The shifting sands of the Catholic blogosphere

The shifting sands of the Catholic blogosphere

Diary of a Wimpy Catholic was once my daily go-to. I commonly referred to Max Lindenman as “everybody’s favourite blogger, or mine anyway.”

But I tuned out in recent times, and hadn’t given his blog another thought, until I received this news from a friend:

Max Lindenman has folded his tent – and thank God for that. His kind of clever teetering-on-the-edge of Catholicism is very very dangerous and it looks as though someone – perhaps his own conscience, has enlightened him.

When we look back, Max rarely wrote about Catholicism, but presented the weary scribe’s version, after the style of Graham Greene, but worse. At least you could pick up the glaring errors of Greene, but Max… in this day of relativism… harder.

Together with the addictive confession of one’s weaknesses and errors there has to be some words about God and the hope of achieving heaven, but Max didn’t do this.

Lest you think my friend is too harsh, here’s Max himself, largely agreeing with that assessment:

I’m not enough of a Catholic to blog about being a Catholic. At best, my faith is an on-again, off-again thing — nothing I can evangelize for with a straight face. This has been true, more or less, since I first started blogging here. Initially I tried to put my marginality to good use, by documenting it, along with its discontents. But, looking back, I see I rarely did them justice. Without consciously meaning to, I ended up playing coy, producing writing that now feels, in many spots, profoundly dishonest.

He speaks admiringly of a fellow blogger at the Patheos Catholic portal, whom he deems more honest in her struggles:

Calah already knows where she wants to go — the Catholic heaven – and she’s struggling against everything blocking her path. My version of honesty would sound very different. It would give more space to questions like “Do I really believe these thing?” and “Do I wish everyone believed them?” More importantly, my brand of honesty would leave room for a “No” to both of these questions.

Max’s last post reminds me of why I read his blog so voraciously. He is a masterful writer, and almost always thought-provoking. But his final confession also confirms why I tuned out eventually. He wasn’t completely candid. These days, I want simpler fare, and more critically, more honest fare.

Why? I think it’s part of “the Francis effect.”

Fr Ray Blake  expressed my thoughts exactly in his recent post, Where have all the bloggers gone?

The reign of Benedict produced a real flourish of ‘citizen journalists’, the net was alive with discussion on what the Pope was saying or doing and how it affected the life of our own local Church . . . Benedict stimulated thought, reflection and dialogue, an open and free intellectual environment. There was a solidity and certainty in Benedict’s teaching which made discussion possible and stimulated intellectual honesty, one knew where the Church and the Pope stood. Today we are in less certain times, the intellectual life of the Church is thwart with uncertainty.

The Catholic blogosphere “establishment” abounds with talented and faithful writers. They excel at analysing modern complexities and controversies with compelling hermeneutics which are rich in Catholic culture and supernatural outlook.

In the Benedictine age, I loved it. In the Franciscan age, not so much. The acrobatics sometimes performed by them when Pope Francis is “misquoted,” neither satisfies nor edifies. I remember one occasion — I can’t recall details now — in which many Catholic bloggers defended the indefensible, twisting the meaning of a quote attributed to Pope Francis which was fundamentally irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine. The next news cycle revealed the quote was bogus, leaving many Catholic bloggers with ultra-montane egg on their faces.

That was the moment my enthusiasm for blogs — both reading them and writing them — subsided. Again, Fr Blake has expressed my thoughts for me:

Most Catholics but especially clergy want to be loyal to the Pope in order to maintain the unity of the Church, today that loyalty is perhaps best expressed through silence.

The number of blogs I read these days is much smaller, and very different to my original favourites. Where once I valued beautiful prose and clarity of expression, now I look for unvarnished honesty and clarity of thought. Fr Ray Blake and Katrina Fernandez top the list.

I think Max is a bit hard on himself. He is more honest than many others, sometimes me included. I wish him well and continue to pray for him, and I applaud the integrity of his last post.

Always winter, never Christmas

Always winter, never Christmas

I was nine years old when I read C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I can still remember the dread which these words carried:

“I’m crying because I’m such a bad Faun,” sobbed Mr Tumnus. “I’m in the pay of the White Witch.”

“The White Witch? Who is she?”

“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter, and never Christmas; think of that!”

Always winter and never Christmas! I did think of that, with all the horror a nine-year-old can conjure. Even now, the idea stops me in my tracks (which is admittedly odd, considering our antipodean winters are always Christmas-free).

Perhaps Pope Francis was channelling C. S. Lewis when he recently declared, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Lent without Easter. There’s another idea which must fill children with dread!

It’s no coincidence that Lent is forty days, and Easter is fifty. That’s forty days of fasting, followed by fifty days of feasting.

To feast is to welcome and approve the luxury of excess. We eat and drink too much; we laugh too much; we even sing too much. Feasting does not frown on excess. It embraces excess with intemperate merriment.

Feasting and excess are closely linked to joy. Joy is never temperate. That’s an oxymoron. It’s always and everywhere excessive, and it’s necessary to connect with the transcendent. We need festivals, festivities and feasts, because we need to express our joy — and our gratitude — for life and love.

Feasting is something Christians should heartily endorse, but maybe there’s a secret Puritan lurking in each of us. The Puritans foreshadowed Narnia’s White Witch by outlawing the feast of Christmas first in England and later in the American colonies. Christians have since re-claimed the feast and the practice of feasting, but the spectacle of modern-day excess might undermine that progress.

The unprecedented prosperity of the modern world lends itself to excess, and the consumer economy depends on it. Consumerism exploits the poor and diminishes the spiritual life, so it’s clearly incompatible with the Christian worldview. But there’s a danger that in rejecting consumer excess, we reject feasting too.

Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century German philosopher, proposed in Leisure: the Basis of Culture that feasting and excess are essential to Christian worship. Moreover, he argued that Christian puritanism only feeds consumerism. If we have no time to give thanks for what we have and who we are, we become engrossed with acquiring more and joining the rat race. “Cut off from worship of the divine,” he warns, “leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do something purely for the joy of it? That’s the essence of feasting, and it’s what we’re called to do in Easter.

Many Christians observe the forty days of Lent by “giving something up.” Small acts of self-denial can unite us with Christ on the cross, and help us to foster detachment.

It’s not implausible to observe the fifty days of Easter by “taking something up.” Something which puts a smile on our face. It might be as simple as deliberately indulging at a café or pub with a friend, or taking the family to the cinema.

The excess of feasting can express the joy of faith, which can in turn help us to attract others to Christ. And feasting reminds us that there is more to life than work, and more to love than pleasure.

The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed.

(H/T Christina Kennedy.)

Liberal v. progressive

Liberal v. progressive

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting post this week. Sullivan, for those who don’t know, is one of one of the grandfathers of blogging, launching The Dish back in 2000.

He is also one of the grandfathers of the gay marriage movement, and it is on this subject that he is most interesting. Sullivan has discerned two “core narratives” shaping the debate over gay marriage in America. Apart from the obvious conservative-progressive dichotomy, there is also a liberal-progressive dichotomy. (Did I mention Sullivan is English? That’s probably important. I don’t think Americans, whose understanding of liberalism is a little parochial, would have coined this argument.)

Here’s Jon Lovett making a fundamentally liberal point:

The trouble, I think, is when ostracizing a viewpoint as “beyond the pale” becomes not an end but a means to an end; that by declaring something unsayable, we make it so. It makes me uncomfortable, even as I see the value of it. I for one would love homophobia to fully make it on that list [of impermissible opinions], to get to the point where being against gay marriage is as vulgar and shameful as being against interracial marriage. But it isn’t. Maybe it will be. But it isn’t. And kicking a reality-show star off his reality show doesn’t make that less true. Win the argument; don’t declare the argument too offensive to be won. And that’s true whether it’s GLAAD making demands of A&E or the head of the Republican National Committee making demands of MSNBC.

The bottom line is, you don’t beat an idea by beating a person. You beat an idea by beating an idea.

Then there is another approach, in which creating a progressive culture in which some things are unsayable is the whole point of the exercise. Here’s a piece by J. Brian Lowder with that perspective. Money quote:

Tim Teeman wrote on Friday that “the ‘shame’ axis around homosexuality has positively shifted from those who are gay to those who are anti-gay.” He may be right about that, but speaking personally, I am not interested in shaming anyone; it would be enough for me if those people who are so ignorant or intransigent as to still be anti-gay in 2014 would simply shut up.

This is not a minor disagreement. It’s a profound one. One side wants to continue engaging the debate. The other wants one side to shut up.

For what it’s worth, Sullivan sides with the liberal approach. He wants to engage debate, rather than shut down debate. Read the whole post to find out why.

I don’t agree with Andrew Sullivan on many things, but I agree with him on this.

Exposing abortion secrets

Exposing abortion secrets

This year’s Lenten programme from the Brisbane Archdiocese is very good. Each week is focused on the Sunday gospel, and incorporates both a homiletical reflection, and a personal testimony.

This week’s testimony came from Melissa Ohden, who defied the odds and survived a saline abortion in 1977. It’s a remarkable story of endurance and healing.

As I listened then and pondered later, I concluded things have only gotten worse since 1977. In many parts of the world, survivors of abortion are refused medical care and deliberately left to die. Or they are actively murdered.

This tragedy — and scandal — has been on my mind all week, so the emergence of this fundraising appeal is very timely. A trio of journalists and film-makers have launched a crowd funding campaign to produce a TV movie documenting the crimes of Kermit Gosnell.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is the most prolific serial killer in American History, but almost no one knows who he is… Gosnell is serving several life sentences but the media basically ignored his crimes and his trial.

It’s very encouraging that, in the United States at least, abortion on demand is perpetuated only under a cloud of misinformation and censorship. It suggests that the more the truth is told, the less people endorse the pro-‘choice’ policy agenda.

Visit gosnellmovie.com to assist this worthy cause.

On abortion

On abortion

Last Wednesday — on the Feast of St Joseph — a friend reported on a pro-life prayer vigil she joined outside the East Melbourne abortion clinic on Wellington Parade.

I’m reproducing it here, because it gives an interesting and non-threatening perspective on the protesters’ actions and motives.

40 Days for Life praying outside the abortion mill. Two of us, Peter P, already clocking up 1 1/2 hours, then we’re joined by Trudi. Very strongly inspired to pray unceasingly, no chatting whatsoever, do not retort or respond to taunts and do not stop praying for one minute.

First a young woman looking like a MarchinMarch icon, going past several times yelling “You make me sick”.. then gleefully reappearing with a bongo drum. She sits down on the entrance planter opposite us and starts rapping loudly about “choice .. f..’in this and f…’in that. Abortion’s good, etc.” We keep praying steadily; the Glorious Mysteries in honour of Glorious St Joseph.

After a minute her voice starts to go croaky, she screeches, voice wobbles, then she takes off in a hurry. We keep praying.

Two police arrive, go into the clinic. We keep praying.

Ten minutes later another policewoman arrives, follows first policeman and woman. They come out and stand in front of us. We are praying the Stations of the Cross. We finish the station and they apologise for interrupting us. Inform us there has been a complaint by a pregnant woman claiming to be upset by us, abused by us.

No, I say, we have been praying only – not speaking one word to anyone. But a young woman was shrieking and drumming about abortion earlier… maybe pregnant woman upset by her? They ask our names. I say, not doing anything wrong, right to be here, blah blah blah (For crying out loud – babies being slaughtered and they interrogate pray-ers!!!)

Policewomen and man depart.

We continue praying. No, no, no chat. You stop and chat, you have dropped your weapons and God goes. He is there when two or three gathered together in His Name – not when they’re chatting…

Along comes a female who stands right up to us, cool as a cucumber, cursing, lying, swearing, profanities, the usual. We keep praying, eyes down. After 10 seconds she goes. The demons cannot stand prayer, you see.

Respond to these people and they love it. You stop praying, God goes, you are defenceless and they have won.

One hour of penance, but it’s prayer and Glorious St Joseph, whom we have invoked and dedicated this hour to, which has put up a strong shield around us and sends the demons packing.

Meanwhile, MercatorNet has posted a great article on how a crisis pregnancy is dealt with in Downton Abbey, and how things have changed since then, and how they have stayed the same.

I watched the first series of Downton Abbey (and enjoyed it immensely), so I know enough about the characters for this to interest me. Still, you don’t need to know the series the appreciate the video here.

On the other hand, if you do know the series, and you wish to avoid spoilers, don’t watch the video, and don’t follow the link: Downton Abbey and abortion rights.

The race that used to stop a nation

The race that used to stop a nation

For the past fortnight, I’ve asked many people, in the course of general conversation, to indicate any tips they have on the Melbourne Cup.

To my surprise, the majority of people have responded with blank stares, and explanations like, “I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year,” or “I don’t gamble Father.”

These answers, in themselves, are good! I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year either, or any other year. Once at university, and once again in the seminary, I had friends who threw themselves into form guides and Saturday betting, but I could only muster half-hearted enthusiasm, and in a matter of weeks even this limited interest was exhausted.

But I didn’t enquire about the racing carnival, or betting in general. I enquired about the Melbourne Cup, which is a cultural event. It’s a bit like asking someone in Grand Final week who they’re backing on Saturday. “I don’t follow a particular footy team,” or “I don’t watch TV” aren’t pertinent answers to the question, but now that I think about it, I got a lot of these responses in September, too!

I mention this not to criticise my respondents, but to highlight a cultural phenomenon. On Sunday, the parish youth group visited some of our house-bound parishioners. One of the parishioners we visited had emigrated from Holland after the war. She loves Australia very much, but she said there is one thing she has always missed: singing.

In Holland, she said, everyone sang. Even the smallest country parish had three or four choirs, of very high calibre. And every social gathering, whatever the context, incorporated singing. But in Australia, we don’t have that tradition. It’s one of the ways we are culturally impoverished. But, I would hasten to add, we have different cultural riches. The Melbourne Cup is one of them. Or it was. Now, not so much.

Maybe the culprit is atomisation. It’s not that people are too busy now, to review the field, or enter a Cup Sweep. People are always busy, and always have been. It’s just that people have no interest, and more pointedly, no compelling reason to be interested. We had more reason, once, to show interest in things that didn’t particularly appeal to us, because they united an otherwise disparate group. It gave us an opportunity to share something with people we don’t share much with.

We needed to do this — to “confect” common interests — because otherwise we didn’t share anything much with anyone, beyond our family and close friends. But that has changed. The communications revolution has connected whole worlds of people who share natural interests. For example, I can read the blogs of country priests all over the world! Technology reduces the need, I think, to cultivate commonality with the people who actually surround us.

Now, I must confess, this blog has itself become atomised. When I started it, I regularly blogged on a very broad range of subjects, from footy tipping and seminary life to English literature and French philosophy. Now, not so much. Time to revert, I think.

Here are Simon the Pieman’s tips for the big race:

  • 3. Red Cadeaux.
  • 9. Ethiopia.
  • 12. Seville.
  • 19. Simenon.
  • 22. Dear Demi.

He adds:

Have great Cup day! Mike Brady and Slim Dusty have both got Cup songs! Have a look on YouTube! Thank you Fr John for letting me put my tips on your blog!

I’m gratified to see that Simenon gets a mention. I’ve liked his form since I first started attending to the potential Cup field a fortnight ago. Simenon started his racing career as a jumper, and the unusual length of the Melbourne Cup is especially suited to him. His odds have shortened a lot since then, but I maintain he is still underrated.