A divinity student blogs her faithful, progressive Catholicism.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On humanism

I think this quote's amazing. Do we too often stamp science and pathology on human realities that belong to the realm of mystery? This is said by the narrator after a character explains that someone is "really not ready" to love her.

What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll--then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship.

--Zadie Smith, in White Teeth

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Thursday, June 14, 2007


"Until recently, I was unaware that the biblical world was full of dinosaurs." This cracked me up. Not least because the Nativity scene in my house growing up did, in fact, include dinosaurs--two squeaky toys contributed by my brother. They sat on the stable roof.

I'll be honest: part of me is dying for a quasi-ironic road trip to the Creation Museum. Though I find that right in my own backyard, the Field Museum's rolling out an evolution exhibit understood to be "in response" to growing creationist fervor.

(Oh NO you did not just brought the Creation Museum! Oh yeah we DID just brought the Creation Museum, unbelievers! Oh yeah well watch us while WE bring the evolution exhibit, fundies! [Slaps. Hair-pulling. Quiet sobs.])


Friday, June 08, 2007

Cynicism, cynicism, nuance

Or is it just me?

Fine, the candidates didn't select these pull quotes--and Edwards, in particular, showed more depth of thought in his full quotes here than the lede would suggest. How utterly cool that Sojourners sponsored a forum to ask the Democratic candidates about their faith. It's great to see liberals making faith an issue with other liberals--it distorts reality when Democrats treat their beliefs as something to be trotted out only in front of Republicans.

Edwards was asked to name the biggest sin he ever committed, and couldn't pick just one. Fascinating to picture him coming up with a specific answer, isn't it? How would you answer that question?

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Limbo is No Mo

CNS reported today that the Pope approved a statement by the International Theological Commission suggesting that sending unbaptized babies to Limbo is not the best understanding of God's loving plan.

In a document published April 20, the commission said the traditional concept of limbo -- as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God -- seemed to reflect an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."

The church continues to teach that, because of original sin, baptism is the ordinary way of salvation for all people and urges parents to baptize infants, the document said.

But there is greater theological awareness today that God is merciful and "wants all human beings to be saved," it said. Grace has priority over sin, and the exclusion of innocent babies from heaven does not seem to reflect Christ's special love for "the little ones," it said. [...]

Limbo has never been defined as church dogma and is not mentioned in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states simply that unbaptized infants are entrusted to God's mercy. [...]

The church's magisterium has moved toward a more "nuanced understanding" of how a saving relationship with the church can be realized, it said. This does not mean that someone who has not received the sacrament of baptism cannot be saved, it said.

I am glad to see this teaching clarified and in such an open and loving manner. Has anyone else been a student or a teacher and had to muddle through this exchange:

Li'l Catholic: Since God saves us through baptism, what happens if a baby dies without being baptized?
Big Wise Catholic: Well, for a long time people believed they went to a place called Limbo, without God. A lot of people don't believe that anymore.
Li'l Catholic: So do they go to heaven?
Big Wise Catholic: . . .

Other than its catechetical benefits, here are some reasons I'm really excited about this statement:
- From a pastoral standpoint, what a relief to parents who lost an unbaptized child to illness or abortion to believe that God's love is available to their baby.

- From an ecumenical standpoint, this statement is an important reminder of our belief that although all salvation comes through Jesus, in God's grace salvation may also come to those who are not part of the Catholic Church.

- And simply from a Church perspective, I think it's very good for the faithful to see that the Spirit is still speaking to the church. The evolution of thought on Limbo reminds us that even things people have believed for a long time may not be the best way to express the truth about who God is and who we are called to be.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

And You're Working For No One But Me

Happy Tax Day, and here’s hoping everybody made it to the post office on time! (Hi Dad. : ) Or did you? Is anyone out there, being the thoughtful, engaged Catholics that you are, choosing conscientious tax resistance?
Tax resistance is closely associated with those who oppose war (last year nearly half of the federal budget went to the military), although this useful Wikipedia entry points out that some Libertarians and anarchists also do it. Many in the Catholic Worker movement practice conscientious tax objection, although I recall from Dorothy Day’s biography that she herself wasn’t sure about the moral implications of paying taxes as a pacifist in a warmaking country. (She herself did not pay taxes because of her radical poverty, but she knew that solution wasn’t possible for everyone.)
The interesting thing about it from a non-expert’s perspective is that this would seem to be one of the few moral quandaries in modern life about which Jesus has left us explicit instructions. Remember “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s?” And it’s not as though Our Lord only condoned participation in a kinder, gentler state. The Roman empire, at the time of Jesus’ ministry, was busy making war in several parts of the globe, including the active oppression of Jesus’ own people.
So what do you think? Are conscientious tax objectors who try to withhold their financial support from unjust wars misinterpreting Jesus’ intentions? Or am I perhaps interpreting the Gospel out of context?

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

For the first time, a woman translates the Quran

The first-ever English translation of the Quran by a Muslim woman will be released next week. Laleh Bakhtiar's comments on her work gave me a lot to think about as to how I, myself, read Scripture. Here, she integrates one verse with her own experience and her understanding of the life of Mohammed as an example.

But when she came to a controversial verse long interpreted as meaning husbands could beat their wives if they strayed, it became personal. Bakhtiar had counseled Muslim women beaten by husbands who said this verse gave them that right. She thoroughly researched the word "dara ba," speaking to 45 Islamic scholars. The Lane lexicon provided the alternate meaning of "go away."

Another verse in the Quran that said Muslim women seeking a divorce cannot be harmed also appeared to contradict the traditional interpretation.

"To me, the God I love would not say husbands can beat wives or even have a threat that husbands can beat their wives," she said. "From the life of the prophet, I knew he didn't do that, so where is this misunderstanding coming from?"
Bakhtiar and others say the controversy this translation has engendered has less to do with Bakhtiar's academic background and more to do with the fact that she dares to translate the Quran as a woman. Merely one facet of the issues of power attached to who studies and interprets holy writings! I'm reminded that not long ago in Catholic history translating the Bible into the vernacular was a capital crime.

As I tell my confirmation students, "Reading the Bible is dangerous!"

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

This Is My Body?

Whether it's true or not, did Keith Richards' story about snorting his father's ashes strike anyone else as oddly (and perversely, and in no way endorsed by this blog) Eucharistic? Just in time for Catholic and Orthodox commemoration tomorrow of the Last Supper!

Think about it: what else do you consume because you love and want to be close to the person whose body it is/was/represents? (Trying to be ecumenical with that last one.)

No? No? C'MON.

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