Friday, May 18, 2012

My Vacation Book

Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). 
Simon & Schuster, Inc. Kindle Edition. 

It used to be that people spoke of a genre called "beach books" (since the appearance of ebooks, I guess they have been rechristened as "beach reads"). When they were still books, they were something you picked up because they were big, paperback and not too demanding to read on your vacation: something to fill the time while you're resting, planing or deplaning, and from content, as I say, not too taxing (no small print editions). It's a genre I can't say as I know or have ever sought out for myself. I think the appellation "vacation book" is more neutral, while certainly not excluding either substance or entertainment. Good novels, classics if you will, are vacation books, but "Bad Religion", by reason of its title has to be one too, at least to my way of thinking, ebook or not. 

Even so, Bad Religion would never have been my choice of a vacation book, if it hadn't been for an appearance of Ross Douthat on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo. The two of them sold me on reading the book during their 20 minute segment and Kindle made it too easy to buy. I don't regret reading the book and hope to give it a good review, as it deserves a positive word. The liberal establishment seems to have been quite piqued by the book, and that alone gives it a certain redeeming social value. It is not a history book. Despite some great insights, it cannot escape the genre of journalism. I learned a few new English words, which is what you'd expect from a master wordsmith like Douthat, and that is good.

The redeeming quality or value of the book is that with it Douthat manages to put a finger into some of the Catholic Church's gaping wounds and hopefully thereby will provoke some thought and an examination of conscience among his readers. We're not used to media people (New York Times columnist!) hitting the respect life issue with such clarity and determination. I wish I could help him with a rewrite on his stance concerning theological evolutionism, however. I'll only mention two more hits for which I am grateful: 1) he convincingly hits the Catholic annulment machine right between the eyes, exposing it for what it is, an accommodation and a denial of the unity and indissolubility of marriage; 2) he exposes past (hopefully no more) tolerance for homosexuality in the priesthood for the poison it is and as a clear sign of capitulation in the struggle against personal sin in the lives of priests.

The book, however, is a journalistic piece and neither a theological work nor "black-belt" historical analysis. The underlying premise, despite a profound bow in the direction of beauty and culture in religion, is the stuff of which Napoleon and the Empress Maria Theresia's son Joseph were made. "Pave the muddy tracks with the incunabula wrested from monasteries and put those monks to work!" Sunday sermons in the day were expected to offer pointers on animal husbandry, bee-keeping and growing healthy fruit trees, while keeping your little village whitewashed and clean. This seems to me to be the logic of Douthat's analysis. "Bad Religion" (prosperity gospel and all manner of accommodationism as it has come across in the U.S.) is certainly and rightly classed as heresy by Douthat, but I fear that "Good Religion" for him has all the limitations of somebody's reworked Enlightenment model, as worthy of discard as anything the Arians or Gnostics ever cooked up. I find this harsh judgment on my part to be accurate, among other reasons, given his reductionist view of what the scope of a monastic renewal today, a la St. Benedict, would be. While Latin Mass communities, as he refers to them, may not be a whole solution to the Church's ills, they certainly cannot be dismissed for there small numbers as the author seems to do. The book held my interest throughout, but he just plain lost me on his conclusions.

 I'm grateful for my "vacation read" but it was indeed just that.

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