Saturday Links 10/24/20

For more from The Atlantic’s fall photography feature, click the image above.

As often happens, there was a media firestorm this week about Pope Francis, who in a new documentary (re-)stated his support of civil unions for gay couples. This isn’t precisely news, but it did light up the internet, and (predictably) almost everyone misunderstood what was being said and its significance.

Mike Lewis at Where Peter Is has it right:

The words Francis spoke were neither unprecedented nor inconsistent with what he has said in the past. Those who were hoping that this was a watershed moment or change in Church teaching on human sexuality will be disappointed. Those who imagined that these words somehow meant that Pope Francis had crossed an integral doctrinal line are also terribly mistaken.


Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology did a series this week about election-year politics, affective polarization, and Christian witness. Here’s a sample:

The reason heroism is connected to hostility is that people who espouse values different from our own threaten the validity of our hero project, calling into question the metrics of our meaning. This unsettles us, makes us anxious. And in the face of that anxiety we lash out at those people who hold different values and beliefs, the people who vote differently than we do.

The first post is here.


This has little to do with theology, but The Seattle Times has a nice feature up about how friluftsliv—Norwegian for “outdoor life”—can help us get through the long COVID winter. It’s sort of the outdoor flip side of hygge: just as you can focus on making a cozy, comfortable indoor space during the long dark of winter, so too you can intentionally spend time outside, however bad the weather:

In Noway, friluftsliv is so deeply ingrained into daily life that it starts in kindergarten. “Norwegian kindergartens are famous for being outdoors,” said Meyer. “In all weather, you will go outside for recess, if not for a good portion of the day.”

Bekah, you should definitely read that one!

Saturday Links 10/10/20

Photo credit: Franco Origlia / Getty Images

Pope Francis released his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”, on Sunday. Here’s a short summary from Vatican News.

The pope seems to have accomplished a lot here. Among other developments, he just doubled down on the death penalty being “inadmissible”. James Martin, SJ, at America:

Today the pope placed the full weight of his teaching authority behind this statement: The death penalty is inadmissible, and Catholics should work for its abolition.

Courtney Beck at America: “What 10 years in a Protestant church taught me about my Catholic faith”:

Catholics and Protestants alike can and do lose their faith. My personal understanding of the divine that took root in Catholic churches and Catholic schools never allowed me to jump off the deep end when things got complicated. I have had my share of disenchantment. Yet I have always sensed that, given enough time, God would show himself and his purposes once the smoke cleared.

This is a really technical theological piece from John Stamps at Ecumenical Orthodoxy. But if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s worth reading. The post is titled, “Four or five pretty good reasons why Jesus isn’t a space alien or an astronaut”:

Incarnation is not a change in who or what God is. God is omnipresent. Incarnation is not a change in God, but is God’s manifestation in a new and particular way.

Pope Francis is Very Online

Reading through Pope Francis’ new encyclical (a fancy term for “letter from the pope”), you can’t help but think he’s more online then he lets on:

True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered. A direct encounter even with the fringes of reality can thus prove intolerable. A mechanism of selection then comes into play, whereby I can immediately separate likes from dislikes, what I consider attractive from what I deem distasteful. In the same way, we can choose the people with whom we wish to share our world. Persons or situations we find unpleasant or disagreeable are simply deleted in today’s virtual networks; a virtual circle is then created, isolating us from the real world in which we are living.

Hello. Also, I might be forgiven for thinking he’d just caught the new Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. These lines are basically the entire premise:

Nor should we forget that there are huge economic interests operating in the digital world, capable of exercising forms of control as subtle as they are invasive, creating mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process. The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate.

The whole thing is worth chewing on, but it’s quite long; I’m taking my time with it this week. Here’s the link.

Saturday Links 10/3/20

Pope Francis sent out an apostolic letter on Thursday, the 1600th anniversary of the death of St. Jerome. It’s a (long) exposition of the saint’s life and his continuing relevance for today, when knowledge of Scripture is so desperately lacking among Christians, not least due to the difficulty of finding trustworthy interpreters:

Biblical passages are not always immediately accessible. As Isaiah said (29:11), even for those who know how to “read” – that is, those who have had a sufficient intellectual training – the sacred book appears “sealed”, hermetically closed to interpretation. A witness is needed to intervene and provide the key to its liberating message, which is Christ the Lord. He alone is able to break the seal and open the book (cf. Rev 5:1-10) and in this way unveil its wondrous outpouring of grace (Lk 4:17-21). Many, even among practicing Christians, say openly that they are not able to read it (cf. Is 29:12), not because of illiteracy, but because they are unprepared for the biblical language, its modes of expression and its ancient cultural traditions. As a result the biblical text becomes indecipherable, as if it were written in an unknown alphabet and an esoteric tongue [ . . . ]

Jerome can serve as our guide because, like Philip (cf. Acts 8:35), he leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus, while responsibly and systematically providing the exegetical and cultural information needed for a correct and fruitful reading of the Scriptures. In an integrated and skillful way he employed all the methodological resources available in his day – competence in the languages in which the word of God was handed down, careful analysis and examination of manuscripts, detailed archeological research, as well as knowledge of the history of interpretation – in order to point to a correct understanding of the inspired Scriptures.

Probably nobody online has had more influence on my thinking than Richard Beck, a Protestant psychology professor who moonlights as a theology blogger. I found myself nodding in agreement with this post, from a series called “The Teleological Gaze”:

Camus gets right at the question in the beginning of The Myth of Sisyphus: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Why is life worth living?

That’s a great question, but without a teleological gaze pretty damn hard to answer. Oh sure, the talented and the affluent answer the question easily. The “winners” are having a delightful time. With their lives full of meaningful work, leisure time, and creative outlets, it’s easy for these few to crush the existential game of building meaning out of the resources at hand within the bounded set. But for the rest of humanity, answering Camus’ question can be difficult. Despair is always close at hand. Our work isn’t engaging, creative, fulfilling or self-actualizing. Opportunities for self-care, restoration, and self-exploration are rare if non-existent. Life within these bounded sets can be very hard.

Consequently, meaning, purpose, value, worth, and significance have to come through an outward turn, from outside the bounded set. This is the genius of religion, that I don’t have to answer Camus’ question all on my own. I don’t, in fact, have to answer it at all.

Man, this sentence from D.L. Mayfield:

I can no longer call myself an evangelical, because what defines a white evangelical in the United States has become a longing for an authoritarian state where Christianity is prioritized and privileged.

The full piece is here. I read Mayfield’s new book, The Myth of the American Dream, this summer. If you’re into a critique of Americanism from an evangelical perspective, check it out.

A few links on politics, if you can stomach it:

The editors at America (a Jesuit magazine) released this piece before ACB was nominated. Hard to disagree here:

What all of these concentric accusations of hypocrisy have in common is that they are largely, if not entirely, about abortion and support for or opposition to Roe v. Wade. Of course, many other important issues come before the court, but its resolutions of other epochal constitutional issues—from rejecting racial segregation to requiring the recognition of same-sex marriage—have helped usher in widespread societal acceptance of major changes. On the other hand, Roe v. Wade ignited a debate that has dominated American politics and deranged the process of Supreme Court appointments for more than 40 years.

Ross Douthat (NYT) on Amy Coney Barrett and conservative feminism (a name I’m not crazy about):

A conservative feminism today, on the other hand — again, if we can say that it exists — is adaptive rather than oppositional. It takes for granted that much of what Ginsburg fought for was necessary and just; that the old order suppressed female talent and ambition; that sexism and misogyny are more potent forces than many anti-feminists allowed. It agrees that the accomplishments of Barrett’s career — in academia and now on the federal bench — could have been denied to her in 1950, and it hails that change as good.

But then it also argues that feminism’s victories were somewhat unbalanced, that they were kinder to professional ambition than to other human aspirations, and that the society they forged has lost its equilibrium not just in work-life balance but also in other areas — sex and romance and marriage and child rearing, with the sexes increasingly alienated from one another and too many children desired but never born.

This diagnosis is not necessarily conservative; some of it might be endorsed by more radical feminists, for whom the alienation and disappointment is proof that enduring features of patriarchy and capitalism still need to be abolished.

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, also on ACB:

I’m a Catholic, more or less. I can follow along with the Mass in many languages I don’t know, and at Mass I feel connected to generations of women in my family. But People of Praise is foreign to me. If I were in the Senate, I would want to know quite a bit about it, and in particular about what it requires of its members when they operate within the secular world. In other words, what are the ecclesiastical pronouncements of her faith? These are questions that could be asked in a thorough and respectful manner. Given the national mood, I doubt that will happen.

Fall has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, but we’re still enjoying a solid two weeks of warm weather. I think I’ll see if I can get the whole family out on one last hike, before we head into the long dark.

Do you listen to your angel?

Today is the Feast of Guardian Angels, one of those little things that makes Catholicism more fun.

Pope Francis:

How many people settle down, and don’t set out on the journey, and their whole life is stalled, without moving, without doing anything! It is a danger. Like that man in the Gospel who was afraid to invest the talent. He buried it, and [said] “I am at peace, I am calm. I can’t make a mistake. So I won’t take a risk.” Many people don’t know how to make the journey, or are afraid of taking risks, and they are stalled. 

The angels help us, they push us to continue on the journey.

I want to ask you a question: Do you speak with your angel? Do you know the name of your angel? Do you listen to your angel? Do you allow yourself to be led by hand along the path, or do you need to be pushed to move?