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Écrasez l'infâme, still?

The phrase, as you probably know, is the sentence Voltaire passed on the Catholic Church: crush the infamous thing. 

The Atlantic has been redesigned again, made thinner and flashier, with shorter pieces reduced even further. At the top of one of the pages devoted to these, there's a box labelled "A Very Short Book Excerpt." The excerpt consists of five sentences from Garry Wills's latest attack on the Church of which he still, oddly, remains a member: Why Priests? A Failed Tradition

Based on the excerpt, it's the typical odd skeptical-fundamentalist approach--it's not in the New Testament, therefore it's bogus. I know, who cares what Wills thinks? Not me. But it's interesting that The Atlantic  chose to print it. What do they care whether the Catholic Church calls its clergy "priests" or not? What do they care whether it has priests or ministers or rabbis or gurus?

Neither religion in general nor Christianity in particular gets much attention at all in this magazine, and when they do it's usually of an anthropological sort, with a bit of mild alarm or disgust thrown in when the latter appears. I have to suppose that it still vexes them that the Church continues to exist, or that it refuses to conform itself to the secular consensus. So now and then they're willing to give a platform to someone who claims to have evidence that it's a fraud. I guess this is of a piece with the typical hyped-up stories that appear around Christmas and Easter attacking some core Christian belief. 

Still, it's odd--why pick on this particular belief, which is mostly of consequence within the Church? I suppose it could be taken as a back-handed compliment, an indication that they do think the priesthood a different thing from, say, the Protestant clergy.


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I wonder if he does remain a member though.

"If anyone shall say that by the words: 'Do this in commemoration of Me' Christ did not institute the Apostles priests, or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His Body and Blood: let him be anathema."
-- from the canons of Trent

Isn't his whole book basically an argument of that position?

Regarding your post though, I think it has to do with genetic history of the liberal doctrine your average Atlantic editor holds. The notion of Catholicism as a particularly malevolent fraud that enthralls its people with fictions, and the need to free them from it, goes way back to the sixteenth century in the English-speaking world, and has been revived and refreshed in nearly every generation.

No argument from me on that first point, but I generally avoid making that call when the person's bishop, or the Vatican, hasn't spoken. I have been wondering, though, since the HHS mandate was propounded, why Kathleen Sebelius shouldn't be formally excommunicated. It seems like that sort of direct attack on Christian freedom of conscience would warrant it. The bishop of New Orleans in the early '60s or late '50s excommunicated a segregationist politician, and there are all sorts of cases now that seem at least as egregious. Though I think Sebelius may be under a sort of unofficial "it would be better if you don't receive" excommunication.

Yes, and more specifically The Atlantic is the heir of the New England transcendentalists, a fairly sorry crew and arguably the first of our current secular progressives.

Weren't Ross Douthat, Andrew Sullivan, and Megan McCardle all once bloggers at The Atlantic? All three Catholics, to one extent or the other :-). With the exception of Sullivan, I think their pieces tried to present the Church in a positive light.

Don't think any Catholics are now on board there now, but not sure because I seldom visit the site any more.

I'm not aware of any Catholics currently involved with either the mag or the web site, though no doubt there are a few at least nominal ones. The mag has really gotten worse wrt religion in the past few years. Sullivan was editor and Douthat was something high up, too. But Sullivan...what can you say? Never heard that McArdle was Catholic. That's sort of surprising.

About McArdle being a Catholic: I'm not 100% sure about that, but I think she mentioned in one of her Daily Beast columns that she was raised a Catholic but didn't now attend church all that much.

Or maybe I just assumed she was Catholic because she's written articles on the sex-abuse scandals and the Obamacare birth control mandate that are not only fair, but seem to be in support of the Church.

The "fair" part doesn't surprise me--she does seem generally very fair-minded. I thought she was some kind of libertarian-atheist, and I just remembered why: she had a blog called "Jane Galt."

"Jane Galt," a play on Ayn Rand's John Galt?

Maybe just a confused person, along the lines of Rand-loving Paul Ryan.

Right, undoubtedly a play on John Galt.

It seems her father was a Francis X, so undoubtedly there's at least some Catholic background there.

"The Atlantic is the heir of the New England transcendentalists, a fairly sorry crew and arguably the first of our current secular progressives"

Much of what's bad in current American politics and society can be traced one way or another to that crew. I recently read a book describing how vehemently anti-Catholic much of the abolitionist movement was. Why? Because Catholicism was a form of slavery of the soul, and prevented men from being "free" in thought.

The same crowd rallied for our entry into WWI. In many cases it was even the same families of rabble-rousing do-gooders -- the Beechers, Stowes, etc.

I've long been just a touch proud of the fact that even as a high school student I had an intuition that Emerson didn't amount to much as a thinker.

That's very striking about the abolitionists. I shouldn't be surprised. I suppose it's one of the great tragedies of modern history that people who are right about very dramatic concrete problems like slavery are so often equally wrong philosophically.

Wasn't anti-Catholicism sort of in the Protestant DNA of the U.S.?

Here's John Adams writing in his diary while in Spain in 1779:

"The Orders of Ecclesiasticks at Corunna are only Three, The Dominicans, the Franciscans, and the Augustins,1 but the numbers who compose the Fraternities of these religious Houses are a burthen beyond all proportion to the Wealth, Industry and population of this Town. They are Drones enough to devour all the honey of the Hive. There are in addition to these, two Convents of Nuns, those of St. Barbe and the Capuchins. These are a large Addition to the Number of Consumers without producing any Thing. Lord Bacons Virgines Deo dicatse quae nihil parturiunt. They are very industrious however at their Prayrs and devotions that is to say in repeating their Pater Nosters, in counting their Beads, in kissing their Crucifixes, and taking off their hair Shifts to whip and lacerate themselves every day for their Sins, to discipline themselves to greater Spirituality in the Christian Life. Strange! that any reasonable Creatures, any thinking Beings should ever believe that they could recommend themselves to Heaven by making themselves miserable on Earth. Christianity put an End to the Sacrifice of Iphigenias and other Grecian Beauties and it probably will discontinue the Incineration of Widows in Malabar: but it may be made a question whether the Catholick Religion has not retained to this day Cruelties as inhuman and antichristian as those of Antiquity."

Just noticed there's a footnote at that excerpt from John Adams's diary that says that quoted text is not in his diary. It's actually in his autobiography here.

Ross Douthat is an observant Catholic. Megan McArdle has described herself as an 'agnotheist'. Her marriage was solemnized by a Lutheran minister, but at the Cosmos Club in Washington, not in a church. I believe Francis X. McArdle is still alive. When I would read her regularly, she usually talked about her mother's family, which is from Newark, N.Y. About her own upbringing, just discussions of her old neighborhood in Manhattan. You get the impression she is an only child. Her parents are evidently divorced.

in the DNA? Oh most definitely. Funny how, for a certain subset of Protestants, the religious content dwindled away but the disdain for Catholicism remained.

One of the agreeable things about McArdle's writing. She appears to be not the least other-directed, and does not manifest any anxieties or regard for appearances about stating her view.

Yeah, I always read her in The Atlantic, including her blog at their web site, because she seemed to always be trying to get at what is actually the case rather than pushing an ideology.

Despite what I said above, The Atlantic was really a pretty good and genuinely broad-minded magazine for a while there in the early 2000s, when...can't remember his name...Irish-sounding name, was killed in an accident in Iraq not long after the war started...was editor and for a while thereafter. It's seemed to shrink further into conventionality since.

For decades the Editor was William Whitworth, and it was a good magazine. With a change of ownership, he was retired and replaced with Michael Kelly, who had quite a history as a reporter and an engaging columnist. He had been editor of The New Republic and been canned for criticizing Albert Gore, Jr. He then edited National Journal. After he was killed in Iraq, the magazine was edited by Cullen Murphy, who is a rather offbeat character (a cartoonist on the side). For seven years it has been edited by someone hired from The New York Times whose brother is a Democratic pol.

Poor old Voltaire. He's so dead and the Church isn't. :)



And yet still, the smart guys of our own time are saying "any minute now." Yesterday I read a New York Times piece by good ol' Hans Kung predicting the imminent demise of the Church. I won't bother locating it again because you know what it says

"someone hired from The New York Times whose brother is a Democratic pol." Well, that goes a long way toward explaining the decline.

I wonder if they're embarrassed now by a long long worshipful piece by Andrew Sullivan published before the 2008 election explaining why an Obama presidency would heal our cultural conflicts.

Well, hiring him was a sunk cost, so they figured they better attempt to get their money's worth. The thesis as stated is fatuous but not likely to be gorge-rising for The Atlantic's readership, rather like corn through a cow.

I will wager the Times guy thought it eminently reasonable or did not think the magazine's seriousness would be injured by it. I seem to recall your friend Daniel Nichols suggesting well maybe Obama would promote 'racial healing' or some such, so the idea was abroad in loci outside of Washington's newsrooms and leather bars.

(Maybe the next election the political parties will nominate two candidates who 1. can add and subtract, 2. are not inclined to plumb the shallows of every issue (while running their mouths), 3. do not have as their default mode opportunistic whriligiggery, and 4. will can it on half-baked crap like 'change' and 'healing' and just put forward a plan for balancing the frigging budget that is not a con job - yeah, utopian in our time).

I won't bother locating it again because you know what it says

so true and I wouldn't bother reading it anyway

A lot of people who didn't support Obam--me, for instance--hoped that a bright side of his victory might be some lessening of racial hostility. Sullivan's delerium went much further than that. I don't recall the details, and have no desire to revisit the piece, but somehow he tied our present divisions to the baby-boomer generation and thought that Obama would be beyond all that, and would bring the rest of the country along. I thought it was very wishful thinking at best, and it was soon proved by Obama himself to have been the product of Sullivan's imagination. Even I, low as my expectations were, have been a little surprised to find that Obama's idea of unity and reconciliation goes no further than the belief that everyone should do as he says. Or that, at least for his supporters, including white liberals as well as blacks, the fact that he's "black" only meant that any opposition to him must be racism in action. And since he set out from the beginning to run roughshod over the opposition, the inevitable effect was to rev up rather than reduce racial tension.

Sullivan is paid to write. He does not always have material, so you get sophistry and the flotsam and jetsam of his imagination.

Actually, we really do not have much in the way of racial problems in mundane life, and what we do have is the result of the stupidity and nonfeasance of one particularly incompetent occupational group: school administrators and those adjacent to them (with the assistance of the legal profession, natch).

In our public life, yes there are racial problems. I will offer they have a great deal to do with the self-understanding of certain occupational groups (e.g. the higher ed nomenklatura) vis a vis the rest of the population, the crude interests of certain politician / hucksters (e.g. Kwame Kilpatrick), and how those in certain ethnic groups (e.g. blacks) process the disappointments and irritations of adult life. Not much Obama could do about any of that, even if he were at all interested in doing something about it or had much understanding of it.

I don't have as positive a view of race relations in daily life as you do, although I agree that they are not nearly as bad as the public faces who apparently wish to feed the problems make them out to be.

I don't particularly blame Obama for any of that, though. He could have been a lot worse. But he could actively repudiate the race-mongering, in a way that to my knowledge he has not. And he seems to have given free rein to Eric Holder & Co. to implement the whites-are-always-guilty view of any problem where race is a factor.

The 85 year old priest, who is an excellent movie critic, in the office next door to me told me last week that priests are not in the NT and it's not an indelible mark, and he won't be a priest in heaven. Now I know where he got that idea from. He did say 'Gary Wills' but I didn't know it was a recent book. A young priest was passing when he said that, so I said to him, will you be a priest in heaven, and he said yes, it's an indelible mark. The younger priest's view is more typical of the University in which I work.

The odd thing about Gary Wills to me is the way he sets himself up as a one-man magisterium. To 2000 years of tradition and reflection he just says "nope, all wrong--I have spoken." Not that he doesn't have company in his views, but you get the feeling that "because I say so" is his ultimate justification.

"a priest in heaven"--I'd never heard that formulation, though I suppose it's probably common and it makes sense given "a priest forever." But I wonder what it will mean, since presumably there will be no priestly rites. A mark, pure and simple, maybe. And does something similar hold for matrimony, I wonder?

It's great to have you back for a moment, Grumpy.

It's a good question. I geuss they will be vaguely clerical :)

I hope for their sake they don't have to wear those funny sombrero-looking hats.

My friend Gilles hates his long sleeves on his Dominican habit - they flap on his wrists when he is typing. But in all the pictures by Fra Angelico they are wearing Dom habit. So there is no avoiding it, in my opinion. Funny sobrero hats are another question.

Sombrero hats? Do you mean those old-fashioned black brimmed hats? I like those. But what I want to see are more birettas.

I'm amused by your Dominican friend's quarrel with his habit, Grumpy. But maybe he won't have to type in heaven?

This one. Also, the pope sometimes wears what appears to my 20th c American eyes is a red cowboy hat.

Wills was recently on The Colbert Report pushing his new book; here’s some of what transpired:

“Mr. Colbert asked the author why the priesthood is a failed tradition. Mr. Wills responded: ‘Well, they continue to pretend to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus, which doesn’t happen.’ When Mr. Colbert mentioned that the Eucharist is ‘a mystery, Mr. Wills responded: ‘No, it’s a fake.’ A very awkward three-second pause ensued.

Some longtime watchers of the show noticed that a shocked Mr. Colbert, a devout Catholic in real life, nearly broke character. But Mr. Wills wasn’t finished: In the remaining two minutes of the interview, he went on to say that the priesthood and the papacy should be abolished and that the sacrament of the sick is ‘an invented sacrament’.”


Found that in an article “Questioning Garry Wills,” at the America magazine site.

"definitely heterodox and probably heretical." Probably?!? I detest the heresy-hunting mentality that looks eagerly for mild deviations to denounce, but "it's a fake" applied to the Eucharist goes way beyond the pale.

The Jesuit author's reaction is the other way around from mine. Hurt feelings seem an odd response. I don't much care if Wills is civil or not, but I care that he's denying basic Catholic doctrines while insisting that he's a Catholic. "Mr. Wills does not necessarily owe us an account of his unorthodox views. He does, however, owe us an apology." I don't think he owes us anything except honesty.

I skimmed through the first page of comments on that piece. I have not been face-to-face, so to speak, for a long time with those diehard progressives who think Vatican II pretty much invented a new Church. Which made the last comment hilarious: "People on the internet be straight up cray-cray."

I like both those hats, Maclin.

Yes, I think we can say that someone, who calls the Eucharist a fake, is a heretic.

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