Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Matter of Irksome Emphasis

Fr. Barron’s wonderfully titled screed on Pope Francis’s becoming Time magazine’s Person of the Year, “Time’s Kantian Wedge” in Real Clear Religion (Dec. 12, 2013), focuses attention on the phenomenon of emphasis. As is his rhetorical wont, Fr. Barron gives his assent to many of the general observations of the current papacy; but then, characteristically (and I might add, effectively) slams on the brakes in hope of awakening a lulled public. Something about the media’s presentation of the pope has irked him.

 He decries the “tendency to distinguish radically between this lovely Franciscan emphasis on mercy and love for the poor and the apparently far less than lovely emphasis on doctrine so characteristic of the Papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. There is actually a good deal of dangerous silliness in this way of characterizing things.” While I am uncertain of just what a radical distinction is, or what is precisely undergoing this kind of distinguishing, certainly it has to do with the manner in which the secular press tries to embrace something about the pope’s message, while not embracing other aspects of the message---the religious stuff, the fundamentally Christian stuff. But what can the secular press embrace but the timeless humanism given a new face by the pope? The pope is evangelizing, not proselytizing: certainly Fr. Barron cannot have any real expectations of the secular press gettin’ religion. So, the secular press sticks to the secular; I don’t see that as an especially bad thing.

 Fr. Barron is also irked by the Kantian turn---the reduction of religion to ethics, especially as such a reduction sometimes reduces further to indifferentism: “ it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you are a good person.” It is perhaps a bit unfair to trace all that is lukewarm in contemporary culture to Kant, but I concur with the general point that people of good will need not collapse all they hold true into a false irenicism. Authentic religion certainly matters, and differences are to be respected and understood in authentic dialogue, not dissolved by political expediency into distinctions without differences. Fr. Barron will be glad to know that contemporary philosophers have critically engaged the Kantian turn, in their various versions of object oriented ontology and speculative realism, especially in their dressing down of correlationism.

Kant never meant to be ignorant of history, and his philosphy is the antithesis of indifferentism, yet culture tends to have its way with its giants. And history is always more complicated than the episteme that generates it. Truth be told it sometimes irks me when my co-religionists see Vatican II as erasing Trent, only to be shocked that the Church still celebrates the Communion of Saints, or when my fellow Christians view this pope as espousing fundamentals of Catholic doctrine somehow different from his predecessors, yet are dumbfounded by ‘liberal’ pronouncements on the idolatry of money  that have been in  the magisterium for a hundred years. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s just a matter of emphasis.

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