Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Postmodern outreach

I get mistaken for a rad trad Catholic at times, and even - this is really funny to me - as a fundamentalist. Sorry, no can do sir, as the following will attest.
Rebecca and I went to see Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft speak on Sunday night. I like Kreeft, but with reservations. He is a convert (from Presbyterianism, I think) and he is at times too literal in his reading of the Bible for my liking. And all of this stuff about demons and whatnot leaves me with a shrug. Professor Kreeft also really dislikes postmodernism. As for the examples he raises - Sartre, Nietzsche - I have not much use for them either. It's a mistake, however, to think that they are all that there is to postmodernism. Pope Benedict has said that he feels postmodernism is a more fertile ground for the faith than modernism, and it's not too hard to see why. Postmodernism is a leveling of the intellectual field, a recognition that science - for all it's wonders - can't account for itself. Modernism regards theses which can neither be proved nor disproved as non entities, or - at best - as private matter. What the Pope was getting at, I think, is that some forms of postmodernism (the less extreme kind) allow something like an free market of ideas in which he feels the Church can speak and be heard. I think what Benedict is getting at is echoed by another convert here:
Either Christianity is true and can handle every sort of criticism, attack, and harsh light cast upon it - or it is weak and flawed and not worth my time.
Postmodernism can help to lay the first plank that educated people need today, by providing an effective critique of scientism, such that the simple but stark and ubiquitous nature of faith (and Faith) can be more clearly seen, and seen to be something of value. It doesn't matter that Nietzsche was a critic of Christianity, as this interesting essay points out:
Nietzsche is especially instructive here, because he cannot be accused of any revanchist Christian bias in his diatribes against liberal democracies. His most prominent English biographer, R. J. Holingdale, makes a striking point when he observes: "Nineteenth-century rationalism was characterized by insight into the difficulty in accepting revealed religion, and obtuseness regarding the consequences of rejecting it." Above all, I would argue, Nietzsche warned against that peculiar obtuseness of secularized Europe that had managed to persuade itself that ethical striving alone could bring about an eschatological kingdom on earth. That to me is Nietzsche's great lesson for Christians.
Kreeft was attempting to reach out to mixed Catholic and Evangelical audience, and that's a good thing. In doing so, however, I felt he was misrepresenting at least a little, and what he was misrepresenting was a bit of my own past. Those explorations lead me here, and they can do so for others as well.
I got this in the mail the today (I've shortened it a lot):
Then how is it possible that two - or three - or five Vicars of Christ - Vicars of Christ, in Heaven's name! - can have been such bad Shepherds of the Universal Church? "It cannot be", cry out the 'sedevacantists', "they cannot have been true Popes." Let us note firstly that this often indignant reaction proceeds from the Faith. If someone did not believe in the Church, in the Papacy in particular, obviously he would have no difficulty in granting that Popes could be grave-diggers of the Church. But let us also note that it is exactly the same argument that pushes liberal Catholics to be liberal, and 'sedevacantist' Catholics to become 'sedevacantist': (Major premise) The Pope is infallible. (Minor premise) The recent Popes are liberals. :: (Liberal conclusion) Therefore we must become liberal. ('Sedevacantist' conclusion) Therefore these "popes" are not true Popes. ... A Catholic being tempted by 'sedevacantism' cannot think too hard on this apparently surprising relationship between 'sedevacantism' and liberalism - they may be like heads and tails of the same coin. Now in the argument condensed above, the logic is good, the Minor is good, so the problem must be in the Major. It lies in fact in the exaggeration of papal infallibility. And here we come to my double reason: - to make the Truth and the Church of God so dependent on human beings is a too human way of considering the things of God.
The writer is a Bishop unknown to me but I sympathize with what he's saying, although I do not think Faith is at the root of it. The rad trads are doubters and what they seem to doubt is Providence, ie. they prefer their ideas about Providence to what Providence has provided.

No comments: