Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Friday, May 15, 2009

Well, you know: Bull. Horns.

A good portion of the 2 or 3 readers of this blog may wonder "Why doesn’t Jerry write more often, to better share his insight, brilliance, and humor – not to mention his Christ-like humility – with the world?"

Admit it.  You’ve wondered it.

The answer is that I do a decent amount of writing away from the comfy confines of Tom and Jerry: in emails, but also often in comment threads of other folks’ blogs.  I usually post under the nom de plume GeronimoRumplestiltskin, but occasionally post under my real name.  Such an occurrence happened over the last couple of days, so I thought I would reproduce it here, so that you, dear readers, can see that I don’t spend all of my non-"Writing-For-Tom and Jerry" time at home merely annoying my wife.

In one of the many online articles in regards to the Obama-Notre Dame episode over the last two months, First Things editor Joseph Bottum reflects on what President Obama’s commencement appearance at Notre Dame means in regards to Catholic culture in America.  Georgetown’s Patrick Deneen, the Associate Professor of Government & Founding Director of the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, thoughtfully offers his assessment on his blog in the way of reply.  In the comments thread of Deneen’s post was this missive:

Bill Bruehl said...

Your analysis is compelling.  Catholics have melted away into the general secular culture which is not only American but European as well.  The question is "why?"

I will offer two reasons based on my own experience.  When I left 12 years of Catholic school in Chester PA in 1949, I left the church.  I wasn't capable at first of understanding why I left.  It took me years to figure that out.  Now at age 77 I understand why the church ceased to command my respect and loyalty.

The first reason is to be found in the hierarchy, its demand for obedience.  Secondly, the church clings to absurd literalism in its dogma and imagery.  It is patently absurd for educated human beings - or beings being educated as I was - to believe LITERALLY in dogmas like the Assumption or the Resurrection or Transubstantiation.  These are silly supernatural superstitions that contain a numinous power of enormous importance ONLY when understood as metaphors, but no, the hierarchy cannot believe we simple minded foolish humans can deal with anything but silly superstition.

Unchurched spirituality, on the other hand, the search for a meaningful numinous experience is on the rise.  It takes many forms, some as silly as literalism, but others like the thinking of Bishop Spong or Matthew Fox profoundly challenge the ever more conservative orthodoxy now ruling the Roman Church.  A new reformation is needed that will accept the revelations of science in the 21st century.

Such "I'm too educated/intelligent to believe in [insert Catholic dogma here]" musings really get under my skin for some reason; perhaps it is due to the fact that those making them rather unanimously proceed to champion laughably specious alternatives to such belief.  I picked up my rhetorical shillelagh and waded into battle:

Jerry Beckett said...

Gee, I don't know, Mr. Bruehl, I find it patently absurd for educated human beings - or beings who are as impressed with their own level of education to the extent that you are - to find either the sloppy thinking and disingenuous exegesis of Bishop Spong, or the loopy 'Creation Spirituality' of Matthew Fox, to be a "profound challenge" to the Roman Catholic Church.  Also, I find it patently absurd that such a person could actually believe that 'science' will somehow disprove the historicity of supernatural events: perhaps it is not the Church that needs a better understanding of what modern science has to say.

I considered mentioning that, for a fellow who claims that he has no respect or loyalty for the Church, he can’t seem to keep it out of his mind for very long: on his listing on his webpage of the 8 full length plays he has written, 4 of them feature the ignorant, repressive clergyman as a main character.  Though it brought to mind Chesterton’s observation that "The enemies of religion cannot leave it alone.  They laboriously attempt to smash religion.  They cannot smash religion, but they do smash everything else.", I left it out.

Mr. Bruehl shot back:

Bill Bruehl said...

Jerry, it may seem to some that the only way to defend their faith in the church is to launch ad hominem attacks.  I don't think so.  I think the Church can and will change.  The Magisteria is not unchanging (vide Galileo).  So the more Catholics think for themselves and demand that the hierarchy listen, the stronger will be both their faith and their church.  The time is past to have the hierarchy think for you.  You are not a lamb, a sheep.  Can you see that?

Besides invoking Galileo in a manner that signaled he has embraced the Enlightenment myth about the Galileo affair, not to mention his gaffe in equating the judgments of the Inquisition with the teaching office of the Magisterium, Mr. Bruehl commits the common error of assuming that those who hold an orthodox belief do so out of ignorance, laziness, and a lack of intellectual rigor.  I took him to task for this thusly:

Jerry Beckett said...

Mr. Bruehl:

Thank you for your humorous reply.  I appreciate the irony you displayed when you

1) wrote of my ilk that "the only way to defend their faith in the church is to launch ad hominem attacks"

2) then, a mere 6 sentences later, insinuate that I, in my belief, am a "sheep".

I also see you chose to continue with your "more intellectual than thou" theme in the thrust of your reply: that I let the hierarchy do my thinking for me, while you think for yourself.  What evidence do you have for this charge?  Oh, right, because I fail to reject the historicity of the Resurrection and Assumption (among other dogma) and be dazzled by the comically specious ramblings of the likes of Spong and Fox, as you have.  Refraining to inquire whether my belief could possibly be due to, say, my own 20+ years of reading, questioning, and reflection, you settle right into your comfortable and rather self-flattering conclusion: since I don't think like you, I therefore do not think for myself.

This is what you consider an intellectually sound line of argument?

Good grief.

When I close a comment addressed to someone by quoting the great theologian Charlie Brown, I’ve pretty much decided not to waste any more energy on him.  Anyway, I’m sure Mr. Bruehl has more plays starring tiredly stereotypical repressive clergy to write.

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