Ross 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.