Saturday, November 15, 2014

Marilynne Robinson & Diarmaid MacCulloch: attractive, thoughtful talking heads Catholics can trust?

Guy Noir - Private Eye, whom we keep on retainer for his subcultural antennae and sleuthing skills, just sent us this three days ago:
The piece from the New Oxord Review on Chicago was good if disturbing. And it has led me back to thoughts the occasional that rumble around in the back of my mind about the relative cluelessness of people to the undercurrent of thought and ideas that moves entire conversations in our own times. And usually moves them away from Tradition. Not only are people usually oblivious to these voices when they are found within the Christian community, but they are also then oblivious to the strong pull those same voices have on their thinking. The will keep listening to them and recommending them even as they contradict what they say they themselves profess! Until finally they are saying the same thing.

This is the same phenomenon that drives me nuts about Pope Francis. In one breath he is a loyal son of the Church, and in the next he is recommending the thought of someone who simply is not. All under the assumption that people know truth, recognize heresy, and can navigate between the two without harm. FALSE.

Marilynne Robinson

We see it in Evangelicalism as well. This month the world is gushing over Marilynne Robinson's novel Lila. Everyone from the New York Times to Calvinist bloggers. So she will be exercising an influence with a long reach. But what of her larger frame of reference? On issues of controversy, is it Christian? I know we can't be heresy hunters and obsess over doctrine, but don't we need to be clear about doctrine if people are going to believe it at all? After all, it is not natural science: it is doctrine! But I had to scour the internet to find any sort of intelligent rebuttal to one of her most famously quoted interviews. See Doug Wilson's "The blinkered Prophetess" (Illinois Family Institute, May 14, 2014). I think everything he says about Robinson and 1956 cold be equally applied to Francis and Argentina.

Diarmaid MacCulloch

Then see Damian Thompson's review of Diarmid MacCollough's book on The Reformation, "Diarmaid MacCulloch on his new series A History of Christianity" (The Telegraph, November 3, 2014). The book is critically acclaimed by even very, very conservative Evangelicals. Why should I care as a Catholic? Well, MacCollough is a self-avowed gay Anglican. Odd then Evangelicals approve his history. But who cares? Should we discard a book because of an author's life, versus his words? Not necessarily. And yet are we supposed to believe such biases do not affect the telling of any tale or history? See Thompson's mention of Benedict XVI in the review. Interestingly, I read MacCullough's widely hailed book on Thomas Cranmer when I was struggling with Catholic conversion. Cranmer was a hero to me, and everyone swore by MacCollough's book. So I wanted to like it. But it left me strangely unmoved. It all seemed O.K. But it all seemed somehow tepid as well. It all makes more sense now. Things are never black and white. True. But then again, may the same should also hold true for polite or knee-jerk endorsements. It amazes me that the same people who say they want to hold true to Tradition can be so cavalier in thinking sources don't matter or don't desperately need to be qualified. Today more than ever any sort of high profile or celebrity status carries weight far beyond its worth. We need to remember that as we are sending people off the sit at the feet of so many attractive, even thoughtful, talking heads. (emphasis added)

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