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Thursday, April 07, 2005
Just Asking . . .
If John Paul II had done everything exactly the same way during his papacy but had embraced gay marriage, do you think Andrew Sullivan would still consider him a "failure"?
Posted by Jonathan V. Last at 1:52 PM
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No, I can't imagine it. Andrew would be citing JPII's Reagan/Thatcher bona fides and lamenting the lack of more leaders just like him.
My mother was one of many Catholics who read Vatican II's change in understanding of the role of sexual relations in marriage and expected the church in John Paul II's time to embrace some forms of birth control. Which, after all, would not only help reduce the desire for abortions, but also have the humane side effect of helping married partners protect themselves from HIV and AIDS. So she regards JPII's papacy as a great let-down.
Then again, I had to ask her, if she values Catholic liturgy and sacraments but would prefer to see married and female priests, compassion toward gay people, and approval for humane methods of birth control, why not just become an Episcopalian? You can't blame the Pope for being Catholic, but a lot of American Catholics seem to be blaming him for not being Anglican.
Well put: Also, skip down a few pixels for something very telling: Powerline makes Hannity look Bi-partisan?
If that's true then Sullivan's swirling, sudden changes in position from Afghanistan to Iraq to the election make John Kerry look as principled as Winston Churchill...
Earlier this week I commented that Sullivan would wait several days then attack the Pope, and like clockwork there is Sullivan attacking the Pope less than a week after his death. Sullivan is as predictable as old Faithful. It's really sort of sad, he's a fabulous writer with a gift for words, but his drug habit seems to have made his writing god awful.
It's pretty disappointing to see Sullivan fall so far over one issue. I wonder how many other formerly deeply-held beliefs he's going to jettison over gay marriage?
Sullivan (and John Derbyshire, in an article Sullivan links to) toss up a bunch of church-attendance statistics to "prove" JPII's failure. Lovely data, I suppose, but meaningless without comparable data for other demoninations. Neither Andrew nor John seem bothered to look those up.
I have no expertise in this area, but my understanding is that all the more "liberal" churches -- all the ones that have followed Sullivan's anti-Catholic advice for the Church -- have very nearly imploded in the West. In my opinion, JPII's legacy will improve even beyond what we grasp now if his stance and teachings in the Church lay the groundwork for religious revival in the future, or at least the holding-out of traditional religion an morals for a brighter future. I am not sure how realistic this is, but a comparison may be made between attitudes concerning the moral fiber of the West and those toward the survival of the West in the face of Communism around the time of JPII's succession -- Solzhenitsyn at Harvard, Jimmy Carter, detente, and pretty much a fire sale for the Gardens of the West going out of business.
I suppose the question is, at this point in history, were the efforts of JPII a failure in the face of pampered secular westerners fleeing the hospices of religion? Sullivan doesn't say, he pipes down once he's made his tedious pitch for gay marriage, so on so on... But Derbyshire burbles on about all manner of things -- Huxley, neurobiology, bizarre African rituals but makes the point that if the West is inevitably on track to Brave New World secularism, JPII is a failure despite his best efforts --in face, despite the best humanly possible efforts.
I don't know. Derbyshire places far too much faith in what scientists claim to know. (Note --I'm a research chemist with interests in developmental biology, genomics -- and scientists who claim to be unlocking all the secrets of consciousness and chasing away free will are fooling themselves. We are making great strides, but we have still only chipped one ice cube off the very tip of a very large iceberg.)
As Derbyshire mentions, Communism once had the argument of history behind it. I see no need to cave to secular determinism, either. JPII knew that and taught that ceaselessly and, I think, brilliantly.
If the Pope had run over some children while driving the Popemobile drunk and had also embraced 'gay marriage' Sully would consider the Pope a success.
It's sad. Last year I had Sullivan queued up as my first read of the morning (OK, the list was alphabetical, but he would still have been my first read).
But then he made his annual pilgrimmage to Provincetown. Something happened during Andrew's summer vacation last year.
He left on vacation writing from one viewpoint and returned writing from another. He was a different person. Before vacation, he seemed to solidly support the President and wrote as a "middle-of-the-road" conservative. He came back writing as a "centrist" Liberal. He seemed angry.
Whatever the reason, I dropped him from my daily reading and haven't visited his blog since.
Maybe he's afflicted with the same tic as Christopher Hitchens, who seems to relish writing obituaries that excoriate those who are beloved by most.
Who cares about Sullivan’s motives? What about the substance of his argument?
Rich makes a good point when he asks what have been the trends in other denominations. For some stats on that see http://www.pcusa.org/tenyeartrends/report/JBNTNXH/worship_attendance.jsp?format=bar_graph
and here http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=1775
and here http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/ATT91_99.html
while my brief search is not exhaustive, those pages show that other denominations have in fact suffered declines in attendance, and I would suspect that many other denominations (although not all) have also suffered declines in attendance.
But that doesn't address Sullivan's issue about attendance and the number of clergy in the Catholic church. Is the Pope in any way responsible for those declines in attendance? This may be a bad analogy, but if nobody is buying GM's cars do you not hold GM's CEO responsible? And that is a different issue than whether or not GM's cars are good cars. They may be the best cars in the world, but if no one is buying them, I think that most people would say the CEO needs to be held accountable.
Catholicism may be in its current form and theology the best (maybe even the one and only true religion I'm not addressing that issue), assuming it is, shouldn't the Pope's legacy be judged with the decline in Catholic church membership/attendance in mind?
In an article on www.churchbusiness.com, RaeAnn Slaybaugh writes,
"Currently, one out of seven adults changes his/her church each year, and another one out of six attends a handful on a rotating basis. Thus, it becomes important to identify just what keeps members and seekers attending on a regular basis. So Barna [www.barna.org] then set out to determine exactly what fosters church loyalty. In the end, he identified the six most important factors for not only maintaining "brand loyalty" but attracting new members.
Topping the list were:
#1--The theological beliefs and doctrine
#2--How much the people seem to care about each other
#3--Quality of sermons
#4--Friendliness to visitors
#5--Involvement in serving the poor and disadvantaged
#6--The quality of programs and classes for children
#7--How much the person liked the pastor
#8--The denominational affiliation of the church
#9--Quality of the adult Sunday school classes
#10--The convenience of weekend service times”
The full article can be read here http://www.churchbusiness.com/articles/091feat1.html.
In light of those factors, taking away the issue of the rightness of the Catholic church's theological beliefs, the question becomes did Pope John Paul II do enough to (1) educate people about the rightness of the Catholic church's theology, and (2) did he address the other factors that are important to people when considering whether to become members of and to attend the Catholic church.
The numbers cited by Sullivan tend to indicate that Pope John Paul II didn't do enough, and attacking Sullivan doesn’t address the merits of his argument.
Thanks for the links, though I think the statistics needed for any thorough discussion of this issue are not to be found by Googling. (The site religioustolerance.org, BTW, has some more data and discussion.)
The decline in clergy -- which, I think, predates JPII -- is probably tied to the drop in attendance, by a number of factors. Even so, would we expect more clergy in a period of Catholic decline? That would be like GM producing more cars than there are people to sell them to, and expecting to turn a profit.
We need to know much more before we could decide to what extent JPII harmed/helped Church attendance, status, etc. We need better data on trends across denominations, trends before and during JPII's reign... (After all, without the data we could just as well argue -- as some have, I think -- that these trends have their root in Vatican II, or 60's-70's permissive culture, or the Sox not winning a world series...) Also, I think it's worth pointing out that among the ten important factors for "church loyalty," how many could the pope have had any control over, even in a trickle-down capacity? Should we say that JPII should have tried harder to provide greater "convenience of weekend service times"?
Again, with the very few data we have, we could just as well argue that the liberalization of individual churches, diocese, etc., in the U.S. and the rest of the West have caused decline of the Church.
The point with Andrew Sullivan is, his argument rests on two very self-important assumptions -- 1)the problem is JPII was too "rigid" concerning homosexuality, etc., and 2) the decline in Church attendance, clergy, etc. are solely explained by this. By even refusing to look at the fact that other churches (the Episcopal Church is the headling-grabbing example) going through recent liberalization on these issues are still in the same boat as the Catholic Church makes Sullivan's arguments shaky at best, and merely self-righteous in all other cases.
P.S. It's interesting to note (see religioustolerance.org) that the congregations actually growing fastest in the U.S. are, contra Sullivan, the evangelical and more quote-unquote conservative churches.
Had the Pope embraced gay marriage, Andrew Sullivan would have blown the Pope's horn...repeatedly.
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