Thursday, November 12, 2015

Link (and Accompanying Rant): Two Years Among the Liberal Theologians

Interesting article on one person's experiences in a well-regarded contemporary Catholic theology department. I'm not surprised by the desires of professors to appear edgy and controversial at the expense of clarity in faithfully expressing Church teaching. (In fact, practically anything liberal theologians say anymore has lost its shock value in virtue of its banality and mundaneness.) I expect this from any contemporary mainstream theology department, Catholic or otherwise.

Anytime I hear about some Catholic seminary or theology department I'm automatically skeptical. I'm immediately reminded of lackluster sermons and washed-up liberal theology so lacking in vitality it couldn't even move a piece of paper to repent (let alone the world). And usually a quick look at the faculty and their research will confirm my suspicions.

What was more interesting to me was (i) the careerism, baseness, and downright irreverence of the people in such departments, and (ii) the extremeness of their views not present in their writings. On the first point, it's kind of sad that academics in theology departments seem to flaunt love for God and engage in the same gossip and conspiracy found everywhere else; as with most sins, it is probably caused by pride. (I suppose I don't know what I expected. I guess since these are the type of people who preach on Sundays I'd hoped for better.) On the second point, it is sad to think that some of the more "moderate" theologians I respect for maintaining some semblance of orthodoxy are probably farther beyond the pale than I realized.

The sad thing about all of this is that a lot of the "research" that goes on in mainstream Catholic theology is laughably silly. With mainstream liberal theologians of a more "philosophical" bent, the formula is to make some kind of tendentious appeal to a few continental philosophers and then make use of simple-minded relativistic assumptions. Sometimes they will appeal to contemporary Scripture studies (though usually only to liberal or at best "moderate" scholarship). But insofar as contemporary biblical scholarship is legitimate (which I don't deny it is), analytic philosophers of religion and analytic theologians are often much better than liberal theologians at analyzing this material's historical/methodological underpinnings and appropriating this material into a coherent framework. And even the more liberal analytic theologians still tend to assume pretty realistic ("conservative") assumptions about traditional theism, and do not try to canvass everything as touchy-feely metaphor or analogy (witness John Hick for instance).

I'm often unsure exactly what motivations lie behind the work of Catholic liberal theologians, but I will say that it seems to me they are often ineffective both as academics and as witnesses to the faith. In the first place, insofar as they say anything coherent, they rarely tend toward truth. The vast majority of liberals in contemporary academic philosophy have long abandoned appeal to relativism and skepticism to support their claims. Liberal theologians are often two steps behind in this regard; not only do they defend unwarranted liberal theological views, but they often defend them by incoherent relativistic and skeptical assumptions. Secondly, the sixties and seventies are long over, and liberal theology doesn't gain converts. If people are told there is no such thing as sin, no need for grace, and maybe even nobody to give grace to sinners, then there is little reason to go to Church on Sunday. There's little reason to be a Catholic anymore (even a liberal one). Those who are smart realize this, and though they might not dislike liberal Catholicism as much as they do orthodox Catholicism, it only pushes them farther from actually embracing the faith. This is why vocations thrive in orthodox communities and stagnate in liberal ones. And it's why liberal theology will die out; hence, if Catholicism becomes liberal Catholicism, then Catholicism will die out too.


Anonymous said...

Bring back the Tridentine Mass. That will sort it.

awatkins909 said...

Well, to be honest, I used to be of a Traditionalist persuasion myself, but I now think there are problems with that too. But without buying into all of what goes under the label "Traditionalist Catholicism," a greater availability of the Tridentine Mass could only be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Thats true. I suppose balance is key really.