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No Man's Land?

On Easter Sunday, a headline on the New York Times's homepage read: "On Being Catholic." This was followed by a teaser: "Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe in the churchs teachings?" A Catholic might find the question mildly irritating, especially that incredulous "actually." But a Catholic might also find it enticing. After all, the headline itself suggests that the answer to the teaser's question will be some kind of yes.

Enticed, I clicked on the link and found a short essay by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame (and a contributor to Commonweal). The essay is well worth reading—it is characteristically lucid and incisive—but it doesn't exactly answer the question put by the teaser.

Gutting argues persuasively that's it possible for a reflective and honest intellectual to be a certain kind of Catholic without shame or self-deception. This kind of Catholic believes some of the church's teachings but not others, and some of the ones he believes may require a bit of reinterpretation. This kind of Catholic finds his moral imagination directly captivated by the Church's "ethics of love," quite apart from the metaphysical claims that are supposed to support it. In fact, he or she may be agnostic about some or all of the Church's metaphysical claims, and may consider its historical claims, as related by Scripture, to be no more (and no less) than helpful parables reinforcing the ethics of love. According to Gutting's accommodating definition of Catholicism, one could presumably still be a Catholic while believing that the story of Christ's Resurrection is a parable. One could even remain a Catholic while claiming to be agnostic about the Trinity or, for that matter, the existence of God. (Gutting, who has thought a lot about agnosticism, would likely add that where there is certainty, no faith is required, and that where there is uncertainty, there is also a kind of agnosticism, even if it isn't always recognized as such.)

Gutting knows there are lots of people both inside and outside the Church who would say that what he is describing isn't really Catholicism. A reflective and honest intellectual outside the Church might ask Gutting, "If that's all you believe, why not just become a Unitarian and be done with it?" Gutting answers:

[T]he Catholic tradition of thought and practice is the only stance toward religion that, in William Jamess phrase, is a live option for me the only place I feel at home. Simply to renounce it would lose my self-respect to deny part of my moral core.

And to the conservative Catholic who would ask Gutting the same question, he replies:

The faithful who attend Mass, receive the sacraments, send their children to Catholic schools and sometimes even teach theology include many who hold views similar to mine. Church leaders have in effect agreed that the right to follow ones conscience includes the right of dissident Catholics to remain members of the Church. They implicitly recognize the absurdity of the claim that a dissident who has been raised and educated in the Catholic Church and has maintained, with the Churchs implicit consent, a lifetime involvement in its life is not really a Catholic.

Of course, many people have left the Church precisely because they became agnostic about its metaphysical claims or could no longer read the gospel narratives the way Catholics have traditionally read them. Some of these people have backgrounds very similar to Gutting's: they were raised in Catholic families, attended Catholic schools. The Catholic faith had always been a basic part of their self-understanding, and the Catholic Church had always been their community. Did their decision to leave the Church necessarily involve a loss of self-respect? Surely such a person would say that, far from his having to accept a loss of self-respect, it was intellectual and moral self-respect that obliged him to leave the Church, to admit to himself and to others that he no longer believed what he had been taught to believe—and what others might reasonably assume he still believes if he continued to present himself as a Catholic. But maybe the likelihood of misunderstanding isn't the most important consideration here. Maybe it's more important to stand your ground, wherever it is, even if people on all sides are telling you it's no man's land.

Gutting makes it clear that he is speaking only for himself, but he also says that his essay is not "merely personal." He is trying to "to articulate a position that I expect many fellow Catholics will find congenial and that non-Catholics (even those who reject all religion) may recognize as an intellectually respectable stance." Fair enough. It's certainly true that Gutting's example is a good answer to someone like Daniel Dennett, who seems to believe that, while unbelievers like him are quite comfortable admitting doubt, those who go to church are either brittle zealots psychologically incapable of tolerating uncertainty or cryto-atheists psychologically incapable of making a clean break with such an important part of their past. Say what you will of Gutting's position, but if he isn't tolerant of uncertainty, it's hard to imagine who could be. Dennett would perhaps answer that he has no problem with Gutting's particular set of beliefs—only they aren't really religious. To which Gutting could simply reply that Dennett has no more authority to decide what counts as religion, or who as religious, than conservative Catholics have to decide who counts as "really" Catholic.

This leaves two questions. The first is the one put by the teaser I mentioned earlier: "Can reflective and honest intellectuals actually believe in the churchs teachings?" If not all of its teachings, then at least the ones that most people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, would expect every Catholic to believe—in short, the creed. Gutting argues that it's both possible and honorable for a person who doesn't believe some of these things to call himself a Catholic. The harder question for manymay be whether it's possible for an orthodox Catholic to be a reflective and honest intellectual. I have little doubt that most readers of "The Stone" (the NYT's philosophy blog, where Gutting's essay appeared) would consider a man of Gutting's beliefs to be reflective and honest, if not right. I am much less sure they would afford the same respect to, say, the Times's own Ross Douthat.

As it happens, Douthat is a convert to Catholicism, which brings me to my second question. Whatever the strength of Gutting's argument for remaining a Catholic if that's the only religious tradition one has ever known, it does not appear to furnish an excuse, much less a reason, for becoming a Catholic. Borrowing a phrase from Charles Taylor, Gutting insists on the value of preserving respect for the "sources of the self," which in his own case include the Catholic theological tradition. I wonder whether he believes that someone from outside that tradition, who owes it no gratitude or loyalty and has been taught to understand himself without it, could ever have sufficient reason to join the actually existing Catholic Church.


About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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Is Gutings faith the faith the martyrs of the past and of today die for?And although we are told not to quench even the spark of faith, it is disturbing that Guting is presumably teaching his very watered down version of Catholicism as a Catholic professor at a Catholic college. How many generations can mere tribal identity sustain faith?

Mr. Podles,Gutting is a philosophy professor. His job is not to teach his faith. Or perhaps you believe that Catholic universities should hire only Catholic professors, no matter what they teach.

It seems to me that Gutting makes a clear distinction between doctrine and practice. While he does not accept all doctrine as literally true, he doesn't seem to reject all of it, though doesn't say what he retains. And he does accept the Church's fundamental practices as good, though, again, he doesn't say just what is fundamental beyond "the ethics of love".Given that the Church has changed (i.e., given up) some doctrines over time, or at least it has changed interpretations of some expressions of some doctrines, and given that it has changed some practices, it seems that Gutting's pattern of behavior is Catholic, though perhaps with less adherence to particular dogmas than most other Catholics retain. Yes, he's a Catholic, and witih a capitol "C".

Gutting seems to reduce Catholicism to Robert Indiana's most famous design, L,O,V,E in a square. It's nice. You see it everywhere. I'm not sure (to answer your question, Matthew) that I would join a church for it, though. If the Resurrection is a parable, a lot of people just spent a lot of effort over a lot of liturgy for what amounts to a nice story. I personally wouldn't sit through a 3-hour service to hear a parable a second time.But who does Gutting say Jesus is?.

Matthew,I had read the Gutting piece and (perhaps no surprise) was less taken with it than you seem to be. It brought to mind a provocative line in the current issue of "Commonweal:""Despite my affection for liberal Catholics, I agree with Weigels judgment that they dont have the juice to pass on the faith to future generations." (William Portier's review of Weigel's "Evangelical Catholicism" -- the review is by no means all approbation of the book.)But you may be nodding in that direction by musing: "Whatever the strength of Guttings argument for remaining a Catholic if thats the only religious tradition one has ever known, it does not appear to furnish an excuse, much less a reason, for becoming a Catholic."

I read the Gutting piece with interest and sympathy. The question it left me with is: Given what he says, do we then pray? If so, how? That is, do we wholeheartedly join in the liturgy, particularly the Eucharistic liturgy?I do not mean to say that what Gutting says about being Catholic is antithetical to praying in and with the Church. He just didn't say anything about it in this piece. For my part, praying in and with the Church is essential.

Hello All,I read Professor Gutting's NYT article the other day with admittedly personal interest, since I also teach philosophy at a (secular) university. (So thanks for this post Matthew.)There are already two lines of though working in this thread. I'll address one first. While I have not had the pleasure of meeting Professor Gutting in person or studying his work in depth, I must second Matthew's view that it is not Gutting's job to teach his faith to his students. I think it's easy for those outside the discipline of philosophy to think that professional philosophers evangelize their students into adopting some "philosophy of life", and that Roman Catholic philosophers in particular are in the business of evangelizing their students into adopting Roman Catholicism. (I suspect there are many similar misconceptions regarding other academic disciplines.) Philosophers are in the business of exploring the foundations of many different areas of inquiry and institutions. It is true that much philosophy explores questions germane to the Roman Catholic faith, but I think the larger part of philosophy does not touch upon Christianity or other religions at all. Using myself as an example, my research focuses on the interconnections between decision and game theory and the origins of social institutions and the natural moral law, the latter being an approach to analyzing natural law morality quite different from the outstanding work in the Catholic natural law tradition being done at Notre Dame and Georgetown. I do happen to teach elements of Aquinas natural law in some of the courses I lead (along with parts of the ethics of Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Mill and Sidgwick) but I have yet to have a student raise a concern that I am trying to win converts to Roman Catholicism.This recurring question of "how Catholic" the faculty at a Roman Catholic university should be is a sensitive and interesting one, and one in which I admittedly have a vested interest. It so happens that in the recent past I was a finalist candidate for a position at a leading Catholic university twice, and both times failed to get the position (which I badly desired), both times to candidates who are not Roman Catholic. Some people I know think I should have been upset by this, on the grounds that hiring Roman Catholic faculty better serves the mission of the university. In fact, I respect the department's decisions since the faculty chose primarily on the basis of quality of research and teaching, not on the basis of religious commitment. I think the most important part of the mission of any university, Catholic or otherwise, is the service it delivers to its students and the larger community, and I think that does not necessarily go hand in hand with being Roman Catholic.

One has to wonder whether some of the commentators here actually read the Gutting article.Gutting gives ample reason for remaining a Catholic and one of them is not because he was born a Catholic. He joins the enlightenment with the faith which does not mean that he, as well as we, buys the totally secular nature of the Enlightenment. While he acknowledges the importance of reason he emphasizes the ethics of love of that Jesus preached. Do we not also? I fail to see where he truncates the faith. Though it is not required of a philosophy professor, where does Gutting fail to be an example of the faith? Unless one equates Rome with Jesus. Peter denied Jesus three times. Yet Jesus found a way to work with him and let him lead the flock without Peter idolization. Refreshing to see a Catholic philosophyprofessor acknowledge Hans Kung who is one of the greatest theologians of our era. Very few followed their consciences the way Kung did against a restorationist hierarchy. Perhaps no one of his peers showed as much faith and courage save for Bernard Haring. The hierarchy has tried its best to destroy the memory of these great Catholic theologians. History will show that they will re-emerge and pass the test of time. All those theologians and philosophers who caved in might learn from Gutting.

I don't have much sympathy with Gutting's conclusions but I admire him for trying to justify even watered-down Catholicism to its "cultured despisers" in the academy, a near impossible task. It's probably easier to gain a favorable hearing for Gilgamesh and Sumerian religion than for orthodox Catholicism.Robert Bellah: "The academic world is one of the few places where prejudice is supposed to be totally banned, and were politically correct on everything, but its still a place where you can attack religion out of utter, complete, bottomless ignorance and not be considered to have done anything wrong. Its astounding to me to hear what some people can say with the assumption that everyone would agree with them, based on nothing whatsoever."

As for the role of philosophy at a Catholic university, that is indeed interesting. I studied philosophy as an undergrad at a Catholic university. Gilson was the philosopher that one prof leaned on considerably. I liked Gilson who is more of a historian than a philosopher. Still, he interpreted Thomas in a compelling way. Gilson, as I recall, argued that there was indeed a uniquely Catholic philosophy. That philosophy supported the entire apparatus of faith and was the scaffolding for the life of faith. Still, it was not identical to faith nor was it intended to evangelize. Faith is not a rational gift but it is supported by the rational faculty. But that rational faculty needs to be sharpened and disciplined.Emmanuel Lvinas was in my mind a pretty first rate philosopher. I don't recall any handwringing from him concerning his Orthodox Judaism. I am sure his faith and tradition informed him and many have been enriched as a result of it.

Gutting argues persuasively thats it possible for a reflective and honest intellectual to be a certain kind of Catholic without shame or self-deception.

With all due respect to his learning, I don't need a phD in philosophy to tell me that. I have my experience, the experience of saints canonized and non-canonized, lettered and unlettered. He should get out more!

It is really annoying when poster quote others and do not specify what they differ with as far as what Gutting wrote. For example how does what he states go against Vatican II?

Hello (again) All,To the other strand of thought already in this thread: I think my impression of Gutting's essay is similar to that of Father Imbelli. Gutting does touch upon some specific reasons Catholicism is important in his life, but I think in this essay he focuses more on trying to demonstrate that some of his own commitments (such as a respect for the Enlightenment) and possibly lack thereof (such as his agnosticism regarding theistic metaphysics and his doubts about the historicity of some events recorded in scripture) are compatible with his being a Roman Catholic. In a certain sense the answer to the question "Is Gutting a Catholic?" is obviously "Yes." apart from his own arguments. Sorry for a possibly boring reminder but according to church law and teaching but all who received baptism in the Roman Catholic Church are Roman Catholics --- by that standard I was a Roman Catholic during the years I attended and participated in Protestant churches before reverting five years back. I think Gutting is clearly exploring a deeper question, which is not even easy to state. Putting it roughly, I think the question Gutting is trying to answer in the affirmative is "Can I [Gutting] remain a professing member of the Roman Catholic faith despite my reservations regarding certain particular church doctrines and teachings?". (I realize that just the way I have phrased this question invites a nasty reinterpretation: "Is it all right to be a "cafeteria Catholic" and call myself a professing or faithful Catholic?" But I certainly don't mean to put these last words I wrote in Gutting's mouth.)I found Gutting's discussion somewhat interesting, but for me a different question resonates: Does my practice of the Roman Catholic faith improve me, and in particular does this practice make me more virtuous, compassionate and loving? Speaking for myself only, if I am unable to answer "Yes." to this latter question, then I doubt I have good reason for practicing the Roman Catholic faith.

When Jesus asks his disciples who do you say I am the answer they give is definitely not "a teacher of ethics". The answer they give touches at the very heart of the Christian message: you are the Christos, the messiah. I, like Gutting, teach philosophy (in a secular college) and I, like Gutting, struggle with many of the issues he struggles with. I am glad the Church does not hand out questionnaires on Sunday or send out inquisitors to see who is "orthodox" and who isn't (I would not come close to passing any such test) but the Catholic faith Gutting describes in his piece bears little resemblance to what I understand to be at the heart of 2000 years of Catholic teaching and practice. If Catholicism means anything at all, if Christianity has anything to say to our broken world, it certainly has to have more "juice" than what Gutting offers here. Does that mean he is not a Catholic? That issue does not really interest me. And as he himself points out the Church in its own teaching grants us the latitude of an informed conscience. There will be no more Inquisitions and I am in no position to judge him or anyone else. But if I had to choose between Gutting's vision of Catholicism and the cultured "despisers" of religion (Dawkins et al) I would take the latter any day. I can get an ethic of love from the Buddha, Gandhi, the Bhagavad Gita. I can (and do) learn a lot about "the human condition" from Marx, Freud, and all the other sons and daughters of the Enlightenment. What I do not get from them is the paradox of the Cross or the promise of the Resurrection. If these are just "parables" or excuses for "theistic metaphysics" count me out.

Parables aren't false. Jesus taught with them constantly. They are metaphors for real truths. The question becomes: should we interpret Biblical statements about strange occurrences literally or metaphorically? The answer isn't always easy.

We do not get an ethic of love from other leaders the way we do with Jesus. Jesus gave up his life for us. He asked for love and received it. He hung out with the poor and downtrodden. He is the personification of God on earth. Even from a human point of view, no one compares to Jesus.

I've read a lot of Gutting's posts at The Stone. It seems to me that the kind of thing he's describing is not Christianity but instead a tribal/cultural habit, but maybe that's what Catholicism is for a lot of people? I did join the Catholic Church as a "reflective and honest intellectual" adult and I didn't and don't believe much of what it teaches about morality, but I do believe in the resurrection.

I expect that Gutting's space was limited in this piece, and I'd like to hear him in more depth on some of the positive things he writes - for example, how he reconciles the Catholic intellectual tradition and Enlightenment thought. That seems to be an area where Catholicism really is "alive" for him.He doesn't really come across here as a person who once had a deep and strong faith and then lost it via his philosophical reading and thinking. Perhaps that is in his history, but if it is, he doesn't really allude to it in this piece. Absent that trajectory, he comes across as another very common contemporary person: one who has received all his sacraments but for whom the vibrant "spirit" dimension of a faith life has never really been kindled, for whatever reason. He comes across as one of these who happens to have a talent for intellectual and academic pursuits.It seems to me that the possibility for a conversion, an awakening of the spirit, is there for him, if his heart is open to it.

Let's not let the editors off too easily. How is it that this is the guy the New York Times selects for this piece? I expect there are Commonweal contributors at Notre Dame who could have found much more to say about their Catholicism than Gutting mustered.

what's fascinating to me is how close this question is to the one asked by Dostoevsky: Can a cultured man, a European of our day, believe, really believe, in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ? Of course, Dostoevsky's question is more pointed than Gutting's, but I think that it's still the better question for Catholics and others to discuss publicly. I wonder how many could answer it without rewriting it to a form similar to that which Gutting asks himself

I suspect that what Gutting means by "theological metaphysics" is the sort of metaphysics which attempts to prove the existence of God and his nature as all-perfect by using reason alone. But Catholicism has never required that a Catholic subscribe to any particular philosophy. I grant you that when I was young there were some card-carrying Thomists who thought that to be rational one had to be a Thomist, but that was not a religious belief, much less a Catholic one.So Gutting's rejection of such metaphysics has nothing to do with whether or not he is a Catholic.

Based solely on this column (without knowing what further refinements he might make to his portrait), Mr. Gutting's Jesus seems to bear a family resemblance to Mr. Jefferson's Jesus.

This is my experience of talking with atheists:- There is a Supreme Being who created the world and whom we will call God: they may or may not subscribe to that theory, but find it reasonable- The ethical side: in essence, it is reasonable and even appealing to them; it's also largely shared by some other faiths.- The Inquisition, torture and murders committed in the name of Christianity, the propagation of antisemitism; nowadays, the rejection of gays, the prejudices against women; the condemnation of Galileo (before) and of sex (now); the sexual abuse by clergy and the dysfunction of the church institution: they wonder how I can belong to a Church that has so much wrong with it, and that does take some explanation (this is where the "born and raised Catholic" plays a role). But all that is actually not much of a problem in itself because they and I are mostly in agreement in rejecting it.- They may bring up some of the weirdest beliefs, rituals, customs, devotions, superstitions. But it turns out that I often share their skepticism. I may tolerate those in the name of psychological benefits, and they're ready to accept that.We get to more difficult terrain when we discuss the notion of mystery. The idea that love (or truth, beauty, goodness) is mysterious, that there is something about it that is not of the realm of science and beyond psychology, something that shines brightly for those who experience it, something that it is important and mysterious, something very real that cannot be explained away: that's a non-rational step and it is where some part company with me. Yet many people, especially those who have a bit of life experience behind them, stay with me there. I think that it is also there that respect is built, recognition that religion is important, that it really does contain an essential truth.That is basically as far as I have been able to carry discussions constructively. The Christian message, the historical events, Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the flesh: all that strikes them as absurd. Do I, an otherwise reasonable person, actually honestly believe that there was a man named Jesus, who lived in Israel 2000 years ago, who was crucified under Pilate, who died, but who was also God and resurrected after three days, and whose body disappeared from the tomb? That strikes them as complete nonsense, at par with the superstitions that we had earlier agreed to discount. Unfortunately I have little justification to offer there. The witness of the first Christians gets dismissed because of the absurdity of their claims. Mystical experiences receive psychological explanations and are promptly dismissed. The beauty of the Incarnation as a theoretical construct (I try that argument sometimes, because among mathematicians people are often ready to tentatively believe mathematical statements that "are so beautiful that they have to be true", and that truly carries some weight in convincing people) gets dismissed. I don't know what to say about the Resurrection that would not sound absurd, and my attempts sound pretty lame. So they shake their heads and give up on discussion. And sometimes I wonder if I, in my heart of hearts, really believe all that myself. Maybe I can't convince because I lack inner conviction. If I really took it seriously, wouldn't it change my life in revolutionary ways, and wouldn't it be obvious?

The question of theological metaphysics is indeed a tricky one. Historical consciousness lends to our knowing about development of doctrine and indeed the relativity of such development, in terms of context, language, etc. In his 'Introduction to Christianity', Joseph Ratzinger speaks of the invisible being the real vis--vis the physical. One could from this argument make a case for the perpetual development of our language concerning God in order to continually refer to the invisible in changing circumstances. However, he also takes the view the interaction of Christianity with Greek thought was providential (no mere accident), which introduces a host of issues concerning hermeneutics and what believers take to be normative. If he is right (by no means self-evident, since metaphysics itself is suspect), how do Christians transmit a faith dependent upon a metaphysical framework that is irretrievably obsolete (von Balthasar), one that involves emanation from God and participation? One could make a case either way, to hold to something obsolete, or to embrace different expressions to retain a reference to truths beyond what is immediately visible. One of the questions I have not seen addressed so far in this thread is the question of certainty. Has certainty as a concept been co-opted by scientific frameworks and theological intransigence to the point where believers either have to embrace uncritical fideism or debilitating doubt? Should we accept such a framing of the issue? Is there any room for Newmans understanding of the illative sense, which combines the many aspects of the believers life (church participation, study of scripture, reading of history, works of charity, etc.) in coming to certainty and without obliterating difficulties in believing (like the individual strands of a rope that when tied together make it unbreakable)? Perhaps it is necessary to find another term (conviction?) in the present context. I also think slavishness on the part of believers to asserting the objective truths of Christianity ultimately does a disservice to our cause, since it reinforces an historical development of the divide between nature/super-nature, which, lacking a participatory metaphysical frameworklike Thomas would have upheldinevitably leads to the challenge, Prove it.

Christopher,Thank you for a very packed reflection. It would take a month's seminar to "unpack" all the strands. But could you clarify somethings that you say in your last sentence?Can there be in your view a "non-slavish" assertion of the objective truths of Christianity?Why should such an assertion reinforce "the divide between nature and super-nature?"Does not von Balthasar himself advocate "a participatory metaphysical framework?"Thanks for any further clarification.

Perhaps I'm confused, but there seem to be two questions that can brightly be raised about Guttinng's article. One is whether the article is autobiographical, That is, is the question: "Why am I, Gary Gutting, a Catholic?" A second is: "What do I, Gary Gutting, take one's being a Catholic to mean or require?" If it is the first of these questions that is being addressed, then that is more or less interesting, depending on whether you think it's significant for you to know what's going on in Gutting's own life. If it's the second question that's being addressed, then it's a matter of deciding whether Gutting's view of what Catholicism is all about is adequate,Neither of these questions, so far as I can see, has anything to do with the propriety of Gutting's teaching philosophy at a Catholic University. Or of Enlightenment thought being taught at a Catholic University.

Fr. Imbelli,Thank you for your comments.I do believe there can be a non-slavish assertion of truth beyond the subject (I only hesitate to use objective in light of its baggage), though I would want to couch it in terms of relationship, and our growing in that relationship, both individually and communally (though growth for these two would need to be distinguished). So, like von Balthasar (at least we both have an appreciation for Gregory of Nyssa), I would also advocate a participatory metaphysical framework. Though it would need to be developed in a way relevant to frameworks of knowledge today, and most likely would itself need to be perpetually open to development. I think an unhelpful divide between nature and super-nature can be reinforced when 'Truth' becomes disconnected from people, and their participation and response in/to it. Also, when reading selections from De Lubac and von Balthasar, I seem to recall their being conscious of the fact Christianity was to some extent complicit in developing the groundwork for a self-sufficient secular order, through arguments concerning nature and super-naturethough I would have to double check to find the references.

Mr. Kaffenberger, others, we often seem to tell ourselves a narrative to make sense of history, our own and how we see the world. There have been many people born into the Christian tradition who questioned the bona fides of Christian belief outside the context of modernism, European, Enlightenment, or otherwise. They were clearly a minority. They almost always had the good sense to express their unbelief in a clandestine manner, but the Enlightenment itself was in many respects the result of these kind of doubts, not some sort of monolithic precursor of protodoubt that picked up speed and clarified its shape as it rolled down the mountain of intervening time onto the rest of us. Perhaps if we said: "to doubt is to be human" instead of "to doubt is to be modern" we might be able to locate the Guttings of the world in a more acceptable place, like Montaigne, to name an intellectual who had difficulty accepting Christianity in its full orthodoxy but who valued it and certainly considered himself to be Christian. Perhaps we should acknowledge that it is monolithic faith that is the historical aberration, not the norm that we all seem to assume.The narrative we are being told by many is that modernism or the Enlightenment constitutes some huge break, before which there was a paradise of faith and after which there is this creeping hell of unbelief. And this is outside of the context of those who go to church and profess belief but who couldn't pass even an elementary quiz of what it is that they are "supposed" to believe. Is that person "more Catholic" than Gutting? Why? Will faith now be considered to be the special province of the ignorant because they really couldn't care less what it is, exactly, they do believe? I don't actually have a lot of sympathy for Gutting's dilemma (if that's how he sees it) because at some point he must realize that the positive aspects of an intellectual (or any other) tradition can be carried forward outside of the institution that birthed and nurtured that tradition. We study Plato or Aristotle without believing in Greek gods or pining the loss of the less seemly side of Greek tradition (slavery, devaluation of women and sexual use of minors). Most of us are descended from slaves and peasants and have been only too happy to discard aspects of our "tradition" (in some cases aspects that were vehemently supported in collaboration with Orthodox Christianity) that made us helpless and hopeless. The real question, for me, is, "do I stand for what that tradition is telling us in the here and now, and where it is going?" I don't get the sense he can answer that in a positive way.

I too was intrigued enough by the subtitle of Guttings article to read it, yet it left me empty, seeming to fall well short of the promising subtitle. Perhaps my expectations too high. I was expecting some mention of the Church's claim to teach the Truth and truth and I supposed that this would be particularly enticing to an intellectual who has presumably devoted their life to such a search. But it was missing. Then I also had hope of some mention about the Church's moral teachings being difficult to grasp, and yet after expending some intellectual effort being able to find a simplicity, beauty, and truth in them despite their radically counter-cultural nature. But that was absent too. And then I thought there might be some mention of Christ's love on the cross being personal, difficult, painful, and disfiguring, and offered to save all humanity, each one of us personally. Instead all I felt offered was something that moved others (specifically saints) to do great good, but something outside the author. The whole article struck me as offering the pig-slop available to the prodigal's son when following his own will rather than the rich banquet available by conforming our wills to the generous and loving Father.

It is amazing that practically every comment interprets but gives no actual words of Gutting as proof for the interpretation. Where did he say that he does not believe in the resurrection?He may be a progressive Catholic. But he is not un-Catholic. If he questions the emphasis of the church of dogma he is not against the truth of Jesus Christ. Many Catholics question infallibility. Even Benedict XVI states that the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with the selection of many popes. And doesn't the Jesus, the Messiah, stress the Beatitudes over everything..the Jesus of Love. Why are we so against the ethics of love? Since when does the ethics of love mean a watering down of the gospel?At any rate, do me the favor of quoting what words of Gutting you disagree with. Others you rate a gratuitous denial.

Shoud be: "Otherwise you rate ad gratuitous denial."

Bill, let me be the first to say that an essay such as this one would be much stronger if the writer briefly clarified the extent of his assent (or lack thereof) to core teachings (resurrection, divinity, trinity). With this kind of thing, the particular matters. One can be Christian without being Catholic. In this case, Gutting is making a case for being Catholic and one naturally wants to know which "anti-intellectual" doctrines he has given up on before one knows what to make of his claims.

Bill, he seems to say that regarding, say, the trinity, he's an agnostic; and that regarding the historical stories, say, the resurrection, it is "best taken as a parable". He does not exactly deny the empty tomb of the post-resurrection apparitions of an embodied Christ, but that wording suggests a strong possibility that he does not believe that those events actually happened.the specific teachings of the Catholic Church... I distinguish three domains: - metaphysical doctrines about the existence and nature of God, - historical accounts from the Bible of how God has intervened in human history to reveal his truth and - the ethics of love preached by Jesus.- The ethics of love I revere - As to the theistic metaphysics, Im agnostic about it taken literally, but see it as a superb intellectual construction that provides a fruitful context for understanding how our religious and moral experiences are tied to the ethics of love. - The historical stories, I maintain, are best taken as parables illustrating moral and metaphysical teachings.

Barbara:@ 10:06 a.m.BINGO!

Gutting's views are, I think, fairly common among garden-variety cradle Catholics: "I love the Church; it made me who I am; it provides guidance and, ultimately, redemption; it's where I feel comfortable; Protestant churches are just clubs."As an unsuccessful convert, I still believe that the Catholic tradition contains the best that has been thought and taught about Jesus Christ, about God's mercy, and about the purpose of humans in the world. It also reflects the greatest breadth and scope of human experience of God. I think that within such a rich tradition there must be some hooey as well.Becoming a Catholic does not allow you to rationalize and duck who and what you are--or what you have done or failed to do. It offers salvation, but the price is stripping away your dishonesty, even proclaiming it and "owning it" as the woman at the well did. This is a lifelong job. Those involved with the institutional Church at the parish or diocesan level would do well to ask whether they truly prepare converts for this job. Many do, I'm sure.Unfortunately, there is also a very legalistic and fundamentalist strain in Catholicism that requires adherents to stay within certain behavior and thought patterns, or to stay away from the Table. This is not called "excommunication," but it certainly puts many still struggling to understand and figure out how to live out these teachings on notice. It also sends the message that you're not eligible for the sacraments until you really don't need them.Whether you like Gutting's views or not, I think he's starting a conversation that Catholics need to have, and one that is vital to its mission of evangelization.I apologize in advance for the personal nature of this post, which many blog visitors find distasteful and shallow. Please do not write me offline to tell me so.

@Bill Mazella: "Careful readers will note that these three convictions do not include the belief that the specific teachings of the Catholic Church provide the fundamental truths of human life. What I do believe is that these teachings are very helpful for understanding the human condition."Having long heard the song and dance of 'in the Catholic tradition' by academics, I prefer the simplicity and directness of Dostoevsky. Gutting refers to the re-affirmation of the Christian faith at Easter time, which includes the public renewal of baptismal vows. But I think the one question of who is Jesus is the interesting one. Jean Raber is right that "Whether you like Guttings views or not, I think hes starting a conversation that Catholics need to have, and one that is vital to its mission of evangelization." For this conversation, Gutting does well to set the context as that of "reflective and honest intellectuals," but Dostoevsky does the necessary work of bringing this context face-to-face with the person of Jesus Christ.

Fred:Agree on Dostoevsky. In his Grand Inquistor, the Grand Inquisitor, challenges Jesus after Jesus raises a dead girl to life. The Inquisitor, a Cardinal, tells Jesus that he has no right to interfere in their work. He informs him in no uncertain terms that revelation ceased after the death of the last apostle and here comes Jesus interfering with that.The point for Dostoevsky is obvious, Jesus continues to act in the world. Revelation cannot be contained in neat categories as it explodes all of those categories. The problem is that the western philosophical tradition has inherited a certain style of thinking that cannot accommodate a certain type of spiritual experience. Dostoevsky was highly mistrustful of the West for this reason and even if he was a bit of a slavophile he makes a good point. Berdyaev argues similarly when it comes to discussing revelation. Revelation, Berdyaev argues, comes from the east, the land of "irrationality". The West has not produced a single religion. Ultimately the problem is that revelation will not fit neatly into a Western category of thought, try as the RC tradition has. There is an element of surrender to faith (in this I think Islam is on to something) and this is challenging and threatening to Western culture as a whole. After all, the great schism occurred almost 1000 years ago and there were tensions even before that time.I think it was Tolstoy who said that the son will rise again in the east!

Picking up on these thoughts - would suggest that there are many nuances being left out in this discussion.Faith vs. ReligionInstitutional church vs. Creedal statementsCatholic imagery, symbols, signs vs. orthodox catechismHave always been strongly indebted to those who have studied faith development esp. Fowler's *Stages of Faith*. Fowler makes a distinction between those on a journey of faith (which by definition falls more into the realm of mystery, mystogogy, etc. - taken on trust, hope, love) and denominational expressions and catechism lists of belief statements. Fowler's stages of faith development actually indicate that a fundamentalist, rigid adherence to denominational beliefs is a very low stage of development - it resists questionnning, reflects an emotional immaturity, depends upon a framework of fear so as to control behaviors, etc. The highest stages of faith development internalize the core beliefs - faith, hope, love - and see faith as a relationship that is constantly challenged, prodded, pushed...a journey in its fullest sense. This faith journey is best captured in scripture, gospel stories/imperatives, parables, Pauline charisms and gifts that build up the body of Christ. It is, as Thomas stated, faith seeking understanding. Reading Gutting seemed to me a type of journey - a type of faith seeking understanding. It is not a blind acceptance of a set of beliefs. And really, go back 100 years (esp. the modernism struggle). How often has church leadership equated various stances/decisions as core beliefs when, in fact, the expressions of these beliefs have proven to change, be wrong, etc. e.g. religious liberty and Pius IX; slavery; democracy; usury; biblical methods of interpretation; just war theories; death penalty. Some more current examples - anyone who has studied the Humanae Vitae process and decision would not be willing to include HV approaches to birth control as a core belief - it was a decision made to protect papal power and prerogatives - had little to do with the actual issue.Think about the recent Triduum - what is core - dying/rising out of love; new life; mission of servanthood.....not a list of beliefs but core relational experiences. George D's example of Dosteovsky is excellent. Isn't what Gutting is doing in philosophy just another version of what Doesteovsky did in literature?

In his final public address before assuming the Papacy, Benedict XVI stated that:"In the age of the Enlightenment, the attempt was made to define essential moral norms by saying that they would be valid 'etsi Deus non daretur', even if God did not exist. In the mutual opposition of the confessions and the looming crisis of the image of God, the attempt was made to hold on to the essential values of morality beyond the disputes, and seek evidence for them that would make them independent of the multiple divisions and uncertainties of the various philosophies and confessions. The desire was to ensure the foundation of coexistence, and, more generally, the foundation of humanity. At the time, this seemed possible, in that the great fundamental convictions established by Christianity remained in place to a large extent, and seemed undeniable. But that's no longer the case. The search for this kind of reassuring certainty, which could remain uncontested beyond all the differences, has failed. Not even the effort as heroic as it was of Kant was able to create the necessary shared certainty. Kant had denied that it was possible to know God in the domain of pure reason, but at the same time had represented God, freedom, and immortality as postulates of practical reason, without which, for him, moral action did not make sense. Does not the current situation of the world, perhaps, make us again think that he may have been right? I would like to say it in other words: the attempt, taken to the extreme, to mold human affairs by completely ignoring God brings us closer and closer to the edge of the abyss, to the total elimination of man. We should therefore reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: even those who are unable to accept God should in any case seek to live and direct their lives 'veluti si Deus daretur', as if God exists. This is the same advice that Pascal had given to his nonbelieving friends; it is the advice that we would like to give today as well to our friends who do not believe. In this way, no one's freedom is limited, but all of our affairs find support and a criterion that they urgently need." ("A Philosopher Reissues the Pope's Wager: To Live As If God Exists" there a sense here in which Benedict is acknowledging that in the act of faith that professes the Christian creed, there is an ineluctable element of agnosticism and doubt, without which faith would not be faith but indubitable knowledge and certitude? Is the "as if" character of Christian belief only a strategic move in the dialogue with non-believers, or is it in fact intrinsic to the act of faith itself within believers? This is not to say that the act of faith is irrational or that there are no warrants or evidence for the truth claims of Christianity. It is reasonable to be a believing Christian. But would we also have to say that it is unreasonable to not believe? I don't think so. The line between apophaticism and agnosticism is a very fine one, and at times it appears to vanish.Yet at the same time there is this question about the "juice" of one's commitment...can one have that degree of conviction and evangelizing enthusiasm, if faith cannot completely escape the realm of the hypothetical, the wager, the "as if?" That to me is the puzzling question that I continue to grapple with.

What Bill deHaas wrote.

Bill,I would submit that 'HV approaches ... birth control' NOT 'as a core belief ' ...but core relational experience'. Using birth control is all about relationship between male and female and their human nature; nothing about belief in God.

Sad, Bruce - like your statements above; your fundamentalist approach is showing. Any human relationship reveals aspects of God. You have fallen into a heresy - what do you think we say about Jesus Christ - both human and divine. What do we believe about creation - it is good (you did hear the first vigil reading?). Human nature says volumes about God and our respective beliefs in God.You focus only upon Good Friday - sacrifice, saving, suffering for our sins. This is not what Luke emphasized in his gospel - rather, he highlights the love of Christ; it was not just a sacrifice to save us from sin - atonement - etc. Luke says almost nothing about the crucifixion, his focus is upon resurrection, loving servant.Link: points:The evangelists certainly zero in on Jesus suffering, but for them his pain is much more psychological than physical. Their purpose in writing these narratives is not to lead their readers to proclaim, Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me! Theyre much more interested in having them simply say, Thank you, Jesus, for showing me how to die!Long before the first Gospel was written, Paul of Tarsus frequently defined a Christian as someone committed to dying and rising with Jesus. The key question for those earliest disciples was, How do we pull off that dying? Are we expected to let ourselves be physically scourged, crowned with thorns, have nails driven into our wrists and feet, and then, writhing in pain, die on a cross? Historically, few Christians would actually imitate Jesus death by dying that way. But all Christians could imitate his psychological suffering: the pain and death that accompanies the daily giving of oneself for others.With this context in mind, many Pauline scholars believe the apostle is referring to Genesis 1 -- the passage that states all men and women are created in the image and likeness of God -- and is telling his Philippian community not to let their God-image status stand in the way of their service to those around them. Nothing absolves them from imitating Jesus dying and rising, a dying and rising that took place throughout his life, long before his physical death on Golgotha.Think the current example of Francis rather than the long winded theological discourses of Benedict and his new evanglization.

George,Yes, "the western philosophical tradition has inherited a certain style of thinking that cannot accommodate a certain type of spiritual experience." And not just spiritual experience, but other experiences: unique and personal experiences: a disease whose symptoms fall outside established categories, the love between a particular mother and her child (a reluctance to acknowledge dramatic events like the big bang, or the formation of the Channeled Scablands). It does not seem reasonable to me to exclude experiences that are not easily repeatable or categorized or empirically verifiable. The surrender of Islam is one approach, and in a Western academic, it would be an acutely dualistic one. In Christianity, however, the religion of the Logos made flesh, another journey would be to take up Benedict's call to broaden reason. If you or I saw a woman's child brought back from the dead, would it be more reasonable to categorically reject it, or to at least admit that it's possible even if one can't explain why?

The first half of Gutting's article, about the Enlightenment and the Catholic church, is really more about core Christian than about specific Catholic beliefs, it seems to me. He turns towards non-Christians and tells them that he takes historical accounts as parables, is non-committal (agnostic) on "theistic metaphysics", and that love is the only thing he fully embraces.The last half of the article is about conservative vs. liberal Catholics, authority, the rights of conscience, and the right for liberal Catholics to be considered Catholic. He turns towards fellow Catholics and tells them that he's been raised Catholic, feels at home in the Catholic church, and has remained involved in its life, therefore they have no right to say that he's not Catholic.It is weird that nowhere does this week's announcement appear (Christ is resurrected!). That's what makes the article seem so empty. Is it really about Catholicism, or could more or less the same text not have been written, replacing "Catholics" by "Buddhists", "Hindus" or another religion?

Jean Raber - "Whether you like Guttings views or not, I think hes starting a conversation that Catholics need to have, and one that is vital to its mission of evangelization."But unfortunately, many will dismiss Gutting's views for the reasons he himself notes."I apologize in advance for the personal nature of this post, which many blog visitors find distasteful and shallow. Please do not write me offline to tell me so."Please don't stop posting. As someone who does not hold an advanced degree in either Philosophy or Theology, I often have more interest in what you (and Crystal and Claire and Ed and a few others) write than in the more academic threads that are unfortunately way "over my head". I understand yours, and I can often relate. The academic threads use a shorthand' that relies on naming philosophers rather than saying anything about what those philosophers believe(d) and how this might relate to the "real world" of the average christian or RC. The shorthand is understandable given space considerations, but the less academic and more "personal" observations are a needed balance - and posts with a "personal" nature that come from life experience often "say" a great deal more to some of us than do the academic posts.Although I would love to know what they are talking about, I usually do not have the energy to research what each and every philosopher cited believed. This forum is excellent for those with specific advanced education, and it is not the fault of those with this education that my long ago undergraduate courses in theology and philosophy are not up to the task of understanding their comments. So I (and I suspect many others) very much appreciate the clear and honest posts such as yours.

Unfortunately there is no "edit" function. Correction - "academic threads....rely".

Anne, that's nice of you to say, but I didn't threaten to stop posting. I just don't like offline corrections. People who disagree with me or think I'm egotistical, anecdotal, ill-informed, or bound for Hell, can tell me right on here."The academic threads use a shorthand that relies on naming philosophers rather than saying anything about what those philosophers believe(d) and how this might relate to the 'real world' of the average christian or RC."I'm not much of a student of theoretics, and I often go ADHD on theology. But thank God we DO have people who keep wrestling with these issues. It seems to me that's part of the heritage of Roman Catholicism, no? To go beyond being an "average Christian"?

You have fallen into a heresyWow Bill, that statement seems very hierarchal to me. I guess I wasnt very clear in my earlier posts. My view on Good Friday is that loving requires submitting our will to the Father and that is difficult. That seems pretty much in line with this quote from the article you linked to: But all Christians could imitate his psychological suffering: the pain and death that accompanies the daily giving of oneself for others. The happy feeling that our society seems to assign to true love misses that mark.As for HV representing a core relational belief, I'll stand by my comment. Creation is good, but that does not apply to all human behavior. There are many things we can do, but only a subset of those are things we should do. Perhaps your focus on the messy human process hides the resulting truth of the outcome.

Sorry, Bruce - we agree except on HV - that was my point. By the time the decision and announcement was made, it did not reflect any type of core relational belief - it represented another papal effort to protect its power and authority. Very few catholics, experts, theologians find HV to be any type of significant or even correct expression of natural law.

What HV represents is some bad natural law theorizing. It talks the talk in some places, but it's not persuasive.

The requirement to meet a woman in her fully functioning humanity seems perfectly rational to me. The fact that it is widely derided in no sense detracts from that rationality or its truthfulness.

Jean, I am happy that those who write to you offline will not discourage you from posting! I do appreciate the need for academics. But, since I can seldom follow their discussions, lacking the advanced education in their disciplines, I learn little from them. I just wanted to let you and others know that your contributions are greatly appreciated by some, and not thought of as "shallow" etc. I wish I could follow all they say, but I can't. My problem not theirs. But if others who express their ideas in less academic terms are discouraged from posting by negative comments offline, many readers of this blog would be disappointed. That's all I was trying to say.

I just discovered that a year 2000 debate between Joseph Ratzinger and Paolo Flores d'Arcais has just been translated and published as an ebook. It's especially interesting to see how Ratzinger describes the positive values of the Enlightenment, distinct as this evaluation is from d'Arcias and Gutting.

Anne, Crystal made reference on another thread to some videos she watched. There are also MOOCs (massive open online courses) available from many colleges now. Free. I just signed up for this one at the University of Edinburgh: sure when it starts, but I expect to learn how dumb I really am when I start it!

Garry Gutting: is he a philosopher? Maybe officially. We know and not believe as some think there is only one true philosophy called now semantic realism (Aristotle + [email protected])!Catholicism? Christianity? Dogmas? Hm, there is one dogma: A historical Jesus from Nazareth is Lord. If someone do not understand it like Mr.Gutting @all the rest go to library and learn.Gergetown University; another professor J.Haught has a problem with combining the theory of evolution with Thomas Aquinas, i.e., his definition of the term "beginning": physical or logical? He is an expert in US courts to battle ID proponents contra materialist evolutionists.Unfortunately, the present such Catholic University is a....playground for kids (1 Peter 2:1). Such authorieties fight against like me with all administrtive force to keep noble positions. 90% of such article should be burned at stake as suggested D.Hume, and I would add the claim of Jan Lukasiewicz (Warsaw -Lvov School of Logic) to reduce all Past Great Books of Humanity to 10% in the light of 20th century logic/methodology discoveries; an example: apply it to Trintiarian controeries and others then, you will see all the past as ..jokes like Gallieo-Copernicus contra Church/University in 17th century after A.Einstein's Relativity theory!!

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