March 01, 2013
Why would any Catholic (of any stripe, brand, or variety) support the NYT?
Today, the NYT -- in keeping with its usual pattern of reporting and commentary regarding the Catholic Church (which, in my view, is one that involves providing and generously stocking a forum for people to complain, sometimes in an informed way, sometimes not, about the Church) -- ran this op-ed by Paul Elie (the author of a wonderful book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own), "Give Up Your Pew For Lent," which contends that "if the Pope can quit, Catholics can, too."
Because I so admired Elie's book, this piece made me sad (when a similar bit from, say, Maureen Dowd would have been just irritating). In several places, Elie purports to be speaking for "American" Catholics and about how "we" feel about "our" church, and about the many ways in which ("we" think) it has let us down. So, for example, for "us", "it has been 'all bad news, all the time' since Benedict took office in 2005." Well, this is just nonsense. Re-read Deus caritas est and Spes salvi. Watch again video from his visits to the United States, or his address in Parliament. There's been bad news and there have been challenges, for sure, and big ones -- though I imagine different Catholics would come up with different lists of what those challenges and bad news have been -- but, "all bad news, all the time?" So much so, in fact, that we're urged to "resign" -- if only for a time? I'm sure Mr. Elie is accurately reporting his own state-of-mind, and it is what it is, but it isn't mine, and it isn't all, or -- I suspect -- even most "American Catholics'".
Particularly off was Elie's citation of Flannery O'Connor -- about whom he certainly knows more than I do! -- in connection with his suggestion that taking a "time out" from the Church would "let us begin to figure out what in Catholicism we can take and what we can and ought to leave." I'm pretty sure that O'Connor would have had some tasty and tart responses for the suggestion that this "figuring out" -- depriving the pews of the honor of our presence so that we can decide what in Catholicism is worthy of a people like us -- is something that Catholics go in for.
But, putting all that aside . . . there's no avoiding the fact, it seems to me, that the Times thinks it's part of its job to keep the complaints about the Church flowing and visible (without, at the same time and in similar ways, serving as a complaint-conduit about other communities and institutions). So . . . why should any of us (liberal, conservative, whatever) support it? Even if we agree with the complaints?
Fiddlesticks. There's been more good news in the last eight years than we've had in a long time. The bad news has either only existed in the mind of people such as those who write for the Times or was beyond Benedict's control, such as news of events that occurred decades ago.
And I daresay Miss O'Connor would rather have given up her pea fowl than be turned into a prop of this sort. The quote is from an essay "Novelist and Believer," available at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9114, in which O'Connor discusses one of the chief themes of her entire body of work: expressing the world of belief in stories of, and for, the world of disbelief. Having read a not small quantity of O'Connor, and having read the essay, I think she has been treated most shabbily by being quoted in this fashion.
O'Connor is emphatically not speaking about belief and disbelief, about the adherence to or rejection of dogmas. She is, rather, talking about experience, perception, and understanding: observing that examining the fruitless search for meaning carried out by the unbeliever can enhance the believer's, and particularly the believing author's own understanding of his faith, as well as his understanding of the world about which he writes. Nothing in the essay suggests that O'Connor is countenancing the sort of make-it-up-as-it-suits-you nonsense that the Times routinely peddles as Catholicism.
Posted by: Titus | Mar 1, 2013 4:19:12 PM
"I'm pretty sure that O'Connor would have had some tasty and tart responses for the suggestion that this "figuring out" -- depriving the pews of the honor of our presence so that we can decide what in Catholicism is worthy of a people like us -- is something that Catholics go in for."
Rod Dreher recently cited an excellent quote from O'Connor that is apt in this case:
“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”
Posted by: CK | Mar 1, 2013 8:14:42 PM
I also liked Elie's book and was very disappointed in the article. He seems to think he is too good for the church. It reminds me of the famous line from Happy Gilmore: "Are you too good for your home?!" Plus, the article was unoriginal and could have been written by Bill Keller, Frank Bruni, Maureen Dowd, or several other Times writers, and it is repetitive of recent Times guest op-eds from Garry Wills and Hans Kung. I don't necessarily blame the Times for this one, tho, since, if I were a Times editor, I would not have expected that Elie would write the same type of article that Wills and Kung wrote. In any case, it is a sad state of affairs.
Posted by: Reader | Mar 2, 2013 2:43:03 AM
May I give a candid view from Yurup? Mr Elie seems to be some sort of religious (Catholic?) thinker teaching at some sort of a Catholic University in the U.S. It is the production of this sort of banality and superficilaity which makes us pray that an American from the U.S. is not elected Pope. Sorry to be so explicit but the American mind has been trashed and the level of Catholic thinking (apart from the legal field!)in the States is childish beyond belief (literally and figuratively).
Posted by: Caterina | Mar 2, 2013 4:49:02 AM
My own opinion is that there are many Roman Catholics who are bored with Catholicism, and they confuse the thrill they get from scandalous articles like this with a broadening of heart and mind.
Posted by: Tom K. | Mar 2, 2013 9:10:06 AM
The New York Times coverage really has been over the top. Bill Keller, John Shanley, Hans Kung, and now this piece by Paul Elie. The "news" coverage by Rachel Donadio and Laurie Goodstein has been even worse: tendentious and full of snark and cheap shots (such as when in a front page article yesterday (the same day as as the Elie op ed) Donadio "reported" that Pope Benedict's time in retirement would include "piano lessons").
However much one disagrees with Ratzinger's beliefs, no one can deny that Ratzinger, wholly independent of being pope, was a towering figure of world historical significance in the post Vatican II Church. However, you'd never know it from the infantile coverage that the supposedly sophisticated New York Times has provided.
Posted by: Dan | Mar 2, 2013 11:15:03 AM
I second Caterina's hope that the next Pope is not from the United States. The serious consideration that certain U.S. Cardinals are being given suggests to me that it is a very weak field.
Posted by: Dan | Mar 2, 2013 6:22:44 PM
O'Malley for Pope! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGuhZvO1DKg
Posted by: Mike | Mar 2, 2013 6:28:40 PM
The Times also recently ran a piece by Yale historian, and Catholic, Paul Kennedy that was much more positive (if perhaps not very magisterium-oriented). What did people think of it?
Posted by: Tom Berg | Mar 3, 2013 10:39:52 PM
Tom, wasn't that the old "my progressive parish makes me feel good about the Church and that stuff in Rome doesn't matter to us" thing?
Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 3, 2013 11:08:06 PM
"I second Caterina's hope that the next Pope is not from the United States. The serious consideration that certain U.S. Cardinals are being given suggests to me that it is a very weak field."
If they pick Burke, I doubt anyone will confuse the results with the editorial positions of the New York Times.
Posted by: Titus | Mar 4, 2013 9:06:33 AM
If they pick Cardinal Bagnasco, would the Cardinal be a Good choice for Pope?
Posted by: N.D. | Mar 7, 2013 3:23:55 PM