Rod Dreher posted a question on his site that’s already generated over a hundred responses. The post title alleges we suffer some sort of crisis in faith and authority. I don’t know that this is really news. Conservatives like Rod have criticized many liberals for coming to the same conclusion a generation or two ago. It sort of puts to rest the meme that a person starts out as young and liberal, and ends up an old crotchety conservative. I had a deep respect for authority when I was growing up. By the time I got to high school, I saw teachers acting in cahoots with the cool kids. I saw middle-aged Scout leaders flirting with teenage girls. I don’t even mention the eye-opening experiences of college.

The point isn’t that Catholic prep schools, Scouting, and higher education are all bad and need to be junked. Not even for the sake of those who abuse these systems. But there’s nothing wrong with a hefty supply of skepticism when encountering words and deeds that don’t quite match up to the stated principles of an organization.

Getting to the point, here’s what I found to be the gist of Rod’s post:

We cannot live with radical skepticism. When I say we cannot live with it, I mean that literally: we have to trust a great deal simply to get through the day. The question is not whether we will trust authority; the question is whose authority we will trust. If you, like me, believed strongly in the judgment of political, ecclesiastical and economic leaders, and saw their judgment lead us to near-ruin, you can’t help but withhold your trust. Once burned, etc.But: do you really trust yourself? Do you really trust in your own ability to discern which experts, wise men and powerful men understand the world, and which are either rogues or fools?

Let me offer an example, then lay out my point a bit more.

Most all of us have been reading the kerfuffle over Senator Kennedy’s funeral. I’ve gotten a handful of e-mails from “scandalized” pro-life activists. I’ve read a few of the blogs. LifeSiteNews chimes in on the S&L/EWTN feud with its own item. A bit of a warning before I progress further. I have little enough pro-life cred on the internet. This, despite being an avowed pro-lifer in talk and walk. I criticize other pro-lifers on strategy and tactics. They, of course, criticize other pro-lifers, too. One would think that puts us all in the same club.

I was reading this LSN piece and certain phrases stood out for me:

grandiose public funeral / pro-abortion extremist / Kennedy funeral extravaganza / the devastating effect of the prelates’ involvement in the funeral / endless eulogies / The entire travesty … goes beyond anything I have witnessed / (President Obama’s eulogy) is perhaps the most dastardly thing I have ever seen.”

The last two quotes are from ALL President Judie Brown. The others are from LSN writer John-Henry Westen. I have no reason to believe these statements are not heartfelt expressions from people who are passionately dedicated to the unborn. What’s wrong with the words? In sum, they never missed an opportunity to overstate the situation. Senator Kennedy’s funeral was big, not not as big as it could have been. Cardinal O’Malley explained his reasons, well-considered reasons, for being there. Does he get the benefit of making the prudential decision, or is the case against him really a slam-dunk? I heard there were three eulogies at the liturgy. Does that qualify as “endless?” A president’s eulogy more “dastardly” than tens of millions of abortions? Did she really write that?

Check also the tenor of the combox on the S&L site.

Rare is the substantial situation in which the decision is clear-cut. The small aspects of life: a stop sign, adding and subtracting in my checkbook, kissing my wife and daughter–these are no-brainers. I stop; I do the math; I render affection. Sometimes I’m in a hurry, but I stop anyway. Occasionally, I make an error in math, but I take some pride in never bouncing a bank check. My family has no reason to doubt my love and affection.

The big aspects, like going to war in the Middle East, taking stock of the life of most all public figures, or flipping a switch in the voting machine: some of these judgments are snap-made. But almost all of them have two sides or even more. There are serious considerations in which one could make a good case on at least two directions. And if there’s room for serious discernment, there’s certainly room for a person to err in the discernment process, flip the wrong switch, but be on solid ground for doing the best at the moment of choice.

When I reflecting on Christus Dominus 13 the other day, I was struck by the image of truth embracing the companionship of charity, of prudence accompanying trust. These qualities we revere work in combinations with each other. Like the good combinations of pitching and defense, strawberries and cream, hugs and kisses, perhaps we should consider less the one trick ponies of our ideologies, and look instead to leaders who can combine more than one quality and urge it in their followers.

When I was training Communion ministers with my friend Zach the other night, I related the story of a first-year undergrad I knew once. She had a very effervescent personality, always full of joy and enthusiasm. Her first time as a minister of the Eucharist, she literally bounded down the steps of the altar platform. About a dozen hosts also bounded … out of the ciborium and onto the floor. After Mass, she was devastated and close to tears. I suggested that her enthusiasm and passion for God was strong enough that she could afford to subsume it into a certain outer poise. She was not going to be “fired.” But what a combination for the tempered young Communion minister: joy clothed with dignity, just like a dark chocolate crust on ice cream.

Father Thomas Rosica on the blogosphere:

Through vicious attacks launched on blogs, a new form of self-righteoussness, condemnation and gnosticism reveals authors who behave as little children bullying one another around in schoolyards- casting stones, calling names, and wreaking havoc in the Church today! What such people fail to realize is that their messages are ultimately screamed into a vacuum.


The problem is that many self-purported leaders don’t collect diverse skills, don’t play well with others, and are too quick to jump on those who don’t echo them in every particular.

clock-12-04_33598_mdI suspect Rod Dreher is a deep-thinking individual who will eventually sort out whom he will trust and whom he will not. I think we do ourselves and our children a favor by encouraging a well-grounded and reasonable skepticis, even when it has the potential to come back and bite us.

I upset my daughter last night. After her mother and I allowed her to watch tv until midnight, we put our foot down on her starting a load of laundry at 12:04. If my whole relationship with the young miss consisted of being the disciplinarian, then it might not have been a very good show. But I also knew she was sleeps in on Saturday. When she doesn’t, she reads her books in bed. As I type, her clothes have been in the wash for the last hour, now happily tumbling dry. I know she was having a good time last night (as good of a time as an adolescent can have with her parents on a  Friday night) and she forgot to start the laundry I know she knew she needed today. She might feel significantly more bitter on some future date when I have to be the bad dad, and when her own limited world’s perspective tells her life is crushing her down. Maybe then she might draw from the deep well of skepticism. But she might also remember the nice pile of warm, clean laundry that was ready for her when she rolled out of bed today.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, My Family, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Skeptics

  1. Liam says:

    I thought the sight of Fr Z siccing his poll-pumping partisans to comment over at Cardinal Sean’s blog to register their umbrage was a most interesting take on conservative clerical-cardinalatial comity.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    Even this darling of the right has had enough of this crap about Kennedy’s funeral:

  3. Considering Rod Dreher’s entry, I think it rather more complex and nuanced than you tell it.

    Considering the late Senator Kennedy’s funeral, I did not watch it. As regards his death, I am sorry for his suffering at the end. My first wife, in addition to having lung cancer, had a number of metastases, including brain cancer. I wouldn’t wish what I witnessed in her last days on my worst enemy. Senator Kennedy didn’t rate anywhere near that low for me.

    As regards matters of Kennedy’s life, I will probably write about it only here. Of that life, I will simply say: de mortuis, nil nisi bonum dicendem est (Of the dead, only good is to be said).

  4. Tony says:

    When a prelate attends the funeral of a prominent Catholic, one has to understand his role. He is there to comfort the grieving family, and say a few kind words focusing on the good qualities of the deceased.

    I believe the attention paid to the family is totally appropriate in that context. He is already meeting or has met his final judgment and this conservative Catholic can only hope it was a merciful one. Since I heard he received last rites, I can be pretty sure that was the case.

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