31 October 2015

Key Texts in the Douthat Affair

Just in case you haven't been following:

1.  Here is Ross Douthat's opening volley against the heretical Catholic "left".  Douthat, you should know, is the only seriously conservative voice on the New York Times Opinion Page, and is a traditionalist Catholic.  He has written this book, which critiques the banal fluffiness of modern American religiosity.  Douthat has a history of being extremely soft-spoken and polite.  He tends to maintain his position without polemics or open hostilities, and he has a gift for grasping the reality of situations a step or two ahead of everyone else.

2.  In the wake of last week's column, there were two responses of note.  First was a letter signed by a large number of Catholic faculty at American universities.  The letter is preposterous, for various reasons.  First, there's the notion that Douthat has no right to comment on theology because of his lack of a graduate degree in theology. (Bishop Robert Barron had a good reply to that point.) Second, the non-denial denial given by these theologians, which amounts to saying "heretic isn't a nice word!" Well sure.  It's not a nice word, because heresy isn't such a nice thing.  But whether or not it's nice is beside the point—Is it true?  Third, right now is probably the safest time to be a public heretic in the Church since the 1400s, by the way, so claims that it's a serious charge that could be damaging are kind of silly.  Fourth, the accusation of political bias is preposterous, given how overtly political the slant of the signers is. Why start complaining now, and not any time over the past X years of overtly political Maureen Dowd or Frank Bruni columns?

3.  The second response of note was an appeal by Fr. James Martin, editor of America Magazine, (that thoroughly smothered former beacon of Catholicism).  Fr. Martin writes with great feeling about the Douthat Affair, but his column is almost (though not quite) as baffling as the letter mentioned above.  Fr. Martin's response amounts to complaining about all the hate-filled people in the Church who name-call.  (Isn't calling people malicious or hateful an act of name-calling?)  What's sad about Fr. Martin's response is that, it's true, we could all use a little more love and fraternal compassion, but he puts these virtues to use in service of... calling people names and denouncing those who are opposed to his version of the Gospel, and willing to speak out about it.  In other words, for all his good intent, Fr. Martin is playing the same game loud media voices on the left have been playing for the past twenty years: publicly tarring your opponents by denouncing them for tarring people.

4.  Finally, Mr. Douthat has now responded to the letter of the theologians.  Read it.  It's good.  (h/t to PJ Smith of Semiduplex for the link)

UPDATE:  On 3 November, Mr. Douthat posted a follow-up to his Sunday column.