The underground correspondent we used to keep on retainer in an Atlantic seaboard city that knows how to keep its secrets, Guy Noir - Private Eye, just sent me an email, of all things, rather than a message delivered by carrier pigeon or by a courior in a tuxedo riding in a limo.
Some of you may remember our intrepid detective, who provided timely and sometimes scandalously-amusing reports, sent to us regularly -- yes, by carrier pigeon or by courier in a bow tie and tux. Well, it seems that our intrepid undercover correspondent has now taken on a job somewhere as a professor, which is likely as amusing as it may be scandalous if only his students only knew his previous employment as the mysterious Guy Noir. In any case, here's your chance to read some écriture noire at your own risk in yet another report from Guy Noir - Private Eye:
This week my public speaking students have to choose an informative speech topic. The parameters are the topic must be someone or something commemorated on a U.S. Postage Stamp, because, well, you have to be dead and significant to land yourself on a stamp, right?
Wrong, apparently, since 2011.
Because "Having really nice, relevant, interesting, fun stamps might make a difference in people’s decisions to mail a letter,” said Stephen Kearney, the Postal Service’s manager of stamp services. “This is such a sea change.”
One point one, he was wrong: letter-sending continues to drop, even with Michael Jordan (and Harry Potter, a Brit!) now on envelopes. On point two, he’s right: we continue to tread water in a cultural sea change that has elapsed in the last 61 years.
61? Yes, that is how old I am. And when I was born, Vatican II was just convening. Even when I was 12, the old-school Catholic vibe prevailed to such an extent that my Catholic best friend was not allowed to follow me to a Methodist potluck (though his mother let me take communion with them once at Mass).
All of which makes me think of Vatican II on its anniversary:
As the dust finally begins to settle, despite the current and last few popes’ determined propaganda campaigns to keep the Council’s relevance alive, some surprising counter-verdicts are in:
Blogger Amy Welborn muses, "It doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable to label the Second Vatican Council as a failure.” How very different from the genial attempts in the 1980s by guys like Steubenville charismatic Alan Schrenk to claim it as part of glorious arc.
Read all of Welborn’s thoughts:
And her remembrance of the all-but-forgotten pop icon Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Or hear the NYT’s Ross Douthat also flatly declaring. "The council was a failure.” His concluding note is a bit depressing, sort of like saying even when you regain civility with an ex-wife, damage done remains. That’s nice.
At National Review, MBD says this:"Catholic theologians and bishops have been turned into sponges, soaked in metaphors that have no precise theological content but which retain an acid-wash quality, an iconoclasm aimed at a church and a theology of the past that is half understood, at best. So modernists such as Hans Kung could say that Vatican II promoted a “communio model of the church” over and against an “absolutist pyramidal model.Rod Dreher provides illustration of those thoughts by sharing a painfully crass but on-point video (at least the fictional priest avoids mentioning the ‘evidential power of beauty’).
None of this was meant with any real conviction. It was an ad hoc theology developed for the sole purpose of legitimating dissent on moral issues touching sexuality. In Kung’s model, if the pew sitters could be shown to not be following this teaching, then the teaching itself should be jettisoned. But this has lately been junked for more papal primacy, because the current pope is seen as more progressive than some of the pew sitters.
The church has thus proceeded from slogan to slogan, as if theological reflection or — more ominously — the development of doctrine were mere rumination on the latest sets of buzzwords, usually coming from bishops or the pope. The people of God in transit, the listening church, the new evangelization, the field hospital. The synodal church. Catholics used to be known by their distinctive devotional life — prayers to the saints, rosaries, abstaining from meat on Fridays. Now, devoted Catholics spend their time reading papal encyclicals and mastering this pseudo-theological jargon."
Part of me wonders if we may ever again have a pope or council who flatly declares anything dogmatic to be true. There seems to be a lack of confidence in hard-edged doctrine as even a possibility if it attempts to narrow the confines of belief. We know something has to be true, but what that something is, well ... ‘Love and let live!’
In all of this, today’s American Church, much like the seven sisters of the Protestant mainlines, has become the uncertain guardian of a tradition that gathers dust in volumes no one reads, and is heard only in muffled explanations at parishes when people do bother to attend.
Everyone manifests strong symptoms reflecting Unitarianism and Quakerism, and endures settings animated by American Idol- and YoungLife-like liturgics.
Which is why Robert Barron’s recent interview with Shia LeBouf was like an episode of Quantum Leap.