26 October 2009

Lunch Break Reads

Ross Douthat reviewed Karen Armstrong's new book, The Case for God, earlier in the month in the NYT Book Review.  Today, Douthat focuses on the previously mentioned movement for unity by the Church.

From "Benedict's Gambit" in today's Op-Ed section:

Along the way, he’s courting both ends of the theological spectrum. In his encyclicals, Benedict has addressed a range of issues — social justice, environmental protection, even erotic love — that are close to the hearts of secular liberals and lukewarm, progressive-minded Christians. But instead of stopping at a place of broad agreement, he has pushed further, trying to persuade his more liberal readers that many of their beliefs actually depend on the West’s Catholic heritage, and make sense only when grounded in a serious religious faith.

At the same time, the pope has systematically lowered the barriers for conservative Christians hovering on the threshold of the church, unsure whether to slip inside. This was the purpose behind his controversial outreach to schismatic Latin Mass Catholics, and it explains the current opening to Anglicans.

More or less. 

However, Douthat errs earlier in the article.  Or, should I say, misplaces his nuance:

But the invitation is a bombshell nonetheless. Pope Benedict XVI’s outreach to Anglicans may produce only a few conversions; it may produce a few million. Either way, it represents an unusual effort at targeted proselytism, remarkable both for its concessions to potential converts — married priests, a self-contained institutional structure, an Anglican rite — and for its indifference to the wishes of the Church of England’s leadership.

Targeted proselytism?  In the broadest senses of the words, perhaps.  However, if one looks back towards Augustine and his efforts to reconcile lapsed (or, more accurately, apostasizing) Catholics of antiquity, then one can, should and must see this as an effort to foster greater unity within the church. 

The conclusion of Douthat's piece, however, is what is really intriguing:
There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.

Again, Douthat sees Benedict's gambit as being against Islam.  There may be something to this.  And at the very least, Benedict recognizes the tertiary benefits of decisions he mkes.  Yet, I think there is something Douthat misses.  Instead of a plea for unity in the face of Islam, Benedict makes this plea in defense of the unity of a church in which he has been intricately involved for more than half a century. 

Perhaps, we should view Benedict's actions asa gambit against the policies of ecclesiological disunity perpetrated by the loudest, though by no means most intelligent, forces in the room. 


On another note: Joe Queenan is a must-read in the Wall Street Journal today.  Love or hate Barack Obama -- self-disclosure: most of us, including me, are in between.  Queenan responds to those who expect the president to balance the budget, solve two wars and reform health care before lunch by being "tougher."  Or, in Queenan's words, by "manning up."

The key point:
In demanding that the president man up and do the will of the people—as defined by last night's polls—critics are insisting that the president dance with the one who brung him. Well, he is dancing with the one who brung him. Barack Obama got elected president in large part because an awful lot of blue-collar Democrats in Pennsylvania and Ohio and the border states voted for him. He didn't get elected simply because of liberals in Malibu and Massachusetts. So, in reality, Mr. Obama already has manned up. He's told the left wing of the Democratic Party that he's running the show, not them. Not comfortable with that? Go blog about it.

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