimes, and being able to engage in the kind of conversations this blog affords is very stimulating and comforting. Thanks for your visits and your (mostly) kind words!

One of the recurrent themes of the past few months has been:

He doesn't seem like the type of person who would do such a terrible thing....he did such good work in the parish...he couldn't be guilty..

It's difficult, I know. But I also know that one of the lessons I learned in early adulthood, once I'd passed the self-absorption of adolescence and was able to see others as themselves rather than reflections of my own ego was people are often not what they seem.

Ask anyone who deals with people's problems on an intimate level: priests, ministers, counselors, therapists. They'll all tell you...if you only knew... You'd be amazed, appalled, horrified and maybe even edified by what people's lives are really like behind closed doors. A priest, ordained for about seven years, told me once without violating confidentiality, that in those mere seven years, he'd heard almost everything you could imagine in the confessional of his suburban parishes.

Horrific revelations are dispiriting and confusing. But they alert us to the truth that things (or people) are often not what they seem.

Mark Byron is moving to Lake Wales, Florida this summer to teach at Warner Southern college. He says,

Got to rent a car for the first time, and then drive, dog-tired (got in at 11:00), an hour down to Lake Wales. US 27 is a four lane divided highway (but not a limited-access expressway) , which has a 65 MPH speed limit-I'm used to 55 for such roads in Michigan. At night, you couldn't see much, but got to drive past the Florida's Natural orange juice plant on the east side of US 27 in Lake Wales. The orange smell coming out of the plant beat the heck out of the fumes from Dow Chemical in my hometown of Midland.... Seeing palm trees and orange groves gives you the "Todo, I don't think we're in Michigan anymore" feeling. Came back, had some Cinnamon Crispix that was on special (good stuff-a redo) and then went to campus.

I think I'm going to like this place.

You will. Sigh. I lived in Lakeland, which is about 25 miles from Lake Wales, for years. It's a very nice area, and I sure do miss the orange, grapefruit and banana trees in my old backyard. Only one problem: most of us naturally associate "Florida" with "beach." Both Lakeland and Lake Wales are a good distance from any beaches - not an easy haul, which is kind of a bummer. But otherwise, Mark definitely as a good thing going, moving from Michigan to Florida!

You may not agree with all of his points, but you've got to admit, it's an intriguing statement:

The rector of Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral on how the Church should meet the current crisis.

Oddly enough,the statement as almost nothing to say about pedophilia or its cover-up. The focus is rather on the way in which the Church's sense of itself as a corporation rather than a community of faith has determined the response of many within and without to the crisis. He is, of course, all for the Cardinal staying, since his departure would buy into the Church as Corporation model. I don't agree. But I am fascinated by his take on the church institutions which he sees as more of a drag on the Church's true mission, rather than an expression of them - namely schools and Catholic Charities:

We are not a college preparation service, we are a community faith centered around the risen Christ. Those Catholic elementary schools and high schools where the vast majority of the student body do not attend any Church, where parents send their children to school so that they do not have to go to public school and where most parents themselves do not attend Church have a problem. They are providing a service to people who have essentially rejected our faith. Such schools should be closed and the assets sold and given to the poor, unless it is needed to provide for a settlement.

We are the Commonwealth's largest private social service agency. However, as a community of faith, we are not called to be a social service agency. Those operations that we maintain so that the state or other agencies do not have to, are outside of our focus. Indeed, it is illegal for us to preach the gospel in such agencies, in spite of the fact that this is our main purpose. Such agencies and their assets should be evaluated in light of our focus and those outside that focus should be sold off to secular organizations that provide secular services. That money too must be given to the poor, unless it is needed to provide for a settlement.

I can see his point, and much of what he says is true, and is a real problem and, in relation to the latter, a caution for those enthused about government assistance to faith-based social service programs. Of course, the state of these institutions in Boston is not indicative of their state in every diocese across the country. But it's a discussion-starter, for sure.

This, on the other hand, is a no-brainer:

The Cardinal's residence was willed to the Archdiocese by the Keith family of theatrical fame around the turn of the century. It should be sold, its assets given to the poor, unless they are needed for cash settlements. It cannot be sold to BC because it would be silly to offer it to a Catholic institution that itself produces people who by their inactivity as Catholics reject our faith.

As I said, I don't agree with everything Fr. Carr says here, but I do agree with his basic point that the institutionalization of the Church and its mission is a core problem.

The Globe on the Cardinal's Confab.
Thanks to a reader for pointing out this good column by Bill Murchison on The Situation
More on the Pope's meeting with our Cardinals from the NYTimes (Link requires registration, yadda, yadda....)
Speaking of ill treatment at the hands of clerics:

Today is the Feast of St. Bernadette (in France it's celebrated on February 18). I highly recommend to you the book Lourdes: Body and Spirit in a Secular Age as a good, balanced examination of Bernadette in the context of 19th century France.

My name is....My name is....My name is...

Amy W-e-l-b-o-r-n. One "l". I've noticed an increasing tendency out there to double that l. Tain't me.

My son, the Objectivist.

While you were mailing your taxes, my middle son David was working on his own April 15 deadline: An entry in an essay contest on The Fountainhead sponsored by the Ayn Rand Foundation. I've no idea what he wrote, but I do know what motivated him: the $10,000 first prize.

A few people have written to help me sort out my thoughts on the Evansville priest (scroll down for the story)

Perhaps the people making excuses for Fr. Vogler simply can't match the man they know with the acts
described. Perhaps their faith is more tenuous than they know, and facing the sinfulness of their priest is
more than they can handle. Perhaps they've been seduced by the popular culture - He seems sorry, no problem,
no consequences . "Forgiveness" lets them feel good about themselves. But it does pose a problem for us as
church if our understanding of forgiveness enables the scandal of pornographic (and other) priests to persist in
defiling the Body of Christ. Why do we make allowances for bad behavior on the part of our clergy that our
children would be chastised for in a heartbeat?


For most of my adult life I have listened to priests basically tell people that the greatest sin, the one for which they should be most repentant, is judgement. They have completely reinforced the popular culture and left the
people with little ability to make any sort of moral judgement. My pastor's response to 9/11 was to sermonize on how we should expect that sort of thing, as long as we allow poverty in the world. Even the hierarchy now lacks the language to adequately address the current crisis. They want people to pray for the priests because "we're all hurting".

And finally:

The best I can come up with:



Very short leash..........

New Blog on the Block. Political and cultural stuff and a promise of Catholic matters in the future. Naturally enough, from a graduate of St. Thomas More College!


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