Correcting Catholic Blindness

See, judge, act.” Such has been the method by which modern Catholic social teaching has urged Catholics to approach the political and economic challenges of our time. First and foremost, the “seeing” involves looking with the eyes of Christ rather than through the prism of our own ideology. But seeing inevitably entails choices concerning what we look at and the breadth and depth of what we take into account. In that respect, alas, the field of vision of modern Catholic social doctrine appears to have been far more limited than often is realized, and so it is less effective in helping Catholics and other Christians address many economic issues, ranging from Europe’s bleak unemployment prospects to poverty in the developing world.It’s not a matter of having to revisit the fundamental principles of Catholic social doctrine. Its imperatives—such as solidarity, subsidiarity, the dignity of the person, and the universal destination of material goods—never change, because of their grounding in what revelation and natural law tell us about the nature of what the Church calls “integral human development”: the all-round flourishing of every person and community. Continued adherence to these principles are, however, perfectly compatible with widening the scope of that teaching’s views on economic life to make it less dependent on what might be loosely labeled a mildly center-left Western European consensus and more attentive to developments that continue, both positively and negatively, to affect millions of peoples’ economic well-being.Some 5,764 miles away from Rome, on a pile of rocks just off the coast of mainland China, sits the special administrative region of Hong Kong, a bustling city of seven million people. A better example of East Asia’s economic transformation over the past forty years would be hard to find. Since they took over in 1997, Hong Kong’s masters in the People’s Republic have been relatively restrained about interfering with the economic arrangements of the former British colony. Continue Reading »

The Future of Protestantism

Protestants often act as if the Reformation were the end of history, the moment when the Church reached its final condition. For these sorts of Protestants, the future of Protestantism can only be more of the same. This cannot be. God is the living Creator, still at work in his world, and that means that the Protestantism of the future will be something new, and, given the pattern of God’s creativity, something better.In the beginning, God created the world in six days, and each day improved on the previous one. He spoke light, separated light and darkness, and said it was good. Come the next day, and first-day good was not good enough, so he separated the waters below from the waters above and inserted a firmament between. After he tore the waters and called earth to fruitfulness, he said that was good too. Another evening and morning, and again good was not good enough, so he spent the fourth day hanging lights in the firmament, the fifth calling swarming things to swarm in the sea and birds to hover on the face of the sky, the sixth filling the earth with animals and creating man male and female in his image. Each day was good, but each was followed by darkness and dawn that made good better. When he finished, Yahweh God pronounced it very good and rested in what he had made.Something of the same rhythm continues after the Fall, with God’s judgment a critical addition, with God tearing down in order to build up. After the scattering at Babel, he tears Abram from among the nations and sends him wandering through a land not his own, offering sacrifices at oaks and oases. The Lord midwives his son Israel through the travail of Egypt and carries him to Sinai, where he teaches him to worship in his tent and live in the land of promise. Solomon reorganizes tribes into districts and builds a temple, a well-­watered Eden on Mount Moriah, with the king’s palace hard by Yahweh’s. Divided, the people of God take a new name, Israel-and-Judah, until Yahweh tears them from the land of promise and melds them together in exile into one new man, now all Jews, now all “Judahites,” incorporated into the royal tribe. Through the cross and Resurrection, we are all separated from our native tribes and nations and grafted into the people of God, taking the name Christian. Continue Reading »

A Church for Exiles

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance. Continue Reading »

Wilm Hosenfeld: Warsaw’s Quiet Resister

Seventy years ago, the inhabitants of Warsaw boldly rose against their Nazi oppressors. The Warsaw Uprising lasted sixty-three days, defying all expectations. Yet at the war’s end, the Polish capital suffered more damage than any other city during World War II, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 85 percent its buildings were destroyed, while only 400,000 residents out of a prewar population of 1.3 million (including only 11,500 of 360,000 Jews) survived. In the orgy of cruelty that was the occupation of Warsaw, one German officer—Captain Wilm Hosenfeld—acted heroically. Continue Reading »

Tradition and the Individual Theologian

Catholics, Orthodox, and not a few Protestants have been known to reject theological novelties with a wave of the hand and an appeal to tradition. “Shouldn’t we follow the tradition rather than the judgments of an individual scholar?” Sometimes the modifier “idiosyncratic” is added to “judgments” for rhetorical oomph. “Tradition” is implicitly capitalized, for who can argue with a capital letter? Continue Reading »

How I Evolved on Gay Marriage

A young Christian, I arrived at college in the fall of 2004 with some of the usual intellectual difficulties: evolution, creation, the authority of Scripture, and so on. But I could think through them undisturbed, working them out in my reading rather than in debates. No one was asking, “Where do you stand?”With gay marriage on the horizon, that soon changed. It was a time when everyone was supposed to evolve—and I did, just not in the way I was supposed to. Unlike many other young Christians, coming around to approving gay unions as marriages never became a possibility for me. Continue Reading »

Divorce and Remarriage

The divorce statistics for modern Western societies are catastrophic. They show that marriage is no longer regarded as a new, independent reality transcending the individuality of the spouses, a reality that, at the very least, cannot be dissolved by the will of one partner alone. But can it be dissolved by the consent of both parties, or by the will of a synod or a pope? The answer must be no, for as Jesus himself explicitly declares, man cannot put asunder what God himself has joined together. Such is the teaching of the Catholic Church.The Christian understanding of the good life claims to be valid for all human beings. Yet even Jesus’s disciples were shocked by their Master’s words: Wouldn’t it be better, then, they replied, not to marry at all? The astonishment of the disciples underscores the contrast between the Christian way of life and the way of life dominant in the world. Whe­ther it wants to or not, the Church in the West is on its way to becoming a counterculture, and its future now depends chiefly on whether it is able, as the salt of the earth, to keep its savor and not be trampled underfoot by men. Continue Reading »

Imagining the Path of Christian Exile

To be ripped from our neighborhood, the ancient land we have shared, so companionably for so long, is a tragedy that must transform each of us. I have been forever changed by the experience of being marched away at gunpoint, empty-handed, my past wrested from me. They gave me two choices, leave or die. And you, too, are changed for having to quietly watch me go, or die yourselves. It is not how old neighbors should part. Continue Reading »

Time to Stand Against Rome?

A recent joint statement by a number of Italian evangelical groups indicts the Roman Catholic Church as an “imperial” church and its call for evangelicals to “unionist initiatives that are contrary to Scripture and instead renew their commitment to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world.” Continue Reading »