Happy New Year to all who come by either regularly or accidently. I truly appreciate each and every visit and hope sincerely that those visits are fruitful.
The New Year has me thinking about direction, about paths, about where I'm headed generally and where this blog is headed in particular.
My strongest desire is to point people to faith, a particular faith, that Catholic faith that has nourished and sustained me the last couple of years. With my limited talents, that'll likely be accomplished less through my own words and more by my finding others who have something to say that is meaningful, inspiring and true.
So it's with that as backdrop that I bring two pieces to your attention on this first day of the year beginning with C. Michael Patton's piece warning of the perils of theological novelty, what he more bluntly calls, theological swinging:
I have been a theological swinger. In fact, I am only now beginning to graduate from this way of thinking. I am only now beginning to see that this method is itself naive. For a time, I would not read anyone who fit the mold of my conservative evangelical theological culture. I felt that was my duty. I loved to quote those who were less known and exotic. I still have the tendency to belittle (at least in the back of my mind) people who reference and quote theologians, biblical exegetes, and philosophers who are too popular within the evangelical sub-culture. I am ashamed to say that many of my heroes, who inspired me so much before, became to me an embarrassing distant relative who only discredits my “scholarship” and reputation with others whose respect has fueled my swinging habit.
However, I am recovering. The first thing we all have realized lately is that one person’s cliché is the next person’s provocation. Dealing with people who come out of other traditions has taught me this. Those whose culture is accustomed to learning from liberal theologians find conservatives provocative. Those who are accustomed to Eastern Orthodoxy find evangelical writings out of the box. Those who are fundamentalists rebel and swing with those who take a more progressive stand.
Theologies and theologians come and go. Provocation is a great thing, but if we are committed to provocation and swinging more than truth, the journey will be unending and ungodly. We will never be satisfied, as our compass will be broken. Divorce, adultery, and eternal convictionless theological swinging is all we can expect. Remember, there was a time when all the “pop” theologies and apologetics that you might look down upon now were not mainstream. They were the mysterious, obscure ideas. They were the novelties. However, their value does not come in their newness, but in their substance.
Of course, reading the entire piece will better lead to understanding Mr. Patton's point (who, as an aside, I don't believe is Catholic) but for me personally it resonated. I've certainly been a theological swinger for some time, finally deciding a couple of years ago to climb down off those swinging theological vines and cling to what I believe to be my roots, Catholicism, from which all those vines come.
Which brings us to Fr. Brian Mullady's related piece over at the National Catholic Register, related as I see it as to where all that theological swinging inevitably leads:
On Oct. 11, 2012, Pope Benedict declared a Year of Faith for the Catholic world. This was in response to the growing secularism pervading nations which formerly were overwhelmingly Christian. The world of the late 20th and early 21st century suffers from two basic flaws, a loss of the sense of personal responsibility in morals and a loss of absolute truths.
Everything is seen as relative. There seems to be nothing to grasp firmly. This situation is a direct result of a Promethean acceptance of reason and progress as though these things alone can guarantee the final solution of the problem of human truth and even more of human evil. Even more, the affirmation that man can rival God through technology and be the captain of his own soul has mesmerized the human race, befogging the mind and deadening the soul to the good for which God has created man: union with him.
Coupled with this, even in the Catholic Church, there has been a great loss of catechesis caused by the theological questioning [*swinging?!] that often follows a great council such as Vatican II. This, too, has caused a general desertion of the strength and confidence once offered to so many millions through the holy Catholic faith.
The Pope is hoping that a renewed understanding of both the strength and limitations of human reason will lead to a rebirth of the depth and power of the Catholic faith and thus the consolation which the Church can offer to the human race. He also wants to point out that truth is nothing without witness, recalling Catholics to a more evident practice of the holiness offered to them from their doctrine.
Fr. Mullady goes on to speak to what has become for many a new religion:
In this new religion, there is no need for any kind of Divine revelation, nor is faith interpreted as an ascent to another form of knowledge than the one science can bring through human reason. Reason or emotion implemented in an absolutely fixed evolution of human progress can solve the inner problem of the human soul. Sin is just the result of bad bureaucracies. The sin of Adam is interpreted to be merely bad example. This is a modern form of the heresy of Pelagianism, which taught that grace only aided a human being externally to do what he always had the power to do in himself.
Yet the more man tries to erase mystery from the world, the more mysterious the world becomes. The secularist age was born on this altar on which faith was sacrificed. Those who are its priests maintain that not only is the recourse to another form of knowledge than science and progress irrelevant and anachronistic, but it actually robs man of his reason and reduces him to a creature of superstition and fear.
In this new religion, Christ becomes a good man who is either a political revolutionary or a middle-class person who challenges his followers to nothing. Being nice is the purpose of faith, not the knowledge of a Supreme Being who is wholly other than us.
Yet the astonishing fact of the 20th and 21st centuries is that, despite all the efforts to make faith and religion inconsequential to man, it not only survives, but flourishes, in today’s world.
Of course, this is not often with the blessing of culture. Sometimes it is even against culture. Yet Pope Benedict is issuing a challenge to return to the beauty, dynamism and mystery of our religion. He is challenging us to realize that the human mind and thus the human heart can be stilled with nothing less than God. Man simply cannot arrive at God by his own knowledge.
So readers, particularly those of you with Catholic roots who've found yourself wandering away from them aimlessly... take up Pope Benedict's challenge. Come back home. Re-embrace or embrace for the first time, "the beauty, dynamism and mystery" of the Catholic faith.
I have done so and am finding much peace.