Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dolan Reconsidered

We don't get many comments here at mwbh. At least two people tell me it's because "you say all that needs to be said." I'm sure they tell me that just to make me feel better. (It works, by the way.) In any case, our recent piece on Archbishop Dolan's remarks in a TV interview about Thanksgiving, and its analysis by Michael Voris on RealCatholicTV, brought this comment from a gentleman named “Stephen” which was of sufficient merit and detail, that it is reproduced here in its entirety.

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FWIW, while I think you're right that the archbishop is clearly speaking off the cuff, and while I agree that it's possible to criticize his choice of words, I think it's worth noting that there is a structure to his comments that suggests a deliberate strategy that is worth noting. Here are Dolan's words as excerpted by Voris:

"[Thanksgiving is] a time of the year when people are open to the Lord, and we don't think about ourselves. We're grateful to God. We're conscious that Somebody -- some call him or her or whatever you want -- Somebody beyond us is in charge, and we are immensely grateful, and it's not about ..." [cut off]

Note the structure of these brief lines. In the first sentence, he says "the Lord" -- a term with clear Judeo-Christian resonances, denoting the God of Israel revealed in Jesus Christ. In the second sentence, he uses the general term "God," a word shared with theists, deists and others. Finally, he goes on to include awareness of a vague "Somebody beyond us."

He's clearly winging it (the parenthesis is somewhat ungrammatical), and if you want to object to the words he chose in that moment, fine. But it seems clear to me that the terminological shift over these three sentences is connected to a progression of thought:

1. He begins by expressing himself in language that is overtly Christian: People are open to the Lord. This is language with roots in the Old and New Testaments, in the liturgy of the Church, in the idiomatic language of "Christian America."

2. He then expands the scope of his language to include also those who stand more or less at a distance from the Christian faith: Even people who do not know the Lord can still be touched at this time of the year by gratitude to God.

3. Finally, he suggests that the meaning of Thanksgiving can even reach those who may not recognize God as such, but may still be aware of our dependence on a higher power. They may not even be comfortable speaking of "him" -- they may say "him" or "her", or whatever they want -- but nevertheless even for them there can be a meaningful awareness of the reality of divine sovereignty and providence, and a corresponding gratitude to Somebody beyond us.

FWIW, similar strategies can be seen in the Good Friday petitions and in the Vatican II decree Lumen Gentium 14ff, i.e., starting with those closest to us and then gradually expanding the scope outward until we reach even those who do not believe in God.

Again, not to say that the archbishop's comments here are above criticism. But I'm disturbed and grieved by Voris's readiness to judge Dolan's heart and motivations as well as giving the worst possible construction to his actions: "knee-jerk pandering" to a "politically correct understanding of the faith," of being unable to "simply and sweetly" affirm the faith (as if Dolan were giving a homily or holding forth of the truth of the Faith, of "shuffling God off" amid "relativistic politically correct diversity," etc.).

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Discuss. (Wow, for once I write that and everybody actually does it. What's up with that?)


Charlotte said...

I agree that Dolan was likely trying to address "everyone." Anyone who is actually familiar with Dolan and his style, personality, and teachings knows he's not some new-agey kind of guy, nor would he ever consider God as anything but a male incarnation.

Michael Voris is becoming problematic. The backlash against him is beginning to grow because there are many conservatives in the church who resent him "speaking for" the right. Not everybody on the right agrees with him.

David L Alexander said...

"Michael Voris is becoming problematic." You say that like it's a bad thing. Your premise for a growing "backlash" could easily apply to half the Catholic blogosphere. Michael Voris is "speaking for" those who DO agree with him, which includes a good many faithful Catholics who, especially in light of the recent scandals, are tired of playing Pretty Please with errant shepherds who have no intention of changing their ways.(This would include yours truly.) No, not everyone on "the right" agrees with him. To the extent that he is giving his own opinion, they don't have to. To the extent that he is expounding on Objective Truths, is something else again.

My main concern with his work (which for the most part I would consider laudable), is the frequency of warmed-over subject matter, without adding anything new to the conversation. Such a weakness, without even the benefit of such reflection as our commenter "Stephen" has shown, is rather typical, I'm afraid. I fear I may have come up a bit short myself, which is why I was obliged to bring this man's comments to the fore.

Carol McKinley said...

Here's the problem with the laborious analysis which you'd need a masters degree in theology to crack the code.

Let's say teenagers who are being tempted away from Catholicism by their peers and the culture saw that interview. Let's say somebody scandalized by the sexual abuse crisis and corruption who had been thinking about returning to the Roman Catholic Church was watching.

Ab. Dolan's statement implies all religions and worship are equal and gave them constructive permission to worship mother earth instead of Jesus Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

It is easy to criticize Michael Voris and others who have the courage to say that Archbishop Dolan's statement is scandalizing as it may (and I'm sure will) lead (or keep) people away from Jesus Christ.

Joy Behar or the girls on the View have a different level of duty and culpability than a Roman Catholic priest and Roman Catholic Bishop.

Tina in Ashburn said...

I think Abp. Dolan may end up revealed as problematic. More information about him is surfacing that is causing me to re-consider my positive opinion of him.

Dymphna said...

Dolan's comments have given me pause, he's a shrewd politician but I guess you have to be to in charge of NYC. He says the right things but... Still he's better than Kicanas.

Carol McKinley said...

Amen to that!

Henry Karlson said...

If St Paul were alive today, telling pagans on Mars Hill we worship the same God as they, I'm sure some would argue this as proof against St Paul's mission from God.

The fact is, the Church's apologetic position to the world has always worked to address the people of the world where they are at, and to use that to lead them up to the faith. If people believe in some generic force for good, that is a foundation for dialogue. This does not say everything is equal. It just says this is a common ground which can then be used to lead to greater and greater insights of truth. And we can recognize this as something good -- as St Paul did. The people who reject this are the ones causing confusion, because they end up denying the principles which lead to the fullness of truth.

The other thing I would say is that people need to read Dionysius. No doubt about it. If they did, they would know that God is beyond all names, and there is nothing lukewarm in saying this.