Artistic offerings enrich us: 10-26-11
Is Islam really dying? 10-28-11

Studying Catholicism in U.S.: 10-27-11

I was pleased the other day when listening to substitute host Brian Ellison's conversation with John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter on KCUR's "Up to Date" show that the discussion of Catholicism ranged beyond the priest sexual abuse scandal.

CIACoverOh, that scandal is plenty important -- especially in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph -- and deserves the attention it is getting.

But, in fact, there is much more going on the the Catholic world -- especially at the parish level -- and a new survey of Catholics in America brings that truth home. So does Allen's forthcoming book, A People of Hope. (Which I haven't had a chance to read.)

NCR's Tom Roberts this week introduced us to the survey -- the fifth in a series -- and offered some insight into how Catholics view their faith and their world.

I invite you to have a look at these many-faceted survey results and see not just what it says about Catholics but what it moves you to say about your own faith tradition, if you have one.

Every tradition should be looking at itself with a critical and studious eye from time to time to remind itself why it exists, what it believes and how it's behaving.

This new survey may not be perfect when it comes to methodology, but at least some Catholics are doing the important work of introspection. And, as I say, every faith community should be doing that on a regular basis.

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A Florida legal decision that allows a limited use of considering Shari'a, or Islamic law, looks like exactly the kind of thing that Raj Bhala had in mind in his excellent and exhaustive new book on Shari'a, which I wrote about here and then here recently. It's important to understand what Shari'a is and what it isn't and whether some of its provisions can, at the request of litigants, be invoked to settle disputes. To go ballistic over the use of Shari'a in certain cases is to display ignorance and prejudice.

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Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus, by John Eldredge. It says a lot about the endlessly engaging figure of Jesus Christ that each year half a zippity-zillion books about him get published. Some are deeply nuanced theological treatments, some efforts to turn Jesus into someone very much like the author. Eldredge's book is a mostly helpful effort to point out that if people view Jesus as a somber Puritan handing out rules and making sure no one in the world ever laughs or has fun, they've got Jesus all wrong. The intent of the book is worthy and the author often succeeds in giving us a revised vision of more playful, creative Jesus. And yet I found various things about the book to be problematic or to represent a fairly narrow theological view that, I suspect, might have troubled Jesus, too. Now and then Eldredge -- perhaps unintentionally -- paints with too broad a brush. In an early section on "the spirit of falsehood," for instance, he writes about "the blatant stuff -- the Inquisition, witch trials, televangelists." Thus he lumps every Christian preacher on TV, including Billy Graham, into the same pile as the people who instituted the Inquisition and the witch trials. Really? And although Eldredge spends considerable time helping readers understand that Jesus really was fully human (in the context of the Nicene Creed's affirmation that he was both fully human and fully divine), Eldredge also attributes to him at one point a beyond-human ability to know "what is about to unfold." Perhaps most troubling is Eldredge's willingness to fall into the old Christian habit of using the Pharisees as a foil to stand for all that is evil and wrong with religion without explaining that in their First Century Jewish context these same Pharisees would have been seen as the noble religious persons of their day and, beyond that, would have deserved that reputation. Certainly some of them failed their high calling and Jesus called them out for that, but no one was trying harder than the Pharisees, and by failing to note that, any author leaves on the table an implicit dismissal of Judaism even today. It is a tricky business to get this right, but Eldredge seems unaware of his responsibility to describe some of the nuances of that situation. Finally, any serious book about a serious subject like Jesus (even about how funny Jesus could be) deserves to have an index. This has none, and that will be a frustration to any reader.


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