Friday, October 12, 2012

new media scholars take note

All that razz-ma-tazz about religious devotion being outdated and worthless?


h/t Mark Shea

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I've just about had it...

with my fellow Catholic academics, especially theologians, writing columns regarding next month's election that combine rhetorical exclusivism (there's no room for disagreement, apparently) and occasional snark. This is the sort of thing that leads to theologians sending elected officials copies of the  Compendium on Social Doctrine of the Church.

Oh wait, that's already been done.

I don't know Dr. Finn. He's free to write such columns and charity requires that they be read, well, charitably, i.e., fairly.  In fact, I actually like some of the argument.  Discussions of prudence and intrinsic evil?  Sure! 

However, there will be people liking the article on Facebook...and then turning around to damn George Weigel who, let's just say, has a different view.  Folks, you can't play it that way.  BOTH Finn and Weigel are free to make their cases with recourse to Catholic teaching.  Free country, free people, free minds, keep on rockin' in the free world...

But, and this clinches it for me, separating ourselves from the Church where we want is not an option.  In that regard--on this issue as well as overall--I think Weigel has the stronger position.  I'm also not thrilled about the implication that Finn's position is stronger than Archbishop Chaput's.  (Criticism of the hierarchy--another blog post for another day...)  But I say that not because I'm enamored with Weigel and hate Dr. Finn.  No, it's because I, too, have read what Benedict XVI thinks.

Sports and Religion: the beginning

You better believe it:  sports and religion are a hot topic.

But really, why shouldn't they be?  The scholarly types will remember that Catherine Albanese laid some foundations for this sort of interdisciplinary work years ago with her textbook America: Religion and Religions.  Sports are the ordinary form of community, creed, code, and cult while actual "religions" supply the extraordinary side, that spiritual connection that transcends immediate circumstances.

And it seems Catholic voices are in the middle of it all.  Major League Baseball draws comments from John Allen Jr and Elizabeth Scalia, two Catholic bloggers who usually viewed as opposites on the ideological spectrum.

Heck, even Catholic moral theologians have joined this topic, weighing in on the morality of football.

Somewhere in Heaven the Notre Dame alumni are aghast.  I really wonder how many theologians who write on sports issues actually take seriously their own arguments.  On the one hand, it's quite legitimate to question football's stranglehold on American life.  It might be that one thing that's too big to fail, at least economically speaking.  But its effects on those who play the sport--dementia, increased health maladies including diabetes--and those who watch it--again, diabetes and inactivity--undermine that.  Folks in the academy duly recognize all this...and then make off-mike comments about how they can't stand the Chicago Bears or whoever plays Notre Dame. This is at least problematic, if not outright contradictory.

I've written--and am writing, s-l-o-w-l-y--about these topics, too.  The baseball-Catholic-football connection has deep roots in American Catholicism's 20th century experiences.  We haven't yet plumbed the depths of how the Catholic faith--held deeply or not so much--operates for someone who made his or her living off competition.  After all, it was Leo Durocher who said "Nice guys finish last" and Vince Lombardi said "Winning isn't everything. It is the only thing."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rootedness and its discontents

The short version of a very long blog post is that there's a lot of really good stuff already out there:
*  The Front Porch Republic, for example.  This piece by David Walbert hits home for this blog; the notion that food has become such a divisive topic--too much like religion now?--alludes to that opening theme of "thirst" I mentioned.  Without trying to hammer Walbert, there's a problem with so much blogosphere hand-wringing over ethical practice.  Concerns about food porn are real and legitimately voice, but the problem is that almost everybody who makes and heeds such arguments has blind spots:  the academic conference where we prattle over elite menus and choose snobby microbrews just like everybody else in our group.  The inverse food porn parallel holds, too, I think:  almost every academic fretting over organic food will, at times, tackle the cheap pizza and canned beer just like anybody else.  I.e., what used to be called "slumming" -- except in food now. 

Another favorite FPR topic:  sense of place as in this by Patrick Deneen.  I figured among the many applauding Deneen's departure of Georgetown for South Bend.  The blog link also hammers the faux elitism of so many academics drawn to eastern urban centers like Washington DC. So so true. He's not really a FPR-er but Rob Dreher has written eloquently about his wanderings leading him (and his family) back to his Louisiana home. All very good and good antidote to so much modernist

And yet I must admit some dissatisfaction with the "local space" argument.  Part of the Christian message is a dis-ease (perhaps ala Walker Percy or Dorothy Day) with one's place in the world....since our true home is in Heaven.  There's always "something else" that the Christian tradition celebrates which pulls out of our local particularities.  So it's important to celebrate South Bend, Louisiana, and even Albany, but none of these locations can be viewed as ultimate.  Being only part of creation they can't be synonymous with the Creator. 

*  First Things consistently provides all sorts of wonderful posts, too.  This brilliant deconstruction of historian Eric Hobsbawm names--yet once again--the western world's refusal to see Marxism for what it was and is:  violent oppression of humanity and the human spirit.  This willingness to forget Marxism's horrors is the other side of spiritual diabetes:  that thirst for "real" and authentic experience--true reform!  real spiritual experience!  great sex!  good food!--creates a crazed search for practices and peoples to satisfy our thirsts.  The problem--the "diabetic" one I've labeled--is that we've lost the ability to convert that which we've already consumed...and the side effects include spiritual flabbiness and thirst.  So our secular friends suffer as much as the religious folks we know.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Still need to drum up those aforementioned "position statements" regarding my views on faith, academic culture, sports, etc.  Patience humbly requested...

This blog will, on occasion, pursue topics further afield than "merely" religious ones.

That being said, OCTOBER 3, people!  What a day.  Nineteen years ago this was the "Battle of Mogadishu"--the basis for the book and movie Black Hawk Down.  The effects of this one day battle still reverberate in the American military and American culture's interpretations thereof.  It was the single largest loss of lives in combat between the Vietnam War  and the post-9/11 Global War on Terror.  The day featured puzzling tactical decisions and singularly heroic actions.

And I, like many Americans, dozed right through it.

It took a while for me to understand and appreciate fully what happened that day.  References to avoiding "another Black Hawk Down" cropped up continually in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. An entire culture of "COINistas" (counterinsurgency strategists) have emerged here with wide-ranging discussions of warfare tactics, military ethics, and service branch cultural differences.  Whenever any of my Catholic theological colleagues get either misty-eyed or indignant over America's military hegemony, I keep thinking they might change their tune if they swam in SWJ waters for a while or read Rob Schultheis' great book about early post-invasion Iraq.

At some point, consequently, there will be an extended blogofied discussion of just war theory.  Just sayin'

Meanwhile, it's the last day of the baseball season.  Baseball--and its differences with the other great American sport, football--will appear frequently on this blog, hopefully with enough of a unique take to make it worth everybody's while.  The baseball faithful remember this day for one great at-bat by Bobby Thomson.  The Giants win the pennant, indeed, and yes, reality did indeed strangle invention.

Of course, we learned in 2001 that Leo Durocher, the Giants manager, had rigged the Polo Grounds with a simple cheating system to steal pitching signs.  So maybe invention still had something to do with it.

Two events on the same day, each exerting its own influence on American life.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Slapping labels

Why does this blog have this name?  It dawned on me that this blog's name/label is intrinsically negative.  Several great Catholic blogs emphasize the positive:  Mark Shea, Elizabeth Scalia, Fran Szpylczyn, etc.  But not Spiritual Diabetes.  Oh no, this one has debut saying there's a problem:  "Look, over there!  People who suffer from a problem I don't have..."  

Hopefully, this blog will avoid such hypocrisy.  It will, though, examine popular American spirituality through the lens of dietary fads and prescriptions.  For several years scholarly and popular health publications have assailed the emergence of a diabetes epidemic.  Type II, or “adult onset”, diabetes is a disease you give yourself.  Overeating combined with the pervasive sedentary tendencies of American life makes a deadly combination.   As with diet, so with spiritual practice.  These discussions provide an analogical foundation for assessing a similarly “diabetic” disease crippling America's religious cultures.

Just as Type II diabetes results from overeating and a sedentary life, spiritual diabetes debilitates the soul by engulfing with spiritualities.  Saccharine spiritualities are not under the blade here, since whatever's saccharine is ultimately fake and a noticeably poor substitute.  Ultimately impractical and indigestible, several recent spiritual fads only exacerbate an already critical situation wherein the patient literally “believes” her/himself to death.  Examples range across the nation’s ideological divide and consume popular culture. The jokes describing “Jesusland” after the 2004 presidential election indicated the onset of spiritual diabetes as much as evangelical Protestantism’s unquestioning embrace of the Republican party and “prosperity theology”. Popular books like The Da Vinci Code, The Prayer of Jabaz, the Left Behind series, Girzone’s humanized Jesus of the Joshua books, and even Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz likewise represent the problem. 
Spoilt for choice, Americans consume spirituality in copious amounts but still lead sedentary religious lives.  Consequently we do not burn the “calories”—intellectually, liturgically, or simply living the Christian life.  This caloric deluge creates a diabetic condition wherein the spiritual diabetic suffers a great thirst for all things spiritual but never enjoys any lasting satisfaction.  With physical diabetes obesity prevents production of insulin, and the problem spirals out of control.  Something similar appears in spiritual diabetes.  Just as the diabetic’s blood courses with rotting sugar that cannot be converted, spiritual diabetics find themselves “awash in a sea of faith” (to paraphrase Jon Butler’s 1990 history of early American religions) but lacking any awareness of what causes their thirst.  They simply keep “eating”.
          The cure, it would seem, does not require spiritual starvation, but rather a new (and admittedly somewhat sobering) spiritual diet to correct the damage.  Just as starvation does not cure diabetes but kills the diabetic, spiritual diabetes cannot be eliminated through secularism or spiritual veganism. (Something for a future post...)  The Catholic intellectual tradition provides the best such spiritual dietary foundation.  The question is "Who can handle that sort of diet and exercise plan?"  The answer:  "Well, we all should..."