Two quick follow-ups to my last post on the Episcopal Church:
1. Good timing!
The Episcopal Church is one where the notion that “doubt is an element of faith” has taken hold—we celebrate the feast day of Soren Kierkegaard, for pete’s sake! Just as I was trying to explain that in terms in terms the Catholic Right might relate to, Kyle Cupp was writing this in The Week: “Pope Francis Wants Catholics to Doubt the Church. He’s Right.”
Building on some of the same quotes I used, Cupp explains:
If God really is infinite and indescribable, as Catholicism and other religious traditions imagine, then an uncertain faith makes sense. At the end of the day, those who talk about God really do not know what they’re talking about. People refer to God with symbols and metaphors, stories and analogies, believing that these limited expressions disclose a limitless reality, but even if these expressions are true, they nonetheless differ infinitely from any infinite being. Undoubtedly, a lot gets lost in translation.
And then: “Aquinas wrote a lot about God, but he later likened it all to straw. This is the religious condition.”
Finally, Cupp concludes:
As Damon Linker has argued, the pope is unlikely to make any major doctrinal revisions given his personality and the institutional limits on the papacy, but simply by encouraging doubt as a necessary aspect of life in the church, he’s reminded Christians that, for them, truth is a person and not a set of formulas. In light of this, the development of doctrine should be welcomed, not feared. Especially if it brings a little uncertainty.
2. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum…
Bruce Allen Murphy has released a new biography of Catholic Right leading man Antonin Scalia. Dahlia Lithwick reviews it in The Atlantic, noting that “Murphy does not shrink from adjudicating Scalia’s dueling public claims: that separating faith from public life is impossible and, at the same time, that he himself has done just that on the Court.”
She continues, “Murphy’s conclusion—at once obvious and subversive—is that Justice Scalia is very much the product of his deeply held Catholic faith. The pristine border between faith and jurisprudence is largely myth and aspiration.”
There’s a certain irony in that, since Scalia is, in many ways, the Anti-Francis.
Lithwick fixes on the term “self-certainty” to describe Scalia’s attitude, and so does Andrew Cohen, in his review of Murphy’s book in The Week. In fact, Cohen calls Scalia “High Priest of the Church of the Doubtless.” That’s an appellation that could never, ever be applied to Pope Francis.
Back to Scalia. Cohen writes:
I believe that this “absolute certainty,” this lack of doubt, is the antithesis of judging. I want my judges, especially my judges who judge all the other judges, to be tortured by the cases and causes that come before them, to pause and be pained by the choices they are making. For no matter how hard Scalia and his fellow travelers have tried to convince me that “originalism” or “original intent” are worthy doctrines because they do not generate subjective choices, the more I am convinced that the opposite is true.
Further, Cohen points out, “there is growing evidence, in Murphy’s book and beyond, that Scalia’s voting record on the bench is not the result of some inexorable (and humbling) application of neutral principles but rather a continuation of the partisan dogma the man has accumulated during his decades of political life in Washington.”
Scalia’s “objectivity” is make-believe. That’s worth keeping in mind as you try to reconcile the Catholic Right’s general claims of objectivity with their constant distortions of the truth and evasion of the facts.