What Happens if *Roe v. Wade* is Overturned?

Toobin-Supreme-Court

When Trump appoints a pro-life Supreme Court justice on Monday, and that justice is confirmed, there is a chance that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  What would that mean for abortion rights in America? How is the pro-life movement thinking about this possibility?

Allyson Escobar has a helpful piece on the matter at the Jesuit America magazine.  Most of it focuses on the opinions of Richard Doerflinger, former associate director of pro-life activities at the U’S. Catholic Bishops.  Here is a taste:

If Roe were overturned, Mr. Doerflinger says, the decision by itself would not lead to any restrictions on abortion but would allow for more debate on the issue.

“It would free both sides in this debate to argue their case and try to reach at least a majority consensus on what is just and what the society will bear,” Mr. Doerflinger says.

“The result would likely be different in different states and different in the same state from one year to another, as with most issues in our democracy,” he says. “But the pro-life viewpoint would not be excluded in principle from that debate, blocked in advance by what the court calls a constitutional right.” 

Read the entire piece here.

The Faith of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off a major upset in yesterday’s Democratic primary race in New York’s 14th District.  She defeated Joe Crowley, the 10-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives who many believed would be the heir-apparent to Nancy Pelosi as the House Minority Leader.  Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who ran on universal health care and the abolition of ICE.  She is also a Catholic.

On the day after her victory Ocasio-Cortez started writing, but not for The New York Times or The Progressive or The Nation or Jacobin or In These Times.  Nope. She turned to the web pages of the Jesuit magazine America.

Here is a taste of her piece, published today:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

Read the entire piece here.  She apparently disagrees with her church, however, on abortion and marriage.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is Removed from Public Ministry

McCarrick

I met Cardinal Theodore McCarrick back in 2011 when we were both participating in a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue at Georgetown University.  I always thought he was a man of integrity and a model of how Catholic social teaching could provide a way forward in the so-called “culture wars.”  I was thus disappointed to hear he had been removed from the public ministry.

Here is a taste of a report from National Public Radio:

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., has been removed from all public ministry following an allegation that he sexually abused a teenager when he was a priest in New York nearly 50 years ago.

McCarrick, 87, said in a statement Wednesday that the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, had advised him of the allegation several months ago. He said he is innocent and that he was “shocked by the report” but fully cooperated during a investigation ordered by the Holy See.

“My sadness was deepened when I was informed that the allegations had been determined credible and substantiated,” McCarrick said.

Dolan said in a statement that the allegation had been turned over to law enforcement and “was then thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency.”

Those findings were given to the Archdiocesan Review Board, whose members include parents, psychologists and jurists who “found the allegations credible and substantiated,” Dolan said. Then, “at the direction of Pope Francis,” McCarrick was instructed “that he is no longer to exercise publicly his priestly ministry.”

Dolan said it “was the first such report of a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against McCarrick of which the archdiocese was aware.”

But other allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against McCarrick.

Read the rest here.

When the Bible Gets Caught-Up in an Immigration Debate

Bible book

Check out Sarah Jones’s recent piece at The New Republic on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13, “Who Would Jesus Lock Up.”  The subtitle reads: “Using the Bible to defend the government’s most indefensible policies is a longstanding American tradition.”  Very true.

Here is a taste of Jones’s piece:

But exegesis belongs to the realm of theologians. Sessions’s comments are troublesome not because they misrepresent the Bible or constitute a needlessly religious justification for a secular policy, but because they echo some of the darkest chapters in American history.

As Christian historian John Fea told The Washington Post on Thursday, American southerners frequently cited Romans 13 in defense of the institution of slavery. “[I]n the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong,” he said. “I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.” Slavery was legal, after all; to question Southern law was to question God.

In fact, early debates over the morality of slavery frequently played out in churches, a practice that continued as war broke out. Abolitionists had no difficulty defending the morality of their position, given the horrors of chattel slavery. Confederates, meanwhile, took up the language of a shared faith and deployed it in the service of propaganda.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course the Bible has also been used in American history to defend what some might call “defensible” positions.  Barack Obama did this all the time.  So did the Founding Fathers.

What strikes me about this whole Sessions controversy over Romans 13 is that the debate taking place online and in the media seems less about whether it is appropriate  to invoke the Bible in public debate in the first place, and more about which Bible verses should be used.

For example, here is Chris Cuomo of CNN.  Cuomo thinks Sessions’s use of Romans 13 is reprehensible. Then he goes ahead and uses his own Bible verses to show why Sessions is wrong:

Here is a piece on my friend, Holy Cross University professor Mathew Schmalz:

So what does the Bible say? College of the Holy Cross scholar and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Mathew Schmalz examined that issue more than a year ago, in an article for The Conversation.

Schmalz said the Bible is unambiguous in affirming the obligation to treat strangers with dignity and respect.

“As Matthew 25 makes clear, the Christians should see everyone as ‘Christ’ in the flesh. Indeed, scholars argue that in the New Testament, ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbor’ are in fact synonymous,” Schmalz wrote. “Thus the Golden Rule, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ refers not just to people whom you know – your ‘neighbors’ in a conventional sense – but also to people whom you do not know.”

Schmalz, an expert on the papacy and the founding editor of the Journal on Global Catholicism, has published opinion pieces in Newsweek, Salon, the Washington Post, Commonweal Magazine, and The National Catholic Reporter.

“It is true that the application of biblical principles to contemporary matters of policy is less than clear to the many Christians who have taken opposing sides regarding how the United States should deal with immigrants, undocumented workers and refugees,” Schmalz wrote. “However, in my reading of the Bible, the principles regarding welcoming the stranger are broad-reaching and unambiguous.”

The Southern Baptist Convention quotes Leviticus 19:33-34, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9-10, Matthew 25:35-40, and Hebrews 13:23 in its recent resolution on immigration.

Here are evangelicals from the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable citing the Bible:

So when does the Bible apply to a given policy issue and when does it not?  Maybe I will just go back to being a Catholic (like Mat Schmalz and Chris Cuomo).  Then I don’t have to worry about a thousand different interpretations of the Bible and just follow what the Church teaches on the matter.

Springsteen at the Tony Awards: My Hometown

I heard this live when I saw “Springsteen on Broadway,” but for some reason it hit me a lot harder this time.  Springsteen describes so much of my childhood growing up in northern New Jersey as part of a working-class immigrant family–Italian Catholic on my father’s side, Slovakian Catholic on the other side.

This makes me want to sit down with Bruce and ask him how he raised kids who experienced none of this history.

A Baptist Church Removes Jesus Statue Because It’s Too Catholic

Baptist JesusThe Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina is removing a statue of Jesus because it is “too Catholic in nature.”

Here is a taste of Mary Rezac’s article at Catholic News Agency:

The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.

“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church,” church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.

Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.

Read the rest here.

*Commonweal* Magazine on Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

trump-with-evangelical-leaders

The Catholic magazine Commonweal has had enough.  In the March 6, 2018 issue, the editors chide the evangelicals and Catholics who voted for Donald Trump.   Here is a taste:

…[Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David] Brody’s “reason” for Trump’s ascendency, however, seems to confuse the political agenda of conservative Evangelical Christians with God’s will, something that is much harder to discern in the opacity of historical events. Thanks to Trump, Brody proclaims, the reliably prolife Neil Gorsuch sits on the High Court. The U.S. embassy in Israel is moving to Jerusalem. Obama’s alleged assault on religious liberty has been reversed. As a consequence, Evangelicals have learned their lesson. They vote in “the macro” now, meaning a deal with the devil gets a Christian imprimatur. “The goal of Evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate,” Brody writes.

Is this really what it means to be a conservative Christian in America today? At a time when the nation and the churches are desperately in need of the moral, spiritual, and intellectual contributions of thoughtful, traditionally minded Christians, it is alarming to see “macro” calculations of expedience replacing the Gospel. Is championing a “bold culture warrior” who promises to reverse what Brody and his allies insist is the nation’s precipitous cultural decline now the Christian mission?

Easter will soon be upon us. Christians across the world will once again participate liturgically and sacramentally in the drama of Christ’s death and Resurrection. They will be reminded that the savior of the world was a political scapegoat and a marginal cultural figure. It is a false hope—some might call it blasphemy—to think that a bold culture warrior in the White House can bring about a revival of Christianity, or reverse the troubling transformations that have occurred in our culture and politics. It is always a grave mistake for Christians to align themselves too closely with any one political party or politician, especially with a man who has proudly confessed that he has never asked God for forgiveness. “If I do something wrong, I think I just try to make it right,” Trump has assured us. “I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Read the rest here.  Then go pre-order Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

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Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

Ganges

Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

Evangelicals and Lent

Ancient FaithWhen I converted to Protestantism from Catholicism as a teenager, my family joined an evangelical congregation that did not observe Lent.  I never really wondered why this was the case.  I just assumed it was another aspect of my Catholic upbringing that I now needed to cast aside.  Years later, as I began to reconnect with some of the good things about my Catholic upbringing, I started to take Lent more seriously and began to observe Lent again, albeit inconsistently.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz has a very interesting piece titled “When Did Evangelicals Start Observing Lent?”  His post is built around articles on Lent in Christianity Today, former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield attempts to revive Lent among evangelicals, the liturgical revival in evangelicalism associated with the work of the late Robert E. Webber, and Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.

Here is a taste:

Protestants, explained writer Andrew Sandella, had inherited the Reformers’ wariness of Lent and its most distinctive discipline. He repeated the oft-told story of the sausage controversy in Ulrich Zwingli’s Zürich, noted Martin Luther’s criticism of fasting as a kind of works-righteousness, and alluded to John Calvin’s anti-Lent diatribe in The Institutes:

Then the superstitious observance of Lent had everywhere prevailed: for both the vulgar imagined that they thereby performed some excellent service to God, and pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ… in this splendid display they think that they serve God. I do not mention that at no time do those who would be thought the holiest of them wallow more foully. In short, the highest worship of God is to abstain from flesh, and, with this reservation, to indulge in delicacies of every kind. On the other hand, it is the greatest impiety, impiety scarcely to be expiated by death, for any one to taste the smallest portion of hacan or rancid flesh with his bread. (IV, 12)

But I’m not sure it’s that simple. Digging a bit, I think it’s more accurate to say that American evangelicals have been conflicted about Lent for some time now.

Read the rest here.

A Message to Irish-Catholic Trump Supporters

Kelly

John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, sends an important reminder to pro-Trump Catholics who think immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

Kelly, an Irish-American Catholic from Boston, is either oblivious to the irony of someone with his family’s background trafficking in pernicious stereotypes or knowingly tapping into the power of caricatures to dehumanize people. Irish immigrants were similarly demonized in the nineteenth century when they fled the Potato Famine. Like the parents of today’s Dreamers, they took great risks in search of a better life for their family. The Irish were viewed as so alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority they were not even regarded by many as “white.” The Boston Globe described the zeitgeist of the era in a 2016 article.

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

It was out of this context that a nativist movement flourished. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, originally called the American Party, included eight governors, more than one-hundred congressmen, and held power in half a dozen state legislatures. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan expanded in New England and the Midwest, targeting immigrants and Catholics. A massive KKK rally in Worcester, Mass. attracted as many as fifteen-thousand people in 1924. At the end of the rally, the Klan clashed with Catholics who came to counter protest under a Knights of Columbus banner.

The politics of nativism is not new. But there is something particularly galling about Catholic members of this administration such as Kelly, and powerful members of Congress, including Speaker Paul Ryan, leading or enabling the contemporary incarnation of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia. Ryan posted a picture on Twitter this week showing him welcoming a member of the Irish Parliament. “Even if my Gaelic is a little rough,” Ryan tweeted, “always great to connect with my roots.”

Kelly, Ryan, and others should remember those roots included immigrants from a different place but with the same dreams. In the face of craven politicians who perpetuated fear and ugly stereotypes, those immigrants persevered and made America great.

Read the entire piece here.

America Magazine: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement Must Be Bipartisan

abortion

The editors of the Jesuit magazine America argue that the pro-life movement “should prioritize expanding its reach across party lines.” Agreed.  Here is a taste of the editorial:

The most effective tactical response the Democrats could adopt in the face of Republicans using abortion as a wedge issue in close races would be to stop insisting on a pro-choice position as a litmus test for candidates. Sadly, this is something the Democratic Party is unwilling to do. This refusal among many in the party to accept, or even discuss, any legal restrictions on abortion at all reveals an absolutism that is both an affront to justice and a serious impediment to any attempt at bipartisanship.

As the failure of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act clearly shows, bipartisanship will be absolutely necessary to pass any meaningful federal legislation that changes our current stalemate on abortion. The pro-life movement should prioritize expanding its reach across party lines. It is the only way to bring the possibility of lasting legal protections for unborn children closer to reality.

Read the entire piece here.

Even Archbishops Wager on the Super Bowl

Archbishops

It looks like Archbishop Chaput (right) of Philadelphia and Cardinal O’Malley (left) of Boston have placed a friendly wager on the Super Bowl.

Crux reports:

NEW YORK – Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl contest between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia have placed a friendly wager on the football game’s outcome.

Should the Eagles win, O’Malley has pledged to make a $100 donation to St. John’s Hospice in Philadelphia, which assists homeless individuals in finding stable residences.

If the Patriots win, Chaput has agreed to make a $100 gift to Catholic Charities of Boston, one of the major providers of social services in the archdiocese.

The two individuals are long-time friends, former classmates, and are both Capuchin friars. They also threw Boston lobsters and Philadelphia cheesesteaks onto their bets for good measure.

Read the rest here.

W.H. Auden on Catholicism and Protestantism

Auden

W.H. Auden

Here is another Protestant Reformation post.  This one is stolen from Alan Jacobs’s blog Snakes and Ladders.  What follows is a quote Jacobs posted today from Auden‘s review of Erik Erickson’s Young Man Luther:

The Christian doctrine which Protestantism emphasizes is that every human being, irrespective of family, class, or occupation, is unique before God; the complementary and equally Christian doctrine emphasized by Catholicism is that we are all members, one with another, both in the Earthly and the Heavenly City.

Or one might say that, in conjugating the present tense of the verb to be, Catholicism concentrates on the plural, Protestantism on the singular. But authentic human existence demands that equal meaning and value be given to both singular and plural, all three persons, and all three genders. Thus, Protestantism is correct in affirming that the We are of society expresses a false identity unless each of its members can say I am; Catholicism correct in affirming that the individual who will not or cannot join with others in saying We does not know the meaning of I.

Stanley Hauerwas on the Protestant Reformation

Stanley Hauerwas is in Your FaceAccording to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, the Protestant Reformation is over and the Protestants won.  But the victory has also put Protestants in a state of crisis.  What is a theologian to do?

Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Washington Post:

…Over time, historians have helped us see that there was no one thing the Reformation was about, but that if there was a single characteristic at its heart, it was the recovery of the centrality of Christ for making sense of why Christians are not at home in this world. That emphasis turned out to be the overriding insight that shaped the work of Vatican II, meaning Catholics have overcome the major thrust of the Reformation.

That the Reformation has been a success, however, has put Protestantism in a crisis. Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? It seems not: Instead, Protestantism has become an end in itself, even though it’s hard to explain from a Protestant point of view why it should exist. The result is denominationalism in which each Protestant church tries to be just different enough from other Protestant churches to attract an increasingly diminishing market share. It’s a dismaying circumstance.

But I am still a Protestant, even though I’m not sure I know what I am saying when I say I am a Protestant. I can think of my life only as a living ecumenical movement — I was raised Methodist, taught Lutherans (Augustana College), was overwhelmed by the Catholic world, was deeply influenced by the Mennonites and finally returned to the Methodists at Duke. All of which, of course, means I have ended up worshiping at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, N.C. That I am a theologian more defined by where I went to graduate school than by any ecclesial tradition mirrors changes in the Protestant world — in particular, that the gulfs between the denominations seem only to feel smaller and smaller. And so does the gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Read the entire piece here.  Hauerwas also wonders why so many of his students have converted to Catholicism.

The Author’s Corner with Maura Jane Farrelly

51Hpt1GPjKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Maura Jane Farrelly is associate professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. This interview is based on her new book, Anti-Catholicism in America (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The boring answer is that Cambridge asked me to put together a narrative about anti-Catholicism in early America that could be used in an undergraduate classroom. The more interesting answer, however, has to do with my sense, while watching protests over the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan in 2010, that we have been here before.  Many immigrant groups have been viewed as a threat by native-born Americans — and sometimes, as is the case now, it’s been because those immigrant groups have been associated with violence.  But in the case of nineteenth-century Catholics and twenty-first-century Muslims, I think the fears were — are — about something deeper, as well.  The anxieties have been rooted in the not-entirely-unfounded sense that Catholics and Muslims have (or have had) an understanding of “freedom” that is  different from the American understanding of freedom.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The book argues that anti-Catholic bias played an essential role in shaping colonial and antebellum understandings of God, the individual, salvation, society, government, law, national identity, and freedom. For this reason, the early history of anti-Catholicism in America can provide us with a framework for understanding what is at stake in our contemporary debates about the place of Muslims and other non-Christian groups in the United States today.

JF: Why do we need to read Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: To give us hope — and maybe a bit of humility, too (she said with a striking lack of humility…).  As I note in my introduction, anti-Catholicism — which was such a salient force in America’s political and cultural history for such a long period of time — is basically gone now.  It’s a tool that is utilized primarily by internet trolls (and,  recently, by one thoughtless and impolitic senator from California who was looking to derail the nomination of a conservative law professor from Notre Dame to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  But I think the collective response of political and religious leaders to Diane Feinstein’s questioning of Amy Coney Barrett confirms my assertion that anti-Catholicism is no longer an “acceptable” impulse in America.).  If the Catholic understanding of freedom can become more compatible with the American understanding of freedom — and the American understanding can become more compatible with the Catholic — then maybe the same will happen with Muslims?  And certainly the fact that our cultural understandings of freedom are protean — as any serious study of history will reveal — should give us all pause as we make political claims that are based on our sense of what freedom is and what it takes to secure it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MJF: My journey to this place has been marked by some rather significant diversions (I worked as a reporter for several years — though Phil Graham, if he were still alive, might say I was just playing with the “first rough draft of history”…). But I think I first fell in love with early American history when my family and I took a summer vacation to Massachusetts. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old?  I still pinch myself, sometimes, that I now get to live in this state.

JF: What is your next project?

MJF: I may be leaving religion for a while.  I don’t know. I’ve stumbled upon a tragic story from the late nineteenth century that involves people from two prominent American families.  I’m hoping to use this story as a springboard into a greater exploration of the role of the frontier in defining American freedom (there’s the common thread, I guess…); the beginnings of the conservation movement; and the phenomenon of so-called “remittance men” and their place in the literature and lore of the American West.

JF: Thanks, Maura!

Springsteen’s *Tunnel of Love* at 30

Bruce Tunnel

Over at Blogness on the Edge of Town, Peter Chianca reflects on the thirtieth anniversary of one of Springsteen’s most personal albums.  Here is a taste:

At least a few of the songs point to the value in at least trying to ford the rough river of romantic relationships. The steady, martial drumbeat that starts off “Tougher Than The Rest” evokes the singer’s steely commitment to succeeding where others before him have failed, and an acknowledgement that love is only truly attainable if you’re willing to endure a long, hard slog to reach it. And even “All That Heaven Will Allow” – the album’s brightest track, sung in a hopeful warble – acknowledges the constant presence of “Mister Trouble.”

But much more of Tunnel of Love is dedicated to the ways that love is complicated, trust is fleeting and truly knowing someone is heart-wrenchingly difficult – sometimes impossible. The title track equates relationships with a dim, twisted carnival funhouse, an analogy that’s brilliantly simple and exquisitely executed: “the lights go out and it’s just the three of us,” Springsteen sings, “you, me and all that stuff we’re so scared of.” The way he shares harmonies both with himself, in a anguished overdub, and with Patti Scialfa’s echoing yelps only accentuates the number of hidden specters floating just beneath any relationship’s surface.

Read the entire piece here.

I am also reminded of Father Andrew Greeley‘s review of the album in the February 6, 1988 issue of America.  He argued that Tunnel of Love revealed Springsteen’s “Catholic imagination.”  He even described the release of the album as “a more important Catholic event in this country than the visit of Pope John Paul!.”

Here is a taste of that review:

In the context of religion (in its origins) as an exercise of the metaphor-making dynamisms, Bruce Springsteens album Tunnel of Love may be a more important Catholic event in this country than the visit of Pope John Paull! The Pope spoke of moral debates using the language of doctrinal propositions that appeal to (or repel) the mind. Springsteen sings of religious realities—sin, temptation, forgiveness, life, death, hope—in images that come (implicitly perhaps) from his Catholic childhood, images that appeal to the whole person, not just the head, and that will be absorbed by far more Americans than those who listened to the Pope.

I intend no disrespect to the Pope or to the importance of his trip. I merely assert the obvious: Troubadours always have more impact than theologians or bishops, storytellers more influence than homilists.

Some rock critics contend that Springsteen has turned away from the “positive” music of Born in the USA to return to the grimmer and more pessimistic mood of Nebraska. It might be debated how optimistic USA really was. But, while there is tragedy in Tunnel of Love, there is also hope. The water of the river still flows, but now it stands, not for death, but for rebirth. Light and water, the Easter and baptismal symbols of the Catholic liturgy, the combination of the male and female fertility principles, create life in Tunnel of Love.

Religion is more explicitly expressed in Tunnel of Love than in any previous Springsteen album. Prayer, heaven and God are invoked naturally and unselfconsciously, as though they are an ordinary part of the singers life and vocabulary (and the singer is the narrator of the story told in the song, not necessarily Springsteen). Moreover, religion is invoked to deal precisely with those human (as opposed to doctrinal) problems—love, sin, death, rebirth—that humankind in its long history has always considered religious.

On the subject of human sinfulness, Springsteen sounds like St. Paul, who lamented that “the good which I would do, I do not do; and the evil which I would not do, that I do.”

Read Greeley’s entire review here.

An Interview with Wendell Berry’s Daughter

Berry Given LifeMary Berry is the director of the Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky.  She is the daughter of agrarian writer Wendell Berry.

In this interview at America magazine, she talks about Ragan Sutterfield’s book Wendell Berry and the Given Life.  Here is a taste:

This new book brings your dad’s work to a Catholic audience. What is your opinion of it?

It’s a really good introduction to daddy’s work for people who haven’t read him. I always think when I read what people have written about daddy, it’s very good. But I hope it leads people to read daddy’s work itself.

The book’s chapters cover twelve themes from your dad’s writings: givenness, humility, love, economics, work, Sabbath, stability, membership, the body and the earth, language, peaceableness and prophesy. Could you boil all of these themes down to one sentence?

The importance of daddy’s work, for me anyway, has been to learn to live within the limits I have—to accept the place I have, the work I do, and to be content within it, and not to be always thinking of another place or thing or some distraction, but to always live the life I’ve got. To put it into a sentence: For human beings trying to live sanely and consciously, part of that is learning to accept today, to accept what it offers and be content with the good work it offers.

The book concludes with an afterword featuring an interview of your dad. What did you take away from his words?

The thing I’m most attracted to in what daddy says is that we’re all complicit—I think Thomas Merton says somewhere we’re all part of the giant sham. I think the thing that’s worrisome to me in my travels and talks, as a left-leaning person, is that people think buying some tomatoes at a farmer’s market is enough. But it doesn’t really mean that much: We’ve got some very basic work to do on how we’re living. To understand how we’re all part of this mess involves making a change in how we live.

Although you come from a Baptist family, your father’s spiritual writings have attracted a strong following among Catholics. What explains your dad’s appeal among Catholics and other spiritual seekers?

I think daddy speaks the truth. I’ve always thought that when you hear or read someone who’s speaking the truth, it seems different from everything else going on. Why it appeals in particular to Catholics, I don’t know. But he’s talking about true things, and it’s helpful for people who are seeking true things—it’s pretty clear and easy to understand.

Read the entire interview here.

What Happens When You Are Catholic And Your Research Uncovers Unflattering Things About a Person Up For Sainthood?

Hecker3Head over to Religion in American History blog to read “Historiographic Saints,” William Cossen‘s excellent piece on balancing his Catholic faith with his work as a Catholic historian.  Cossen’s research has turned-up what he describes as “unflattering information” about Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers and a significant figure among American Catholics in the early 19th century.  Hecker has been up for sainthood since 2008.

Here is a taste:

It is obviously not uncommon for historians of Catholicism to write about men and women who have been recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.  This may be somewhat rarer in scholarship on U.S. Catholicism, which reflects the fewer canonized saints from the United States than from other countries with longer histories of an extensive Catholic presence.  There are, however, several fine examples of recent historical scholarship that include canonized (or soon-to-be canonized) Catholics as central figures in their narratives.

Why this has been on my mind is that my research on Hecker could have the potential to turn up what may be, at least to present-day observers, unflattering information on this Servant of God (an initial step in the process of canonization).   While Hecker’s life has been examined as part of the history of transcendentalism, the religious conversion experience, and the Americanist controversy within late nineteenth-century Catholicism, my research on Hecker explores how his writings and their intellectual legacy intersected with ideologies of race and growing American imperialism during the same period.  Remaining mindful of the multiple audiences of a scholar of Catholicism, I want to employ a rigorous methodology befitting an academic historian.  I also want to provide a more detailed picture of Hecker that is neither hagiographical nor exaggeratedly critical, recognizing that the institutional church and Hecker’s canonization promoters may be undertaking the simultaneous process of writing their own histories of Hecker.  Following Pope John Paul II’s reform of the canonization process in 1983, religion journalist Kenneth L. Woodward writes, the Catholic Church’s saint-makers began “employ[ing] the academic model of researching and writing a doctoral dissertation.  Hereafter, causes would be accepted or rejected according to the standards of critical historiography.”   In contemporary saint-making, individuals involved with the formal canonization process as well as academic historians operating outside the church’s institutional structures are all involved in creating saintly historiographies that may or may not exist at odds with one another.

Read the entire piece here.

Cossen addresses an issue that many historians of faith will encounter in their careers. He handles it in a thoughtful way.

Is Catholicism a “Two-Party System?”

Vatican

One of my favorite religion writers, Mark Silk, thinks so.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion News Service:

Although Crux’s John Allen likes to pretend otherwise, Roman Catholicism is now clearly divided between the Party of Francis and the Party of Benedict. Not since the days of the Jesuits and the Jansenists has the Catholic elite — clerical and lay intellectual — been at daggers drawn as it is now.

Yesterday, the New York Times nicely encapsulated the partisan divide in profiling the two big Irish-American archbishops facing each other across the Hudson — Timothy Dolan of New York and Joseph Tobin of Newark. Can anyone doubt that by making one of the country’s most progressive bishops a cardinal and sending him into its dominant media market Francis wasn’t sending a shot across the bow of Benedictine conservatism?

On the other side, Pope Emeritus Benedict delivered a shot of his own Saturday in the form of a eulogy for the cardinal archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meissner, who retired in 2014.

“We know that it was hard for him, the passionate shepherd and pastor of souls, to leave his office, and this precisely at a time when the Church had a pressing need for shepherds who would oppose the dictatorship of the zeitgeist, fully resolved to act and think from a faith standpoint,” Benedict wrote. “Yet I have been all the more impressed that in this last period of his life he learned to let go, and live increasingly from the conviction that the Lord does not leave his Church, even if at times the ship is almost filled to the point of shipwreck.”

Read the rest here.