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'Orthodoxy vs. Opra-doxy'

Yesterday I paged through Fr. Andrew Greeley's The Making of the Pope, 2005. Actually, I read about half of it. I'd read his The Making of the Popes, 1978 back when it was still recent news, and was fascinated. The sequel? Not so much.

There are a few "insider" revelations from cardinals who apparently broke their oath of secrecy about the 2005 conclave. And perhaps that conclave was simply less interesting than the ones back in 1978. But the sequel is more a defense of the dubious principle that the real problem Catholicism- and Christianity- has in this post-Christian age is not that it is operating in a post-Christian ages, but that it's not changing with the times- or at least not sensitive enough to them.

Fr. Greeley is convinced that the problem his church faces is that the Catholic magisterium (teaching authority) is not listening to the laity. He goes to great pains to refrain from taking sides (except by broad implication) on issues like birth control, the ordination of woman, sexual ethics, and so forth, arguing (rather lamely, I thought) that he's a sociologist, not a theologian (is he not also a Christian, a Catholic, and a priest?).

Maybe the Church (in all denominations aspiring to be faithful, anyway) does indeed need to learn to listen- most of all so that it will know how to explain to people why specific ethical behaviors are preferable to to others. That is, if you profess to be a Christian.

That much, I give him. But I have to heartily disagree with his premise that it's a cop-out to blame the moment in history we find ourselves in, and to absolve the laity from their own failures when it comes to living what they profess- especially at a time when the idea that we get to pick and choose what we believe and how we will behave, and still call ourselves Christians. Nor do we humans (whether clergy or lay) get to tell God what He is allowed to require of us. If you believe in the Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) God (or god), it works the other way around. We Lutherans believe that God gives us  our marching orders through Scripture. Catholics add tradition. But either way, we are His servants; He is not ours.

Regrettably, the Christian traditions which tend to dominate at least in America also look to their own inner lives to find God and His will. And that way lies disaster. We are not God-  and to look for the voice of God inside ourselves is to face the vitural certainty that most of the time the voice we think is God's is actually our own.

I'm sorry, Fr. Greeley, but whatever the failings of Christian teachers, the biggest problem is that we live in an age which has forgotten how to think- indeed, which prizes emotions above thinking, and warm fuzzies over truth. Truth must certainly be spoken in love. But the problem in today's post-modern world is that we have lost the conviction that there is even such a thing as truth- or, in milder cases of the sickness, that truth is accessible to us.

Thinking is out of style. Why think, when you can emote? Why look to the God Who made us, if we can find a more compliant one in the mirror, speaking to us from within? If we can't know what's true, we can always act upon what is true (or seems to be) for us. The consequence is inevitable, whether we recognize it or not: we end up praying, in effect,  "My will be done on earth, as it isn't heaven."

Herein Eric Tessel of The American Spectator lays out the problem quite nicely. His argument explains everything from the biblical and doctrinal ignorance of the average Catholic (and Lutheran) today to the sudden lunge in our culture toward acceptance of same-sex "marriage" and the bizarre conviction that anal intercourse or fellatio or cunnilingus between members of the same gender is morally and socially equal to the act by which the species is replenished and relationships maintained that at are at least somewhat likely to last. It explains why we are suddenly willing to accept the premise that an abandonment of the requirement of sexual monogamy by extending the institution of marriage to gay men will somehow strengthen rather than weaken it. It explains why the American electorate is so easily manipulated by nonsense, as long as it pulls at the heartstrings.

Tessel is right on: our culture is in a death-struggle between orthodoxy and "Opra-doxy," between decisions made and values arrived at by thought and those arrived at by emotion.  And so far, rationality is losing.

That, Fr. Greeley, is the ultimate problem the Church- and America- face today.


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