An orthodox Catholic friend e-mails this David Gibson report on Pope Francis’s most recent phone call, saying he can’t believe this news is not getting more attention. I think he’s right. Here’s Gibson:
Did Pope Francis tell a divorced and remarried woman that it was okay to take Communion even though her parish priest denied her the host?
That’s the latest kerfuffle created by the “cold-call” pope who on Monday, the day after Easter, called an Argentine woman who had written to him about whether she should receive communion at Mass even though she was divorced and remarried.
“There are priests who are more papist than the pope,” the pope himself reportedly told Jacquelina Lisbona.
Great line, great story — but is any of it true? The details have been shifting.
Gibson has been updating his post to stay on top of the latest reports. As of this writing, what we know is this:
1. The Vatican confirms that Pope Francis did telephone the Argentine woman on Monday.
2. The Vatican would not disclose what the Pope said to her.
3. The woman says the Pope told her to go find another parish where the priest would give her communion.
4. While not discussing the Pope’s words to the woman, the Vatican spokesman says that one should not draw broad conclusions based on a pastoral conversation between the pope and a lay Catholic.
The Vatican spokesman is insane if he thinks that will be sufficient, though to be fair to him, what’s he going to say if the Pope really did something this stupid? Damian Thompson of the Telegraph is exactly right here:
The Vatican MUST clarify this or the Catholic world will divide into celebration and panic http://t.co/SshGfAijPC
— Damian Thompson (@holysmoke) April 23, 2014
Why is this such a big deal? Because if the Pope himself told a Catholic to defy licit Catholic teaching on something as central to the faith as the Eucharist, the implications are enormous. To be sure, there are pastoral reasons why this mercy might be extended to people. “Father Bergoglio,” as the Pope reportedly identified himself on the call, might well have extended them. But the pontiff doing the same thing, and so casually, is potentially explosive. A pope simply can’t say, “Defy the church, don’t worry about it.” Well, he can say it, and he might have done; the papal spokesman declining to talk about it is hardly confidence-inspiring.
My Catholic correspondent is a solid guy of unexcitable temperament, but he writes that for the first time, he thinks the people who have been talking about the potential for Francis’s indiscipline to spark schism might not be crazy. Before you dismiss that as paranoia, think about what this kind of gesture coming from a pope means. It may well be the case that the Catholic Church ought to change its teaching about divorced people receiving communion. If I were the pope, I can well imagine I would eagerly search for a way to allow for that in Catholic teaching, and to push through the reform. However, to the best of my understanding, no pope has the authority to revoke church law at this level on his own (unlike, say, changing church disciplines). If Francis said on the phone call what is alleged to have said, then by his example, he implicitly grants a papal blessing for anarchy into the life of the Church. He may have meant that call only as a pastoral mercy, but he cannot possibly have been so naive as to think that it will be taken as such by the wider world — a world in which many, many people want Rome to abandon its teaching.
Can he have been?
Let me state this once again, to make my position clear. The issue here is not whether or not the Catholic Church should change its position on permitting divorced Catholics to receive communion. The real issue is the pope advising a Catholic to defy binding church teaching, especially on a very serious theological matter of great controversy. What kind of message does this send to the Catholic world about authority in the Catholic Church, when the pope himself advises a layperson to defy the Church’s authority? If this isn’t schismatic, what is it? Serious question.
This might not be the occasion, but sooner or later, one of these phone calls is going to provoke a severe theological and ecclesiological crisis. Can we at least agree that somebody ought to disconnect the phone line into the papal apartment?
The other night, we watched the excellent film “Of Gods And Men.” It turns out that the lead actor, Lambert Wilson, was once upon a time the man in that commercial, which has to be the most ridiculous and pretentious advertisement ever made. I can’t stop watching it. An utter lack of theology and geometry!
The NYTimes reports that there are objections to a seven-minute documentary planned for the forthcoming 9/11 Museum. Why? Because the film indicates that Islam had something to do with the mass murder. From the report:
The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed with his voice are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, rendered in foreign-accented English translations.
The terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” are frequently used in public discourse to describe extremist Muslim ideologies. But the problem with using such language in a museum designed to instruct people for generations is that most visitors are “simply going to say Islamist means Muslims, jihadist means Muslims,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University.
“The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said. “But when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.”
This politically correct lie must not be allowed to shove aside inconvenient truths at the 9/11 memorial. The truth is not determined by who may or may not be offended by it. And the truth is that Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks were motivated by the group’s own interpretation of the Islamic religion. It makes as much sense to say that the Crusades had nothing whatsoever to do with Latin Christianity and its ideology. In 2007, the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward reported on a letter to the hijackers that the FBI found in the luggage of 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammad Atta. It was plainly a religious exhortation to and justification for the 9/11 attacks. Excerpt from Woodward’s piece:
The first four pages of the document obtained by The Post are handwritten on large paper and recite some basic Islamic history about the prophet fighting infidels with 100 men against 1,000. They also include prayers such as, “I pray to you God to forgive me from all my sins, to allow me to glorify you in every possible way.”
The fifth and last page is on standard stenographer paper that apparently had been ripped from a pad and is headed, “When you enter the plane”:
It includes a series of prayers or exhortations. “Oh, God, open all doors for me. Oh God who answers prayersand answers those who ask you, I amasking you for your help. I amasking you for forgiveness. I amasking you to lighten my way. I amasking you to lift the burden I feel.
“Oh God, you who open all doors, please open all doors for me, open all venues for me, open all avenues for me.”
The author doodled on the paper, drawing a small, arrowhead-like sword. Two circles entwine the shaft, which also has serpentine swirls drawn onto it. The doodle also resembles a key.
The word “ROOM” is written vertically in large double-block letters at the end.
The document continues: “God, I trust in you. God, I lay myself in your hands.”
It closes, “There is no God but God, I being a sinner. We are of God, and to God we return.”
The document, several scholars of Islam said, draws on traditional Islamic prayersand alludes to Koranic verses. It begins with the universal Islamic benediction recalling God’s mercy and compassion. And the last two paragraphs repeat the basic Muslim belief that “there is no God but God.”
However, some noted that words like “100 percent” and “optimistic” are modern vocabulary not found in ancient prayers.
“Except for the section that talks about going into a plane and the knives, virtually everything else you could find in some medieval devotional manuals,” said John Voll of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
It seems to have been written, Voll added, “by a person who lives in a devotional environment that involves a significant amount of memorized material. . . . It is embedded in a broad Islamic devotional discourse.”
Other scholars noted the document’s use of Islamic language to clothe a practical call to action.
“The jargon is authentic Islamic jargon,” said Imad ad Dean Ahmad, president of the Bethesda-based Minaret of Freedom Institute. “It’s obviously phrased to make it sound like it’s part of a message to people going on a mission from which they will not return.”
Richard C. Martin, professor of Islamic studies at Emory University, said the document appears to refer to “the purification that martyrdom represents” before it gets to “the quotidian matters of entering the airplane and gives final instructions.”
Martin added, “This is a kind of spiritual preparation as I read it, or so it sounds.”
The 9/11 hijackers were devout Muslims who did what they did in service to their god. They were Islamists, in that Islamists by definition want a society governed by the Quran (but not all Islamists as nearly as radical as they). They believed in jihad — in fact, that is the raison d’etre of Al Qaeda.
If the 9/11 Memorial is to be faithful to the truth, it must identify the hijackers as devout Islamists who believed they were waging holy war. It must also make clear that not all Muslims agree with their ideology. But to say that the terrorist acts only incidentally had anything to do with Islam is a lie, and a consequential lie.
Adam Gopnik is one of my very favorite essayists, but when he turns to religion, I must turn my head. As with me and economic theory, Gopnik simply doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I’d been waiting for the vinegary theologian David Bentley Hart to respond to Gopnik’s New Yorker essay about theism and atheism, and DBH’s reaction does not disappoint. Excerpts:
Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do.
Nothing is happening here. The conversation has never begun. The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players). Everything else is idle chatter—and we live in an age of idle chatter. Lay the blame where you will: the internet, 940 television channels, social media, the ubiquity of high-fructose corn syrup, whatever you like. Almost all public discourse is now instantaneous, fluently aimless, deeply uninformed, and immune to logical rigor. What I find so dismal about Gopnik’s article is the thought that it represents not the worst of popular secularist thinking, but the best. Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice. Perhaps this really is the way the argument ends—not with a bang but a whimper.
Trust me, you’ll want to read the whole thing.
I do hope that Hart will not wait quite so long to have the fatuous atheist critic Jerry Coyne for lunch. The rigidly ideological Coyne is one of the least-interesting critics of theism, precisely because he routinely gives scant evidence of understanding the position of his opponents (see Edward Feser on this point). His New Republic piece dismissing Hart’s book is on par with Gopnik’s, except that Gopnik, to his very great credit, is a marvelous prose stylist and a generous human being, and does not write as if he were delivering his message while standing on a bench in Hyde Park.
A reader writes:
[Name], my youngest son, and I are looking at four years colleges for him and this article caught my eye.
The article in question is a short Forbes piece examining data showing that the imbalanced male-female ratio of college students is growing, with women leaving men far behind. The reader continues:
I mentioned it [to my son] and he, of course, said he wants to go to a school with the highest percentage of females. Not the best criteria for picking a school, but I certainly understand the sentiment. He also wondered how society would react if the ratio was reversed. Yes, indeed. Imagine the howls from certain quarters of our society if significantly more men than women were attending college. I suspect it would be an ongoing top story: why is it happening? what are we going to do about it? and on and on. What strikes me is how very little is being said about this. It just underscores what I’ve observed – that more and more young men in the 16 – 25 age range are simply checking out and not many people really give a damn about it.
Why should society care about what happens to oppressors?
I’m snarking here, but you know that has something to do with it. The overclass doesn’t care, because hey, males aren’t an approved victim class. Maybe we could get all the men to move to Appalachia, where they’ll be out of sight, out of mind. If only those men would decide to change their genders, the media would fall all over itself dramatizing their plight.
In a previous generation, the word “Negro” went from being a perfectly acceptable, even favored, term for black people, to being offensive. Has the same thing happened to the word “homosexual”? Here’s a Ruth Graham tweet from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission leadership summit:
— Ruth Graham (@publicroad) April 22, 2014
Is this a thing? Since when did “homosexual” cease to be a neutral term, and become offensive? I’m not being snarky here; this is news to me. Why is “homosexual” a problem?
Meanwhile, three cheers for the public statement, signed by gay marriage proponents Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Rauch, Eugene Volokh and others, calling for tolerance for dissenters. From the piece:
Much of the rhetoric that emerged in the wake of the Eich incident showed a worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism among some supporters of gay equality—not in terms of formal legal sanction, to be sure, but in terms of abandonment of the core liberal values of debate and diversity.
Sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a decent respect for differing opinions. People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them.
The freedom—not just legal but social—to express even very unpopular views is the engine that propelled the gay-rights movement from its birth against almost hopeless odds two generations ago. A culture of free speech created the social space for us to criticize and demolish the arguments against gay marriage and LGBT equality. For us and our advocates to turn against that culture now would be a betrayal of the movement’s deepest and most humane values.
We prefer debate that is respectful, but we cannot enforce good manners. We must have the strength to accept that some people think misguidedly and harmfully about us. But we must also acknowledge that disagreement is not, itself, harm or hate.
As a viewpoint, opposition to gay marriage is not a punishable offense. It can be expressed hatefully, but it can also be expressed respectfully. We strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement’s hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions.
UPDATE: This whole language issue reminded me of a Bloom County strip, the punch line of which Bill Safire revealed in a 1988 column:
“That’s the most adorable little colored girl playing outside,” observes a woman in Berke Breathed’s comic strip, “Bloom County.”
“‘Colored’? You’re saying ‘colored people’ in 1988?” asks her socially sensitive son. “You know better, Ma.” He suggests they agree to use “the new-age term ‘people of color.’” Ma accepts that, and says, “People of color. Colored people.” The son blows his stack.
Erin Manning has a good comment on the most recent political donors thread:
I think a sort of compromise could be hammered out, if we lived in a sane and reasonable society. That compromise would include protecting small donors especially on campaigns directly involving issues, but not protecting large donors or *any* donor contributing directly to a political campaign (because, I’m sorry, but if it ever becomes a personal liability for a person to have been known to have contributed to the Senate campaign of John Smith or Jane Doe, we’re not really a democracy any more, and we might as well quit pretending). However, I am not sanguine, as we no longer live in a sane and reasonable society.
If people would (as others have said) look at other issues beside the gay agenda, I think they’d quickly realize how dangerous this trend is. Say there’s a referendum in your town to raise taxes to build a new school. You homeschool, you think taxes in your town are high enough, and not only do you vote against the referendum, you give $100 to the “No on New School” campaign. Well, your boss calls you in and tells you his wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother are or were all teachers, and you’re clearly against education, and he’s not comfortable having a homeschooling anti-education bigot on his team…
Is that just fine? What if it’s the other way around–what if the boss has no kids and hates taxes and fires you for giving money to the “Yes on New School” campaign? Or what if you vote against the new school, and your child’s application to a local college is turned down on the grounds that his parents are anti-education?
Do we really want the political opinions and leanings of people who give a few hundred dollars, or even a thousand dollars, to advance a cause they believe in or stand against something they don’t, to be open for this kind of micromanaging public scrutiny? In the Internet age? When a donation you made years ago and have practically forgotten about could be dredged up and used against you at any moment?
I remember working for a pro-life ballot initiative in Washington State, years ago (sadly, it did not pass; there’s almost nothing the highly unchurched people of WA value more than disposable fetuses–human, of course; it’s horrifying to many of them if an animal fetus dies). But a woman and her daughter who seemed vaguely sort of pro-choice-ish but were willing to listen and kind of open to persuasion ended up signing the petition to get the initiative on the ballot. If they had made a contribution to our efforts (I can’t remember if they did), should that momentary decision by people who would never have described themselves as pro-life be allowed to come back years later and ruin their lives–as, in WA, it might very well?
Many people here are too busy being caught up in the gay marriage red herring to concentrate on the real problem: in an age when personal information about everyone you meet is distressingly easy to come by, should we mandate the full disclosure of even tiny sums of money paid to advance a political *issue,* not a candidate? I don’t think so, because I think the end result of that would be the same result as our total failure to pass meaningful campaign finance reform (note: I’m conservative, not Republican), which is the continued alienation of the average citizen from the processes of governance, including (if not especially) voting and participating in elections.
Mickey Easterling, a grande dame of New Orleans party-giving, died last week at 83. They had her memorial service at the Saenger Theater. She was there, on stage, embalmed, with her trademark cigarette holder, a glass of Champagne, red fingernails, and a pink feather boa. More about the life of the five-foot tall firecracker:
In a 1998 interview for The Times-Picayune, David Cuthbert wrote that the walls of Ms. Easterling’s home office were hung with portraits of herself by George Febres, Douglas Bourgeois, Jean-Jacques Giraud and Douglas Johnson. Out by the pool, Cuthbert said, was a nude sculpture that, Ms. Easterling said, was “the quintessential me – shoes, hat, cigarette and Champagne glass.”
For people who might not have known her, Ms. Easterling gave a hint to her saucy personality by frequently wearing a pin spelling out “#1 Bitch” in sparkling stones.
“Wearing that pin all the time was so my mother,” her daughter said. “She was proud of the fact that she was aggressive and in-your-face tough.”
Founded in Brattleboro in 2011, the Rich Earth Institute is “dedicated to advancing and promoting the use of human waste as a resource.” In 2012, the group—started by a compost toilet expert and a former Peace Corp volunteer and educator—began collecting donated pee from a group of about 60 locals. The urine was then transported by a private septic service company to Fair Winds Farm, a local livestock and vegetable farm where fieldwork is powered entirely by the farm’s team of five horses. There, farmer Jay Bailey applied the pee to his hay crops as a powerful mid-season fertilizer. The project was so successful that in 2013, about a hundred more donors signed up, bringing membership of the so-called “Urine Brigade” to around 175. Last year, the Brigade produced 3,000 gallons of pee. This year, Rich Earth co-founder Kim Nace—the former educator—expects volunteers to hand over 6,000 gallons and for two more hay farms to join up.
“It’s sort of taken off big time,” Kim said. “This is just a novel idea in people’s minds, and because of that, they’re extremely intrigued by it.”
Men, the next time the wife yells at you for peeing in the back yard, you ask her why she hates the Earth so much.
The great Paris-based food blogger David Lebovitz is on his US book tour for his latest cookbook, My Paris Kitchen. Click here for the info. He’s in Texas this week, at the peerless Central Market food temples:
April 23: Book signing at Central Market in Dallas, TX (Lovers Lane Store), from 4:30pm to 6pm.
April 24: Book signing at Central Market in Houston, TX, from 4:30pm to 6pm.
April 25: Book signing at Central Market in Austin, TX, from 4:30pm to 6pm.
April 26: Book signing at Central Market in Austin, Time TBA.
Man! If I were in Texas, you know I’d be there, fanboy that I am. I’m going to buy the book next time I’m in Baton Rouge. If you’re a foodie or a Francophile, you don’t want to miss this. Peter K., I’m looking at you…