06 October 2009

Questions. . .

Questions. . .

1).  Lots of Catholic bloggers are posting on the Conservative Bible Project What say you?

At a glance, I think this is something of a parody, or maybe someone is tweaking fundamentalist translations/interpretations of the Bible.  Since the Bible is neither conservative nor liberal, I don't know that it makes any sense to edit scripture along conservative political lines.  If a Bible edition is obviously ideologically biased (feminist slant, or fundie evangelical slant), then it would be possible to un-slant the slant by returning to the text.   However, the central difficulty of translating any text is the problem American philosopher, W.V.O. Quine identified as the "indeterminacy of translation thesis."  Simply put:  all translations are necessarily interpretations.  Language by its very nature is culturally bound, so a translator cannot simply transpose words/phrases from one language into another without a remainder.  IOW, something of the original meaning is always lost in the translation.  Catholics have understood this from Day One, thus the absolute necessity of a living body to provide authoritative interpretations rooted in tradition.  We call this body the Church.

[N.B.  Regarding Quine's thesis--Quine argues that since no one translation can be right, all translations are wrong.  This seems a bit fatalistic to me.  I often tell my poetry students that though there is no one right interpretation of a poem, there are billions of wrong ones.]

2).  What do you think of Karen Armstrong's work?

An edited version of my combox response:  I've not read an entire book of hers. What little I've read strikes me the same-old, same-old "I used to Catholic but now I'm educated so I don't believe all that stuff anymore; now I believe all this other religously, vaguely Christian stuff that really highly educated people won't be embarrassed to read about" kind of ex-Catholic. Not impressed.  What I mean here is the Armstrong seems to be one of those ex-Catholic writers who depends quite heavily on her former status as a "devout Catholilc" in order to lend credibility to her attacks on the Church.  As far as these writers go, Armstrong seems to be less bigoted than most.  Armstrong makes all the standard moves:  1). since Catholicism is all about being catholic, i.e., universal, then anything goes for a Catholic; 2) attempts to define/limit what counts as legit Catholicism is really just sexist old men trying to hold on to power; 3). real religious freedom is all about not putting God in a box; 4). the best way to Christian is to put God in a left-liberal, revisionist box. . .ad nau.

3).  Alpha males among the Traditionalists?  Comment?

Yea.  I've met a few.  I could go on all day psychoanalyzing this phenomenon, but let it suffice to say that some in the Traddie movement have adopted the same tactic as our more progressive brethren in their fight to define the faith.  Pick a decade in Church history.  Argue that this decade is the only decade among all the decades of history when the Church Got It All Right.  Demand we all accept this premise.  Excommunicate anyone who disagrees.  This sort also comes with two other quirks:  1). an obsession with oddball devotions and 2). an obsession with apocalyptic scenarios described by obscure eastern European seers.  I've often described these folks as those who accost their pastors with type-written tracts demanding that he consecrate the parish with a monthly recitation of the Novena of the Big Toe of St Joseph, or the whole country will be scourged with a blight of athlete's foot.  I am NOT deriding real traditionalism here.  Far from it.  My aim is to goof on those alpha males in the movement who seem to be--like our feminist brethren--perpetually angry and demanding action from Church authorities to calm their imaginary fears of an impending doomsday.  Common to both camps is a lack of faith in Christ's assurance to his disciples:  "The gates of hell will never prevail against the Church."  All will be well, all manner of things will be well.

4).  Harry Potter, Halloween, and the dangers of paganism?

I've written on this theme many times and I am forthrightly unambiguous in my opposition to anything that smacks of neo-paganism being practiced by Catholics.  Having said that, I see no problem with Harry Potter or Halloween so long as parents take charge of both and ensure that impressionable children understand the difference between fantasy and reality.  My experience working with kids is that the quickest way to get them to do something dangerous is to forbid it.  If your child wants to read the Harry Potter book, let them.  But read along with them and discuss the material.  I don't buy the meme that the books are Christian simply because they pit good against evil.  The only Good Catholics need to call on is Christ and his Church.  But it seems to me easy enough to point this out to a child precocious enough to want to read Rowling's heavy tomes.   Same goes for Halloween.  Explain what the holiday is all about and give it a Christian spin.  This is a time-honored Catholic practice for evangelization.   I often wonder if calls for banning books or holidays among Catholics is really a sublimated desire to forgo responsible parenting.  Children are to learn the faith first from their parents.  The government, the schools, the library cannot take on this responsibility without the child's faith being seriously damaged.


  1. Re: Conservative Bible Project: My favorite take is Rod Dreher's - "It's like what you'd get if you crossed the Jesus Seminar with the College Republican chapter at a rural institution of Bible learnin'."

    Re: Harry Potter: I consider them Christian in the same way the Lord of the Rings is Christian; which is to say, it is a "pre-Christian" work that points the way to certain Christian virtues. Rowling couldn't be more explicit about her two main themes: that love is the ultimate power and will always overcome evil; and that the highest form of love is to lay down one's life for others. I'm really enjoying reading them with my sons.

  2. Flambeaux7:38 AM

    Re: Harry Potter -- John Granger has done the heavy lifting here regarding Christian subtext and the literary antecedents of Rowling's opus. I highly recommend his work to any concerned parents, whether they are natural parents or spiritual parents. :D

  3. I take offense at number 3 father. I certainly do not have oddball devotions and do not obsess over obscure apocalyptic scenarios! and I do consider myself a traditionalist in the sense that I do have a profound love for the Extraordinary Rite of the mass. I do not hate the Novus Ordo Mass, but there are many elements in it that I think have necessarily led to large problems in the church today. Not that the alternative iss perfect, but I do think that it is much better

  4. James,

    Read what I wrote. I'm obviously not talking about you or those like you.

  5. Anonymous10:34 PM

    I am amazed at your comment about Karen Armstrong. A] You haven't read her books. B] You haven't read her books. C] Etcetera.

    I find her personal history deeply moving. She doesn't present it in a skewed manner. At all. I refer to The Spiral Staircase. And I greatly admire her deep effort to make peace among the three Abrahamic religions.

    People could do worse. And, well, do.

    She's brilliant, done her homework and is highly literate and articulate. She spoke to sell-out crowds here and doesn't appear to be the dupe of anyone or ill-educated or biased.

    Thanks. I don't know who else mentioned her. But congratulations for still "thinking." It's never out of vogue.

    Initiating peace. Bad? hmmm. I don't think so. Sounds like Christ to me. One need not be fearful of thought. And she describes her own experience in very logical order. The people in charge did what they did and she attests to it.

    I can relate.

  6. Anon., read what I actually wrote, "I have not read an ENTIRE book of hers..." Not quite the same as "I've never read anything by her..."

    And, of course, b/c I don't care for her superior attitude toward the Church that must mean I dislike thinking and peacemaking...geez.

  7. Anonymous12:06 AM


    I am surprised about your comment on Karen Armstrong. I met her while she was in town.

    She was quite humble actually. There is a pleasant quietness about her that was very moving.

    Perhaps you are confusing her with someone else, another author?


  8. Anonymous3:53 AM

    "read what I wrote" "read what I wrote"

    reeeet reeeeet reeeeeeeet

    It's the Bates Motel.

    Why don't YOU practice the good work of listening carefully and not being so snotty?

    Sir. You live on the assumption you are better than others. You are a pompous, fat friar.

  9. Anon., I love it when hypocrites like you come to a blog and blast people who dare to disagree with them...you throw around self-righteous snot and then accuse others of being mean. Do me a favor: stop reading this blog. Just don't come here anymore. Easy, cheesy. Bye now.

  10. Anonymous12:13 PM

    Father, I am sorry for what the other person wrote insulting you. That is uncalled for. And I'm afraid it reflects poorly on Ms. Armstrong. As I said, I met her and found her very gracious and even inspiring.

    So sorry for the other comment. I continue to think she's a writer who is highly gifted and definitely worth reading.


  11. Virginia,

    I'm not discounting her life story or her personality...my concern is how she is sometimes caught using her status as an ex-nun to poke at the Church. Thanks for commenting...

  12. Anonymous6:30 PM

    What I want to CONVEY. Please. I would like to respectfully convey: she does not do that. She does not "poke" at the Church.

    I thank you for letting me comment. As long as there is room for discussion there is room for love.


  13. OK! Maybe I got her on a bad day or maybe I am mistaking her for someone else...I'll put a little time into figuring it out and report back. God knows I don't want to bear false witness...look for an update soon!