The Real Traditionalist Catholics

Check out the Society of St. Pius I, which laments the fall from grace of the Roman church from its traditional liturgy and scriptures. See what happens when you start playing the "I'm more authentic than you" game?


Doofus Dads

In today's Times, for Fathers' Day, John Tierney writes in response to his six-year-old son's question, "Why are dads on TV so dumb?"

It's a good question. It extends not only to sitcoms, on which Tierney focuses, but also to commercials; what I've referred to as the "gender fun" trope -- clueless male, oh-so-smart female correcting him, laughs based upon a rather essentialized theory of gender combined with an assumption of "oh, gender differences are just so gosh darn amusing" -- gets really old quickly, especially if you're in a relationship a) with someone of the same gender or b) where you're spending a lot of time attempting to not fall into classical gender hierarchies.

But aside from being annoying, it's interesting to ask where these tropes come from, and what effect they might have upon those watching, especially since, à la Neil Postman, entertainment media might be thought of us the propaganda of our times, reinforcing not the identity a state wants you to have, but that business interests reliant upon your continued consumption want you to have. Tierney suggests that Homer's ubiquity (the Simpson, not the poet, bracketing his odes to donuts) might be caused either by the gender-breakdown of the sitcom viewing audience, or by the changed roles of women which prevent Lucy- and Edith-like stereotypical housewives from seeming realistic on TV. These might explain some of it, but one might probe a little more critically.

Humor, as lgbt people, African-Americans, Soviet citizens and Jews know, is the most powerful resource a minority has against the powerful. But while one more joke about the Politburo might help your comrade get through the day, it doesn't change the fact that the Politburo still controls his or her life in ways that seem permanently decided. If we can make fun of the (almost always white) suburban straight dad, in sitcoms and commercials, in some ways it's because he is still in charge in our world. While we sit back and chuckle at Homer, his real-life counterpart is still more likely to be the C.E.O. of a corporation, the leader of a church, the elected official or the head of a household than Marge, Lenny and Karl (for various reasons!), or Lisa. There's a long tradition of resistance to this -- Desperate Housewives and the Marriage of Figaro both show how the marginalized are amazingly good at resisting the structures that attempt to keep them in check. But that doesn't necessarily change the fact that the structures still exist, and if humor passes the line from resisting those structures to ideologically covering them, i.e., if we stop being amused by these tropes and begin to see contemporary society as anti-straight white man, then we'll be supporting oppressive structures that are already firmly in place. So...remember while laughing at Homer ("Mmmm. Floor pie.") that in real life, he's your boss.

Happy Father's Day, BaptizedPagan said, sounding more like a Marxist than usual...


Bishop Steib of Memphis

reflects upon his diocese's new ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics and their families, and on the church as home. Good stuff, and a brave move. This is what happens when bishops base their decisions on what they believe in conscience is right or wrong, rather than on their promotion prospects. Bishop Steib, God bless him, just placed himself out of the running for being transferred to a "better" or "more powerful" diocese; on the bright side, he'll have an easier time following the canons of the ancient church which compared transferral from the see in which one was ordained to a newer, younger, more attractive church to adultery...


Been Travellin'

Back in Boston for a few days now, but have been away more weekends than home for the past few days. Events have included a fabulous trip to Nantucket for a weekend of food and conversation competing with each other for top honors (thanks again, Len and Forrest!); Rhode Island for my mother's birthday; Boston Pride which, while in town, felt as though it was in a different place; an ecumenical institute sponosored by the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, and the Franciscan Sisters and Brothers of the Atonement at Graymoor, New York, where the Institute was held -- more on the Institute in a post to soon follow; and a stop in Manhattan to see friends before taking the train up the Hudson. In a week and a half I head to Washington, D.C., for a wedding, and then to California with the BF. Remarkably, I am getting some good work done on my dissertation in all this, though that has been at the expense of generous blogging; I'm sure my committee would approve of my priorities, though.


Science, Theology, and Truth

Saturday's Boston Globe had an article profiling the Rev. Amy McCreath, the Episcopal chaplain at MIT who also is the coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT. I've had the privilege of talking with Amy a few times, and know her more from the bf. She's a very good pastor in my experience, and also, IMHO, has a great combination of gentleness and intellectual assertiveness that must help her work with students in the "galactic headquarters of scientism," as she describes MIT. In other words, from my little experience of her and from what I know of her from others, she exemplifies the Christian tradition at its best: although the events around the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century, as Christianity describes them, may not be normal, there's at least a concern that the Christian witness to those events be true. Even the fact that the earliest Christians used the language of "witnessing" (the Greek leads to the term "martyr") and "testifying", all derived from the language of the courtroom, points to the fact that a root concern of what Christians thought they were doing in telling the story of Jesus was describing something true, not something mythical; Jesus was, in their opinion, not a sort of mythical "everyman" pointing to the nature of human destiny, but a distinct, historical person about whom his disciples were telling a true story in their descriptions of his life and this strange experience called resurrection. (Incidentally, this concern to tell the Jesus story as true has been suggested as an explanation for why Pontius Pilate ends up being mentioned in the early creeds -- it locates Jesus of Nazareth historically in a certain time and place.)

So what does any of this have to do with Amy, MIT, or science? Well, it has to do with the idea of trying to tell the truth. At its best, and (to psychologize the church), in its less neurotic or insecure moments, the Christian community has been a community committed to truth, whether or not that truth is convenient. Admittedly, we haven't always done a very good job of it. And its particularly around the modern physical sciences, in large and in small ways, that we've been freaked out enough to forget that base commitment to truth.

One can immediately point to high-profile events like the Galileo affair or contemporary "creationists" who base their knowledge of the history of the world not on what humans can know as true through science (in a limited way, to be sure, but not having complete understanding doesn't mean that one's partial understandings are absolutely false...the red herring of "evolution is only a theory"...). But this works itself out in smaller, more ordinary ways. For example, in many circles outside of MIT, if one admits never having read Shakespeare or heard Mozart, one is instantly dismissed as less than intellectually fulfilled. But by contrast, an admission that one just doesn't bother trying to understand math or physics, or doesn't really remember anymore what DNA does beyond providing a common crossword puzzle answer, one more often meets smiles of sympathy rather than dismissal. For all of Larry Summers's other issues, his suggestion last year that Harvard's core curriculum be revised to include basic scientific literacy as a required set of knowledge comparable to knowledge of literature or history makes a lot of sense.

I see this even in my own family; my older brother and his wife both have doctorates in polymer chemistry (and both walked two weeks ago, congrats!). It's often culturally expected that one should know a little bit of theology or philosophy, from however long ago, to begin talking to a theology doctoral student, but the opposite has often been true for my brother. I usually have no idea where to begin asking him about his work, and I'm more and more convinced that this is due less to the obvious complexity of his research than to my basic ignorance. Unlike my brother with his very solid general humanities background, I lack the basic scientific background to even meet him halfway in his attempt to simplify his work to an accessible level.

So lately, as in so many other areas of knowledge, I've been playing catch-up lately, and not only out of an attempt to impress my brother. Rather, as someone doing theology, I'm increasingly convinced that if I'm going to expect other people to be able to meet me halfway when I discuss my field, then part of being an intellectual, or even a slightly aware human being, might mean turning off the Seinfeld re-run and learning (re-learning?) some terms and concepts that are central to modern science. Right now I'm plowing through some of the works of Richard Feynman; any other suggestions would be most welcome. And, from the perspective of theology, while we can't all be theologians and we can't all be experimental scientists, those of us who think that Christianity has something true to say seem to have a responsibility to listen humbly to what other members of the search party have found out about reality.