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The CWR Blog
Comments on twenty or so recent news stories, essays, and reviews.

For every lengthy and (hopefully) in-depth blog post I write from time to time, there are countless posts I never get around to writing. In fact, I estimate that for every post I do end up writing, I read or skim through five or six dozen articles, essays, reviews, and such. The biggest challenge is simply time, but I also try to avoid simply posting something just to have "something up there". And then there are little stories or miscellaneous items that don't really warrant a full post, but might be of interest to some readers.

In years past, when blogging exclusively on Insight Scoop, I'd occasionally produce a round-up post, with several links, some with little or no commentary and a few with a bit more. That helped clear out the "in box", so to speak, and so I'm going to use the same approach once a week or so here on the CWR blog, under the title, "Carl's Cuts". The word "cuts" is used in a multi-facted way; I'll let you figure out the specific intentions as we move along here.

Some of these links have been around a few weeks. Perhaps you've already seen some of these stories. Whatever the case, they have made the cut for "Carl's Cuts". 

• Educational Quote: "If you happen to be Catholic, you can expect to be treated as a curious and repellent heretic, unenlightened about the latest word in sexual politics." It works well as a general summary of the state of things in the West, but it is from a recent New Criterion article, "The case of Bowdoin College", about a $60,000-a-year liberal arts college in Maine that is the poster-college, if you will, for the legacy of the Sixties. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly important reading for the sturdy of mind and soul.

• Signs of the Apocalypse: Prospect Magazine recently conducted a most thoughtful poll: "After more than 10,000 votes from over 100 countries, the results of Prospect’s world thinkers 2013 poll are in. Online polls often throw up curious results, but this top 10 offers a snapshot of the intellectual trends that dominate our age." And the winner is: Richard Dawkins. That does not bode well for the theory of evolution. Among Dawkins' brilliant achievements, the article proffers, is the coining of the term "meme", as well as being "prolific on Twitter." If making up words and using social media are the main criteria for intellectual greatness, we can rejoice in knowing that millions of geniuses are currently in their teens and early adulthood all around the world. Really, what does it say that over half of the top 65 picks are economists, sociologists, political scientists, activists, statisticians, and investment strategists? Nothing very good—and let me statistically analyze the ways and whys.

 Russell Shaw argues that "Leo XIII’s critique [of Americanism] is more substantial than apologists for Americanism care to admit. Much of it, in fact, is pertinent to conditions in American Catholicism today." Indeed, most pertinent.

• Believe it or not, blogger and author Brandon Vogt recently launched a website, StrangeNotions.com, focused on addressing atheism and skepticism. One of my articles, "Did Paul Invent Christianity?"(originally published in This Rock magazine) is on the site. Here is a list of contributors to the site.

• Rev. Robert A. Gahl, Jr., an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, has written an essay for The Washington Post that asks the question, "Can Pope Francis finish the job that Benedict began?" He writes that in the 1990s, "Ratzinger was leading the curial push to decisively deal with perpetrators who were still a threat because of some weak-minded administrators and their policy to move criminals first to treatment and then back into ministry." He also writes:

Ratzinger did not aim for a middle place between the competing interests of the victims and of the accused, but to ascertain the truth, reach a verdict, and impose a just penalty, all while doing everything possible to heal the victims and repair the damage done to the church and society. After noting my concern for judicial due process, he indicated his unshakeable commitment to do everything possible to root out abusive clergy, fully cognizant that he could be criticized by canon lawyers for eliminating traditional steps in ecclesiastical trials designed to protect the rights of the accused.

He concludes, "All signs point to a Pope Francis ready to keep cleaning the house of God." So far, it appears, so good. 

• Do you live in the one of the "20 Most Well-Read Cities" in the United States? Take the list with a grain of salt: does anyone believe that five of the twenty "most well-read cities" are in Florida? Naw.

• Jonah Goldberg, remarking on the knee-jerk inclination of many MSM journalists to connect acts of domestic terrorism to "right-wing" persons and parties, quips, "Every Muslim terrorist enjoys not just the presumption of innocence until proven guilty but the presumption that he’s a fan of Ayn Rand, too." Ayn and the Koran, a most unsettling mix.

• Deep Cut #1: The February 20th issue of The American Conservative has a fine article, "Philosopher of Love", by Jeremy Beer about author and theologian David Schindler. A snippet: 

After he assumed editorship of Communio in 1992, David Schindler became the most important voice for the movement’s perspective in America. He is the most notable American Catholic thinker of the last—well, one could arguably just put a period after “thinker.” Among philosophers and theologians he is widely respected, yet he is mostly unknown even among relatively sophisticated American Christian conservatives. What gives?

Read the entire piece. Schindler, by the way, makes the Top Ten of my list of top world thinkers. 

• This dates back to 2010, but I only saw it recently and it so bizarre I have to mention it: an Evangelical named John Bugay wrote that "one of the things I have noticed in my reading of Ratzinger is that he is functionally a pantheist." Sure, and Martin Luther was, functionally, a cross-dressing monist. Apparently that wasn't enough as Bugay then sought to explain how "Roman Catholicism" is shot through with pantheism. So David Waltz, another Evangelical, took Bugay to the cleaners, writing, "Amazing, I really mean AMAZING. Though I by no means consider myself a scholar of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's thought/theology, I have read a substantial amount of his published works in English, including eleven of his books that I own, and a number of his books and essays that are available online; I am left stunned that John actually believes that Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is a pantheist—the evidence CLEARLY repudiates such a view."

It sure does. But you already knew that, didn't you? 

• The May/June 2013 issue of Saint Austin Review is out, and the website has an article (PDF format) from it, "Chesteron and Lewis Side by Side", written by the wonderful Dale Ahlquist. The essay begins:

Did C. S. Lewis ever meet G. K. Chesterton? Yes. At least thirty times. On each occasion, Lewis sat quietly (except when he laughed out loud) and took in what Chesterton had to say, taking meticulous notes. But it was a one-way conversation. And I suppose I should point out that the meetings were not actually face-to-face. They only took place when Lewis was reading one of the many Chesterton books he owned. Some thirty of the books still exist in such places as Oxford and Wheaton College, and the marginalia indicate that Lewis read them all. But Lewis’ own writing is the surest indicator of how much he read and absorbed Chesterton.

Visit the magazine's site at www.StAustinReview.com.

• Speaking of great Christian authors and apologists from England, Jeff Mirus has penned a short piece about Frank Sheed (who was from Australia, but who lived his adult life in England) and the challenge of evangelization:

In 1966 Sheed published Knowing God: God and the Human Condition, which has recently been reprinted by Ignatius Press. The title could not possibly be more apt. Sheed had gone through exactly what most older Catholics today have gone through, and he ended by facing exactly what we all face today. That is, his life took him from sectarian controversy in a largely Christian context to the bewildering flight from God in modern culture, with the seeds of indifference maturing into the noxious weeds of antipathy. And to this abysmal trend, Frank Sheed offered a one word answer. That word is not Church, not faith, not doctrine, not morality, not theology, not philosophy. The word is Christ.

Continue reading on the CatholicCulture.org site. For more about Sheed's Knowing God, visit the Ignatius Press site, which also has this listing of reprinted Sheed books.

• I must congratulate my good friend, Anthony Clark, for being quoted in several recent news reports,including in the New York Times, about the recent death of 97-year-old Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, SJ, about whom he has written for both Ignatius Insight and CWR. However, I'm not sure if I should congratulate him on somehow becoming a priest, without the knowledge of himself or anyone else. I do hope he gets that situation normalized soon, if not for his sake, then for the sake of his wife.

• Deep Cut #2: This year marks the 30th anniversary of my graduation from junior high school. But that's not of interest. More importantly, Walker Percy's unique book, Lost In the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, was published in 1983. In a lengthy and excellent essay, "Percy and Sagan In the Cosmos", Alan Jacobs examines the cultural and religious context of Percy's book, wriiting, "Lost in the Cosmos is the most peculiar book of Percy's career, and in my judgment his finest achievement." He also states:

Millions of people watched [Sagan's] Cosmos—indeed, until Ken Burns' Civil War series appeared a decade later it was the most-viewed show in PBS history, and if you count worldwide viewers it may still be the most-viewed of all. Among the viewers was a man in Covington, Louisiana who almost certainly watched it with a glass of bourbon in his hand. This man, whose name was Walker Percy, was a doctor of medicine but instead of practicing that art had become a writer. He was deeply interested in the manifold varieties of human oddity, preferring perhaps the farcical to the tragic—or at any rate he was inclined to see the farcical within the tragic. For this reason, and because as a writer he kept irregular hours, he also liked to watch the Phil Donahue Show, the first of the tabloid talk shows that later became ubiquitous on American daytime TV. It occurred to Walker Percy that a strange, twisted thread linked Carl Sagan's "personal voyage" through the Cosmos and the bizarre array of bruised and weird people who showed up so regularly on Donahue's set. Thirty years ago he published the book in which he traced that thread. It is called Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book, and it may as well have been written yesterday.

Read Jacobs' entire essay on the Books and Culture website.

• One more mention of the gotta-read-him-if-you-never-have Percy: Peter Augustine Lawler has penned a piece for The Imaginative Conservative titled, "Walker Percy and Carl Sagan"

• "Raised as a Baptist, [she] later became Episcopalian, but had two of her greatest successes with books so steeped in Catholicism that readers thought she was a Catholic. In fact, in a letter written from Pittsburgh in August 1896, she told a friend, 'There is no God but one God and Art is his revealer; that’s my creed and I'll follow it to the end, to a hotter place than Pittsburgh if need be.'" "She" was Willa Cather, author of O Pioneers! and Death Comes For the Archbishop

• The editors of The New York Times are angry that—get this—President Obama has been "putting politics ahead of science". Noooooo. Say it ain't so! But why? Because girls under the age of 15 aren't yet able to have "nonprescription access to the most well-known brand of emergency contraception — Plan B One-Step..." Moral teaching and self-control are of no interest, you see; the answer is found in "science" and contraceptives: "Lack of access to safe contraception will not stop adolescents from having sex. Girls who have sex should not be punished with unintended pregnancies." People of all age, pregnant or not, should not be punished with this sort of psuedo-sophisticated utilitarianism, which barely masks the most loathesome strains of moral relativism and crude materialism. 

• Eugene Robinson, a homosexual activist and former Episcopalian leader, recently attempted to lecture Abp. Allen Vigneron of Detroit and Dr. Edward Peters, professor at Sacred Heart Seminary, on how horrible it is to consider denying Holy Communion to those who publicly promote sinful acts, while then lauding the sins of "same sex marriage", homosexual relationships, contraceptives, and abortion. Having abandoned morality, Robinson has been desperately, and successfully, abandoning any and all logic. He writes:

I believe that using Communion as such a manipulative tool surely profanes the sacrament. Perhaps these Catholic leaders should revisit their church’s theology of the Eucharist. Reception of the body and blood of Christ at Communion is God’s gift to God’s people, not a reward for right behavior. We receive Communion not because we are worthy of it, but because God’s offers us the body and blood of Christ despite our unworthiness.

While Robinson is apparently an expert of sorts when it comes to profane acts, his knowledge of Catholic sacramental and moral theology is lacking. He must have missed the words of the great Catholic theologian, St. Paul, who wrote:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Cor 11:26-30)

In addition, the same Apostle had a few choice words about homosexuality, none of them positive (Rom 1:26-7). Perhaps Robinson would insist that St. Paul, like Abp. Vigneron and Dr. Peters, work on "quieting [his] judgmental rhetoric". After all, Robinson is apparently an expert of sorts on judgmental rhetoric as well. 

• The historian Paul Johnson, who studied under C.S. Lewis at Oxford, sums up the three reasons why Lewis should be read:

He deserves his lasting appeal, and for three reasons. First he was immensely well-read, delving into every corner of English literature with intelligence and sympathy, and squeezing from it moral qualities which had been hitherto unsuspected in many works. Second, he had an enviable clarity, so that his meaning, even when making rarefied distinctions, always leaps from the page. Thirdly, he had excellent judgment in both literature and theology, and combined them both in fascinating books which never condescend and are always a pleasure to read. 

Check, check, and check! That from Johnson's recent review of Alister McGrath's new biography, C.S. Lewis: A Life.

• Speaking of anniversaries, as I have, this year marks the 35th anniversary of Phil Keaggy's groundbreaking instrumental album, The Master & the Musician. Keaggy, who was raised Catholic but then became an Evangelical as a young man (following the tragic death of his mother), is an exceptional guitarist whose great strengths are versatility and a keen ear for melody. Mark Moring writes:

The album's tunes range from blistering electric guitar solos to medieval-inspired flute pieces, from a pulsing jungle boogie to a beat-box vocal ditty that would make Bobby McFerrin proud. As Mark Allan Powell wrote in his Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Musicwhile it is debatable whether Keaggy is the best guitar player of all time, "it is probably fair to say he is the most versatile guitarist who has ever lived. . . . It is easy to imagine both Jimi Hendrix and Andrés Segovia smiling down on [Keaggy], nodding their heads in approval, albeit with reference to completely different projects."

Read Moring's entire piece on the Christianity Today site. I listened to the album again yesterday (I began listening to Keaggy's music in my teens), and it has aged very well. Another favorite Keaggy album is the all-acoustic instrumental album, Beyond Nature (1991), which is a tribute to—wait for it!—C.S. Lewis.

• Thomas Storck is always worth reading, and his new essay, "The Revenge of Religious Liberty", on the Ethika Politika site is no exception. A taste:

As long as American society was permeated by a vague Protestant ethos, Catholics did not understand very well the absolutist claims that a society based upon a Lockean understanding of religion made with regard to behavior, including behavior motivated by religious ideals.  But now that that Protestant ethos is fast waning, we are equally fast finding out the truth about our place in the American polity. ...

The doctrine of Locke which restricted the government’s sphere of concern to things purely of this world was adopted and continued in the American political and legal tradition.  Indeed, the First Amendment enshrined this view of religion as essentially a private matter.  What follows from this?  Since religious beliefs are now merely private opinions, from the state’s point of view they are important only as providing personal psychological solace or support for personal or social morality.  But their truth or falsity is no concern of society at large, society as organized into a political community.  Since someone’s religious opinions would seem to have nothing to do with how well he will obey the law, they are necessarily relegated to the purely private and are of no concern to his neighbor. 

Here is the entire essay.

• Dr. William Oddie kindly notes that I note that the notable honeymoon will end. And on that note...

 
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Carl E. Olson editor@catholicworldreport.com

Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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