Ross Douthat explains the situation to liberal ‘c’atholic academics.

IMG_0337Ross Douthat is not lying down and letting the effete liberal catholic academic mafia kick him.

He has declared war.

Rather, perhaps he has openly stated that a state of war does in fact exist – he didn’t start it – and that he, for one, is not fleeing the field.

Douthat, a Catholic and a writer for the New York Times (Hell’s Bible) gave his view of matters concerning the Church today and the recent Synod of Bishops and the catholic Left had a spittle-flecked nutty. Many catholic lefties signed a common letter in which they whined to the NYT about how Douthat shouldn’t be allowed to express his opinions in public. Their claim was that Douthat isn’t qualified to have a valid opinion because he is not, like they are, academicians, with, you know, degrees. (“Doctor Science! He knows more… than you do!” HERE)

The libs were, of course, angry that Douthat’s opinions were well-reasoned and, well, right.  They react poorly to being suddenly exposed to light, and tend to run around a bit.  HERE

Not long after that bitchy letter from the effete catholic Left, Douthat gave a talk for a First Things event, which is on video. HERE

Now, he has issued another opinion piece in the NYT. HERE  It’s a masterpiece.

Letter to the Catholic Academy

MY dear professors!

I read with interest your widely-publicized letter to my editors this week, in which you objected to my recent coverage of Roman Catholic controversies, complained that I was making unfounded accusations of heresy (both “subtly” and “openly”!), [LOL!] and deplored this newspaper’s willingness to let someone lacking theological credentials opine on debates within our church. I was appropriately impressed with the dozens of academic names who signed the letter on the Daily Theology site, and the distinguished institutions (Georgetown, Boston College, Villanova) represented on the list.

I have great respect for your vocation. Let me try to explain mine. [Break it down for them Barney style, Ross.  It might penetrate.]

A columnist has two tasks: To explain and to provoke. The first requires giving readers a sense of the stakes in a given controversy, and why it might deserve a moment of their fragmenting attention span. The second requires taking a clear position on that controversy, the better to induce the feelings (solidarity, stimulation, blinding rage) that persuade people to read, return, and re-subscribe.

I hope we can agree that current controversies in Roman Catholicism cry out for explanation. And not only for Catholics: The world is fascinated — as it should be — by Pope Francis’ efforts to reshape our church. [Undeniable.] But the main parties in the church’s controversies have incentives to downplay the stakes. Conservative Catholics don’t want to concede that disruptive change is even possible. [Naive.] Liberal Catholics don’t want to admit that the pope might be leading the church into a crisis. [Blind.]

So in my columns, I’ve tried to cut through those obfuscations toward what seems like basic truth. There really is a high-stakes division, at the highest levels of the church, over whether to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to communion [NB] and what that change would mean. In this division, the pope clearly inclines toward the liberalizing view and has consistently maneuvered to advance it. At the recent synod, he was dealt a modest but genuine setback by conservatives.

And then to this description, I’ve added my own provoking view: Within the framework of Catholic tradition, the conservatives have by far the better of the argument. [And the catholic Left knows that, which is what fills them with rage.]

First, because if the church admits the remarried to communion without an annulment — while also instituting an expedited, no-fault process for getting an annulment, as the pope is poised to do — [then] the ancient Catholic teaching that marriage is “indissoluble” would become an empty signifier.

Second, because changing the church’s teaching on marriage in this way would unweave the larger Catholic view of sexuality, sin and the sacraments — severing confession’s relationship to communion, and giving cohabitation, same-sex unions and polygamy entirely reasonable claims to be accepted by the church. [Which is precisely what the catholic Left wants.  It’s about having sex with anything you want.]

Now this is, as you note, merely a columnist’s opinion. So I have listened carefully when credentialed theologians make the liberalizing case. What I have heard are three main claims.  [By now, dear readers, you can see why the catholic Left is so terrified of Ross Douthat right now.  He is breaking them across his knee, looking and the marrow, and then writing about it in one of the catholic Left’s sources of revelation, Hell’s Bible (aka NYT).] The first is that the changes being debated would be merely “pastoral” rather than “doctrinal,” and that so long as the church continues to say that marriage is indissoluble, nothing revolutionary will have transpired. [Which everyone knows is little better than a game of three card monte.]

But this seems rather like claiming that China has not, in fact, undergone a market revolution because it’s still governed by self-described Marxists. No: In politics and religion alike, a doctrine emptied in practice is actually emptied, whatever official rhetoric suggests. [Well done.]

When this point is raised, reformers [having been beaten at their first attempt] pivot [like ballerinas] to the idea that, well, maybe the proposed changes really are effectively doctrinal, but [but!]not every doctrinal issue is equally important, and anyway Catholic doctrine can develop over time. [Thus shuffling the slightly bent cards on top of their cardboard box.]

But [But!] the development of doctrine is supposed to deepen church teaching, not reverse or contradict it. [There it is.] This distinction allows for many gray areas, admittedly. But effacing Jesus’ own words on the not-exactly-minor topics of marriage and sexuality certainly looks more like a major reversal than an organic, doctrinally-deepening shift. [And the Kasperites also run quickly to explain that the clear words of Jesus mean different things to different people in different times and they must be reinterpreted in ways appropriate for changing circumstances.]

At which point we come to the third argument, which makes an appearance in your letter: You don’t understand, you’re not a theologian. [This is the famous “‘Shut up!’, he explained” argument.] As indeed I am not. But neither is Catholicism supposed to be an esoteric religion, its teachings accessible only to academic adepts. And the impression left by this moving target, I’m afraid, is that some reformers are downplaying their real position in the hopes of bringing conservatives gradually along.  [You mean to say that they are… what’s the word… deceptive?]

What is that real position? That almost anything Catholic can change when the times require it, and “developing” doctrine just means keeping up with capital-H History, no matter how much of the New Testament is left behind.  [That, dear readers, is the Kasperite method in a nutshell.]

As I noted earlier, the columnist’s task is to be provocative. So I must tell you, openly and not subtly, that this view sounds like heresy by any reasonable definition of the term.  [OORAH!]

Now it may be that today’s heretics are prophets, the church will indeed be revolutionized, and my objections will be ground under with the rest of conservative Catholicism. But if that happens, it will take hard grinding, not just soft words and academic rank-pulling. It will require a bitter civil war.

And so, my dear professors: Welcome to the battlefield.

Fr. Z kudos to Ross Douthat.

Welcome to the battlefield.

Please share!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z KUDOS, Liberals, Our Catholic Identity, Synod, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices, The Olympian Middle, Throwing a Nutty and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Ross Douthat explains the situation to liberal ‘c’atholic academics.

  1. Benedict Joseph says:

    Douhart is on it again. Bullseye!
    God bless this good man for writing the utter truth. The Roman Catholic theological academy is running on hubris – the usual “publish or perish.” If their “theology” is not of the groin or adolescent rebellion, or in a lip lock with Marxism, it don’t sell. The heterodox see it as their mission to cull any and all that might threaten their agenda to eviscerate the Church of its mission to evangelize the world in the name of our Lord, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, Son of God and Son of Mary. To them He and the Magisterium are a bit of a scandal, rather like the lovable but embarrassing odd uncle.
    Sometimes aberrant Catholic “theology” is referenced as that of “the wink and the nod.” Their flip side is the “dropped mouth,” the eyes darting to the ceiling, the hesitant and abruptly muttered “yes” offered when confronted unexpectedly with orthodoxy or a threat to a career. Then there is the “disarming tactic” they employ by offering a point of view that is so erroneous that one is simply silenced by the utter ridiculousness of the proposal.
    It is reptilian. Nothing less than of a forked tongue.
    Ladder climbing wanna-be Roman Catholic educators abandoned fidelity to Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Magisterium in the years going into the Second Vatican Council. Initially it was thought to be a step into a world that would allow the Catholic voice to be heard and enriched. It has proven to be the imbibing of toxic waste.
    Clergy and academic “theologians” need drop the persona they sport for aggrandizement and vest themselves with fidelity to Jesus Christ, employing the wisdom of devotion and common sense. This era can find its resolution on the Heart of Christ, rather than in cesspool of pride, hedonism and secular materialism. When next some high ranking ecclesiastic appeals to the effervescent and intoxicating waters of the academy in lieu of orthodoxy, he might want to check what he is chugging down.

  2. SaintJude6 says:

    If you want a real fright, read the comments section after his column. There sure are a lot of readers of the NYT who want to tell you exactly how many years of Catholic school they attended before discovering that the Church was irrelevant, corrupt, backwards, superstitious, misogynistic, mean to puppies, etc…

  3. Sandy says:

    Too bad Ross is not a bishop! I say Bravo! to him. After reading what you say, SaintJude6, I don’t even want to subject myself to reading any comments at that rag. Thank you, Father Z for exposing us to all this and showing us that there are others “on our side”. Of course we have the invisible army on our side also!

  4. mysticalrose says:

    As one who has been bullied by the liberal “c”atholic establishment as a youth and as an adult, I am glad to see Mr. Douthat this in the open. These people thrive on subterfuge and darkness — it is time for hidden things to be shouted on the rooftops.

  5. benedetta says:

    What mysticalrose said ^.

    The first step is in acknowledging…

  6. TNCath says:

    This is brilliantly presented. It’s a shame that Mr. Douthat wasn’t “sitting shotgun” to Raymond Arroyo last week when he interviewed Cardinal Wuerl on The World Over. Perhaps some other time.

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    What a role model! I don’t know what kind of assurances he may have received from the NYT to continue his column “no matter what”, but in the age of cowardice and capitulation, I am deeply impressed by his willingness to state the truth boldly and without apparent fear for his own position. Would that everybody followed suit! Now we see what courage and love for Jesus Christ looks like in our current day. We are going to need many Russ Douthat’s.
    He is right, we have the far better argument, but if nobody voices it, does it matter?
    Granted, the Apostolic Exhortation is pending. The pope has played his hand with two writings, the end of the Synod and the other commentary. He was blocked by faithful Cardinals and that left him seething. You don’t block him. Cardinal Burke was a thorn he publicly removed before the battle had even begun. He will deal with those who blocked him and get accomplished the goal before him.
    There have always been heresies and heretics, but they have unprecedented ability to do damage today, to the Church, the faith, and to souls. The heretics are going to do what they want anyway, they already are. The faithful won’t do it at all. This is a battle for the Church in the Middle. The Church in the Middle contains much of the culture, families, and many souls.
    We need heroic virtue at these times. The men in the power seats of the church must be ready to participate fully. This cannot be a lay effort although the laity have a definite part. It will require bold words and actions, being able to give an account and hardest of all, sticking to it when demons shriek.
    When the AE comes out, that will be the initial shot.

  8. La Sandia says:

    The New York Times doesn’t deserve Ross Douthat–he’s far too reasonable, intelligent, and morally sound. One has to wonder how he puts up with his insufferable colleagues.

  9. PA mom says:

    Brilliant! Clear! Truthful! Filled to the brim with Fortitude!

    Can anyone get a copy of this to the Pope? If he heard argumentation like this more often, it would be to his benefit.

  10. acardnal says:

    “Their claim was that Douthat isn’t qualified to have a valid opinion because he is not, like they are, academicians, with, you know, degrees.”

    I wonder how many of these “experts” who signed the letter to the NYT objecting to Douthat have a mandatum to teach theology?

    Many of these so called academics remind me of Professor Irwin C. Corey . . .the master of obfuscation and desultory remarks: HERE

  11. Back pew sitter says:

    God bless Ross Douthat!

    I agree with acardnal that each of the signatories of the anti-Douthat letter should be called to account for whether they have a mandatum. If not, why not?!

  12. Joseph-Mary says:

    Great rebuttal! Wonderful insight and intellect. Ah, the pride of some of the academics! So smart and so lost are some of them. Better to be an ignorant humble little person embracing all the tenants of the faith and striving for holiness.

  13. Robert of Rome says:

    It’s a clichè, but a picture is worth a thousand words. And that picture of Ross Douthat with Fr. Z must represent the nightmare of every liberal ‘c’atholic academic and reader of the NYT!

  14. LarryW2LJ says:

    And THAT, my friends, is what a Soldier of Christ looks like. And that, my friends, is what WE were all called to be at our Confirmations.

    Mr. Douthat, I would gladly jump in your foxhole and fight beside you, any day of the week.

  15. mpmaron says:

    NYT readers apoplectic!
    I am shocked. Shocked and appalled.

    This was an excellent piece. So sensible even a heterodox could agr–

    Um, never mind.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    From Catholic Academic Left’s Latest Act of Desperation, by Rachel Lu:

    Few things are certain in this world, but this I believe with untroubled confidence: liberal Catholics are on the wrong side of history.

    Our Lord has already assured us that the Church will stand the test of time, and “the gates of Hell will not prevail” against it. Ours isn’t the first era in which that promise has seemed distant and uncertain. We should take heart, however: over the course of the last two millennia, quite a lot of people have bet against the Church, and lost.

  17. Owwww.

    That left a mark.

    Don’t you hate it when a well-reasoned and clear rebuttal to a whine leaves no room for weasel words?

    Let the ad hominem and appeals to emotions begin.

    Douthat’s “Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war” response, even in the New York Slime birdcage liner is a classic. Too bad the opposition seems to be bringing butter spreaders to a gun fight.

  18. rodin says:

    Almost tempted to subscribe to NYT just to read Dothat’s columns, but reason (and budget) dictate otherwise.

  19. entirelyuseless says:

    While I will refrain from commenting on the morality of the practice, you can read Douthat’s columns online without a subscription by going to the NYT page and then clicking on the “stop loading” button on the browser before the blocking script loads.

  20. Clinton R. says:

    This post fits well with the previous post on sedevacantism. Because with the current pontificate, the sedes believe the words and actions of Pope Francis clearly illustrate their position. If the Pope makes the reception of Holy Communion possible for the divorced and remarried outside of an annulment, then perhaps the sedes’ argument doesn’t seem so on the fringe anymore. I have no doubt the likes of Mr. Douthat and all who adhere to the timeless teachings of Our Lord and His Church will continue to suffer. But, this is the time the Bride must suffer as Her Groom suffered. May God grant us His strength. +JMJ+

  21. iamlucky13 says:

    Reading the letter a second time, I’m still struck by the irony of those arguing for the Church to draw more on the input of the lay faithful, attacking Mr. Douthat for writing his own input.

    On top of Mr. Douthat’s response, Bishop Barron also noticed the hub-bub and penned his own undeniably qualified* response where he calls them to respond like grownups instead of stifling input:
    http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/ross-douthat-and-the-catholic-academy/4967/

    “I would say to those who signed the letter against Ross Douthat, “Make an argument against him; prove him wrong; marshal your evidence; have a debate with him; take him on. But don’t attempt to censor him.” I understand that the signatories disagree with him, but he’s playing by the rules.”

    * “Professional qualifications”:
    Auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles.
    MA, Philosophy – Catholic University of America
    Doctor of Sacred Theology – Catholic Institute of Paris
    Rector – University of St. Mary of the Lake
    Professor – University of St. Mary of the Lake
    Visiting Professor – University of Notre Dame
    Visiting Professor – Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas
    Scholar in Residence – Pontifical North American College at the Vatican
    Founder – Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    Obviously, not all academic theologians are morally liberal (the late Ralph MacInerny, for example). One wonders what, exactly, it is that drives the liberal ones. Well, the conservative ones already have a fixed, stable position, so the liberal ones must always appear to be shouting to be heard. The fact may be that, per person, the liberals express their angst and demand more attention than any group of conservatives of the same size.

    Many theologians would make poor mathematicians, because they refuse to except that theology, like mathematics, is not a matter of feelings, but of reason and of following the truth wherever it leads. They want to be in charge of the parade.

    The Chicken

  23. MarylandBill says:

    Ross Douthat is rapidly becoming that which I have sought in the mainstream medium.. the lone voice crying out in the wilderness. His arguments are based in reason and Christian values, not, it appears the libertarian objectivism that has seemed to dominate conservative columnists for so long. And his firm grasp of Catholicism only makes it better.

  24. jacobi says:

    I was not familiar with Douthat until this little spate. But he is good. We will hear more from him in the future. I shall certainly follow what he says.

    He is right, in particular, on one thing. Battle is joined and on more than one front!

  25. Traductora says:

    Excellent! Incidentally, one of the things that has brought us to this state is precisely the rise of expert culture, with “expert” meaning someone who has degrees from the right officialdom-approved place. This is precisely what gives academia, otherwise useless because it is the home of nothing but stale, state-controlled concepts that pass as learning, its power and also makes it the paradise of people like the heretical mediocrities at BC. Power and a platform is what it’s all about. Learning? Thought? Forget it.

    The other thing that bothers me about this is what looks like an attempt to silence a journalist. This is a classic leftist technique. The Vatican has been very discomfited of late by the revelations of certain journalists and writers, and a real attempt was made during the Synod to exclude anybody who might not be easy to control or who had not shown himself to be 100% pro-Francis (which is how everything is defined now). I wonder to what extent that was involved in the arrest this weekend of the priest member of the financial committee, who was accused of “leaking” things that will be published in two books on Vatican finances scheduled to come out later this week.

    Whether he was “leaking” is a little unclear, since he’s a smart, orthodox priest with an impressive background in financial management and a spotless record. I don’t think he’d be devious enough or basically stupid enough to do something like this. But be that as it may, his arrest will certainly strike a little fear into journalistic hearts.

  26. Sacred1 says:

    I really agree with comments from an earlier post on this blog. I think the debate should be about reclaiming ground and not only maintaining the status quo.

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  28. gsk says:

    Odd. They never fussed with Maureen Dowd over her lack of credentials…

  29. benedetta says:

    I don’t know that what has been done to date has been all about “defending the status quo” as another poster says above, but, I think that the columnist is right in the Erasmus talk that new approaches are necessary, have been necessary. To this end, panic is not really great or helpful. I think our blogmaster rightly presents the notion of having a plan. I would like to add that to the plan we need leaders — it should go without saying. It may or may not be a matter of looking to hierarchy. Lay leaders to my mind are essential. All sorts of Catholics in these decades have jettisoned the notion of obedience to rightful authority, as well as the current times’ American renegade way of thinking as best, innovation, individuality, etc., and no one hardly has had the benefit of proper Catholic formation in community. And yet somehow it won’t due for pockets of ghettos to maintain turf and bubble up creativity to marshal to their own exclusive benefit.

    I have to say that EWTN over the past couple years seems to be taking on some of the lion’s share of leadership in that they now have very timely current news service, frequently updated and live, and, their ordinary form Mass incorporates even more fuller diversity of beauty and tradition — today the OF televised Mass included the chanting of the Dies Irae. The formation offered there is sound, and they seem to in their live programming as well as series manage to visit and highlight, explain the full array of orthodoxy today including the beauty and hope of the EF Mass. I think that is an excellent start anyway.

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    It should be accept, not except, in the above.

    The Chicken

  31. benedetta says:

    And…

    But Fatherrrrrr!!!! You…you…you…hate Vatican II…and…that’s like…like…bringing a popular culture video to a culture war??!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGD69Q9rz3M

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  33. Father Zuhlsdorf,

    I humbly add my kudos for Mr. Douthat to your own.
    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  34. Andkaras says:

    Ross Douthat says”…it will take a hard grinding, not just soft words and academic rank pulling…” Therefore with all the confidence of those who have taken to heart the words, Not a bone was broken.” and because no other thing on earth so accurately portrays that “Great Mystery” which is Christ and his Church, as does Holy Matrimony, yes Marriage between a man and a woman in Bone of my Bone fashion , It will take a hard grinding indeed! We the ossified ones say, with all humility of course, Bring it on!

  35. robtbrown says:

    Masked Chicken,

    The late, great Ralph McInerney was a philosopher not a theologian.

  36. robtbrown says:

    Good stuff from Mr Douthat, including:

    At which point we come to the third argument, which makes an appearance in your letter: You don’t understand, you’re not a theologian. 

    Not all theologians would agree with those who signed the letter, which effectively refutes their argument. Their approach, however, is typical of liberals, whose MO is consistently avoiding rational discourse in favor of ad hominem attacks. They’re interested in power, not Truth.

  37. lmgilbert says:

    I saw Douthat’s column about six hours after it was published, and already there were eleven hostile responses. It seems like the opposition was waiting for him. What if we were to do the same both to support him and to refute his critics? This would involve knowing his publishing schedule, both date and time of day.

    This is harder to do than affecting poll results, but there are many articulate people here who know how to frame clear and convincing arguments. In fact, it would be very helpful if for any given argument of his or of his attackers, someone could point to good sources for supporting or opposing arguments, statistics, official documents, lines of argument.

  38. tskrobola says:

    Russ Douthat’s column is the rhetorical equivalent to Dikembe Mutombo blocking a shot into the third row, then calmly wagging your finger at your opponent in a “don’t even try it!” fashion.

    Reading that column is like a really good steak….crisp, juicy, bold, and still somehow tender.

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  40. Mr. Graves says:

    Mr. Douthat’s column is encouraging, a salvo into the enemy headquarters launched from its own camp. Fantastic! We need to take the fight to them and stop playing the defensive game every time they attack.

    I’m a little troubled by the level of enthusiasm shown for Mr. D after his column was released. Every time faithful Catholics, tired and embattled, gain even an inch of ground, we tend to make a secular messiah of the person who led the charge. E.g., this morning Life Site News ran a story entitled, “House Speaker Paul Ryan: To be honest, we can’t defund Planned Parenthood.” Another secular messiah offers his pinch of incense to Ceasar. Grrrrr. (Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.)

    Let’s place this in the “win” category and give Mr. D the praise he richly deserves, without being naive. God bless Mr. Douthat and all priests, religious, and lay persons who defend — in words and deeds — the perennial teachings of the Church every day. God grant us the grace to stand firm, anchored in Truth.

  41. VexillaRegis says:

    Very well written!

    As a non-native English speaker I have to ask: Can someone tell me how the name Douthat is pronounced? Thanks :-)

  42. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Cultural Note: “Shut up,” he explained.

    This comes from a Ring Lardner story, “The Young Immigrunts.”

    http://www.archive.org/stream/youngimmigruntsw00larduoft/youngimmigruntsw00larduoft_djvu.txt

  43. rickamdg says:

    Kudos to Father Z for understanding how Warner Brothers cartoons capture the fundamental truths of life.

  44. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Masked Chicken,

    The late, great Ralph McInerney was a philosopher not a theologian.”

    Yeah, I knew that. I used some of his work on analogy in the writings of St. Thomas and Aristotle in my humor research. I, temporarily, misplaced my brain, as you can tell from my spelling errors in the comment, as well.

    VexillaRegis,

    The way Mr. Douthat’s name was pronounced at the Eramus lecture was Dow-That, if I recall correctly.

    “At which point we come to the third argument, which makes an appearance in your letter: You don’t understand, you’re not a theologian. ”

    I am not that impressed by this argument. I do highly interdisciplinary work, so I have had to learn to interact with scholars from a number of fields. Let me put things into perspective: in doing my doctoral work in music, I needed to have advanced knowledge of plant anatomy since I was doing work on materials related to musical instruments and until recently, most of these materials were woods or reed materials. I, literally, walked off the street into a graduate plant anatomy class and took it for credit, not having had a biology class for many years (being a physical scientist). Guess what, I didn’t have a problem (and I even got published for a truly hilarious reason). If one knows how to learn, one can study from most fields, except those that require developed skills, such as dance or music performance (I could not walk into a graduate cello class and play the instrument). Yes, there is specialized knowledge in most fields, but, fundamentally, how much different is, say, historical theology than music history, in terms of actual techniques? I know how to do research in both the sciences and the arts. Most of the disciplines use a set of consistent core methods that, once learned, can be applied to most other fields, with only the knowledge-base being changed.

    Again, all physicists, chemists, and engineers know math at least well enough to teach college undergrads math through the sophomore year, so why should the math people tout their Ph.d in mathematics for anything other that teaching advanced classes? Likewise, most well-read Catholics have enough knowledge to teach probably up to high school and, maybe beginning college courses. Heck, I could walk off the street and teach Church history at the undergrad level, although it would be less of a stretch for me, being an historian in another field. Advanced degrees are required for doing advanced work.

    Now, understanding the causes of the break-up of the family is, truly, an interdisciplinary problem – one which the theologians do not have a corner on by themselves. Neither does it require an advanced degree because, to date, guess what, little truly good empirical work has been done and very little by theologians. Anyone who knows how to do research can have creditable input in the discussion. Journalists, at least the good ones, know how to investigate.

    As for the Communion issue – just how subtle a matter is that, really? These liberal theologians not only insult Douthat, but the generations of theologians that came before them, claiming, subtly, that these prior generations never knew that there could be, “difficulties,” in the standard theology. Oh, wait…they didn’t, because Communion for the divorced and unlawfully remarried is not a graduate-level question. It is more of a question for high schoolers. It isn’t advanced calculus; it is algebra and any reasonably educated person should be able to understand the underpinnings because, like algebra, it is a subject that was settled centuries, ago.

    So, Mr. Douthat, you have an ally in me. I’m pretty sure I know how to do research.

    The Chicken

  45. TomG says:

    I have a client whose surname is Douthat (no kin to this excellent young man; I asked). Was interested to find out that it is a Norman name.

  46. MKR says:

    The third criticism of Douthat–which, it must be emphasized, Douthat is not oversimplifying–really is something. “You lack a degree in theology; therefore, you’re wrong.” I mean–good Lord. Let’s set aside the fact–and it is a fact–that “theology” departments in the 21st century are, with very few exceptions, playgrounds for social justice warriors who absolutely blow at thinking carefully about things. Having a graduate degree from such places is simply not impressive. It’s truly appalling that there are actual academics capable of resorting to this Reductio ad Lack of Credentials. I wonder if they encourage their students to write papers defending arguments of the form “So-and-so says that p; So-and-so has a Ph.D. from an Eminent Theology Department; therefore, p.”

  47. The Masked Chicken says:

    Just to finish putting the nail in the coffin of the excuse that Mr. Douthat is not a theologian, so he couldn’t possibly understand the subtleties of divorce theology, the idea that only someone with a Ph.d can understand subtle arguments is a backwards form of the fallacy, argumentum ad verecundiam, or the appeal to authority or reverence. Normally, the argument says that experts are only experts in their field and anything they say outside of that has no more right to reverence than the common man’s opinion. What the backwards form of the fallacy says is a form of the fallacy of the accident – that only experts in a field with a Ph.d are the only people who can have expert knowledge. In this case, it reads:

    If X is a theologian, then X understands theological subtleties;
    X understands theological subtleties, therefore he is a theologian.

    This is easily proven false. Pierre de Fermat understood statistics (he co-invented the field) and number theory (he is probably the most famous number theorist), but he was a lawyer; Michael Faraday understood electromagnetism (he created the field), but he was a bookbinder. Many examples can be found of amateurs doing important research. Robert Marcellus was the most famous clarinetist of the twentieth-century, but he had a bachelor’s degree in music for most of his life (he had to get a master’s to teach in college), but who doubts that he was the expert in his field?

    A Ph.d means you have done significant independent scholarly research and it permits one to teach graduate students, but it does not make one an expert in all matters within the discipline. I doubt most of the Ph.d theologians who signed the letter against Mr. Douthat are experts in the theology of marriage, so, technically, their opinion is only a little bit better informed than his. One of the foremost experts on Humanae Vitae is Dr. Janet Smith, but her Ph.d is in Classics, not theology.

    An expert is someone who has done the work and sweated the sweat to really know what is what. Some people do this in college; some people do this at home. The expert in the classification of certain types of mathematical groups is a simple housewife. Who knew?

    The Chicken

  48. benedetta says:

    The whole thing reminds me of a slogan that has emerged in the elementary school world in the wake of the general bullying epidemic that plagues our schools, which have become by and large, much less safe, kind, and tolerant, in the wake of the summer of love and VII (?), and wherein the Golden Rule is verboten. Nowadays little tykes are taught to declare the maxim “You can’t say you can’t play” to counteract the out of control currents and dynamic of bullying which have taken hold of our schools. It’s largely ineffectual against what plagues our young people, understandably as it doesn’t partake of dialogue, listening, respect, or reason, but, even little ones comprehend the notion of basic fairness which the slogan envisions.

  49. benedetta says:

    The other thing that’s fun is the idea that using the ‘h’ word is for “professionals only”. Us peasants, illiterate and reality show consuming, are simply not schooled sufficiently to identify heresies and call them out or attempt to discuss them, even though we are Church and the laity, so the letter asserts. Those who make their living lecturing others are the only ones who may engage in that privilege. Even if they pretend it is otherwise, it has always actually been the responsibility of laity to recognize heresy and protect the faith from it. I can say with confidence that even in our strange times, children are being taught to recognize them and employ apologetics toward communicating the full Gospel to others. Some are even reading Belloc! The history of the Church is a wild and wonderful thing. Young people, untitled, undegreed, have been known to, in these very times, study the various councils of the Church and consider what occurred. Speaking strictly as a diletantte, a lot of us moms have had to recreate the wheel so to speak in Catholic education in recent times, having to go back before a lot of the products of American theology, to find good solid teaching material, upon which we would be happy to let our children base their journeys of faith, because the stuff served up in the last decades under this academy’s watch has been found wanting, incoherent, discouraging, gutting of what is life giving about the Gospel and the Faith, which we, even from a public health standpoint, desire for our families. And it’s quite amusing that all of us do this with no titles, no degrees, no salary (eek!). We give, without cost. Understandably this academy feels like their authority has been usurped. Time permitting, us moms would be happy to sit down with them (finally!) and explain our goals and concerns, and how we have found it quite easy in many cases to impart knowledge to our children even while balancing and juggling several other situations and even serious problems besides. It can be done!

  50. jbpolhamus says:

    I like it when the words of Ring Lardner can be quoted in support of Catholic apologetics! Well done, Padre.

  51. Kathleen10 says:

    VexillaRegis, I believe I heard it pronounced so that the “Dou” rhymed with “now” and the “that” was pronounced as almost “thet”, with the stress on the first syllable.