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Carroll Recycled

In a post below Grant introduces the new issue of Commonweal. As usual there are many fine pieces available to all (including the Editorial). But one outstanding piece is only available to subscribers, Tom Baker's review of James Carroll's new book. But from the tenor of Tom's review and a presentation piece by Carroll in a recent Boston Globe, it's pretty much a re-cycling of past Carroll performances: the sort of stuff that Carroll tosses out from his cathedra at the Globe with impunity and no acountability.Here's a piece of Baker's review:

Carroll the polemical historian can be undisciplined in organization and argument. A long chapter starting with Vatican IIs approval of Mass in the vernacular takes us into not just the evils of Latin (just a power trip for those who understand it), but Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, the destructive force of biblical literalism, the unjust suppression of gospels, and more than fifteen pages on the misinterpretation of Mary Magdalene. Its clearly meant to make its case through sheer historical sweep, and of course a few of the shots fired do hit their target. But given its relentlessly accusatory tone, I felt not the weighty judgment of history but the presence of that finger-jabbing stranger who corners you in a bar with an explanation of how everything bad all fits together. (Dont you see? It all goes back to Constantine.)When our past needs to be cleaned out so thoroughly, what are we left with? It is sometimes hard to tell. Ideological violence begins in intolerance, Carroll writes, which begins in dogma. So much for dogma, then! (Even the dogma of tolerance?) Jesus is God, he professes, but claims for the primacy or necessity of Jesus are mostly impossible by definition. Our canon of Scripture is manipulated and incomplete. Our survival as individuals after death is iffy. Favorite traditions also have to go: Lourdes miracles are hysterias, the Confiteors stylized breast-beating is an act of self-hating violence. As educated, modern Catholics, we need to see through all this by coming to our own insights through-what exactly?

Our road to enlightenment, it turns out, is writing. The final chapter, A Writers Faith, suggests that Carrolls own evolution from priest to writer can illuminate a path we all need to follow. A basic understanding of the faith as imagination and expression can brace every Catholics identity. Who could argue with that? Yet Carroll goes further, and his love of the writers thirst for meaning and the creative process lead him to some lofty theologizing that seems to divinize words themselves. Vaulting well beyond the image of God as the Word in Johns Gospel, Carroll tells us that language is God, and later, God is language. I finished the book impressed with Carrolls burning passion for his writerly vocation, but also, unusual for me, with a nagging appetite for some dogma.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Hello Fr. Imbelli (and All),I'll have to wait for my print copy to read the entire review, but the quotations by Baker you share here strike me as right on target. I purchased Carroll's new book because I found one of his earlier books quite interesting and in many ways this new effort seriously disappoints me. In this new book Carroll presents himself as one of the authentic heirs of Vatican II who have been betrayed, but who will be vindicated in the long run. Even when I tend to agree with some of Carroll's more left-leaning views I don't find his finger-wagging tone and his often weak anecdotal evidence for his claims at all helpful. Of course, it's no news to anyone here that a number of similarly prominent right-wing Catholics have written their own finger-wagging style books claiming they are the authentic heirs of Vatican II, they are the ones who have been betrayed, and that they will be vindicated in the long run.So I guess I give Carroll's "Practicing Catholic" my thumbs-down (ha! ha!, as if I were a legitimate reviewer!).Question for all here: For a memoir by an intelligent left-leaning (or right-leaning) Catholic who makes her case for being left-leaning (or right-leaning) well, where should one turn?

With the snippet of this review posted, I look forward to not only reading, as a subscriber, the full review, but, shoot, I am going to go read the book, based on this review. My head and heart are weary of dogma.

Might not the formula "the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides of a right triangle" be considered a dogma? Or "energy equals mass times the constant squared"?

I have often defended dogma, but on the understanding that it is historically and theologically secondary to the biblical events. A Church that has given the wrong emphases to dogma, especially without an adequate critical historical hermeneutics, and more especially when dogma has become a charter for fanatical or inquisitorial attitudes, naturally makes people "weary of dogma" and even some great theologians have hankered after a non-dogmatic Christianity, an ethical community in the spirit of Jesus etc. But to rant against dogma or to deny validity to Nicea and Chalcedon seems to me futile (especially when done on the basis of ignorance, which is usually the case -- among Dan Brown readers and among journalists -- but also among people who should not be ignorant).

Joseph,I believe that we are, mirabile dictu, mostly in accord. Of course, the Church's dogma seeks to clarify the meaning and implications of the person of Jesus the Christ. Perhaps the fountainhead of all dogma is the confession: Kurios Iesous.Your adjective "futile" brought to mind the word in the Latin version of the "Magnificat:" "inanis" -- empty. It is sad to see some seeking to satisfy their hunger on the inanities of Brown and Carroll.

I think Joseph's comment speaks much to what is behind the "weary of dogma" comment. With the Church, dogma is a first thing, and it can not, therefore, ever be "wrong". Of course, it is variously interpreted, understood, and re-discovered both narrowly and widely. As Joesph wrote: "I have often defended dogma, but on the understanding that it is historically and theologically secondary to the biblical events...dogma has become a charter for fanatical or inquisitorial attitudes". Dogma is necessary, I do not reject dogma. But I wonder if we make an idol of dogma and displace the Almighty. And thereby do so much damage.

Sorry to enter the discussion so late. If anyone is still out there --How can a Christian be against dogma as such? No, I don't mean particular teachings (which may or may not be accurate or eventrue). I mean how can you be against understanding Jesus and what He is about? How else could we understand Him if we didn't try to answer our questions, znd then share our answers with others. And isn't dogma what the official Church thinks are the best available answers? Jesus describes Himself as "the Word", which, it seems to me, implies that we *must* try to interpret what His life means. Otherwise our love would be blind, and not really love.

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