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Paul Baumann on George Weigel

Commonweal editor Paul Baumanns review of George Weigels Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church is now available at the website of The Nation. Excerpts follow:

When President Obama was invited to give the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, more than eighty bishops condemned the university. That a duly elected president of the United States should be regarded as a moral monster unworthy of being given a hearingespecially at a school as steeped in American patriotism as Notre Dameis bizarre. The uproar and the bitter recrimination that followed Obamas speech revealed how deeply divided and directionless the once formidably cohesive American Catholic Church has become. And if George Weigels new book is any indication of where the churchs hierarchy is headed, the divisions promise to grow deeper. Indeed, a good deal of the blame for the bishops belligerent public posture can be laid directly on the desk of the author of Evangelical Catholicism. ...According to Weigel, the evangelical Catholicism of his books title represents a necessary departure from the Counter-reformation or so-called tribal Catholicism of recent centuries. In his view, a Catholicism held together by ethnic affinities possesses neither the fervor nor the missionary commitment needed to meet the challenges of postmodernity. In place of the bricklayer bishops who built a Catholic subculture of schools, hospitals and civic associations across America, whats needed today are bishops like the late John Paul II, men who speak of their faith in compelling, adamantine and fearless ways. These bishops will be disciplinarians, unabashed in demanding doctrinal obedience from priests, women in religious orders and those in the pews. Theologians and politicians who publicly dissent from church teaching must be told that they are no longer Catholic in any meaningful sense. Catholics who do not believe everything the church teaches should leave. (It will be interesting to see how this new breed of priests and bishops responds to the leadership of the recently elected Pope Francis, who seems to take a less confrontational approach to secular culture than Weigel does.) ...Why would Weigel assume that the deep reform of the Catholic Church is relevant to the political and cultural life of most Americans? Because he thinks that, as with Poland under communist domination, Americas fate is now intimately linked to that of Catholicism. The Catholic Church is now the worlds premier institutional proponent of human rights and democracy, he claimsby which he means that the churchs social doctrine offers a principled framework for the preservation of the Wests failing democracies. As far as Weigel is concerned, no other options are available.What to make of these grandiose claims? In one sense, Weigel is repeating what the Catholic Church has always taught. Conversion is what Christianity is about, and so Catholicism, often married to Aristotelian and Thomist notions of natural law and natural rights, remains a vital force in the American political tradition. But the resources of that tradition are broader than the abstract and self-evident truths, invoked by the Declaration of Independence, on which Weigel places such emphasis. The tradition has made use of a variety of philosophical resources, including Enlightenment rationalism, civic republicanism, secular liberal rights theory and pragmatism. It is unlikely we will succeed in forging a more perfect union if we do not make use of all the political resources at our disposal.

You can read the whole thing here. (Update: We earlier noted the inclusion of a link at the end of The Nation's online version of the review; that link has since been removed.)


Commenting Guidelines

I know quite a few people who are alone ... single for whatever reason(s) ... and the smart ones overcome any tendency to loneliness by being active, reaching out to others, volunteering and generally refusing to feel sorry for themselves.A perfect example on this site is Ann Olivier. She has a very active mind and, I assume, that translates into a lack of loneliness in her personal life.

Michael,I think many of your questions about grace and good works are the kind that fueled the reformation. I feel the whole idea of indulgences makes no sense (and I'm not alone - many of those at V2 argued to do away with indulgences), and that if God does love us in a way even remotely like a human parent loves their child, then salvation isn't earned or bought but is an unconditional gift. I read this recently in a book by Rob Bell ..."Gospel isnt us getting it together so that we can have Gods favor; gospel is us finding God exactly in the moment of our greatest not-togetherness.Gospel is grace, and grace is a gift. You dont earn a gift; you simply receive it. You dont make it happen; you wake up to what has already happened.Gospel isnt doing enough good to be worthy; its your eyes being opened to your unworthiness and to Jesuss insistence that that was never the way it worked in the first place.Being a good person, then, naturally flows not from trying to get on Gods good side but from your realization that God has been on your side the whole time."

Michael,This is a subject I find really challenging and I don't understand it - why did God make imperfect creatures, why is God mad at us for being imperfect if we can't help it, what good does eternal punishment after the fact do and what kind of God would resort to this? And the idea of purgatory is a construct - it's nowhere in the bible. I don't know how most people make peace with this stuff.

PS - I vote for universalism :)

Jim M, I am not referring to the type of loneliness some experience by living alone or by being without close family or friends. That is a different matter entirely - I am referring to what I call existential loneliness - the loneliness experienced when one does not feel the presence of God.Crystal and Michael - I am with you. The teaching on indulgences should be disappeared - it is an example of the church claiming to have the power only God has, and the rights that only God enjoys, and it should be a huge embarrassment to the church that it is still around - the institutional church and its human head are NOT God. How dare they claim a power to grant "indulgences" Michael, your questions in your post of 6:28 are widely shared I think. It doesn't make sense to me either, unless God is not a God of love, but one of malice who likes to manipulate and trick human beings to entrap them in some kind of punishment. What kind of God would that be? Would anyone want to love and worship this kind of God?Jim P - I also agree with Kathleen Norris' observations. However, I do not understand how an all-loving, all-just God would give friendship to some but not others. I'm not convinced it's possible for someone to reject God with FULL knowledge. This thread discusses a range of experiences with God's friendship, with some claiming they do experience it in a very tangible way and others that they don't. It doesn't seem likely that once one truly experiences this gift of friendship - really feels it and not just understands it as an intellectual or theological concept - that they would willingly reject it. Those who may seem to reject God's gift of friendship most likely have never actually experienced it and are so not rejecting it at all.

Actually, it was Crystal's response to Michael's questions and comments that was posted at 6:28.

Crystal,I have the same thoughts, especially your last post. The other below does not answer my question:"the Kingdom of Heaven has a gate with two locks that need to be opened: one opens with the gold key, that is, with Gods grace; and the other opens with the silver key, that is, our response to it."Our response to it is imperfect. The issue is "reparation". I was taught that our sins are forgiven but there is this temporal punishment due to sin that must be accounted for. This is where the teaching about Grace, Purgatory, Good Works and Reparation come into play. The most compelling part of the NT relative to this issue is that on the Cross Jesus not only forgave the sins of the thief/murderer who accepted the punishment of the cross for his crimes, and asserted Jesus's innocence, he also washed away any purification and temporal punishment due to his sins when he said: I assure you on this very day, you will be with me in paradise.The second most relevant NT text is that fact that Jesus said; let the first be last and the last first. From these texts and the love that Jesus emphasizes in the NT, I agree with you when you said in paraphrase: What loving parent would not allow his/her child entrance into their house when the child said with a sincere heart that he/she was sorry for what he/she did? What loving parent would say, I forgive you but you must spend a certain amount of time outside the house, and be purified for the sin you committed? Clearly, if a child had no remorse for committing a horrible sin, such as murder, a certain punishment is due. However, what about Catholics who sincerely try to avoid sin, strive to love God and neighbor as he wills it, as best they can, and not for the blessings or the fears of hell/purgatory, pray and receive the sacraments? I find this concept of purgatory, temporal punishment and the fact that each of us is imperfect and will commit sin throughout of lives, are left this dilemma. I think most Catholics think about these things very much. Some might be invincibly ignorant, some minimize and not worry about such issues, some are more informed than I and perhaps are satisfied with the answers they have received to these questions, and some believe in indulgences.

Crystal,Sorry for the typo. The first sentence of the last paragraph should read "I think most Catholics don't think about these things very much".

Ann Chapman,Thanks for your kind comments and thoughts. Sometimes I think I am alone with these questions.

Thank you, Fr. K, for the Memorial, and the link.

I'm mostly out of my depth when people start talking about concepts like existential loneliness and whether we can truly know another soul or and whether that's the way it should be (frankly, after 30 years, I would be happy merely to know why Raber does not understand the health hazards of NOT PUTTING THE DAMN CAP ON THE TOOTHPASTE).But I increasingly dislike the notion that God's friends or serfs or whatever term we're using are "chosen." God made all of us and loves us all equally, everybody, everywhere, bar none, end of story. While I think it's true that some people "reject God," my sense is that they're rejecting a rather specific notion of God that someone has handed them, often with smug assurance, frightening threats, or freakouts a la "you don't believe THAT???" If those who give up seeking for God are going to have to answer for it in the Hereafter, it is my hope that those self-appointed mouthpieces for God will have to answer for their part of the equation.That would not, btw, include Fr. Rolheiser mentioned above, who manages to be thought-provoking without ever being discouraging. Bless him for his work!

Michael,I think it was Claire who wrote about the two kinds of keys.But yes, the whole idea that indulgences go toward paying for the full or partial remission of temporal punishment in Purgatory, due for sins which have already been forgiven, and gained through ritual prayers, the doing of certain acts, or in the past, money, is just creepy. I may be a cynic but it strikes me that a good way to keep people in control is to tell them first that they are doomed, and second that you have the only remedy to that doom. An interesting article ... ... and the Tablet had a past article on indulgences ... ... and I quote here what John O'Malley wrote in 'What Happened at Vatican II' about indulgences.

"But I increasingly dislike the notion that Gods friends or serfs or whatever term were using are chosen."Let's use friends. Being chosen by God means that it was God who did the choosing. None of us, on our own merits, is worthy of his friendship. That he chose to befriend us anyway is a great gift. We're the prodigal children, who see that we should be treated like one of the hired hands but instead have the ring put on our finger and the fatted calf slaughtered for us. And he ran out to meet us while we were still on the road to him - he couldn't wait to forgive us.I can't fully explain why it is that some of the seeds that are planted put down strong and deep roots and bear great fruit, while others grow in shallow soil and don't last, or get eaten by the birds, or get choked by thorns. I also think we are the heralds - it is as if the king has sent us out to all the highways and byways to announce the good news of his friendship. If we don't make the announcement, they will never know about it. It's a tremendous responsibility. I think most of us don't do a very good job of it. Pondering this is the kind of thing that makes one rather hope that there is something to the doctrine of indulgences.

"I am not referring to the type of loneliness some experience by living alone or by being without close family or friends. That is a different matter entirely I am referring to what I call existential loneliness the loneliness experienced when one does not feel the presence of God."Are those not related? Are others not a reflection of God, and is that not what attracts us to them? Is it not God who brings us close to family or friends through love? I am not completely sure how it is to "feel" the presence of God, but for me concretely his presence can be seen in everything that is good in the world, felt in the pleasure we derive from all those things. You can't literally touch him, but similarly one could also say that when you kiss a person, you're only touching their skin, their envelope, not the core of their being. How do you know God is there by you - well, how do you know that the person you're kissing is a real person and not some sort of zombie?

"Being chosen by God means that it was God who did the choosing. None of us, on our own merits, is worthy of his friendship. That he chose to befriend us anyway is a great gift."I know this is standard teaching, but, again, I dislike that notion of God "choosing," individuals or special clubs. I think it runs deeper. God made us in a vaster, more mysterious and intimate way than we made our own children. And, like our children, God has no choice but to love us. It's hard-wired into reality. Is it a symbiotic relationship between us and God? I don't know; friend, serf, herald, etc., are all facets of that relationship, but they don't represent the whole mystery."I cant fully explain why it is that some of the seeds that are planted put down strong and deep roots and bear great fruit, while others grow in shallow soil and dont last, or get eaten by the birds, or get choked by thorns."I don't either, but my guess is that those of us in the thorns find it hard to give up the notion that we are somehow in control of our successes and failures. If you believe you are the "master of your fate, the captain of your soul," in good times, you become arrogant, in bad times, you become ashamed and discouraged. "I also think we are the heralds it is as if the king has sent us out to all the highways and byways to announce the good news of his friendship. If we dont make the announcement, they will never know about it. Its a tremendous responsibility. I think most of us dont do a very good job of it. "Maybe because heralds so many heralds talk instead of do? I immediately switch off lists of "must nots" and checklists of "correct belief." It's predictable, depressing, smug--the equivalent of spiritual junk food. If the soil can be barren, so can the seed.

When I originally perused this blog stream, because George Weigel's name was attached, I easily moved on. Why waste your breath on Weigel, I figured. The only good that Weigel usually does is giving us the standard marker of what we all should be against.Yesterday, I was reading Paul Baumann's article in The Nation. Pretty good retort to all things Weigel. Good job.It still galls me that someone like Weigel has discovered a way to make a considerable career and money on opining about the Catholic Church.